Space-Time And Place: The Culture of Indian Maps

Multiple cultural perspectives towards representing the ordered world in the Indian sub-continent.

By Kalakriti Archives

Kalakriti Archives

Cosmic Man (Late 19th Century)Kalakriti Archives

A Cultural Journey

This exhibition presents the multiple cultural perspectives towards representing the ordered world in the Indian sub-continent. The evolution from early cosmological representations of the ‘World of Mortals’, to pictographic depictions of ritual landscapes and sacred pilgrimage sites, through to the evolution of cartography is testament of the diverse, competing and global interests and influences – religious, economic and political - which have contributed to the perception of ‘India’ as we understand it today. 

The exhibition features a rich variety of sources - painted and printed Indian maps produced in the sub-continent and a variety of nations, including original manuscript representations. These date from the late fifteenth century until the early nineteenth century and each of them speaks to broader themes. The journey commences with Jain and Hindu cosmological representations, through to painted hangings depicting sacred rivers and pilgrimage sites and ultimately to the transition of cartographic depictions of the ancient European conception of the subcontinent. The exhibition continues with the first vaguely accurate maps of India done in the wake of Vasco Da Gama’s arrival in 1498, documents the evolution of map making as part of the military contestation for supremacy by various European powers, and ultimately the cartographic consolidation of India through the map makers of the British Raj.

Cosmic Map of the Mortal World as Two and a Half Continents_ Rajasthan, mid-17th Century (Mid 17th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Cosmology & Pilgrimage

The cosmological depictions represent the mortal world according to Jain philosophy. In Jain texts the universe is divided into three worlds – the upper occupied by the gods, the middle by mortals and the lower belonging to the damned. The most significant is the middle world, manushya-loka (world of the mortals), where liberation from the chain of rebirth is possible and where the Jinas (of saints and devotees) are born. Paintings of the phenomenal world therefore have remained popular in the jain tradition and survive from the fourteenth century through to the present day. 

The world of mortals is abstracted as a diagram of concentric circles. The blue circles and narrow streamer like (often symmetrical configurations) that traverse these represent water whilst the buff in-between areas represent land masses. The central circle is of particular significance as it depicts Jambudvipa (the island of the wood apple trees) which includes the Indian sub-continent with the cosmic Mount Meru at its the very centre. The inner-continent is encircled by two oceans and two further continents; the outer most landmass ends amorphously with a chain of mountains and shrines with sages or Jinas at the four quarters. This is why such depictions are often called adhaidvipa pata or paintings of the two-and-a half continents.

Cosmic Map of the Mortal World as Two and a Half Continents_ Gujarat, early 15th Century (Early 15th Century)Kalakriti Archives

A fine example for adhaidvipa patas or paintings of the two-and-a half continents, dates back to 15th century, small in size and rich in detail is comparable (in painting style and chromatic palette) to Jain manuscripts of the period, most significantly the Kalpa Sutra. The outer ridge of mountains is less defined compared to later examples as is characteristic of the early period.

Cosmic Map of the Mortal World as Two and a Half Continents_ Gujarat, early 17th Century (Early 17th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Adhaidvipa Pata, dating from the early 17th century (or possibly late 16th century) is rich in detail and draws in scale and format from its earlier predecessor. However, this shows firmer geometry and a stronger representation of the outer mountain range.

Cosmic Map of the Mortal World as Two and a Half Continents_ Rajasthan, mid-17th Century (Mid 17th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Adhaidvipa Pata, showing firmer geometry and a stronger representation of the outer mountain range, taken forward through the mid and late 17th century.

Cosmic Map of the Mortal World as Two and a Half Continents_ Rajasthan, 18th Century. (18th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Adhaidvipa Pata, dating from the mid-18th century is a fine example of the stylization and incorporation additional embellishments – in this instance the strong circle of mountains, trees, banners and larger shrines located in the outer rim – characteristic of this period where such paintings clearly become more decorative.

Indian Cosmography (Early 19th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Jambudvipa, the island / continent of the wood apple trees, depicting seven-layered universe, which includes the Indian sub-continent with the cosmic Mount Meru at its very centre.

Cosmic Man (Late 19th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Lokapurusa or cosmic man, a popular theme in late Jain paintings, although its origins are evident from the fourteenth century. This example is a striking and beautiful painting, characteristic of the north Rajasthan region centred around Bikaner State, and is possibly a late 19th century rendition of an earlier 17th century version.

The cosmological scheme of the adhaidvipa – world of the mortals – is 'superimposed' on the human body in an attempt to homologize the microcosm with the microcosm. The human body symbolism is sub-divided into the adhaloka (lower world), madhyaloka (middle world), and, urdhvaloka (upper world) each of which is represented differently. The depiction overall is thus acts as cosmic representation - both a picture for the worship of the mandala of the world of the mortals and the enormous body form of Lord Mahavira – the twenty fourth Jina, which also embodies the three worlds.

The evil lower world is represented by seven horizontal registers of various colors depicting various carnal acts.

The middle world, with the point of origin at Mount Meru and the concentric world of mortals, incorporating all humanity, flora and fauna, is placed over the navel of the cosmic man; the origin myths of man and universe being aligned very literally.

The upper world of the gods, in its orderly formulation of courtly tiers, is located on the torso of the cosmic man.

The iconography, stylization and chromatic palette of this painting draws from illustrations in contemporaneous manuscripts such as the Samgrahanisutra.

Cosmic Geography of Puri Temple. A Sankhalavi Pata depicting the sacred geography of Puri (1850/1875)Kalakriti Archives

Pilgrimage Maps

A religious landscape from the point of view of a pilgrim, serve as both site guides and mementos alongside acting as living embodiment of the actual tirtha or pilgrimage experiments for devotees who are infirm or unable to undertake the sacred journey by themselves. These were clearly produced 'in situ' for sale to pilgrims and patrons by artist guilds or families dedicated to specific places or temples. The traditions continued in various states across India.

Map of the Ganges (Early 18th Century) by Rajasthani ArtistKalakriti Archives

This pilgrimage route map depicts the river Ganga and one of its chief headwaters, the Alakananda, 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.

Most of the action is assumed to be, or subsumed into, the right bank of the river, i.e. the upper part of the scroll. In keeping with such route maps, things depicted on the left bank of the river are depicted upside down. The scroll is plentifully supplied with inscriptions, naming sacred places, villages, mountains and trees. Although it is difficult to date such items, it seems clear that this is a uniquely important religious document that deserves a great deal of further study.

The path is conspicuously painted yellow all the way along the scroll and we see travellers and pilgrims following it up and down mountainsides and over the bridges across the rivers. Many are on foot and equipped with staves, while the wealthy are carried in hill doolies or jampans, while two men carry women in panniers on their backs.

The river and its tributaries are depicted in brilliant blue and white basket patterns, while the hillsides and mountains are in shades of mauve and brown (white for the highest mountains) set off by the brilliant depiction of the various trees in traditional Rajasthani style and by the numerous shrines.

Pilgrimage Maps of Shatrunjaya (Mid 19th Century)Kalakriti Archives

This map depicts the pilgrimage circuit at the sacred Jain site of Satrunjaya (modern town of Palitana in Gujarat).

Depicted here is a panoramic view of the key shrines, the pilgrimage route and details of significant features and episodes along the devotees' path. They thus often served as surrogates for those – often aged or infirm devotees - who were unable to visit the sites. Their display on festivals and special occasions, viewed by large congregations of priests and devotees, provided the same merit as having visited the site.

Pilgrimage Map of Shatrunjaya (1750)Kalakriti Archives

Another variation of Satrunjaya Pata.

The painters of the three patas depict the pilgrimage route from the point of view of the devotee’s experience rather than a topographic expression of the actual site; despite this, these examples show strong geomorphic coherances. Earlier examples (Pal, 1994) are often even more diagrammatic with a propensity towards creating abstract cosmological patterns drawn from the Jaina texts and related cosmic symbolism; topographic accuracy was clearly of no significance.

In all these patas, the pilgrimage can be seen to begin at the bottom of the hill in the lower foreground. Pilgrims arrive on foot, horseback, carts drawn by elephants or horses, or palanquins and commence their journey to the top of the hill by foot, flowing the winding path up and paying respects to the various shrines or features enroute. They then encounter a fork in the path allowing for two alternatives - to either proceed to the left to the older complex of Adinatha, or to the right hand side, to the new complexes. The pilgrimage circumabulatin draws to a close when the pilgrims return to their starting point along a route depicted on the right hand side of the patas.

Pilgrimage Maps of Shatrunjaya (Late 19th Century)Kalakriti Archives

In this map, the artist depicts the topographic context of Satrunjaya hill with its two ridges. The first ridge is dominated by the main temple complex of Adinatha whilst the other is the setting for nine smaller temple complexes patronised by Jain merchants. A new temple complex was established between the two ridges around c.1825, which is used as a key point of reference for dating such patas.

According to the Satrunjaya Mahatmya, a medieval pilgrimage text glorifying the site, King Kumarapala was the builder of the Adinatha temple in c.1213 and its consecration was conducted by the famous Sage Hemachandrasuri. The site overall comprises sixty five temples, over three hundred small shrines and close to five thousand images.

Pilgrimage Map of Vraj (Mid 19th Century)Kalakriti Archives

This map depicts the pilgrimage landscape of Vraj, the district around Mathura on the banks of the River Yamuna, and includes the sacred sites associated with Krishna’s boyhood and the discovery of the Shrinathji image. It shows the route for the religious procession or Vraj Yatra which pilgrims undertake each year lasting several weeks. Commencing from Mathura, the birth place of Krishna, devotees move in a clockwise direction around the city. After visiting the villages of Mahavana and Gokul they re-cross the Yamuna and return to Mathura and the spot of Krishna’s victory over the evil king Kansa. Devotees should ideally visit thirty-six groves on their pilgrimage, and in temples of the Vallabha sect, Vallabhacharya’s and Vitthalnathji’s circumambulations of Vraj are commemorated by the Vraj Yatra pichhvai.

Seen here are instances of Lord Krishna’s play with the young women, the gopis.

Depicts specific episodes, shrines and places in Krishna’s life.

Plan of the Shrinathji Temple at Nathdwara (Early 20th Century)Kalakriti Archives

Temples, Places & Towns

Depictions of temples, palaces, and towns & cities are a significant theme in Indian paintings and map makings.

Here we see the Shrinathji temple complex at Nathdwara. 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.

Plan of the Shrinathji Temple at Nathdwara (Early 20th century)Kalakriti Archives

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.

The Haveli plan is 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.Various courtyards are in use. Whilst mounds of food are presented to Shrinathji and the sat swarupas in the inner sanctum or Nijmandir (depicted with its characteristic tiled roof and orange and yellow flags), devotees and cows crowd in the Govardhana Chowk where the image of Navanitapriyaji presides over Govardhana puja. Devotees flock towards the White Court or Dholi Patiya to gain access to the inner shrines. Unlike most other haveli plans, the depiction of the haveli and its associated townscape is shown in a wider pilgrimage landscape setting of the Vraj country, amidst holy streams, shrines, villages and palace complexes.

Cosmic Geography of Puri Temple. A Sankhalavi Pata depicting the sacred geography of Puri (1850/1875)Kalakriti Archives

Early example of pilgrimage souvenirs painted by the hereditary citrakaras or painters associated with the great temple of Jagannath at Puri in Orissa in eastern India.

Jagannatha is ‘Lord of the World,’ a form of Krishna worshipped at the famous shrine at Puri together with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. All three of the images are more stumps, but those of Jagannatha and Balabhadra also have projections functioning as arms. The cult is an example of the characteristic ability of Hinduism to absorb popular local or even tribal cults into the mainstream.

The present great temple at Puri was built by Anantavarman Chodagangadeva in the twelfth century to house these images that on account of the exigencies of the rituals to which they are subjected are regularly repainted and renewed by hereditary castes of painters, who are also responsible for painting the anavasara patas or painted representations placed in the shrine when the main divinities are taken out.

Sankhalavi pata is a layout that envisages the sacred area of Puri being in the shape of Visnu’s conch or sankha with the temple at its heart, here with its head to the north and its tip to the south. The layout of the conch is variable in all these examples.

In the centre of the pata are (left to right) the images of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha as housed within the vimana of the great temple at Puri, whose chief mandapa or jaganmohan as it is called in Orissa together with the temple sikara (tower) behind are shown schematically.The two temple towers to the left represent the other two sacred chambers of the temple, here positioned at right angles rather than axially as they are in fact, i.e. the natamandira and the bhogamandira with Garuda on his column and the worshipping Raja of Puri (responsible for the administration of the temple). The images’ faces are depicted as painted on their actual iconic forms, but here they are given limbs – four arms each in the case of the two male divinities, and two for Subhadra – Balabhadra and Subhadra are dancing while Jagannatha is seated cross-legged on a throne.

Within the rectangular enclosure wall of the temple are depicted many of the different shrines and their divinities that make up the surroundings of the massive complex In addition to various images of Krishna either as Jagannatha or in more human form, and to other aspects of Visnu, there are temples to Siva with sivalingas, Ganesa and many goddesses. On the left the standing lay figure in adoration is the ‘Raja of Puri’ who is the hereditary guardian of the shrine.

Activities in the vast kitchens that feed the gods and the pilgrims – servants carry bhoga the ritual offerings up the steps to the temple & the scenes of priests performing arati (circling the images with a ritual flame while ringing a bell) with piles of sweetmeats offered as bhoga,

Temple Plan of the Jagannath Temple at PuriKalakriti Archives

Detailed plan of temple in Puri.

Temple Plan of the Jagannath Temple at PuriKalakriti Archives

The images of Balabhadra and Subhadra, and Jagannatha as housed within the vimana of the great temple at Puri.

Buddhist Map of the World: ‘Outline Map of All Countries of the Universe (1710) by Zuda Rokashi (Priest Hotan)Kalakriti Archives


Synergy of traditional concepts and modern mapping. A key feature in these maps is the overriding attempts is to explicitly situate key sites and landmarks within a measurable paradigm, yet, express the theological importance of these sites within their textual or liturgical traditions. Also, provide a rich testimony of cross-cultural interpretation and exchange.

An early 18th Century Japanese map of the World, focusing on the continent of ‘Jambudvīpa’ and centered on the heart of Buddhist cosmology, Lake Manasarovar, Tibet, where Buddha was conceived.

While the map showcases the entire world as known to Zuda Rokashi, it depicts various geographic details in a manner radically different from their true geographic scale. The map was intended to emphasize the importance of regions that were traditionally central to Buddhism, such as India and China, at the expense of Europe, Africa and the Americas, which appear as small islands along the periphery.

The traditional Buddhist perspective of the world focuses on the metaphysical continent of Jambudvīpa. In the center of the continent is the mythical Lake Anavatapta, which represents the actual Lake Manasarovar in Tibet. It marks the center of the Buddhist universe, as the location where Queen Maya conceived Buddha. Lake Manasarovar and its waters are also revered by Hindus and Jains. Flowing from the lake are four great sacred rivers of the Indian Subcontinent: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Indus, and the Sutlej.

Course of the Ganges and Ghaghara Rivers (1784) by Joseph TieffenthalerKalakriti Archives

This map depicts the course of the rivers Ganges and Ghaghara, representing a synergy of Indian and European sources and a bridge between Indian Pilgrimage mapping and European Enlightenment era cartography.

Toponyms and annotations are seen here in both French and Persian.

Northern India – Mughal Empire (1625) by William BaffinKalakriti Archives


The historical cartography of India charts a progressive quest for the accurate physical depiction of the subcontinent and many of its various regions. However, this journey was not linear, as it was channeled by the particular priorities, limitations, experiences and cultural biases of the mapmakers, who were invariably not native to India. Many maps fundamentally reflect a Europeans’ view of India, and not necessarily India as it truly existed. That being said, much of the cartography made by Europeans heavily relied on the knowledge and support offered by Indians, making it a medium of cultural exchange. 

During the 16th Century, Portugal had a virtual monopoly on the European interaction with India. However, from the early 1600s, new powers arrived in India, and the maps of the British, Dutch, French, Danes and Belgians speak to their endeavours and their complex interactions with various Indian players. This is followed by maps depicting the contest for imperial dominance over India, fought between France and Britain, backed by their respective Indian allies. With British dominance across the sub-continent came the use of scientific methods to create accurate general maps of India, which could be used as devices of military and juridical power, supporting the creation of ‘The Raj’. This impressive cartography established an estimable intellectual endowment, however, the people of India would have to wait until their nation’s independence in 1947 to assume their ownership of this legacy.

India and the Silk Road, 3 sheets from the wall map Quattro Parte Del Mondo (1579) by Giovanni Francesco CamocioKalakriti Archives

Early Encounters
Begins with the ancient European conception of India based on the Greco-Roman writings, and then re-encountered India following the arrival of Vasco da Gama.

Ptolemaic India (1482) by Nicolaus GermanusKalakriti Archives

Map of India depicting the ancient European conception of the subcontinent, based on the writings of Claudius Ptolemy, a Gereco-Egyptian geographer, living in the 2nd Century AD. While the India depicted on the map is at first unfamiliar to the modern eye, once one becomes immersed in its details, the map comes alive. Ptolemy’s India is correctly framed by the ‘Indus flu.’ (Indus River) in the northwest, and the delta of the ‘Ganga flu.’ (Ganges River), in the northeast. While the course of the Ganges flows down from an excessively northerly direction, it is still recognizable. The plains of the Punjab, traversed by the fan-shaped pattern of the tributaries of the Indus River, are unmistakable, a legacy of the over three century long Greek presence in the region, which followed Alexander the Great’s campaigns in the later 4th Century BC.

India and the Silk Road, 3 sheets from the wall map Quattro Parte Del Mondo (1579) by Giovanni Francesco CamocioKalakriti Archives

India and the Silk Road, being three sheets from an exceptionally rare gargantuan 12-sheet wall map of Asia, made by the Venetian master Giovanni Francesco Camocio. Featured the western three-quarters of the Indian Subcontinent, extending about as far east as modern day Odisha and Bihar.

Observing the coastlines of India, from the west to the east, one will notice the common contemporary European misconception that the ‘Indu F.’ (Indus River) is shown to erroneously to flow through ‘Guzarate’ (Gujarat) and into the Gulf of Khambat. That being said, a number of ports on the west coast of India are labeled, approximately in their correct locations, including: Diu, ‘Cambaia’ (Cambay / Khambhat), Surat, ‘Caul’ (Chaul), Goa (the capital of Portuguese India), ‘Mangalor’ (Mangalore), ‘Cananor’ (Kannur), ‘Calecut’ (Khozikode), ‘Cochin’ (Kochi) and ‘Tranocore’ (Thiruvananthapuram).

Beyond ‘Capo Comari’ (Cape Comorin / Kanyakumari), can be found ‘Puduchiera’ (Puducherry), and ‘Malipur’ (Mylapore, now a part of Chennai) accompanied by the annotation ‘Qui é si corpo de San Thomaso apostole’ (‘Here is the body of St. Thomas the Apostle’). St. Thomas, often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ and travelled to India in 52 AD in order to spread the gospel. He spent many years in Kerala before moving on to the Coromandel Coast, where he died at Mylapore in 72 AD.

Northern India – Mughal Empire (1625) by William BaffinKalakriti Archives

First broadly accurate map of Northern India, by the English adventurer William Baffin, based on geographic intelligence obtained at the court of Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Map embraces the entire Mughal Empire, and extends from Afghanistan and Kashmir in the north, down south to the middle of the Deccan, and from the mouths of the Indus in the west to Burma in the east.

Northern India – Mughal Empire (1732) by Kâtib ÇelebiKalakriti Archives

Earliest map of India to be printed in the Islamic World and the first to employ typography in Arabic characters.
The map part of the atlas Cihannüma (1732), which translates as ‘Mirror of the World’, published by Ibrahim Müteferrika, who directed the first printing press in the Ottoman Empire. The atlas was originally created in manuscript form during the mid-17th Century by the Turkish geographer Kâtip Çelebi.

Southern India, Sri Lanka and Maldives (1646) by Robert DudleyKalakriti Archives

Sea chart of Southern India shows a relatively advanced 17th Century mariners’ understanding of the nature of the coastlines of the Indian Peninsula. The chart is from Robert Dudley’s Dell' Arcano Del Mare (1646-7), which translates as ‘The Mystery of the Sea’, a fantastic and highly unusual masterpiece that maintains the distinction of being the first maritime atlas to cover the entire known World as well as the earliest original maritime atlas made by an Englishman (albeit one who was working in Italy).

Chennai, Tamil Nadu (1746) by Raousset De Bourbon, after Louis Paradis De La RocheKalakriti Archives

Clash of Empires

In the wake of the fall of Portuguese hegemony, contest for colonial domination of India between various European powers began.

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

Based on a secret Portuguese charts acquired by the Dutch adventurer and spy Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, depicts India with advanced features, many details and locations critical to maritime trade.

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

Earliest detailed printed English map of Bengal, made for the English East India Company by its official Hydrographer John Thornton.

The chart depicts Bengal and adjacent regions as the English conceived of them around 1680, then Bengal was considered to be the wealthiest region of India. 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) and ‘Hulgly’ (Hooghly-Chinsura). Notably, Calcutta does not appear on the map, as it would not be founded until 1690.

Konkan, Kanara and Malabar Coasts (1753) by Johannes van KEULEN IIKalakriti Archives

Sea Chart depicting the Konkan, Kanara and Malabar Coasts, from the “Secret Atlas” of the Dutch East India Company ( VOC).
The chart embraces the west coast of India from ‘Vingorla’ (Vengurla, Maharashtra), in the north, all the way down past ‘Cochin’ (Kochi), in the south along with the main ports.

Mid 18th Century map of Kanyakumari / Cape Comorin, Maldives, Western Sri Lanka (1753) by Johannes van Keulen IIKalakriti Archives

The VOC’s “Secret Atlas” Sea Chart depicting the southern tip of India, Western Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Coromandel Coast (1753) by Johannes van KEULEN IIKalakriti Archives

Sea Chart depicting the Coromandel Coast from the VOC’s “Secret Atlas”.
The Chart’s coverage extends from ‘Goetepatnam’ (Gopalapattinam), along the Palk Strait, in the south, all the way up north to the Andhra Coast beyond ‘Vizagapatnam’ (Visakhapatnam). Further north, the coastline is labeled ‘Golconda’, also known as the Northern Circars (today’s northern Andhra Coast), in reference to the legendary fort of that name near Hyderabad, as these shores were then ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad.

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

A mid-18th Century manuscript map of Mahé, a small enclave that from 1724 to 1954 was France’s only base along the west coast of India.

A prominent feature of the map is Mahé’s elaborate defensive system, as devised in 1740 by the brilliant military engineer Louis de la Roche Paradis. It was anchored by Fort Mahé (Black column A), located in the center of the town, while the three forts perched on highlands in the interior, Fort Dauphin (Black B), Fort Condé (Black C) and Fort St. Georges (Black D), guard the landward approaches. A comprehensive series of redoubts and batteries completed the defensive system.

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

An 18th Century map, commissioned by the Flemish-Austrian Ostend Company, depicting the European factories along Bengal’s Hooghly River, could be described as politically shambolic, commercially profitable and very short-lived.

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). Further down river is ‘Coullicatta factorie Anglaise’, referring to Calcutta, established by the English in 1690.

Chennai, Tamil Nadu (1746) by Raousset De Bourbon, after Louis Paradis De La RocheKalakriti Archives

Contemporary manuscript map depicting the Fall of Madras (1746), a great French military victory over the British East India Company.
The French forces under the Marquis Dupleix, the Governor of French India, backed by a naval force under the Comte de La Bourdonnais, attacked Madras on the morning of September 7, 1746. The modest British garrison of only 300 men was poorly prepared and it was soon revealed that Madras’ defenses were poorly constructed, as they crumbled with each salvo. When their liquor warehouse was hit, many of the dispirited British troops availed themselves of libations and were rendered unfit for combat. Realizing that their predicament was hopeless, on September 9, the British surrendered Fort St. George, the city’s main defensive structure, to Bourdonnais, although the city would not be fully occupied by the French until some days later.

Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Nadu (1758) by Louis Paradis de la RocheKalakriti Archives

Louis Paradis de la Roche’s Plan of the Fall of Madras, engraved for Jacques-Nicolas Bellin and appeared in Abbé Prévost’s Histoire générale des voyages (Paris, 1758), a popular book on global exploration and colonial affairs.

Coromandel Coast (circa 1782) by Jean BourcetKalakriti Archives

Theatres of Wars in the Carnatic and Coromandal coast during 18th century & the territory of Mysore, ruled by Hyder Ali, coloured in a red-pink wash.

Based on a manuscript by the French military engineer Jean Bourcet, the map features all cities, villages, forts, major temples, roads, rivers and territorial boundaries in exacting detail. Every major battle site is marked with the symbol of crossed swords, including the date and names of the relevant French commanders.
The panels along the sides and lower part of the map contain 19 cartographic vignettes of key locations of military importance in the region. These are based on a series of manuscript maps made in 1777 and 1778 by Louis Marc-Antoine de Valory and Louis François Grégoire Lafitte du Brassier, French officers who were separately engaged in reconnaissance and espionage missions in various parts of Southern India.

6 cartographic vignettes features St.George fort, Madras; Arcot Fort of Nawab Carnatic; Chinglepet, English; Karunguzhi of Nawab of Carnatic; Poonamallee & Wandiwash or Vandarvasi Fort.

Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu (1783) by Jean-claude DezaucheKalakriti Archives

The authoritative map of the Siege of Cuddalore (1783), a seminal event of the Second Anglo-Mysore War, and the last major showdown between Britain and France in India.

Thalner, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

The Rise of Raj

Journey of British East India Company to conquer or control the parts of the subcontinent, where to saw off their European rivals, thus employed scientific methods to create accurate general map of India, which could be used as devices of Juridical power, resulted in impressive works on cartography.

West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Bangladesh (1776) by James RennellKalakriti Archives

James Rennell’s survey of Bengal and Bihar, considered one of the greatest technical achievements of cartography of the 18th Century and a powerful symbol of the foundation of the ‘Company Raj’ in India.

The region is shown divided into subhas, or districts, as established by the Mughals, each distinguished in full original wash colours. Virtually every village is labeled and the vast network of roads is carefully delineated. Innumerable rivers, swamps and mountain ranges are depicted, while areas not surveyed, such as the Himalayas and beyond, are deliberately left vague, true to the prevailing ethic of empiricism.

The upper right quadrant of the map features the dedication by the publisher Andrew Dury (fl. 1742-1778) to the Directors the East India Company (EIC), James Rennell’s employer and the new masters of Bengal and Bihar.

Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi (1777) by James RennellKalakriti Archives

James Rennell’s magnificent wall map of Oudh, representing the first accurate and detailed survey of what is now Uttar Pradesh and adjacent areas, prepared for the British East India Company shortly after it asserted its political dominance over the region.

Mumbai, Maharashtra (1803/1804) by James HorsburghKalakriti Archives

A Plan of Bombay Harbour, principally Illustrative of the Entrance Constructed from measured Bases, and a Series of Angles, taken in 1803 & 4.

The fort and town of Bombay occupy the southern tip of the island.

Indore, Madhyapradesh (1819) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

A key battleground in the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817 – 1818), which marked a turning point in Indian history, as its outcome left the British East India Company (EIC) in control of most of the subcontinent – hailing the true realization of the ‘Company Raj’.

Map depicts the earliest surviving plans of the city of Indore, which was then a major centre of the territory of the Holkar Maharajas of Indore, degenerated into a bewilderingly complex den of intrigue and violent infighting, resulted in war with British and following the war, the kingdom of Indore lost much of its territory but was preserved as a princely state, although the city of Indore was upgraded to become the state’s capital.

Satara and Vasota Fort, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Depicts the fort of Vasota (also called Vyaghragad, meaning ‘tiger), located high in Western Ghats, to the east of Satara.

Plan of the Hill Fort of Sattara.

Ashti, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

The Battle of Ashti, fought on February 19, 1818, occurred near Ashti, to the east of Pune.

Chakan, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Plan of the Attack of Chakun, strategically important fortified town guarding the northern approaches to Pune, the Maratha capital. Chakun consisted of a fortified pettah (town) surrounding a formidable medieval stone fortress. EIC Colonel Deacon’s artillery subjected the fortress to a heavy pounding but as that seemed not to do the trick the British began preparing to storm the fortress. However, at this point, Chakun’s killedar realized that his cause was lost and negotiated terms of surrender.

Badami, Karnataka (1818) by John Jeffery O'DonnoghueKalakriti Archives

Badami, Karnataka.
Sketch of the Fort and Pettah of Badaumy taken by the Reverve Division of the Army of the Deckan under the Command of Brigr. Genl. Munro by Storm on the 18th February 1818”.

Bagalkot, Karnataka (1818) by John Jeffery O'DonnoghueKalakriti Archives

Sketch of the Fort of Bagracotta ( Bagalkot, Karnataka), strategically located on the Ghatabrabha River, near its confluence with the Krishna River, surrendered to the British Army under on 22nd February 1818.

Belagavi, Karnataka (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Plan of the Operations at great medieval fortress of Belgaum (Belagavi, Karnataka, locates in the foothills of the Western Ghats, under Brigadier General Thomas Munro part of his mission to reduce the Southern Maratha territories.

Trimbak, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Plan of the Attack of the Hill Fort of Trimbuck, located near Nashik and to the north of Pune, is famous for being home to the fabulous Trimbakeshwar Shiva temple. The fortress protecting the town lay atop an exceptionally steep hill, surrendered to the British Army on the 25th April 1818.

Mandla, Madhya Pradesh (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Plan of the Attack on Mandla, the centre of the Garha-Mandla kingdom (a Rajput-Gond dynasty), stormed on the 26th April 1818 under the Command of Major General Dyson Marshall.

Chandrapur, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Plan of the attack of Chandah, today known as Chandrapur came to prominence as the largest bastion in the Nagpur region, stormed on the 21st May 1818 under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Wm. Adam C.B.

Thalner, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Fort of Taulneir (Thalner, Maharashtra) strategically located along the Tapi River, stormed under the Command of Lieutt. Genl. Sir Thos. Hislop, Bart on the 27th of July 1818.

Thalner was once quite important, as for a time from 1382, it served as the first capital of the powerful regional dynasty, the Faruqi Kings.

Amalner, Maharashtra (1818) by Valentine BlackerKalakriti Archives

Plan of the Fort and Pettah of Ummulneir (Amalner, Maharashtra), located in the Khandesh region, was one of the very last holdouts of Maratha power during the war. The town had an advantageous defensive position being located along the Bori River and surrounded by ravines. Amalner’s fort was located on the bank of the river amidst the rather sizeable town. For most of November 1818 the British maintained a frustrating siege, as their artillery was unable to score a decisive blow. Only after British reinforcements arrived and completely surrounded the town were the defenders finally convinced to surrender, on November 30.

India (1822) by Aaron ArrowsmithKalakriti Archives

Aaron Arrowsmith’s colossal wall map represent a great technical achievement and a monumental object of profound political symbolism, and the apex of the Enlightenment Era cartography of the subcontinent.
The vast areas, coloured in ‘pink’, the signature colour of the British empire on maps, are shown to have practically enveloped India, virtually encircling the various princely states, which were nevertheless client states of the EIC.

Atlas: Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. Maps of the rivers Hoogley, Bhagruttee, Jellinghee, Ganges and Jamuna from Culcutta to the Himalaya Range. (1835) by Jean-Baptiste TassinKalakriti Archives

Depicts the course of the river Jumna, extended from Agra to Kurnal, from the atlas, printed in Calcutta, which depicts the courses of the Ganges River and it major tributaries, such as the Yamuna, from the Bay of Bengal up to the foothills of the Himalayas.

Rajasthan, Punjab. (North Western Frontier). (1838) by Jean-Baptiste TassinKalakriti Archives

Depicts the Northwestern Frontier regions of the Indian Subcontinent, extended from Delhi up through Afghanistan, and which embraced the important regions of Rajasthan and the Punjab.
The map is highly impressive as it delineates the major rivers, traces the principal mountain ranges and depicts major roads and towns, creating an impression that is overall familiar to the modern viewer.

Farakka, Murshidabad, West Bengal (1844)Kalakriti Archives

A mid-19th Century manuscript depicts local land survey of the township of Furruckabad (Farakka), Bengal, is the fine example to the numerous local surveys that were then being executed all across India at the behest of the British colonial authorities

Map of the East Indian Railway (1846) by George StephensonKalakriti Archives

A rare map depicts the projected route of the East Indian Railway, which was to run from Calcutta to Delhi.

Jaipur Region, Rajasthan (1883) by Surveyor General’s Office of IndiaKalakriti Archives

State of Jaipur, a princely state surrounding the eponymous city.
This particular map is based directly on an English language topographical map prepared from the findings of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, the massive project that aimed to scientifically map all of India to exacting scientific standards.
The timing of the publication of this Hindi edition was likely done in honour of the Jaipur Exhibition of 1883, the largest fair of the decorative and industrial arts ever held to date in India. The extravaganza was sponsored by Maharaja Sawai Madao Singh II, inspired by the Great Exhibition of London in 1851, and drew spectators from across the subcontinent, so establishing Jaipur as a premier tourist destination.

Jammu and Kashmir. (1850/1860) by Thomas George MontgomerieKalakriti Archives

Map of Jammu & Kashmir surveyed between the Years 1856 & 1860, finely lithographed hachures form the astoundingly extreme contours of the Himalayan peaks and valleys, while the heavily populated Valley of Kashmir, with the capital city of Srinagar and its famous lakes, occupies the upper centre, with further detail presented in the inset in lower left corner.

Delhi (1857) by Great Britain Ordnanace Survey OfficeKalakriti Archives

Cities / Urbanism

The story of the development of Indian urban centers, from the medieval fortified city to the modern city with highly diverse plans to the towns.

Bengaluru, Karnataka. (March, 1791) by Robert HomeKalakriti Archives

Plan of Bangalore grants a magnificent impression of a sizable Indian city prior to it being influenced by European urban models.
The large pettah in the upper centre is encircled by an elaborate system of walls and takes on an overall ovoid shape common to many such Indian cities. Within are dense and uneven blocks divided by narrow streets, a labyrinth which was ideal to confuse potential invaders who dared to storm the city.

The palace-fort complex projects off of the main pettah to the south.

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

Pondicherry in 1741.
Founded as the capital of French India in 1674, was a masterpiece of European Enlightenment Era urban planning, predicated on a rational geometric grid with broad tree-lined streets, numerous beautiful buildings and public squares. Enveloped by defensive walls, it was divided into four districts: the French Quarter, located towards the waterfront to the south (left) of the fort; the New French Quarter, located further to the north (right); the Indian Town, placed further inland, 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 splendour.

Jaipur, Rajasthan (1884/1885) by Rajputana Topographical SurveyKalakriti Archives

City of Jaipur and its environs including Amber (Amer), with unprecedented detail and accuracy.

Surat, Gujarat (circa 1760) by Ludwig Felix De GlossKalakriti Archives

The authoritative original manuscript plan for strengthening Surat Castle, prepared shortly after the EIC gained sovereign control of the fortress, marking the first official step towards the creation of the ‘Company Raj’.
The Castle itself occupies the upper center of the plan, and the “Explanation of the Figures” identifies 64 key sites within the fort and in the surrounding city. The different fazes of the improvements to the castle, both completed and planned, are distinguished through colour coding. Additionally, the plan lends an usually detailed perspective on the medieval centre of a major Indian port city.

Surat Castle, a monumental 16th Century edifice, rests along the banks of the Tapti River in the heart of the city, and was impressively built with walls 40 feet high and 13 feet thick, with the masonry bound together by iron strips and molten lead.

Kolkata, West Bengal. (1832) by Jean-Baptiste TassinKalakriti Archives

An extremely detailed portrayal of Calcutta, which was then the capital of the ‘Company Raj’, comprised of densely populated urban blocks coloured in red, is confined by the Hooghly River and the New Circular Canal. The great citadel of Fort William, built between 1757 and 1764, rises out of the middle of the Esplanade on the south side of town.
The city features a number of squares, dominated by grand edifices, identified by the . ‘Reference’, including: A. Supreme Court; B. City Hall; C. Treasury; D. Post Office; E. Theatre; G. Surveyor General’s Office; K. Hindoo (Hindu) College; L. Mussuleman (Muslim) College; and P. St. Andrews Church; in addition to labeling 23 ‘Bazars’, the lifeblood of Calcutta’s economy.

Kolkata, West Bengal (1847/1849) by Frederick Walter SimmsKalakriti Archives

A gargantuan wall map of Calcutta, depicting every major building and property, was by far the most detailed and impressive map of any major Indian city made during the 19th Century.

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

Bombay (Mumbai), the city and its vicinity from an easterly perspective, 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.

Bombay Towne & Castle marks the nucleus of the colony, being the residence of the EIC governor. ‘Mazagoem’ (Mazagaon Fort) represents a fortification that existed from 1680 to 1690, built to guard the northern approaches to the city. Intended to be a working sea chart, the harbour features copious nautical information, including bathymetric soundings, the locations of hazards and fishing stakes.

Mumbai Harbour, Maharashtra (1763) by William NichelsonKalakriti Archives

Bombay Harbour showing the basis of the modern city.
The map maintains a westward perspective and the basis of the modern city is clearly shown on the southern tip of Bombay Island. Bombay was the headquarters the of East India Company’s operations in Western India, as well as being India’s busiest harbour. The British colonial governmental and military establishment is housed within the complex of Bombay Fort, neatly enclosed by walls. A little further to the north is ‘Dungaree Town’, Bombay’s commercial centre and port, with a population of around 140,000, it was a place of exceptional cultural diversity and economic dynamism.

Mumbai, Maharashtra (1840) by Juggunnath WillobaKalakriti Archives

Bombay Harbour, embraces all of Bombay Harbour and features detailed and sophisticated nautical information, in addition to supplying very comprehensive and fascinating coverage of terrestrial features.

Mumbai, Maharashtra (1840)Kalakriti Archives

Manuscript map of Bombay Fort, then the epicenter of government and military affairs in Western India.

Map depicts the massive complex of Bombay Fort as it appeared during the 1830s. The fort was located along the harbour, immediately to the to the south of the city of Bombay and was surrounded by heavy walls, breastworks and moats. It housed the nucleus of the ‘Company Raj’ in Western India, as all of the operations of the civil government, military and the revenue financial systems of the East India Company’s Presidency of Bombay were headquartered there – making it the densest concentration of power on the subcontinent.

Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh (1867/1868) by Surveyor Governor General of India's OfficeKalakriti Archives

Kanpur and environs:
Kanpur was an insignificant village until the beginning of the 19th Century. In 1801, the area was ceded to the EIC by the Nawab of Oudh. The British soon proceeded to make Kanpur their largest army base in the region and the city (in the centre of the map) developed and prospered, while the massive ‘Cantonment’ of barracks, parade grounds and arsenals of the EIC Army makes up almost the entire right half of the map. Kanpur developed a major transport hub, being linked to the Grand Trunk Road, which ran down the Yamuna and Ganges valleys, by 1846 and the Ganges Canal by 1853.

The main city, largely populated by Indian residents, is comprised of a dense warren of urban blocks. The great arteries of the East Indian Railway and the Grand Trunk Road run to the south of the city, while a rail spur runs along its southeast side. The massive reserve, to the east and southeast of the city, represents the Cantonment, essentially a massive base for the British East India Company Army, hosting numerous barracks, ordnance storehouses, and the Brigade Parade Grounds.

Delhi (1857) by Great Britain Ordnanace Survey OfficeKalakriti Archives

Plan of ‘Old Delhi’ issued during the Siege of Delhi, a major event of the Uprising of 1857.

New Delhi (1912) by Edwin Landseer LutyensKalakriti Archives

Master plan for the creation of New Delhi followed by the British decition to construct ‘New Delhi’ on south and southwestern outskirts of the old Mughal capital.
A profoundly powerful image, it shows in bold red lines the network of broad boulevards, running between grand edifices literally overwhelming all aspects of the countryside, which is presented in pale blue. Indeed, the new imperial city literally bulldozed ancient villages and plowed over farms that had been worked for centuries. At the same time, it strategically preserved an integrated import Mughal monuments, such as Humayun’s Tomb, into the new city, symbolically legitimizing British power by showing it as the rightful successor to the Mughal imperial mantle.

Credits: Story

Maps from the collection of Prshant K. Lahoti.
Online curation: Fareeda Farsana

The physical exhibition on this set of maps is on view from 6th January 2018, at Telangana State Art Gallery Hyderabad, Telangana, as part of the 15th edition of the Krishnakriti Festival.

This exhibition is based on an earlier version of the show titled Cosmology to Cartography: The Journey of Indian Maps, shown at National Museum, New Delhi in 2015 and was curated by Vivek Nanda and Alexander Johnson.

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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