Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Chola Voyage Simulation, 2008.

INS Tarangini at Kochi
In 2008, Prof. B Arunachalam simulated a sea voyage undertaken thousands of years ago.

It was a simulation of a sea voyage of the Cholas, an attempt to test the practical utility of the Cholas' traditional observational skills.

The Maritime History Society, Mumbai organized a voyage expedition across Southern Bay of Bengal to test the practical utility of traditional observational skills and hand tools for an overseas parallel sailing adopted during Rajendra Chola's convoy voyages in 1022 AD. The voyage conceived by Prof. B. Arunachalam, and sponsored by the Maritime History Society was supported by Western and Southern Naval Commands of the Indian Navy.

The voyage was undertaken on board the Naval Sailing vessel INS Tarangini, and took off from Kochi port on 2nd January, 2008 in the forenoon.

The basic objectives of the Voyage were to test the success of the Chola voyage for the victorious conquest of the ruling powers in Sumatra and Malaya by using parallel sailing in low latitude using navigation stars in their azimuthal positions and during their movement across the skies.  The hand tools used were the Naligai Vattil, Ra-Palagai, and Tappu-palagai. Observation skills of the sky cover and sea-conditions, apart from elementary thumb rules using the palm and fingers.  The Voyage was set to commence after Ardra Darshan – festival of the East coast Siva temples in the early morning, about the time of setting of Ardra and Mrigasirish, the path finders on the western horizon. This festival coincides with the closure of the tropical cyclone season at the end of the Northeast Trade wind circuit in early December.

The plan was to sail from Nagapattinam in coastal Tamil Nadu, to Port Blair in the Andamans. However, owing to unexpected harsh weather, the vessel reached the eastern shores of Sri Lanka. Eventually, it reached Port Blair on January 18, after a detour through Sumatra caused by adverse wind conditions. 

The Maritime History Society (MHS) sailing team consisted of Cdr GVK Unnithan (Retd) along with Vivek Ganpule of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Umesh Solapurkar of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) with Arunachalam and Cdr Mohan Narayan providing for ground monitoring. The ship was under Cdr Patankar's command.

The voyage also tested hand tools that were adopted by Rajendra Chola's convoy voyages in 1022 AD. Chola's voyages are also credited with concepts like that of parallel sailing (sailing parallel to the equator), which can only be practised in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

During almost half the duration of the voyage, the skies were overcast, making it extremely difficult for the navigators to follow paths as planned. Also, owing to an extended cyclonic season that extended to March, the leg of the journey from Nagapattinam to Vishakhapatnam had to be abandoned.

Prof. Arunachalam, choosing to be modest, said the simulation was only a partial success owing to bad weather conditions.

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