The Blue Indians

The year is 3,300 BC, Bronze Age begins in the Near East. The passage tomb of Newgrange is built on the north side of the River Boyne in Ireland. The Ness of Brodgar is built in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney in Scotland. The Harappan Civilisation of the Indus Valley dawns in the Punjab province of British India now in Pakistan, and the events of the World’s oldest epic the Mahabharata continues to unfold in the ancient Indian subcontinent.

The Harappans had just mastered cultivating cotton as a fabric, while in the far Far-East the Chinese were refining the art of producing silk. Ancient West was gradually connecting with the mysterious East through the budding silk route cutting across wild Central Europe and the vibrant Middle East.

Amongst all the things traded, cloth happened to be one of the most sought-after commodities, which stitched the very fabric that connected men and far off regions during this iconic epoch in human history.

At this ancient moment in man’s journey on Earth, on the eastern flank of India somewhere along the banks of the river Hoogly in the present-day Nadia district of West Bengal, an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic tribe had just settled. With time they would become what we know today as the Bengali race of people, the third-largest ethnic group in the World after the Han Chinese and Arabs in the present day.

Akhi was lost in a world of his own. The forty-year-old energetic man was considered a loner and a bit weird by other tribesmen. While most of the members of his clan dedicated their time in agriculture and other chores important to a settling tribal community during the 3rd century BC, Akhi was lost in an unexplored world of colours searching for hues in everything and everywhere he went.

Dried Earth, powdered rocks, fruit and plant extracts, fungi, moss, and even animal dung, Akhi experimented with it all. He spent hours preparing a particular colour and then applying it on various surfaces.

Cotton as a fabric had just arrived in their village through the trade routes from Indus valley in the West. Somehow even silk had reached their settlement, and a white piece of it was gifted to the village chieftain by some travelling tradesmen. All the clothes stitched out of cotton were, however, white and dying them in permanent colour was an undiscovered science back then.

On one pleasant summer evening five thousand years ago when most of the Bengali tribesmen had finished their day’s work and gathered as a community to sit in a circle and socialise, which was the clan’s usual practice, a man covered in blue came running towards them.

It was Akhi, he was filled with the elation of some sudden discovery. His whole body was covered in a unique blue colour which no one had ever seen before. Maybe the result of one of his wild colouring experiments. “What the hell happened to you,” shouted the angry chieftain. Like the rest of the clansmen, he too was both wonderstruck and scared.

Kneeling in front of the chieftain, Akhi presented him with a most beautiful piece of blue cloth that the clan had ever seen. The chieftain took the fabric in his hand and was lost in the beauty of its colourful radiance. No one had ever seen such vibrance, all they were used to seeing, was white and nothing else.

This was the same piece of white silk that the chieftain had received as a gift from the Far East. Akhi had stolen it to give it this beautiful colour. As a result of one of his experiments Akhi accidentally discovered, that cloth could be permanently dyed blue when soaked in a solution of water and dried extracts of the Indigofera Tinctoria plant that grew wildly in the region. He took the Chieftains silk cloth to prove his point and convince the Bengali’s to cultivate this crop, extract its dye and trade with far off regions.

The dye, its colour is what we have come to know as ‘Indigo’ today. Though endemic not only to India but also to the tropical zones of Africa and China, the name Indigo is a clear indication of its origin, which simply means ‘the Indian’ or ‘from India, and the ancient forefathers of the Bengalis were the first people to cultivate this plant and invent Indigo on the fertile banks of the river Hoogly in the Nadia district of the Bengal region.

Over the next five millennia, the art of dyeing cotton, silk, linen, and wool with the dried extract of the Indigofera Tinctoria plant invented in India spread all over the world. First, it reached East Asia, then became popular with the ancient Egyptians and even landed on the steps of the Mayan civilisation.

Gradually, however, the Bengalis grew other interests and forgot that one of their earliest tribesmen had invented dying clothes blue. With the passage of time, Indigofera Tinctoria continued to be cultivated in other parts of the world, while the Bengalis abandoned growing the crop, and the plant in the Bengal region slowly got lost in the wild, where it thrived without human interference.

Now the year is 1777, five thousand years have passed since Akhi had discovered the blue dye. Louis Bonnard, a Frenchman comes to the same Bengal region and reintroduces cultivation of the Indigofera Tinctoria plant. He starts cultivating in the Taldanga and Goalpara villages near Chandannagar.

For the next eighty-eight years until 1859, indigo plantations engulfed nearly every piece of cultivatable land in the Nadia region. With the Nawabs of Bengal under British power, indigo planting became more and more commercially profitable because of the demand for blue dye in Europe. Slowly the plantations crept into other regions in Bengal like Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, and Jessore in present-day Bangladesh.

Over the years the foreign plantation owners gradually persuaded the Bengali peasants to plant indigo instead of food crops in their fertile fields and plains. The exploitive planters started providing loans colloquially know as ‘dadon’, at very high-interest rates. Once a peasant took such a loan, he would fall in a vicious debt trap, which was inherited for generations by his children and their children. The profiteering planters paid a mere 2.5% of the market price to the farmers, and this atrocity of exploitation gradually led to the rebellion that would go on to rewrite the history of British rule in the Indian subcontinent.

“Either we die of hunger or we die fighting,” cried out Bishnucharan Biswas, addressing a mass of farmers gathered in an indigo field in the Gobindapur village of Nadia district. Armed with sickles and other farming tools modified into weapons the group was at the brink of the ‘Indigo Revolt’ of 1859, one of the most iconic revolutions in India against the British empire and its forced colonisation during the day.

“Today we shall stand against our oppressors, who beat and loot us, crippling us for generations with their ruthless exploitation,” shouted Digambar Biswas another key figure in the revolt. That night the peasants of Gobindapur and Chaugacha villages turned against the tyrannous indigo planters of the region.

Thus, began the revolt and rapidly spread to the districts of Murshidabad, Birbhum, Burdwan, Pabna, Khulna, and Narail. During the course of the revolution, several indigo depots were burnt down, many planters were given a public trial and mercilessly executed. Zamindars (Landlords) who had been supporting the planters for monetary gains were also targetted. Though not all of them were bad, like Zamindar Ramratan Mullick of Narail who supported the movement.

Though the revolt had gained momentary success, it was mercilessly suppressed. Large forces of police and military-backed by the British Government and the zamindars went on a merciless rampage. They slaughtered a number of helpless peasants and hanged key leaders, like Biswanath Sardar alias Bishe Dakat in Assannagar, Nadia after a show trial. The Biswas brothers of Nadia, Kader Molla of Pabna, and Rafique Mondal of Malda were among the other popular leaders who were executed.

Though at a first glance the revolt seemed to be fuelled by violence, however, in general, it was non-violent, as affirmed by the famous Bengali historian Jogesh Chandra Bagal. That’s why perhaps the revolt was more successful when compared to the Sepoy Mutiny two years prior in 1857, as expressed by another famous Bengali historian and former Sheriff of Calcutta R.C. Majumdar in the book “History of Bengal”, published by Dacca university, which he had edited. This form of non-violent passive resistance later successfully adopted by Gandhiji ultimately got India its independence.

Another reason for the ‘Indigo Revolt’ to be successful was the fact that it was widely supported by the Bengali middle classes – intellectuals and influencers of the day. Harish Chandra Mukherjee the famous journalist and patriot, played a crucial role through a brilliant string of articles in the Hindu Patriot news daily, which helped to bring global awareness about the inhuman atrocities by the Britishers on the Indigo farmers of the Bengal region.

The revolt went on to inspire a famous Bengali play ‘Nil Darpan’ by Dinabandhu Mitra first published in Dhaka in 1860, under a pseudonym of the author. It was translated into English by Michael Madhusudan Dutta the famous Bengali poet, writer, dramatist, and pioneer of Bengali drama, and published by Reverend James Long, the famous Anglo-Irish priest of the Anglican Church, missionary to India, humanist, educator, evangelist, translator, essayist and philanthropist.

Though Nil Darpan was banned by the East India Company to control agitation among the Indians, the play attracted much attention in England, where the common English populace was stunned at the savagery of their countrymen. The British Government sent Rev. Long to a mock trial and punished him with fine and imprisonment.

As a result of all the events of the revolt, sacrifice by so many people from various rungs of society both Indian and English and especially through the final initiative of Nawab Abdul Latif, the British Government formed the ‘Indigo Commission’ in 1860 with the goal of putting an end to the repressions of indigo planters in the Bengal region.

In the commission report, E. W. L. Tower noted that “not a chest of Indigo reached England without being stained with human blood.” All of this ultimately culminated in the Indigo Act of 1862, correcting nearly a century of human atrocity by the British Raj on the Bengali people.

Then, one-hundred-and-forty-seven years ago in 1873, eleven years after the ‘Indigo Act’ when the first pair of jeans was patented and introduced to the world by a Bavarian immigrant, the dye he used to colour the material blue, had already transversed a historical journey of five millennia on earth. By the end of the nineteenth century, modern chemistry giants like German Hoechst and BASF started successfully producing synthetic alternates to indigo.

Nowadays, however, there remain a very few producers who dye their jeans within natural indigo, which is of a lighter shade when compared to its synthetic alternates. The natural indigo imported by these jeans manufacturers comes either from Brazil or El Salvador where they still continue to cultivate Indigofera in small quantities even today.

Today when you see someone casually pick up a pair of blue denim, it will make you wonder whether that person is aware of the five-thousand-year-old history of its colour. How a plant, a dye, an Indo-Aryan tribe of people, a cultivation, a trade, and a revolution all culminated in creating the only colour named after a country, which we take for granted today.

For a period of time, after the invention of Indigo by Akhi and the Bengali tribe, while they cultivated the Indigofera Tinctoria plant, manufactured and traded the dye, they came to be known as ‘The Blue Indians,’ a name faded from the chronicles of history, lost in time.

Amongst the many things that the Bengali’s did to etch their name on the annals of human achievement, being known as ‘The Blue Indians,’ inventors of Indigo, a colour that would go on to reshape the course of human history, is perhaps the least know identity, by which they are known today.

The Blue Indian


Copyright © 2020 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA

This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at trishikh@gmail.com or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.

43 Comments Add yours

  1. Arpita Banerjee says:

    Last I read about indigo farming and about the miseries they had to face during their times was in our history book in school. It’s been years since then and today I read this beautiful piece reminiscing the past in such an amazing way. This is So informative!! Hats off to you!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      It’s my pleasure Arpita to have been able to bring back this piece to history. I too had read about it in school, and now while writing the story I got a good chance to do a lot of research and come to know so much more about the ‘Indigo Revolt.’

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Shipra Dasgupta says:

    Very informative article indeed. Enjoyed reading. So much to add to our knowledge, excellent. God bless you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Glad that you liked it. Happy to have been able to originate something that you liked to read at the break of the day.

      Like

  3. PB ji says:

    “Today we shall stand against our oppressors, who beat and loot us, crippling us for generations with their ruthless exploitation,” Is also quite true of today, only names and situations have changed.
    Rev James Long founded The Church of the Epiphany, Thakurpukur and is known to have sided with the locals in their fight.
    Thank u Trishikh I shall now wear my blue jeans with great Bengali pride !
    Thank u Trishikh

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Dear PB you rightly say, opression is still very much present in the society even today. I really admire Revd. James Long, his life is no less than a fictional novel itself. Maybe someday I will be fortunate to write about him in more details. I shall wear my Jeans with much pride like you too.

      Like

  4. Nikhil Chachra says:

    Interesting read. Enlightened to know the historical significance of Indigo farming.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thanks Nikhil, glad to have been able to bring forward this little piece of history meshed with a bit of fiction for everyone to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tumuns says:

    Too good!
    It just took me back to Mr. Sinha’s bengali class… and yes, Neel Dorpon is quite a nostalgic string you pulled this time. As usual I am amazed… Just to add to this… there is a place in Japan where the authentic natural blue making process is still n practice… I felt happy to see how close we are to this colour on an ethnical ground.
    Lovely work Trishikh…!! Keep it up…!?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Dear Tumun, now that you mention I can recollect, yes Mr. Sinha taught us the Neel Dorpon, I had completely forgotten. I remembered bits and pieces of the story and the basic essence but had completely forgotten our good old Bengali Teacher from school (From St. Joseph’s College, Bowbazar) Mr. Sinha’s contribution in seeding this thought in my brain, which culminated in this short story of mine ‘The Blue Indians’ after so many decades from when I was first introduced to it. Intrigued to know about the Japanese still making this dye, however I am not surprised, since the Japanese are known to hold on to traditions, and is at the top of the list of races that I have come to admire and respect.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Anamika says:

    Excellent! Glad to know about Indigo farming. Keep on writing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thanks Anamika! Always a pleasure to write these stories.

      Like

  7. Bookstooge says:

    Do you have an “about” page? I couldn’t find one. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Well stooge, I have not yet created one as of now. This blog is only 9 story old. Meaning it’s 9 weeks old, given that I write and publish 1 story every weekend. Have been so focussed on writing the stories amidst all the rigmarole of daily life, that had not thought so much on other aspects such as ‘Abhout’ etc. Your question has, however, convinced me to make an About Page, which I shall do soon.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Bookstooge says:

        Thanks. Even that kind of info is just what I was looking for. I couldn’t tell how old your site was.

        I do highly recommend some sort of “about” page, just so newcomers can get a snapshot of what your blog is about and possibly what your goals as a blogger are. It give them another option in deciding if they want to follow you.

        Cheers.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Trishikh says:

        Thanks Stooge, I agree to your advice and will get the page done at the earliest. This blog of mine is dedicated to my passion for writing short stories, one every week. I like writing fiction meshed with the fabrics of History and Geography. Happy to have followed you, treasure your advice greatly.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Trishikh says:

        Hi, I took your advice and now have a ‘About’ page: https://storynookonline.wordpress.com/about/ THANK YOU SO MUCH for the suggestion.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I just look for it, too. To learn more about this author! ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Trishikh says:

        Hi this is my about page: https://storynookonline.com/about/

        I can be contacted here on email.

        Just to let the world know, this blog is something that I do out of my sheer passion for writing short stories, which I publish 1 every weekend free for the world to read here. I have not published these stories into a book. When I finish writing 50 such stories, I might try to publish a book. That is yet to be explored. I am an NGO communication person with more than 20 years of experience. That’s my bread earning profession. Right now I am the Senior Manager Communication of a large eye hospital in a remote corner of India in the state of Bihar, which does around 75,000 cataract surgeries every year, 80% of which is done free for the poor.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You have so many posts about guns and rifles, that is why I want to find out if you are in the police or arm forces 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Trishikh says:

        No I am not connected to the armed forces, I just have an interest in these things.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. 😂😂😂👏👏👏

        Like

  8. Mallika Sen says:

    Hi good morning. I read the Blue Indians. Superb write with so much detailed information about the history of Indigo plantation. I have read in history during our course, but never known about the detail study. The unforgettable Akhi and his invention that led to the future revolt in Bengal. Though the history was almost forgotten by today’s generation… I regard it was one of the greatest achievement in the process of dying and colouring. Today people opt for a denim blue jeans and are crazy about this shade, but everyone must know the history behind the invention of this shade of Blue. Your writings are mesmerizing and 100% worth reading.

    Moreover, I want to compliment… I find you are the incarnation of Sir Michael Madhusudan Dutta. Your appearance, your writings, the words chosen and sequenced in your writings all absolutely perfect. I strongly believe you will go a long way in the near future. God bless you with immense strength, good health, loads of happiness with your family and obviously your spouse as driving force in all you do. I highly appreciate all your stories and the following ones to come. Keep going , Good luck!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      I am so happy that you loved my story. Yes the story about the blue dye ‘Indigo’ is really something that we have forgotten. Though a part of my story is fictional, most of it is actually true. I leave it to my readers to find out what’s fact and what’s fiction. However parts of the fiction are based on solid research, that however, cannot be proved though.

      You flatter me too much when you compare me to the world famous bard Michael Madhusudan Dutta, I am no way close to what he was, however I try to follow the footsteps of my heroes. I am just happy when someone reads my writing and smiles…

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Laleh Chini says:

    Great read dear. Thanks for following my blog, appreciate it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thanks Laleh! I loved your writing too and look forward to reading so much content that you already have. I also look forward to future interactions, and share and come to know more about each other’s part of the world through our stories.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Laleh Chini says:

        Appreciate your kind words my dear friend, for sure.🙏🌺

        Liked by 2 people

  10. oh wow this is really a interesting read. I read about this plant-Indigofera Tinctoria in my botony classes in 12th. I never knew the story behind it. I admire how you have written it so suttle-not quite a story nor history. A perfect blend of both.
    Thankyou for taking time to write this… Your insight on his was amazing. Good day:)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much, your comment gave me great confidence on this story of mine. I was thinking did I do a good job with it, did I pour in too much of history, did I use too little of a story. Now your comment has given me a big relief. So glad that you liked it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The pleasure is all mine and it was worth the read. Hahaah I understand. You did a great job. Glad that you are relieved. Good day:)

        Liked by 2 people

  11. I have heard of this story. It is taught in college advance history, but it is nice to read it again. .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      So glad that I was able to refresh a lesson from your college days. Thank you so much for your constant appreciation. Your words encourage me to keep on writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it was a refresher. I didn’t think I remember it but I couldn’t forget the incident of the man being turned blue from the plant used in creating the dye. Later it because the most highly prized fabric dying process in the world and still is.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Trishikh says:

        The man turning blue is fiction, a product of my imagination.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. You are kidding! What a coincident! The story is taught in America that the creator of this indigo blue dye became distressed when he wasn’t able to get the dye off of himself. It didn’t say if it was all over or just his hands and arms. I assumed it was all over or more than usual by he was distressed. He worked a dye vat so I’m sure he was used to getting dye on himself. Either way, he gave the world a beautiful gift.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. Trishikh says:

        Wow this is an amazing coincidence, I never thought that something that I imagined could actually be a reality. Thank you so much for sharing this information with me. It gives me a lot to think about and do more research on.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. The discovery is inspiring. I encounters it all the time in my writings. I write something thinking it’s fictional and then later learn it was true. Sometimes people ask me how did I know that? I didn’t. I thought I made it up. LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      It is my honour Ned. You can reblog any of my stories.

      Like

  12. Interesting! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you! Glad that you like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. History with detail narrative. You should someday visit the sites firsthand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Yes I have been to these place. Would always love to visit them again.

      Like

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