In the early nineteenth century, the south Indian kingdom of Tanjore, which had come under the control of the East India Company, flourished as a ‘centre’ of enlightenment. This book traces the contours of the Tanjore enlightenment, which produced a knowledge that was at once modern and deeply rooted in the indigenous tradition. The chief protagonist of this first ever full-length study on Tanjore at the turn of the nineteenth century is Raja Serfoji II (r. 1798–1832), in whose world science and God coexisted comfortably.
Tanjore at this time was a thriving contact-zone, linked to several centres through extensive local and global networks. Its court attracted a great number of visitors, including Christian missionaries, high-ranking Company officials, princely contemporaries, naturalists, and medical practitioners. Dwelling on the locatedness of science and enlightenment modernity in the context of the colonial periphery, the book describes how the Raja deployed certain ‘vectors of assemblage’ — an array of practices, instruments, theories and people, including his vast collection of manuscripts, books and scientific instruments, a Devanagari printing press, a menagerie, health establishments and a large retinue of trained experts and artists — to invent Tanjore as a contemporary ‘centre’.
Shunning reductionist and diffusionist explanations of the transmission of Western science in colonial settings, the study uses hitherto unexplored archival sources to reconstruct the Tanjore enlightenment as the outcome of globally situated cross-cultural exchanges. It celebrates the openness and confidence with which European science was engaged with, assimilated, translated and reinvented in a ‘contact-zone’ located in the colonial backwaters of south India.
The book will be of interest to historians, sociologists and those interested in history of science and medicine, anthropologists, cultural studies scholars, as well as the general reader.
Glossary. Acknowledgements. Introduction 1. Early Years: Lessons in Useful Knowledge 2. A Centre of Enlightenment 3. Making Sense of the Human Body 4. Plural and Enlightened Medical Practice 5. Preserving and Improving Public Health Natural Philosophy 6. The Curious Pilgrim. The Sun Sets Over Tanjore: A Conclusion. Bibliography. About the Author. Index
This series explores the intellectual history of South Asia through the lives and ideas of significant individuals within a historical context. These 'pathfinders' are seen to represent a break with existing traditions, canons and inherited histories. In fact, even the idea of South Asia with its constituent regions and linguistic and religious divisions maybe thrown into crisis as we explore the idea of territory as generated by thought. It is not cartographic limits that determine thinking but the imagining of elective affinities across space, time and borders. These thinkers are necessarily cosmopolitan and engage with a miscegenation of ideas that recasts existing notions of schools of thinking, of the archive for a history of ideas, and indeed of the very notion of national and regional limits to intellectual activity. The books in this series try to think beyond the limited frameworks of colonialism and nationalism for the modern period and more generally of histories of societies that are told through the prism of the state, its institutions and ideologies.
These slim volumes written by leading scholars are intended for the intelligent layperson and expert alike, and written in an accessible, lively and authoritative prose. Through telling the lives of celebrated names and lesser known ones in context, this series will expand the repertoire of ideas and individuals that have shaped the history and culture of South Asia.