One does see images of kings and gods taking boat rides in the terracotta temples of Bishnupur in Bengal dating 17th century; but most of these boats are usually on ponds and rivers and lagoons, not the kind of great boats that travel across the sea.In Gujarat, near Khambat, we hear of Vahanvati Sikotar Mata also known as Harsiddhi Mata, a goddess who protects sailors from shipwrecks.The one community that continued with shipping was the Chettiar community of Tamil Nadu.The Chettiars did travel, right from the time of Chola kings, establishing temples as far as China.Over time a belief spread that when you cross the sea, you lose caste.
And India’s maritime tradition is all but forgotten.
The sea traders patronised Buddhism and the Brahmins patronised the feudal land owners, the Kshatriyas who controlled the ‘kshetra’ or land.
In every culture there has been tension between the landowning rich and the trading rich.
Thus, we do see a coastal maritime tradition both in the eastern and western regions of India.
However, the traditions changed about a thousand years ago.Sea travel is mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka tales but not in the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, perhaps because the former was patronised by mercantile communities (vaishyas) and the latter by landed gentry (kshatriyas).