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The Madras School of Orientalism (Producing Knowledge in Colonial South India)

The Madras School of Orientalism (Producing Knowledge in Colonial South India)
Item Code: NAL714
Author: Thomas R. Trautmann
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9780198063148
Pages: 344 (20 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch x 5.5 inch
About the Book

Exchange of ideas among Indian and European scholars in early nineteenth century Madras led to unprecedented new discoveries about the history, literatures, religion, law, and land systems of India. Giving name to this distinctive form of knowledge coming from Madras during the early nineteenth century, this volume presents the Madras School of Orientalism (MSO), an intellectual formation whose impact is only beginning to become apparent in recent studies.

A string of fresh ideas emerged from the MSO- even though it patterned itself on the Asiatic Society of Calcutta-challenging several generalizations about India's history and culture. The vast collection of maps, drawings, and manuscripts of Colin Mackenzie, the publications of FW. Ellis, and the holdings at the College of Fort St George bring forth a view from the South, of India as a whole. This significant perspective enables the contributors of this book to rethink early colonial interactions, evolving institutions, and altering language systems.

Analysing the projects undertaken, The Madras School of Orientalism examines Mackenzie's archive and his investigations at Mahabalipuram. Another theme explored here is the effective engagement on the state of Islamic learning at Madras that led to a common platform for the development of Orientalism. Subsequently, the Indian intellectuals-Tamil pandits, Telugu lineages of state servants such as the Kavali brothers, poets-associated with the projects are studied to elucidate the long-term effects of European-Indian interchange.

The scrutiny of changing forms of scribal culture, philology, and documentation in South India facilitate a better understanding of the interactive patterns. Together the essays open up avenues for further investigation and research on not only these facets but also about other objects of study such as law, religion, and land.

In the introduction, Thomas R. Trautmann considers the influence of indigenous knowledge in the emergence of Orientalism. He highlights the transition from a regime of knowledge based on royal patronage to one based on government and university scholarship and print culture. This seminal collection will be indispensable for scholars and students of history, sociology, anthropology, particularly those interested in late medieval and early modern India.


About the Author

Thomas R. Trautmann is Marshall D. Sahlins Collegiate Professor of History and Anthropology, University of Michigan, USA.



This book has grown from a conviction that much the most interesting new ideas about India's history and culture at the beginning of the nineteenth century were coming out of colonial Madras, even though the greater prestige and power attached to the scholarly productions of the British-Indian capitol, Calcutta. The source of these new ideas was an intellectual formation that I call the Madras School of Orientalism.

I coined the phrase 'Madras School of Orientalism' to name a kind of scholarship emanating from certain intellectual projects of early- nineteenth-century British-Indian Madras (Trautmann 1999a; 1999b). At its simplest, the component parts that make up the Madras School of Orientalism, or MSO for short, are two. The first is the Mackenzie Collection constructed by Colin Mackenzie and his Indian assistants, a project for recovering the history of South India. The second is the College of Fort St George and its Indian staff, under a Board of Supervision, a body of British civil servants chaired by F.W. Ellis. There, Indian teachers, trained by Indian head masters who were leading scholars of the day, taught arriving British civil servants the languages of South India, and generated a body of knowledge about those languages and their history. Between them, the persons and the scholarly output of these two projects constituted a field of interaction, more a process than a thing, that invited exploring; and I gave it a name as a means to promote such exploration by directing attention, not just to each project considered as a self-contained entity, but toward the two of them in the interaction of their personnel and scholarship.

Let us pick apart the three elements of which the MSO idea is made, and examine them one by one. In what sense was the intellectual product of the MSO a kind of Orientalism? How was it a school In what sense was it specific to Madras?

The MSO was a school of Orientalism in a double sense: It involved Orientalist scholarship in the strict (pre-Saidian) meaning of the term, that is, it was scholarship about India based upon knowledge of the languages of India, ancient and modern. But at the same time, as a form of scholarship about Indian history, culture, and law, it was Orientalist knowledge linked (sensu Said), in complex, mutually reinforcing ways (enabled by, contributing to) the colonial administration that had suddenly to be improvised for the vast inland territories of South India that had recently fallen under the rule of the East India Company at the conclusion of the Mysore Wars in 1799. Thus it was 'both-and' Orientalism, so to say; both language-based scholarship and scholarship that was administratively useful. We might say of this kind of knowledge that it is full Orientalism as distinct from statistical surveys and other non-language-based forms of colonial information-gathering that are Orientalism only in the broadened, colonial-studies sense.

As a form of scholarship the MSO took its lead from the Asiatic Society at Calcutta. Both Mackenzie and Ellis were members of the Asiatic Society and contributed papers to it that were published in its journal, Asiatic Researches. This is a highly significant datum, showing that Mackenzie and Ellis acknowledged the leadership of Calcutta over the new Orientalism and chose to participate in the work of the Society, even at the distance of Madras. Thus we may say, in the first instance, that the relation of the MSO to Calcutta was one of emulation. This took the double form, of the creation of a Madras analogue of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, the Madras Literary Society, in whose founding and early life Ellis took a major role, and the creation of the College of Fort St George, modelled upon Calcutta's College of Fort William. (Bombay formed its version of the Asiatic Society, the Literary Society of Bombay, in 1805, with which the Madras Orientalists were also in communication.) Madras, then, replicated the Orientalist pattern of Calcutta, namely a triangle of institutions through which Orientalist knowledge circulated: the learned society, the college at which arriving junior civil servants studied the languages of India, and the courts that administered Hindu and Anglo-Mohammedan law.

But while Calcutta supplied the model emulated by Madras (and Bombay), Madras inevitably felt that its ideas and findings had their own worth and truth, so that the emulation was always complicated by a strong dose of criticism and rivalry. The MSO positioned itself as a distinctive Madras school of Orientalism in that it claimed superior expertise in respect of South India. Ellis complained that Calcutta scholars often put out general views of India that ignored the South or got it wrong, especially in matters of language and law. There was no thought, however, that Madras would displace Calcutta, whose supremacy was secure, only that Madras would amend Calcutta's errors. The relation, then, was complex. Madras respected Calcutta's lead, but felt itself free to criticize its practices and products.

In pressing its claim to superior knowledge of South India, the MSO, moreover, constituted a school that was distinctive. It is true that the two projects making up the MSO were not identical and did not, therefore, always speak with one voice. The principals have left plenty of evidence that they considered one another's projects as complementary rather than the same, the Mackenzie Collection being about history, the College about language and literature. But both projects were in a general way all about the history of South India, and India generally, in a full sense of the word history, if we include cultural and literary history with political history. Mackenzie and Ellis were in frequent and friendly communication, and shared documents and scholarly writings. It seems likely, but needs to be shown, that the Indian personnel of these two projects were also in communication (See Mantena, Chapter 5, for some examples). However that may be, the evidence in hand is sufficient to establish that there is a degree to which the two projects overlapped and held similar views. The MSO concept is intended to encourage scholars to map that interaction, take its measure, and specify its intellectual content.

The MSO and its claim to speak authoritatively on South India deserve our attention for several reasons. At the most basic level this book demonstrates that the MSO contributed greatly to the formation of an improved knowledge of South Indian history, language and literature, law, and religion, extending the body of new knowledge that emanated from Calcutta, as it concerned the South. But the more compelling reason for studying this formation is not as a regional school, purveying improved knowledge ofthe South, but as providing a view from the South, of India as a whole, and in doing so creating a well- grounded alternative to the view from Bengal. To give a sense of what is at stake in this, and why the study of the MSO is not just a matter of sorting out the record of the past but of recovering valuable alternatives to prevailing perspectives for present use-value, let me attempt a brief characterization of the Calcutta School of Orientalism (to coin another phrase). The Asiatic Society, of course, was conceived not as a school of thought but as an all-purpose learned society, modelled upon the Royal Society, directing itself broadly to 'the works of man and nature' in Asia. But, under the leadership of William Jones, Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Horace Hayman Wilson, and James Prinsep, over four generations of scholarship Calcutta developed distinctive ideas: in language, of the Indo-European language family; in law, of the Dharmashastra as the expression of the deeply-held beliefs of the Indian people as a whole; in history, of the weakly-developed historical sense in ancient India and the decipherment of Ashokan inscriptions as the cornerstone of an inscription-based reconstruction of India's history; in religion, of the successive transformations by which the Vedic religion evolves into the sects of Hinduism; and in land, of the zamindari system. On each of these matters the MSO offered powerful alternatives: in language, the Dravidian language family; in law, the rich variability of customary law in India; in history, the systematic collection and registry of inscriptions in masses to construct a chronological grid; in religion, the importance of Jainism (and potentially Buddhism) in the developmental story; and in respect of land, the three-cornered debate over zamindari, ryotwari, and mirasi systems. Many of these contributions of the MSO have also proved lasting, and all of them are valuable as alternatives that test dominant views.

On a number of issues, then, entirely new readings of the history of India as a whole emerged from the work of the MSO, readings at odds with those put out by the Calcutta Orientalists. The most spectacular and enduring of these was the 'Dravidian proof' published by Ellis in 1816. The published demonstration that the languages of South India were historically related to one another and, more importantly, were not derived from Sanskrit, directly controverted the Calcutta Orientalists; both H.T. Colebrooke, who stated that all the modern 'polished' languages of India were derived from Sanskrit (1801), and William Carey, whose Telugu grammar (1814) asserted the Sanskrit origin of that language. The concept of what came to be called the Dravidian family of languages profoundly altered the view of India's deep history; as it concerns the history of Indian civilization it is on a par with the two other great findings of the colonial period: William Jones' conception of the Indo-European language family (the relatedness, that is, of Sanskrit to Old Persian and the languages of Europe), the greatest outcome of the Calcutta School of Orientalism, and the recognition, by John Marshall and his Indian associates, of the bronze-age dating of the Indus Civilization, Indian archaeology's finest achievement.

The circumstances of the Dravidian proof show that it is not the work of a lone scholar but the product of the MSO. Reduced to its most elementary terms, the Dravidian proof involved the question of the relations among three languages-Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit-and the showing that Tamil and Telugu are related to one another but did not derive from Sanskrit. It is no accident that the Dravidian proof arose in colonial Madras, because it was a cosmopolitan centre at which Tamil and Telugu were widely spoken and Sanskrit scholarship was pursued and patronized, and because it was a place in which the traditions of language analysis of Europe and India, both of which are employed in the Dravidian proof, came together. Leading Indian and European scholars of Madras figured importantly in the development of the Dravidian proof. As we trace the prehistory of the Dravidian proof back in time we see a widening circle of interaction in its formation, one that includes the circle of Ellis and the circle of Mackenzie; in other words, the MSO (details in Trautmann 2006).




  List of Figures and Tables vii
  Introduction 1
1 Colin Mackenzie (Autobiography of an Archive) 29
2 Islamic Learning at the College of Fort St. George in Nineteenth-century Madras 48
3 Colin Mackenzei, the Madras School of Orientalism, and Investigations at Mahabalipuram 74
  Indian Intellectuals  
4 'Grammer, the Frame of Language' (Tamil Pandits at the College of Fort St George) 113
5 The Kavali Brothers (Intellectual Life in Early Colonial Madras) 126
6 Knowing the Deccan (Enquiries, Points, and Poets in the Construction of Knowledge and Power in Early-nineteenth-century Southern India) 151
7 From Manuscript to Archive to Print (The Mackenzie Collection and Later Telgu Literary Historiography) 183
  Language in South India  
8 Tamil Munshis and Kacceri Tamil under the Company's Document Raj in Early-nineteenth-century Madras 209
9 The College of Fort St George and the Transformation of Tamil Philology during the Nineteenth Century 233
  Objects of Study (Histories of Religion, Law, and Land)  
10 Orientalists, Missionaries, and Jains (The South Indian Story) 263
11 Law in the Mirror of Language (The Madras School of Orientalism on Hindu Law) 288
12 Riot over Ryotwar 310
  List of Contributors 333
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