Trade routes of Kalinga Sailors to Ceylon, Java, Sumatra and Bali

“The entire two-way trade route of 14,000 kms from the mouth of Mahanadi to Bali and back used to be completed by Kalinga Sadhabapuas in about 180 days (during mid-November to mid-May). The ships used to sail at a speed of 4.86 k.p.h. The seaworthy sailing period was 120 days while the rest 60 days were spent on trading and rest.”

The Kalinga Sadhabapuas voyaged to Bali in the sea-worthy country boats and used to take advantage of the North East monsoons, which normally starts from November. By taking advantages of this retreating monsoon (North East Monsoon) the boats used to sail from Mahanadi mouth down to the South West along the East Coast of India right up to Nagappattinam in the Cauvery Delta and Point Calimere 10 degree 20’N latitude further south, just north of Palk Strait. The Kalinga sailors used to trade all along their South West ward voyage along the East Coast of India and used to replenish the essential provision like food and water, if required. Thus, the sailors were not taking all the essential provisions right from the starting point as the capacity of the sailing ships then were very much limited. From Point Calimere they used to cross the Palk Strait (10 deg. 0’ N latitude) by taking advantage of the same North East Winter monsoon ( North East Trade Winds) which become stronger as we move to low latitudes. The eddy current of East Coast of India at Palk Strait also helped them to sail to the East Coast of Singhala (Sri Lanka). They used to sail along the East Coast of Sri Lanka  right up to Dondra Head 5 degree 0’ N latitude which was most probably the last port of call on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, before they entered the deep seas of the Indian Ocean. Till this point getting essential provision like food( both dry and wet ) and water were posing no problems as they used to be replenished all along the East Coast of India and Eastern and Southern Coasts of Sri Lanka from each port of call before they entered the deep seas of the Indian Ocean.

 From here onwards, the Kalinga sailors most probably, used to be bifurcated into two streams, one stream going towards West to trade in the Lakshadweep and another most probably the main stream, used to sail further south to enter the Equatorial Belt of Calm (E.B.C.) since the E.B.C. normally extends from 5 degree North to 5 degree South latitudes.  During winter there is a shift of this E.B.C. further southwards by about 5 degree N from 0 degree to 10 degree S latitudes. The sailors who used to go to the South East Asia like Bali, Borneo and Celebs, etc, used to take advantage of the Indian Counter Equatorial Current which flows from west to east along the E.B.C. and reach safely the Western Coast of Sumatra and Bali island whose location is very ideal to land (9 degree 30’ S latitude) as during winter the E.B.C. extend up to 10 degree 0’ S latitude. This Equatorial Counter Current used to take the Kalinga sailors straight to the West Coast of Bali Island.

From Bali they used to enter the Java Seas through Denapaser Strait which separates the Bali Island and Lambak Islands and used to trade in Celebs (Sulawesi). Thus, the entire voyage from the Mahanadi Mouth to Bali used to take about more than 60 days i.e. from Mid-November to mid-January. The trading time there must have been about two to three months in the South East Asia.

Weather Conditions:

It is a well-known fact that Kalinga sailors were well acquainted with the prevailing weather conditions, wind directions and currents of the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. This becomes abundantly clear from an analysis of the cyclones of the Bay of Bengal during past 103 years (1877-1980), for which data are available from the Indian Meteorological Department (I.M.D.). In Orissa Coast, in November, average number of  cyclone per annum was 0.09 and severe storms 0.0049. In the second half or mid-November about almost no storms are experienced in the Orissa Coast, when the Kalinga sailors used to set their sails from the Mahanadi mouth. In about a month’s time they used to cross the Andhra Coast and Coromandal Coast to reach Sri Lanka Coast southern tip by mid-December. During December, the Andhra Coast experiences on an average per annum 0.019 storms and no severe storms are recorded while the Coromandal Coast used to be a little more stormy as the average number of storms experienced per annum is 0.116 and severe storms 0.068. This is very negligible.

The Kalinga sailors used to leave Sri Lanka Coast by mid-December to sail in the mid-Indian Ocean to reach Bali Coast by mid-January when the Equatorial Belt of Calm is very calm. When they used to return after trading in good weather conditions from mid-January to mid-March Coromandal Coast is free of cyclones in mid-March and during mid-April to mid-May both Andhra Coast and Orissa Coast are also free from cyclones. Small number of cyclones per annum (0.075) on an average and 0.068 severe storms hit Orissa Coast during May but this happened towards the 3rd and 4th week of May and by that time the sailors from Kalinga must have reached Mahanadi mouth by mid-May.

This period is the calmest season in the Bay of Bengal since only 9 cyclones have hit Orissa-West Bengal Coast out of which only 5 were severe and the month of December is completely free of cyclonic storms out of a total of 155 cyclones during 1877-1980 period. Thus, the Kalinga Sadhabapuas used to take advantage of the calm sea surface in post-South West monsoon. Thus, geographical factors have played a considerable role in sailing ship of the Kalingas, like siltation of ports, advancement of estuarine mouths of the rivers, wind direction and direction of the sea currents and shifting of global pressure belts with which they were very familiar.

By March-end (23rd March) the shifting of the pressure belt takes place as the sun remains vertically over the Equator (Equinox i.e. March 21st) and the Equatorial Belt of Calm assumes the normal position i.e.5 degree N 5 degree S latitudes. This shifting of the Equatorial Belt of Calm must have helped the Kalinga sailors to sail back through the Equatorial Belt of Calm westwards from Bali Coast to reach the southern tip of Sri Lanka (Dondra Head) which is just to the north of the Equatorial Belt of Calm the end of April when by the South West monsoons start to gain momentum. The sailing ships return by the same route along the east coast of India from South West to North East by taking advantage of the South West monsoons and offshore long current to reach the Mahanadi mouth by mid-May, i.e. before the turbulent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal start.


Thus, the outward journey starts from Mahanadi mouth by mid-November and reach Bali by mid-January, a journey of two months in the sea. They trade in South East Asian countries for two months (mid-January to mid-March). Significantly this period is comparatively free from very heavy equatorial showers which provides an ideal climate for trading in this equatorial region. They start their return journey by mid-March to reach Kalinga Coast by mid-May. Thus, to sum up, the entire operation of Kalinga sailors used to be completed during mid-November to mid-May in about 180 days and used to travel 14,000 kms both ways, in about 120 days in seaworthy sailing ships with an average speed of 4.86 k.p.h., which is commendable by any standards. The trading/rest period used to be 60 days.

(Compiled from the book “Kalinga-Indonesia Cultural Relations” published by OIMSEAS, Bhubaneswar)


  1. An insightful note on the sea voyages of Odishan sailors and their trade route.But it seems to be too much Mahandi mouth-Bali centric.The entire sea coast of Odisha from Balasore and Midnapore in the north to Ganjam and Godavari delta in the south, which were parts of Odisha till 16th century may be credited with taking an important role in the sea faring activities of Odisha from where ships sailed to South East Asian countries, Ceylon, Coromandel coast and Maldive Islands when north east monsoon started to blow.Perhaps it will be more appropriate to say' Mahanadi delta' than ' Mahanadi mouth' as the mouths of river Debi, Prachi, Kushavadra, Chitrotpala and Bhargavi played more important role role in maritime activities than Kujanga, the actual mouth of Mahanadi.Similarly, as per documentation is concerned they are replete with information about Odisha's trade link with Sumatra, Java, Bantam, Malay and Siam than Bali Islands.So the link with Bali perhaps may not be over-emphasized.


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