Skip to main content

Vishalyakarani as Eupatorium ayapana: Retro-botanizing, Embedded Traditions, and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890–1940


This article critically examines the assumptions and processes involved in identifying historically distinctive plant identities by their Latin botanical names. By following late-colonial efforts to identify a medicinal herb mentioned in some versions of the Ramayana, this paper argues for a historicist analysis of the process of “retro-botanizing.” In so doing, it also distinguishes between two different forms of “tradition,” the “factualized” and “embedded.” Finally, it blurs the allegedly watertight distinction between historical and mythic pasts. Instead of trying to distinguish these pasts ontologically, I argue that it is more productive to see specific pasts in relation to the sorts of futures they produce, that is, their respective historicities.

Hide All
Abraham Itty. 2006. “The Contradictory Spaces of Postcolonial Techno-Science.” Economic & Political Weekly 41(3):210–17.
Ali Daud, ed. 1999. Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Ali Daud. 2012. “Botanical Technology and Garden Culture in Somersvara's Manasollasa.” In Garden and Landscape Practices from Pre-Colonial India: Histories from the Deccan, eds. Ali Daud and Flatt Emma, 3953. New Delhi. Routledge.
Ali Daud. 2013. “Temporality, Narration and the Problem of History: A View from Western India, c. 1100–1400.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 50(2):237–59.
Alter Joseph S. 2008. “Rethinking the History of Medicine in Asia: Hakim Muhammad Said and the Society for the Promotion of Eastern Medicine.” Journal of Asian Studies 67(4):1165–86.
Anderson Warwick. 2012. “Asia as Method in Science and Technology Studies.” East Asian Science & Technology Studies 6(4):445–51.
Arnold David. 1999. “A Time for Science: Past and Present in the Reconstruction of Hindu Science, 1860–1920.” In Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia, ed. Ali Daud, 156–77. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Arnold David. 2000. The New Cambridge History of India III.5: Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Arnold David. 2008. “Plant Capitalism and Company Science: The Indian Career of Nathaniel Wallich.” Modern Asian Studies 42(5):899928.
Attewell Guy. 2003. “Islamic Medicines: Perspectives on the Greek Legacy in the History of Islamic Medical Traditions in West Asia.” In Medicine Across Cultures: History and Practice of Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, ed. Selin Helaine, 325–50. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Attewell Guy. 2007. Refiguring Unani Tibb: Plural Healing in Late Colonial India. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.
Attewell Guy. 2010. “Interweaving Substance Trajectories: Tiryaq, Circulation and Therapeutic Transformation in the Nineteenth Century.” In Crossing Colonial Historiographies: Histories of Colonial and Indigenous Medicines in Transnational Perspective, eds. Ernst Waltraud, Digby Anne, and Mukharji Projit, 120. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Banerjee Prathama. 2006. Politics of Time: ‘Primitives’ and History-Writing in a Colonial Society. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Banerjee-Dube Ishita. 2007. Religion, Law and Power: Tales of Time in Eastern India, 1860–2000. London: Anthem Press.
Basu Jagadbandhu. 1893. “Bhaisajya Tattwa: Sulabh Raktarodhak” [Medicinal theory: Easily available hemostatic]. Chikitsa Sammilani 9(8):267–72.
Beckurts Heinrich, and Weichelt W. W., eds. 1896. Jahresbericht der pharmacie [Annual report of the pharmacy]. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Bhadra Gautam. 1993. “Kathakathar Nana Katha” [The many tales of Kathakatha]. Yogasutra (October-December):167298.
Bhattacharya Ashutosh, ed. n.d. Krittibasi Ramayana [The Ramayana of Krittibas]. Calcutta: Akhil Bharat Janashiksha Prachar Samiti.
Bhattacharya Neeladri. 2008. “Predicaments of Secular Histories.” Public Culture 20(1):5773.
Bose P. K., and Sarkar B. B.. 1937. “Hemostatic Action of Ayapin and Ayapanin.” Nature 139:514–16.
Bose P. K., and Sen P. B.. 1941. “Haemostatic Agents. Part I. Experiments with Avapanin and Ayapin.” Annals of Biochemistry and Experimental Medicine 1(4):311–16.
Brockway Lucile H. 1979. “Science and Colonialism: The Role of the British Botanic Gardens.” American Ethnologist 6(3):449–65.
Chakrabarti Pratik. 2000. “Science, Nationalism and Colonial Contestations: PC Ray and His Hindu Chemistry.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 37(2):185213.
Chakrabarti Pratik. 2010. “Empire and Alternatives: Swietenia febrifuga and the Cinchona Substitutes.” Medical History 54(1):7594.
Chakrabarty Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Chatterjee Partha. 1993. Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Chatterjee Partha, and Ghosh Anjan, eds. 2002. History and the Present. London: Anthem Press.
The Chemist and Druggist. 1895. “The Indian Medical Congress.” 46(2):44.
Daston Lorraine, ed. 1999. Biographies of Scientific Objects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Debi Rasasundari. [1875] 1987. Amar Jiban [My life]. Calcutta: College Street Prakashani.
Desmond Ray. 1992. The European Discovery of the Indian Flora. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dey Kanailal. 1867. The Indigenous Drugs of India. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co.
Dey Kanailal. 1896. The Indigenous Drugs of India. 2nd ed.Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co.
Drayton Richard Harry. 2000. Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Drury Heber. 1873. Useful Plants of India. London: W. H.Allen & Co.
Dutt R. C. 1902. The Economic History of British India. London: Kegan Paul.
Dutt Udoy Chunder. 1877. The Materia Medica of the Hindus. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co.
Dymock William. 1885. The Vegetable Materia Medica of Western India. Bombay: Education Society Press.
Elmers Peter. ed. 2004. The Healing Arts: Health, Disease and Society in Europe. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Endersby Jim. 2008. Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fleming John. 1812. “A Catalogue of Indian Medicinal Plants and Drugs.” Asiatick Researches 11:153–96.
Gandhi M. K. 1939. “Discussion with Dr Chesterman.” Harijan. February 25. (accessed September 25, 2011).
Ghosh A. K., and Sen S. N.. 1971. “[Botany] The Vedic and Post-Vedic Period.” In A Concise History of Science in India, eds. Bose D. M., Sen S. N., and Subbarayappa B. V., 375–91. New Delhi. Indian National Science Academy.
Ghosh J. C. 1918. Indigenous Drugs. Calcutta: n.p.
Goldman Robert P. 2006. “How Fast Do Monkeys Fly? How Long Do Demons Sleep?Revisita di Studi Sudasiatici 1:185207.
Goswami Manu. 2004. Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Grove Richard H. 1995. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansions, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gupta Birajacharan. 1908. Vanaushadhi Darpan [Mirror of forest medicines]. Calcutta: SC Auddy & Co.
Hamlin Christopher. 2009. Cholera: The Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hardiman David. 2009. “Indian Medical Indigeneity: From Nationalist Assertion to Global Market.” Social History 34(3):263–83.
Headrick Daniel R. 1988. Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850–1940. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hooker Joseph Dalton. 1882. The Flora of British India. Vol. 3. London: L. Reeve & Co.
Jardine Nicholas, Secord James A., and Spary E. C., eds. 1996. Cultures of Natural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jay Martin. 2005. Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Journal of the Asiatic Society. 1833. “The Birth of Uma—A Legend of the Himalaya by Calidasa.” 2(19):329–58.
Koehne E., ed. 1897. Just's Botanischer Jahresbericht [Just's annual botanical report]. Berlin: Gebruder Borntraeger.
Koselleck Reinhart. 2004. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Translated by Tribe Keith. New York: Columbia University Press.
LaCapra Dominick. 1998. History and Memory after Auschwitz. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Latour Bruno. 1999. Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Latour Bruno. 2000. “On the Partial Existence of Existing and Non-Existing Objects.” In Biographies of Scientific Objects, ed. Daston Lorraine, 247–69. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Le Goff Jacques. 1992. History and Memory. Translated by Rendall Steven and Claman Elizabeth. New York: Columbia University Press.
Lindemann Mary. 2010. Medicine and Society in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lourdusamy J. 2004. Science and National Consciousness in Bengal, 1870–1930. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.
Ludden David. 1993. “Orientalist Empiricism: Transformations of Colonial Knowledge.” In Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, ed. Breckenridge Carol Appadurai, 250–78. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Mandal Panchanan. 1980. Punthi Parichaya [Introduction to manuscripts]. Santiniketan: Vishwa Bharati.
Mitter P. C. 1939. “Researches on Organic Chemistry in India (1896–1923).” Proceedings of the National Institute of Sciences of India 5(2):211–16.
Muellner Alexander N. 2006. “The Mahogany Family ‘Out-of-Africa’: Divergence Time Estimates, Global Biogeographic Patterns Inferred from Plastid rbcL DNA Sequences, Extant and Fossil Distribution of Diversity.” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40(1):236–50.
Mukharji Projit Bihari. 2005. “Bangali Ayurbed: Frames, Texts and Practices.” Calcutta Historical Journal 25(2):1545.
Mukharji Projit Bihari. 2009a. Nationalizing the Body: The Medical Market, Print and Daktari Medicine. London: Anthem Press.
Mukharji Projit Bihari. 2009b. “Pharmacology, ‘Indigenous Knowledge’, Nationalism: Few Words on the Epitaph of Subaltern Science.” In The Social History of Health and Medicine in Colonial India, eds. Pati Biswamoy and Harrison Mark, 195212. Abingdon: Routledge.
Mukhopadhyay Bholanath. [1293 BE] 1886. Dravyagun Darpan [Mirror of the qualities of substances]. Calcutta: Bishwambar Laha.
Mukhopadhyay Nayanchandra, ed. [1339 BE] 1932. Sachitra Krittibasi Ramayana [Krittibas's Ramayana illustrated]. Allahabad: Indian Press Publication Limited.
Nadkarni K. M. 1927. Indian Materia Medica. 2nd ed.Bombay: KM Nadkarni.
Nandy Ashis. 1998. Return from Exile. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Nappi Carla. 2010. “Winter Worm, Summer Grass: Cordyceps, Colonial Chinese Medicine and Formation of Historical Objects.” In Crossing Colonial Historiographies: Histories of Colonial and Indigenous Medicines in Transnational Perspective, eds. Ernst Waltraud, Digby Anne, and Mukharji Projit, 2136. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Noltie Henry J. 1999. Indian Botanical Drawings, 1793–1868: From the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden.
Noltie Henry J. 2002. The Dapuri Drawings: Alexander Gibson and the Bombay Botanic Gardens. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing.
Nora Pierre. 1989. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux des Memoire.” Representations 26:724.
O'Shaughnessy W. B. 1841. The Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia. Calcutta: GOI.
Pandey Gyanendra. 2006. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Philip Kavita. 2004. Civilizing Natures: Race, Resources, and Modernity in Colonial South India. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
Pratyakshya Drasta (“Witness”). [1336 BE] 1929. “Vishalyakarani ba Ayapan” [Vishalyakarani or ayapana?]. Grihasthya Mangal 3(8):250–51.
Raina, Dhruv. 1998. “Historiographic Concerns Underlying the Indian Journal of the History of Science: A Bibliometric Inference.” Economic and Political Weekly 33(8):407–9 and 411–14.
Raj Kapil. 2007. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rao Velcheru Narayan, Shulman David, and Subrahmanyam Sanjay. 2003. Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600–1800. New York: Other Press.
Report of the Indigenous Drugs Committee of India. 1899. Vol. 1. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.
Ricoeur Paul/ 2006. Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Blamey Kathleen and Pellauer David. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Roxburgh William. 1814. Hortus Bengalensis. Serampore: Mission Press.
Saha Purnachandra. 1894. The Illustrated Hindu Medicinal Plants. Calcutta: The Indian Drugs Supply Company.
Schiebinger Londa. 2004. Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Sen Binodlal. [1337 BE] 1887. Ayurved Vijnana [Science of Ayurveda]. 4th ed.Calcutta: Pulin Krishna Sen.
Sen Sudhansubhushan. [1321 BE] 1914. “Banga Bhashaye Ayurvediya Granther Pranayan” [Publication of Ayurvedic books in the Bengali language]. Ayurved Bikash 2(1):112.
Sengupta Debendranath, and Sengupta Upendranath. [1333 BE] 1926. Dravyagun [Qualities of substances]. 8th ed.Calcutta: Dhanwantari Steem Mesin Jantra.
Sircar Amritalal. 1908. “Ancient and Modern Hindu Medicine.” Calcutta Journal of Medicine 27(4):159–61.
Sivaramakrishnan Kalyanakrishnan. 1995. “Colonialism and Forestry in India: Imagining the Past in Present Politics.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 37(1):340.
Sivaramakrishnan Kavita. 1999. “The Uses of the Past in a Public Campaign: Ayurvedic Prachar in the Writings of Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid.” In Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia, ed. Ali Daud, 178–91. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Skaria Ajay. 1998. Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers and the Wildness in Western India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Smith William L. 2004. “Ramayana Textual Traditions in Eastern India.” In The Ramayana Revisited, ed. Bose Mandakranta, 87106. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stein Claudia. 2009. Negotiating the French Pox in Early Modern Germany. Burlington, Vt,: Ashgate.
Talukdar Kana. 2010. “The Quest for the Elixirs of Life.” Banbithi (August):2023.
Turner Gerard L'Estrange. 1998. Scientific Instruments 1500-1900: An Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Valmiki. [1282 BE] 1875. Ramayana: Lanka Kanda. Translated by Bhattacharya Gangagovinda. Calcutta: Shibadaha Datta Yantra.
Vedavyasa Krishnadwaipayan. [1295 BE] 1888. Adhyatma Ramayana. Translated by Tarkaratna Panchanan. Calcutta: Bangabasi Steam Machine Press.
Waring Edward John. 1868. Pharmacopoeia of India. London: W. H. Allen & Co.
Watson Matthew C. 2011. “Cosmopolitics and the Subaltern: Problematizing Latour's Idea of the Commons.” Theory, Culture & Society 28(3):5579.
Watt George. 1890. A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India. Vol. 3. London: W. H. Allen & Co.
Winter Jay. 1995. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 66 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 264 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 16th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.