Monday, September 27, 2010

Crossing the Line Ceremony

Since the beginning of seafaring, the high seas have always been a subject of adventure, mystery, myths and legends. Maritime traditions are as varied as the human experience of the sea. Some traditions are tangible, many are not, but all express the spirit of our interactions with the sea over time. Sailors of the ancient times prayed to god to please him, asking for protection from sea monsters and storms. They worshipped Gods for safe passage. Meanwhile early explorers pondered what lay beyond the known oceans. Many thought the earth was flat and there was always the fear of falling off the edge of the world. Seafaring has always been full of customs and traditions.

Somewhere along the way ‘Crossing the Line Ceremony’ was born.

Crossing the Line Ceremony is celebrated when a ship crosses the Equator. All members of the crew regardless of age or rank who have not crossed the equator before take part in the initiation ritual. Originally, the tradition was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long and rough passages at sea. The ceremony can be an arduous event and often filled with mischief. In the Indian navy the ceremony is held in the Imperial Court of ‘Lord Varuna – The King of the High Seas’.

At times, long sea voyages can be extremely routine and boring. Leaving behind family and friends for long duration is a tough task. Being away from land for extended period adds to the overall problem. Lot of time is spent in planning interesting activities involving all the members of the ship to break the monotony of sea passage. These activities were also part of our naval training. It gave us an insight into age old customs and traditions of the navy.

We were 28 cadets, crossing the equator for the first time on board INS Krishna the Indian Naval Cadet training ship on its passage from Mumbai to Mombassa. It was a great event and all of us looked forward to it. The ceremony began on 16th day of August 1968 at 1741 h
(-3).We crossed the equator at Longitude 45 Deg 05 Min East.

In a reversal of roles, all the cadets became part of the Imperial court of King Varuna and the rest of the ships officers and sailors - ordinary public. King Varuna takes pity on all the cadets who have been subjected to extreme hardship and untold misery by the officers and crew of Krishna. The court then initiates appropriate measures to bring about justice.

In the photograph, King Varuna is seen entering the Imperial court accompanied by his consort, judge, police, dentist, doctor, jesters, mermaids and other members of the entourage.

At the appointed time the Imperial court of King Varuna initiated the proceedings. The court consisted of Cadets ‘Chats’ as Lord Varuna and ‘Randy’ as his consort (seated next to him on the royal grating) , ‘Tanth’ the judge of the court and on the right of the king are ‘Moda and Makin’ as police. The judge is all ready to read out the royal proclamation.
Key officers and sailors perceived to be responsible for all the wrongdoings against the cadets were ordered to appear before the court. Prior to appearing before the king they were examined by the Royal Physician.

Commanding Officer, Cdr VS Mathur and the Executive Officer, Lt Cdr Surender Singh going through a medical performed by the Royal Physician yours truly Cadet‘Pubs’.

The judge then read out the charges against each defaulter. Simple punishments were handed out to the defaulters – hosing down with salt water, carrying a gun shell and running around the ship, a haircut, sit ups, bend stretches, drinking of special ‘Cadets Concoction’ and the rest.

At the end of the ceremony all 28 of us received a certificate issued by the Commanding Office INS Krishna (Reproduced below). Click on the image to enlarge and read the hilarious contents.


  1. haha...what punishment did you endure?

  2. Dear Sir,

    I had heard of this ceremony from a friend who was in merchant navy. In their case, they shaved off their hair. I wanted to ask you one thing. Apparently, the British Admiralty has one of the most accurate sea maps/charts in the world even from the days before satellite images etc. In Indian Navy, do we have any such central authority responsible for preparing such authentic sea charts etc.

  3. Dear Rajarshi,
    Britain being a major sea faring nation, have always been in the lead for publication of nautical charts for the whole world.The Royal Hydrographic Office was founded in 1795,with the first official Admiralty chart being issued in November 1800,BA charts have been available to all sea farers since then.

    The Hydrographic Department of the Indian Navy derives its origin from the charting activities of the British East India Company, way back in the 17th century.The Indian Marine Survey Department was established at Calcutta in 1874, which became a part of the Royal Indian Marine in 1882.

    On 01 Jun 1954, the Marine Survey Office was shifted to Dehradun and was renamed as the Naval Hydrographic Office, and the Surveyor-in-Charge, Marine Survey of India was re-designated as the Chief Hydrographer of the Navy. The designation of the Chief Hydrographer was once again changed to the Chief Hydrographer to the Govt. of India in 1964, in keeping with his growing national responsibilities. The Naval Hydrographic Office was re-christened in 1997 as the National Hydrographic Office in recognition of its national stature and increasing international role. The Indian Naval Hydrographic Department (INHD) has thus completed over 300 years of hydrographic surveying in Indian waters and the National Hydrographic Office celebrated 50 years of dedicated service to marine safety in the Indian Ocean on 01Jun 2004.

    The Indian navy has a dozen survey ships which are responsible for producing Indian Ocean charts.The complete folios of Official Indian ENCs (Electronic Navigation Charts) IN Charts are distributed worldwide through JEPPESEN MARINE (formerly C-MAP) and UKHO