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Cosmopolitismes en Asie du Sud

Corinne Lefèvre
Ines G. Županov
Jorge Flores

Langues/traductions // Languages/translations

Conviviality and Cosmopolitanism Recognition and Representation of “East” and “West” in Peninsular India c. 1600-1800

Convivialité et cosmopolitisme. Reconnaissance et représentation de l’« Orient » et de l’« Occident » dans l’Inde péninsulaire ca. 1600-1800

Sumit Guha


Cet article vise à donner un caractère historique concret à l’histoire intellectuelle de la compréhension et de l’incompréhension mutuelle des peuples dans l’ère de la première modernité de l’expansion occidentale c. 1600-1800. Il le fait en encadrant la compréhension mutuelle de cette période par le contraste entre les idées de convivialité et de cosmopolitisme développées par Walter Mignolo et en observant les idées marathes à propos des Européens et de l’Europe, aussi bien qu’en retraçant la trajectoire de la pensée occidentale et de la compréhension des Marathes eux-mêmes. Il montre comment des rapports de pouvoir changeants ont progressivement modifié la relation à travers ces siècles.

Texte intégral

1In an important article published at the beginning of the current millennium, Walter Mignolo proposed to distinguish globalization from cosmopolitanism; the former he saw as top-down process, the latter as bottom-up. He argued that “globalization is a set of designs to manage the world while cosmopolitanism is a set of projects toward planetary conviviality” (Mignolo 2000: 721). His discussion then shifted to the opposed western intellectual poles represented by Francisco de Vitoria and Immanuel Kant—the former as representing the globalization of Christianity and the latter an implicitly secular global order of civilization. Both of them, Mignolo argued, presumed on the historical necessity of colonialism as a precursor to globalization. It is not my purpose to follow Mignolo into early history of western modernity. But his idea of “conviviality” is an interesting way of conceiving the problem of the increasingly diverse yet discordant early modern world in Asia. “Conviviality” literally means living together: but that fact by itself does not of course, determine the terms on which this is done. After all, living within reach is also a condition necessary for domination and assimilation. This was certainly true of the world of peninsular India in the sixteenth to eighteenth century, as it had been for centuries earlier. Sanjay Subrahmanyam offers a useful stage framework for Indian perceptions. First the Europeans were assessed but “Europe” was unknown; second, transmitted accounts of mysterious homelands are received and finally, first-hand travel accounts by individuals who traveled for pragmatic reasons (Subrahmanyam 2003: 76).

  • 1 See especially Pindye c. 1657: 247. (Reprint 1996.)

2The long coast of southern India meant that it saw the first permanent mercantile and governmental establishments created by Europeans. At least till the early 17th century, Europe was represented by the Portuguese who were to be found as far east as Japan. An early study of references to them in Indian literatures was published by Pissurlencar in 1955. He contested Boxer’s idea that westerners were largely ignored in the early centuries after their appearance in Asian waters. He showed that there were many mentions of the Portuguese in a variety of Indian languages and Persian. (An argument repeated also by Subrahmanyam, 2003). Most references were neutral or descriptive, a few more strongly positive or negative. Their formidable record against the Sultans of southern India meant that overawing them became a favorite (if generally fictional) adornment to panegyrics of the time (Pissurlencar 1955). Thus a court poet, Jayaram Pindye flattered the Marathi potentate Shahji in the 1650s with a verse saying that when the king laid hand on his sword (phirang) the Phirangis lost their color (or blenched).1 With more first-hand experience, Indians did not develop some of the stranger notions of the newcomers that Jorge Flores finds recorded in East Asia (Flores 2013: 38). Pissurlencar’s agenda however, was largely philological and he diverged from this only to bolster late colonial Portuguese nostalgia for their bygone prowess (Pissurlencar 1955: 370-72). He does not, for instance analyze further the Tamil-Sanskrit use of “Parsika” (Persian) to describe Portuguese. It actually derives from a search for earlier terminology to describe aliens, perhaps as a way of (etymologically) domesticating them. So Muslims in many areas were labeled Yavana or Greek—harking back to overland invaders from ancient times. Similarly we shall see that when Maratha scholars sought to explain the westerners, they harked back to Pauranika traditions and termed them “Hūnas” (who had invaded India in the mid-first millennium.) We may see the psychological mechanism of “familiarization” that Flores (2014: 41) notes at work, but here within an underlying cosmological cycle—it is the dark age (kaliyuga) but “this too shall pass” is the subtext to such antiquarian taxonomy. Similarly, 17th century Asians domesticated powerful foreigners to the local religious landscape as powerful figures to be propitiated by suitable worship (Flores 2013: 38-9).

3On the other hand, Islamic seamen and scholars regularly sailed the seas east and west from India and would therefore have learned from bitter experience about the newcomers on those seas. They also shared in knowledge transmitted in the larger Islamic world. By 1583, Nazarene (naṣrānī) had become a term of obloquy among Muslims in South India: a Muslim who violated the terms of a charitable grant would be deemed to have turned Nazarene; his Hindu counterpart would have killed a cow in Banaras and transgressed sexually there as well (see A.A. Kadiri 1980: 59-60). But this still related to Christians as a community in Asia. Their lands remained imaginary. Thus when Simon Digby published a survey of the Indo-Persian perceptions of the Europeans, he noted that the scant geographical knowledge of the region meant that the lands of the Firangis were often simply used as settings for wonder tales, in the same way as Lanka (Sri Lanka) or the “land of gold” (likely in Indonesia) were in former times. Digby pointed out (for example) that despite Gujarati merchants trading to the coast of East Africa, the pirate bases in Madagascar were unknown to Mughal authorities in the port of Surat (Digby 1999). It is of course, possible that since the Mughal officers could never have mounted a naval expedition anywhere, it was convenient for them to blame the European companies so as to ensure that real naval power was deployed against the pirates.

4In 1998, Partha Chatterjee sought to sum up the five centuries after vasco da Gama and the multitude of South Asian reactions and descriptions to the “new” West as oscillating between twin poles of “fear and love.” Sanjay Subrahmanyam found this a useful trope but added also suspicion and disgust, wonder and reticence (Chatterjee 1998; Subrahmanyam 2003: 77-8). Additionally, I should add that most Indians who had anything to do with them dealt with them pragmatically as another variety of ruler, pirate or merchant and had little interest in their habits or provenance. This applied even to coastal traders who had learned Portuguese: Della Valle wanted to discuss theology with them but found that they spoke only as much of the language as enabled business transactions. He wrote that they spoke “these languages badly and save for buying and selling are not very intelligible. We could not, for lack of the languages discourse with other learned gentiles [Hindus], who were familiar only with their Indian tongue” (Guha 2008: 133). Here was the arms-length convivium of the market place, without (in the conventional sense) conviviality.

  • 2 Istvan Perczel, “Cosmopolitisme de la Mer d’Arabie” in this volume.

5Mignolo however, seeks to give it a deeper meaning—in his binary, globalization is a top—down process with localities segmented as all communications are routed through the metropolitan center; conviviality on the other hand, is an untidy, local and decentered process. In such a setting, it is unnecessary to “provincialize Europe.” For the Syrian church in South India whose fascinating and little-known history has been uncovered by Istvan Perczel in a paper in this volume, the older West Asian sites of their faith were much more important than the Latin center of Rome that however, began to compete for allegiance in the sixteenth century.2

Provincializing Europe

  • 3 The allusion is, of course, to Chakrabarty 2000.
  • 4 S.v. in Fallon online for Hindustani at Digital Dictionaries of South Asia (...)
  • 5 Godse 1990: 90. “vilāyatī lok mhanaje Musalmān Arabasārkhe.”

6A provincialized Europe3 featured in the world as it appeared to observers from South Asia who saw the world with multitudinous peoples and kingdoms and a total of “three and a half” emperors. (This is elaborated later in this essay). Indeed the popular Hindustani word for “European” was vilāyati (Bengali “bilāti/biliti” which generated English army slang noun as “blighty”)4. The label was also applied to Afghan mercenaries serving in India.5 The word literally means “provincial: ” because Europeans were deemed to come from provinces ruled by the Ottoman empire. Nabil Matar has shown that the Muslims of the Mediterranean world had many pragmatic and personal reasons for learning about Christendom or indeed were recent refugees from there (Matar 2003). But the simple fact of collocation and the deeper “cosmopolitan” sense of mutual understanding differ. This paper will see how these two were related through gleanings from the archives of this period, especially the records of those who were concerned with “others” defined in the largest sense and who consequently, sought to understand the latter’s worlds.

  • 6 Županov 1999, see especially chapter 1: “Disputed Customs.”
  • 7 Cited in Županov 1996: 1201.

7One of the most fully documented cases is of course, the debate around the adoption of local Brahman customs by the missionary Roberto Nobili in the Tamil country—an episode penetratingly studied by Ines G. Županov in Disputed Mission.6 Crucially, Nobili was working in territory under powerful local kings and could not carry things off with a high hand as was possible in Portuguese India. As early as 1610, Gonçalo Fernandes, a scandalized fellow-Jesuit complained that Roberto Nobili behaved like a Brahman and dressed as pagan ascetics did (Sanieazes païens).7 170 years later, when the English emissary to the Nagpur Court was presented with robes of honor at the spring festival it was noted that he promptly donned the Indian clothing and participated in the festivity. Similarly, when Maratha relations with the English began to stabilize in the late eighteenth century we find indications of an effort on both sides to understand these strangers and to control the representations conveyed to them. But deeper acquaintance could also lead to hostile or derisive representation too.

8Let us now turn to an example of the latter. Well before Gonçalo Fernandes, the future saint Francis Xavier in 1544 saw the Brahmans as a wickedly perverted breed (engeance) who deliberately blackened their idols with oil and tricked the people (Županov 1996: 1204-5). Three centuries later, Marx in 1854 still saw Hinduism as a religion marked by a brutalizing worship of nature where “man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanumana [Hanumana] the monkey and Sabbala, the cow” (sic) (Marx 1853, 12: 132). A few years earlier than Marx, a learned Indian likewise invoked Hanumana in his understanding of Western anatomy and headgear. Around 1848, when the Bombay government took temporary control of the Kolhapur state in western India, the British Resident received an application for a government position. This included a Sanskrit essay in evidence of the candidate’s scholarly achievements. The essay addressed the origin of the hat-wearers or Westerners. Their origin went back to the Ramayana: after the victory over Ravana, Sita wished to feast the monkey army that had so materially aided her rescue. She realized however, that the viands at a feast such as befitted the Raghuvaṁśa would be wasted on monkeys. She therefore had them all given temporary human shape for the duration of the feast. At the end of the repast, eighteen of the chiefs petitioned that they wished to retain their current shape; Sita permitted this but to avoid Rama’s wrath, insisted they settle beyond the confines of Jāmbudvīpa (the mythic continent in which India is situated). She granted the boon that they would rule over whatever land they reached. The leaf cups from which they had been fed were turned upside down to serve as boats. The eighteen chiefs gave rise to the eighteen kinds of hat-wearers. In the present dark age or Kaliyuga, descendants of twelve of these returned to Jāmbudvīpa; they now wore representations of the cups on their heads in token of their descent (Graham’s Magazine 1854: 202). The Resident writes that he was saddened by this example of the state of learning in his charge. I cannot say if the essay was submitted with satirical intent or whether author was seeking to provide a complimentary explanation for unusual customs and costumes. But it certainly reflects a long history of mutual derision and puzzlement.

  • 8 This last gloss was added by the editor and is not in Nobili’s text.
  • 9 Bertrand, ed. 1848: 156-60. “Prangui” is clearly a south Indian variation of “Firangi”—the Arabic w (...)

9Hat-wearer was by this time an old classification: the Jesuit Roberto Nobili had found it well-established by beginning of the sixteenth century when he stated that local Indians identified “Prangui”—with “topas”—a word glossed by his 19th century editor as “toppi-caren” who were “usually the descendants of mixed races”.8 In his time, Nobili claimed, the Jesuit father Fernandes passing through the streets saw housewives quickly draw children into their yards while recounting how the Pranguis relished infants fried in butter.9 This being at least one legend, we may perhaps read the anonymous Sanskrit essayist from Kolhapur as sympathetically seeking to reconvert the Westerners of his day to the vegetarian habits of their macaque ancestors.

  • 10 In Bertrand ibid.; also see Albert Laerzio, Provincial of Malabar’s letter of 16 November 1609 endo (...)

10Nobili famously denied being a Prangui, demonstrating it by bathing before meals, using sandal-paste, maintaining a scalp-lock, avoiding meat and alcohol and wearing a sacred thread with a cross appended. Reproached that by denying that he was a “Prangui” he was likewise denying his being a Christian European, Nobili responded that the Indians did not understand the word to mean either European or Christian or indeed Portuguese. The local impression of the Pranguis was that they were vile, ignorant, drunken, disgusting in their food and unclean in their habits, little different from brute beasts. Nobili was of course defending himself against serious charges of adopting pagan ways and may have exaggerated these stories. We should however credit his other example of miscommunication—the fact that the Tamil catechism of his described entering the Christian church as joining the “prangui-coulam”—or caste or community of Pranguis.10 He would hardly have ventured to misrepresent a text that his critics would know very well. Nobili’s side as we know ultimately lost the argument: was it partly because perpetuating caste blocs was a convenient way for the Estado to manage and use indigenous convert? Susan Bayly in Saints, Goddesses and Kings has certainly suggested this for the Parava Christians of the Gulf of Mannar. She writes that European powers “realised that it would be far easier to cream off the profits of the pearl trade if they could build up the authority of the Paravas’ caste ‘elders’ and notables (S. Bayly 1989: 327).” Here understanding was turned to more familiar colonial purposes and collocation became an adjunct to exploitation.

The Marathi sources

11The first extensive diplomatic and military contacts of the Marathas with hat-wearers came in the later seventeenth century with the first Chatrapati Shivaji’s land and sea operations along the West coast, as well as his overland forays to Tamilnadu. The East India company at Bombay and Surat had reason to fear him and English envoys attended his coronation in 1674. If we were to focus solely on the textual record we might be tempted to see it as an inwardlooking, deeply Brahmanical occasion (Bendrey 1960). But the symbols tell the tale of a much more cosmopolitan event. The English embassy has left us a description (via their contemporary James Fryer) of the iconography of the event, with its interesting mix of Inner Asian symbols probably transmitted via the Mughal Court in North India:

On each side of the Throne there hung (according to the Moors [Muslim] manner) on Heads of Gilded Launces many Emblems of Dominion and Government; as on the Right Hand were two great Fishes’ Heads of Gold with very large Teeth; on the left several Horses Tails, a Pair of Gold Scales on a very high Launce’s head equally poised, an Emblem of Justice… (Fryer 1698: 81)

12The iconography clearly challenged Mughal power by using several of its symbols. When the chronicler Sabhasad recollected this coronation in the dark years of the 1690s, he declared that the enthronement mortified not only the Pādśahā in Delhi, in Rūm-Śām (ottoman empire), Iran, Dūran (Tūran) but also the twenty-two additional sovereigns beyond the seas. Clearly the cosmopolitan circle of kings imagined by the chronicler now extended beyond Jāmbudvīpa to the lands of Europe and beyond. In the Maratha imagination, all of them were challenged by a new peer. Till this coronation Sabhasad continued, all the emperors during of the current epoch had been barbarians (mleccha) but now a Marāṭha emperor (pādśahā) had seated himself on the throne. “It was no ordinary event (Kulkarni, ed., 1987: 76-77).”

  • 11 Walesjournals in Yale Center for British Art, Ms 1, entry for 7 September 1792, fo. 55.
  • 12 Wales’ journals in Yale Center for British Art, Ms 1, entries for 7 August 1792 fo. 49; 7 September (...)

13Now, recognition of the “other” must generate a concern for self-representation to that other. Interestingly we see all sides concerned with this in different ways, textual and pictorial. By the later 18th century the Emperor in Delhi was clearly a powerless figure but the English in Bombay and Calcutta emerged as a major threat. How then did Maratha rulers present themselves to these new others? An important study by Douglas Fordham bears on this. He elegantly contextualized the work of British painters (and their Indian assistants) at the Maratha court in the late eighteenth century. A delicate political balance between the Marathas and British existed at the time and Fordham shows us how this was reflected in the paintings produced by English artists hopeful of Maratha patronage. James Wales was an academically trained painter who came out to India in the hope of making his fortune. The English ambassador to the Maratha court 1786-1797, Charles W. Malet interestingly enough thought a portrait painter in the new English mode would be a valuable adjunct to enlarging English influence. Wales was sponsored, therefore, at the Pune court by Charles W. Malet, and clearly generated some interest in the Maratha Court: on 7 September 1792, the Peśvā “sent to ask a sight of Con Saib’s portrait… ”11 He agreed to sit for a portrait with his principal minister. The Peśvā “insisted on a portrait of iconic directness in which the viewer assumes the role of supplicant” and Wales had to lay aside his own artistic preferences to comply (Fordham 2008: 57-85). James Wales’s journals attest to this effort (ibid.: 59-66). The Marathas and other Indian rulers had long appreciated Western mirrors—James Wales’ realist style may have catered to the same taste. On 7 August 1792, Wales presented the portrait of “Con Saib” (Khan Sahib) at the court. “The Peshwa, Minister & Hurry Pundit expressed very great satisfaction with my paintings and presented me with Shawls.” In September Wales was working on a Darbar scene that included Nana Phadnis. The latter wanted all his ornaments properly represented, and so “Jewels, to the amount of near fifty thousand pounds were sent to me by Nana to be introduced into his picture… ”12 it is obvious that the minister was keenly interested in being depicted as a wealthy and important figure. Indians classified westerners by their headgear, now westerners were returning the compliment. Wales attended the Ganeśotsava at the palace and was struck by the many different styles of turban in evidence “even though most of the audience were of one Cast.” He went on “This is very uncommon for it is usual to know every Cast by their turbans, but here it was not sufficient (Wales’ Journal 1, 24 Aug. 1792, fo. 51).”

  • 13 Itihasa Samgraha, 1908, I, 12 “Aitihasika Tipanen: ” 61.

14Thus rulers were, at any rate, concerned with how they were perceived by alien others: surely a foundation for convivium. Intermediaries such as diplomats and missionaries were naturally anxious about perceptions too. Clothing was one of the most important markers, especially, as we saw, the hat that distinguished Europeans from all others. Cultural familiarity with the English certainly grew: watching clownish imitations of them was a recreation of the young Peshwa, Mādhavrāo Nārāyaṇ. on one occasion, he demanded that one his attendants, a Brahmana named Keśavbhaṭ Tāmasi mimic an Englishman. Keśavbhaṭ temporized—whereupon Mādhavrāo was enraged. He called him insulting names. Thereupon another Brahman attendant had a hat and coat fetched from the royal wardrobe, dressed up and attended on Mādhavrāo for 48 minutes or so.13 What mimicking an Englishman might require—other than a hat and coat—is suggested by Elphinstone’s description of the Anglophile Baroda minister, Gangādhar Shastri who was murdered at the Peshwa’s order in 1816.

  • 14 Itihāsa Saṁgraha, 1909. II, 4 “Gangadharsastri Patwardhan,” p. 50. This is cited in English and I h (...)

Though a very learned Shastree, he affects to be quite an Englishman, walks fast, talks fast, interrupts and contradicts, and calls the Peshwa and his minister “old fools” and “damned rascals” or rather “dam rascal.” He mixes English words with everything he says, and will say of someone (Holkar, for instance): “Bhot tricks-walla tha; laikin burra akulkund (sic) kukeye (cock-eye) tha.”14

  • 15 Mss. Mar G.28 l. © British Library; reproduced with permission. I am grateful to Dr. Marina Chellin (...)

15Maratha statesmen had also learned more about the hat-wearers: a text on politics, the Ājñāpatra (1716-17) had recommended that commerce be promoted and bankers gently treated. But it did warn darkly about the “hat-wearers” (English, Dutch, Portuguese, etc.) though: they traded but were not like other merchants. Each of them was answerable to a sovereign who had sent them hither. “Who had ever seen a ruler who was not greedy for land?” They would enter for trade, spread their religious doctrines, grab land and establish themselves. This had been seen in several places. Furthermore, they were an obstinate race and would defend any stronghold they secured even if it cost them their lives. Therefore, the minister Ramacandra Pant went on, they should be allowed to come and go, but not be permitted strong buildings or fortifications (Banhatti 1987: 90). It is not perhaps surprising that these military and political aspects of Europeans were understood so early while perhaps some understanding of the limits to their seemingly omnivoracious physiology came later. Larger efforts at understanding were shown by fitting foreigners into Pauranika geography. This is well exhibited in the Marathi map from the British Library reproduced here.15 The captions “Dvārkā” and “Mumbai” both appear on the edge of the western sea. But beyond it, interestingly we have “Yavanavastī,” “Arabasthāna” [Arab country] and Maskat. Elsewhere, two bubbles, one large and one smaller in the ocean off Calcutta mark Cīna and Mahācīna (China and Great China). On the far western edge, in D-shaped boxes, we find “Topikār Valande, Dingama” (hat-wearers, Dutch, Danish) adjacent to Pharāsīs, Purtkal (French, Portugal) and a separate box contains “Ingrej vilāyat” [English province].

Maratha map.

Maratha map.

© British Library; reproduced with permission. Thanks to Dr. Marina Chellini.

Empire and Information

  • 16 C. A. Bayly 1999: especially chapter 2 “Political intelligence and indigenous informers.”

16But, as Michael Fisher has noted for a later period, knowledge was not systematically accumulated and transmitted among Indian diplomats and statesmen (Fisher 2004: 652-3). Christopher Bayly has emphasized the importance of information in the building of empire in India.16 Bayly made the important point that the lackluster growth of colonial knowledge was paralleled by (I would say) an even more limited understanding of the world on the Indian side. But ultimately, the larger comparative frames and institutionalized record system within which the Europeans operated allowed for a deeper understanding of many phenomena. Despite Ramacandra Pant’s warnings of 1717, the Peshwa in 1756 collaborated with the Bombay government in destroying the Angre naval power on the West coast. In the 1770s, the hat-wearing tricksters (māyāvī ṭopikar) of Mumbai brought off a major stroke of intrigue when they sponsored Raghunath Rao’s claim to the Peshwai. This may have led the important minister, Janardan Pant or Nana Phadnis, to seek more information about Europeans generally. It may also have led to the production of a perhaps colored account of the French emissary St. Lubin’s meetings with Sakharam Bapu and Nana Phadnis. Of the latter, St. Lubin wrote that he seemed versed in more than one branch of knowledge, including astronomy and geometry, “but that he especially possessed a thorough knowledge of the art of Government. His questions on the form of the French Government and his observations on my replies betoken an intuitive genius which takes a broad view of things…” (Hatalkar, ed., 1978, 2: 55) Nana certainly maintained an elaborate intelligence network and thousands of newsletters from different parts of India came to his chancery in Menavli through the decades. Parasnis has published many of the newsletters in Itihasa Samgraha as also an interesting memorandum describing the home territories of the English. Some of the information about the English may well come from a Frenchman—possibly, indeed St. Lubin. We shall consider it below. It is too long for a full translation here, but I present a few extracts. It may have been connected to the preparation of the map already discussed above.

The English folk and their origins, etc.: their province (vilāyat) is close to the Yavanas’ land of Rūm [ottoman empire]. There is an ocean to the west of Rūm; their vilāyat is the main island in it, its length and breadth 75 kośa [?250 kms.] Its name is English Landhan. Then there are other lands, cities and islands in the oceans. At distance of a thousand kośa in the ocean west of Karnataka lies an island where the Farasis (French) dwell. Among the hat-wearers the leading soldiers and the great king (pādśahā) are French and on our (Asian?) mainland the dominant Emperor (ekachatrī) is the pādśahā of Rūm…
All the earth inhabited by men is under three-and-a-half emperors. The leading one is that of Rūm, second of France, third of China and the half is reckoned to be the company of English merchants of the province of England… there are eighteen kinds of hat-wearers. The Sanskrit name for them is “Hūna” and evidence for this is found in the

17He then cites two Sanskrit verses prophesying how after five thousand years the earth would be overrun by coppery-faced (tāmramukha) Hunas. Finally (the text continues in Marathi) it was written after the dominance of Muhammad, the fourth prophet having lasted for hundreds of years, in the thirteenth century of his (Islamic) era his faith would be uprooted and kufrāṇ (infidelity) ensue. That thirteenth century is equivalent to the fifth millennium of Kaliyuga.

By this conjunction of prophecies, true faith was fated to shrink day by day and therefore the divinely bestowed power of the English increased and the pride of Hindus and Muslims has been curbed and the English are spreading over the earth.

Finally, it described the English political system.

The English selected forty persons as kosalgār (councillor) and called them the “kampin” (Company). They are subordinate to the King and then the Kampinī has jurisdiction everywhere. Thus their knowledge and ambition has increased day by day, and whatever they attempt meets with success. They come as merchants, take control, seize kingdoms and act independently; but do not call themselves independent rulers. At present, the English island has a population of fifty-two lakhs. There is a large customs revenue. Everything is done as the kampinī commands. In England the King is subordinate to his subjects. If the King misconducts himself, the subjects affix proclamations to his gate a few times; if he corrects his ways it is good. If not, they seat another King on the throne; and new policies are decided in consultation with everyone. This is the custom.

  • 17 This may be rendered as the “English community of the country collectively.”
  • 18 Itihāsa Saṁgraha, 10, 1, 1909, “Pararāsṭriyānce darbārātīl marāṭhyānce vakīl,” 85.

18Soon after 1777, Nana Phadnis certainly had an idea of the divisions of authority among the English. In a long letter to King George III he complained of the conduct of the Bombay government and carefully described how they had acted against the orders of the Council at Calcutta. He described the Treaty of Purandhar (1777) as signed under the auspices of the Koumsal Kaman (Supreme Council?) of Calcutta, with the approval of the Mughal emperor, the jamiye-kaum Ingraz17 and the Company (Itihāsa Saṁgraha [IS], 1, 8, 1909, p. 57 ff). Similarly news of the bad blood between Philip Francis and Warren Hastings also reached Pune. A few years later the Maratha envoy Lala Sevakram in Calcutta accurately described the plenipotentiary powers granted to Earl Cornwallis when he came out to India in 1786. He added a note explaining the months of the English calendar, and describing the “Directors” as the senior officers (baḍesāheb) of the Company. He was confused about “Parliament” though, merely stating that it was a title (alkāb) of the king of England.18

19The French and the Marathas had been in contact since at the early 1770s as the rise of English power erased the former and threatened the latter. Chevalier, the chief at Chandernagore had been seeking to interest Paris in a Maratha alliance since 1765. St. Lubin arrived at Purandhar as an accredited envoy in 1777, shortly after the Bombay government sought to take advantage of family feuds to seize Salsette and enlarge its territories on the model already used against the Nawabs in Bengal (Hatalkar 1958: 160-62, 185-99). It seems that his arrival coincided with that of unofficial Frenchmen seeking employment. Thus Anquetil de Briancourt wrote to St. Lubin in October 1777 recommending one Charlevalle, Chevalier d’Anacles who first sought the patronage of the English for a post with Raghunath Rao but then finding the latter was powerless, was recommended to St. Lubin at Pune (Hatalkar, ed., 1978, 2: 132-33). Another such an employment-seeker was also the source of long memorandum about an unnamed “hat-wearing Firangi, a good soldierly man (cāngle mard māṇus) who had come from Goa”. He submitted a long statement describing his various skills as well as the superiority of the French in various arts and sciences. It is clear that by then the standing of the Portuguese had fallen in Indian eyes. It is dated 1190 suhur or 1789-90 CE.

Can train regular infantry in the French mode. Will prepare scientifically-designed bastions and fortification. French training is superior to that of the English or Portuguese (Firangi). A French infantry regiman (regiment) has 2,400 men. Can look at a cannon and tell the weight of powder and shot needed for it.

  • 19 Itihasa Samgraha, 6, 1-3 (1915-16), pp. 59-62.

20These were not the only skills of this latter-day Alcibiades—he could safely manufacture gunpowder by doing the work afloat on moored rafts; he could manufacture powerful pumps, make hand-grenades and even flying machines (vimāna, perhaps hot-air balloons?) He could draw maps showing the location of ancient cities and the distances from place to place. He could estimate the weight or density of various metals. He was well-educated in western mathematics (mathemāṭik)—he wrote “[I] can answer all scientific questions—the English ambassador can vouch for that”. He could construct fast-moving ships of war and work them in the English and French style of warfare. “The Firangi style is inferior.” He had fonts for the printing of six languages— “Brāhmaṇ-bhāṣā, Malbār Kaldāik [Chaldean], Grahak [Greek], Sirialā [Syriac] Ekrā (?).” He had the computational skills needed for sieges; he could make shrapnel shells; he could describe human skeletal anatomy.19

21We do not know if this paragon was ever employed, or even what his name was. The Maratha court had a low opinion of many of the Europeans who frequented it and may not have taken him at face value. Krishnarao Kale asked St. Lubin to translate the letters the latter carried, saying they did not trust their own translators:

Our European interpreters, he said to me, are vagabonds who serve us today and perhaps tomorrow will serve our enemies. We have therefore, to employ them only for unimportant affairs and not entrust important matters to such unsafe hands (Hatalkar, 1978, 2: 51).

  • 20 Hatalkar 1978, Vol. 1: 130. “Traduttore, Traditore” as the Italian saying goes. But translators oft (...)

22This idea of interpreter duplicity was not without foundation, for we find de Briancourt saying of his ally William Bolts “English is almost his mother tongue, he speaks French, Urdu and Persian very well, and since he does not need an interpreter to negotiate with the people of the country, you will find it difficult to read him.”20

23Through the 1780s, the stock of mutual knowledge increased, though the experience of intrigue and conflict in the previous decade made both sides warier. Envoys often served for many years and built up close relationships that, as we shall see were maintained for years afterwards.

24Long-term envoys often developed dual allegiances. Beniram Pandit for example, was the envoy from the Raja of Nagpur to Warren Hastings. He and his brother Visvambhar worked closely to prevent their master Raghoji from participating in the war against the EIC in a more than perfunctory way. viśvambhar actually received a tax-free village in inām from Warren Hastings. Decades later when it was taken back by the Company’s government, Hastings’ widow sought to assist viśvambhar’s widow in having the grant restored. This of course illustrates another aspect of the diplomacy of the day: the fact that diplomatic agents expected to be supported (at least in part) by the government to whom they were sent. The Pune envoy to Calcutta whom we have already encountered was Lala Sevakram, possibly a Khatri. His grandfather had been previously in the service of the Jaipur Raja Sawai Jai Singh and then been recruited by the Marathas. He hints at his disappointment about his pay in several letters and suggests an increase in his allowances would be appropriate because one could not get even a cowrie from other sources in Calcutta (IS, 1, 8, 1909: 61). Similarly, the envoy to Bombay, Raghunāth Raṇsoḍ frequently complained about the dilapidated condition of his house and sought a supply of bamboo from Belapur to build a structure that would be habitable during the monsoon. His letters also complain of his pay being in arrears (IS, 6, 1908-9: 22-23). Meanwhile, divisions among the English were easily divined; several reports from Calcutta discuss Philip Francis’ hostility to Warren Hastings, note that he avoided Council meetings by going to Murshidabad on account of his health, etc. Personal hatred and factional conflict were phenomena that Maratha officials well understood but were never able to exploit. The British on the other hand were far more adroit, successfully splitting off first Raghoji Bhosle of Nagpur (during 1778-82) and then crucially, Raghunath Bajirao and Jaswantrao Holkar in 1802-3. Shejwalkar has compared the Pune newsletters and British sources from Nagpur in the late eighteenth century and writes:

Forster never sat on a chair in the presence of Raghuji, but always on the floor. once when he was offered the Maratha style of dress on the occasion of Vasant Panchami festival—which had been adopted by the Nagpur Court from North India—he donned it and attended the festival, taking personal part in it. But the news-writers had absolutely no scent of the journals kept by Forster and his companion Leckie, which throw such powerful light on the affairs of Nagpur. These are still more valuable, detailed and accurate for understanding the Nagpur Darbar of the time, than any of the letters published in this collection (Shejwalkar, ed., 1959, 2: XVI).

  • 21 Guha 2002, Gāicyā Devīcī utpatti va guṇa tyāñcā tapsīl: 140-155 translates and contextualizes this (...)

25Nor indeed, until the full-fledged establishment of colonial rule in 1818, I have found no evidence that anyone on the Maratha side had the deep cultural understanding and vernacular fluency to write an English text equivalent to Thomas Coats’ little Marathi pamphlet on vaccination (c. 1816) Gāicyā Devī. The case for vaccination is made with an excellent understanding of both Brahmanical Marathi and local religious belief.21 Coats was the Residency surgeon and author of an outstanding village study “Account of the Township of Lony” (1819) whose data was rich enough for Ghurye to use it as a baseline for his study of the same village in the 1950s (Ghurye 1960; Coats 1823, III: 172-264).


  • 22 Trautmann 2006; Trautmann 1996: 103-30 and passim.
  • 23 Roy ([1832] 1887: 113-20) “Remarks on Settlement in India by Europeans.”

26The journal that carried Coats’ study also contained an extended polemic by the early Orientalist Vans Kennedy against James Mill’s imperiously ignorant History of British India (Kennedy 1823, III: 117-170). Kennedy sought to block the rising Indophobia represented by Mill and strongly championed by the evangelical Charles Grant, by undermining its scholarly pretensions. But as Trautmann showed in his seminal Aryans and British India, the early nineteenth century combination of evangelical faith and industrial success meant that the Indophile scholarly current represented by William Jones and Vans Kennedy could not withstand the rising tide of Indophobia. Mill’s denigration became established truth and tendentious basis of his argument that only the assimilation of Indians to English values and religion could effectively reform the country or attach its inhabitants to British rule. The tendency to stress the common humanity of Indians and Europeans and the value of their distinct cultures was categorically rejected. The fifty years of what Trautmann has termed Indophilia were rejected.22 With this, the possibility of an imperial conviviality disappeared. Mignolo of course argues that conviviality is more than the acceptance of positive cultural difference; he would certainly see it as incompatible with colonial rule. But the global political and economic dominance of England after 1815 made even that modest accommodation impossible (though Rammohan Roy sustained his faith in it till 1832).23 Ultimately evangelical power and metropolitan location carried all before it: and it was Mill’s and Marx’s discourse that prevailed as the London-centered phase of globalization overtook cosmopolitanism. Conviviality was abandoned on both sides and its very possibility lost to sight.



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1 See especially Pindye c. 1657: 247. (Reprint 1996.)

2 Istvan Perczel, “Cosmopolitisme de la Mer d’Arabie” in this volume.

3 The allusion is, of course, to Chakrabarty 2000.

4 S.v. in Fallon online for Hindustani at Digital Dictionaries of South Asia— ditto for Bengali

5 Godse 1990: 90. “vilāyatī lok mhanaje Musalmān Arabasārkhe.”

6 Županov 1999, see especially chapter 1: “Disputed Customs.”

7 Cited in Županov 1996: 1201.

8 This last gloss was added by the editor and is not in Nobili’s text.

9 Bertrand, ed. 1848: 156-60. “Prangui” is clearly a south Indian variation of “Firangi”—the Arabic word for a Christian westerner or “Frank.”

10 In Bertrand ibid.; also see Albert Laerzio, Provincial of Malabar’s letter of 16 November 1609 endorsing Nobili’s argument, in ibid., vol. 2: 2.

11 Walesjournals in Yale Center for British Art, Ms 1, entry for 7 September 1792, fo. 55.

12 Wales’ journals in Yale Center for British Art, Ms 1, entries for 7 August 1792 fo. 49; 7 September 1792, fo. 55.

13 Itihasa Samgraha, 1908, I, 12 “Aitihasika Tipanen: ” 61.

14 Itihāsa Saṁgraha, 1909. II, 4 “Gangadharsastri Patwardhan,” p. 50. This is cited in English and I have retained the original spelling, ‘akulkund’ is likely a typographical error for “akal-mand”—intelligent, prudent ( “aql-mand”). “Cock-eye”—since there is no mention of Holkar being cock-eyed, Parasnis’ suggestion that this is the Sanskrit compound = “kāka-cakṣu” i.e. one casting an oblique but cunning glance like the crow. So the passage may be translated as follows: “He was a tricky customer but very shrewd. He had a sharp eye for the main chance but crow-like, would not betray his intent.”

15 Mss. Mar G.28 l. © British Library; reproduced with permission. I am grateful to Dr. Marina Chellini for her efforts in locating this map for me.

16 C. A. Bayly 1999: especially chapter 2 “Political intelligence and indigenous informers.”

17 This may be rendered as the “English community of the country collectively.”

18 Itihāsa Saṁgraha, 10, 1, 1909, “Pararāsṭriyānce darbārātīl marāṭhyānce vakīl,” 85.

19 Itihasa Samgraha, 6, 1-3 (1915-16), pp. 59-62.

20 Hatalkar 1978, Vol. 1: 130. “Traduttore, Traditore” as the Italian saying goes. But translators often acted as diplomats too; see Roland 1999.

21 Guha 2002, Gāicyā Devīcī utpatti va guṇa tyāñcā tapsīl: 140-155 translates and contextualizes this text.

22 Trautmann 2006; Trautmann 1996: 103-30 and passim.

23 Roy ([1832] 1887: 113-20) “Remarks on Settlement in India by Europeans.”

Table des illustrations

Titre Maratha map.
Crédits © British Library; reproduced with permission. Thanks to Dr. Marina Chellini.
Fichier image/jpeg, 193k


He began his research as an economic historian with interests in demography and agriculture. These widened into the study of environmental and ethnic histories. From 1996 to 1999, he was Professor in the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta and moved to the USA in 2000 as S.P. Das Distinguished Professor at Brown University. In 2004 he joined the Department of History in Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and came thence to the University of Texas at Austin in 2013.
– 1999 Environment and Ethnicity in India, c. 1200-1991, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
– 2001 Health and Population in South Asia from Earliest Times to the Present, London, Hurst & Co.
– 2013 Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present, Leiden, Brill.

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