There’s a lot that maps can tell you – not only about a place, but also about our perceptions, experiences and dreams. Take the 18 stunning maps below from the ongoing exhibition Cosmology to Cartography: A Cultural Journey of Indian Maps at the National Museum, New Delhi. Culled from the museum’s collection and Hyderabad’s Kalakriti Archives, these beautiful images illustrate everything from Hindu cosmological beliefs to colonial maps of the subcontinent and blueprints for our early cityscapes. The exhibition is on until October 11, 2015. Get a glimpse of its cartographical wonder below. The maps are displayed under the various sections of the exhibition, with descriptions from the catalogue.
“Amongst the earliest portable maps in the Indian subcontinent are those based on Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious texts and related tracts. These were in active circulation from the early medieval period, usually painted on cloth, and are abstract representations of the various aspects of the Hindu cosmos. The purpose of these cosmological maps is to demarcate the religious and phenomenal world, the world of the gods, humans and demons, space-time and, above all, the attributes of an ordered universe.”
Below is a “printed map of the Jambudvipa, from the Ain-e-Akbari, depicting the seven-layered universe”.
“The Jain maps represent a microcosm of this wider universe as they depict only the inner two-and-a-half islands inhabited by humans (and are thus often called Adhaidwipa or two-and-a-half worlds).”
The pilgrimage route map below depicts “the river Ganga and one of its chief headwaters, the Alaknanda, as seen by the devout pilgrim making a pilgrimage from Haridwar where the Ganga debouches into the plain, as far as the shrine at Badrinath in the Garhwal Himalayas. It is read from left to right.”
“Variable in size and rich in detail, these painted maps depict the pilgrimage circuit at the sacred Jain site of Shatrunjaya (modern town of Palitana in Gujarat). Such compositions are therefore generally referred to as “Shatrunjaya pata”. The key purpose of these paintings is to provide a panoramic view of the key shrines, the pilgrimage route and details of significant features and episodes along the devotee’s path.”
“This pichhvai simhasan (or throne cloth) depicts the Shrinathji temple complex at Nathdwara, Rajasthan. Composed from a series of courtyards (including various shrines, palaces and service rooms) within a bastioned boundary wall and with one main gate at the heart of the town, the complex follows the architectural tradition of a large Rajasthani mansion or haveli, rather than a traditional North Indian Hindu temple. It is hence often referred to as the Nathdwara Haveli by devotees. The haveli plan was a popular subject for both paintings and pichhvais, particularly in demand by visiting pilgrims to take back as mementos of their visit and did not otherwise serve any particular religious purpose. This plan, like most such plans, depicts the occurrence of the Annakuta Festival, the day after Diwali, which is the most important festival for the Vallabha sect.”
The map above is an example of “symbolic representations of the ritual topography of city-temples. Presented here are rare and early examples of pilgrimage souvenirs painted by the hereditary chitrakars or painters associated with the great temple of Jagannath at Puri in Orissa.”
This section showcases “maps that represent Europeans’ attempts to comprehend the geography of India. While all of these works were drafted by non-Indians and printed in Europe, the picture is more nuanced than it may initially appear, as much of the information they present was gained from Indian sources.”
“A beautifully executed contemporary manuscript map depicting the Fall of Madras (1746), a great French victory over the British East India Company (EIC), accompanied by a printed edition of the same scene. The exquisite, yet unfinished, manuscript map was prepared by a French officer to illustrate the Fall of Madras, which represented the worst defeat that the British would endure on the subcontinent during the period. During the First Carnatic War (1746-48), the first widespread conflict pitting France against Britain for colonial dominance over India, French forces managed to besiege and quickly conquer Madras, one of the EIC’s three most important bases in India.”
This is a “rare map depicting the projected route of the East Indian Railway, which was to run from Calcutta to Delhi and which helped to hail the rise of Modern India. The construction of the railway system across India during the second half of the 19th Century utterly transformed the subcontinent’s society, communications and economy.”
This is a “fascinating topographical map of Jaipur State, featuring text entirely in Hindi, published by the Surveyor General’s Office of India.”
This is a “most accurate and detailed early printed map of Bangalore, depicting a major Indian city prior to the influences of European urban planning. This fascinating map of Bangalore grants a magnificent impression of a sizable Indian city before it was altered by European (in this case British) modifications. The large ‘Pettah’ (town) in the upper centre is encircled by an elaborate system of walls and takes on an ovoid shape common to many Indian cities. Within are dense and uneven built-up blocks divided by warrens of narrow streets, a labyrinth which was, in theory, ideal for confusing invaders who might dare to storm the city. A connecting ovoid palace-fort complex projects off the town to the south.”
“A magnificent large-scale manuscript plan of Pondicherry, the capital of French India, drafted during the city’s historical apogee. This exquisitely drafted, and exceptionally large, military engineer’s plan depicts Pondicherry, founded as the capital of French India in 1674, which developed into the finest European-planned city in India of its era. Here the city is depicted as it appeared in 1741, during the height of its prosperity. Focusing tightly in on the city proper, this exactingly-drafted and finely-coloured plan is adorned, in the lower right quadrant, by an elegant rococo cartouche. The map’s grand appearance suggests that it was intended as a presentation piece for a senior French official, although curiously it is unsigned.”
“J.B. Tassin’s spectacular map of Calcutta is among the finest early urban plans lithographed in India. Issued by Jean-Baptiste Tassin’s Oriental Lithographic Press in Calcutta, it features exceptionally fine original hand colouring by Bengali colourists employing Indian pigments, resulting in an extraordinary appearance distinct from maps produced in Europe. It is predicated on the important survey of the city and its environs conducted by Major John Augustus Schalch and completed by Captain Thomas Prinsep, from 1820 to 1828. This endeavour was instigated by the need to provide the city with an integrated drainage system, although it ended up having much broader applications.”
“A magnificent manuscript map of Bombay Fort, then the epicenter of government and military affairs in Western India, one of the few surviving highly detailed maps of the complex. This fascinating original manuscript map depicts the massive complex of the Fort of Bombay, as it appeared around 1840. It housed the nucleus of the East India Company’s Presidency of Bombay, including the headquarters of the civil government, military and the financial establishments, making it the densest concentration of power on the subcontinent. The Fort also played a major role in the life of what was becoming one of the world’s most important commercial ports.”
“This map is an early version of Edwin Lutyens’ master plan for the construction of New Delhi, dating from 1912, just before the mega-project was commenced in earnest. On first impression, one is confronted with the map’s powerful symbolism, as Lutyens’ design literally projects British imperial power over the existing Indian landscape, just to the south and southwest of Old Delhi. The bold orange lines, representing the proposed network of broad boulevards which run between planned monumental edifices, literally overwhelm all aspects of the countryside, which is subordinated in soft blue tones underneath. It is implicit in the design, that the British Raj intended to not only to co-opt the imperial legacy of the Mughals and the ‘Seven Cities of Delhi’, but also ventured to go beyond that towards creating the grandest capital of them all, and one which would signify the permanence of their regime.”
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