Arts and Culture
In the spirit of the conference theme “Asia and Europe. Asia in Europe,” we propose a panel focused on colonial coastal South India, beginning with Kochi, the port city in central Kerala that first welcomed Vasco da Gama and was the site of the first Portuguese settlement in South Asia, Fort Manuel or Fort Cochin, which was conquered by the Dutch in 1663 and later by the British, in 1795. From there we shift our focus to the kingdom of Travancore in south Kerala and the French settlement of Pondichéry on the east coast. These papers examine the ways in which currents flowing into and out of these places would transform not just the local region, but also both Europeans and the European cultures that interacted in and with these particular geographic and cultural spaces. Mary Beth Heston discusses the new Palace constructed for the Kochi rulers at Mattanceri ca. 1555, long interpreted as following local residential architecture traditions. She argues, however, that the palace is largely Portuguese in its form, in that it transforms the conventional nalukettu or courtyard residence of high-caste Hindus of the region into a structure with characteristics that depart dramatically from convention. Anjana Singh speaks to the new currents from the Netherlands that transformed Kochi during this era. She delineates how the city was reshaped and restructured in the 1660s by the Dutch and later in 1795 – 1806 by the British. These agents transformed the port-city for trade and connectivity, both with the hinterland and the larger maritime network with Asia and Europe and shaped how the European Heritage is remembered and experienced in Kochi today. Deepthi Murali, whose PhD research examines material culture – the decorative arts - of colonial era Kerala, focuses on three beds in the central structure of Padmanabhapuram Palace in the southern Kerala kingdom of Travancore which embody the kinds of complicated cultural exchanges that characterize the dynamics of the region across the colonial eras. Shubham Biswas examines the role of art collecting across the Indian ocean region with particular attention to migrations between Pondichéry, South India, and Vietnam during French colonial rule in these regions. Using a particular recent exhibition in Pondichéry he argues for the role of public exhibitions in informing a national identity debate around an Indo-Vietnamese diaspora. By focusing on these early and ongoing mutual exchanges between and across Asia and Europe these papers demonstrate the layered richness arising from the ebb and flow of currents within and beyond the fertile ecosystem of the South Indian littoral.