Cosmology to Cartography - Maps depicting One India

A Cultural Journey of Indian Maps

India (1822) by Aaron ArrowsmithKalakriti Archives

One India

Following the East India Company’s conquest of Bengal in 1757, the British set about forging an empire that would eventually span the entire Indian Subcontinent. While the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (reigned 1658-1707) came close to conquering all of India, by the mid-18th Century, the very notion of India as being a single coherent entity could be considered to be somewhat fanciful. India was then divided into numerous warring states and European enclaves, with vast populations divided by language and religion. 

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

However, as Great Britain and France came to harbour ambitions to create vast empires in India, beginning in the 1740s, some envisioned the possibility of uniting India under a single power.

India (1752)Kalakriti Archives

Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon D’ANVILLE (1697-1782).
Carte de L’Inde. Dressee pour la Compagnie des Indies par le Sr. d'Anville, Secretaire de S.A.S.Mgr. le Duc d'Orleans.
Paris, 1752.
Copper engraving,
970 x 1090 mm.

This important work represents first large-format printed map to embrace of all of India. It was prepared by Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon D’Anville, then France’s leading mapmaker, at the behest of the French East India Company.

D’Anville’s map marks a seminal juncture in the evolution of how India was viewed by Europeans. Critically, it can be argued that it is the first detailed map to show the subcontinent as being ‘One India’, or a single coherent geographical entity.

The map is revolutionary in its stark simplicity. It is entitled ‘Carte de l’Inde’ (Map of India) and while numerous regions are labeled throughout, political divisions are omitted.

Up to this point, maps generally made a point of dividing India into broad regional framings, such as maps of northern or southern/peninsular India or maps focusing on certain Indian states or European colonial enclaves.

Notably, the map also follows the ethic of empiricism favoured by the contemporary European Enlightenment, as D’Anville depicts only details that are based on authoritative sources, while areas unknown or little understood by Europeans are left blank.

While that map was made with French ambitions in mind, it prefigures the notion of India as being united under a single imperial power, a feat later realized by the British ‘Company Raj’.

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

Ludwig Felix DE GLOSS (fl. 1753-1777).
“A True and Exact Plan of the Castle of Surat with the Project, Repairs, New works, Esplanade, and Part of the Town, and Town Walls around the Castle…”
[Surat, circa 1760].
Manuscript, pen and ink with wash on paper,
520 x 640 mcm.

The master plan for renovating Surat Castle, made shortly after the East India Company assumed control of the fortress in 1759 – marking the first step towards the creation of the British Raj.

This finely drafted manuscript represents the authoritative military engineer’s plan of Surat Castle, drafted shortly after the British East India Company (EIC) assumed control of the fortress in 1759.

The takeover of the Castle was a milestone in the political history of India, as it represented the first time that an official British entity had formally assumed sovereignty over Indian territory (as opposed to leasing land from Indian rulers).

This take over of the castle marks the first step towards the formation of the British Raj.

Surat Castle, a monumental 16th Century stone edifice, sat on 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.

However, when the EIC assumed control of the Castle, they found the medieval fortress in a state of disrepair.

They charged Ludwig Felix de Gloss, a highly competent German military engineer in the service of the Anglo-Indian army, with restoring and retrofitting the Castle. De Gloss’ extensive improvements and new constructions are carefully detailed on the plan.

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

James RENNELL (1742-1830).
[West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Bangladesh].
An Actual Survey, of the Provinces of Bengal, Bahar & c. by Major James Rennell Esq. Engineer to the Honorable the East India Company. Published by Permission of the Court of Directors from a Drawing in their Possession by A. Dury.
London: Andrew Dury, 1776.
Copper engraving with original hand colour, on 2 un-joined sheets as issued, together approximately
1080 x 1510 mm.

James Rennell’s magisterial wall map of Bengal and Bihar is considered to be one of the finest technical achievements of cartography made during the 18th Century and is the earliest accurate general map of Bengal and Bihar, predicated on his surveys conducted through scientific methods.

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 running throughout the region is carefully delineated.

Innumerable rivers, swamps and mountain ranges are depicted, while areas 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, James Rennell’s employer and the new masters of Bengal and Bihar.

Ever since Robert Clive’s victory at the battle of Plassey (1757), the EIC had acquired ever-greater control of Bengal, the first Indian region to fall under British sovereignty. While Rennell’s surveys were still underway, their greater intended purpose was revealed.

Warren Hastings, who served as Governor-General of Bengal from 1773 to 1786, intended for Rennell’s maps to form the basis of a ‘Doomsday Book’ for Bengal, harkening back to William the Conqueror’s invidious revenue survey of England during the late 11th Century.

While the military applications of Rennell’s surveys were obvious, Hastings intended for the maps to be used to register property and collect taxes, as well as to oversee social reforms upon the populous.

In this sense, Rennell’s mastery of the terrain on the map anticipated the EIC’s mastery over Bengal and Bihar and the establishment of the ‘Company Raj’ that came to rule most of India.

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

James RENNELL (1742-1830).
[Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi].
A Map of the Provinces of Delhi, Agrah, Oude, and Ellahabad, comprehending the Countries lying between Delhi, and the Bengal-Provinces, Surveyed by Major James Rennell, Surveyor General to the Honorable East-India Company, and Published by order of the Court of Directors of the said Company.
London: Andrew Dury, 1777.
Copper engraving with original hand colour, 1090 x 1090 mm.

This magnificent work is the sequel to Rennell’s map of Bengal & Bihar, in that it follows the progress of British power up the Ganges Basin. The map is dominated by the depiction of Oudh (also known as Awadh), which is shown to be divided into its traditional subhas.

Oudh, which spread along the Gangetic Plain, was long considered to be the ‘Breadbasket of India’.

On the left-hand side of the map, along the ‘Jumnah River’ (Yamuna River), is the nucleus of the, albeit vastly diminished, Mughal Empire. Delhi, which was dominated by the walled city founded in 1649, served as the Mughal capital from its establishment to 1857.

Further to the south is ‘Agrah’ (Agra), home of the Taj Mahal. Founded in 1504 by Sikander Lodi, the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, it served as the Mughal capital from 1526 to 1649.

To the northeast, the Himalayan region, described as ‘A Chain of Mountains sometimes covered with Snow’, remained a Terra Incognita to Europeans.

Like Rennell’s map of Bengal & Bihar, his map of Oudh was created to mark the EIC’s domination over the region. Following the British victory over the Nawab of Oudh and his allies at the Battle of Buxar (1764), Oudh became an EIC puppet state.

Pursuant to the Treaty of Allahabad (1765), the Nawab was compelled to cede much territory and over the coming decades, in stages, the British essentially annexed Oudh.

Southern India (1788) by William FadenKalakriti Archives

William FADEN (1749-1836).
[Southern India].
The Southern Countries of India from Madrass to Cape Comorin: describing the routes of the armies commanded by Colonels Fullerton and Humberston, during the campaigns of 1782, 1783 & 1784, surveyed by Col. Kelly & Capt. Wersebe and others.
London, 1788.
Copper-engraving with original hand colour, on 2 un-joined sheets, together approximately
1090 x 1940 mm.

This excellent map of the far south of India fulfills a dual role of being the most accurate topographical map of the region made to its time as well as an one of the finest maps to document British operations during the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-1784).

The war which was the Indian offshoot of the American Revolutionary War, pitting Britain and her Indian allies against France, the Netherlands and the powerful Sultanate of Mysore.

The map encompasses the southern part of peninsular India from around 13°30” North Latitude down to Cape Comorin, which embraces the primary theatre of the conflict.

The map is based, in good part, on the finest available field surveys, most notably those of the Carnatic conducted by Colonel Robert Kelley during the 1770s and ‘80s.

The map features the routes of three of the war’s most dramatic military expeditions. Colonel William Fullarton’s highly successful campaigns in the Carnatic and southern Deccan (1783-4) are traced in red on the map.

The route of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Mackenzie Humbertson’s shambolic 1782 attempt to attack Mysore through the Western Ghats is heightened in green. Lieutenant General Sir Eyre Coote’s masterly campaign in the Carnatic of 1781 is traced in blue.

India (1822) by Aaron ArrowsmithKalakriti Archives

Aaron ARROWSMITH (1750-1823).
To the Hon[oura]ble. the Court of Directors of the East India Company, this improved map of India, compiled, from all the latest & most authentic materials is respectfully dedicated by their most obedient & most humble servant.
London, 1822.
Copper engraving with full original hand colour, printed on 9 sheets, in four un-joined parts as issued, total dimensions (if joined, irregular shape): 2540 x 2410 mm.

This gargantuan map occupies a special place in the history of the cartography of India, in that it is both a great technical achievement and a monumental object of profound political symbolism.

Arrowsmith’s map is by far the largest, most accurate and most detailed general map of India made up to the time. It represents the apex of the Enlightenment Era Cartography of the subcontinent and is one of the finest maps of any subject produced during the early 19th Century.

Aaron Arrowsmith, as one of his final acts as the World’s leading mapmaker, produced the present map with the support of the East India Company and many of the individuals who played leading roles in the ‘Company Raj’.

The map appeared at an especially critical time in the development of British India, for it came on the back of 65 five years of progressive British territorial gains on the subcontinent.

The vast areas, colored in ‘pink’, the signature colour of the British empire on maps, is shown to have practically enveloped India, virtually encircling the various princely states, which were nevertheless client states of the EIC.

Arrowsmith’s map is a composite of a vast variety of carefully selected antecedents, so numerous they cannot possibly be covered here.

However, the most authoritative sources available to Arrowsmith were the road route surveys done by military surveyors, either as part of general civilian mapping commissioned by the EIC (such as James Rennell’s maps of Bengal, Bihar and Oudh) or surveys tracking military movement during campaigns.

Arrowsmith was exceedingly well connected and relied on only the most authoritative sources to construct his map. His endeavor was actively supported by the EIC who made their archives freely available to him.

Additionally, many surveyors and important political and military figures of the Company Raj went to considerable effort to ensure that Arrowsmith had access to the best intelligence.

In some cases, these officials personally visited Arrowsmith in London, in order to assist him with making sure that his drafts were as accurate as possible.

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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