Landscapes of India and the ideology of antiquity

Cunningham, Anne Florence

     I consider "landscape" as a process of configuring relationships in time and space, and particularly the ways in which it serves to organize beliefs about Indian antiquity. Creating and deciphering landscapes was an activity peculiar to eighteenth-century Britain and Europe, and coincided with increased British interest in India. I consider the construction of rural Indian antiquity in terms of a "dream" generated in the course of colonialism: the persistent theme of "anxiety" associated with India; the "day residues" of the domestic, British landscape; and the "wishes" projected upon India by the British. The resulting "manifest" dream about India, I argue, distorts antiquity into two landscape images: one an outsized, threatening landscape of "colossal" antiquity, represented by monuments, ancient cities and other artifacts of power; the other a "miniaturized" world of the unchanging Indian village--simple, stagnant, and seemingly isolated from the world around it.
     I discuss how, in the course of creating and maintaining these landscapes, archaeology came increasingly to be identified as the field science of antiquity, situated in the outdoor world of the "open air," while antiquarians labored "inside" over inscriptions, texts, and coins. In the context of a survey of archaeological sites in Amreli District (Gujarat), I attempt to subvert the two images of Indian antiquity. I argue that landscape in India orders the world in the manner of an ideology which "controls" both the colossal and miniaturized landscapes. The exaggerations I perceive in India's ancient landscape, I argue, mark areas of "struggle," suggesting the existence of what Foucault terms "subjugated knowledges." I further consider how archaeological landscape categories--the distortions introduced by conceptualizations of "sites," and the many "invisible" elements that landscape constructions leave out--contribute to this subjugation.

Nicholas, Ralph W.