The first known lighthouse in India was at Puhar Port in Kaveripatnam, an ancient south Indian Port City. The famous Tamil writer Illango Adigal of 7th century AD in his book Silappadhikaram had explained in detail about the beautiful lighthouse in the Bay of Bengal coast and the numerous ships anchored at Puhar port, which was doing brisk business those days.
The excavations in the Indusvalley civilization had proved the existence of a well planned port at Flothal in the Northwest province of India in 3000 BC, and it is believed that lighthouses were built in India in the 3rd century BC itself by Emperor Asoka who was a contemporary of Ptolamy II, the Egyptian king who built the famous lighthouse of Alexandria. The oldest lighthouse tower still standing erect is at Mahabalipur, 65 KM south of Madras in south India. Pallavas who encouraged sculptures during their reign built this beautiful rock sculptured bonfire lighthouse standing on tip of Olakkaneeswar Temple in the 8th century AD.
After the invasion of the Indian subcontinent by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English, the business through sea increased several folds and lighthouses were built all along the coastline of the Indian subcontinent and these lights were maintained by the local rulers and port authorities. When the number of lighthouses increased, it became essential to constitute an authority to control and maintain these lights. After detailed discussions and consultations, the decision to constitute a lighthouse department in British India (and the jurisdiction was from Aden to Rangoon) spread in the present nations of Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Lighthouse Bill was passed in 1927 and the Lighthouse Department constituted thereafter had the control of 32 lighthouses. When Independent India was formed in 1947, the number came down to 17 but merging of erstwhile princely states to Independent India, gave the control of 50 more lighthouses to the Lighthouse Department. Now after 55 years of Indian independence, the Lighthouse Department is maintaining 168 lighthouses, 1 lightship, 10 DGPS stations, 11 Radio beacons, 29 Racons and 6 Loran-C stations.
The Governor General of British India gave approval to the Lighthouse Bill on September 21, 1927. To commemorate this, every year September 21st is celebrated as Lighthouse Day in India. On September 21st, the 75th year of the formation of the Indian Lighthouse Department, the Platinum Jubilee celebrations were conducted at Samiyani and Okha Lighthouse premises.
Samiyani is an islet at the end of a 1.5 KM long reef extended from Okha, in the mouth of Gulf of Kutch and it protects the ships anchored at Okha Port from the fury of nature. There are two lighthouses in Samiyani Islet, a green light in the north end and a white light in the Center. Except for the lighthouses, the other constructions available in the barren island of Samiyani are a small Temple of Hindu Goddess Samiyani Mata and a tomb of a Muslim saint. The first lighthouse with a 20m stone masonry tower and wick lamp was commissioned at Samiyani in the year of 1876. On September 20th, 2002, mechanized boats were arranged from the Okha passenger jetty to Samiyani Island to transport the local population for attending the function, and two hovercrafts were engaged to transport the guests of honor.
Mr. Ved Prakash Goyal, Honorable Union Minister for Shipping, rededicated the Samiyani Lighthouse to the Nation in the presence of Mr. Chandresh Patel, Honorable member of the Indian Parliament, officers and staff of the Lighthouse Department, Indian Navy, Okha Port and Indian Coast Guard, local fishermen and lighthouse lovers from Okha and Beyt.
Okha lighthouse premises, the venue for the public function of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, was fully decorated in a befitting manner and a three day exhibition of lighthouse equipment and buoys by the Jamnager lighthouse workshop, photographs, picture cards and stamps. Philatelic special covers by the Philatelic Bureau, Rajcot began at 16.00 hours. The function started with prayer by the children from the local school. In his speech Mr. J. Ramakrishna, the Director-General, explained to the public the history, day-to-day functioning and future plans of the Lighthouse Department in India. The meeting was presided over by Mr. Chandresh Patel, Honorable Member of Parliament. Mr. Ved Prakash Goyal, Honorable Union Minister for Shipping was the chief guest for the function. In his address to the meeting he did not hide his pleasure in the selfless service rendered by the Department to the Mariners and the silent contribution given by it to the nation’s economy. He thanked the officers and staff of the Lighthouse Department for their diligent service to the Nation, for the uninterrupted functioning of the lighthouses all along the coastlines and the Islands of India.
To commemorate this function, the Honorable Minister released a special post cover (postmark) and the Honorable Member of Parliament released a brochure on the 75 years of Indian Lighthouse Service. Cultural programs conducted by the staff of Jamnagar Directorate and the children of Central School, Okha, followed this. Mr. Manmohan Sing Suman, Deputy Director-General of Lighthouses and Lightships, delivered the vote of thanks.
This story appeared in the
February 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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