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Influence of British Colonialism on Indian Culture in the 19th Century

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The British colonialism in India lasted for about 190 years, beginning in 1757 and ended with India’s independence in 1947. With their regional control for over 200 years, it paved a way for modernization of the country thereby significantly influencing the art, culture and architecture. This paper intends to highlight the emergence of Anglo-Indian culture through the influence of the British while concentrating on an object, image and sound.

If one were to be asked about the biggest things left behind by the British, the Indian railways would come to mind. Public and Government buildings were often rendered on an intentionally grand scale, reflecting and promoting a notion of an incontestable and invincible British Empire. One of the busiest railway stations in India is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus. It is designed in Victorian Italianate Gothic style and adapted to suit Indian context. The skyline, turrets, arches and eccentric ground plans resemble the traditional architecture of Indian palaces. The columns of the entrance gates are crowned by figures of a lion (representing Great Britain) and a tiger (representing India). It is observed that the British consciously imbibed certain Indian themes into the architecture to make it more acceptable to the people.

While the intention of the railways was to make profits and transport their soldier troops throughout the country and stop any protests; the Indians used the railways for fast travel between one end of the country to the other thereby cementing relationships between the various provinces and binding the country together. Tea Advertisements in the 1920 -1940’s Tea is India’s most beloved beverage, so much as to have been named the ‘national drink’ of India.

The British East India company in 1820’s began a producing tea in Assam on a large scale for exporting to Europe and the US. However, around the turn of the century, international tea prices dropped, and growers were left with an unsold surplus of over 100 million pounds. The British therefore looked within India to expand their market, wanting Indians to get hooked on to ‘Chai’. They were met by strong opposition by freedom fighters like Gandhi who called it an intoxicating poison.

To change the image, hundreds of ‘Tea Propagandists’ were sent in motorized ‘Tea Vans’, which were equipped to dispense thousands of free cups of tea . These vehicles also displayed colorful, vernacular signage produced by leading commercial artists which depict Indians enjoying British tea in Chinese tea cups. In these graphically eye-catching images we see that women are shown making and enjoying tea, wearing colorful clothes, some of which were even westernized, like the Indian traditional sari draped over a western blouse. We can see that they have used the Indian mentality to view the British as ‘elite’ and insert an image into their minds that they too can be a part of this elite culture by participating in the tea drinking. Chai is now very commonly associated as an Indian Beverage, incorporating the traditional English Tea with a mix of Indian spices.

SoundBritish musicians and bands have also left a firm imprint on India’s most conservative form of music, the Carnatic music. Muthuswami Dikshitar and Thyagaraja, two of the foremost respected composers of Carnatic music, were certainly attracted by the unusual tunes from the British. After listening to a British orchestra, Dikshitar was so influenced that he created 39 compositions with Sankrit lyrics in western C major scale which correspond to the Shankarabharana raaga scale in Carnatic Music. This set was called the Nottuswaras, derived from note – swaras.

These compositions are simple, devoid of the traditional melodies and ornamentations (gamakas) which are a staple of the Carnatic melodies. His brother Baluswami Dikshitar was the first known Violinist to instill violin into Carnatic music. It is believed that Muthuswami kept the notes simple to help his brother expertise the plain notes on the Violin.The most famous among these is ‘Santatam Pahimam Sangeeta Shyamale’ which is set to the same tune as ‘God Save The Queen’. An observation of the composition uncovers the contrast between the light-hearted tunes and the traditional devotional lyrics. Also, in contrast to the God Save the Queen, the lyrics of the song translates to “Goddess please protect me”.


India as a country has always tried to protect and preserve its culture. But as Rabindranath Tagore once said, “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” Art is about being open to external influences, getting inspiration from the environment, marrying them with your own style and creating a style which is congruous and a harmonious whole. Even though the British rule was a passing in the history of Modern India, like the clouds in the sunset sky, it has become a part of the painting of the Indian culture.

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Influence Of British Colonialism On Indian Culture In The 19Th Century. (2020, January 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from
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