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.

Imperial Showcase: The Visual Presentation of ‘India’
Imperial showcase: The visual presentation of ‘india’

Few countries in the world, without doubt, hold the spirit of ‘mysterious India’. Few countries possess such attraction and magnetism.1

India was significant for the French notion of colony and Empire. Despite possessing a mere handful of outposts in India surrounded by the might of the British Raj, the French India Establishments retained an identity of ‘Frenchness’, defiant in the face of Anglican sahibdom. This book has examined the presence of India in the French academic sphere during the nineteenth century. This chapter explores the problematic representation of India in the International Colonial Exhibition, held in Paris in 1931, specifically in the context of the clear construction of India as devoid of ...

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