Darkness dawns on city’s lighthouses

Saturday, 3 September 2005 - 7:49pm IST

With the advent of marine technology, the next generation may know about the Mumbai lighthouses only through books or the internet

MUMBAI: They are the stuff of wild romances, childhood fantasies, war dramas, passion plays and sea adventures. Virginia Woolf had chosen one of them as the eponymous architecture of her stream-of-consciousness classic. Today, these silent sentinels of the night, which guide approaching sea vessels to safety, are facing the threat of extinction. With the advent of marine technology, the next generation may know about the Mumbai lighthouses only by leafing through books or browsing the internet.

Some of the sea sentinels on the city’s coastline are the Colaba lighthouse and the Prongs lighthouse near Colaba, the Dolphin Rock lighthouse and the Sunk Rock lighthouse near the Gateway of India, and the one on Kennery island (now known as the Kanhoji Angre Dweep), to the south of the Elephanta Caves. Other minor, but equally important lighthouses, are the ones at Trombay, Uttan, Alibaug, Mody Bandar, Prince’s Dock and Victoria Dock. Of these, the Colaba lighthouse and the Dolphin Rock lighthouse are now defunct.

Surgeon Rear Admiral JM Borcar, chief medical officer, Western Naval Command, says the function of lighthouses is not restricted to being a warning signal alone. “Each lighthouse has a signal peculiar to it. This enables the seamen to judge their positions at sea.”

With the everyday use of radar systems and satellite imagery, where does the humble lighthouse stand? Captain JS Chauhan, regional director, Directorate of Lighthouses and Lightships, is convinced that the need for lighthouses can never die out. “Commercial ships and ocean liners may prefer the latest technology over lighthouses. But fishermen and small-time navigators depend on lighthouses.” Seaman RR Pal swears by the good old lighthouse. He cites an instance when a ship was grounded near the Bellikri creek between Goa and Bangalore in September last year because of its sole reliance on the Global Positioning System (GPS). “Modern equipment may enhance the capabilities of the lighthouse, but can never replace it,” he says.

So what lies ahead for the lighthouses? Vikas Dilawari, a conservation enthusiast, says lighthouses, like Prongs, are heritage structures which are still functioning. They can be promoted as great tourist spots, as in other countries. “Defunct lighthouses like Dolphin Rock can also be promoted like how INS Vikrant was transformed into a naval museum ship,” he adds.

Hopefully, the next generation may still get to see these lighthouses doing what they do best — guiding people to safety.

Guiding light
- The Colaba lighthouse, built between 1768 and 1771, was completed at a cost of Rs4,000-5,000.
- The Dolphin Rock lighthouse was constructed in 1856.
- The Prongs lighthouse was built by Thomas Ormiston in October 1875, at a cost of Rs 6 lakh. Ormiston was also the architect of the Sunk Rock lighthouse, which came into existence in 1884. Both of them have been classified as Grade I heritage structures.
- The foundation of the lighthouse on Kanhoji Angre Dweep was laid on January 19, 1866, by the then Governor of Bombay, Sir Bartle Frere.

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