By I J Saldanha Shet
Mangalore, April 6, 2011: Brightness and Light welcome every weary human in search of solace. With the New Year 2011 dawning, the hope for a bright and shining year is strong. In times gone by, technology was simple and evolving voyagers on the high seas had their own assurance that they were in sight of a safe haven. That role is where Lighthouses come in. Since many centuries, a seafaring region that is Kanara, on the shores of the Arabian sea, has been blessed with many such aids to navigation and continues to do so. It’s people have contributed to sea faring in a big way and have earned laurels too.
Mangalore’s Mod Lighthouses:
Lighthouses have a mystique and glory all their own.A close individual look, gives the general details of a modern standard ’marine navigation aid station’ as it is now called Suratkal. It is located north of the city, 12 km from New Mangalore Port Trust (NMPT) on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Constructed and commissioned in 1972, it has developed into a typical modern navigational aid station, a major lighthouse. It presently controls 5 lighthouses to its north on the picturesque coastline of the Arabian Sea, on the west coast of the Indian peninsula. The tower is, 42 mt above MSL, 36mt (120 ft) high, square in shape built of grey granite cement masonry, painted in red and white alternative horizontal bands for good visibility to passing ships. Going through names of lighthouse personnel in the first part of the 20th century, the names indicate that a good many hailed from Kanara and Kerala.
The light equipment is French BBT make, electrical with gas standby. It has a ‘Frensnel’ optic arrangement of prisms, which enhance the light source several hundred times and rotates on a floating platform in a mercury bath around the light source to produce a high intensity white flash, every 10 secs, the specified character and visible about 40-50 nm out at sea,depending on weather conditions. It is provided with 440V 50Hz local main supply, as well as UPS and gen.set back-up; the light emitting source is 230V, 3X70W, metal halide cluster lamps seen as world standard to day.
The Suratkal Lighthouse, now referred to as an ‘RCS’ (Radio Control Station) can monitor and remotely control/operate major light equipment through it’s ‘RTU’; (Radio Transmission Unit)it is the ’master’ of a cluster of five other stations located at Kaup, Kundapur, Bhatkal, Tadri and Honnavar Lighthouses for all technical purposes. It is also provided with ‘DGPS’, commissioned on 21 May, 1998, whose use we have seen earlier. This not only makes the entire system efficient but also reduces the manpower. The sanctioned staff is one engineer who is overall responsible, 2 Sr. keepers, 2 Jr. keepers and subordinate staff, however it is understood that a full compliment is rarely in place.
Kanara’s Bright Lights:
The environs of Mangalore proper besides Surathkal, has three other lighthouses with varying degrees of interest. The oldest is near the famous St.Aloysius college on Lighthouse hill (also called Bavutagudde) and is situated in the famous Tagore Park. This monument has guided many a ship to the old Port of Kudla, Bunder, now a fishing port is said to have been initially raised by Hyder Ali in the mid 1700’s; the house at it’s base is now a library and a landmark public park.
The Kaup Lighthouse, 7 km from Udupi, is a very old structure of 100 ft built on a rock by the British, It is an example of many such all along the coast of the country. It was built in 1901 and has many historical connections and a frequently visited spot.
Then, there is the little known ‘Bolar Lighthouse’ bang opposite the estuary, amidst the tile factories, which marks the entrance point to the old Port of Bunder. Built at the end of 1800’s this is a good example of British lighthouse of ‘Chance Brothers’ brand; it is still in use though the equipment is old with a gas flasher and minor optical equipment. It is under the Old Bunder Port and of high utility for the fishing harbour.
Several other Lighthouses in Kanara have been re-established like Kundapur, Karwar, Bhatkal, Kasargod and many minor lights too have come up to assist different requirements. The Government of India has committed to use these Light stations as security surveillance points along the coastline to combat the incremental threat from terrorist attacks. As per latest reports, Radar Operating Systems(ROS) are to be commissioned in conjunction with Indian Coast Guard and BEL at Suratkal and Bhatkal Lighthouses.
Historic accounts have been found in early documents of the 8th century as to how Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and so on lit fires on hilltops and cliffs to aid and guide sailors along dangerous coasts and oceans. Around 280 BC, the Egyptians built the first great lighthouse the ‘Pharos of Alexandria’, It stood for over 1600 years and was deemed one of the seven wonders of the old world.Strangely in 1349 it was found in ruins!
In the Americas the first navigational light came up at Boston in 1716. In 1622 France was the first to build a lighthouse in the middle of the wind tossed sea. Cape Hatteras Light, America’s tallest at 208 feet, was built in 1789, to guide ships through a strip which had taken a toll of more than 2000 ships of all sizes. One of the first American Lighthouses to be built far out at sea was the ‘Minots ledge Light’ East of Boston. In 1851 it was washed away in a storm along with two assistant keepers who were on board. Australia’s first lighthouse was the ‘Macquarie Light’ in the Sydney harbour in 1881. The Japanese who first started the service in 1868, today boast of more than 3000 navigational aids! India always a thriving maritime country had it’s form of navigation to guide mariners. Many of the lighthouses seen today in India and South Asia, are of British origin.The operation modes were also established then.
Ancient Indian sages quoting the Gita stressed, “Thamasoma Jothirgamaya” -darkness is dispelled by light! In present times these historic service oriented lamp posts of the sea have gone hi-tech and their operation fully automated. Microchips cannot row out to the rescue and make human decisions to risk danger, which can mean the difference of life and death. Courageous exemplary tales of self-sacrifice, of people like Grace Darling and her father are not common. Yet the spirit of duty and courage never fail to get admiration and never cease to fascinate in these modern times amidst redundant activities. The quest for happiness is guided by light and it’s brightness. May the year 2011 auger well for all our sea farers and travellers in general and bring Happiness to all! These sentinels of our freedom have served to keep us independent citizens of India in several ways - may our republic flourish and shine in times to come!
Lighting Up Lakshadweep
LAKSHADWEEP, are a series of coral reefs, a Union Territory in the Arabian Sea off the West Coast alongside Kanara.It has as many as a dozen inhabited islands whose ethnic profile is unique. These islands now have many Lighthouses and tenders.These islands were administered from South Kanara in British times. Historically well known of these islands is the ’Minicoy Lighthouse’ on the southern most Island of the Lakshadweep group. It is situated about 450 kms from Mangalore and now has fairly good communication. With the opening up of the Suez Canal to navigation, Minicoy became a vital point as it is within sight of the eight degree channel, a major shipping lane from the East to the West.
The foundation stone for the Minicoy Lighthouse was laid in 1882 as per the orders of Lord Rippon the then Vice Roy. Local workmen worked along with those from Ceylon and special ’Black Bricks’ imported from Birmingham were used and to date can be seen in good condition. The Lighthouse was first inaugurated in February 1885. Until 1934 it was directly under the Board of Trade London. Govt of India celebrated the centenary year of this famous beacon in 1985 and a commemoration stamp was issued too. This is today a very modern light station and is manned continuously . There are many unique things about it, one being it was built and operated by the Imperial lighthouse service of England, it was handed over to India on 2.April,1956 nine years after Indian independence. The island itself was handed over to the Govt. of India only after Sri Lanka got it’s independence. May those who served here and still man this Lighthouse today be considered for heroic services to seafarers.