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Comparative Studies in Society and History 2009;51(3):563 –589. 0010-4175/09 $15.00 # 2009 Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History


Genealogy of Colonial Discourse:

Hindu Traditions and the Limits of European Representation


Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap, Ghent University (Research Foundation—Flanders)

In the aftermath of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), European represen- tations of Eastern cultures have returned to preoccupy the Western academy. Much of this work reiterates the point that nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship was a corpus of knowledge that was implicated in and reinforced colonial state formation in India. 1 The pivotal role of native informants in the production of colonial discourse and its subsequent use in servicing the material adjuncts of the colonial state notwithstanding, there has been some recognition in South Asian scholarship of the moot point that the colonial constructs themselves built upon an existing, precolonial European discourse on India and its indigenous culture. 2 However, there is as yet little scholarly consensus or indeed literature on the core issues of how and when these edifices

Acknowledgments: Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the “Rethinking Religion in India” conference, New Delhi (January 2008), and at the South Asia History Seminar, School of Oriental and Asian Studies, London (February 2008). For their comments, I am grateful to the anon- ymous CSSH reviewers, as well as Richard King, Laurie Patton, Geoffrey Oddie, Naomi Golden- berg, Gregor Schwarb, and especially, Sanchari Dutta and Jakob De Roover. All translations from Dutch, French, German, and Italian are my own.

1 See Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton, 2001); Robert Eric Frykenberg, “Constructions of Hinduism at the Nexus of History and Religion,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23, 3 (1993): 523– 50; Richard King, Orientalism and Reli- gion: Postcolonial Theory, India and ‘the Mystic East’ (London, 1999); Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia (Philadelphia, 1993); Sharada Sugirtharajah, Constructions of Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective (London, 2003); Romila Thapar, “Imagined Religious Communities? Ancient History and the Modern Search for a Hindu Identity,” Modern Asian Studies 23, 2 (1989): 209– 31.

2 See David N. Lorenzen, “Who Invented Hinduism?” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, 4 (1999): 630– 59; and Will Sweetman, “Unity and Plurality: Hinduism and the Reli- gions of India in Early European Scholarship,” Religion 31, 3 (2001): 209– 24.



came to be formed, or the intellectual and cultural axes they drew from. 3 This genealogy of colonial discourse is the subject of this essay. Its principal con- cerns are the formalization of a conceptual unit in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, called “Hinduism” today, and the larger reality of European culture and religion that shaped the contours of representation. 4 The colonial discourse employs “Hinduism” as a single category of analysis to classify a heterogeneous collection of traditions. It holds that a variety of South Asian traditions are united under a Brahman priesthood. Whereas its sacred scrip- tures harbor a monotheistic religion, the clergy masterminded new religious laws and ceremonies. This proliferation of modes of worship was the source and seat of their sacerdotal revenue and power. The colonial representation of Indian tra- ditions thus consists of two distinct branches: “philosophical Hinduism,” and “popular Hinduism.” The former identifies an ancient and monotheistic religion in sacred scriptures, while the latter points to its corrupted manifestations in ido- latry and ritual. Central to this simplified synthesis of manifold, crosscutting tra- ditions stands the Brahman protagonist: the agent of religious change is identified as the priesthood, the nodal point in this colonial composition. Already in the 1760s, these elements structured the account of “the Gentoo religion” by the East India Company employee, John Zephania Holwell (1711–1798). 5 The notion of sacerdotal corruption also ran like a thread through the influential essay on Hindu customs by the French missionary Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765– 1848). 6 The same ideas enticed eminent Orientalists such as Sir William Jones (1746–1794) to delve into India’s past in search of its unadulterated religion. 7 This outline of spiritual decline also structured the representation of religion in colonial historiography and in successive Orientalist scholarship. 8

3 Indispensable sources on European perceptions of India prior to the mid-eighteenth century are: Gita Dharampal-Frick, Indien im Spiegel deutscher Quellen der Fru¨ hen Neuzeit (1500– 1750) (Tu¨ bingen, 1994); Donald Frederick Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe (Chicago,

1965–1993); Joan-Pau Rubie´ s, Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250–1625 (Cambridge, 2000); and Joan-Pau Rubie´ s, Travellers and Cosmogra- phers: Studies in the History of Early Modern Travel and Ethnology (Aldershot, 2007).

4 By “discourse” and “genealogy” I am not referencing a particular Foucauldian analysis. The former implies a systematic way of talking about and representing India; the latter, in this instance, refers to the historical and cultural processes through which it came about.

5 John Zephaniah Holwell, Interesting Historical Events, Relative to the Provinces of Bengal,

and the Empire of Indostan

Alexander Dow, The History of Hindostan from the Death of Akbar, to the Complete Settlement of the Empire under Aurungzebe (London, 1768), vol. 1, xxi–lxxvi.

6 Jean Antoine Dubois, Description of the Character, Manners, and Customs of the People of India (London, 1817).

7 William Jones, “The Third Anniversary Discourse: On the Hindus,” Asiatic Researches 1 (1786): 343–55. Also see Henry T. Colebrooke, “On the Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus, and of the Bra’hmens Especially,” Asiatic Researches 5 (1801): 345–68, and 7 (1801): 232– 87; and Horace Hayman Wilson, “A Sketch of the Religious Sects of the Hindus,” Asiatic Researches 16 (1828): 1– 136, and 17 (1828): 169– 313.

8 For colonial historiography, see, for example, Mountstuart Elphinstone, The History of India (London, 1841), 86, 99; and John Wilson, India Three Thousand Years Ago (Bombay, 1858). For

(London, 1765–1767), vol. 1, 5– 10; vol. 2, 13–17. Also see


Once contemporary scholars had established that this unified outline of India’s spiritual landscape is a creation of colonial forms of knowledge pro- duction, it seemed unnecessary for most to study the greater part of the archive of European images of India, which is neither British nor colonial in nature. Yet the subject is of considerable interest. Renaissance ethnography provides a fascinating case study in popular culture, and in particular suggests that the juxtaposition of “philosophical” against “popular Hinduism,” and the emphasis on a priesthood as the axis around which both revolve, can be traced back to two modes of representation that developed in the European libraries before the 1550s. Both images concern the Brahman protagonist. They are the central focus of this essay because they illustrate most crucially how European representations of Indian community life were framed for internal theological purposes. The first section of this essay initiates my argument about the pre- Renaissance representation of the Brahmans by locating it within its wider Latin Christian context. The Brahman traditions were defined as the proto- Christian expressions of religion in the East. I then discuss the early-modern mode of representation, and locate a second vision of the Brahmans in the polemical vocabulary of Reformation thought. It defines the Brahmans as cunning priests responsible for the Oriental corruption of Christianity in the East. Both images hold a central position in the European discourse on India and have an impressive record in the popular imagination. My third section shows that both representations, when combined in the sixteenth-century cos- mographies, provided a unified conceptual portrait of Indian traditions that cor- responds in structure and content with the colonial representation of Hinduism. It will be my argument that our contemporary understanding of Indian tra- ditions has less to do with the imbrications of knowledge and power—as found under colonialism—but more with the limitations of thought within a culture shaped by the Christian theologies long before the conditions of colo- nialism were established. Thus my goal is to illustrate a new critical approach to colonial forms of knowledge production in terms of cultural legacies. Refer- ences will be made to precolonial sources in Latin and Italian, but the majority of works I draw upon are written in four northern European vernaculars: Dutch, English, French, and German. 9

later-nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship, see, for example, Max Mu¨ ller, ed., The Sacred Books of the East (Oxford, 1879), xv, 1; and Max Mu¨ ller, India: What Can It Teach Us? (London, 1883), 13. 9 The genealogy of colonial discourse outlined in this essay is but one strand in a complex rep- resentational history, one focused on the European reception of certain key texts. For the role of Hindu scholars in the development of colonial representations of India, see especially Brian Pen- nington, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion (New York, 2005).



In 1520, the German scholar, Johannes Boemus (1485 –1533/35), published his

Omnium Gentium Mores (The customs of all nations), which was first issued at

Augsburg, a leading economic power and a center for humanist scholarship. The book was warmly received by his contemporaries and in the sixteenth century alone ran through at least twenty-two editions in Latin, English,

French, Italian, and Spanish. In 1555, William Waterman translated into English the first two books, concerning Africa and Asia. 10 The work’s signifi- cance lies in the fact that Boemus stands at the transition in scholarship about the East where both ethnographic images of the Brahmans were soon to meet.

A Hebraist and canon at Ulm cathedral, Boemus was united with his humanist

contemporaries in their shared interest in classical literature that combined bib- lical lore and the Latin Christian tradition. To some extent then, Omnium Gentium Mores, which Boemus prefaced with a spiritual history of the world extending to the very beginning of Christian thought, was representative of the intellectual concerns of this milieu. He explains his position as follows:

Whereas humankind once worshipped the Christian God, the devil made humanity bestow upon idols and images the honor that previously and appro- priately was bestowed only upon God. 11 After Christ had sent his disciples “into the universall worlde,” and after the Gospel was thus “of all nacions received,” what was missing in this heavenly project was sustainability:

Satan, returning to his natural malice, snared humankind again. 12 Boemus is clear about what he perceives to be the merits of his work: Continuing the med- ieval tradition of edifying scholarship, he explains the benefits of learning about the manners, laws, and rites of all the peoples in the world. Simply put, ethno- graphic learning should lead the way to the knowledge of the true (Christian) God. 13 Boemus effectively describes the Indian “commune wealth,” as Pliny the Elder ( Historia Naturalis , ca. 77 C.E. ) had portrayed it more than a millennium before. 14 Central to his ethnographic study lay the “Brachmanes,” that is, the Brahmans, known from their legendary dialogues with Alexander the Great. In Boemus’ assessment, this community of ascetics was the utopian model specimen of Christian virtue and faith. 15 The English translator of his work

10 For a detailed analysis of Boemus’ work, see Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia, 1964), ch. 4.

11 Johannes Boemus, The Fardle of Facions: Conteining the Aunciente Maners, Customes, and Lawes, of the Peoples Enhabiting the Two Partes of the Earth Called Affrike and Asia, W. Water-

man, trans.

(London, 1555), A.ii –v.





Ibid., A.i.


L.iii– v.

15 Ibid., L.viii–lx. More precisely, as Boemus clarified, “Thei have one kinde of plains elo- quence commune to them all: tongue & harte agreinge in truthe. Thei have neither moote halles,


agreed with this sentiment, concluding, “the unchristened Brahmanes” live by a code of conduct “wher with we Christianes are so farre out of love, that we are afraied leaste any man should beleve it to be true.” 16 The seamless incorpor- ation of the Brahman community into the Christian schematic testifies to the theological impulse that structured the history of religion in the preface: all nations had known of the biblical God and Christian mode of conduct, includ- ing the ascetic Brahmans. Influential and authoritative as this account proved to be, what remains strik- ing is its inspiration. Boemus did not take recourse to the accounts of early- modern voyages that were then being printed in the German cities. He hardly needed these sources to write about the Brahmans in such laudable yet Christian terms, for they already had achieved great fame and reputation long before the Renaissance. To better understand the tenor of his writings it is necessary to retrieve the attitudes that preceded it, and this requires discuss- ing a phase of European perceptions of India prior to the Renaissance. It is essential to understand the intellectual and cultural background against which Boemus’ ideas developed if we are to come to terms with subsequent representations of Indian community life. Boemus’ history of religion was part of an intellectual lineage that traces to the very beginning of Christian thought. The early apologists of the primitive church assimilated the intellectual traditions of pagan Greece and Rome into their theological fold, recognizing the pagan thinkers such as Pythagoras and Plato to be an organic part of the Christian tradition. Justin Martyr, for instance, argued that Abraham and Socrates were Christians prior to Christ. 17 With intel- lectual dexterity, the famous historian of the church Eusebius of Caesarea (Præ- paratio Evangelica , ca. 315 C.E. ) argued that Greek and Roman thinkers had

ne universities, whose disagreable doctrine more leaning to apisshe arte, then natural reason and

experience, never bringeth anye staye, or certeintie of thinges

God, to slea for him an innoce[n]te beast: yea thei say he accepteth not the sacrifice of men polluted with bloode, but rather loveth a worship voide of all bloodsheade. That is to saye the humble entrea- tie of woorde, because that property only (to be entreated with woordes) is commune to God and to manne. With this therefore saye they he is pleased, because we somewhat resemble him self therin.”

16 Ibid., lx. This comparison between Brahman and European morality is present neither in the original Latin, nor in the French translation, which Waterman rendered into English, and therefore must have been an interpolation by the hand of the English translator himself. See Johannes Boemus, Omnivm Gentivm Mores Leges et Ritvs ex mvltis clarissimis rervm scriptoribus, a loanne Boemo Aubano sacerdote Teutonicæ militiæ deuoto nuper collectos: & in libros tris diftinctos Aphricam, Asiam, Europam. Optime lector lege (Augsburg, 1520), fols. xxv–vi; and his, Recueil de diverses histoires touchant les situations de toutes regio[n]s et pays contenuz es trois parties du monde, auec les particulieres moeurs, loix, & caeremonies de toutes natio[n]s & peuples y habitans (Antwerp, 1540), 72.

17 Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D . 325 (Ann Arbor, 1979), vol. 1: 178. For other variations, see, for example, Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, R. Dyson, ed. (Cambridge, 1998), 8.11.

Thei thincke it no honour to


been aware of the Christian God, the soul, the life hereafter, and the correct mode of conduct. 18 The Greco-Roman cults and local practices were similarly domesticated, yet transformed into vehicles of false religion: they embodied the devil’s plan to corrupt the true religion and seduce humankind into idolatry. 19 Writing in the first decades of the sixteenth century, when Boemus recognizes the Indian Brahman as a proto-Christian manifestation of Christianity he illus- trates the endurance of the analytical categories with which Christian thinkers and apologists of the church had since late antiquity understood their own traditions and those of others. Boemus, like his contemporaries Desiderius Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, was writing at a time of religious turmoil. The period was marked by anticlerical- ism, and this sentiment found lucid reflection in the literature and popular culture of the period. The estates of the realm divided society into the clergy, the nobility, and the commonalty. Religion was the realm of the first: the clergy, or spiritual men. The priestly sacrament of ordination was a distinct expression of this division, which gave the priest an infallible character and elevated him to a higher plane of perfec- tion and divinity. This perfection, in turn, empowered the priest to mediate salva- tion. Sacerdotal asceticism and saintliness were the ideal. Evidence that this ideal often was not met informed the anticlerical sentiments prior to the Reformation. That is to say, the theological claim that the Church of Rome provided an exclusive path to eternal beatitude provoked the creation of a negative mirror image long before the Reformation: a deep-rooted and cultural suspicion of the priest. Voices of dissent were expressed at grassroots levels by various spiritual move- mentsthat highlighted the sacerdotal ideal,that is, penance, and a frugal, inner spiri- tual life. Associated with the literature of this period is the exemplum. This literary genre served to illustrate such normative principles with short narratives or anecdo- tal stories that were remarkably constant in the popular imagination. 20 It was within this distinct literary and cultural context that the Brahmans made their reappearance, in this instance in the Collatio Alexandri cum Dindimo . This was a fictional exchange of instructing letters between Alexan- der and Dindimus, the leader of the Brahman ascetics, written between the fourth and the sixth centuries C.E . 21 The Brahman’s righteousness was

18 See S. N. Balagangadhara, “The Heathen in His Blindness ” Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion (Leiden, 1994), ch. 2; H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classi- cal Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement, and Origen (Oxford, 1966); Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven, 1985), ch. 3.

19 See, for example, Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” 289; and Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers:

Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Ann Arbor, 1979).

20 Peter Dykema and Heiko Oberman, eds., Anticlericalism in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Leiden, 1993). For the exemplum, see William Kibler, ed., Medieval France: An Encyclo- pedia (New York, 1995), 329 –30.

21 The medieval understanding of the Brahmans has been outlined in Cary’s work on the edu- cators and moralists in the Middle Ages, and in a more recent article by Hahn. See George Cary,


subsequently revealed when the French historian and famous preacher Jacques de Vitry (ca. 1160– 1240) introduced passages from the Collatio correspon- dence into his history of the crusades, the Historia Orientalis. De Vitry recog- nized the edifying nature of his work and bears witness to the fact that medieval anticlericalism was no less ardent than that of the 1500s and 1600s during the Reformation. 22 He was associated with the Beguines, a lay sisterhood that advocated a strong spiritual component to the religious life and combined asce- ticism with charity and teaching. Within this edifying context, the French preacher recapitulates tales about a mythical nation referred to in French as “bien dignes d’admiration ,” that is, well worthy of admiration. They are called “Brachmanes.” 23 He allows Dindimus to explain his religion, including his vision of God, in terms of the Christian Bible, and takes a significant step toward the support of the Brahman ascetic: he simply omits Alexander’s apolo- getic and casts Dindimus’ trenchant critique of Macedonian worldliness and pride in an explicitly Christian idiom. 24 This edifying image of the Brahmans appeared and reappeared prior to the age of exploration. For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John of Salis- bury (ca. 1110– 1180), was known for his Policraticus (The statesman; ca. 1159). This work of political theory was famous not only as an encyclopedia of learning but also for being a storehouse of edifying exemplars, including the Brahman exemplum. 25 Similarly, the Italian priest Godfrey von Viterbo (1125– 1202) introduced the Brahman exemplum into his Pantheon (ca. 1185), a Latin chronology of the world and repository of edifying stories. 26 Later still, in the thirteenth century, the French Dominican monk Vincent de Beauvais (ca. 1190 – 1264) produced the most important encyclopedic work prior to the Renaissance, Speculum Maius (Mirror of the world; 1240 – 1260), a compendium of the available theological, natural, and historical knowledge. The work incorporates six sections on the discourse between

The Medieval Alexander, D.J.A. Ross, ed. (Cambridge, 1956); and Thomas Hahn, “The Indian Tra- dition in Western Medieval Intellectual History,” Viator 9 (1978): 213– 34. Also see David Ross,

Alexander Historiatus: A Guide to Medieval Illustrated Alexander Literature (London, 1963).

22 Jacques de Vitry, Histoire Des Croisades, M. Guizot, ed. (Paris, 1825), 281– 88.

23 Ibid., 208.

24 Ibid., 208–15. An additional point of importance is that Jacques de Vitry’s most significant contribution to the history of the church, the Sermones Vulgares (early thirteenth century), provides a wealth of exemplars intended to serve as models for preachers.

25 John of Salisbury, The Statesman’s Book of John of Salisbury: Being the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth books, and Elections from the Seventh and Eighth Books of the Policraticus , John Dickinson, trans. and introduction (New York, 1927), book 4, 50.

26 As late as 1584, the German Catholic convert Johannes Pistorius the Younger (1546– 1608) edited a Latin collection of historical works in which Godfrey’s Pantheon was included. See

Godfrey von Viterbo, “Pantheon Gotfridi Viterbiensis

Rerum a Germanis Per Multas Ætates Gestarum Historias Vel Annales Posteris Reliquerunt

J. Pistorius, ed. (Francofurti, 1584), vol. 1, 230–31.

in Illustrium Veterum Scriptorum, Qui




Alexander and the leader of the Brahman ascetics, based on what was known from the Collatio correspondence, and indicates the constancy of the Brahman exemplum: Dindimus is made to introduce his Brahman subjects as divine ascetics, faithfully worshipping the biblical God. 27 The stereotyped image of the proto-Christian Brahman reached its height with the publication of the most famous, yet fictional travel report of the Middle Ages: the Voyages de Jehan de Mandeville Chevalier (The voyages of John Mandeville Knight; ca. 1357). As the author draws his travels to their conclusion, he reports about an island in the legendary kingdom of Prester John, “great and good and plenteous, where that be good folk and true, and of good living after their belief and of good faith.” 28 Though they are not certified Christians, they nevertheless know the biblical Ten Command- ments. Whereas some call that island the “Land of Faith,” others call it “the Isle of Bragman.” 29 Mandeville’s report soon became the most influential vehicle of the Brahman exemplum in the popular domain: the author expresses his appreciation of their near-perfection in allusions to shortcomings at home. The Brahmans are not given to theft, murder, or adultery, and they live “as that they were religious men.” Because they are teeming with good qualities, they never suffer tempests, famines, or any other tribulations, “as we be, many times, amongst us, for our sins.” 30 The significance of this travel report to the dissemination of the edifying Brahman motif is indicated by the rapid multiplication of manuscripts and translations. Moreover, Mandeville’s work was not only popular in the sense of its wide distribution but also in its appeal to people from many walks of life: from the laymen in the middle classes, through the English, French, Italian, and Spanish courtiers, to the monks and religious men of Germany. 31 These instances are representative of a wider edifying genre, and illustrate how the Brahman was assimilated into the Christian fold as the proto-Christian

27 Vincent de Beauvais, Le Premier Volume de Vincent Miroir Hystorial, J. de Vignay, trans. (Paris, 1531), fols. lxxiii –iiii. For a thirteenth-century translation in Middle Dutch verse (1285– 88), see Jacob van Maerlant, Spiegel Historiael of Rijmkronijk. Met de fragmenten der later toege- voegde gedeelten, bewerkt door Philip Utenbroeke en Lodewije van Velthem (Leyden, 1863), vol. 1, 57–62. Vincent’s sections on the Brahmans are reproduced verbatim in Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon (ca. 1350), arguably the most popular work on history then available in England. See Ranulph Higden, Cronica Ranulphi Cistrensis Monachi, J. Trevisa, trans. (Westmin- ster, 1482), fols. xx–xxi. Other English editions were issued in 1495 and 1527. For a comprehen- sive overview of the extraordinary popularity of Higden’s work among scholarly and lay audiences, see Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England: C. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (London, 1982), 53–57.

28 John Mandeville, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville: The Version of the Cotton Manuscript in Modern Spelling, A. Pollard, ed. (London, 1900), 192.

29 Ibid., 192.

30 Ibid., 193.

31 Josephine Waters Bennett, The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville (New York, 1954); Rosemary Tzanaki, Mandeville’s Medieval Audiences: A Study on the Reception of the Book of Sir John Mandeville (1371–1550) (Aldershot, 2003).


embodiment of a sacerdotal and Christian ideal, to serve an internal theological and moral purpose. The fictional correspondence between Alexander and Dindi- mus was originally interpolated in a second Latin translation of the Alexander romance by Archbishop Leo of Naples (ca. 950 C.E. ), better known as the His- toria de Preliis (The book of battles; eleventh century). It continued to influence the image of India during the decades in which the Portuguese set out to discover a passage to the East. Quarto editions in Latin were printed in Ko¨ln circa 1472 and in Southern France in 1490, both including the Collatio correspondence. 32 To conclude, Pliny provided Europe with fantastic tales about the East, from those of dog-headed and one-legged peoples beyond the Ganges, to stories of the countries of griffons and mythical snakes. For fifteen centuries or more these were thought to present a reliable ethnographic portrait of the East. 33 For some eleven centuries the vision of a Brahman nation safeguarding Chris- tian principles in the East was taken as a reliable spiritual portrait. The Brahman was domesticated in Christian thought and assimilated into the genre of the exemplum. Like the priest who safeguarded true religion at home—in word if not always in deed—the Brahman was believed to strive for the sacerdotal ideal in the East. Pliny’s monopod and headless nations represented the exotic Other. Regarding the Brahmans, Europe simply saw no Other: they were trans- formed into an edifying and almost ideal representation of “the Christian self.”


The rationale behind the early-modern descriptions of the Indian traditions, unrelated to the Alexander sources, stems from the widespread assurance that the world had known the biblical God. The Christian theologies were adamant that their religion could be traced back to Adam and Eve and sus- pected that its remnants survived in the most distant quarters of the world, which testified to the universal propagation of the truth prior to the devil’s deceptions. While the “austere” Brahmans were represented as proto- Christians, they were thought to guard the central aspects of true religion:

good morals, faith, and the belief in the biblical God. This legendary image of a Brahman nation had such an impact on the popular imagination that to single out the Brahmans as a unified, pan-Indian clerical estate appeared to be self-evident; they always had a fabled place in European learning and popular perceptions of the East. As we have seen, religion was the realm of the priest, leading Mandeville to categorize the Brahmans “as that they were religious men.” 34

32 Both copies can be found at the British Library in London. See [Begin., fol. 1:] Incipit liber Alexandri magni regis macedonie de prelijs (Ko¨ln, 1472), n.p.; and Historia Alexandri Magni regis macedonie de preliis (1490), fols. H–Hv.

33 Hodgen, Early Anthropology, chs. 1– 2.

34 The legendary image of the Brahman ascetic even carried over to the descriptions of the New World. See Thomas Hahn, “Indians East and West: Primitivism and Savagery in English Discovery


The foreknowledge of this “asceticism” certainly shaped the idea that “Brahman” referred to someone who strived for the sacerdotal ideal—in word, but like the Catholic priest, perhaps not always in deed. Consequently, a second image soon arose on the ancient foundations of the first: the Brahmans were crafty friars and priests. Or to put this differently, the cognitive limits of what could be said about the Indian traditions were drawn as follows: they either reflected true religion (Christianity), or its perversion. The more Europe learned about contemporary Brahmans, the more they moved to the other end of the spiritual spectrum, representing a defective Christianity in the East. Much like the Catholic friars and priests, the Brahman embodied the sacerdotal ideal in word, but in the eyes of Renaissance Europe, not always in practice. As I will show, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century rep- resentations of Calicut provide a glimpse of the process whereby Europeans continued to transform the East to suit their own expectations. Ludovico di Varthema (ca. 1468– 1517), an Italian adventurer, wrote the Itin- erario (Rome, 1510), an Italian account of his travels in the Middle East and India in which he included one of the first detailed reports of Calicut. Varthema made it clear that his narrative did not concern just one city on the Malabar Coast but also Vijayanagar, and Pulicat on the Coromandel Coast. 35 He men- tions that the king of Calicut is an idolater, yet continues to believe in the Creator. His faith in the Christian God notwithstanding, the king only pays homage to the devil, which he calls “ deumo.” Varthema saw a statue that was most likely an image of the man-lion avatar of Vishnu, Narasimha, popular amongst the South Indian Vaishnavites, and refers to the Malabar Brah- mans as the priests of the idol. His report contains sufficient detail for the reader to evoke an image of a monstrous demon, explicitly described as Satan or the Christian devil. The coronal in the indigenous representations of Narasimha is associated with the Triple Crown or papal tiara. The Brahmans are said to be like the priests or bishops in Europe. 36 Furthermore, Varthema notes that the king does not eat before the Brahmans have sacrificed to the devil, nor does he eat meat without sacerdotal permission. 37 Outside the city stands a church similar in shape to St. John’s Basilica in Rome. Every 25 December crowds

Narratives of the Sixteenth Century,” The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 8, 1 (1978):

77–114. Also the ideal state that Thomas More had in mind ( Utopia, 1516) can be traced back to the pre-Renaissance formulations about the Brahmans and Gymnosophists. See Donald F. Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, Vol. II: A Century of Wonder (Chicago, 1970– 77), 364– 65.

,” in Pietro

Martire d’Anghiera, The History of Travayle in the West and East Indies, and other Countreys Lying Eyther Way, Towardes the Fruitfull and Ryche Moluccaes: as Moscouia, Persia, Arabia, Syria, Ægypte, Ethiopia, Guinea, China in Cathayo, and Giapan, R. Willes, ed., R. Eden, trans. (London, 1577), fol. 384.

35 Lodovico de Varthema, “The Navigation and Voyages of Lewes Vertomannus


Ibid., fols. 387– 88.

37 Ibid., fol. 389.


gather at the temple to sacrifice to the idol after the priests anoint them with oil. The Italian traveler finally says that worshipping the devil in such a manner constitutes, according to the Indians, a penance for their sins. 38 Varthema’s Itinerario , however rudimentary, set the tone for the represen- tation of the Indian traditions in early-modern ethnography. Its success in the Italian-speaking world was immediate: the Italian original went through nine editions between 1510 and 1535, and it was translated into virtually every major European vernacular right into the seventeenth century. But its impact on the popular imagination was even stronger than the multiple editions and translations suggest. Varthema quickly found a keen audience in Europe, curious about the lands in the East. His account of the deumo stands out for the synthesis that he provides. Calicut was considered to be the chief economic and political center on the Malabar Coast. 39 It is thus not surprising that his sketch of the Malabar Brahmans and their imaginary religion was in Renais- sance ethnography extrapolated to being the pan-Indian standard. In less than twenty-five years, Varthema’s work revised the imagery that had captivated intellectuals and the popular imagination for centuries. This is the conceptual moment of the second stereotyped image: the Brahman protagonist grew into a lucid manifestation of satanic priestcraft. Such an expeditious trans- formation admits no easy explanation but suggests a change of climate, ripe for conceptual change. While Varthema was putting his observations of India to writ, the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus was writing Stultitiæ Laus (In praise of folly; 1511). This staggering bestseller, a satire of the faults of the upper classes and the opulence of religious institutions, would become a cata- lyst of the Reformation. This was the cognitive milieu in which the Brahman exemplum was called upon to serve as an edifying tool, and in which Mande- ville and Boemus upheld the Brahman as a proto-Christian example to follow. If the Brahman ascetic reprimanded Alexander’s worldliness and greed, surely he must have shunned the lavishness and avarice associated with the episco- pates and Roman Catholic Curia. That same intellectual milieu became radica- lized. In short order, the Brahman protagonist entered the eye of the Protestant storm. Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon in Germany, John Calvin in France, and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland were among the radical reformers who charged the Catholic Church with idolatry or devil worship. The Catholic priests had thus far claimed exclusive access to the Word of God. While inter- preting the Bible, they made into religion what was not part of it, inventing rites

38 Ibid., fols. 396– 97.

39 See, for example, Petrus Apianus, Cosmographie, ou description des Quatre Parties du

, Urbium, Das Ist: Erster Anblick, und Summarischer Außzug, von Erbawung unnd Ankunfft Nam-

J. Bellere, trans. (Antwerp, 1581), 130; and Abraham Saur, Parvum Theatrum


haffter Sta¨ tt, Schlo¨ sser und Klo¨ ster (Franckfurt am Mayn,

1593), 216.


and dogmas as they pleased. Instead of preserving the purity of Revelation, they had added new creeds, made new prescriptions, and promulgated new modes of worship. Finally, with the pope as the Vicar of Christ, the papacy had usurped the civil power. This confessional conflict, which would dominate the cultural history of Europe for centuries, has to be understood as a replay of the battle between early Christianity and pagan Rome, with the pope and his red hats playing ancient Rome and the Protestants taking up the role of unadulter- ated apologists of the primitive church. Just as the Greco-Roman cults and local practices were corrupted instances of God’s original religion, so did the Roman Catholic priesthood corrupt the message of Christ into the worship of human saints, crucifixes, relics, and bones, and the pecuniary exploitation of the gullible masses. It is a fascinating historical coincidence that this conflict started at the time the West and the East Indies were being explored. Originally cataloguing the similarities between Catholic practices and the pagan traditions of ancient Greece and Rome, Protestant antiquarianism soon turned its attention to India. 40 The early church fathers united pagan cult and philosophy in a common frame of reference. In the same vein, the Brahman protagonist was assimilated as the Oriental custodian of Christian beliefs and principles. Refor- mation Europe continued this theological exercise and also assimilated the local Indian traditions into this template, in order to make visible how Roman Catholic Christianity and devilish idolatry were each other’s equals. It is in this interpretative context that a second image of the Brahman emerges: the Brahman as the cunning priest. One report lies at the heart of this polemical vocabulary: Varthema’s Itinerario .

Calicut in Continental Controversies Michael Herr, a Protestant physician from Strasbourg, produced the first German translation of the Itinerario in 1515. This edition was issued at Augs- burg, five years before the Omnium Gentium Mores was published there. Augs- burg was one of the first German cities to support the Reformation. Luther was summoned there in 1518 to face the church authorities and was greeted by large numbers of supporters. The Augsburg printers issued at least 530 of his writ- ings during his lifetime, and the milieu in which the German translation of the Itinerario was released was such that none of them was willing to publish the papal bull of excommunication (1520). 41 Interestingly enough, the original Italian chapter on the multitudes who gather every 25 December

40 On Protestant antiquarian polemics, see Jonathan Sheehan, “Sacred and Profane: Idolatry, Antiquarianism and the Polemics of Distinction in the Seventeenth Century,” Past and Present

192, 1 (2006): 35– 66; and Guy G. Stroumsa, “John Spencer and the Roots of Idolatry,” History

of Religions 41, 1 (2001):

41 Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation (New York, 1996).

1– 23.


outside Calicut is titled as follows: “Ca come uene gran numero de gente ad. xxv. de Dece[m]brioa p[a]sso a Calicut a pigliar il perdono” (Of the large number of people that gather at Calicut on 25 December to receive pardon). 42 The German reformer does not simply render “ pigliar il perdone ” into “receiving pardon,” but, significantly, adds the German term for indul- gences, the chief point of contention when Martin Luther initiated the Reforma- tion (1517): “Capitel von ainer walfart so die selben velcker thon umb gnad und ablas willen ” (Chapter on a pilgrimage to the same place for the sake of pardon and indulgences). 43 Similar comparisons between Roman Catholic and Indian practices reappear in a large variety of theological and popular treatises. For instance, Varthema’s report was included in the Novus orbis (The New World; 1532), the most authoritative compilation of voyages of the period, collected by Johan Huttich of Mainz and Sebastian Mu¨ nster, and prefaced by Simon Grynaeus, the leader of the Reformed church in Basel. Another project successfully com- pleted by Michael Herr was the translation of the Novus orbis into German (1534). A substantial part of the translator’s dedication is devoted to Varthema’s description of Calicut and paraphrases the account in ardent anticlerical terms. Herr dedicated the work to the Earl of Hanau, another German city central to the Reformation, and informed his readership that the king of Calicut is not allowed by his priests to eat before the devil has been honored. 44 The Protestant obsession with explaining traditional practices in terms of doctrinal content is displayed in the way in which a sixteenth-century physician understood veg- etarianism as a diabolical belief imposed by priests. Through Varthema’s nar- rative, Herr compares the king’s ordeal with that which the Germans were to suffer: as the king of Calicut was apparently forbidden to consume what his

42 Lodovico de Varthema, Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese (Roma, 1510), fol.


, M. Herr, trans. (Augsburg, 1515), fol. liiii. Illustrations of the deumo played an important part in the distribution of this imagery. The woodcuts in the German edition were by the hand of Jo¨ rg Breu the Elder (ca. 1475– 1537), a German painter who mainly worked at Augsburg. His social critique of the Church of Rome became a central motif in his artistic work. The artist followed Varthema’s description of the idol and produced an image that clearly anticipated Lutheran woodcuts of the devil, in this instance wearing the papal crown or miter of Rome and devouring human souls, an allusion to the puranic asura, clawed by Narasimha in the indigenous iconography. For an analysis of the impact of the Reformation upon the work of Breu, see Andrew Morrall, Jo¨ rg Breu the Elder:

Art, Culture and Belief in Reformation Augsburg (Aldershot, 2001), 136 –217. A lesser-known but similar illustration of the deumo is in the second German translation of the Itinerario, by Hierony-

mus Megiser (1553–1618). See Lodovico de Varthema, Hodeporicon Indiae Orientalis

serius, trans. (Leipzig, 1610), 192–93. Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: History of European Reactions to Indian Art (Oxford, 1977), provides leads of the visual representation of Indian images in the Christian devil tradition.


Lodovico de Varthema, Die Ritterlich vn[d] lobwirdig rayss des

Ludowico Vartomans

, H. Megi-

44 Michael Herr, in Johannes Huttichius and Sebastian Mu¨ nster, eds., Die New Welt, der Land-


priests would enjoy themselves, so were the Germans made to eat what those who imposed it would refuse to eat:

And though this is such a horrid and terrible thing, the aberration is that persistent that even this mighty king is not entitled to think differently, and suffers what we were sub- jected to for long, because some have also made us eat and drink the things they would not have themselves, like the priests of the king of Calicut do not permit him to eat any- thing that once has lived, and feed him only rice and bread, including herbs and veg- etables, while they themselves will eat what they please. And still the king remains obedient to them, though he knows that this only serves the devil, and not his rewards in the life hereafter. 45

The comparison is arguably an implicit reference to the Catholic fast, another practice fervently disliked by the reformers. Just as the king was forbidden to eat what his priests would eat, in the same manner Germans were told to abstain from meat and obliged to eat fish during Lent and the Friday fasts. Suspicious members of the Catholic fold suspected that the priests did not follow this con- scientiously: they made the laity eat what they would not. For the reformers, Indian vegetarianism was thus not simply vegetarianism, but a sacerdotal cor- ruption of true religion. 46 To give another example, during the time that the Dutch campaign against the Spanish was beginning to succeed, the Burgomaster of Antwerp, Marnix of Thoulouse (1538 – 1598), wrote his cutting satires against the Church of Rome, Le Tableau des Diffe´ rens de la Religion (The table of religious differ- ences; 1599). Marnix studied theology under John Calvin at Geneva, after which he became involved in the politics of the Low Countries. Calicut features prominently when he questions the divine apostolic lineage that would make the pope the Vicar of Christ on earth. The pope in Rome is more easily con- nected with the deumo of Calicut than with the Apostle Peter of Galilee, the

45 Ibid., fol. iiii: “Und wie wol solchs ein schwerlich un[d] greu¨ lich ding ist, noch so haft der irtumb so hart, das auch der mechtig ko¨nig nit anders gedencken darff, und geschicht im eben,

wie uns lang geschehen ist, dan[n] etlich habe[n] uns auch vil von speis und tranck gebotten, das sie selbs nit gehalten haben, wie die pfaffen des ko¨nigs zu¨ Calechut, die verbietten im alles was gelebt hatt, unnd speisen in mit reyss unnd brodt, sambt etlichen kreu¨ tern unnd erdgewechssen, sie aber essen was sie gelust, noch ist inen ein solcher ko¨nig gehorsam, wie wol er weyss, das er allein dem teuffel doran dient, un[d] nach disem leben nichts weis zu verhoffen.”

46 Writing from Strasbourg, Herr was most likely acquainted with the Zwinglian disputation about the lack of biblical foundation for the traditional Lenten fast (Zu¨ rich, 1522). His analysis of Indian vegetarianism was thus compliant with the Zwinglian taste of Grynaeus at Basel. For Zwingli and “the affair of the sausages,” see William R. Estep, Renaissance and Reformation (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986), 170– 72. Herr’s invective was reproduced verbatim in the Dutch translation of the Novus orbis issued at Antwerp. See Johannes Huttichius and Sebastian

Mu¨ nster, eds., Die Nieuwe Weerelt der Landtschappen ende Eylanden

C. Ablijn, trans. (Thant-

, werpen, 1563), ii –iii. More than a century later, in his antiquarian polemics, the French Huguenot minister, Pierre Mussard (1627–1687), still associated Indian vegetarianism with priestly frauds. See his The Conformity between Modern and Ancient Ceremonies: Wherein Is Proved, by Incon- testable Authorities, that the Ceremonies of the Church of Rome Are Entirely Derived from the Heathen (London, 1745; 1st French ed. 1667), 52.


radix of the papal tradition. This reference to the deumo is made in passing, as if it were common knowledge in the Low Countries at the end of the sixteenth century. The cathedra or throne of the pope in Rome, the paraphernalia associ- ated with the deities of antiquity, and the deumo of Calicut all coalesce into a single antiquarian frame of reference: “The same emblem, that she alone wears the Triple Crown, does not displease that great fool, the devil of Calicut, who also has come to wear the triple tiara. In a fit of insanity, he forgot that in the Olympic Pantheon there is only one Jupiter who holds a threefold lightning, that in the ocean, on the seat of Triton, sits only one Neptune with a triune, that in Pluto’s underworld, there is but one three-headed Cerberus, and on earth, in the kingdom of the maniacs, one Pope with a triple crown.” 47 The attitudes towards Calicut were not simply framed by the Protestant polemics, but they were also apparent in the protests that constitute the local history of reform. Long before the Duke of Parma recaptured Bruges, Ghent, and finally Antwerp in 1584–1585, Luther and Calvin had found a sympathetic audience in Flemish cities. From the 1530s onward, Ghent was divided by reli- gious discord. The iconoclastic fury (Beeldenstorm) of August 1566 had left no church or monastery undamaged. Writing from Ghent, the Catholic historian Marcus van Vaernewijck (1518–1569) documented the turbulence that rocked the city between 1566 and 1568. He observed the damage done to St. Jakob’s and St. Michael’s churches and other places of Catholic worship. His Dutch diary was dated between 1566–1568, and issued at Ghent between 1872–1881. The Catholic historian narrates how the statues in St. Peter’s Abbey remained relatively intact, with the exception of a life-sized statue of the Apostle Peter. The sturdy image would have survived the attacks were it not for the three crowns on St. Peter’s head that had been cast to the ground. Even in war-torn Ghent, the devil of Calicut made an appearance: Marcus quotes the iconoclasts saying that they had seen a golden statue of the devil of Calicut with three crowns on its head, a vision that led the rioting mobs to mock the papal crown or tiara. 48 That a Calvinist reading of Varthema’s report, or of a graven image that was actually offloaded in the harbor of Antwerp, was

47 Philippe Marnix van St. Aldegonde, Le Tableau Des Differens De La Religion (Leyden, 1603 [1599]), fol. 124: “Aux mesmes enseignes, qu’elle seule est paree d’une triple couro[n]ne, n’en desplaise au Deumon de Calicut le grand sot, qui vouloit aussi se mesler de porter tyare tripli- quee, faute de sens, & de n’avoir bien entendu, qu’en l’Olimpe au royaume des Dieux n’y a qu’un seul Iupin a` triple foudre, en la mer au siege der tritons un seul Neptunus a` triple fourche, en enfer au destroict de Pluton un seul Cerberus a` triple teste: & en terre au regne des fols un seul Pape a` triple couronne.” On the Reformation in Antwerp and Ghent, and the Low Countries generally, see Phyllis Mack Crew, Calvinist Preaching and Iconoclasm in the Netherlands, 1544– 1569 (Cambridge, 1978).

48 Marcus van Vaernewyck, Van die beroerlicke tijden in die Nederlanden en voornamelick in Ghendt 1566– 1568 (Gent, 1872), vol. 2, 158. On Reformation iconoclasm, see Carlos M. N. Eire, The War against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge,



manifest in the local history of the Reformation in the Low Countries further indicates the propagandistic frames through which ethnographic information was structured and understood. Similar comparisons between Calicut and Catholic Rome can be found in the French polemics of another disciple of Calvin, Pierre Viret (1511 – 1571), the most important preacher at Lyon in the 1560s. Viret authored one of the earliest works to catalogue the corruptions supposed to have crept into the Christian fold via the Greco-Roman milieu in which Christianity matriculated. When Viret observes that the Monarch of Hell knows of ingenious ways to have the Children of God worship him, a reference to Calicut follows suit. 49 Calicut was featured not only in print but also in the visual propaganda of the Reformation. It appears prominently on the Mappe-Monde Nouvelle Papis- tique (The new papal world map; Geneva, 1566). This satirical broadsheet and allegorical map depicts ceremonial and ecclesiastic components of the Catholic universe submerged inside the devil’s mouth, surrounded by accompanying let- terpress attributed to the French Calvinist, The´ odore de Be` ze (1519 –1605), or at times to Pierre Viret. From outside the walls of the papal kingdom traders bring in not only barrels of commodities from the New World, the Middle East, Africa, and Calicut, but also heathen festivals, ceremonies, idols, and relics, visually representing the spiritual corruption of the papal universe. 50 On one hand, we have Varthema’s narrative, released in 1510. On the other, we have the Calicut motif extracted from his narrative, which carries at its heart a novel imagery of the Brahman and his religion. The deep theological nature of this imagery is suggested by its popularity in the reformed sources—where it originated—and by its compliance with the taste of their authors and intended audiences. It was constructed not only from an amalgam of misunderstanding and religious imagination, but its origins can and should also be located in the sixteenth-century anti-Catholic polemics. The composition of the Brahman protagonist as the custodian of defective Christianity in the East was not only a continental affair; in England, too, the “devil of Calicut” became a rally- ing cry for the reformers in their war against the church.

Calicut in English Controversies The imaginary religion of Calicut quickly became a feature of Tudor learning. One of the first geographical works in English after the great discoveries was

49 Pierre Viret, De la Source & de la Difference & Convenance de la vieille & nouvelle Idolatrie (Geneva, 1547), 74.

50 To avoid ambiguities, the letterpress spelled this message out. The same metaphor was also reproduced in an accompanying book, published under a pseudonym. See M. F. Eschorche-Messes, Histoire De La Mappe-Monde Papistiqve, Avqvel est declaire tovt ce qui est Contenu et Pourtraict en la grande Table, ou Carte de la Mappe-Monde (Geneva, 1566), fols. i, ii, iii. For the signifi- cance of visual propaganda in the history of the Reformation, see Robert Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Cambridge, 1981).


the Geographia (1540) by Roger Barlow (d. 1553), an associate of Thomas Cromwell and a friend of the Reformation. Much of it was translated from Encisco’s work on the New World, the Summa de Geografı´a (Seville, 1519). Yet one of Barlow’s original contributions was an extensive section on Calicut, reproduced ad verbatim from the Itinerario . 51 The cultural milieu through which this work percolated was characterized by the socio-religious processes through which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII divorced Rome in 1534, England not only opened its gates to the Reformation but also to ethnographic imagery that came with it. For instance, the bishop of Exeter, Miles Coverdale (1488 –1565/ 68), a radical advocate of reform and friend of Cromwell, translated an anon- ymous work from the High Dutch that is essentially a list of Roman Catholic sects and orders. After describing the Carthusian Order and its monastic prac- tices and austerities, the monks of Calicut are evoked to heap scorn on such outward display of Catholic spirituality. 52 This motif surfaces in popular English literature of the period and, much like on the Continent, also appears in the project of translation. The famous trans- lator Richard (Rycharde) Eden (ca. 1520 – 1576) was commissioned to translate European travelogues to warm his countrymen to the prospect of overseas expeditions, which gained him a prominent treasury position during the Catho- lic reign of Mary Tudor (1553 – 1558). By the end of 1555, however, he had come under suspicion of heresy and was forced to resign from office. 53 That his loyalty to the Catholic queen became suspect is no surprise; already in 1553 Eden had translated parts of Sebastian Mu¨ nster’s Cosmographia (Basel, 1544), the German original of which included Varthema’s paragraphs on the South Indian deumo . The translator betrays his religious affiliations in the margins, next to a picturesque description of the idol’s crown. His annota- tion to the left of the printed text reads: “The bishop of Rome’s vicar at Calicut.” 54 It is one thing to note similarities between the idol’s coronal and the papal tiara, but quite another to describe the satanic idol of Calicut as an Indian substitute for or an agent of the Catholic pope.

51 Roger Barlow, A Brief Summe of Geographie, Eva G. R. Taylor, trans. and ed. (London, 1932), 139– 48. On Barlow, see Eva Taylor, “Roger Barlow: A New Chapter in Early Tudor Geography,” The Geographical Journal 74, 2 (1929): 157–66. By the turn of the seventeenth century, the passages on the deumo and its priesthood had taken on a life of their own in English learning, free of references to their original author. See, for example, John Thorie, The Theatre of the Earth (London, 1599), n.p.

52 Miles Coverdale, trans., The Original & Sprynge of all Sectes & Orders by Whome, Wha[n] or Were They Beganne (London, 1537), fol. 9.

53 For Eden, see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004); and David Gwyn, “Richard Eden, Cosmographer and Alchemist,” Sixteenth Century Journal 15, 1 (1984): 13– 34.

54 Richard Eden, in Sebastian Mu¨ nster, A Treatyse of the Newe India, R. Eden, trans. (London, 1553), fol. cv.


The last work Eden translated was the entire text of the Itinerario (1577). This was during the Protestant reign of Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603), and Eden could now freely express his anti-Catholic ethos in marginal annotations. Where Varthema observes that the devil of Calicut wears a triple crown with four horns, Eden reads the “Difference betweene the Popes crowne and the devylles.” 55 The Malabar Brahman is praised as “A goodly priest the devylles Chaplen.” 56 Eden must have seen the similarities with the Catholic priests shining forth from Varthema’s pages: where the traveler writes that the Brah- mans apply oil on the heads of the pilgrims, Eden adds, “Holy oyle in the steade of holy water,” yet another Roman Catholic custom that Protestant refor- mers saw to be a priestly fraud. 57 Where Varthema observes a funeral corte` ge in Tangasseri (Quilon), and notes “a great noyse with Trumpettes, Pipes, Drummes, Tambarells,” Eden is reminded of the “Canonisyng of saintes,” another institution fervently disliked by the reformers. 58 This process of cultural translation into the framework of Protestant polemics is multiplied in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and not only in scholar- ship that deals specifically with India. In 1572, for example, John Bossewell (d. 1580) issued his Workes of Armorie, a collection of armorial bearings. Though the author draws heavily from Gerard Legh’s The Accedens of Armory (1568), one of his original contributions is worth mentioning. Bossewell illustrates the text with woodcuts to clarify the technicalities of heraldry. One of the coats of armor is a triple-crowned goat. At variance with the papal emblem, this heraldic crown also bears four horns. For his readers the imagery must have rung a bell. Indeed, Bossewell writes that the goat is “adorned Diademate modo Romanorum Pontificum” (with the diadem of the Roman Catholic pontificate). The shield might thus belong to some “Romishe bishoppe” fraudulently aspiring a higher status. 59 Bossewell comments in an anti-Catholic spirit that describing the image any further would be redundant to any reader who abhors “the tyranny of that Romishe sea.” 60 But one final observation must have truly fascinated

55 Richard Eden, in Varthema, “Navigation and Voyages,” fol. 387.

56 Ibid., fol. 388.

57 Ibid., fol. 397.

58 Ibid., fol. 407. About fifty years later, collector of voyages and Church of England clergyman Samuel Purchas (ca. 1577– 1626) similarly added an interpolation in the report of Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India (1497– 1499), showing the similarities between Indian heathenism and Cath- olicism. See Samuel Purchas, ed., Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes (London, 1625), vol. 1, 29. To show the similitude on the basis of various reports was one of the objectives of his work on “world religions.” See Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Obserued in al Ages and Places Discouered (London, 1626 [1613]), dedica- tion, and esp. p. 629.

59 John Bossewell, Workes of Armorie, Devyded into Three Bookes, Entituled, the Concordes of Armorie, the Armorie of Honor, and of Coates and Creastes, Collected and Gathered by Iohn Bos- sewell Gentleman (London, 1572), fol. 133.

60 Ibid., fol. 134.


his Protestant audience: a summary narrative of Varthema’s relation of the deumo of Calicut and its priesthood, taken from Mu¨ nster’s Cosmographia. 61 It must be remembered that this anticlericalism or anti-Brahmanism is not evident in Varthema’s original report; the early-modern image of the Brahman protagonist was constructed at the focal points of intellectual life in the libraries of northern Europe. On the Continent, the Calicut motif appears in the local history of the Reformation. In England, too, the vision that Roman Catholicism was tantamount to Indian heathenism was used to excite the masses at crucial public events. On 3 June 1571, the bishop of Oxford, John Bridges (1535 – 1618), delivered an acerbic denunciation of popery, at St. Paul’s Cross next to the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The sermon was printed with a dedication to Sir William Cecil, the principal secretary of Elizabeth I. Bridges notes the many requests he received to publish his discourse, for sen- sational it surely was: the good bishop went so far as to argue that the Catholics did not believe in Christ, for they worshipped other creatures besides Him, that is, the Catholic saints. 62 Bridges takes apart the Catholic distinction between veneration ( dulia) and worship ( latria ). He is not prepared to simply accept the claim that they believe in Christ, and compares the Catholic worship of

saints with “the fayth at Calecute,” where the Christian devil was “inthronized and crowned like the Pope.” 63 It seems likely (proof is lacking) that this remark about the devil, enthroned at Calicut like the pope in Rome dethroned Christ, featured also in the spoken sermon. The anecdotal nature of “the fayth at Cale- cute” fitted a homily intended to incite the crowds in St Paul’s Churchyard. The controversies that surrounded the speech testify to its extensive readership, suggesting that many copies were sold in the bookstalls at St Paul’s. Another sermon that incorporated this imagery was delivered on 24 March 1613, at the tenth anniversary of the accession of James I. The historical nature of this event suggests that many people must have gathered at St. Paul’s Cross, then the most famous pulpit of England. The orator was the bishop of Norwich, Joseph Hall (1574 –1656). While prompting his audience to fear and serve the Lord, Hall hit hard at the Catholic worship of saints: “Every worldling is a Papist in this, that he gives service, to the creature, which is

the lowest respect that can bee

that many besides the savages of Calecut, place Satan in the throne, and God on the footestoole. For as Witches and Sorcerers converse with evill spirits in plausible and familiar formes, which in ugly shapes they would abhorre;

Yea, I would it were uncharitable to say,

61 Ibid. The satanic imagery associated with this city on the Malabar Coast also seized the imagination of the Stuart king, before the Tudor period had come to a close. See James I, King of England, Daemonologie in Forme of a Dialogue, Diuided into Three Bookes (Edinburgh, 1597), 37.

62 John Bridges, A Sermon, Preached at Paules Crosse on the Monday in Whitson Weeke Anno Domini, 1571 (London, 1571), 152.

63 Ibid., 154.


so many a man serves Satan under the formes of gold and silver, under the images of Saints and lightsome Angels; under glittering clotes, or glorious titles, or beauteous faces, whom they would defie as himselfe.” 64 The comparison between the Indian deumo occupying the throne of the King of Heaven and the Catholic worship of saints resonated with the anti-Catholic sentiments of his audience. That diverse English preachers and theologians recapitulated the Calicut motif in the religious discourses of late Tudor and early Stuart England further indicates the deep theological nature of this second mode of representation. 65 The savants wrote about Calicut as the prin- cipal city and marketplace of India. Henceforth, this coastal entrepoˆ t was built anew in the libraries of northern Europe: it became the Oriental sister city of the papal metropolis, from where the devil’s religion spread in concentric circles of sacerdotal corruption. The pope—usurping the position of Christ in Rome— found his equivalent in Calicut, where the deumo occupied the throne. In the Protestant’s war for souls, Varthema’s already colored passages were thus not simply a matter of ethnography—they became the heavy artillery. As part of a distinctly Protestant formulation, these sources exploited the motif of the heathen priests and practices to explore internal Christian divisions. The second mode of representation thus has to be understood as a Protestant foot- note to the apologetic works of the fathers of the church: as the pagan cults of Greece and Rome had been assimilated as corrupted instances of a monotheistic core, the Indian traditions became part of this shared polemical vocabulary directed against Catholic Christianity. For as long as the theological conflict between the Catholics and Protestants continued, the same line of argument was repeated, with the comparative method used to discredit theological opponents and perpetuate a deep theological vision of the Indian reality.


The German scholars are generally considered to be the first among northern European intellectuals to take a direct interest in Portuguese activities in the East, even though scholars like Boemus initially continued to provide accounts of India disconnected from the recent discoveries. 66 When European learning decided to grant India the privilege of historical progress, it turned first to the Itinerario . In consequence, the difference between India’s spiritual past

64 Joseph Hall, An Holy Panegyrick. A Sermon Preached at Paules Crosse upon the Anniver- sarie Solemnitie of the Happie Inauguration of Our Dread Soveraigne Lord King James March 24, 1613 (London, 1613), 31–33.

65 For another homiletic treatment of the Calicut motif, see Thomas Adams, The Sacrifice of Thankefulnesse. A Sermon Preached at Pauls Crosse, the Third of December, Being the First

Adventuall Sunday, Anno 1615 (London, 1616), 6. For a comparison between the Catholic pope and Satan’s agents at Calicut, also see Thomas Jackson, The Third Booke of Commentaries upon The Apostles Creede, Contayning the Blasphemous Positions of Iesuites and other Later

Romanists (London, 1614), 292 –93.

66 See Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, Vol. II, 324–52.


and present was portrayed as an unfortunate development: the noble nation of Brachmanes had turned into a circle of crafty priests. In 1534, the same year in which Herr’s dedication to the German edition of the Novus orbus was issued at Augsburg, and fourteen years after the Omnium Gentium Mores appeared in that turbulent city, Boemus’ Brachmanes met Varthema’s Brahmans in close textual proximity. This meeting took place at a time when Boemus’ collection of customs was still being reprinted in various European cities. In other words, the stereotyped image of the noble Brahman retained its popularity, but it coex- isted with the distribution of a second composite image: the Brahman as cunning Indian priest. One of Boemus’ readers was the reformer Sebastian Franck (1499 –1542). In his early chronicle of Turkey (Augsburg, 1530), prefaced by Martin Luther, Franck wanted to uplift the Europeans by holding up to them the mirror of the exemplary Turk. The implication was that true religion was possible at all times and places, even outside the geographical realm of Christ. But Franck went beyond the pre-Renaissance vision, and even rejected the possi- bility of capturing the Word of God in the written word of the Bible. Though he shared in the critique against the Church of Rome, Franck thereby argued at the margins of the Reformation. He advanced a religion of the spirit, implanted by God in the hearts of all men and women, which led him to dismiss the visible church and set aside the particularity of Scripture in favor of a timeless and unarticulated Inner Word of God. For this reason, Sebastian Franck is called a sixteenth-century spiritualist. 67 Much like Boemus, Franck bears witness to the stability of the analytical format with which the Christian theologies made sense of themselves and other traditions. Like Boemus, he saw his most important work, Weltbuch, Spiegel und Bildtnisz des Gantzen Erdtbodens (Book of the world, mirror and image of the entire globe; 1534), not merely as a scholarly project but also as the edifying embodiment of his theological outlook. Inspired by 2 Romans, 14– 15, in which the Apostle Paul argues that the gentiles or heathens by nature adhere to the commandments of God, Franck concludes that contemporary heathens are descendants of the tribes that came down from the Patriarch Abraham. An annotation in the margin says, “Gott hat sein volck allenthalb ” (God has his people everywhere). 68 Franck moves

in aller

(Augsburg, 1534). For Franck, also see R. Emmet McLaughlin, “Sebastian

Franck and Caspar Schwenckfeld: Two Spiritualist Viae,” in J. D. Mu¨ ller, ed., Sebastian Franck

(1499–1542) (Wiesbaden, 1993), 71–86.

(Tu¨ bingen,

1534), fol. iiii. The Weltbuch also appeared as a supplement to the second edition of Franck’s Chronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtsbibel (Ulm, 1536), and was reissued at Frankfurt in 1542 and 1567. The Dutch translation by Johan Gaillaert was possibly issued at Amsterdam circa 1560, fol- lowed by further Dutch editions in 1595 and 1649.

Menschen Hertz sey

67 See, for example, Sebastian Franck, Das Gott das ainig ain, und ho¨ chstes Gu¨ t

68 Sebastian Franck, Weltbuch, Spiegel und Bildtnisz des Gantzen Erdtbodens


beyond the ahistorical method of his predecessor, and also incorporates ethno- graphic reports brought back from the newly discovered worlds. With reference to India, the data come from a single source: the Itinerario. It is here that the noble Brahmans meet their satanic counterparts. Franck first introduces Boemus’ account of the Brahmans verbatim in the vernacular, with a particular emphasis on their simple way of life and adherence to the law of nature. 69 Boemus’ enthusiasm led Franck to write those annotations that grace the margins in the books of old: in the margin left from where Boemus writes that the Brahmans are not given to idolatry is printed, “Der Bracmannorum Gots- dienst” (The Brahman religion). Next to where the section starts is printed, “Bracman[n]i ein Christen volck” (The Brahmans, a Christian nation). 70 When these Christian “Bracmanni” meet Varthema’s “Bramini,” the latter were also assimilated: though clearly misguided, they similarly testified to the human search for the Christian God. Franck recapitulates Varthema’s report of the religion of Calicut, and repeats the theme of indulgences in the German title of his chapter on the Indian pilgrimage. 71 He further observes that the devil’s industry had not been confined to the Malabar regions: every- thing that can be said about the customs of Calicut is also applicable to “Cauul, Dabuli, Bathacala, Onor, Mangalor, Cannonor, Cucinco, Narsinga, Caicolon, Colon, etcetera.” 72 The “Bramini” failed to elicit the praise pre- viously directed at the “Bracmanni.” The spiritualist reformer stays remarkably quiet about what had happened to the Indian religion in the absence of scrip- tural revelation. One year later, a reformed printer at Frankfurt, Christian Egenolf (1502 – 1555), again arbitrarily juxtaposes both images in his cosmography. 73 Another German cosmography in which the pre-Renaissance and early-modern modes of representation came to coexist early on is the Cosmographia Univer- salis (1544) by the reformed Hebrew scholar Sebastian Mu¨ nster (1489– 1552). This work in the vernacular immediately became popular and remained so for more than a century, in up to forty-six editions in six different languages. 74 In his preface Mu¨ nster presents exactly the same outline of religious decay as does the Omnium Gentium Mores. He also recapitulates the pre-Renaissance vision of the noble Brahmans. A marginal annotation describes them as a righteous nation: “Bragma[n]ni ein gerecht volck .” 75 Once again, Varthema’s narrative

69 Ibid., fols. cxij –cxcv.

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid., fol. cciij.

72 Ibid.

73 Christian Egenolf, Chronica, Beschreibung vnd gemeyne Anzeyge, vonn aller Wellt (Franckenffort am Meyn, 1535), fols. xxx– xxxi.

74 Margaret T. Hodgen, “Sebastian Muenster (1489– 1552): A Sixteenth-Century Ethnogra- pher,” Osiris 11 (1954): 504– 29.

75 Sebastian Mu¨ nster, Cosmographia. Beschreibu¨ g aller Lender (Basel, 1544), dcxxix.


about the Brahmans is printed in close textual proximity. Mu¨ nster welcomes the opportunity to talk about “India in our times” ( India zu¨ unsern zeite[n] ), and draws from Varthema’s Calicut report to describe it. 76 This method of combining both theoretical images of the Brahman protago- nist within a unified historical format resonated with French cosmographies of the period, and the Calicut account spread rapidly. The French editor Pierre Boaistuau (1500– 1566) started his collection of curiosities (1560) with a spec- tacular illustration of the satanic deumo , followed by a heavily embellished reproduction of Varthema’s report. 77 The second Brahman image found an avid audience amongst the Catholic scholars, not surprising given that Roman Catholic Christianity had a long history of assimilating the Greco-Roman traditions and vilifying their protagonists as the sacerdotal agents of religious corruption. Such anticlerical sentiments were not new, but they became radicalized in Protestant Europe and translated into anti- Brahmanism. Under siege by the Protestants of northern Europe, the Catholic savants advanced an ethno-theological method through which both images of the Brahman protagonist were constructed. 78 It is of related interest to note that Franc¸ois de Belleforest (1530– 1583), his- torian of Henry III of France, interpolated large chapters on contemporary India in the second French edition of Mu¨ nster’s Cosmographia (1575). He also wrote his own cosmography, L’Histoire Universelle du Monde (The universal history of the world; 1570). In it he first reproduces the India sections in Johannes Boemus’ work, then continues with the “Bracmanes.” He summarizes the

76 Ibid., dcxxxij. Probably based on the woodcuts by Jo¨ rg Breu, Mu¨ nster includes another illus- tration of the deumo as Europeans imagined the devil would look.

77 Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires Prodigieuses les plus Memorables qui ayent este´ Observe´ es (Paris, 1560), fols. 1 –5. English navigator Edward Fenton (d. 1603) produced a translation of the work, titled Certaine Secrete Wonders of Nature (London, 1569).

78 The first eyewitness account that explicitly and in detail describes the Brahman customs in terms of the clerical corruptions of Christianity is arguably the missive by a Jesuit missionary in India, Francis Xavier (1505–1552), dated Cochin, 15 January 1544. Religion was priestcraft, or the craft of the priest: when the laity went astray, the priests were accountable for the decline of true religion. Catholic scholars and travelers did not differ on the fundamentals behind this, only in its scope of application. Whereas Xavier was far from anti-Rome, as such, his background never-

theless allowed him to structure his ethnography by the anticlerical formulations the Protestants had come to use against papal Rome. See Francis Xavier, Copie dunne lettre missive envoiee des


larship. See Guillaume Postel, Des Merveilles du Monde, et Principaleme[n]t des Admirables

Choses des Indes, & du Nouveau Monde (n.p.; ca. 1553), fols. 18– 19, 29, 32. The theological div- ision between the ascetic and monotheistic ideal on one hand, and the early-modern Indian reality on the other, continued to guide Jesuit discourses. For the seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary


Roberto de Nobili (1577–1656), see Ines G. Z upanov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century India (New Delhi, 1999), esp. 3, 24–30. For eighteenth-century Jesuit sources that continued to combine both modes of representation

into a historical outline, see the missionary letters by Jean Venant Bouchet (1655–1732), in

(Paris, 1545), fols. D-Dij. Both modes of representations also feature in Jesuit-related scho-




Lettres E difiantes et Curieuses, E crites des Missions E trange` res, par quelques Missionaires de

la Compagnie de Jesus (Paris, 1722).


Collatio correspondence, and recapitulates the pre-Renaissance formulation:

the Brahmans serve the biblical God in prayer and spiritual service. 79 As a mar- ginal annotation explains, “Pure religion of the Brachmanes, if nurtured by the knowledge of Christ like it has been since.” 80 Belleforest testifies to the kind of generalizations the Europeans would strive for: he suggests a genealogical link between the present-day priests and the Brahmans of yesteryear, and further, propels the Indian Brahmans to the echelons of a pan-Indian priesthood. A mar- ginal annotation explains: “Still today in the entire country of India are the priests called Bramines.” 81 Unfortunately, he says, those at Calicut have come to worship an idol that carries the papal tiara, and they bear witness to the manner in which the devil mocks Christianity. The author reproduces Varthema’s account of the “images Sathaniques,” and explains that the minis- ters of Satan are the descendants of the proto-Christian Brahmans: “The priests retain the name of Brahmans from these ancient Bracmanes, who are more saintly and more religious than these soiled and cursed idolaters.” 82 As Belleforest explains it in the second French edition of Mu¨ nster’s Cosmo- graphia (1575), now that Christianity has conquered the lands of Europe, the devil has relocated his abode to India. 83 One of his marginal annotations explains this spiritual battle as follows: “The Brahmans were once Christians.” 84 The temple of Calicut is therefore made into the epicenter of the inner circle of hell, from which its satanic religion spreads amidst the phosphorous fumes of priestly corruption. The Brahmans are the priests of not only Calicut but of all the regions documented—Gujarat, the entire Malabar littoral, and Vijayanagar. The people are diverse, as are their ceremonies, but the engine of priestcraft trans- cends this variety: they all enjoy the same priests, who are responsible for the defects of Christianity among them. All their idols are adaptations of the deumo of Calicut, “as in this respect they all are similar in their belief.” 85


The pre-Renaissance representation of the Brahmans reflects the preoccupations of pre-Reformation Christianity. The vision of the early-modern Brahmans also

79 Franc¸ois de Belleforest, L’Histoire Universelle du Monde (Paris, 1570), fol. 50.

80 Ibid., fol. 50: “Religion pure des Brachmanes, si la cognaissance de Iesuschrist les eust abreu- vez comme elle a depuis.”

81 Ibid., fol. 49: “Encor a` present en tout le pays Indien les Prestres sont apellez Bramines.”

82 Ibid., fol. 54: “Les sacrificateurs qui retiennent le nom de Bramins de ces ancie[n]s Bracmanes plus sains & religieux que ces souı¨llez & maudits idolatres.” See also fol. 58.

, F. de

Belleforest, trans. (Paris, 1575), 1630.

83 Franc¸ois de Belleforest in Mu¨ nster, La Cosmographie Universelle de tout le Monde

84 Ibid., 1567: “Bramins ont este´ Chrestiens quelquefois.”

85 Ibid., 1713: “Car en cet endroit touts sont semblables en croyance.” Another French cosmo- graphy that combines both modes of representation into a unified historical outline was authored by Andre´ The` vet (1502– 1590), the chaplain of the Catholic queen consort, Catherine de Medici. See Andre´ The` vet, La Cosmographie Universelle d’Andre´ Thevet (Paris, 1575), fols. 381– 83.


echoes the preoccupations of early-modern Christianity. The emergence of a structural outline of the spiritual history of India has to be located in the Renais- sance ethnographies, where both formulations met. Both theoretical entities are conjugated into a unified portrait of the spiritual history of India: the true Chris- tianity that permeated the medieval archive is relegated to the past tense and superseded by defective Christianity. The decline is attributed to an ideated priesthood, the nodal point in this Renaissance composition. It is a commonplace that the European expansion propelled the decisive shift from the classical anthropological canon to the development of modern anthro- pology, beyond what Pliny and Strabo had written. 86 The belief in the marvels and wondrous nations in the East might have died slowly. Yet at least in the case of the representation of India, the pre-Renaissance formulation was not dis- carded, but rather consigned to the chapters on ancient India, such that classical anthropology continued to thrive in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 87 In addition, both the classical and early-modern modes of representations reveal but two faces of the same theological coin, and further nuance the anthropological shift in relation to the European representation of religion. 88 Both modes of representation reveal a resilient analytical format that contin- ued to shape future reports about India. The spiritual historiography of the Bible—accepted as an ethnographic premise by cosmographers and translators of the sixteenth-century travel reports and books on the discoveries in the East—drew all Semitic and non-Semitic traditions into the same frame of refer- ence. The great company of future travelers, religious as well as secular, con- firmed in the eyes of many readers that this was indeed their most appropriate place. Whereas ethnographic learning was framed to fit specific theological purposes, future travelers to India incorporated the Christian worldview and reproduced these theological assumptions as commonsense narratives. 89

86 See Hodgen, Early Anthropology; and Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The Amer- ican Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology (Cambridge, 1982). Boemus can be

regarded as a late exponent of the classical tradition. For a detailed analysis of Boemus’ dismissive attitude towards contemporary sources, see Klaus A. Vogel, “Cultural Variety in a Renaissance Per- spective: Johannes Boemus on ‘The Manners, Laws and Customs of all People’ (1520),” in H. Bugge and Joan-Pau Rubie´ s, eds., Shifting Cultures: Interaction and Discourse in the Expansion of Europe (Mu¨ nster, 1995): 3– 34.

87 For Dutch religious scholarship, see, for example, Cornelius Hazart, Kerckelycke Historie van

de gheheele Wereldt Naemelyck vande voorgaende ende teghenwoordighe Eeuwe


1682), 279–81. For English scholarship, see, for example, Peter Heylyn, Cosmographie in Foure Bookes. Contayning the Chorographie & Historie of the Whole World (London, 1652), 214– 15; and for French scholarship, the political cosmography by Pierre d’Avity, Les Empires, Royavmes, Estats, Seignevries, Dvchez, et Principavtez dv Monde (Paris, 1614), 730– 37.

88 A similar point on the continuity in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century studies of the Amer- icas is made in Sabine MacCormack, “Limits of Understanding: Perceptions of Greco-Roman and Amerindian Paganism in Early Modern Europe,” in K. O. Kupperman, ed., America in European Consciousness, 1493– 1750 (Chapel Hill, 1995), 79–129.

89 For Dutch travel writing, see, for example, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, Semper Eadem.


An inherently pluralistic context that defied the European imagination—ener- getic, vibrant, and made up of a multitude of crosscutting traditions—was reduced to a binary mode of representation: true or false. In both, India enacted a normative idea. This concept propelled the cultural history of Europe: the true or false, asymptotic, and assumedly human quest for a specifi- cally Christian mode of conduct and faith. Of course, the various types of sources cannot be rigidly differentiated, and the attitudes they display towards India form much more of a continuum than I can convey in this outline. Nonetheless, descriptions of India continued to vacillate between the two modes of representation. For as long as Christianity aspired to universal significance, the outside world was drawn in to argue for the truth of the Christian faith. Throughout the conflict between Catholic and Protestant denominations, that between ancient paganism and primitive Christianity was replayed. Those seeking to neutralize theological opponents recapitulated the early-modern formulation. 90 Those who sought to show the universality of Chris- tian principles carried on with the pre-Renaissance formulation. 91 The encyclopedic dictionaries characterize the period between the 1670s and 1750s. They constitute a vast body of literature in which the Christian vocabu- lary is gradually stripped away and the historical outline of Indian spirituality, manufactured in the sixteenth-century sources, is reformulated in a “scientific” lexicon. 92 As such, colonial scholarship did not develop in an intellectual

Dutch ed. 1596), 64–65, 68–69, and esp. 71; for French travel writing, Vincent Le Blanc, Les

(Paris, 1648), 66–68, 86– 88; for

German travel writing, Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo, Het schrijven van den Wel Ed: Getrouwen

en Vesten Johan Albrecht van Mandelslow

similar point is made in Joan-Pau Rubie´ s’ thought-provoking analysis of the reciprocal relationship between the genre of travel writing and humanist culture: see “Travel Writing and Humanistic Culture: A Blunted Impact,” Journal of Early Modern History 10, 1 (2006): 131–68.

90 In Restoration Britain, Varthema’s narrative continued to be the source for comparisons between Brahman schemes and the worldly ambitions of Catholic priests. See, for example, Henry More, Divine Dialogues, Containing Sundry Disquisitions & Instructions Concerning the

Attributes and Providence of God

variety of travel reports, see Erasmus Francisci, Neu-polirter Geschicht-Kunst- und Sitten-Spiegel

(Nu¨ rnberg, 1670), esp. 961– 1004. For nineteenth-century polemics,

replete with similar cross-references between Greco-Roman antiquity, contemporary India, and the Catholic universe, see, for example, John Poynder, Popery in Alliance with Heathenism (London, 1835). Interestingly enough, Poynder (1779– 1849), an evangelical activist, relied heavily on the influential work by the East India Company official Charles Grant: Observations

ausla¨ ndischer Vo¨ lcker

(London, 1668), 381. For German sources, based on a

(Utrecht, 1651; 1st German ed. 1645), 13– 18, 29. A

Voyages Famevx dv Sievr Vincent Le Blanc Marseillois

on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects to Great Britain

91 For English sources, see, for example, George Keith, The Universall Free Grace of the

Gospell Asserted (London, 1671), 125; and John Bockett, Gentile Divinity and Morality


image of the noble Brahman, see, for example, Arnoldus Montanus, De Wonderen van’t Oosten (Rotterdam, 1654), 25–26, and esp. 26– 27.

92 For two examples of the many works that combine both modes of representation into a his- torical outline, see Louis More´ ri, ed., Le Grand Dictionaire Historique (Lyon, 1683), vol. 1, 668– 69; and Pierre Bayle, ed., Dictionaire Historique et Critique (Rotterdam, 1697), vol. 1,

(London, 1712), 174– 75. For Dutch sources that similarly recapitulate the

(London, 1797).


vacuum. Four years prior to Holwell (1765), another East India Company servant, Luke Scrafton (1732 – 1770?), could appeal to anthropological consen- sus and effectively frame his account of the Brahmans and local Hindu (Gentoo) practices within both modes of representation outlined above. 93 Two points require comment: first, the international character of the codifica- tion of a unified, yet notional Indian religion; and second, the fact that this obviously was not a colonial enterprise. Surely, as a word, “Hinduism” was coined in the nineteenth century. It was derived from “Hindooism,” first employed in 1787 by the missionary and subsequently director of the East India Company Charles Grant (1746–1823). 94 But as a conceptual unit, it embraces the theoretical entities that were combined in the books of sixteenth- century Europe. The Orientalist notion of an unadulterated “philosophical Hindu- ism” in ancient manuscripts is manifest in the first composite image, and that of “popular Hinduism” in the second image. While the genealogy of colonial dis- course I am dealing with here constitutes one thread in a complex history of rep- resentation, the mythical Brahman nation never lost its crucial position in these preexisting cognitive categories. As the nineteenth century unfolded, this Orien- talist discourse was incorporated into the colonial discourse, and implicated in colonial state formation. But the constancy of representation cannot be explained in terms of colonial necessities or the demands of modernity. It cuts across the multiple power constellations that emerged in both Europe and India over four centuries or more. That constancy was possible because coherent theoretical formats continued to operate in the background of European discourse on India, the Christian theologies, both explicit and disguised.

652– 55. Both were widely distributed and were still issued in English translations in the eighteenth century. For Dutch encyclopedic sources, see David van Hoogstraten and Jan Lodewijk Schuer, eds., Groot Algemeen Historisch, Geographisch, Genealogische en Oordeelkundig

(Amsterdam, 1733), vol. 2, 359. For the continuity in European intellectual

culture between the Reformation and Enlightenment periods, also see S. J. Barnett, The Enlighten- ment and Religion: The Myths of Modernity (New York, 2003).

93 Luke Scrafton, Reflections on the Government, &c. of Indostan; and a Short Sketch of the History of Bengal (Edinburgh, 1761), 4, 5– 6, and esp. 9, 14, 15. For the continued influence of both biblical and Protestant thought on late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Orientalist scho- larship, see especially Thomas R. Trautmann’s Aryans and British India (Berkeley, 1997), ch. 2, and 104–5, 124.

94 Geoffrey A. Oddie, Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hin- duism (London, 2006), 68–72. The emphasis on the word “Hinduism” remains central in many dis- cussions of the so-called colonial construction of Hinduism. See also Robert Eric Frykenberg, “The Emergence of Modern ‘Hinduism’ as a Concept and as an Institution: A Reappraisal with Special Reference to South India,” in Gu¨ nther-Dietz Sontheimer and Hermann Kulke, eds., Hinduism Reconsidered (New Delhi, 1989), 30. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (Minneapolis, 1991 [1964]), 144, can be understood as a precursor of this thesis.