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Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize.

In 2008, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS)/TIFR, Bangalore, hosted a pioneering exhibition, Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize (1) that focused on Indian medical and botanical knowledge in 16th-18th-century European books (figure 1).

Shortly after Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498, large numbers of Europeans followed and they relied on Indian medical knowledge systems to combat unfamiliar tropical diseases. The NCBS exhibition featured reproductions of excerpts and botanical illustrations from several European books compiled during the period. The books listed below were the focus of the 2008 exhibition in Bangalore and document the extensive knowledge transfer of medical botany from India to the West during the 16th-18th centuries.

* Coloquios das simples e drogas da India, Garcia da Orta (Goa, 1563);

* Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias Orientales, Cristobal Acosta (Spain, 1578), with woodcut illustrations from drawings Acosta made in India;

* Itinerario, Jan Huygen van Linschoten (Amsterdam, 1596), with maps and woodcuts of life in India;

* The Great Herhall, John Gerard (London, 1597), with woodcut illustrations of 200 Indian plants;

* Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, Hendrick Adriaan Van Reede (Amsterdam, 1678-93), 12 volumes with copperplate engravings of 742 plants.

Viewers entered the exhibition at the ncbs through a textile drop-down of the Indian Fig Tree, from The Great Herball (figure 2). The highlight of the exhibition was the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, the most extensive study of Asian medical botany published in Europe before the 19th century. (2) Images of selected botanical illustrations from all 12 volumes of the original Latin edition of Hortus Malabaricus, with curator's descriptive texts, were reproduced on free-standing panels in halls and in an herbal garden at the ncbs; with 50 plants listed in the Hortus Malabaricus provided by Foundations for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) Bangalore.

The double-folio copperplate illustrations with details of flowers and seeds occasionally included additional figures to provide a sense of scale to the images--rare glimpses of daily life in Malabar at the close of the 17th century.

Also displayed at the exhibition were reproductions of handwritten statements by four Indian scholars--Itty Achudem, Ranga Botto, Vinaique Pandito and Apu Botto--whom Van Reede acknowledged as primary sources of the knowledge in the volumes; a rare example in the annals of colonial botany of crediting the sources of indigenous knowledge.

As one of the first exhibitions combining art, science and social history held in a basic sciences institution, Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize was unique in many ways. Formulas of molecules with medicinal properties derived from plants that were displayed were incorporated into several panels. Audiences included members of the scientific community, science and art historians, school children and the general public (a modified version of the exhibition was later installed at the Regional Museum of Natural History, Mysore). Reviews in the media and a scientific journal were positive and appreciative. (3) The herbal garden, two original copperplate engravings from the 17th-century Hortus Malabaricus donated to the ncbs, and a quote from Van Reede on Malabar scholars etched on a glass panel in the main lobby, remain at the Centre as reminders of the compelling power of images to convey Indian scientific traditions.

NOTES

(1) The exhibition was curated by Annamma Spudich and co-curated/designed by Sarita Sunder (of Trapeze Arts), http://www.ncbs.res.in/hortus/horms.html.

(2) D.H. Nicholson, C.R. Suresh and K.S. Manilal, "An Interpretation of Van Reede's Hortus Malabaricus, Konigstein, Germany", Regnum Vegetable, 119, 1988.

(3) S. Priyadarshini, "Herbs of History", Nature India, February 29, 2008, https://www.natureasia.com/en/ nindia/article/i0.i038/nindia.2008.i33, doi:10.1038/nindia.2008.133; B.N. Goswamy, "Art & Soul, The Lure of Indian Spices", Spectrum, The Sunday Tribune, April 13, 2008, http://www. tribuneindia.com/2008/20080413/spectrum/art.

Caption: 1. Cover of exhibition catalogue for Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize: Indian Botanical Knowledge in 16th and 17th Century European Books, NCBS/TIFR, Bangalore 2008. http://www.ncbs.res.in/hortus/hortus.html.

Caption: 2. Textile drop-down of Indian Ficus Tree at the entrance to the exhibition Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize, NCBS/TIFR, Bangalore 2008.7 panels; 487.6 x 121.9 cm each, printed on cotton muslin.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Author:Spudich, Annamma
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 1, 2018
Words:711
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