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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

“Shivaji realised the need for protecting the coast”: author of ‘The Sea Hawk – Life And Battles of Kanhoji Angrey’

Chhatrapati Shivaji, “the father of the Navy” to whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the new Indian Navy Ensign on Friday, “was unquestionably the first ruler in India to have realised the need for protecting the coast”, Manohar Malgonkar writes in a book published in 1984 that has just been reissued by HarperCollins.

While commissioning INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier and unveiling the new Ensign, Modi said: “From the Vedic period to the Gupta period and the Maurya period, India’s maritime power was well known all over the world. Chhatrapati Veer Shivaji Maharaj had built such a navy with this sea power that it would scare the enemies.

“When the British came to India, they were in awe of the power of Indian ships and the resultant trade. So they decided to crush India’s maritime power. History is witness to the fact that strict restrictions were imposed on Indian ships and merchants by enacting a law in the British Parliament at that time…

“Today, on the historic date of September 2, 2022, we have changed another chapter in history. Today India has taken off another burden of colonial rule. The Indian Navy has got its new flag from today. Till now the reflection of the colonial times remained on the flag of the Indian Navy. But from today, inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the new Navy flag will flutter in the sea and the sky…

“Today, with this flag veneration, I dedicate this new flag to the father of the Navy, Chhatrapati Veer Shivaji Maharaj. I am sure, this new flag, imbued with the spirit of Indianness, will instil a new self-confidence and self-respect in the Indian Navy,” Modi said.

The new Ensign features the Tricolour on the left and a golden-bordered octagon in the centre, symbolising the ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Rajmudra’ (The Seal of Chhatrapati Maharaj), within which is the National Emblem atop an anchor superimposed on a naval shield. Below the shield is a golden-bordered ribbon bearing the Navy’s motto in Devanagari: Sham No Varunah (May the Lord of Water be auspicious unto us).

“None of the other rulers in India had so far shown any interest in the sea. At the same time, Shivaji’s claim (in the proclamation at the time of his enthronement on June 6, 1674 that his kingdom extended up to the limits of the ocean) was not altogether a flight of fancy; in the fourteen years he had taken to carve out his kingdom, he had also built up a formidable fleet. Indeed, they say that the sea was his first love, dating from the time he spent as a youth in Mahad, near Bombay,” Malgonkar writes in “The Sea Hawk – Life And Battles of Kanhoji Angrey” cited by many historians as the most skilled Admiral in India’s maritime history.

“The Portuguese, in Goa, had already taken note of the growing power of Shivaji’s fleet and signed a treaty of friendship with him. The Viceroy had sent his emissary to Shivaji with gifts and had undertaken to supply him with cannons at a fair price in return for a promise that he would not molest their ships.

“At the time of his coronation, Shivaji had 57 major ships of war (excluding smaller craft with a total fighting strength of over 5,000 men. Five years later, there were 66 major ships. Even his expedition to Karwar and Ankola nine years earlier had been mounted with 85 assorted ‘gallivvats’ (small armed boats with sails and oars), each ranging from 30 to 150 tons, and three-masted ‘ghurabs’ (galley-like vessels with oars and sails), with a total fighting strength of 4,000 men – a formidable force even by today’s standards,” Malgonkar writes.

In 1670, while Shivaji was still consolidating his empire, his “fleet went out to ‘show the flag’, and caused the English at Bombay many anxious moments. They had convinced themselves that Shivaji was mounting a combined operation against Surat. The fleet sailed past Bombay, its every move watched by the English with bated breath, but turned back without firing a shot. It was only then realised that this…was a full-dress rehearsal and a flagshowing voyage of the coast. Shivaji’s military genius was far ahead of the tactics understood in those days.

“Shivaji was unquestionably the first ruler in India to have realised the need for protecting the coast. His ships gradually began to patrol the coast in increasing numbers, ‘defying the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Siddies, and the English and (in all) twenty-seven hostile powers; living on the tributes offered by the people along the coast and collecting for the King, rations…gold…and other tribute. In this manner, it soon came to be regarded as a formidable fighting force, a veritable army upon the high seas’,” Malgonkar writes.

In all, Shivaji built 13 new sea-side forts, perhaps the last of which was “on a rocky out-crop off Alibag, twenty miles south of Bombay. Hitherto, this small island had, for many years, contained a minor outpost of the Maratha forces. Now it was to be converted into an impregnable, self-contained fortress with several ‘sweet-water’ tanks and with its own ship-building yard capable of holding out for long periods without outside help. Since the island was nothing more than a vast, bare rock (kul) surrounded by water (aap), the new fortress came to be called ‘Kul-aap’, a name which, even before the fort was completed, was transformed by the people into the much simpler ‘Kulaba’ or ‘Colaba’.”

“In years to come, the fortress of Colaba became the home and headquarters of successive generations of the hereditary naval chiefs of the Maratha Kings, the Angreys. In later years, the family came to be known a the ‘Angreys of Colaba’,” Malgonkar writes.

Kanhoji Angrey is the best-known of these naval chiefs. A cantonment was established in Colaba in 1796, which has now expanded into the sprawling Navy Nagar.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with a modified headline.)

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