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Reviewed by:
  • Maritime Archaeology: Historical Descriptions of the Kalingas
  • Bérénice Bellina
Maritime Archaeology: Historical Descriptions of the Kalingas. Sila Tripati. National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. New Delhi: Kaveri Books, 2000. xxii + 166 pp., 20 maps, 14 b/w plates, bibliography, index. ISBN 81-7479-038-1.

Tripati aims to present a maritime history of the Kalingas from the earliest historical times, that is to say from the very last centuries B.C. (Mauryan period), until the thirteenth century A.D. The Kalingas, whose frontiers fluctuated according to historical events, mainly corresponds to contemporary Orissa, which formerly included the northern part of Andhra Pradesh. This book is the first attempt to present a historical account of the maritime activities of the Kalinga. Indeed, though deeply involved in trade, until now this region has mainly inspired studies on its general or economic history and on art history, which provides limited references to its maritime and trade activities. Given my interest in early exchange between South and Southeast Asia, I was pleased that Tripati had drawn sparse data together, contributing to a clearer picture of the involvement of one eastern region of India in maritime trade. Nonetheless, this book failed in several ways in its attempt because of the author's eagerness to make Kalinga the pioneer of Indianization in Southeast Asia, which he considers a civilizing process and, as a result, distorts the data for this purpose. Indeed, it appeared to me that the real interest of the author (I believe a native of Orissa) is to promote his nationalist-regionalist ideas. While presenting the main content of this book, I will point out some of his more characteristic positions and the severe deficiencies or distortions his ideas led him to produce.

The preface anticipates the position of the author when he defines Kalinga as the area between the rivers Ganges and Godavari, extending it to include large parts of Bengal, where there existed important ports of trade.

In the first chapter, Tripati introduces the main argument of this book: the "greatness of Kalinga" and its contribution to civilization through large-scale colonization. This chapter presents the general historical background and the literary, epigraphic, numismatic, archaeological, and artistic sources available. His a priori views lead him to interpret the sources in such a way that he concludes that by the time Asoka conquered Kalinga, the region was already wealthy and powerful because of, "maritime trade and colonial expansion" (p. 2). As evidence of Kalinga's leading role in this civilizing adventure, Tripati uses the fifth-century A.D. Javanese inscriptions, which, "use scripts similar to those from Orissa, indicating that Kalinga was the carrier of civilisation to Indonesia" (p. 5). Although some of the earliest Indian scripts of Southeast Asia appear to be derived from southern India, and more precisely from the Pallava script (De Casparis 1975 : 13), as far as I know, none of them has specifically been identified as scripts from Kalinga. In the matter of the earliest inscriptions of the Indonesian archipelago, De Casparis wrote that since 1918, Vogel had concluded:

that the origin of this early Southeast Asian script was the Pallava script used in numerous inscriptions of the Kings of the dynasty of this name. These inscriptions are dated from the middle of the fourth century A.D. and have been found in different parts of southern India from the Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh in the north to the Bellary District of Mysore in the west, and south of Kanci (Conjevaran) in the south. Although this script was also used in some inscriptions of Ceylon and in inscriptions of the Kadambas of Kuntala (northern Mysore), there can be no doubt that it was most closely associated with [End Page 386] the Pallavas, so that its use outside the Pallava kingdom should be attributed to strong Pallava influence in such areas.

(De Casparis 1975 : 13)

Tripati ends the historical background section concluding that Kalinga people, "were the pioneers of Indian colonisation in furthering India and the Indian Archipelago" (p. 7).

The second chapter is divided in two sections. The first one presents the ancient ports of Kalinga, both those known archaeologically as well as those...