Cosmology to Cartography - Early Players in the Indian Subcontinent

A Cultural Journey of Indian Maps

India and the Middle East (1596) by Jan Huyghen Van LinschotenKalakriti Archives

The Players

During the 16th Century, Portugal had a virtual monopoly on European interaction and trade with India. For generations, Portugal had protected her position in India by carefully guarding the vital navigational and commercial intelligence she possessed on the region, which was absolutely vital for maintaining a presence on the Subcontinent.

That all changed following the publication of Jan Huyghen van Linschoten’s Itinerario (1596), based on the author’s own espionage carried out in India. The revolutionary nature of Linschoten’s revelations is epitomized by his map of the lands bordering the Northern Indian Ocean, which helped to introduce a number of rival European powers to India.

Kochi, Kerala (1672/1744) by Phillip BaldaeusKalakriti Archives

The newly arrived European powers were represented by private chartered corporations, which exercised varying degrees of autonomy from their respective nations’ royal governments. The English East India Company (EIC) was founded in 1600, followed closely by the establishment of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602.  

Puducherry, Union Territory of Puducherry (1741) by AnonymousKalakriti Archives

France was a comparatively late arrival in India, as it did not have a significant presence in India until the 1670s. That being said, the French East India Company came to make a powerful (if ultimately unsuccessful) bid to become the dominant European power in India.

Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu (circa 1740) by Matthäus SeutterKalakriti Archives

While Britain, France and the Netherlands were the dominant European powers in the wake of the decline of Portuguese India, lesser players attempted to gain their piece of the action. Arriving in 1620, Denmark set up a base at Tranquebar (Tharangambadi), on the Coromandel Coast. The briefest and perhaps most bizarre European rendezvous with India was the Flemish-Austrian attempt to establish a fixed presence in Bengal, from the 1720s to 1740s.

India and the Middle East (1596) by Jan Huyghen Van LinschotenKalakriti Archives

Jan Huyghen van LINSCHOTEN (1563-1611).
[India and the Middle East].
Deliniatur in hac tabula, Orae maritimae Abexiae…Indiae Choromandeliae & Orixiae…Regni Bengale…
Amsterdam, 1596.
Copper engraving with hand colour,
436 x 595 mm.

This magnificent map embraces all of India, the Middle East & the northern Indian Ocean. Based on secret Portuguese charts acquired by the Dutch adventurer & spy, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, it presents the most accurate overall mapping of these regions published to date.

During the 16th Century, as far as Europeans were concerned, the Indian Ocean was a ‘Portuguese Lake’, with the vast riches of the Indian Subcontinent flowing exclusively to Lisbon. Merchants and leaders of other European powers were highly envious of Portugal’s bounty.

However, there were many factors that strongly inhibited others from attempting to open trade with India: the sailing route was long, treacherous and little understood.

Even if one reached India safely, they would have to navigate the fractious political climate and survive determined Portuguese opposition.

The Portuguese were well aware that without excellent and highly detailed intelligence, their European rivals would likely refrain from mounting a serious challenge to their hegemony in the Indian Ocean.

For decades they successfully guarded their secrets. However, in the 1580s, they trusted the wrong man.

Enter Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, a Dutch merchant and explorer who somehow managed to be appointed the secretary to the Archbishop of Goa, whereupon he served from 1583 to 1588. He was given free access to the most sensitive Portuguese documents and secret manuscript maps.

Linschoten returned the Netherlands and wrote the Itinerario: Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien (1596), which included the present map, being a ‘tell-all’, ‘how-to’ guide for Europeans to successfully open up trade with India and East Asia.

Consequently, the English formed the East India Company (the EIC) in 1600, followed by the Dutch, who set up the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (the VOC) in 1602. It was not long before these new players were in India, successfully dismantling the Portuguese trading monopoly.

Kochi, Kerala (1672/1744) by Phillip BaldaeusKalakriti Archives

Phillip BALDAEUS (1632-1671).
[Kochi, Kerala].
The City of Cochin at the time of itts being taken by ye Admiral and General van Goens. 8 Jan., 1663. [with] The City of Cochin in its Present State.
London, 1672 / 1744.
Copper engraving,
349 x 414 mm.

The fascinating map sheet features two different plans of Cochin (Kochi). The larger plan depicts the city as it appeared at the end of the period of Portuguese hegemony.

The smaller plan (below) was used by the minister and ethnographer Phillip Baldaeus to depict the Dutch plans for altering the city following their seizure of Cochin in 1663.

Cochin was one of the most important trading and cultural centers in all of India. It became the nucleus of the Indian spice trade, following the destruction, due to flooding, of the nearby port of Muziris (near modern Kodungallur) in 1341.

While the Raja of Cochin continued to exercise nominal authority, from the beginning of the 16th Century, Cochin was controlled by the Portuguese.

During this era, as shown on the plan, the city’s walls expanded to take up the entire tip of the peninsula, featuring many urban blocks occupied by trading rooms, warehouses, ecclesiastical institutions and grand residences.

On January 8, 1663, Dutch Admiral Rijckloff van Goens captured Cochin. As shown on the smaller plan below, the Dutch decided to extensively remodel Cochin, condensing the urban area and surrounding it with more robust fortifications in line with the latest standards of engineering.

Kochi, Kerala (1672/1744) by Phillip BaldeausKalakriti Archives

Phillip BALDAEUS (1632-1671).
[Kochi, Kerala].
A Prospect of the City of Cochin to the North / Cochin, to the Sea Side / Cochin, on the Land Side / Intire Cochin, on the Land Side.
Copper engraving,
London, 1672 / 1744.
349 x 414 mm.

Baldaeus’ series of four profile views of Cochin, depicting the city shortly after its capture by the Dutch from the Portuguese in 1663.

Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu (Mid 18th Century) by AnonymousKalakriti Archives

[Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu].
“Negapatnam op Cormandel”.
[Negapatnam, mid-18th Century].
Manuscript profile view, watercolor and ink on paper,
290 x 470 mm.

This attractive original water colour view depicts the major Dutch East India Company (VOC) factory town of Negapatnam on the Cormandel Coast, as it appeared during the mid-18th Century.

To the left side of the view is the walled Dutch town, dominated by Fort Vijf Sinnen (built in 1687), from which flies a tall pole bearing the VOC flag.

To the right (north) of the town are Tamil fishing villages, while the silhouette of an ancient Hindu Temple rises in the centre of the view. In the foreground, dhows and rowing boats ply the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

The Portuguese first established a factory at Negapatnam in 1554. In 1658, the VOC took Negapatnam and by 1663 had evicted the Portuguese from the region.

The town was a major entrepôt for the pepper trade and played a key role in the VOC’s “Pepper War” against the English East India Company in 1682.

In 1690, Negapatnam became the capital of the Dutch Coromandel, and retained this role until it was captured by the British in 1781.

Hooghly-Chinsura, West Bengal (1626) by François ValentijnKalakriti Archives

François VALENTIJN (1666-1727).
[Hooghly-Chinsura, West Bengal].
Aanwysing der Voornaamste Wooningen, Poorten, Thuynen, Tanken, enz: op Hoegly Ao. 1721.
Dordrecht, 1626.
Copper engraving with hand colour,
277 x 364 mm.

This plan grants a detailed insight into the formation of a European factory in India. While there were several European-governed cities in India, most European settlements consisted of such compact, commercial outposts built on land leased or rented from Indian rulers.

In 1635, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) established a factory at Chinsura, very near the town of Hooghly. The settlement was authorized by a firman granted by the Mughal emperor.

Chinsura quickly developed into the VOC’s main base in Bengal, then the wealthiest region of India. The Dutch maintained a brisk trade in fine silks, calicos, saltpeter and opium.

The plan depicts Chinsura as it appeared in 1721, and shows a variety of facilities, such as the Governor’s house, the accounting office, warehouses, military barracks, residences and docking quays, all enclosed by a wall.

Mumbai, Maharashtra (1685/1711) by John ThorntonKalakriti Archives

John THORNTON (1641-1708).
[Mumbai, Maharashtra].
A New Mapp of the Island of Bombay and Salsett.
London, 1685 / 1711.
Copper engraving,
470 x 555 mm.

This fascinating sea chart represents the first printed map to focus on Bombay (Mumbai) and captures the city and its vicinity from an easterly perspective.

It depicts the English colony as it appeared around 1680, following a period of explosive economic and population growth, which brought Bombay to prominence for the first time.

It is based on a manuscript chart drafted by the Thames School of cartographers, a group of chartmakers who operated in London, and who relied on a sketch brought back from India.

The manuscript chart was then engraved by John Thornton, the official hydrographer to the English East India Company.

In 1661, the Island of Bombay was given to England as part of the dowry for the Portuguese Infanta Catherine of Braganza’s marriage to Charles II. Bombay was leased in 1668 to the East India Company.

The adjacent ‘Sallset Island’ (Salsette) remained under the control of Portugal, while the mainland was technically under Mughal rule. ‘Bombay Towne & Castle’, marking the centre of the city, was the residence of the EIC governor.

‘Mazagoem’ (Mazagaon Fort) represents a fortification that existed from 1680 to 1690, built to guard the landward approaches to the city.

Intended to be a working sea chart, the harbour features nautical information, including bathymetric soundings, the locations of hazards and fishing stakes.

Bengal and parts of Odisha and Bihar (1685/1711) by John ThorntonKalakriti Archives

John THORNTON (1641-1708).
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…
[Bengal and parts of Odisha and Bihar].
London, 1685 / 1711.
Copper engraving, 438 x 533 mm.

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.

Puducherry, Union Territory of Puducherry (1741) by AnonymousKalakriti Archives

[Puducherry, Union Territory of Puducherry].
“Plan de Pondichery en 1741”.
[Puducherry, 1741].
Manuscript, pen and ink with wash colour,
610 x 888 mm.

This exceptionally large military engineer’s plan depicts Pondicherry, which founded as the capital of French India in 1674 and developed into the finest European-planned city in India. Here the city is depicted as it appeared in 1741, during the height of its prosperity.

Focusing tightly in on the walled city, the 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.

Pondicherry was then enveloped by walls, graced by broad tree-lined streets and many beautiful buildings and public squares. Thirty-eight key sights are identified on the map, corresponding to the ‘Renvois’ (Reference), located within the rococo cartouche (designated A-S, 1-19).

Notably, Pondicherry was then divided into four districts: the French Quarter was located towards the waterfront to the south (left) of the Fort, while the north (right) was the New French Quarter.

Inland from this district was the Indian Town, home to the vast majority of the city’s residents, while the New Extension, comprising the southwest portion of the town (the upper left), was built up only recently.

Unfortunately, the city as depicted here was almost totally destroyed by the British, following their seizure of Pondicherry in 1761. Although the city was subsequently rebuilt, it never regained the same splendor.

MAHÉ, Union Territory of Puducherry (circa 1750) by AnonymousKalakriti Archives

[MAHÉ, Union Territory of Puducherry].
“Plan de la Mayé Coste Malabare par les 11 dgs 40 ms latitude Nord”.
[Mahé, circa 1750].
Manuscript, pen and ink and watercolour on paper,
612 x 950 mm.

This magnificent plan is certainly among of the most beautiful and finely drafted French maps made in India during the period. It depicts the town and environs of Mahé, a small enclave that, from 1724 to 1954, was France’s only possession along the west coast of India.

The map depicts Mahé as it appeared around 1750 and employs an eastward perspective.

The town is located along the south bank of the mouth of the Mahé River, where it meets the Arabian Sea, with all of the water spaces on the map coloured in an especially attractive light green wash, typical of the period.

The surrounding countryside is covered by plantations, expressed in a most elegant pictorial fashion, while all major buildings are depicted, employing a pink hue, then commonly used on engineers’ plans.

The detailed key in the upper right identifies 79 key sites on the map (divided into three colour-coded columns: black, red and green, including military architecture, public buildings, churches, hospitals, prominent residences, streets and alleyways.

A prominent feature of the map is Mahé’s elaborate defensive system, as devised by the brilliant military engineer Louis de la Roche Paradis in 1740.

It was anchored by Fort Mahé (Black column A), located in the center of the town, while the three forts were perched on highlands in the interior, Fort Dauphin (Black B), Fort Condé (Black C) and Fort St. Georges (Black D), guard the landward approaches.

The area immediately along the seacoast, below the European town, labeled “Macoirie”, features the village populated by Indian residents.

Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu (circa 1740) by Matthäus SeutterKalakriti Archives

Matthäus SEUTTER (1678-1757).
[Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu].
Accurater Geographischer Entwurf der Königlichen Dänischen Auf der Küste Choromandel in Ost-Indien belegenen Stadt und Vestung Trankebar oder Tarangenbadi u: Dansburg, nebst denen dassu gehörigen Flecken und Dörfer ..., Carte ans Licht gestellet von I. E. R. in Küpfer gestochen und verlegt von Matthæus Seutter.
Augsburg, Germany, [circa 1740].
Copper engraving with original hand colour,
533 x 633 mm.

This fine map depicts the environs of Tranquebar, a Danish enclave located along the coast of the Tanjore region, based on drafts made by German Lutheran missionaries during the early 18th Century.

The elaborately decorative map features the town of Tanquebar and the Castle of Dansborg in the lower center, while the limits of the Danish-held territory are delineated by a border canal.

The countryside assumes the appearance of a bucolic, carefully manicured plantation landscape with rolling fields and rows of trees neatly aligned along country roads.

The map labels the locations of Hindu Temples (‘Pagoden’), Christian Churches, Garden houses, flood control stations along the rivers and canals, fords, bushes, as well as different tree species, including cocoanut palms, palms for oil and Aalamaram (banyan) trees.

Tranquebar was, for over two centuries, the epicentre of the Danish presence in India. Envious of the astounding profits made by the Dutch and English East India companies, in 1616, King Christian IV chartered the Danish East India Company (Ostindisk Kompagni).

While a small nation, Denmark was a wealthy and highly enterprising maritime power that maintained an role in global trade. Admiral Ove Gedde founded a Danish settlement at Tranquebar, then home to a small Jesuit mission, famous for being where St. Francis Xavier preached the gospel in 1542.

At the request of Fredrick IV, in 1706, two Pietist Lutheran missionaries, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719) und Heinrich Plütschau (1677-1746), were dispatched from Halle to Tranquebar.

Upon their arrival, they founded the Danish-Halle Mission, the first Protestant mission in India and set a trend for academic excellence.

Ziegenbalg soon mastered the Tamil language and by 1713 imported the first printing press to the East Coast of India. He was responsible for writing and publishing the first Tamil grammar and the earliest Tamil translation of the New Testament.

The missionaries maintained a great interest in geography and the physical improvements to the landscape around of Tranquebar. The present map is based on one of their most important maps and depicts the enclave as it appeared during the 1720s.

Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu (Early to mid 18th Century) by AnonymousKalakriti Archives

[Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu].
“Die Radt Trankenbar…Castell Dansburg…” [with] “Dansburg”.
[Tranquebar, early to mid-18th Century].
Manuscript, pen and ink with wash,
total: 174 x 107 mm;
map: 98 x 100 mm;
view: 58 x 102 mm.

A beautifully rendered miniature watercolour map of Tranquebar, accompanied by a view of the Castle of Dansborg.

This fine pairing features an original manuscript street plan of the Danish town of Tranquebar, on the Coromandel Coast.

The attractive view, “Dansburg” (the Castle of Dansborg) offers a profile perspective of this fascinating and unique edifice, built in 1620, on the orders of Admiral Gedde.

The castle served as the residence of the Danish Governor, and is an extraordinary mixture of Danish and Indian architecture styles. Dansborg survives to this day, where it serves as a museum.

The watercolours were executed by an anonymous German hand, quite likely a member of the Danish-Halle mission.

Hooghly River, West Bengal (1726) by Jacques André CobbeKalakriti Archives

Jacques André COBBE (1682-1724).
[Hooghly River, West Bengal].
Partie du Gange où Sont des Etablissements du commerce des Nations de l’Europe dans les Indes orientales.
Brussels: Eugène Henry Fricx, 1726.
Copper-engraving with original hand colour,
534 x 755 mm.

This highly attractive and very rare production relates to the Flemish-Austrian foray into India, which could be described as politically shambolic, commercially profitable and very short-lived.

The map depicts the lower course of the Hooghly River, the epicentre of European activity in Bengal, taken from a westward perspective.

In the right-center of the map, located just inland of the left bank of the river, is ‘Bankebasar’ (Banquibazar, today the site of Ichapore), the Ostend Company’s commercial base, and nearby “Hitsiapour” (Hydisiapore), home of the “Loge Flamande” (the Flemish habitation).

Across the river is “Chandernagar factorie Françoise” (the French base of Chandernagore, today known as Chandannagar), while just above is “Sinsura factorie Holland.” (the Dutch factory of Chinsura).

Below Chandernagore is “Danemarnagor Loge Danoise” (Danemarnagore, today Gondalpara), a settlement that was abandoned by the Danes in 1714. Further down river is “Coullicatta factorie Anglaise”, referring to Calcutta (established by the English in 1690).

In 1713, the Southern Netherlands, now known as Belgium, became part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire. Seeking to forge a permanent presence in India, in 1722, Emperor Charles IV chartered the Ostend Company.

The man selected to lead the venture was Lieutenant-General Jacques André Cobbé, who while having a fine military resumé, also possessed a volatile temperament.

Within months of his arrival in Bengal, in June 1723, at the head of a modest force, Cobbé ‘went rogue’ and attacked Bengali shipping on the Hooghly.

In April 1724, he holed himself up in the fort of Danemarnagore, and his rag-tag army weathered a siege by the Nawab’s forces until he was killed by a cannonball.

It was at this juncture that the level-headed Scottish merchant Alexander Hume took over the governorship of the Company.

He managed to smooth over relations with the Nawab and built a commercial settlement at Bankibazar and the fortifications at Hydisiapore in short order. The Ostend Company briefly proved to be a spectacular financial success.

Not surprisingly, the other European powers in India saw the Ostend Company as a threat to their own endeavours. In 1731, the British pressured Charles IV into rescinding the Ostend Company’s charter, although it continued to operate unofficially until 1744.

Credits: Story

Dr. Vivek Nanda
Alex Johnson

Maps part of
Kalakriti Archives
Prshant Lahoti Collection

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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