Coringa, a bustling port city of Andhra lost in historic cyclone

  • By Yashwanth Ramesh Gollapinni

 

Bharath has played a very crucial role and has its own mark especially in the shipping and maritime industry. Our country maritime history dates back before 4000 BCE, our history is interconnected with oceans and perhaps, the only ocean in the world named with its culture is ‘Hindu Maha Sagar’, i.e., the present day ‘Indian ocean’.  Ours is the earliest, most advanced, largest maritime trade stretched from East to West back in those days. During Bharath’s peak developments was defined by its, organized cities, multistory brick buildings, vast irrigation networks, sewer systems, the most advanced metalwork, greatest ship building technology, which used to accommodate 700-800 passengers and there are accounts for this in the ‘Pali’, Literature on the size of vessels. The technology of shipbuilding was a hereditary profession passing from father to son and was a monopoly of a particular varna of people. The local builders used the hand, fingers and feet as the units of measurement. In different places different kinds of boats were built for specific purposes. For construction of ship, the teak (Tectona Grandis) wood is generally employed in India.

Since our county is surrounded by water on its three sides, there were many port cities that were developed by the Kings of Akhand Bharath. And, Surprisingly, the world’s first and the most ancient drydock was built in Lothal, Gujarat, thus showing our prowess in ship building to the world.

One among such bustling economy port cities in Bharat was ‘Korangi’, which is now known as Coringa. The port city of Coringa flourished during the 18th century as a significant maritime and trading center in the Godavari Delta. Several factors contributed to its prosperity during this period:

Coringa/Korangi, was strategically located along the eastern coast of India, near the mouth of the Godavari River and the shores of Bay of Bengal. Its proximity to the Bay of Bengal made it an ideal location for maritime trade and commerce. Coringa had a well-developed natural harbor, making it suitable for shipping activities, the port was equipped with facilities to handle a large volume of goods and had the infrastructure necessary for trade with other regions and countries. Because of its proximity, the trade connections with Southeast Asian Countries and European countries as well.

Coringa, was renowned for its thriving textile industry, the city produced high quality Muslin and Silk fabrics that were in demand both domestically and internationally. The textile trade contributed significantly to the economic prosperity of Coringa. The fertile deltaic region of the Godavari River supported the cultivation of rice, which made the city of Koringa become a center for the rice trade and exports of grains. Thus, the rice and other staples were exported to various regions, which contributed to the economic growth and made the city as a bustling trade and export hub on the shores of Ganga Sagar / Kalinga Sagar (Bay of Bengal).  The city also engaged in shipbuilding activities, contributing to the maritime infrastructure of the region. Even during the British period there were few factories and warehouses established facilitating the shipping and storage of goods. The city also attracted a diverse population of traders, merchants, and artisans from various ports of India and beyond. This diversity contributed to a vibrant and cosmopolitan atmosphere, fostering cultural and economic exchange activities.

The writing about coringa cyclone isn’t a complete one without talking about Mr. Henry Piddington, was an English Sailor who settled in East India & China and later settled in Bengal. Piddington’s most abiding contribution, however, was to the understanding of maritime meteorology, and to the appreciation of tropical cyclones as a natural hazard of titanic impact on land. In 1839 he began research on the hurricane which occurred in the Bay of Bengal on 3–5 June that year. Mr. Piddington’s research was based on logs, data, and information from ships’ captains, interpreted in the light of his own maritime experience.

The Sailor’s Horn-Book for the Law of Storms—the work for which he is now chiefly remembered—was published in 1848. In it, Mr. Piddington introduced the term ‘cyclone’, derived from a Greek word meaning coiled like a snake, to emphasize the helical character of cyclonic air movements.  In his book Page No.150, 151 & 152, he mentioned about the coringa cyclone. He says “This is a cyclone coming up from the Andamans & Travelling towards Korangi/Coringa Port city” He also mentioned that Coringa was frequently subjected to unindating from gales blowing from the seawards & the consequent rise of the river Godavari. He also mentioned that the city of Korangi, was destroyed by three giant succession storms that came from Kalinga Sagar/Ganga Sagar, at the highest point bowing from the North West blowing furiously.  

It was also mentioned in his book about the annual register for 1788, is a  letter from Mr. Willam Parson to Alenader  Dalrymple, Esq. (was a Scottish geographer and the first Hydrographer of the British Admiralty), describing the an inundation from the storm wave occurred at Injaram village, five miles south of Coringa in the month of May, 1787, from which it can be incurred about the dreadful visitations.

 

Today, Coringa is a tiny village near the coast, of no distinction or note, and a population of no more than a few thousand. The drastic decline was caused by a pair of devastating cyclones, one in 1789, and an even more destructive one fifty years later, in 1839. After centuries of prosperity, Coringa’s fortunes took a hit in 1789, when a storm that came to be called The Great Coringa Cyclone developed in December of that year, fairly late in the cyclone season by Bay of Bengal standards. It produced severe storm-tide conditions, and witnesses described a succession of three giant waves striking Coringa, with the first storm tide driving ashore all the ships in Anchorage, while the second and third waves, even bigger than the first, flowed inland to inundate with saltwater the fertile fields of the Godavari river’s delta. The city of Coringa was almost completely destroyed, and around 20,000 people were killed. The powerful winds and storm surge led to the destruction of the port and the city, with a large number of ships and buildings were swept away.

Then, on November 25, 1839, again unusually late in the Bay of Bengal’s cyclone season, a monstrous cyclone struck Coringa and brought with it a 40-foot storm surge. The extensive damage of the earlier 1789 cyclone paled in comparison to this one, which wholly destroyed the city of Coringa, wrecked all ships in the harbor and carried their wreckage miles inland, and killed over 300,000 people.

Tallarevu and Korangi were two prominent shipping hubs the coastal region. Ebeneja Robek, an Englishman, founded a maritime repair facility in 1802. The expansive British warship Albotress, measuring 150 feet in length and 76 feet in width, underwent meticulous repairs at these ports. At the peak of prosperity for Korangi and Tallarevu, a minimum of 500 ships found anchorage here. Furthermore, numerous repair facilities were in operation to cater to the maritime needs of vessels in the area.

 

This time the damage was so extensive that the few survivors couldn’t made any effort to rebuild. Most upped stakes and scattered to pursue their lives elsewhere, putting distance between themselves and what was thought to be a cursed city. The few who remained, some of whom were old enough to have experienced both devastating cyclones during their lifetimes, abandoned the coast altogether and rebuilt their community miles inland.

This is considered as on of the history’s most destructive natural disaster.

Hell on Earth: 12 of History’s Most Destructive Natural Disasters

These two cyclones had a profound impact on Coringa, leading to its decline as a significant maritime and trading center. The devastation prompted the British East India Company to shift its operations to a more secure location, and the port of Kakinada eventually gained prominence in the region. The tragic events in Coringa serve as a historical reminder of the vulnerability of coastal areas to natural disasters and the importance of disaster preparedness and resilient infrastructure.

Ocean trade in Vedic literature

The Shipping Industry has been a very vital in defining a country’s economy since time immemorial.  Even today with the advent of technology, where people are flying by flights and also using airways for transportation, exports and trade as well, still 90% of the global trade by volume is made through shipping and maritime. Since then, the merchant vessels sailing on the seas played a pivotal role in making or establishing trade connections among nations and thus contributing to the country’s economic growth as well.

During the later Vedic Period ( 600 to 200 BC), there are references to ocean voyages, description of boats and passages. The earliest reference of maritime activities in India occurs in Rig Veda;   And, there were evidences that during the Maurya period, a Superintendent of ships (Navadyaksa) was appointed for building and maintenance of boats. Our engineers in those days itself have incorporated the use of compasses, planked ships by emphasizing on the passengers comfort and safety as well, and well trained navigators who used to sail to Asia, Mesopotamia, Africa, Europe and thus extending their capabilities to reaching the present day Americas as well. With excavations carried out at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa  sites has revealed ample evidences about the maritime trade activities that flourished during those days.

The Sanskrit work, Yukti Kalpataru of post-Gupta era mentions of vessels with single, double, treble and four masts, it is assumed as many sails. The use of metals, in ship construction, the work recommends gold, silver and copper or an alloy of two or more of these elements. It strongly forbids the use of iron, particularly for joining sides and bottom, for fear of exposing ships to the influence of magnetic rocks in the sea. This clearly shows our forethought about science, building ships, metals, its properties and trade & commerce, since time Vedic ages.

Reference:

The Sailor’s Horn-Book for the Law of Storms – By Henry Piddington – 1848
Pracheenandhra Noukaajeevanam – by Bhavaraju Venkata Krishna Rao -1923
IDNDR Indian Experiences and Initiatives – Ministry of Agriculture – Govt of India July 1999.
Top 10 natural disasters that rocked India – Indiatvnews.com June 17, 2015
Hell on Earth: 12 of History’s Most Destructive Natural Disasters – https://historycollection.com/
October 10, 2017