Rohini Kejriwal on the history of indigo

Indigo is the penultimate colour of the rainbow and it is etymologically tied to India, demonstrating how far its origins go way back as Rohini Kejriwal discovered for Hyperallergic.

While indigo’s etymology identifies it as a “product of India,” it has a long history of being grown and used around the world for over four millennia and was further globalized as major 18th-century indigo plantations were founded by colonial powers in both India and the American South. For this show, [Bhasha] Chakrabarti sourced indigo from various parts of the world — from India to Nigeria to Guatemala — after interacting with farmers, dyers, and traders in cities with ancient traditions of indigo dyeing. She maps these overlapping cartographies of trade, imperialism, and resistance in her work and traces the presence of indigo in conceptions of divinity, agricultural and textile histories, and musical traditions. For example, she layers the lyrics of Blues songs with Bengali protest songs about the “tyranny of blue,” sung by indigo plantation laborers. 

I don’t hear enough about indigo. It’s a beautiful and underrated colour. There are three birds that are indigo in colour (and/or name):

  • Indigobirds
  • Indigo buntings 
  • Blue grosbeaks

Lactarius indigo, aka the indigo milk cap or blue milk mushroom, is a type of fungus with an indigo underbelly. And denim jeans got their blue colour originally from indigo dye. Go read Rohini’s essay and then check out indigo’s Wikipedia page.

Indian etymology related: Daughters, milking cows, and etymological debates

Colour related: The green experience and pink things

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