maps from the ages

Border wars: How European colonisers used maps to build empires in India

An exhibition of 71 rare maps shows the changing shapes of the Indian subcontinent.

Whenever Anubhav Nath’s grandfather was about to leave for a trip, he would ask him to point his destination on a pair of old maps hung in his home office – a wall-sized world map and a smaller one of Delhi from 1687.

“The 1687 map shows the Mughal territories and has a rare view of the Red Fort in Delhi, on the 50th anniversary of the creation of Shahjahanabad,” said Nath, describing the memento from his grandfather that is now part of an exhibit marking the 71st year of Indian independence.

This map of Delhi was published by Johann Wagner, and is one among the collection of 71 rare maps that Nath has collected over the years. The exhibition, called A Mapful Story, is on display at Ojas Art Gallery, New Delhi, till August 20. The collection curated by Nath is a visual narrative of how boundaries have changed over the centuries, through pre-Independence maps that were printed in England, France, and Italy between 17th century and 19th century.

“Each map has a story to tell,” said Nath. “These stories are shaped by colonisation, geographical discoveries, or simply by who commissioned the map and paid for it. Depending on these factors, the boundaries change, shapes differ.”

A map marking 50 years of Red Fort, engraved by Melchior Haffner and published by Johann Wagner, 1687. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath
A map marking 50 years of Red Fort, engraved by Melchior Haffner and published by Johann Wagner, 1687. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath

“The Wagner map is very significant as one doesn’t get to see a map with inscriptions announcing 50 years of a fort or a monument,” said Nath, referring to the three cartouches (frames) lining the top of the map, written in German. The cartouches at the right and the centre explain that the map is an illustration of Shahjahanabad, the empire and residence of the grand “Mogols”, while the one on the right reads, “50 years ago in this place, Delhi was built”.

“The building and spacing are very accurate though some shapes have gone wrong,” said Nath. “But Diwan-e-aam and Diwan-e-khaas are clearly identifiable.”

Nath’s collection, which began with the two maps from his grandfather, grew as he found hidden gems with dealers, collectors, in flea markets and with scrap dealers.

A Jacques Bellin map of the Myanmar region, featuring the Bay of Bengal, 1767. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath
A Jacques Bellin map of the Myanmar region, featuring the Bay of Bengal, 1767. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath

Studying the boundaries and the lines on the maps gives insight into how the Western powers that commissioned these maps used them to define empires. While Pakistan and Bangladesh are part of the pre-Independence maps of the Indian subcontinent, they naturally disappear in those drawn post-1947.

A map by French cartographer S Robert de Vaugondy of the Indian subcontinent, 1761. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath
A map by French cartographer S Robert de Vaugondy of the Indian subcontinent, 1761. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath

British cartographer AJ Johnson’s 1865 map of Hindostan depicts a shape that most will not recognise. Starting from the Indus River, it extends eastward to include territories of Burma, Siam or Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malacca or Malaysia and Vietnam. It also includes parts of what is now Pakistan, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Sumatra, and Ceylon or Sri Lanka. French cartographer Pierre M Lapie’s map from 1829 covers what was known as the “greater” and “lesser India” and includes Afghanistan as well.

AJ Johnson’s 1865 map of British India. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath.
AJ Johnson’s 1865 map of British India. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath.

The maps, published by iconic cartographers like Matthaus Seutter, James Rennell and Lapie, qualify as works of arts. “The cartouches are usually aesthetically pleasing and tell the untold story of the map being drawn,” said Nath. “The cartographers used to get fine artists to contribute their ideas. Most of the cartouches on India maps, for example, represent the ideas and ideals of colonisation.”

According to Nath, a 1730 map published by Seutter from the Atlas Novus, of East Indies and part of Australia, perfectly demonstrates how cartouches can be used efficiently. The map extends from Japan and Persia in the north, to the Maldives and Australia and the Ladrones Islands in the south and west. “The cartouche is one of the most ornate Seutter cartouches we have seen, with elaborate scenes from sea, land, jungle and mythology.”

Matthaus Seutter's map of the East Indies and part of Australia, 1730. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath
Matthaus Seutter's map of the East Indies and part of Australia, 1730. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath

A 19th century map of British India uses the cartouches to depict an Indian procession, scenes of battle and the iconic Qutub Minar. The map was published by John Tallis, who was renowned for his accurate and visually attractive maps of the world during the Victorian Age.

The bulk of the exhibition is made up of maps from the 18th century and 19th century, when European powers were battling each other to establish colonies in India. The maps from this period steadily became more detailed, showing cities, small towns, rivers and mountains.

Cartography became a way of charting territories and establishing European control over the Indian subcontinent.

A map of British India by John Tallis. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath.
A map of British India by John Tallis. Image courtesy: Anubhav Nath.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.