Most of us grew up with the knowledge that India had been a British colony—the jewel in the crown of the Raj. Even those with slightly deeper knowledge who knew that France had once been a contender for the Indian empire consider it a romantic interlude between the Mughals and their self-proclaimed Anglo-successors. Yet our ideas about India, fundamentally wrought from the colonial recasting of knowledge in strictly ‘Western’ categories—religion, history, politics, economy, mythology, and even the modern self-conception of race (Aryan v/s Dravidian)—were drawn from the studies of French Indologists. So France, a failed temporal conqueror, had actually conquered ‘India’—the idea. This book traces the process by which France ‘claimed India’ by defining India through caste, history, race and religion. The obvious question is, of course, why? Why did France invest all this energy, time, and money into defining an area she no longer controlled politically? To challenge the British? To demonstrate her own commitment to the ‘civilizing mission’? This book demonstrates how France's fascination with India stemmed from all of these motives, as well as being a key component of her own national self-definition in the nineteenth century.

The Era of Empiricism and the Rise of Philology
The era of empiricism and the rise of philology

For me, Gentlemen, I think, to the honor of scholarship, that work of the erudite men who devoted their life to the study of India will not be sterile for the old story of this country. I have the hope that the meeting of, as well of efforts, will finish some day by rebuilding the most brilliant and perhaps the richest literary history as people can offer to the curiosity and the admiration of Europe.1

With the eclipse of the Florists a new era of Indology dominated by empirical, scientific comparisons began. The harbingers of this change were Eugene Burnouf, Abel Rémusat, and Jules Mohl. Many of the ...

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