''False Point'' Lighthouse, Odisha, India's oldest functional one - a friend of sailors and fishermen

Being in an era of  GPS and  other  advanced high-tech navigational gadgets, operating cargo ships or petroleum tankers, deep sea fishing trawlers, etc., does not involve any risk in case they get stranded in mid ocean. Prior to this period of advanced technology, lighthouses across the globe  occupied a pride of place in guiding scores of  ships of all kind  crisscrossing the oceans in the past 200 plus years. The flashing beam of light from the sentinels of ocean gave the navigators   a sense of direction and assurance that  they were on the right course in the ocean. 

The oldest lighthouse in India is believed to be  in False Point  in the state of Odisha. It is presently being under the   direct supervision of the Director General of Lighthouses and Lightships (DGLL) under the Ministry of Shipping has not outlived its utility.

False point lighthouse, Odisha. orissapost.com/

The almost 180 year old  lighthouse in the sea side village of  Batighar in the Hukitola island on the Bay of Bengal, Odisha state  is one of the oldest in India built by the East India Company  to guide their cargo ships, etc.,  and the navigators  bound for the Diamond Harbor, Kolkata along the coastal region in the Bay of Bengal.   The earliest one built in 1826 crumpled and  later  another one was built with  stones from Barabati Fort, Cuttack. The 129 foot tall structure that has the look of a minaret with   striped bands of red and white paint and embossed star facing the sea side  is a declared monument. Now it is being  renovated and conserved  by the Department of Tourism and  the work was near completion.

False Point lighthouse, Odhsha sea-seek.com

Beginning as  a monopolistic trading body, centuries ago  EIC began poking its nose in internal politics of Indian rulers  with blessings from the British administration. So the company became an  agent of British imperialism in India from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century.  The British Parliament  continued to control the EIC by extending its charter for only twenty years at a time. Those granted in 1793, 1813, 1833 and 1853 successively  diluted away the Company's commercial rights and trading monopolies. Bengal region was their main source of income and revenue and the surplus money went to the British Government's coffers in London. In the early 20th century the Bay of Bengal was called the ''English Lake'' because of frequent movements of British ships including war ships. 

The area close to the Odisha and Bengal coast saw a a heavy traffic of English companies' ship movements.  The coastal geomorphology of the place was quite confusing, for the navigators to reach the mouth of  Hooghly river. so the company  built the  light house  in a strategic location  called False Point out of necessity. They had spent  Rs. 36500 to build it, in deed, a big sum in those days and the work was completed in  October 1837.

Coastal landscape was such that  river Hooghly in West Bengal and the Mahanadi in Odisha  had similar estuaries and from a distance it was difficult to identify them.  Diamond-harbor bound  English ships often mistook Hukitola in the Mahanadi for Palmirah Port, which was actually 1 degree farther north, at the mouth of the Hooghly. “That mistake made the authorities decide that the befitting name for this place and its lighthouse would be False Point and not Hukitola,”  according to Mr. Prasad, an electrical engineer and  lighthouse enthusiast.

Commissioned in March 1838, the  tall tower in this False Point area   first flashed lights via an imported lantern room with brass reflectors. “The light was a fixed one and the illuminant was a coconut oil wick lamp,”   Mr. Prasad, explained that his system did not give the desired result - the beam was not powerful enough.   Navigators in the far off open sea had difficulty in spotting the dim light in fixed mode.  To make up the  insufficient light  which was of no use to the   mariners sailing at a distance from the shore, blue lights were beamed and maroon lights were fired from the tower once every four hours.   Light system converting into  an occulting light was introduced later. 

False Point Lighthouse. metal halide lamp inside the tower. thehindu.com

 The sources of light atop the lighthouse saw  a few changes and after 47 years in 1931, the six-wick capillary lamp was replaced with a petroleum vapor lamp and  in  due course, it was followed by  an incandescent  lamp  with a vertical  filament  for  better illumination.  Now, a metal halide lamp is put in place  to flash lights every 20 seconds, with a proposal to upgrade it to an LED lamp.

This oldest functional  lighthouse has been helping scores of seafarers and navigators since its  inception.  False Point (inside the False Point at Batighara panchayat in Kendrapara district) remained a familiar landmark for the  navigators  and the fishermen operating in this area who would know its location at a distance of 40 km from the flashing of two white lights every 20 seconds — its navigational code after dark.

People of present generation may not be aware that this lighthouse  building came up on a difficult estuarine terrain. Both British and Indian workers worked  and lived in isolation  in a jungle like area infested with mosquitoes, poisonous insects, etc.,  when building the lighthouse; it was highly inhospitable area. some men  died  while staying  and  were given burial there. The cemetery, with 11 vertical graves and a horizontal one, is still being maintained by the government.  According to the studies undertaken by the the State’s forest department the French ship ‘Ville de Paris’  from Paris  laden with  grain, liquor, sugar, etc., sank near Hukitola in the 1875 cyclone.  Some crewmen drowned and were buried in a cemetery near the lighthouse close to Hukitola. 

Even today to get to the light house  from the sea side one has to navigate  through crocodile-ridden  waters in the midst of mangrove  forest. This may give you some idea about the dangers involved for the maintenance workers to visit the light house periodically.  The crucial thing is the workers have to keep the light system working continuously, because lots of fishermen who go for deep sea fishing rely on the flashing beams from the False Point. 

A proposal is on the anvil to build a Jutty, rest houses, attractive gallery and a market place to sell indigenous items, artwork, etc. The state government  plans  to develop four  more lighthouses under Sankaramala project. The Indian government already announced that  65 old light houses  across the country  would be developed into tourist spots  with adequate amenities including recreation  to attract people