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Ship building in Beypore


Ship building in Beypore



It  has been described as the most graceful of sailing vessels. This is the dhow which, for centuries, plied the western trading routes of the Indian Ocean. This vessel was the prime mover in commercial links between East and the west.

Medieval travelers like Ibn – Battuta, Ma – Muan, Abdurazzack and later European observers provide important information on material, types and variety of ships. This tradition of shipbuilding has important influence even in folklore of the region. A Sufi poem ‘Kappeppattu’ ascribed to a 13th century author depicts human body as ship, soul the captain and god as port of destination with details of life similar to a voyage in the sea.


The first written account of dhows was made in the book Periplus of the Erythrean Sea. But before its publication, the boats were a common feature in the western ports of Indian Ocean and those of the Red Sea. Indeed, it is said that when Portuguese seafarer Vasco da Gama arrived at Matondoni island, the pristine tourist site better known for its historic sites, he found a people who believed that they were cursed into making a living from the sea. They were expert canoe and dhow makers. The sailor, it is said, fell in love with these people’s creation - the dhow.


The political upheavals influenced the rise and fall of many of the above centres. The unalterable factor namely the availability of timber and workers helped some of the centres to sustain; Beypore near Calicut is one such centre which has a continuous tradition of ship building.


Beypore is on the mouth of River Chaliyar. Nainar identified ‘Shaliyat’ of Arabs with Beypore. But there were these ancient towns of Chaliyam and Beypore on either side of the confluence. The Romans, Chinese and Arab travelers mention Chaliyam and Abul fida makes an important statement that its inhabitants are Jews.


Finest quality of timber was easily available in Beypore. The rain forests which formed the upper basins of the river enabled an endless supply of timber which helped Beypore to develop as a center of ship – building.


The requirement of timber for plank – built ships was varied and many. The Pandi (keel) required a strong hard and heavy timber. The Vari (ribs) frame, on which the strength and durability of the ship depended had to be stronger and if possible should be essentially of teak and mast should be straight, strong but of light weight. Timber with all these qualities arrived in Beypore thevappam. Thevapam was not only the cheapest means of transport, but logs in any size could be carried to the yards, which was otherwise impossible.

At the forest felling sites builders ordered certain timbers in specific size.


Various types of ships were built in Beypore. Some of them were


  1. Boom

  2. Padavu

  3. Bireek

  4. Kottiya

  5. Sambook

  6. Bahla

  7. Pathemar


Materials required at various stages of construction and in case of timber, different types of timber, different types of timber with specific qualities were readily available in Beypore.


The Pandi (Keel) of the ship was made of Marimaruthu (Terminalia crenulata). The lengths of the keel was taken to be the lengths of the ship and had to be less than 100 ft. The Vari (rib), frame as far as possible in required size from Pilavu, Jackfruit tree (Artocarpus integrifolios). The natural ‘V’ shape was stronger than any other joints. Hand sawn teak alone was used for planks. It was the teak that gave preeminence to Beypore in ship – building.


The quality of teak grown in the upper basins of Chaliyar tempted the British Administration to start the Conollys teak plantation in 1850. The British administration also promulgated a series of MPPF Acts (Malabar Preservation of Private Forest Acts) from preservation of certain varieties of timber. Teak was also exported as timber to the building centers of West Coast. From the 17th – 19th Century English ship-building was concentrated in Bombay. The Bombay Dockyard in 1775 rivaled any in Europe. The Arab geographers have well attested the export of teak.  Yaqut and Qazusmi mention huge and tall teak tree in Kulam. One British expert James Kyd observed, “ Malabar teak was certainly the best timber in the world” for ship – building.


According to Digby staple commodities produced in India included teak wood with its superior virtues for ship-building which had been used since Pre – Islamic times for ships plying in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. With other woods teak was in demand for pillars, beams and roofing in the almost treeless areas of the Persian Gulf and South Arabia.


Slender, straight, strong but light, tapering to top, Pali was best suited for mast. Pali (Palaqim Elepticum) was abundant in Waynad forests, not in Nilambur.


Cordage at various stages was done with Coir. The raw iron nails were locally manufactured. These days industrial units manufacture nails and cast anchor. The only material not locally available in Beypore was cotton wicks used in caulking.


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