Indian coracles

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The coracle in India has a long and varied history, and is one of the few places around the world where you can still see them in regular use today.

Locally, coracles are known by a variety of names - perhaps, the most commonly known of which is 'parasil' - but all boats of this nature in India readily meet the criteria to be referred to as a coracle.

Indian coracles are similar to the Ironbridge and Spey types in the UK, and American bull boat - circular and generally bowl shaped, though some are more like pots with a flat bottom and little curve to the frame from centre to gunwhale. Like in the UK, there are many different styles of coracle. They have similarities to coracles found elsewhere in the region, such as Tibet and Vietnam. Generally, the shape is consistent with the size and construction materials being the varying factors. Coracles have been used for many different purposes and as such come in a range of sizes; the smallest of which are 5-6ft (approx 1.5-1.8m) diameter, or possibly slightly smaller, with the larger ones having diameters of 10-14ft (approx 3-4.25m). The size of the coracle is determined by local needs and nature of the river.

Typical Indian coracle construction is a basket frame, single paddle (sometimes used to punt the coracle rather than paddle it), and either an animal hide covering or pitch covered canvas. Unlike British coracles, the cover is not normally taken over the top of the gunwhale and secured to the inside of the gunwhale, but secured to the underside of the gunwhale on the outer face. Bamboo is generally the material of choice for constructing the basket - split for ribs and weave, rods for the gunwhales - though there is one or two references to reeds being used to make the basket. There is an example of an Indian coracle in the National Coracle Centre in Cenarth.

Coracles in India have been used for a wide variety of tasks. The most common traditional task was as water taxis, with fleets of coracles ferrying passengers across rivers. They have also been used to ferry goods, such as sacks of grains and rice. Larger coracles could carry tens of people, or upwards of 40-50 sacks of grain. Like in the UK, they have been used as fishing vessels, but some of the unique uses have included carrying troops and artillery, construction equipment and materials, and in the 1800s there is notes of coracles being used by railway engineers to inspect assets.

Because of their heavy usage, coracles tend to have a lifespan of about a year, before being discarded and replaced with a brand new boat. The larger vessels tend to be constructed with two frames to cope with the heavy loads they take - an inner and outer basket frame, with the covering over the outer frame.

Like elsewhere in the world, coracle usage has seen significant decline in recent years, however as you can see in the video below they have found a market of new usage - leisure and tourism. This relatively recent resurgence has proven to be a lifeline to some coracle operators - the coracle of course being an ideal vessel to explore rivers and areas of natural beauty, being able to access areas that could be inaccessible by other vessels due to shallow river channels or restrictions on engine noise and pollution. In our 2015 Journal (members only) we featured an article about coracles being used for tourist trips in India.

Some content provided from "Coracles of the World" by kind permission of Sir Peter Badge.
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