As we enter the 67th year of Independence, travel back in time with these rare maps of undivided India, testimony of a bygone era

Looking at the 100 rare old maps of India displayed at Ojas Art Gallery, many of us might wonder why geography or history didn’t interest us as much when we were in school, particularly those classes when one had to mark states, its capitals, mountains, plains, lakes, rivers, climatic conditions on maps. At Anubhav Nath’s Ojas Art Gallery, gazing at historical maps of undivided India in the exhibition “How India Got Its Boundaries”, beginning today, becomes a highly engrossing activity.

The young gallerist culled from his family collection of old maps and took on loan a few from Gautam Sabharwal’s collection to exhibit these antique maps showing maps of Pre-independence India when it represented present day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. “The idea is to show that how boundaries have been constantly changing. Now with the creation of new states, our boundaries have changed but I just wanted to focus on undivided India,” says Anubhav Nath, who began to understand the value of old maps post an auction.

As an art form, cartography reached its peak from 17t to 19th Century with western powers commissioning maps of its colonies for various reasons. The exhibition has maps produced by cartographers like Pierre Mortier, Lapie, Rigobert Bonne and John Talliis, which were printed in England, France, Italy and the USA.

While the oldest map in the exhibition dates back to 1768 done by cartographer Thomas Jeffrey, the latest is a 1946 National Geographic map of India. “My favourite map is of South India and Bombay Presidency for the simple reason that maps of Southern India were not the norm and even doing maps of one region wasn’t common. There used to be more of North India’s maps,” says Nath, adding that while more of English maps were around, French maps were rare and much better in terms of quality. He has a couple in the show. “Indostan Presquisles of India, China, Independent Tartie” is a highly detailed map of India and China done by French cartographer S. Robert de Vaugondy in 1761.

An early 1900 map of George Philip shows a tourist map which reminds you of having seen something similar in our history books. It highlights the tourist sites of India whereas a Talliis map of British India has pictorial elements on all the four sides. It was done by cartographer J.Rapkin, whose maps were considered highly collectible. One of the most interesting maps appearing to be a travel map, again printed by George Philip and Sons, marking states for its speciality in spices, agricultural produce, etc. A slew of lines depicting trade routes like Bombay to Rangoon, 5 days, 2107, Bombay to Zanzibar, 11 days, seem to suggest that they might have been some popular trade routes.

Advancement of technology might have rendered maps redundant but the charm of old maps will always remain. “Just like the Encyclopaedia, atlases, everything is online but I am sure, in schools, maps must still be an important part of the curriculum which is why I plan to get some school children to do some interactive exercise,” says Nath.

In a few maps, India, perhaps with a view of presenting its position in the Asian world, is depicted with Central Asia and South-east Asia. An 1829 M Lapie map of India and South-east Asia, covers all of what was once known as greater and lesser India comprising modern India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

(The exhibition is on at Ojas Art Gallery, Qutab Minar Main Roundabout, till 20th September 2013)