Plants, Power and Knowledge: An Exploration of the Imperial Networks and the Circuits of Botanical Knowledge and Medical Systems on the Western Coast of India Against the backdrop of European Expansionism


  • Malavika Binny



The confluence of multiple branches of history in recent times, mainly owing to a revival of interest in histories of science and environmental history, has revealed the presence of a network of knowledge, which has been in existence from the Renaissance and in some fields even prior to it. Interwoven into the global web of knowledge transfers are the histories of botanical science and medical systems, which this article intends to analyse in the context of the Indo-Portuguese-Dutch engagements on the south-western coast of India. The Malabar Coast, in particular, plays a unique role in the history of Indian Ocean trade and it offers a fertile arena to investigate the multi-layered interplay between diverse knowledge systems both at a global and local level. The encounters between the European and the local knowledge systems occured more in terms of social-cultural exchange and the production of hybrid systems of knowledge rather that of cultural conflict. An in-depth analysis of Garcia Da Orta’s Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia (Conversations on the Simples, Drugs and Materia Medica of India) and Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein’s Hortus Malabaricus along with the Sanskrit and vernacular ‘Ayurvedic’ texts (such as Susruta Samhitā and Caraka Samhitā), will be used to explore the multiple lineages of what we understand today as science and medicine and the mechanisms through which indigenous knowledge was collected, documented and transferred into European botanical and scientific networks and the interplay between the diverse healing/botanical traditions.