Indigo Plantation

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Before the Portuguese, who were the first Europeans in India, traded with India there was extensive trading for centuries by the Arabs between the west coast of India and southern Europe. The Indigo plant or dye was one of the items of trade.

These dyes - brilliant purple and reds - were very expensive and only the Roman Emperors and the very wealthy could afford them hence the term "the royal purple". The range from deep red to purple to deep blue can be obtained by adjusting the pH (acidity - alkanility) of the solution. It was the Portuguese who gave the dye or plant the name "Indigo" meaning "from the indies". The Arabs called the dye "a-nil" meaning "the blue" - they just used the adjective and left out the noun. "Nil" is blue in Sanskrit as in the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India which translated means the "Blue Hills" as they look blue from the plains due to the combination of mist and heavy rain forest.

In the late 1800's the Germans - and later the British - synthesized these indigo dyes chemically and used the original arab or Sanskrit name in calling them "anilin dyes" which is the term used in chemistry books. Unfortunately the chemical synthesis of these dyes by the Europeans effectively destroyed the indigo industry in India. During World War II in India we couldn't get the synthetic dyes or fabric from England; instead we used Indian fabrics dyed with the Indian indigo dyes.

FIBIS Resources

  • Index of Indigo Planters in Bihar taken from History of Behar Indigo Factories; Reminiscences of Bihar; Tirhoot and its inhabitants of the past. History of Behar Light Horse Volunteers by Minden Wilson 1908. (Fibis Database) For online copy of text see External links below.
  • FibisPodcast 'The lure of Indigo - and how the Hills family of East Bengal won three VCs' FIBIS podcast by Miles McNair.
  • "Adam Maxwell of Cawnpore-Indigo and Intrigue" by Judith Vandenburgh Green FIBIS Journal Number 25 (Spring 2011), pages 25-33
  • Review by Peter Bailey of the book Indigo and Opium: Two Remarkable Families and Fortunes Won and Lost by Miles Macnair (2013). The review is in FIBIS Journal Number 32 (Autumn 2014), pages 50-51. For details of how to access the review, see FIBIS Journals.

Also see

External links

Historical books online



  1. Murphy, Sylvia. Mokarrarie Rootsweb India Mailing List 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2018.