Nearly a 100 maps on display at Delhi’s Ojas Art Gallery are depicting geographies of the country, spanning a period of 350 years. These maps are a part of the exhibition, titled India: A Mapful Story, An exhibition of Unseen Historical maps circa 18th century to 1946.
Curated by Anubhav Nath, the show brings maps by pioneers in cartography such as Matthäus Seutter, James Rennell, Pierre Mortier, Pierre M. Lapie, Rigobert Bonne and John Tallis.
Starting as a way to conduct surveys, the detailed maps were often used as travelogues. They also appear to be the perfect method to illustrate history as observed by the maker.
In a map called Map of the Mughals celebrating 50 years of Red Fort, Delhi by Wagner, 1689. Henry R Wagner, a rare view of the Red Fort in Delhi is seen. According to Nath, the building spacing etc is very accurate though some shapes have gone wrong. But Diwan-e-aam and Diwan-e-khaas are clearly identifiable.
There is also an anomaly here. Nath says, “Someone must have mentioned a ‘Boat bridge’ on the Jamuna. Instead of a string of wooden boats, joined together, the cartographer has chosen to make one large boat skeleton instead – a loss in translation, most likely.”
The maps are engaging and bring about fascinating revelations. Nath says, “It’s interesting to note that the anglicised names for Indian cities are different and how two maps of the same place from the same era will be different based on the patron,” adding, “ As an art it was at its zenith between the 17th-19th Centuries as explorers discovered more places and were also able to mark their exact geographical locations with the help of longitudes and latitudes. During that time, there was a vast commissioning of maps by the western powers.”
Early in his life, the curator was drawn towards maps. “In my grandfathers’ office there was a large wall map and whenever I would travel he would help me trace where I was going or coming from. Also, I clearly remember post the break-up of the USSR, the maps suddenly changed dramatically. Being a history buff, all this was very interesting to me.”
The curator also has a word of advice for people looking to collect maps. “With enhanced digital and print options available, it is often difficult to distinguish between what is truly old versus a reproduction. So please be careful and tread with caution,” he concludes.
Till: January 8
At: Ojas Art Gallery, Mehrauli