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Exhibition on till March 30th 2008, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm, Monday to Friday
The exhibit “Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize:” presents botanical illustrations,prints, and maps from seven European books published between 1543 and 1693.

These books provide fascinating glimpses into a little known chapter of the history of East-West interaction and highlight the importance of Indian botanical knowledge to the science and history of the period.

The exhibit "Such Treasure and Rich Merchandize" at the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, provides fascinating glimpses into a little known chapter of the history of East-West interaction during the pre-colonial period. The exhibit presents botanical illustrations, prints, and maps from books published between 1543 and 1693, and highlights the importance of Indian botanical knowledge to the science and history of the period.

Until the middle of the 18th Century, botanicals from India were important ingredients of European life as culinary additives, medicines and luxury items. The search for shorter and direct sea routes to India to acquire these commodities was the driving force for the voyages of discovery that profoundly changed both the world's maps, and its history.

East-West trade intensified after 1498 when Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut to procure pepper and other natural products for Portugal. Many others followed suit, and along with the commodities they acquired, Europeans in India sought out and compiled indigenous knowledge of medicinal and agrarian plants for their use in India and elsewhere. The wealth of botanical knowledge from the thriving indigenous medical traditions and centuries-old agricultural practices made its way into several European books published in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are valuable repositories of the local medical traditions of South India of the 15th to the 17th century, many of which have long been hidden in palm leaf manuscript collections or already vanished from the scholarly horizon.

The books presented in the exhibit also give us glimpses of the high level of knowledge of the Indian scholars who contributed to these volumes, though most are not identified by name. The specifics and accuracy of the Indian botanical information recorded in these books suggest intimate collaboration with and cooperation from Indian scholars and they are generally identified as learned and dedicated scholars. These books are also important resources to scholars from diverse fields, serving as a window into Indian culture prior to the 18th century.

The highlighted book in this exhibit is the twelve volume pre-Linnaean botanical work "Hortus Indicus Malabaricus", published in Amsterdam from 1678 to 1693 and entirely devoted to the useful and medicinal plants of South India. These volumes are unique in the annals of colonial botany for the quality of the content and for the extent of the collaboration between the Indian and European scholars. For their major contributions to this work, the Indian scholars are individually identified and honored.

The exhibit is curated by Annamma Spudich, Scholar in Residence at NCBS.

Annamma Spudich is a cell biologist (Ph.D., Stanford University) with life long interest in the history of Indian scientific traditions in the natural sciences. In 2003 Dr. Spudich curated the exhibit "From Forreine Places All the Varietie of Herbes" at The Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University. The exhibition at the NCBS and related collateral was designed and coordinated by Sarita Sundar and her team at Trapeze, Bangalore. Trapeze is a multi-disciplinary design consultancy and studio. The partners worked with the curator to reproduce and present material from various libraries and collections throughout the world and present an informative and novel look at the history of East-West interaction in the pre-colonial period, focused on the natural sciences.

The National Centre for Biological Sciences is part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research devoted to the study of biological systems using experimental and computational approaches. The faculty and staff at the NCBS are from a broad array of disciplines and collaborate to advance knowledge of life processes.