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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Will Marine Museum in Chennai become a reality - INS Vela - Chola naval valour

I have on more than a couple of occasions shared something on Customs duty, which is a tax on goods imported.  All goods coming into the country go through the procedure of customs for the purposes of proper examination, appraisal, assessment and evaluation. Tamilnadu has many Ports, some of which have existed for centuries.  The ancient city of Puhar was destroyed by sea around 1500 years ago.  There are speculations that this could have been due to a tsunami.  History repeats itself and on 26th Dec 2004 on a black Sunday, another Tsunami caused havoc in the coasts of Cuddalore and Nagapattinam killing hundreds.

This article is not about the devastation or about the havoc caused by Tsunami.

In olden Tamilnadu, there existed Thirvai (Customs duty & Excise) – a Unit employed for deducting a fixed % of a commodity for a particular season.  Trade voyages were influenced by ocean currents and hence the rates were variable.  There was Aaivu [Inspection & enforcement) – an  Action arm of the trade law which  inspected ships for contraband, illegal goods, wrong declaring of tonnage, small crimes control and the protection of the Harbours ; Ottru (Intelligence Corps) of the territorial waters which normally tailed vessels and gave period updates for the rulers   - all these related to a great dynasty of the Tamilnadu.

The naval or sea force was so well organized and had numerous  sub-units of operational reasons and organizational  - there was Kanni unit commanded by Kalapathy which was a rank.  ‘kanni’ in tamil means trap and this was a tactical formation used to lure the enemy combatants during a strategic deployment.   There were many kingdoms in India known for warfare and some known for Naval power.  Cholas reigned supreme especially in sea faring.

There are many accounts of finest  sea-faring traditions from Ancient India  dating back to centuries before the modern area.  Lothal is one of the most prominent cities of the ancient Indus valley civilization.  Lothan in the modern state of Gujarat was excavated in 1955 by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India].  Lothal’s dock connected the city to an ancient course of Sabarmati river on the trade route between Harappan cities with Arabian sea.  The excavations provided an idea of the ancient port city and its naval tradition.  Shell compass had been used in those days for navigation and for study of astronomy much  before Greeks.  The Sangam literature contain volumes about Chola sea faring.  It contains the names of the Kings as also of the Chola navy.

There are records of chola naval activity, of the kaveripoompattinam also known as Poompuhar which was a natural harbour in the mouth of river kaveri.   The present day Poompuhar is a town in Nagapattinam district of Tamilnadu. This was once a flourishing port which also served as capital for the early Chola kings.  Silapathikaram  describes in detail the city of Puhar as having two districts – Maruvurpakkam near the sea and Pattinapakkam to its west.    In Purananuru – big ships entering the port, precious merchandise from overseas being unloaded is mentioned.  Pattinappaalai describes Puhar in great detail.  It also provides details of merchants and their trade in Puhar.

Chola dynasty known for its valour  ruled parts of Southern India for long.  Their heartland was the fertile valley of famed Kaveri river and they ruled for long time.  At their peak, they reined over significantly larger area – the whole country south of Tungabhadra.  Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola are names to remember.
the chola kingdom

Tamil emperor Arulmozhivarman alto titled Rajakesari  was the King popularly known as  Rajaraja Chola I.  He established larger Chola empire during his rule between 985 and 1014 CE.  His kingdom extended as far as Sri Lanka in the south, Kalinga (Odissa) in the North east.  Besides his battle exploits, it was exactly a thousand and one years ago,  he built the World’s first complete granite temple – a brilliant Brihadeeswarar Temple (Peruvudaiyar Kovil – Tanjore Big Temple)

His naval powers ensured that he annexed parts of Sri Lanka and occupied the islands of Maldives.   The Cholas left a lasting legacy on the sea front which Tamilnadu can ever be proud of.   His Navy could undertake combat and non combat missions, peace time patrol and interdiction of piracy, escort trade convoys and more, which a modern Naval super-power can be proud of.

Now history has presented an opportunity to recall the valour of Chola and reminisce the erstwhile naval power of the Region.  There is news that  the State is mulling acceptance as a gift the decommissioned naval submarine – “INS VELA” for converting it into a museum based in Chennai as reported in the Express newspaper.    The Regional Director of  National Maritime Foundation (NMF)  was quoted as saying  that ‘a naval museum out of a submarine will be a good revenue earner as well as remind us about our great maritime tradition’.   The report stated that State Govt. has to send its views to the Defence Ministry which will set the ball rolling. The submarine museum in the sands of much touted Marina or somewhere along the Coast could be a great visual retreat and opportunity for inspiring future generations attracting them to Indian Navy.

aerial view of Vizag museum 

INS Vela had served the Indian navy for 37 years and was decommissioned last year.  For the uninformed, another  decommissioned  naval submarine INS Kursura was converted into a museum in 2002 and is attracting crowds in Vizag.   INS Vela was commissioned on 31st Aug 1973 and after meritorious service decommissioned on 25th June 2010. 

Its technical specs are :
Displacement:            : 1,952 t (1,921 long tons) surfaced
2,475 t (2,436 long tons) submerged
Length:                        91.3 m (299 ft 6 in)
Beam:             7.5 m (24 ft 7 in)
Draught:                     6 m (19 ft 8 in)
Speed:                        16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) surfaced
15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) submerged
Complement:             75 (incl 8 officers)
Armament:                 10 533mm torpedo tubes with 22 SET-65E/SAET-60 torpedoes, 44 mines in lieu of torpedoes

Vela & Kursura were brought from Russia with which the submarine arm of Indian Navy had been created.  Vela  is reported to be a Foxtrot class submarine, a NATO reporting name of a class of diesel-electric patrol submarines that were built in the Soviet Union.  A total of 58 such vessesls were built for the Soviet Navy at the Sudomekh division of the Admiralty Shipyard (now Admiralty Wharves), St. Petersburg

These vessels were capable of operation below the surface of the water.  In naval parlance, submarines are referred to as boats rather than ships.  German subs were called U Boats [Unterseeboot]. Periscope is an instrument for observation from a concealed position. In its simplest form it consists of a tube with mirrors at each end set parallel to each other at a 45-degree angle. Periscopes allow a submarine, when submerged at a shallow depth, to search visually for nearby targets and threats on the surface of the water and in the air. When not in use, a submarine's periscope retracts into the hull.

Ships are extremely attractive and it would be wonderful, if this concept materializes and INS VELA finds a resting place in the shores of Bay of Bengal in Chennai.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


  1. like to know more about chola naval conquests....
    any help???

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