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Kesavan Veluthat

By Upinder Singh
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2004, pp. xix 381, Rs. 695.00


This book is about how agents of the colonial state discovered, literally by bits and pieces, the material culture of ancient India. Upinder Singh takes up for detailed discussion the way in which the colonial state inaugurated a tradition of archaeology in this country. She gives many details regarding the monumental work of the “father of Indian archaeology”, Alexander Cunningham, and his assistants such as J.D.M. Beglar and A.C.L. Carlleyle, and also recounts the debates regarding the preservation and conservation (and, in the process, destruction) of monuments, and the partici-pation of the “natives” in it all. She has not only used the reports of the Archaeological Survey and the photographs and exhibits in different museums and examined sites but also consulted the rich archival material, which is somewhat rare in writings on archaeology. Written in a lucid style and full of copious details, the book will be useful for both the serious student and the interested “lay reader” alike.   Pre-modern concerns with the past did not include documentation and preservation of material artefacts. The term “archaeology” was used, till recently, in the sense of a study of the past with little or no difference between it and history. Even when a separate mode of retrieving the past through its material relics was inaugurated in the West in what is now recognized as the discipline of archaeology, its scope did not go beyond collecting and exhibiting curios or waxing eloquent about the “wonders” of monuments. In the context of India, the enterprise began with the arrival of the European powers. On the one hand, they possessed a different sensibility and a different way of looking at the past; on the other, they had the compulsions of producing knowledge about the subjects in the colony as a means of effectively controlling them. Archaeology, thus, had its beginning in India with the arrival of the colonial state.   Upinder Singh tells this story in an engaging way. As an introductory exercise, she takes up the various attempts that had been made even before the colonial state was firmly established in India. It all began as mere antiquarianism, a curiosity regarding an exotic people and culture, which was garnished by a dash of the ruler’s arrogance. There certainly were the serious students. The work of the Asiatic Society is promptly highlighted and the place of Sir William Jones, duly acknowledged. ...

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