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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
doi:10.1017/S0010417509000231

Genealogy of Colonial Discourse:


Hindu Traditions and the Limits of
European Representation
RAF GELDERS
Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap, Ghent University
(Research FoundationFlanders)

In the aftermath of Edward Saids Orientalism (1978), European representations 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 edices

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 anonymous CSSH reviewers, as well as Richard King, Laurie Patton, Geoffrey Oddie, Naomi Goldenberg, 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 Religion: 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 Religions of India in Early European Scholarship, Religion 31, 3 (2001): 209 24.

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RAF GELDERS

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 concerns 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 scriptures 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 traditions thus consists of two distinct branches: philosophical Hinduism, and
popular Hinduism. The former identies an ancient and monotheistic religion
in sacred scriptures, while the latter points to its corrupted manifestations in idolatry and ritual. Central to this simplied synthesis of manifold, crosscutting traditions stands the Brahman protagonist: the agent of religious change is identied
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 (17111798).5
The notion of sacerdotal corruption also ran like a thread through the inuential
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
(17461794) to delve into Indias 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 Fruhen Neuzeit (1500
1750) (Tubingen, 1994); Donald Frederick Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe (Chicago,
19651993); Joan-Pau Rubies, Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through
European Eyes, 12501625 (Cambridge, 2000); and Joan-Pau Rubies, Travellers and Cosmographers: 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. . . (London, 17651767), vol. 1, 5 10; vol. 2, 1317. Also see
Alexander Dow, The History of Hindostan from the Death of Akbar, to the Complete Settlement
of the Empire under Aurungzebe (London, 1768), vol. 1, xxilxxvi.
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): 34355. Also see Henry T. Colebrooke, On the Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus,
and of the Brahmens Especially, Asiatic Researches 5 (1801): 34568, 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

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565

Once contemporary scholars had established that this unied outline of


Indias spiritual landscape is a creation of colonial forms of knowledge production, 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 rst section of this essay initiates my argument about the preRenaissance representation of the Brahmans by locating it within its wider
Latin Christian context. The Brahman traditions were dened as the protoChristian 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 denes 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 cosmographies, provided a unied conceptual portrait of Indian traditions that corresponds in structure and content with the colonial representation of Hinduism.
It will be my argument that our contemporary understanding of Indian traditions has less to do with the imbrications of knowledge and poweras
found under colonialismbut more with the limitations of thought within a
culture shaped by the Christian theologies long before the conditions of colonialism were established. Thus my goal is to illustrate a new critical approach to
colonial forms of knowledge production in terms of cultural legacies. References 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 Muller, ed., The Sacred
Books of the East (Oxford, 1879), xv, 1; and Max Muller, 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 representational 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 Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion
(New York, 2005).

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RAF GELDERS

I. TRUE RELIGION AND THE BRAHMAN EXEMPLUM

In 1520, the German scholar, Johannes Boemus (1485 1533/35), published his
Omnium Gentium Mores (The customs of all nations), which was rst 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 rst two books, concerning Africa and Asia.10 The works signicance 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 biblical 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 appropriately 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 medieval tradition of edifying scholarship, he explains the benets of learning about
the manners, laws, and rites of all the peoples in the world. Simply put, ethnographic 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. Waterman, trans. (London, 1555), A.ii v.
12
Ibid., A.vi.
13
Ibid., A.i.
14
Ibid., L.iii v.
15
Ibid., L.viiilx. More precisely, as Boemus claried, Thei have one kinde of plains eloquence commune to them all: tongue & harte agreinge in truthe. Thei have neither moote halles,

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567

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 incorporation of the Brahman community into the Christian schematic testies 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, including the ascetic Brahmans.
Inuential and authoritative as this account proved to be, what remains striking is its inspiration. Boemus did not take recourse to the accounts of earlymodern 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 discussing 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 intellectual dexterity, the famous historian of the church Eusebius of Caesarea (Prparatio 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.. . . Thei thincke it no honour to
God, to slea for him an innoce[n]te beast: yea thei say he accepteth not the sacrice of men polluted
with bloode, but rather loveth a worship voide of all bloodsheade. That is to saye the humble entreatie 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 Teutonic militi deuoto nuper collectos: & in libros tris diftinctos
Aphricam, Asiam, Europam. Optime lector lege (Augsburg, 1520), fols. xxvvi; 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.

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RAF GELDERS

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
devils plan to corrupt the true religion and seduce humankind into idolatry.19
Writing in the rst decades of the sixteenth century, when Boemus recognizes
the Indian Brahman as a proto-Christian manifestation of Christianity he illustrates 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 anticlericalism, and this sentiment found lucid reection 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 rst: 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 perfection and divinity. This perfection, in turn, empowered the priest to mediate salvation. 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 movements that highlighted the sacerdotal ideal, that is, penance, and a frugal, inner spiritual life. Associated with the literature of this period is the exemplum. This literary
genre served to illustrate such normative principles with short narratives or anecdotal 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 ctional exchange of instructing letters between Alexander and Dindimus, the leader of the Brahman ascetics, written between the
fourth and the sixth centuries C.E .21 The Brahmans 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 Classical 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 Encyclopedia (New York, 1995), 329 30.
21
The medieval understanding of the Brahmans has been outlined in Carys work on the educators and moralists in the Middle Ages, and in a more recent article by Hahn. See George Cary,

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subsequently revealed when the French historian and famous preacher Jacques
de Vitry (ca. 1160 1240) introduced passages from the Collatio correspondence into his history of the crusades, the Historia Orientalis. De Vitry recognized 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 asceticism with charity and teaching. Within this edifying context, the French
preacher recapitulates tales about a mythical nation referred to in French as
bien dignes dadmiration, 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 signicant step
toward the support of the Brahman ascetic: he simply omits Alexanders apologetic 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 Salisbury (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 Tradition 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., 20815. An additional point of importance is that Jacques de Vitrys most signicant
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 Statesmans 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 Godfreys Pantheon was included. See
Godfrey von Viterbo, Pantheon Gotfridi Viterbiensis. . ., in Illustrium Veterum Scriptorum, Qui
Rerum a Germanis Per Multas tates Gestarum Historias Vel Annales Posteris Reliquerunt. . .,
J. Pistorius, ed. (Francofurti, 1584), vol. 1, 23031.

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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 ctional 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 certied Christians, they nevertheless know the biblical Ten Commandments. Whereas some call that island the Land of Faith, others call it the Isle
of Bragman.29 Mandevilles report soon became the most inuential 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 signicance of this travel
report to the dissemination of the edifying Brahman motif is indicated by the
rapid multiplication of manuscripts and translations. Moreover, Mandevilles
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 toegevoegde gedeelten, bewerkt door Philip Utenbroeke en Lodewije van Velthem. . . (Leyden, 1863),
vol. 1, 5762. Vincents sections on the Brahmans are reproduced verbatim in Ranulph
Higdens Polychronicon (ca. 1350), arguably the most popular work on history then available in
England. See Ranulph Higden, Cronica Ranulphi Cistrensis Monachi, J. Trevisa, trans. (Westminster, 1482), fols. xxxxi. Other English editions were issued in 1495 and 1527. For a comprehensive overview of the extraordinary popularity of Higdens work among scholarly and lay audiences,
see Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England: C. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century
(London, 1982), 5357.
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, Mandevilles Medieval Audiences: A Study on the Reception of the Book of
Sir John Mandeville (13711550) (Aldershot, 2003).

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embodiment of a sacerdotal and Christian ideal, to serve an internal theological


and moral purpose. The ctional correspondence between Alexander and Dindimus 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 Historia de Preliis (The book of battles; eleventh century). It continued to inuence
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 Koln 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 fteen 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 Christian 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 homein word if
not always in deedthe Brahman was believed to strive for the sacerdotal
ideal in the East. Plinys monopod and headless nations represented the exotic
Other. Regarding the Brahmans, Europe simply saw no Other: they were transformed into an edifying and almost ideal representation of the Christian self.
I I . FA L S E R E L I G I O N A N D T H E C R A F T Y P R I E S T

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 suspected that its remnants survived in the most distant quarters of the world,
which testied to the universal propagation of the truth prior to the devils
deceptions. While the austere Brahmans were represented as protoChristians, 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 unied, 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 (Koln, 1472), n.p.; and Historia Alexandri Magni regis
macedonie de preliis (1490), fols. HHv.
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

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The foreknowledge of this asceticism certainly shaped the idea that


Brahman referred to someone who strived for the sacerdotal idealin
word, but like the Catholic priest, perhaps not always in deed. Consequently,
a second image soon arose on the ancient foundations of the rst: 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 reected 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 representations 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 Itinerario (Rome, 1510), an Italian account of his travels in the Middle East and
India in which he included one of the rst 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 mentions 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 Brahmans as the priests of the idol. His report contains sufcient 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 sacriced to the devil, nor does
he eat meat without sacerdotal permission.37 Outside the city stands a church
similar in shape to St. Johns Basilica in Rome. Every 25 December crowds

Narratives of the Sixteenth Century, The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 8, 1 (1978):
77114. 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.
35
Lodovico de Varthema, The Navigation and Voyages of Lewes Vertomannus. . ., in Pietro
Martire dAnghiera, 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,
gypte, Ethiopia, Guinea, China in Cathayo, and Giapan, R. Willes, ed., R. Eden, trans.
(London, 1577), fol. 384.
36
Ibid., fols. 387 88.
37
Ibid., fol. 389.

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

573

gather at the temple to sacrice to the idol after the priests anoint them with oil.
The Italian traveler nally says that worshipping the devil in such a manner
constitutes, according to the Indians, a penance for their sins.38
Varthemas Itinerario, however rudimentary, set the tone for the representation 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 Renaissance ethnography extrapolated to being the pan-Indian standard.
In less than twenty-ve years, Varthemas 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 transformation 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 Stultiti 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 catalyst 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 Mandeville and Boemus upheld the Brahman as a proto-Christian example to follow.
If the Brahman ascetic reprimanded Alexanders worldliness and greed, surely
he must have shunned the lavishness and avarice associated with the episcopates and Roman Catholic Curia. That same intellectual milieu became radicalized. 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 interpreting the Bible, they made into religion what was not part of it, inventing rites

38

Ibid., fols. 396 97.


See, for example, Petrus Apianus, Cosmographie, ou description des Quatre Parties du
Monde. . ., J. Bellere, trans. (Antwerp, 1581), 130; and Abraham Saur, Parvum Theatrum
Urbium, Das Ist: Erster Anblick, und Summarischer Auzug, von Erbawung unnd Ankunfft Namhaffter Statt, Schlosser und Kloster. . . (Franckfurt am Mayn, 1593), 216.
39

574

RAF GELDERS

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 conict, 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 unadulterated apologists of the primitive church. Just as the Greco-Roman cults and local
practices were corrupted instances of Gods original religion, so did the Roman
Catholic priesthood corrupt the message of Christ into the worship of human
saints, crucixes, relics, and bones, and the pecuniary exploitation of the
gullible masses.
It is a fascinating historical coincidence that this conict 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. Reformation 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 others 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: Varthemas Itinerario.
Calicut in Continental Controversies
Michael Herr, a Protestant physician from Strasbourg, produced the rst
German translation of the Itinerario in 1515. This edition was issued at Augsburg, ve years before the Omnium Gentium Mores was published there. Augsburg was one of the rst 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 writings 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): 1 23.
41
Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation (New York, 1996).

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

575

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, signicantly, adds the German term for indulgences, the chief point of contention when Martin Luther initiated the Reformation (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, Varthemas
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 Munster, and prefaced by Simon Grynaeus,
the leader of the Reformed church in Basel. Another project successfully completed by Michael Herr was the translation of the Novus orbis into German
(1534). A substantial part of the translators dedication is devoted to Varthemas
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 vegetarianism as a diabolical belief imposed by priests. Through Varthemas narrative, Herr compares the kings 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.

lxii.
43

Lodovico de Varthema, Die Ritterlich vn[d] lobwirdig rayss des . . . Ludowico Vartomans. . . ,
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 Jorg 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 Varthemas
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, Jorg 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 Hieronymus Megiser (15531618). See Lodovico de Varthema, Hodeporicon Indiae Orientalis..., H. Megiserius, trans. (Leipzig, 1610), 19293. 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.
44
Michael Herr, in Johannes Huttichius and Sebastian Munster, eds., Die New Welt, der Landschaften vnnd Insulen. . ., M. Herr, trans. (Strassburg, 1534), fol. iii.

576

RAF GELDERS

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 subjected 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 anything that once has lived, and feed him only rice and bread, including herbs and vegetables, 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 sh during Lent and the Friday fasts. Suspicious
members of the Catholic fold suspected that the priests did not follow this conscientiously: they made the laity eat what they would not. For the reformers,
Indian vegetarianism was thus not simply vegetarianism, but a sacerdotal corruption 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 Differens de la Religion (The table of religious differences; 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 connected 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] greulich ding ist, noch so haft der
irtumb so hart, das auch der mechtig konig 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 konigs zu Calechut, die verbietten im alles
was gelebt hatt, unnd speisen in mit reyss unnd brodt, sambt etlichen kreutern unnd erdgewechssen,
sie aber essen was sie gelust, noch ist inen ein solcher konig 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 (Zurich, 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. Herrs invective was reproduced verbatim in the Dutch
translation of the Novus orbis issued at Antwerp. See Johannes Huttichius and Sebastian
Munster, eds., Die Nieuwe Weerelt der Landtschappen ende Eylanden. . ., C. Ablijn, trans. (Thantwerpen, 1563), ii iii. More than a century later, in his antiquarian polemics, the French Huguenot
minister, Pierre Mussard (16271687), still associated Indian vegetarianism with priestly frauds.
See his The Conformity between Modern and Ancient Ceremonies: Wherein Is Proved, by Incontestable Authorities, that the Ceremonies of the Church of Rome Are Entirely Derived from the
Heathen (London, 1745; 1st French ed. 1667), 52.

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

577

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 associated 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 t 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 Plutos 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 nally Antwerp in 15841585, Luther and Calvin had found a sympathetic
audience in Flemish cities. From the 1530s onward, Ghent was divided by religious discord. The iconoclastic fury (Beeldenstorm) of August 1566 had left no
church or monastery undamaged. Writing from Ghent, the Catholic historian
Marcus van Vaernewijck (15181569) documented the turbulence that rocked
the city between 1566 and 1568. He observed the damage done to St. Jakobs
and St. Michaels churches and other places of Catholic worship. His Dutch
diary was dated between 15661568, and issued at Ghent between 18721881.
The Catholic historian narrates how the statues in St. Peters 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. Peters 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 Varthemas report, or of a
graven image that was actually ofoaded 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, quelle seule est paree dune triple couro[n]ne,
nen desplaise au Deumon de Calicut le grand sot, qui vouloit aussi se mesler de porter tyare tripliquee, faute de sens, & de navoir bien entendu, quen lOlimpe au royaume des Dieux ny a quun
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,
1986).

578

RAF GELDERS

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 Papistique (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 devils mouth, surrounded by accompanying letterpress attributed to the French Calvinist, Theodore 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 Varthemas 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 sourceswhere it
originatedand 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 rallying 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 rst 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 signicance 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).

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

579

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
Enciscos work on the New World, the Summa de Geografa (Seville, 1519).
Yet one of Barlows 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 anonymous work from the High Dutch that is essentially a list of Roman Catholic
sects and orders. After describing the Carthusian Order and its monastic practices 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 translator 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 Catholic 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 ofce.53 That
his loyalty to the Catholic queen became suspect is no surprise; already in
1553 Eden had translated parts of Sebastian Munsters Cosmographia
(Basel, 1544), the German original of which included Varthemas paragraphs
on the South Indian deumo. The translator betrays his religious afliations in
the margins, next to a picturesque description of the idols crown. His annotation to the left of the printed text reads: The bishop of Romes vicar at
Calicut.54 It is one thing to note similarities between the idols 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): 15766. 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 Munster, A Treatyse of the Newe India, R. Eden, trans. (London,
1553), fol. cv.

580

RAF GELDERS

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 Varthemas pages: where the traveler writes that the Brahmans 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 reformers 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 scholarship that deals specically 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 Leghs 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
Ponticum (with the diadem of the Roman Catholic ponticate). 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 nal observation must have truly fascinated

55

Richard Eden, in Varthema, Navigation and Voyages, fol. 387.


Ibid., fol. 388.
Ibid., fol. 397.
58
Ibid., fol. 407. About fty 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 Gamas
rst voyage to India (1497 1499), showing the similarities between Indian heathenism and Catholicism. 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]), dedication, 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 Bossewell Gentleman (London, 1572), fol. 133.
60
Ibid., fol. 134.
56
57

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

581

his Protestant audience: a summary narrative of Varthemas relation of the deumo


of Calicut and its priesthood, taken from Munsters Cosmographia.61
It must be remembered that this anticlericalism or anti-Brahmanism is not
evident in Varthemas 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. Pauls Cross next to the St. Pauls 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 sensational 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 Calecute tted a homily intended to incite the crowds in St Pauls Churchyard. The
controversies that surrounded the speech testify to its extensive readership,
suggesting that many copies were sold in the bookstalls at St Pauls. 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. Pauls 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 . . . Yea, I would it were uncharitable to say,
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;
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.

582

RAF GELDERS

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 dee 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 principal city and marketplace of India. Henceforth, this coastal entrepot was built
anew in the libraries of northern Europe: it became the Oriental sister city of the
papal metropolis, from where the devils religion spread in concentric circles of
sacerdotal corruption. The popeusurping the position of Christ in Rome
found his equivalent in Calicut, where the deumo occupied the throne. In the
Protestants war for souls, Varthemas already colored passages were thus not
simply a matter of ethnographythey 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 footnote 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 conict
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.
I I I . T H E S P I R I T U A L H I S TO RY O F I N D I A

The German scholars are generally considered to be the rst 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 rst to
the Itinerario. In consequence, the difference between Indias spiritual past
64
Joseph Hall, An Holy Panegyrick. A Sermon Preached at Paules Crosse upon the Anniversarie Solemnitie of the Happie Inauguration of Our Dread Soveraigne Lord King James March
24, 1613 (London, 1613), 3133.
65
For another homiletic treatment of the Calicut motif, see Thomas Adams, The Sacrice 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 Satans 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, 32452.

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

583

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 Herrs 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 Varthemas 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 coexisted 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 possibility 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

67
See, for example, Sebastian Franck, Das Gott das ainig ain, und hochstes Gut . . . in aller
Menschen Hertz sey. . . (Augsburg, 1534). For Franck, also see R. Emmet McLaughlin, Sebastian
Franck and Caspar Schwenckfeld: Two Spiritualist Viae, in J. D. Muller, ed., Sebastian Franck
(14991542) (Wiesbaden, 1993), 7186.
68
Sebastian Franck, Weltbuch, Spiegel und Bildtnisz des Gantzen Erdtbodens. . . (Tubingen,
1534), fol. iiii. The Weltbuch also appeared as a supplement to the second edition of Francks
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, followed by further Dutch editions in 1595 and 1649.

584

RAF GELDERS

beyond the ahistorical method of his predecessor, and also incorporates ethnographic 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 rst 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 Gotsdienst (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 Varthemas Bramini, the latter
were also assimilated: though clearly misguided, they similarly testied to
the human search for the Christian God. Franck recapitulates Varthemas
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 devils industry had not been conned to the Malabar regions: everything 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 previously directed at the Bracmanni. The spiritualist reformer stays remarkably
quiet about what had happened to the Indian religion in the absence of scriptural 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 Universalis (1544) by the reformed Hebrew scholar Sebastian Munster (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 Munster 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, Varthemas narrative

69

Ibid., fols. cxij cxcv.


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 Ethnographer, Osiris 11 (1954): 504 29.
75
Sebastian Munster, Cosmographia. Beschreibug aller Lender. . . (Basel, 1544), dcxxix.
70

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

585

about the Brahmans is printed in close textual proximity. Munster welcomes the
opportunity to talk about India in our times (India zu unsern zeite[n]), and
draws from Varthemas Calicut report to describe it.76
This method of combining both theoretical images of the Brahman protagonist within a unied 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 spectacular illustration of the satanic deumo, followed by a heavily embellished
reproduction of Varthemas 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 antiBrahmanism. 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 Francois de Belleforest (1530 1583), historian of Henry III of France, interpolated large chapters on contemporary India
in the second French edition of Munsters Cosmographia (1575). He also wrote
his own cosmography, LHistoire Universelle du Monde (The universal history
of the world; 1570). In it he rst 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 Jorg Breu, Munster includes another illustration of the deumo as Europeans imagined the devil would look.
77
Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires Prodigieuses les plus Memorables qui ayent este Observees. . .
(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 rst 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 (15051552), 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 nevertheless 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
Indes. . . (Paris, 1545), fols. D-Dij. Both modes of representations also feature in Jesuit-related scholarship. 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 division 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 (15771656), see Ines G. Zupanov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments
and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century India (New Delhi, 1999), esp. 3, 2430.
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 (16551732), in
Lettres Ediantes et Curieuses, Ecrites des Missions Etrange`res, par quelques Missionaires de
la Compagnie de Jesus (Paris, 1722).

586

RAF GELDERS

Collatio correspondence, and recapitulates the pre-Renaissance formulation:


the Brahmans serve the biblical God in prayer and spiritual service.79 As a marginal annotation explains, Pure religion of the Brachmanes, if nurtured by the
knowledge of Christ like it has been since.80 Belleforest testies 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 marginal 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
Varthemas account of the images Sathaniques, and explains that the ministers 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 Munsters Cosmographia (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 documentedGujarat, the entire Malabar littoral, and Vijayanagar.
The people are diverse, as are their ceremonies, but the engine of priestcraft transcends 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
I V. C O N C L U S I O N : S T R U C T U R E S O F R E P R E S E N T A T I O N

The pre-Renaissance representation of the Brahmans reects the preoccupations


of pre-Reformation Christianity. The vision of the early-modern Brahmans also
79

Francois de Belleforest, LHistoire Universelle du Monde (Paris, 1570), fol. 50.


Ibid., fol. 50: Religion pure des Brachmanes, si la cognaissance de Iesuschrist les eust abreuvez 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 sacricateurs qui retiennent le nom de Bramins de ces ancie[n]s Bracmanes
plus sains & religieux que ces soullez & maudits idolatres. See also fol. 58.
83
Francois de Belleforest in Munster, La Cosmographie Universelle de tout le Monde. . ., F. de
Belleforest, trans. (Paris, 1575), 1630.
84
Ibid., 1567: Bramins ont este Chrestiens quelquefois.
85
Ibid., 1713: Car en cet endroit touts sont semblables en croyance. Another French cosmography that combines both modes of representation into a unied 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 dAndre Thevet. . . (Paris, 1575), fols. 381 83.
80

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

587

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 Renaissance ethnographies, where both formulations met. Both theoretical entities are
conjugated into a unied portrait of the spiritual history of India: the true Christianity 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 anthropology, 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 discarded, 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 continued to shape future reports about India. The spiritual historiography of the
Bibleaccepted as an ethnographic premise by cosmographers and translators
of the sixteenth-century travel reports and books on the discoveries in the
Eastdrew all Semitic and non-Semitic traditions into the same frame of reference. The great company of future travelers, religious as well as secular, conrmed in the eyes of many readers that this was indeed their most appropriate
place. Whereas ethnographic learning was framed to t specic 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 American 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 Perspective: Johannes Boemus on The Manners, Laws and Customs of all People (1520), in H.
Bugge and Joan-Pau Rubies, eds., Shifting Cultures: Interaction and Discourse in the Expansion
of Europe (Munster, 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. . . (Antwerp,
1682), 27981. 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 dAvity, 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 Americas 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), 79129.
89
For Dutch travel writing, see, for example, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, Semper Eadem.
Iohn Hvighen van Linschoten His Discours of Voyages. . ., P. William, trans. (London, 1598; 1st

588

RAF GELDERS

An inherently pluralistic context that deed the European imaginationenergetic, vibrant, and made up of a multitude of crosscutting traditionswas
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 specically 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 signicance, the outside world was drawn in to argue for the truth
of the Christian faith. Throughout the conict 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 Christian 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 vocabulary is gradually stripped away and the historical outline of Indian spirituality,
manufactured in the sixteenth-century sources, is reformulated in a scientic
lexicon.92 As such, colonial scholarship did not develop in an intellectual

Dutch ed. 1596), 6465, 6869, and esp. 71; for French travel writing, Vincent Le Blanc, Les
Voyages Famevx dv Sievr Vincent Le Blanc Marseillois. . . (Paris, 1648), 6668, 86 88; for
German travel writing, Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo, Het schrijven van den Wel Ed: Getrouwen
en Vesten Johan Albrecht van Mandelslow. . . (Utrecht, 1651; 1st German ed. 1645), 13 18, 29. A
similar point is made in Joan-Pau Rubies 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): 13168.
90
In Restoration Britain, Varthemas 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. . . (London, 1668), 381. For German sources, based on a
variety of travel reports, see Erasmus Francisci, Neu-polirter Geschicht-Kunst- und Sitten-Spiegel
auslandischer Volcker. . . (Nurnberg, 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 inuential work by the East India Company ofcial Charles Grant: Observations
on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects to Great Britain. . . (London, 1797).
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
Demonstrated. . . (London, 1712), 174 75. For Dutch sources that similarly recapitulate the
image of the noble Brahman, see, for example, Arnoldus Montanus, De Wonderen vant Oosten
(Rotterdam, 1654), 2526, and esp. 26 27.
92
For two examples of the many works that combine both modes of representation into a historical outline, see Louis Moreri, ed., Le Grand Dictionaire Historique. . . (Lyon, 1683), vol. 1,
668 69; and Pierre Bayle, ed., Dictionaire Historique et Critique. . . (Rotterdam, 1697), vol. 1,

GENEALOGY OF COLONIAL DISCOURSE

589

vacuum. Four years prior to Holwell (1765), another East India Company
servant, Luke Scrafton (1732 1770?), could appeal to anthropological consensus 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: rst, the international character of the codication of a unied, 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, rst
employed in 1787 by the missionary and subsequently director of the East
India Company Charles Grant (17461823).94 But as a conceptual unit, it
embraces the theoretical entities that were combined in the books of sixteenthcentury Europe. The Orientalist notion of an unadulterated philosophical Hinduism in ancient manuscripts is manifest in the rst composite image, and that of
popular Hinduism in the second image. While the genealogy of colonial discourse I am dealing with here constitutes one thread in a complex history of representation, the mythical Brahman nation never lost its crucial position in these
preexisting cognitive categories. As the nineteenth century unfolded, this Orientalist 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
Woordenboek. . . (Amsterdam, 1733), vol. 2, 359. For the continuity in European intellectual
culture between the Reformation and Enlightenment periods, also see S. J. Barnett, The Enlightenment and Religion: The Myths of Modernity (New York, 2003).
93
Luke Scrafton, Reections 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 inuence
of both biblical and Protestant thought on late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship, see especially Thomas R. Trautmanns Aryans and British India (Berkeley, 1997), ch. 2,
and 1045, 124.
94
Geoffrey A. Oddie, Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism (London, 2006), 6872. The emphasis on the word Hinduism remains central in many discussions 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 Gunther-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.