Sengupta, Aniket .
Calcutta Botanical Garden and making of the modern world.
Established over two centuries ago by the British East India Company, the botanical garden in the former capital of British India played an important role in development of science, culture, and religion of the colonial world. Shipping around forty thousand specimens annually to two thousand international institutes, the garden helped European biologists appreciate the patterns in variation and distribution of plant forms, filling in what would otherwise have been gaping holes in a temperate-centred knowledge of plant diversity. So impressive was the collection, that celebrated botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker was commissioned by a foreign government to acquire a set from the garden. Cultivation of several cash-crops were also undertaken by the garden, and this eventually helped Britain become a country of tea-drinkers. However, by establishing medicinal cinchona plantations in India for malaria, sadly, it also helped the empire expand into eastern Africa. The garden itself became a centre of pilgrimage for Europeans visiting India who revered it as the realization of Milton’s idea of Paradise. The idyllic garden, luxuriantly dotting the shores of Ganges across a bustling city, attracted many native seers and philosophers as well. The greatest among these savants was Debendranath Tagore. Restless with deep existential questions, rich and influential Debendranath, like many oriental thinkers before him, decided to cross a river, and sit under a tree to meditate. Debendranath often spent contemplative hours in a less-frequented spot in the garden. He later went on to found the reformist Hindu movement, the Brahmo Dharma. The society was fundamental to the eighteenth century Bengali and Indian renaissance. On one hand it successfully battled social evils like untouchability, dowry, and oppression of women, and on the other it ushered fresh liberal intellectualism into the moribund Indian academia. Undoubtedly, the greatest fruit of this re-awakening was the towering cultural icon of modern India, Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to be awarded a Nobel Prize, and later, the only author of national anthems of more than one nation. To Gandhi, Rabindranath was his spiritual guru, and to W B Yeats, the Indian civilization itself. Centre of such silent scientific, cultural, and social upheaval a century ago, the garden continues to be a major botanical institute to this day. A rich storehouse of old botanical icones and lithographs, the associated herbarium with two million specimens has been declared by the Indian Government as the Central National Herbarium of India.
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1 - Kansas University, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 8022 Haworth Hall, 1200 Sunnyside Ave., Lawrence, KS, 66045, USA
Calcutta Botanical Garden
Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: 34, Historical Section Contributed Papers
Location: 200/Savannah International Trade and Convention Center
Date: Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
Time: 4:00 PM
Candidate for Awards:Emanuel D. Rudolph Award