Indography pp 249-255 | Cite as


Naming and Un-Naming “all the Indies”: How India Became Hindustan
  • Jyotsna G. Singh
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


For several centuries, from the medieval to the early modern periods, “India” was known more as a mythic, fabled land, a proliferating signifier for endless riches, gold, spices, gems, and indigo, among other precious materials. As Jonathan Gil Harris notes in the Introduction to this volume of essays, the terms “India” and “Indies” bring together a “cluster of etymologically related place names bonding together disparate places and cultures,” most notably under the rubrics of “East” and “West” Indies. If the term India arose from a specific location, the course of the River Indus (Sindhu in Hindi and Sanskrit), it became truncated into two locations emerging from Columbus’s mistake: believing that he had found a route from the west when he landed in the Caribbean in 1492, he insisted that he had reached the “Indies.” But did the Indies simply designate Cathay, or China, following Marco Polo’s example? What about the lands around the river Indus? Columbus’s account does not presume a clear sense of Indian location and boundary.


Early Modern Period European History Compass Point Precious Material Shadow Line 
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  1. 4.
    Shankar Raman, Framing “India”: the Colonial Imaginary in Early Modern Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 36–37.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines (New York: Viking Penguin, 1988). I am indebted to Raman’s discussion of The Shadow Lines, in Framing “India”, 280–282.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    For a full account of the translation and reception of Babur’s memoirs, see Wheeler M. Thackston, ed. and trans., Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor (New York: Modern Library Classics, 2002), xix–xxiv.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), 24.Google Scholar

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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Jyotsna G. Singh

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