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.

Writing Histories, Creating ‘India’

Writing histories, creating ‘india’

‘It is the centre of Asia, of Asia, mother of the world, of this antique fatherland of nations; from Asia, the most vast of three parts of the old continent [world] and oldest [to be] populated, that spread the first germs of civilization with which the human species is honoured: it is there that the first empires arose, the nations most famous for their population, their magnificence and their riches [wealth]; it is there that half-savage Europeans went to seek laws, luxury, the fine arts; it is [from] there that they drew all their systems of philosophy, all their moral codes: but it is there too that liberty and civilization are irreconcilable; that the peoples seem born ...

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