Bengal and parts of Odisha and Bihar

John Thornton1685/1711

Kalakriti Archives

Kalakriti Archives

The earliest detailed printed English map of Bengal, made for the English East India Company by its official hydrographer John Thornton. This elegant chart depicts Bengal and adjacent regions as the English conceived of them around 1680. During this period, Bengal was considered to be the wealthiest region of India, its economy buoyed by the production of magnificent textiles, such as calicos and silk, while Bihar was rich in saltpeter, the main ingredient for gunpowder.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to gain a presence in Bengal, in the 1570s. However, beginning in the 1620s, they were supplanted by both the English and the Dutch. These players were later joined by the French, Danes and the Flemish-Austrians. The map labels a number of centers that were important to European trade in the region. In the Ganges Delta these include ‘Cassimbazar’ (Kasimbazar), ‘Dacca’ (Dhaka, Bangladesh) and ‘Hulgly’ (Hooghly-Chinsura). Notably, Calcutta does not appear on the map, as it would not be founded until 1690.

The location marked on the map as ‘Jagernaut 1000 Pagods’ refers to the Jagannath Temple in Puri (Odisha), dedicated to the Hindu deity Jagannath, whose name derived from word Jagat-Nath, meaning 'Lord of the Universe'. Interestingly, the English word ‘juggernaut’ derives from a story concerning how the massive Jagganath the Ratha-Yatra temple car crushed a group of worshippers.

Bengal would become the first region of India to be conquered by the British, following the Battle of Plassey (1757), when the EIC luminary Robert Clive defeated and deposed the Nawab of Bengal.

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  • Title: Bengal and parts of Odisha and Bihar
  • Creator: John Thornton
  • Date Published: 1685/1711
  • Location Created: London
  • Physical Dimensions: 43.8 x 53.3 cm
  • Type: Document
  • Medium: Copper engraving
  • Title (Original): A map of the greate river Ganges as it emptieth it selfe into the bay of Bengala, taken from a draught made uppon the place by the agents for the English East India Company never before made publique…
  • Creator's Lifetime: 1641/1708