Alexander Cunningham, India's first professional archaeologist, became the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1871. This volume contains a collection of 193 letters he wrote between 1871 and 1888 to his Archaeological Assistant, J. D. M. Beglar. The letters, published here for the first time, edited and with an introduction by Upinder Singh, offer exciting, new insights into Cunningham's life and career, telling the story of the birth of Indian archaeology and some of its greatest discoveries in real time, in Cunningham's own words.
The letters provide a unique perspective on the construction of Indian history in the nineteenth century. They reveal the evolution of Cunningham's ideas and methods, his interventions in debates on conservation and restoration, and his interactions with textual scholars in India and Europe. They throw light on the place of archaeology in the politics of colonial India, the role of the princely states, and the growing rivalry between Indians and Europeans over the right to interpret India's past. They also show the friendship between Cunningham and Beglar, based on a shared passion for archaeology. In doing all this, these letters bring alive the history of Indian archaeology in its crucial, formative phase.