08 August 2014: Culture of Indigo – that curious dye

Service to humanity is one of the strengths of the colour indigo. It symbolises a mystical borderland of wisdom, self-masteryt, and spiritual realisation.

IndigoThis year, George Town Festival takes inspiration from Indigo – “the blue that binds” – to present a month-long showcase of artworks, textiles, ceramics and objects from across the world, linked by the colour blue. This month also sees the release of a book celebrating the Indigo, a plant which holds pride of place in the historical-social-cultural fabric of India. The indigo revolt in 1859, for example, was a forerunner of the non-violent passive resistance later successfully adopted by Gandhi. In recognition of the indigo plant, an international seminar was held in 2007 appropriately titled Culture of Indigo – Exploring the Asian Panorama: Plant, Process, Product, Power. A somewhat unwieldy name but one that does justice to the important role played by indigo throughout India’s history. The seminar was designed to explore the varieties of the indigo plant and there are some 700 species of it. Leaving little ground uncovered, the participants explored topics running the ‘indigo gamut’ from botany to cross-border production, procurement, trade, cross-cultures, extraction and politics to literature. A total of 28 papers were presented and they are all captured here.indigo-2

The book takes the reader on a time-line tour, with details of the plant’s cultivation and production process, often against the backdrop of religion, politics, trade, art and society with a focus on India, and also in Tibet, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. It spotlights indigo’s commercial use and its impact on fine arts, architecture, trade, heritage and fashion as well as an in-depth analysis of its resurgence in the wake of environmental concerns.

With contributions from the globally-renowned scholars and art connoisseurs, the inherent politics and pleasures associated with indigo come alive. Vivid illustrations, insightful analysis and extensively-researched text hold promise for readers who cannot resist the checkered lineage of Indigo as a plant, a product and a phenomenon. The information within its pages are fascinating and insightful to say the least and will doubtless be useful to students, academicians, historians or even the merely curious. Indigo – Exploring the Asian Panorama: Plant, Process, Product, Power is now available at Areca Books.