African Archaeological Review

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 583–598 | Cite as

The West Coast of India and the Maritime World of the Western Indian Ocean

  • Himanshu Prabha RayEmail author
Original Article


This paper highlights the role of the fishing and sailing communities in the maritime world of the Western Indian Ocean. The focus is on the Western Coastal Plain extending from the present state of Gujarat in the north through Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. Drawing on information provided by the Periplus Maris Erythraei on local boats plying the region, the paper discusses cross-cultural contacts amongst the diverse communities who traversed the sea lanes as sailing crew, merchants, religious clergy, etc. The history of these communities is evident from archaeological data and inscriptions recording donations that they made to religious establishments. A second focus of the paper relates to the role of religious institutions in providing identity to the seafaring communities and as adjudicator of social relations. The religious landscape influenced the maritime system in several ways, from moulding cultural preferences and choices to active participation. Religious shrines were both consumers of a variety of commodities used in ritual, such as incense, oil, and textiles, as well as important locales for trading activity as indicated by shops and markets within or in the vicinity of temple premises from the ninth to tenth centuries onwards. Inscriptions also indicate several instances of differential tax on commodities required for religious purposes. The picture that emerges is that of a diverse religious landscape patronised by varied communities.


Kanheri Periplus Maris Erythraei Fishing Sailing Junagarh Barygaza Kharava Arikamedu Berenike Caitya Hindu temple Jain shrine 


Cet article met l'accent sur le rôle des communautés de pêcheurs et navigateurs dans le monde maritime de l'Océan Indien. Nous examinons la plaine côtière occidentale qui s'étend de l'état de Gujarat dans le nord vers Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka et Kérala. En se basant sur les informations fournies par le Periplus Maris Erythraei sur les bateaux sillonant la région, l'article analyse les contacts interculturels entre les diverses communautés qui parcouraient les voies maritimes: équipages, marchands, clergé, etc. L'histoire de ces communautés est visible dans les données archéologiques et les inscriptions qui font état des donations versées aux établissements religieux. L'article porte aussi sur le rôle des institutions religieuses dans la construction identitaire des communautés de navigateurs et l'arbitration des relations sociales. Le paysage religieux a influencé le système maritime de plusieures manières, orientant aussi bien les choix et les préférences culturelles que la participation active. Les lieux sacrés étaient à la fois les consommateurs d'une gamme de commodités rituelles, tels que l'encens, les huiles, les textiles, etc., et d'importants sites d'activités commerciales, ainsi que le révèle la présence d'échoppes et des marchés près des temples à partir des 9-10e siècles. Les inscriptions contiennent aussi plusieurs exemples de taxation différentielle sur les commodités requise à des fins religieuses. L'image qui se dégage est celle d'un paysage religieux varié parrainé par de multiples communautés.



Thanks you to François Richard for assistance creating the French abstract.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Monuments AuthorityNew DelhiIndia

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