Tasveer Ghar: A Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture

Artful Mapping in Bazaar India

Cartographic Reflections on the Priya Paul Collection

Teaching the Nation’s Map Form:


Consider figure 02 titled New India, possibly published sometime between Indian independence on August 15, 1947, and the so-called “accession” and “integration” of princely states between August 1947 and 19516 and the states re-organization that began in the mid-1950s.7 The lion capital (the newly installed national emblem), and the tricolor national flag at the top of the print suggest that it was possibly published to celebrate the arrival on the political landscape of the Republic of India on January 26, 1950.8 Although “India” is not named as such, and is instead cartographically depicted as a proliferation of numerous constitutive units, all meticulously delineated and named, the newly created Pakistan is identified, as are other neighbours (Nepal, Burma, and Ceylon), the colour green reserved as in many such maps and prints for the new Muslim country. This print adheres to the terms of state cartography in its general conformity to national boundaries as these began to be inscribed—in a highly contested process that ensued after the so-called Radcliffe award of August 1947—in normative maps. And yet, what sets the map in New India apart from normative maps of the country and makes this print an instance of “barefoot cartography,” is the presence of the heads of the leaders of the nation—the “big men” of India—arranged in roundels around its borders. It is almost as if the newly-won national territory cannot be merely shown as empty cartographic space, marked off by geometric lines and blocks of hues, and instead needs the legitimizing presence of these faces, left un-named but well known to any patriotic citizen as the men who had led India to freedom. These familiar faces then appear to introduce the recently configured national territory (the nation’s “geo-body”)9 to the citizen-subject, lending their recognizable—and possibly comforting—presence to the new spatial reality that had come to fundamentally alter the lives of everyone on the subcontinent after August 14-15, 1947.


There are other examples in the Priya Paul Collection of similar prints from the dawn of Independence that resemble a prolific genre of popular imagery that is called the school or educational chart.10 In figure 03, also titled New India, the emphasis is certainly on distinguishing Pakistan (in deep green) from the “new” India, but the artist—whose name might well be R. S. Mukherjee, as printed on the bottom right—also appears to be keen on showing the continuing presence of the so-called princely states which are set off in bright yellow within Indian national territory—not yet divided up into the fourteen new administrative units—colored red. Gandhi beams down on the newly created nation-state, his haloed presence possibly dating this print to after his death in January 1948, although by that time, the vast majority of these princely states had merged into India or Pakistan, dissolving (some rather contentiously) their autonomous identities over the course of 1948-49.11 Such prints also appeared in the many languages of India (as instanced in the Hindi example in figure 04 and a Bengali reproduction titled Bijayer Pathe in figure 05, with “Netaji” Subash Chandra Bose joining Gandhi). In New India No. 2 (Figure 06), such big men are displaced by the Everyman, tilling the soil of the nation to yield a rich harvest, while Gandhi smiles down on vignettes of the patriotic-bucolic (although one suspects that he might not have entirely approved of the presence of the industrial-scale technology in the fields of Nehruvian India).



6 The classic “eye-witness” treatment of this process can be found in Menon, V.P. 1956. The Story of the Integration of the Indian States. New York: Macmillan. See also Copland, Ian, 1997. The Princes of India in the Endgame of Empire, 1917-1947. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 229-287; Ramusack, Barbara, 2003. The Indian Princes and their States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 245-274; and Guha, Ramachandra, 2008. India after Gandhi (New York: HarperCollins), pp. 51-96. None of these studies however discuss the role that cartographic knowledge and maps obviously played in this complicated and contentious “endgame of empire,” and the so-called “bloodless revolution.” Covering about 1/3 of British India in area, over 550 in number with varying legal arrangements and degrees of sovereignty and privileges, the autonomous princely states more or less lost hope by June 1947 to strike out on their own, and had to choose between joining either India or Pakistan. By August 15, 1947, most had joined India, and those that had not (such as several states on the new Indo-Pak border, Junagadh, Hyderabad, and Kashmir) did so over the course of the next few months, but they only progressively merged with the “provinces” of India over the course of the next couple years, or formed autonomous “states unions.” A document issued by the Government of India in 1951 proudly noted, “On the eve of independence the map of India was studded with as many as 562 States…These yellow patches on the map of India have now disappeared. Sovereignty and power have been transferred to the people. The edifice of new India has arisen on the foundation of the true patriotism of the Princes and the people” (Government of India. 1951. Democracy on March. New Delhi: Publications Division, no page number mentioned).

7 Although the demand for internal reorganization of provinces conforming to linguistic (and ethnic) identity goes back to the 1920s, it is only in 1953 with the carving out of Andhra Pradesh out of Madras and the passage of the States Reorganization Act in 1956 that this became a geo-political and cartographic reality. The creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, and the re-ordering of Punjab in 1966 further altered the map of post-colonial India. Despite the transformative importance of the mid-20th century “states reorganization,” there is no single rigorous scholarly study of this process, and no analysis of the manner in which cartographic knowledge played a role in the process (Although Guha titles his chapter “Redrawing the Map,” there is no allusion to how maps were actually used in the process of this re-drawing. See India after Gandhi, pp. 189-208).

8 One of the less-studied symbols of the new Republic, the lion capital has been discussed in Nair, P. Thankappan. 1987. Indian National Songs and Symbols. Calcutta: Firma KLM Pvt. Ltd, pp. 74-97. Despite strict injunctions against non-official use of the national emblem, especially for commercial purposes, the lion capital appears in many popular prints from the 1950s (for some dramatic examples, see Neumayer, Erwin, and Christine Schelberger. 2008. Bharat Mata: Printed Icons from the Struggle for Independence in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, Plate 58; Ramaswamy, The Goddess and the Nation, figures 33, 37; and Singh, Amrit Kaur, and Rabindra Kaur Singh. 2003. Images of Freedom. New Delhi: Indialog Publications, Plate 22). On the semiotics and politics of the national flag, see especially Virmani, Arundhati. 2008. A National Flag for India. Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment. New Delhi: Permanent Black, and Roy, Srirupa. 2006. A Symbol of Freedom: The Indian Flag and the Transformations of Nationalism, 1906-2002. Journal of Asian Studies 65 (3):495-527.

9 Thongchai Winichakul introduces this term to refer to the novel representation of territory as an objectified bounded whole created by the sciences of geography and cartography. “Geographically speaking, the geo-body of a nation occupies a certain portion of the earth’s surface which can be objectively identified. It seems to be concrete to the eyes and having a long history as if it were natural…The geo-body of a nation is merely the effect of modern geographical knowledge and its technology of representation, a map” (Thongchai Winichakul. 1996. Maps and the Formation of the Geo-Body of Siam. In Asian Forms of the Nation, edited by H. Antlov and S. Tonnesson. London: Curzon Press, p. 70).

10 Sirish Rao, V. Geetha, and Gita Wolf. 2001. An Ideal Boy: Charts from India. Stockport, U.K./Chennai: Dewi Lewis Publishing/Tara Publishing. In this important work that draws our attention to this visual form and pedagogical tool that has been hitherto ignored by scholars, the map of India is featured in some charts (pp. 63, 111). Despite its presence as a “school article” in one such chart (p. 47) and on the wall in the school room (pp. 9, 17, 23, 25, 84), the authors do not analyze wall maps meant for Indian classrooms from the early years of the nineteenth century but especially after the 1850s, as the paradigmatic form of this kind of pedagogical tool used especially for science education.

11 Hyderabad was the most intransigent of the hold-outs and was compelled through military action to join India in September 1948. By November 1949, “only 6 of the 552 states that had acceded to India—namely, Hyderabad, Mysore, Bhopal, Tripura, Manipur and Cooch-behar—remained as separate entities within their old boundaries” (Copland, Princes of India, p. 263). This list does not include Jammu and Kashmir, which although by this time a part of India, was a partitioned state; Sikkim and Bhutan also remained nominally independent.

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