Navigating History: A rare map exhibition, 'Mapped' welcomes folks at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai

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Navigating History: A rare map exhibition, 'Mapped' welcomes folks at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai

The map exhibition, 'Mapped' allows folks to take a visual treat of the erstwhile maps that were created during various surveys during the early 19th century.

In the time of advanced maps that can be easily accessed, one needs help to understand the pains and sufferings that might have gone into the 19th century during the popular Trigonometrical Survey of India. We witnessed the same in a map exhibition, 'Mapped,' which is being held at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai with several maps dating back to 1788 to 1870s on display till June 4.


With the collaborative efforts of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai and the Rotary Club of Bombay, along with Past Perfect Heritage Management, the exhibition aims to display the survey and the rare maps and stories behind them. The display starts with the first accurate map of India made by Major James Rennell, which we found well preserved to give us goosebumps. Right from the first map starts the narrative that highlights the presence of the English East India Company in Bengal and a transition in its priorities and power in the region and over the rest of India, and the need felt by them for a Trigonometrical Survey of India, one of the most advanced and extensive mapping exercises in the history of the world, and its impact and relevance in contemporary times.

The exhibition juxtaposes detailed maps of the subcontinent produced by the survey with the people – a collaboration between the Indians and the British – and the technology that made these mammoth mapping endeavours possible. The storyline also touches on a parallel thread that triggered disturbances, demolition, revolts, and instances of disruption faced by survey parties in carrying out their work. Moving further to the event, we found many stories of the locals involved in the survey that left them alone in extreme weather conditions, making them burn their own fingers out of depression, and many such stories that one hardly knows.

The rare collection of stories could be possible through the efforts of the Past Perfect Heritage Management team, who went on reading the books to display such tales in the exhibition, as the Co-founder of the company, Deepti Anand, told us. "While we wanted to depict the surveys and their findings, the major objective was also to depict the efforts of Indians in supporting the British, without which such an extensive survey would never have been carried out," she said.

The initial section of the exhibition highlights tales connected to the Indian subcontinent, while the second half shifts the narrative towards administrative surveys, specifically focusing on Bombay. The exhibition showcases maps of various neighborhoods such as Tardeo, Kamathipura, Grant Road, Girgaon, Umerkhadi, Mazgaon, and Byculla. These maps were created during the Second Bombay Revenue Survey, which took place between 1865 and 1872 under the supervision of Colonel George Laughton. Through these maps, the exhibition explores the city's planning during that period and demonstrates how surveying was utilized as a means to exert greater control over the land and its residents.

The narrative draws attention to the changes in urban planning and land use that have occurred in the city over the last two centuries and attempts to elucidate how an exercise that was undertaken in the 1800s still determines how the city’s inhabitants make sense of their urban spaces and influence the way land – reclaimed or otherwise – is used today. For a fact, Anand told us that the exhibition has witnessed people from South Mumbai coming and trying to find their plots and houses basis these maps!

All in all, the exhibition provides a great passage to peek into the lesser-known surveys of India and how they continue to mark their presence even in the current time. So, if you are a history buff or fond of the geographical charisma of India, like us, you must visit this exhibition.

When: Till June 4

Where: Durbar Hall, The Asiatic Society of Mumbai

Also Read: Curtain Calls and Challenges: Insights into the State of Theatres and Theatre Artists in India

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