Friday, September 16, 2011

Indigo Revolt in Bengal (1859-1861)

A fragment of madder-dyed cotton fabric found at the Harappan sites indicates the use of natural dyes by the people of Mohenjodaro as back as 3000 B.C. The tinctorial properties of vegetable substances, recognised in the Vedic period, particularly in the Atharvavedic and the succeeding periods ranging from 1000 to 500 B.C. were kala or asikni (possibly indicating indigo), maharanjana (sunflower), manjistha (madder), lodhra (symlocis racemasa) and haridra (turmeric).
The dyestuff introduced in the post-Vedic period ranging from 500B.C. to 3rd century A.D. included Kumkuma (saffron) and nila (indigo) among the plant products; krmi (kermes) and rocana (bright yellow substance prepared from cow’s urine) among the animal substances; gairika (red-ochre) among minerals; and khanjana (carbon black).
The period from the Classical Age to Medieval Period of Indian history acknowledges the tinting capacity of a number of vegetable substances as well as of metals and minerals. The Medieval Period was marked by the discovery of the colour fixation property of tuvari (alum) and the process employed for the extraction of the colouring principles from the dyestuff. The late Medieval Period (18th century) introduced the application of iron mordant for the fixation of colours like blue, green and violet. It is during the Mugal Period that the shades of a number of colours in different tones came into the field of dyeing with natural dyes.
Indigo has outlasted the travails of history because it is one of the most "colourfast" natural dyes. The blue remains beautiful, even if it fades. The range of colours based on indigo is extensive. Even among natural dyes, indigo has special qualities. It does not need a mordant to make it fast. It is compatible with all types of natural fibre. It can be used in combination with other dyes to produce a wide range of colours.
Experts say that Egyptian mummy clothes from the third millennium B C (not futuristic AD!) had borders of indigo dyed stripes. Blue was a predominant colour in the funeral wardrobe of Tutenkhamen. Blue is the only colour found in the earliest dyed linen fragment of ancient Israel and Palestine. The linen wraps of urns containing the Dead Sea scrolls carried symbolic geometric patterns in blue. Babylonian texts talk of garments dyed in blue and there is even one which gives the method for dyeing in indigo. The Bible speaks of "blue clothes and embroidered work" traded by the merchants of Sheba. Blue silk fragments of the third millennium B C have been found in China.
The word Indigo is derived from the Greek Indikon and the Latin Indicum, meaning a substance from India. Evidence for the use of Indigo in India before the medieval age is based on the writings of a trader in Egypt in the first century A D. India was then the pivot of trade both Westwards and Eastwards
Indigo is a duestaff that was a major item of international trade from 16th to the late 19th century Although it has various other usesapart from dying (medicinal uses). The type indigo that has been described the one used for dying. The word indigo points in South Asia. It  derives from the Greek word 'indikon', which means 'from India'.Ancient Greek imported their 'blue' colour from India.The trade of 'indigo' from Asia was controlled by Portugese in the middle of 16th century.The Spanish were their main competitors and were eager to get around the  Portugese supplies.They  did this by taking indigo plants from their new colonies in Central America. Soon hundreds of commercial indigo establishments emerged , particularly, in El Salvador and Guetemala in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Central American indigo became a very successful product. Central American indigo was being was exported in huge quantities in Spain, Peru and Mexico. Spain received its indigo and exported to Britain and Netherlands with extra duties. Decline set in partly as a result of heavy taxation by the turn of the neneteenth century. The global indigo market was characterised by such imperial competition.   
Indigo planting in Bengal dated back to 1777. Louis Bonard was probably the first indigo planter. With expansion of British power in the Nawabate of Bengal, indigo planting became more and more commercially profitable due to the demand for Blue Dye in Europe. It was introduced in large parts of Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, Murshidabad, etc. The indigo planters left no stones unturned to make money. They mercilessly pursued the peasants to plant indigo instead of food crops. They provided loans, called dadon at a very high interest. Once a farmer took such loans he remained in debt for whole of his life before passing it to his successors. The price paid by the planters was meagre,only 2.5% of the market price. So the farmers could make no profit by growing indigo. The farmers were totally unprotected from the brutal indigo planters, who resorted to mortgage or destruction of their property if they were unwilling to obey them. Government rules favoured the planters. By an act in 1833, the planters were granted a free hand in oppression. Even the zamindars, money lenders and other influential persons sided with the planters. Out of the severe oppression unleashed on them the farmers resorted to revolt.
The Bengali middle class supported the peasants whole-heartedly. Harish Chandra Mukhopadhyay thoroughly described the plight of the poor peasants in his newspaper The Hindu Patriot. However every such contribution was overshadowed by Dinabandhu Mitra, who gave a perfect account of the situation.