Gondwana and the Politics of Deep Past

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This article identifies the appropriation of India’s deep history to the colonial present. It does so through a history of Gondwana, its geological and anthropological imagination and its social history. Gondwana, a region in central India, presents multiple historical tropes. The ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland derived its name from this region, which in turn was named after the tribe called Gonds, believed to be the aboriginal inhabitants of India. In the densely forested hills and ravines of Gondwana, ethnological studies among tribes and geological explorations of the oldest rock formations of the subcontinent shaped ideas of ethnological aboriginality and geological primitivism simultaneously. The disciplines of geology, pre-historic archaeology, anthropology and history aligned the aboriginal in Indian cultural and nature. It created a proto-Indian-ness that found affinity with the British colonising mission in both its metaphysical and material domains. Gondwana was vital to British imperialism for its coal and cotton. It also provided the British with an alternative deep historical trajectory, of the emergence of primitive form of life in the subcontinent. This imagery was in contrast to the Orientalist discovery of classical antiquity of India. Deep past became the mode of colonisation in this simultaneous imagination and conquest of a landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-153
Number of pages34
JournalPast & Present
Issue number1
Early online date22 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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