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Ancient ports of Gujarat

P. S.Thakker
Scientist, SAC, Ahemdabad

M. H. Raval
Ex. Director, Directorate of Archaeology, Ahemdabad

A. R. Dasgupta
Deputy Director, SIIPA, SAC, Ahemdabad

Gujarat state is situated on the West Coast of India between Latitude 20o02N and 24o41N and Longitude 68008E and 74o23E. On the basis of geographical features, Gujarat comprises three regions, namely,
  1. Gujarat region, runs north south and covers the central and eastern area of the state,
  2. Saurashtra peninsular region and
  3. Kachchha region.The state has about 1660 km long coastline along the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay) and the Gulf of Kachchha in the west. The vast expanse of the Rann area in the north is a unique feature as it remained under sea from about 9th BC to 15th AD and is a dry salt encrusted plain at other times.

Fig. 1: Some of the ancient/historical ports of Gujarat

People have lived in Gujarat for hundreds of thousands of years and there are many traces of primeval life here. Archaeologists have discovered ruins of port towns, which existed in the 3rd or the 2nd millennium BC indicating that marine trade was prevalent then. Gujarat had trade relations with many countries in those days. Gujarats relations with other countries were weakened after the abandonment of cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Little is known of the inhabitants of the times gone by except what can be gleaned from the artefacts left behind by them. Trade and navigation, both oceanic and riverine, again grew tremendously in the Mauryan period which extended from 321 to 180 BC. The Arabian Sea was mainly used for the purpose of maritime trade. Thus, Gujarat is known for its navigation from ancient times and had established trade links with ancient countries like Sumer, Phoenicia, Rome, Egypt, Arabia, Iran, East Africa, Lanka, Brahmadesh, Malaya, Java, Sumatra, China etc.

Fig. 2: Mosaic of IRS imagery of Gujarat region

Historical information about the ports of Gujarat is found in Mahabharat, Harivansh Purana, Bhagvat and in Matsaya Purana. It is mentioned in Harivansh Purana that the prosperity of Yadavas was due to the sea trade. Kautilya has mentioned in his Arthashstra that the main occupation of people living on the coastline was navigation. The ancient Greek and Roman books refer to the names of many ports of Gujarat, which were famous during that period. Greek author Galazy has written in his book Batiyas about the shipping of Kachchha (c.150). Greek author Peryaksa has described the shipping of Kachchha in circa 246. The author of the ancient African book Tibu-tib has appreciated the strongly built Kachchhi vessels, which used to sail up to Africa in those days.

A book which was written after the Solanki period named Nabhi Nandan Jinoddhar Prabandh mentions about Gujarat: Residents of this region are small traders doing trade at ports and hence prosperous.

At present, along the coastline of Gujarat, there are about 38 ports. Out of these one is an important major port Kandla in Kachchha district, 11 ports are medium or second grade ports and 26 are small ports. It is believed that Gujarat had a longer coast line in ancient times. Historical information shows that there were 84 ports in Gujarat during the medieval period. There were 62 ports in Saurashtra as late as 1842. It is also mentioned in the literature that ships from 84 different ports from various countries having different flags on them used to visit Mandavi port in Kachchha before hundred years. Figure 1 shows some of the ancient and historical ports of Gujarat. Figure 2 shows a mosaic of IRS imagery over Gujarat. Table shows ancient and historical ports of Gujarat mentioned in literature.

Fig. 3: A boat coming from Tharad and a prominent citizen receiving a guest.

As per historical evidence, Saurashtra was an island in the 2nd millennium BC. Kachchha also was an island up to 18th century AD and ships were plying in the present Rann area. It is found from literature that Thirpur Nagar, the present Tharad of Banaskantha district, was a prominent Hindu and Jain centre from the Rajput period onwards. A picture in one of the manuscripts written by Kalyansevak Dhanyakumar shows Tharad as a port, (Figure 3). There are some scattered references to navigational activities during the Solanki period also. Siddharaj Jaysinh visited Varahi of Santalpur taluka, Banaskantha district in a chariot and handed over the chariot to the mahajana of Varahi town to take care and went to Sanchor by ship and boat from Varahi (Prabandh Chintamani). It is said that the old name of Varahi was Fabava or Fabavah (port). There was a flourishing wooden shipbuilding industry in Gujarat at Mandavi, which played a significant role in shaping the destiny of nations, which ventured across the seas to extend their influence. Historical evidences show that the Rann of Kachchha was once a Gulf and was suitable for shipping and up to the seventh century ships were plying in this area. Figure 4 shows that in the 8th century BC, the Rann area was part of the sea or the Gulf of Kachchha. Around 6th BC, during the Buddha period, Bharuch was a prosperous port. Trade relations were established with the Middle East countries. Ships were plying in the Gulf of Khambhat for centuries.

Fig. 4: Rann of Kachchha as a part of the Arabian Sea (8th to 6th century BC)

Marine trade had also flourished during the rule of Kshatrapa and Gupta kings. The capital of Maitrak kings, Vallabhi, was also a very prosperous port town during those days. The waters of the Gulf of Khambhat were not far removed from its gates and the city thus had sea communications. The former seaworthiness of the place is testified by the buoy that guards the entrance to the town even today and also by the copper plates found from different places during excavation. At present, the town is approximately 35 km away from the present seacoast and is completely landlocked. It is believed that the first vessels having sail were built at Kanakpur, Madhuvati and Bhadravati in Gujarat. As per saying, it is known that the speediest sail vessels were built in Samvat eighth century at Kanakpur. All these places are landlocked today.

Fig. 5: Soil marks in the IRS data of Gujarat

Thus, it is clear from ancient literature, historical artefacts and sayings found in the Gujarati language, that there were ancient ports in parts of Gujarat which are now so landlocked that it is difficult to believe that these places were prosperous port towns in the past. Scientifically also, it is unbelievable as it has been shown that the sea level has risen in the past and the ports have been submerged. This may be so at some places in the world and at certain places in India, but at many places in Gujarat and India, it appears that the sea has receded and the old ports are landlocked today. Tamralipti on the east coast and Vallabhi, Gundi-Koliak, Hathab, Kathivadar, Sonrai, Rander, Vartej, Khakhrechi, Vavania, Kuntasi, Desalpur-Guntaligadh, Benap, Padan, Tharad, Mavsari, Bhadreswar, Rayan, Khari Rohar, Nagara, Modhera, Zinzuwada, Kodadha, Amarapur, Kamboi on the western coast of Gujarat are the few examples of well land locked ancient ports. The study of the buried ports forms a fascinating subject in the maritime history of a country. Remote sensing provides both basic and confirmatory data about the ancient ports mentioned in the literature. Thus, remote sensing can unfold some of the mysteries, which are at present unsolved. The solution lies in charting the changes, whi ch have occurred over time. This task can be accomplished through remote sensing and it offers a unique opportunity to reconstruct a nations cultural setting besides throwing new light on our history.

Remote Sensing and Archaeology
Archaeology is a science of the human past and its spread over space and through time. Remote sensing provides a snapshot perspective that iindispensable in todays study of mankind. The utility of remote sensing is mainly for reconstructing historical geography as it provides confirmatory scientific evidences for the same, such as location and spread of palaeo-channels, palaeo-mudflats, settlements and agricultural area, etc. Aerial photographs were first used in 1921 for archaeological applications in North America. This marks the birth of archaeological applications of remote sensing. Remotely sensed data can be used for addressing problems associated with various types of site discovery, site prediction, preliminary reconnaissance and mapping of sites. The data can also be used for confirmatory evidences. The obvious significance of the information of remote sensing to the archaeologists is the problem of site discovery. Unfortunately, although the use of various forms of remote sensing data, primarily aerial data, has proven valuable as a means of site detection in other countries, archaeologists in India have not used remote sensing data for this purpose due to various constraints. Aerial data are generally not available of the required area and even if they are, their use is prohibited for general purposes for defence reasons. To get aerial photography done in India is a difficult task. To get the permission to fly over coastal areas itself is difficult. Further, even after getting the necessary permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the aerial survey itself is time consuming. On the other hand, multi-date satellite data is easily available. Satellite data can successfully be used for archaeological applications. However, applications of orbital remote sensing data for archaeological uses have been limited in India.

Application of Remote Sensing for Archaeological Site Location

The archaeologist must know the location of sites. This information in itself can be valuable for studies in location analysis and settlement pattern. Given the current emphasis on viewing archaeological sites in a broad regional context, the synoptic coverage/overview provided by satellite data is of great value. Techniques that may be used to discover archaeological site locations from satellite data are:
  1. Interpretation of soil marks,
  2. Observation and interpretation of vegetation marks,
  3. Delineation of anomalous landforms,
  4. Interpretation of palaeo channel and palaeo mudflats
  5. Interpretation of coastal markings strand lines, river mouth etc.
Soil Marks
On arid land with little plant cover and bare soil without any vegetation cover, the colour of the surface provides the most important, though not the only, means by which ancient structures may be detected. Marks on bare soil on cultivated land are also useful in detecting certain areas of archaeological interest. Colour variations of this type are caused by differences in the mineral and organic content of the soil. Partially obscured features may be revealed in arid regions. The positions of buried ditch fillings may be shown in some places by variations in the water content of the soil, which also affect its colour (Figure 5).

Fig. 6: Palaeo-Mudflats and strand lines on Gujarat coast

Vegetation Marks
Information on underground structures or positions of earth works may be shown by differences in vegetation growing on them, which may take various forms according to local circumstances. The vegetation may be greener on the ditches and paler on the banks, which shows different moisture content of the palaeo-channels, palaeo-mudflats or coastal areas. In arid areas, the scanty vegetation may similarly show the positions of ancient remains. Shrubs may grow in favourable places at the base of ruined walls, and vegetation may be denser in ditches but almost absent on the banks.

Anomalous Landforms
Occasionally, flood water outlines ancient earth works. They may protrude from a sheet of water on low ground or the water may fill the hollows. Wetter or drier patches may form above the buried features producing darker or lighter marks which are usually described as damp marks and when the soil dries, they fade out.

An Example of the Use of Satellite Remote Sensing Data
By delineating the strand lines based on remote sensing data along the SE Saurashtra coast, it is found that the shore line has been shifted more than once. One can also sea the wide streams with many tributaries end abruptly against these strand lines. The mud flats are related to the phenomenon of regression of the sea. They represent the sites of older mud flats when the sea level was several metres higher than the present, Figure 6.

Fig. 7: Flow of river Saraswati upto Rann of Kachchha

The map shows that the area northwest of Ahmedabad is covered by palaeo-mudflats. Modhera is presently situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati on the edge of a paleo-mudflat. Hence it means that the town was situated near the seacoast and hence might have been a port at some time in the past. At the Bhavnagar coast, one can easily make out that earlier the coastline was more towards the west. The area to the east of the old coastline has come up, or the sea has receded later on, as it shows a broad saline band and all the rivers end on the strand line. Most of the rivers show wider river mouths near the strand lines, Figure 1. The location of Vallabhi town falls on this strand line on the bank of the present Ghelo River. The seacoast was not far away from the town. There are villages named Juni Rajsthali and Navi Rajsthali near Vallabhi that might be the places of the Kings residence or palace during those days.

Varahi, Benap and Tharad are located on the bank of a palaeo-channel that might have been a mighty river (Saraswati?) as the width of the palaeo-channel is very large. Thus these ports might have been riverine ports in those days. Some of the ports might have closed out due to unfavourable conditions. Mavsari, Padan, Amarapur, Kodadha, Zinzuwada and Guntaligadh located on the bank of the Great Rann or the Little Rann of Kachchha, which were once a part of the sea, are examples of such ports. Thus, remote sensing data shows that most of the places mentioned in literature which are believed to be the ports were indeed ports in the past. Thus it is possible to find out or confirm the location of old riverine ports or seaports using satellite data.

Table - 1 Ancient Ports of Gujarat
Port Location Taluka/District Remarks
Lat Long
1 Desalpur \ Guntali gadh 23o27N 69o10E Nakhatrana Kachchha Excavation
2 Rayan Mandavi 22o53N 69o21E Mandavi, Kachchha
3 Bhadreshwar 22o55N 69o54E Anjar, Kachchha
4 Koteshwar 23o41N 68o32E -do-
5 Jungi 23o13N 70o34E Bhachau, Kachchha
6 Tuna 22o59N 70o05E Anjar, Kachchha
7 Mavsari 24o37N 71o22E Vav, Banaskantha
8 Benap 24o09N 71o25E Vav, Banaskantha
9 Amarapur 23o36N 71o27E Santalpur, -do-
10 Padan 24o18N 71o19E -do-
11 Boru 24o02N 71o20E Vav,Banaskantha
12 Kodadha 23o33N 71o30E Sami, Mehsana Anchors found
13 Modhera 23o35N 71o08E Becharaji, Mehsana
14 Kamboi 23o41N 72o02E Chanasma, -do- temple of Vahanvati Goddess
15 Zinzuwada 23o21N 71o39'E Dasada, Surendranagar Anchors
16 Kuntasi 22o54N 70o36E Maliya, Rajkot excavation
17 Hajnali 22o52N 70o37E -do-
18 Dahisar 22o57N 70o37E -do-
19 Khakharechi 23o05N 70o55E -do-
20 Vavania 23o00N 70o55E -do- established 1763AD
21 Pindara

22 Vallabhi 21o53N 71o53E Bhavnagar
23 Vartej 21o44N 72o04E -do-
24 Lothal 22o31N 72o15E Ahmedabad excavation
25 Dholera 22o15N 72o11E -do-
26 Nagara 22o22N 72o37E Kheda 5th BC Excavation
27 Khambhat 22o18N 72o37E -do-
28 Bharuch

Bharuch 500BC
29 Rander 21o13N 72o47E Surat
30 Bilimora 20o47N 72o58E Valsad Mediaval
31 Varahi 23o47N 71o27E Santalpur, Banaskantha
32 Mahuva 21o05N 71o46E

33 Surat 21o12N 72o50E Surat
34 Kanakpur (Katpur?) 21o02N 71o48E

35 Navsari 20o57N 72o55E Valsad 841 AD
36 Tharad 24o24N 71o38E Banaskantha
37 Gandhar 21o53N 72o39E Bharuch

An Attempt to Locate New Sites
New sites of archaeological interest can be located using soil marks, vegetation marks and anomalous landforms from the satellite data. New sites can be found out on the old seacoast, palaeo mudflats or present coast or in the old seabeds. An attempt has been made to find out whether any such sign is there in the Rann of Kachchha or not. It is reported that the river Saraswati was flowing along the bank of the Little Rann of Kachchha and pouring its water in the Gulf of Khambhat. It is also reported that the river Saraswati was flowing in Kachchha up to 325 BC. The flow of the river Saraswati has been shown in Gujarat through the Rann of Kachchha up to Saurashtra from north Gujarat. Kota Venkatachelam has also shown the river Saraswati pouring water in the Rann. Figure 6 shows the map from Ancient Bharat Varsha showing the flow of river Saraswati up to the Great Rann of Kachchha. In view of this and the recent findings at Dholavira, an attempt has been made to locate the possible sites of ancient ports.

The Great Rann of Kachchha which is dry Rann having encrusted salt in the dry season was examined in the satellite imagery. During monsoon the same area is covered with water. The area was part of the sea for more than 1000 years. IRS Geo-coded data of this area representing the Survey of India Toposheet no. 40L\8 was selected for site location. The image shows signs of a mighty river (Saraswati?) flowing in this area. River flow is between 70o15'-70o30'E, the flow is north to south in direction and shows a bifurcation. The other signs show that there might be probable sites of towns or villages, at about 24o09'N and 70o28'E, 24o13'N and 70o16'E, 24o02'N and 70o 29'E. A water body at 24o09'N and 70o17'E could be a village tank. Agricultural areas can be seen between 24o11'-24o15'N and 70o20'-70o30'E. SOI Toposheet shows only dry Rann having only one island, Maruda Takkar, having 23m height. The other information given is salt waste and the area remains usually flooded during July to December.

Such signs can also be seen in the south of Jakhel village, in between Jakhel and Chadiyana of Sami taluka. Some anomalous structures can also be seen in the north west of Subapura village of Sami taluka Mehsana district. (SOI toposheet no.41 M/10.) A more detailed survey is required for further confirmatory information. It would be useful if some of these sites could be investigated further to verify the indications seen in the satellite data.

Thus remote sensing technology can play an important role in understanding the past in the context of available historical and ancient literature. Remote sensing data can successfully be used for building up historical records and changes that might have taken place on the surface of the earth in the past. The data may also be used for upgrading historical atlases, which might have been prepared using only limited knowledge, and as per the imagination of certain scholars.

The proper planning, use and application of remote sensing techniques in archaeology will result in economic benefits through reduction of costs of survey. Remote sensing technique can increase efficiency, speed and data extraction at all stages of archaeological research. Aided by the broad, interdisciplinary scope injected by remote sensing data, archaeology may, in the near future, transcend its traditional narrow focus. This may, in fact, be one of the best justifications for a public, and publicly funded, remote sensing based archaeology programme. All rights reserved.