History’s Coordinates

An exhibition of maps orients us towards the latitude and longitude of world politics

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: August 8, 2017 12:51:18 am
Mughal, Mughal era, art exhibition on Mughal era, Grand Mogol  The Johann Wagner map that shows Mughal territories marked the golden anniversary of the Red Fort

Delhi was the seat of power, and the Red Fort a walled citadel from where the Mughals ruled for almost two centuries. Constructed over a course of 10 years, the red sandstone structure that merged Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions, was the residence of the dynasty for almost two centuries, and its pride. So when the monument completed 50 years in 1688, the Mughals marked the golden anniversary with a Wagner map that showed Mughal territories of the period and a blueprint of the Red Fort that replaced the cartouche. Carved by German engraver Melchior Haffne and published by Johann Wagner, attention has been given to details, with the famous Diwan-e-Aam and Diwan-e-Khas clearly identifiable.

“The map incorporates all the words, Delly is Delhi, Gehanabad is Shahjahanabad. It also uses the term Grand Mogol, that was popular in Europe,” says Anubhav Nath, curatorial director of Ojas Art, who has put together the exhibition “It is India: A Mapful Story”, which comprises over 70 historical maps and engravings, from the 18th century to 1946, by renowned cartographers.

“Maps represent the entire historicity and talk about borders that have such a strong relevance on our lives. They give you a historical, social, political and economic perspective of the bygone era. In India, interest in maps in gradually rising but in the West old Indian maps are highly collectible,” says Nath. His collection includes hundreds of maps acquired over a decade from across the world.

The display spanning centuries gives a glimpse into how India and the borders of its neighbours have changed. A 1855 Stadiasmus Maris Magni, an ancient Roman periplus or guidebook of the Mediterranean Sea for sailors, shows a large “Taprobane” south of India, and Frank A Gray’s 1885 “New Map of the World in Hemispheres” includes a time diagram, indicating the “local time of 50 of the principal cities of the world at the period of noon in Washington”. In a 30 x 39 inch map, we also see the expanse of the Indian Railways in 1944. “The map was issued by the India Railway Conference Association in connection with the alphabetical list of Indian stations issued by them,” says Nath.

The best artists of the period were involved with map-making, and Nath turns to a delicately painted map of Goa that gives a panoramic view of the Portuguese trading post where all of Goa’s major monuments and sites are recorded. The 1752 hand-painted map gives ample space to its sea waters as well. Another map from 1730 has the East Indies and part of Australia. The map extends from Japan and Persia in the North, to the Maldives and Australia and Ladrones in the South and West. “One of the most notable features of the map is that Australia continues to be attached to Nova Guinea, albeit with some hesitation, as the image extends outside the inner neat line to convey this information — this is in spite the fact that there are 20 or more place names along Australia’s Northern Coastline. The cartouche is one of the most ornate Seutter cartouches we have seen, with elaborate scenes from the sea, land, jungle and mythology,” says Nath. Through the exhibition he hopes to generate interest in these sketches that represent how the world has changed over the years.

The exhibition is at Ojas Art, 1 AQ, Qutab Minar Roundabout, Mehrauli, till August 20

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