top of page

URU MAKING TECHNIQUES OF BEYPORE COAST

Various civilizations all over the world depended on water routes along with land for military  expansion and trading. India, because of its strategic geography, acted as a transit between eastern  and western waterways. This gave rise to many cultural routes which helped in forming India’s  rich diverse character. The port towns became the centres of cultural confluence. This in turn  influenced different crafts related to water vessels or ships as we like to call them today. Humans  started to improvise their techniques of boat making with the help of indigenous facilities they  were provided with.

The ship building industry which we see in contemporary times is an  example of the fact the how the traditional boat making industry has adapted to modern needs and  grown to its glory. Urus are outstanding examples of how traditional techniques still continue  embracing the adaptability. Urus are the wooden boats made following traditional methods which  can be traced back to the time of Arabian influence on Malabar coast. There is a need to  acknowledge the skill of the resolute craftsmen who have preserved the art and science of Uru  making till today. The overall purpose of the thesis is to understand the concept of ship building heritage of Beypore coast and the importance of traditional skills in it. Urus reflects the  craftsmanship of Beypore. The thesis refers to the technical aspects of Uru making, the science  behind it, factors associated with the traditions of boat making. This thesis follows a research  approach together the information related to the traditional wisdom of boat making to cement the  significance of the craft in conservation.  

The basic design of the thesis includes framing the different studies related to boat making, documenting an Uru making i.e. the product and the process. The study focuses on the significance of community involvement in Uru making. The transformations that have happened  in Uru design over the centuries, the factors influencing the change, and the compatibility and  advantages of traditional materials used in Uru making are analysed. The thesis also looks upon  the spatial manifestations of Uru making activities, spatial requirements for an Uru making yard,  the basic structure of Uru and how the hull profile becomes the stabilising spine of Uru. Importance of different wooden members, nail system and the process itself are studied, by  documenting and analysing them.  

Major outcome of the study aims to comprehend the ship building heritage of Beypore coast  and to establish the significance of communities and the traditional skill they posses in the  making of an Uru.

sheet 4_edited_edited.jpg
sheet 4_edited.jpg

Evidences for ship building in India :

The study of shipbuilding technology's evolution and development is aided by archaeological evidence, literary references, and the examination of ancient depictions. Indian art featuring representations of ships and boats provides a foundational understanding in this field. Notably, rock paintings have yielded valuable information on constructed vessels, such as the evidence of Harappan shipbuilders who constructed large ships and engaged in maritime trade with Mesopotamia during the 3rd century BCE. The ship depictions from the Harappan period exhibit the use of reed bundles, a shipbuilding technique employed in Egypt during that era. Additionally, rock paintings at Karimaya Kavundanpatti depict a boat dating back to 1000 century BCE, while certain silver punched coins from 700 century BC portray ancient ships, including a crescent-shaped hull with a small stern superstructure (4th-5th century BC). From the 2nd century BC onward, numerous boats are depicted in sculptural panels on the stupas of Sanchi and Amaravati. These cave paintings showcase various types of seafaring vessels, pleasure boats, naval ships, and small canoes engaged in activities such as transporting armies and cargo, as well as shipwrecks. These depictions align with descriptions found in the Yuktikalpataru, a text from the 11th century CE.

INTRODUCTION:

Aim: The primary aim of this study is to comprehend the shipbuilding heritage of the Beypore coast and the intricate techniques involved in crafting the Urus.

Objective: The objectives of this study are as follows:

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the historical background of ships that have frequented the Malabar coast, subsequently influencing the construction of Urus in Beypore.

To meticulously document the traditional techniques employed in the creation of Urus, with a specific focus on: a. Traditional techniques utilized in the manufacturing process. b. Structural aspects of Urus.

To trace the evolution of the traditional architecture associated with Urus.

To establish the significance of Urus in the context of Beypore.

Scope: This study places significant emphasis on the perpetuation of traditional boat-making knowledge, which has persisted to the present day.

Limitations: This study concentrates on the historical port of Beypore and the ongoing knowledge system employed in contemporary boat architecture within that region. The documentation is limited to the structural framework of Urus and processes of making Urus till launching phase.

My thesis journey began with a comprehensive study of literary sources pertaining to boat-making techniques prevalent along the Indian coast and the historical significance of the maritime silk route.

These sources provided invaluable insights into the evolution of shipbuilding practices and the cultural exchange facilitated by maritime activities. To document a Uru and enhance my understanding, I visited a traditional Uru-making yard where I had the privilege of spending time with a master craftsman ivolved in Uru construction. This experience allowed me to witness firsthand the meticulous working process involved in building an Uru step by step. I also gained knowledge about essential aspects such as timber seasoning, the importance of the Uru-making Yard, and the specific site requirements for establishing a yard. Moreover, the intricate wooden joinery details were studied and documented.

site stories_edited.jpg

During the entire process I was able to study the different parts of an Uru, understanding the significance of each wooden member in ensuring smooth sailing and structural integrity. These experiences formed the foundation of my thesis, enabling me to appreciate the cultural, historical, and technical aspects of traditional wooden shipbuilding.

Methodology:

For the reasearch, all available secondary data, including literary sources such as books, articles, and published papers, were gathered. Additionally, videos, documentaries, and movies were incorporated into the data collection process. Following a comprehensive literature review, the findings were documented, serving as a foundation for further research. The subsequent primary study phase encompassed on-site documentation, interviews, and the preparation of inventories. Initially, a site layout was developed to understand the zoning and circulation patterns. On-site sketches helped to understand the spatial manifestations associated with Uru making. Throughout the process of on-site documentation, continuous discussions were held with the master craftsman to clarify any uncertainties regarding the documentation.

Concurrently, model making took place to study the ship's anatomy. These findings were then shared and deliberated upon with both the craftsman and other shipbuilders involved in the construction. The next phase included creation of detailed drawings, understanding the signifiance of the traditional knowledge system and accurately representing the physical structure of the ship. Observations were carefully recorded and analyzed for further study.

DSC_0693_edited.jpg
DSC_0707_edited.jpg
DSC_0706_edited.jpg

What are Urus?

Urus, also known as Dhows in Arab vernacular terminology, are traditional wooden ships that were originally utilized for cargo transportation, boasting a carrying capacity of 300 to 500 tons during earlier times. However, their function has gradually shifted towards recreational purposes over time. Crafting an Uru demands exceptional precision skills and a deep passion for the craft. The success of the entire process heavily relies on community participation and teamwork.

Various communities of of Beypore, have played a significant role in passing down the knowledge and techniques of Uru construction. These communities have been instrumental in preserving and evolving the art of Uru making, acknowledging the Arabs' substantial influence in the craft's development.

The Uru, commonly known as the "Fat Boat," is a broad term used to refer to large wooden ships of the Dhow type that are crafted by skilled artisans in Beypore. These boats have a long history, originally used by Arab traders for maritime commerce, and even today, Urus continue to be manufactured and exported to Arab nations from Beypore.

Various types of wood were traditionally used in the construction of these boats, with teak from the nearby Nilambur forest being the primary choice. The craftsmen involved in Uru making can be categorized as follows:

Ashaari - Master Craftsman: The Ashaari serves as the guiding force in constructing the Uru's structure. They oversee a team of ten workers who dedicate approximately 1.5 years to complete a single Uru.

Khalasis - Skilled Community: Khalasis are skilled workers trained in the demanding tasks of heavy lifting and bending of timber members during the construction process.

Moosharis - Moosharis are local blacksmiths who specialize in crafting specialized nails and anchors essential for the Uru's construction.

Additionally, there are other Ashaaris who contribute their expertise in crafting wooden pulleys, steering mechanisms, and other necessary components.

Authenticity of Uru Making:

The Uru making technique practiced along the Beypore coast has been inherited by artisans over generations, preserving the traditional materials and methods. There are several aspects that contribute to the authenticity of Uru making:

  • Profound Understanding: Crafting an Uru, considered the largest traditional handicraft in the world, requires a deep comprehension of design principles, materials, and tools. More importantly, it necessitates a profound conviction about the behavior of the ship on the sea, even without testing it in those waters.

  • Arab Influence and Traditional Craftsmanship: The history of Uru making in Beypore dates back to at least 10 BCE and is deeply rooted in Arab influence. Over time, it has evolved through cross-cultural interactions, trade influences, and the exchange of techniques and patterns. As a wooden craft and a means of transportation, the Uru holds immense pride for both Arab and Indian cultures. Its craftsmanship and legacy are unparalleled.

  • Maritime Silk Route and Vernacular Architecture: Beypore has long been part of the maritime silk route and served as a vital transit point for western and eastern waterways. The existing Uru making site reflects a responsive vernacular architecture through its temporary yard setup and the Uru making practices themselves. The integrity of this craft can be assessed through factors such as the skills involved, the raw materials used, the traditional techniques specific to the Beypore coast, and the unwavering design principles.

Attributes evaluated for bringing out significance:

In many aspects as mentioned above, it’s clear that the craft is significant in its  uniqueness itself. For further establishing the importance of the craft, certain  attributes according to the UNESCO WHS Nomination Dossier, were evaluated. This includes:

form and design :The time tested form and structure of Uru.

  • Materials and substance: The Nilambur teak fish , the nail system followed, regional  wood, cotton, wooden gum, fish oil..etc which are available locally.

  • Use and function: Even if Uru is made on land, the practicality of the design in sea is beyond appreciation and it still functions as a stable water vessel in the  waterways.

  • Continuing traditions: Uru making traditions at each phase, specially the age old  tradition of launching the ship with prayers and songs by the Khalasi community, the  manual method of ‘Neeraniyal’ using pulley platforms are still continuing.

  • Location and setting: Beypore as an ancient port with trade relations with eastern  and western waterways served as an important centre for Uru making. 

  • Language and other forms of Intangible heritage: The Arabic Malayalam mixed  terminology and language which is used by the craftsmen and the Arabic influenced  Malayalam prayers and songs recited during the launching ceremony.

  • Spirit and feeling: The spirit of teamwork in making the Uru which can be still seen  today and the participation of different working class from different communities in  completing the work.

 

sheet 4_edited.jpg
sheet 7_edited.jpg
sheet 7_edited.jpg

Values

Upon analyzing the craft, its historical roots, and its impact on the community, it becomes clear that these attributes contribute to a set of values that establish the significance of Uru making in the present context. These values include:

Historical value: Uru making holds historical importance, representing the heritage and traditions of the Beypore coast and its association with the maritime silk route.

Technological value: The craftsmanship involved in Uru making demonstrates remarkable technical skills and knowledge, showcasing the mastery of traditional techniques passed down through generations.

Cultural value: Uru making is deeply intertwined with the cultural identity and pride of the community. It represents the fusion of Arab and Indian cultures and symbolizes the craftsmanship and legacy of the region.

Associational value: Uru making is associated with specific communities, such as the Khalasi community, and fosters a sense of community pride, unity, and social cohesion.

Use value: The practical functionality of the Uru as a water vessel in the waterways highlights its utilitarian value, serving as a means of transportation and livelihood for the community.

Educational value: Uru making serves as an educational platform, where knowledge and skills are passed down from experienced craftsmen to younger generations, ensuring the preservation and continuity of this traditional craft.

Element of wonder

he process of transforming the initial idea of an Uru into its monumental scale is a fascinating journey. From laying the keel to forming the basic framework and witnessing the gradual addition of raw materials and traditional techniques, each stage reveals the Uru's magnificence. This progression creates a sense of wonder, culminating in the final launched Uru, which showcases the collective effort and craftsmanship invested at each stage of its creation. The element of wonder stems from the awe-inspiring transformation and the appreciation of the Uru's intricate beauty as it comes to fruition.

The significance of the community involved in wooden boat making cannot be overstated. These skilled craftsmen possess a deep understanding of traditional techniques and craftsmanship that have been passed down through generations. This communal involvement not only preserves and perpetuates ancient boat making traditions but also fosters a sense of identity and pride among the craftsmen. Communities plays a vital role in sustaining the ecosystem of boat making, providing a support network, sharing resources, and collectively solving challenges.

Challenges:

Despite the Uru making industry's adaptability, there are significant challenges that pose threats to its inherent value. These challenges can be categorized at the community level, knowledge level, and raw materials level.

One prominent challenge is the loss of objects or systems associated with the craft, leading to a decline in its authenticity. Additionally, there is a risk of losing valuable knowledge, including ancestral languages, songs, and prayers traditionally sung by the Khalasi community.

Economic pressure is another challenge, as the seasonal nature of Uru orders contributes to rapid economic transformations within the industry.

The transmission of the practice itself is weakening due to diminishing youth interest, reduced participation, and a decline in the number of practitioners. Negative attitudes towards knowledge transmission further add to the challenges.

Environmental degradation, such as deforestation, has led to the unavailability of high-quality timber necessary for Uru construction.

Pressures and the Way Forward: The Uru making industry faces rapid socio-cultural changes, including the shift of youth employment away from carpentry. The introduction of new products and techniques, as well as industrial production methods, poses additional pressure. For instance, the mass production of nails has reduced the participation of local blacksmiths in the craft. Furthermore, the mandatory use of sails has been replaced by engines, altering the traditional practices associated with Uru construction. To address these challenges and pressures, it is crucial to develop strategies for preserving and revitalizing the Uru making industry. This may involve promoting awareness and interest among the younger generation, fostering community support and collaboration, exploring sustainable sourcing of raw materials, and adapting the craft to meet contemporary needs while preserving its cultural essence.

Requirements for the protection and management:

Requirements for the protection and management of the Uru making industry encompass several crucial aspects. One such requirement is the transmission of knowledge and skills associated with traditional craftsmanship to future generations, ensuring the continuity of the craft within the communities where it is practiced. This not only preserves the craft but also provides livelihood opportunities and showcases the creativity of the artisans. Another essential requirement is the preparedness to mitigate risks. Adequate measures must be in place to safeguard the temporary shed, Uru making yard, and the finished products during natural disasters. Furthermore, there is a need for a protective designation that recognizes and safeguards the craft, acknowledging its cultural and historical significance. Additionally, implementing proper customs laws and tax reductions specific to the Uru making industry is crucial to support its sustainability and growth. By addressing these requirements, the Uru making industry can thrive, ensuring its protection, continuity, and economic viability.

bottom of page