YOUNG WORLD

To go across the seven seas

MALEEHA RAGHAVIAH

MARVELS OF OLD TIME ENGINEERING: Better than the best

MARVELS OF OLD TIME ENGINEERING: Better than the best  

KOZHIKODE

It is interesting to see how indigenous craft develops and is nurtured. The rugged and traditional sea-faring vessel, the uru (dhow), closely associated with the maritime tradition of the Malabar region may look like a museum relic when compared to ships built with modern technology these days.

But considering the craftsmanship and indigenous technology that went into its manufacture, the uru stands out as an engineering marvel and is a reminder of the trade ties Malabar had established with the Chinese, Arabs, Jews, Romans and many others who came in search of the rich products of the land, long before the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama had landed on the Malabar coast in 1498. The foreign traders had come in search of the wealth of pepper and aromatic spices for which Malabar had earned fame. The treatise Malabar Manual authored by the British Collector of erstwhile Malabar, William Logan, lists items were exported from Malabar by sea-faring vessels.

Quality timber, sandalwood, coconut, copra, areca nut, jaggery and iron were the prized items of Malabar for which there was a great demand all over the world. In return they brought silk, and other items, which were wanted among the local community.

Thanks to a flourishing sea trade, shipbuilding had developed as a craft here. In the process, Beypore the seaside town off the Kozhikode Coast had earned name and fame for the building of the uru. There are many unique features in the making of an uru that are considered a marvel in indigenous ship building craft. No formal engineering drawing is used.

The construction plan is simply visualised and retained in the mind of master craftsmen. The drawing calculations are so correct that when the uru is launched, it balances perfectly on water. They vary in size from 200 tonnes to 1,000 tonnes. The craft is made totally by hand using wooden planks and special type of nails. Water- proof cotton is wedged between the planks. In earlier days teak was the wood used. Of late, orders from customers in the Gulf are executed using Malaysian wood to bring down the cost. Diesel engines are used to supplement wind power. A notable feature of building them is that members of all the communities are involved in its construction, and the exercise is viewed as an initiative in communal harmony. Beypore had witnessed the building of a massive uru, some time back, on order from a customer from the Gulf.