Location of Identity: A Transcultural European’s Indian Tomb

Conference Abstract: 2016 Annual International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians

In 1741CE Eustachius de Lannoy, a Flemish-born, Roman Catholic sergeant of Dutch East India Company (VOC) was taken prisoner by Maharaja of Travancore, after the Dutch defeat at Battle of Colachel in south India. De Lannoy subsequently joined Travancore’s army and rose through ranks to become its commander. A man valued greatly by Travancore royals as well as locals, he was fondly called Valiya Kappithan (Great Captain). When he died in 1777CE, he was buried, as per his wishes, within the walls of the church built for him by the maharaja. Yet, in his lifetime, the Christian commander was not allowed into the court of the Hindu king, their relationship built upon religious boundaries prevalent in eighteenth century south India. De Lannoy’s tomb was also never listed as a Dutch tomb, perhaps due to its location outside Dutch-occupied India, or his status as a VOC defector.

The tomb of de Lannoy remains today, at Udayagiri fort in Tamil Nadu, his residence for over thirty-five years. What was the identity of this ‘European-Indian’? How does the tomb re-contextualize his identity as a transcultural being? My paper addresses these questions to locate ambivalent transcultural identities of early modern European “others” in the Indian subcontinent. In doing so, I argue that transcultural identities, as constantly negotiated entities, were crystallized and captured momentarily in works of architecture, such as de Lannoy’s tomb. For this purpose, I analyze the ledger stone of his tomb, including visual and textual material, along with the remains of his church. Finally, this paper will tackle the idea of mutability of early modern identities. I posit that while the eighteenth century European Other could not “go native”, it was possible to negotiate an identity that was both transcultural and local, perhaps resembling diasporic identities we are familiar with today.