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

Abstract

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.

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