Independence Day 2023 | How do one of the vital earliest books on India describe the land, its folks and tradition?

For 3 years now, I’ve been steadily visiting a different nook of the Web — the virtual library of former Lawyer Normal Okay.Okay. Venugopal. In March 2020, Venugopal made up our minds to digitise and add his in depth selection of antiquarian books — a procedure that took, for the primary lot of just about 1,200 books, part a yr. These days, the gathering has virtually 1,900 books, and ready within the wings are hundreds extra.

Former Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.

Former Lawyer Normal Okay.Okay. Venugopal.
| Photograph Credit score:
R.V. Moorthy

Venugopal started gathering books in 1970, beginning with a name at the erstwhile South Indian Railway Corporate. He hasn’t stopped, and once I seek advice from him, he displays me a brand new public sale catalogue he has his eyes on. The books at the web site,, are copyright loose and can also be downloaded, too. The oldest within the assortment is a travelogue: Travels In Hindustan: The Historical past Of The Overdue Revolution Of The Dominions Of The Nice Mogol via Francois Bernier, courting again to 1676. In reality, historic travelogues are some of the largest segments in Venugopal’s library — accounts of holiday makers to the rustic, most commonly males, but additionally a couple of girls — who became their lens on India. 

By way of the 18th century, Indians too have been writing travelogues, and in 1790, the primary account written in an Indian language was once revealed — Varthamanappusthakam, via the Malayali Syriac Christian priest Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar. In English, The Travels of Dean Mahomet via Dean Mahomed, a local of Patna, was once launched in 1794 — the primary English ebook to be revealed via an Indian. Later, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, extra Indians would write accounts in their travels to some distance corners of the sector — Russia, China, Africa, the U.S. and Europe. 

The depictions via early guests to India are each interesting and evocative — a fabricated from the colonial lens and in different instances, an anthropological learn about of a folks and a land so expansive, changeable and new to overseas eyes. These days, those accounts act like home windows into a unique time, each alien and acquainted. We deliver to you a couple of snippets from a few of these books — portraits of folks, puts, and the previous.

The Ganges

“The Ganges, at this position, abounds with fish of a wide variety; and, among them, the king of the finny tribes, the noble mahaseer, or great-head, which via many individuals is esteemed essentially the most scrumptious fresh-water fish which ever gratified the palate of an epicure. It rises to the fly, affording superb game to the angler, occasionally reaching the dimensions o f a big cod, and is serious about substantial issue, even via those that were conversant in salmon-fishing in essentially the most celebrated rivers of Scotland. The mahaseer is shipped to desk in quite a lot of techniques, Indian chefs being well-known for his or her fish-stews and curries ; nevertheless it does now not require any adventitious support from the culinary artwork, as it’s beautiful when plain-boiled, being, consistent with the most productive gastronomic authority, luscious however but unsatiating.”

— Perspectives In India, Mainly Amongst The Himalaya Mountains; Lieut. George Francis White, of the thirty first Regt. (1836)


“An even takes position once a year at Hurdwar within the month of April, lasting just about a fortnight, that being the duration selected via the pilgrims, who flock from all portions of India, to accomplish their ablutions within the Ganges… The local weather of Hurdwar throughout the early a part of April is exceedingly variable: from 4 within the afternoon, till 9 or ten o’clock on the next day to come, the wind usually blows from the north or east over the snowy mountains, rendering the air delightfully cool; throughout the intermediate hours, then again, the thermometer regularly rises to 94°; and the clouds of mud bobbing up from the concourse of folks, in conjunction with their beasts of burden, accrued at this position, upload significantly to the annoyance sustained from the warmth.”

— Perspectives In India, Mainly Amongst The Himalaya Mountains; Lieut. George Francis White, of the thirty first Regt. (1836)

The Yamuna

“As we approached Jumnootree, which isn’t out there till the month of Might, we discovered the river gliding beneath arches of ice, wherein it had worn its passage, and at duration, those lots turning into too strongly frozen to yield and fall into the present, the circulation itself might be traced not, and, if now not at its exact supply, we stood on the first level of its younger lifestyles… Essentially the most holy spot is located upon the left financial institution, the place a mass of quartz and silicious schist rock sends forth 5 scorching springs into the mattress of the river, which boil and bubble at a livid charge. When mingled with the icy-cold circulation of the Jumna, those smoking springs shape an overly pleasant tepid tub, and the pilgrims, after dipping their arms in the freshest phase, carry out a lot more agreeable ablutions.”

— Perspectives In India, Mainly Amongst The Himalaya Mountains; Lieut. George Francis White, of the thirty first Regt. (1836)


“Not anything, then again, that I’ve ever noticed can evaluate with the Golden Temple, in its personal explicit means, and it’s rather as not possible to explain adequately its towers and minarets and different sacred spots and issues, in and round its precincts, as it could be to explain a phenomenal dream. The entire thing is sort of a dream, too unusual and in many ways too stunning to explain.” 

— The Top-Highway Of Empire; A.H. Hallam Murray (1905)


“As a town it has marked options of its personal. Not like the opposite towns I had visited, it’s walled, and that too… in a maximum considerable way — because of our personal engineers. Even supposing there are lots of streets as tortuous and slim as are present in different cities, I didn’t see anyplace that squalor and tumble-down confusion which arrest the attention within the local quarters of Bombay or Calcutta; whilst one main thoroughfare, the Chandnee Chouk, main direct from the Lahore Gate to the Palace, is actually a wonderful boulevard, 90 ft vast, a couple of mile lengthy, with a row of timber, a canal alongside its heart (coated, aside from in a couple of puts), and with comfortable-looking veranda-houses and nice stores on all sides.”

— Days In North India; Norman Macleod (1870)


“Books have given everybody a specific amount of common data in regards to the Mohammedan conquest of India beneath Baber within the 15th century… However I had by no means sooner than noticed the rest… that gave me any true concept of Mohammedan structure. In Agra we have been as in a brand new global… a preferrred unique flowering in good looks and brilliancy… The well-known Taj, the gem of India and of the sector, the Koh-i-noor of structure, is located about 3 miles from Agra, at the west financial institution of the Jumna… We have been carried out to the higher tale, and from an excellent open arch beheld the Taj! All good vacationers right here pause when making an attempt to explain this construction, and protest that the strive is folly, and betrays simplest an unwarranted self belief within the energy of phrases to present any concept of the sort of imaginative and prescient in stone. I don’t cherish the hope of having the ability to put across any true impact of the elegance and great thing about the Taj, however however I will not be silent about it.

— Days In North India; Norman Macleod (1870)


“In its construction internally as a town, in addition to in different respects which I shall at the moment allude to, Benares stands by myself. The homes are all constructed of forged stone, received from the quarries of Chumar within the immediate-neighborhood. They’re flanked via homes six and even seven tales prime. Whether or not to realize color from the burning solar, or as a method of protection in opposition to foes, those streets are so slim as to resemble the closes within the outdated the city of Edinburgh. Certainly, if our readers can think the closes worming via the entire town with sharp turnings and never-ending windings, they’re going to have a beautiful nice concept of where. There are stores of each type and for each business, consistent with the quarter of town. Most of these are open to the road. There are staff in brass and iron, in silver, gold, and jewels; staff of slippers and saddlery; of hands and accoutrements; of cloths and Oriental materials; of sweetmeats advert nauseam; and dealers of grain of each type.”

— Days In North India; Norman Macleod (1870)


Inside a Calcutta bungalow.

Inside of a Calcutta bungalow.

“Allow me, then, in higher shape, to introduce you to the outside of the home… a happy, neatly raised, lower-roomed residing… The hire of the sort of residence you’re going to no doubt imagine exorbitant, being seventy roopees per thirty days. Hire in Calcutta is certainly extraordinarily prime, however there are not any taxes at the tenant.

The homes of Calcutta are of all shapes, ranging via the entire desk of geometrical figures… however then again large — and a few resemble castles… you’re mindful our town is named the “Town of Palaces,” their inside preparations fluctuate however little, as a result, in describing one, I describe all, even though upon a bigger or smaller scale because the case could also be.”

— An Anglo-Indian Home Caricature: A Letter from An Artist in India to His Mom in England (1849)


Mansingh Palace , Gwalior.

Mansingh Palace , Gwalior.

“It’s an immensely steep, scorching climb as much as the highest of the rock on which stands the Citadel and palaces; however the elephant took us up leisurely, beneath the steering of a handsome Sikh of the Maharaja’s troops, and a policeman and two mahouts; and we had time to appreciate the little Jain and Buddhist carvings at the rock, and the view, continuously widening out around the simple, as we went alongside, beneath six grand gateways and previous many small temples. There was once one temple, about fourteen ft prime, pinnacles and all, carved out of 1 stone maximum elaborately, concerning the yr 800, within the days when our forefathers have been extra desirous about feeding their pigs on acorns than structure.”

— The Top-Highway Of Empire; via A.H. Hallam Murray (1905)


“The Harbour of Bombay items one of the vital hanging and wonderful perspectives that ever overjoyed the attention of a painter… Throughout the most productive season of the yr, the water is easy, whilst the breeze blowing in from the ocean throughout the higher a part of the day, the very smallest boats are, with the help of the tide, enabled to voyage alongside the gorgeous coast, or to the quite a lot of islands which gem the scarcely ruffled wave… Even throughout the monsoon, when many different puts of the Indian coast are unapproachable, when the lofty and it sounds as if interminable mountains which shape the magnificent back-ground are capped with clouds, and the sea-birds that love the typhoon, skim between the foam-crowned billows, the fishing-boats breast the waves, and pursue their career uninterruptedly.”

— Perspectives In India, Mainly Amongst The Himalaya Mountains; Lieut. George Francis White, of the thirty first Regt. (1836)


“Within the very centre of town, on the junction of the 4 major streets, is the well-known Char Minar, or 4 towers, constructed a couple of.d. 1600, upon 4 grand arches, above which can be a number of storeys of rooms at the beginning faithful to a school however now used as a store-house. The construction is 4, sq., every face being 100 ft, and the minarets jump into the air 250 ft above the extent of the road. That is the busiest spot in the entire town, and hours could also be spent looking at the fun and picturesque scenes surrounding the Char Minar.”

— Picturesque India; W.S. Caine (1890)


“The force alongside the seaside to the Capper Home is the pleasantest in Madras. Right here one meets the sea-breeze, as it should be known as via the citizens “the physician”. Right here we move essentially the most implementing of the general public constructions of town, specifically the College. It was once unusual to look at the Sunday the punkas swinging throughout carrier within the church buildings.

Like massive weavers beams with heavy curtains, they’re saved in movement by way of cords pulled from the out of doors, two natives, who stay every different wide awake, being hired for everybody. However strict a Sabbatarian, the minister in addition to the folk should have the punka saved going over his head right through the carrier.” 

— Indian Photos; Rev. W. Urwick (1891)


“Every other celebrated construction in Madura, now in large phase ruined, is the Palace of Tirumala, some of the biggest of the rulers of the province, constructed via him in 1623. The corridor is a quadrangle, 2 hundred and fifty via 100 and fifty ft, and with an elaborate hall, and 100 and twenty-eight huge granite pillars ornamented with stucco, constructed from chuncim, or shell lime, which is a feature of the Madras Presidency. The British Govt is now restoring it, and the use of it for legislative functions.

At the different facet of the city there’s a pretty force resulting in a big sacred tank, the Teppu-kulam, with an island and temple within the centre. The street is arched over and shaded with banyan timber; and an overly wonderful specimen of this tree is to be noticed within the lawn of the Collector”

— Indian Photos; Rev. W. Urwick (1891)


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