Beypore Uru -- wooden dhow of Kerala Geographical Indication (GI) Tag was sought!!

handcrafted ocean going ship, Beypore, Kerala

handcrafted ocean going ship, Beypore, Kerala

 Connecting the serene but quiet  town of Beypore on the fringes of   Kozhikode city, Kerala to the peak of the spice trade is the native art of Uru (also called the wooden dhow) - big ocean going wooden boats  that were quite familiar on the northern coastal Malabar. Such sturdy and quality ocean going boats sailed across the indian ocean and also the Arabian sea forming the spice and silk route to the Middle eastern countries. The largest handcrafted ship making technique practised by richly talented and skilled carpenters and artisans has been around for several centuries. The Arab traders who were primary importers of spices from kerala encouraged such ship building activities in beypore and their continuous patronage and filip  have kept the Uru industry going and at present roughly 500 families of this area are involved in this tradition-bound industry purely native to Kerala.  The ship building activities have been around since the beginning of maritime India's  trade link with Mesopotamia.. What is special about the wooden ship making industry is it is the only one that does not depend on modern machinery  and fully relies on the dexterous hands of the carpenters who gain the expertise through generations from their forefathers. 

The sleepy town of Beypore, close to Kozhikode (10 kilometres from the city  near the mouth of the river Chaliyar) has made a mark in the area of ocean going wooden ships fully handcrafted by skilled carpenters; so it is a meticulous, but time consuming process  right from conception, planning, execution and finishing. Quite mind-boggling is the entire ship making process does not use any sketch, model or flowchart. Beypore was a famous harbor centuries ago. 

Beypore, Kerala Uru (wooden ship) manuel work in progress.

Kerala, GI tag for Beypore uru.

The Beypore Urus  that are purely made of premium wood, without using any modern techniques and handcrafted by skilled artisans of Kerala  are not yet issued a Geographical Indication (GI) tag by the government concerned is unfortunate. The District Tourism Promotion Council, Kozhikode in December 2022   applied for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the famous Beypore Uru (boat) with the   Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

The District Tourism Promotion Council Kerala  impressed on the registry by stating with records  that  the Beypore Urus are a symbol of Kerala’s  centuries old native ship building technique and  maritime trade relations and friendship with the Gulf countries.

The manual time-consuming ship-building process  requires a minimum of  1-4 years  (depending on the size and accessories required) to build each Uru. Many artisans involved in Uru-making are over 50-70 years old and have gained the expertise and technical nuances through practical experience passed on to them by their elders in the families.  teak wood is procured from the nearby wooded areas and sometimes from Malaysia.  Teak wood is mainly used for the hulls. As for  interiors jackfruit wood and rose wood are used. It is said that roughly  5,000 cubic feet of wood and four tons of iron go into the making of a standard vessel. The workers mostly depend on the  manual carpentry tools normally being used for execution of main work and finishing..

 An important  maritime hub for mercantile traders from across the world  the Beypore Urus have been in great demand since first century CE and the Arab merchants have popularized and patronized them for their workmanship, durability and long sea life.The history of Khalasis, skilled natives engaged in launching the Uru  wooden boats at Beypore, dates back as far as 2000 years. Among the many communities involved in the ship building industry, the most conspicuous are  Odayis who are well-versed in matters related to technical aspects of naval architecture, buoyance, construction of hull, etc. Their family name has its origin in Odam (a type of small ship previously used in interactions/trade between the Malabar coast and Lakshadweep. They are known as  Mappila Khalasis or  Mappila Muslims who primarily rely on their  traditional methods right from inception to final launching of  Urus into the water. They also get involved in repair work in the shipyard  by hauling back the damaged boats and relaunch them once they are repaired  and sailworthy. 

 Boat-building activities involve a  number of workers. Stilts prop up the hulls on the banks of River Chaliyar. The advantage of wide-bottomed hulls  is they ensure stability.