THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

6 posts from April 2017

28 April 2017

A 17th century copy of Saʻdi’s collected works (IO Islamic 843)

The Persian writer and poet Musliḥ al-Dīn Saʻdī of Shiraz (ca.1210-1291 or 1292) is without doubt one of the best-known and most skillful writers of classical Persian literature. With an established reputation even during his lifetime, his works have been select reading for royal princes and ʻset textsʼ for more humble students of Persian the world over. It is hardly surprising then that a corresponding number of deluxe copies survive of his works. A previous post (What were the Mughals' favourite books?) described some copies of his best known works, the Būstān (ʻFragrant Gardenʼ or ʻOrchardʼ) and the Gulistān (ʻRose Gardenʼ), in the Library's collection. Another sumptuous manuscript, which has also been digitised, is an early 17th century copy of his Kullīyāt (ʻCollected Worksʼ)IO Islamic 843 which was completed in 1034 (1624/25) by Maḥmūd, a scribe of Shiraz (al-kātib al-Shīrāzī), during the reign of Shah ʻAbbas (r. 1588-1629).

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The frontispiece portraying Shah ʻAbbas in a garden surrounded by courtiers and musicians, and accompanied by Turkish, Indian and European ambassadors (BL IO Islamic 843, ff 1v-2r)  noc

Very little is known about the poet’s life. Born in Shiraz, Saʻdī left his hometown to study in Baghdad. After a period of study at the Nizamiyah Madrasah, Baghdad, he set off on travels that lasted over thirty years. His experiences and adventures found their way into his writings, including being a prisoner of the Crusaders in Syria, visiting Kashgar, and killing a temple priest at Somnath in India. Many of these tales, however, have been proved to be anecdotal rather than biographical. Saʻdī returned to Shiraz in 1257, already a widely recognized poet and completed his two most famous works: the Būstān in 1257 and the Gulistān in 1258. These two works of poetry and prose respectively, contain anecdotes from the life of the author, moral teachings, and advices for rulers. Many stories communicate elements of Sufi teachings through their dervish protagonists. Other works reflect the changing political situation in Shiraz. Several of his poems are dedicated to the Salghurid dynasty, which ruled in Fars from 1148 to 1282, while later works are addressed to their successors the Mongols and their administrators.

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The heavenly journey (Miʻraj) of the Prophet mounted on Buraq approaching Leo and led by Gabriel with a green banner and Israfil with the seven-fold trumpet. From the beginning of the Būstān (BL IO Islamic 834, f. 94r  noc

This collection of Saʻdī’s work consists of 16 works that include, among others, the Gulistān and Būstān, Arabic and Persian Qaṣīdas (odes), Ghazals (love poems), Rubāʻīyāt (quatrains), and Khabīsāt (ʻnaughtyʼ poems). It has sumptuously illuminated openings and contains 18 paintings, including two double-paged illustrations (ff.1v-2r and 413v-414r). For details see Basil Robinson's catalogue description available here.

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Illustration from the Gulistān. Here the King, possibly representing Shah ʻAbbas, is travelling with a slave who, never having been in a boat before, complained of seasickness. Following advice on how to keep him quiet, the king has him thrown overboard and ʻrescuedʼ, the moral being that safety can only be truly appreciated by one who has experienced disaster. The ship is based on a European model of the period, with three masts and cannon at the port-holes (BL IO Islamic 834, f. 42v noc

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Illustration from the Khabīsāt (ʻnaughtyʼ poems) depicting a group of dervishes under a tree, one leading a handsome youth by the hand. The Khabīsāt (ff.391r-399r in this manuscript) is often omitted from printed editions of Saʻdī's collected works on account of its risqué nature (BL IO Islamic 834, f. 392r  noc

The illustrations are good examples of paintings of their time, but the illumination is of a much higher standard. Eight works have lavishly decorated openings: ff. 2v-3r, 34v-35r, 92v-93r, 175v-176r, 183v-184r, 223v-224r, 372v-373r, and 405v-406r. These consist of a central headpiece (sarlawḥ) and heading (ʻunvān) encased in ruled and decorated borders and a band containing foliate scrolling or alternating cartouches and quatrefoils. The outer margins are based on a pattern of diamond shaped lozenges or flower heads in red, black, brown and gold on a dark blue or gold ground with arabesque scrolls with pale blue, red and pink flowers. A variant contains flower heads which alternate with human and/or animal faces (ff.35-6, 175-6 and 372-3).

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The beginning of the Gulistān, copied by Maḥmūd of Shiraz (BL IO Islamic 843, ff. 34v-35r noc

2v
405v 34v  
175v
Details of illuminated openings. The faint grid marks are from gauzing which, regrettably, was regular conservation practice in the early-20th century (BL IO Islamic 843)   noc

This manuscript was purchased in 1807 from the East India Company civil servant Richard Johnson (1753–1807). His collection formed the backbone of the newly established East India Company Library, consisting of 716 manuscripts, mostly Persian and Arabic, and 64 albums of paintings. Johnson left India in 1790 
and did most of his collecting at Lucknow between 1780 and 1782 and at 
Hyderabad between 1784 and 1875. This particular manuscript was no doubt purchased there having been taken to India at some point in the 17th century.


Further reading
W. M. Thackston (tr.), The Gulistan (Rose garden) of Sa'di: Bilingual English and Persian edition with vocabulary. Bethesda: Ibex, 2008.
G. M. Wickens (tr.). Morals Pointed and Tales Adorned: The Būstān of Saʻdī. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974.
B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings in the India Office Library: A Descriptive Catalogue. London: Sotheby, 1976.

Wojciech Tworek and Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

24 April 2017

Raising Kurdish Armenia: Kurdish Children’s Books from Soviet Armenia

Among the stateless peoples of the world, the Kurds are perhaps the most numerous. Although they are believed to have originated in central and western Iran, their current areas of concentration are largely located in one of four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Smaller communities exist elsewhere, including the small Caucasian state of Armenia. Here, Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority – 1.3% of the total population. They are largely speakers of a northern dialect of Kurmanji, the Kurdish language that dominates communities in Turkey, north-western Iraq and Syria. In contrast to the assimilationist policies of many of the other states under which Kurds find themselves, Soviet nationalities policy recognized the existence of a separate Kurdish nation and, at least in theory, supported its cultural and social development. While Kurds in Turkey or Iraq were barred from giving their children Kurdish names, celebrating Nowruz or, at the most extreme, using the letters X or W (which do not figure into Turkish phonology, but do appear in Kurdish), Soviet Armenia’s Kurds had access to state-funded mother-tongue education.

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The cover of Şêrê Çevqul, or Greedy Lion, a collection of children’s poems in Kurmanji (YP.2017.a.773) © Hamoê Rizgo

Nevertheless, Kurds faced the same ups and downs of nationality policies that affected many of the other national minorities in the USSR. Among these were the codification, and re-codification, of the Kurdish language throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In the early 1920s, Armenian letters were first used for Kurdish, although this was abandoned in favour of the Latin alphabet in 1927. Among the Kurdish titles from Armenia held by the British Library, Қteba Zmane Kyrmançi, a reader for native Kurdish-speaking 4th year students from 1933 (14997.b.20), shows us the second stage of this journey. The work is written in a modified Latin script similar to those employed for Turkic languages within the Soviet Union during the same period. The idea was to create a uniform representative of the phonemics – the underlying sounds – of each of the languages to which it was applied. There is therefore no attempt at harmonizing this Latin-script Kurmanji with similar dialects further south in Turkey or Syria. This is understandable, given that the goal of Soviet linguists and central planners was not linguistic unification, but rather socio-economic unification leading to the creation of one, unitary Soviet nation.
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Title page of Evdal’s 1933 edition of the Kurdish reader Қҭeba Zmane Kyrmançi in Latin script and Oktjabr, a Socialist-themed poem  (14997.b.20) © Emînê Evdal
 
This is even more evident when we look at the content of the readers, rather than their form. Although the reader dates from the first five years of Stalin’s reign, it already shows the hallmarks of the “National in form, Socialist in content” ethos of Stalinist nationalities management. Poems about October (an allusion to the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power) mingle with illustrated folk tales and traditional stories. Children are entertained with pictures of warriors, bandits and princes in traditional Kurdish garb while also reminded that “Oktjabr – şabuna proletara” (October is the rebirth of the proletariat), and that “Bǝjraqed sor bьlьnd dьkьn zor” (Many will raise red flags). The 1933 reader is clear proof that the codification and standardization of a language – albeit within the confines of the Soviet state – could be used to serve a cause other than nationalism.

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Chariot Image – An excerpt from the 1933, Latin edition of Şerê Davit in Evdal's reader (14997.b.20) and the Cyrillic version of the same poem from the 1957 edition (14997.b.27) © Emînê Evdal

The author of this particular reader, Eminê Evdal, evidently survived the ravages of the Great Purge and the Second World War, and continued writing in Kurdish – this time in the Cyrillic alphabet – in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The Library holds a number of his poetry collections, including Memê û Zinê (14997.f.63), the name of one of the stories in the 1933 reader, and P’êrişan (14997.f.51), as well as other readers for the fourth year of classes at Kurdish schools in Soviet Armenia. In the 1957 edition (14997.b.27) the poem Oktjabr is no longer present. In its stead is Lenin, written by C. Genco. It is a panegyric to the father of the Soviet Union, complete with sketched portrait. Evdal’s poem Şerê Davit did survive the decades, and thanks to the copy held by the British Library, we can compare the 1933 and 1957 versions, picking out the orthographic, syntactic and semantic deletions and additions, while also marveling at the sheer visual differences between the Latin and Cyrillic renderings of Kurmanji.

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Kurdish and Armenian titlepages of  Jndi’s H’k’yatêd Jimaeta Kurdiê/H’k’yatêd Jimaeta Kurdiê (YP.2017.a.666) © Hajie Jndi

During the 1960s, the task of compiling readers for a new generation of Kurdish-language students fell to Hajie Jndi, one of Soviet Armenia’s most prolific Kurdish authors. His H’k’yated Jimaeta K’urdî (YP.2016.a.666) contains a wealth of Kurdish folktales, short stories, poems and the like, all rendered in proper Cyrillic Kurdish. They are sanitized of any suspect ideological components, and occasionally illustrated to bring home a particular point. These collections, by a man who is believed to have authored some 110 books, articles, studies and other written works, demonstrate the central role played by Kurdish folk culture in identity-formation processes for Kurdish communities, even in the nominally post-national Soviet Union.

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The cover page of Gezgezk (Thistle), decorated with personalized animals and the poem Heft Rreng (Seven Colours) (YP.2017.a.770) © Şerefê Eşir

Part of the process of countering overly nationalistic content was the heavy reliance on ideological and class-conscious elements within the compositions. Other items held by the Library show the extent to which Marxist-Leninist ideas were woven into children’s stories and poems. In the anthology entitled Gezgezk (Nettle) (YP.2017.a.770), personified animals on the cover clue us into the allegorical nature of these poems and stories. We see a monkey and a bear dragging off a wolf – an animal that Soviet children would soon become acquainted with as an underhanded cheater, thanks to the cartoon Nu, Pogodi!, which first aired in 1969. Gezgezk contains simple poems that introduce children to meter, rhyme, prosody and an expanded vocabulary of the Kurdish language, while also indoctrinating them with State-sponsored ideology. Animals and villagers were indeed favourite means of doing this, as we can see in another anthology of children’s poetry held by the Library, Şêrê Çevqul (The Greedy Lion) (YP.2017.a.773). This collection includes works such as Ker û Ga (Ass and Cow), and Padşa û Gundi (King and Village), both of which harken to the rural imagination generally contained in Kurdish folktales and other oral literature, while also hammering home core components of the Socialist struggle.

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Ker u Ga, an allegorical story about an ass and a cow and Padsha u Gondi, a Socialist-tinged tale about a King and a village (YP.2017.a.773) © Hamoê Ȓizgo

Kurdish children’s literature from Soviet Armenia provides us with a valuable component to understanding a culture fractured along linguistic, political, social and economic lines. Although numerically small, the publishing history of Armenia’s Kurds highlights the importance of education as an agent of reproduction of both national culture and language, and State-sponsored ideologies. While the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran faced severe restrictions on the use and propagation of their native language, those living in the Soviet Union were able to transform fully their mother tongue into a literary standard. In spite of this, the Socialist, anti-nationalist content of the materials produced kept the core of the struggle for cultural and political self-determination far to the south of Armenia, paving the way for these publications to become relics of a parochial, historically bounded arena of Kurdish cultural production.

 Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator, Asian and African Collections
 CC-BY-SA

19 April 2017

Calcutta to Bihar: an artist's journey

As part of the Visual Arts collections at the British Library, we hold an extensive collection of drawings, sketches and watercolours by amateur British and European artists who travelled through the Indian subcontinent. In 2015, we acquired a wonderful little sketchbook, measuring a mere 80 x 204 mm, by an unknown artist who documented his/her journey from Calcutta to Bihar in the winter of 1849. Unfortunately, none of the sketches are signed or offer any details regarding the artist’s identity. The sketchbook contains 12 double-sided pages, each filled with sketches in either pen-and-ink or done in watercolours. The subjects include topographical views, portraits studies of locals, as well as documentation of crafts and transportation methods. Each illustration is annotated by the artist providing details of the subjects and documenting the shades of colour – such as ‘very white’ or ‘yellowish’. It is most likely that this incomplete series of sketches were preparatory studies that could be worked up at a later stage.

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View of Government House, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library WD 4593, f. 7  noc

The illustrations in the album include studies of relatively well known buildings such as Government House and Fort William in Calcutta to lesser known spots along the Ganges and Hoogly Rivers. The artist’s impressions demonstrate a quick study and artistic impressions rather than providing an accurate visual record. One of the first views in the series is that of Government House (Raj Bhavan) that was designed by Captain Charles Wyatt and constructed from 1799-1802. The artist prepared the study from a position on Esplanade Row facing north. This neo-classical building, inspired by Robert Adam’s Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, was the official residence of the Governor-Generals and the Viceroys until 1911. Along the parapet of the central building, the artist sketched the East India Company’s coat of arms featuring lions. It is most curious that the artist featured the coat of arms on the south front of the building as they in fact are positioned along the parapet of the north face and main entrance to the building. A drawing by Lady Sarah Amherst, dated to 1824, shows the correct position.

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View of Fort William, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD 4593, f. 9  noc

On another folio, the artist illustrated a distant view of Fort William. Designed by Captain John Brohier and built during the 1750s and 1760s, the octagonal fortification was built close to the banks of the Hoogly River, just south-west of Government House. On the left, the artist wrote ‘white dark pinnacle’ and ‘church’ which is likely to be a reference to St Peter’s Church that was built in 1826.

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'Hindoo Temples of Tin & Coloured Paper, Coolies, and Ganges Pilots', anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f.14  noc

Aside from architectural and topographical views, the artist also documented local inhabitants and customs. On folio 14, he wrote ‘Hindoo Temples of Tin and Coloured Paper’ and provided pen-and-ink sketches of what he assumed to be local and religious crafts. He meticulously documented the colour scheme of these objects. However, in finding comparative material in contemporary drawings and later photographs, it appears that the artist may have documented painted structures called ta'ziya, instead of ‘Hindoo temples’ that were created for the Muslim festival of Muharram. Examples of ta’ziya used in processions were recorded in paintings and photographs by local as well as British artists during the 18th and 19th centuries.

 
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‘Native boats’, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f. 25.  noc

The album contains several charming river scenes that document forms of river transportation, from small row boats to a steamer. From the sequence of illustrations and the inscriptions provided, it is possible to document the artist’s journey along the Hoogly and then the Ganges rivers from Calcutta to Bihar by way of the Rajmahal Hills, Monghyr, Patna, Dinapur and Ghazipur.

 

Further reading:

Archer, M. British Drawings in the India Office Library, Volume 1: Amateur Artists, London, 1969

Losty, J.P.,  'Charles D'Oyly's voyage to Patna', Asian and African Studies Blog, September 2014

Losty, J.P., ‘A Career in Art: Sir Charles D’Oyly’, in Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, ed. P. Rohatgi and P. Godrej, Bombay, 1995, pp. 81-106

Rohatgi, P., and P. Godrej, Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, Bombay, 1995

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator  ccownwork

 

12 April 2017

Campaign medals from the India Office collections

As part of our holdings at the British Library, the India Office collection of medals can now be found on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue.  The extensive collection includes more than 500 medals, which range from campaign medals, orders of knighthood, as well as  decorations. This blog features a few of the eighteenth century medals issued to Indian officers.

The earliest campaign medal issued and in the collection is the Deccan Medal 1778-84. The Deccan medal, issued in either gold or silver, was issued by the East India Company to Indian officers who fought in Gujarat for the 1st Maratha War of 1778-82 and in the Carnatic during the 2nd Mysore War of 1780-84. The Deccan Medal, here in silver, features on the obverse a figure of Britannia seated on a military trophy, holding a laurel wreath in her right hand out towards a fort where the British flag is flying. A Persian inscription that reads: Presented by the Calcutta Government in memory of good service and intrepid valour, AD 1784, AH 1199 is in the centre on the reverse. Around the circumference of the medal on this side is written: ‘Like this coin may it endure in the world, and the exertions of those lion-hearted Englishmen of great name, victorious from Hindostan to the Deccan, become exalted.’

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The Deccan Medal, silver circular medal, 1.6". British Library, Foster 4000  noc 

During the 3rd Mysore War of 1790-92, the Mysore campaign medal was issued in either gold or silver, by the East India Company to Indian troops who fought against Tipu Sultan. The Mysore Medal, here in silver, features on the obverse a sepoy with his foot resting on a dismounted cannon with a fortified town in the background. Inscribed on the reverse is For Services in Mysore AD 1791-1792 in four lines within a wreath, with a Persian inscription outside the wreath that reads: ‘A memorial of devoted services to the English Government at the war of Mysore. Christian Era, 1791-1792, equivalent to the Mahomedan Era, 1205-1206’.  

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Medal issued during the Campaign in Mysore, 1790-92, silver circular medal, 1.5". British Library, Foster 4001 noc

During the 4th Mysore War of 1799, both British and Indian officers who fought at Seringapatam, were presented with the Seringapatam medal. This was issued in silver-gilt, silver, bronze or pewter. The Library's collection holds 84 Seringapatam campaign medals (Foster 4005-4089). On the obverse is a representation of the storming of the beach at Seringapatam with the meridian sun signifying the time of the storm. Below this image is a Persian inscription that reads: 'The Fort at Seringapatam, the gift of God, the 4th May 1799'. The reverse shows a lion subduing a tiger with a banner overhead that shows the Union badge and an Arabic inscription that reads: 'The Lion of God is the conqueror'.

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Medal (obverse and reverse) issued in Seringapatam, 1799, Silver-gilt circular medal, 1.9". British Library, Foster 4005  noc

India Office medals can be viewed by appointment only in the Print Room, Asian and African Studies Reading Room. For further details and appointment requests, please send an email to apac-prints@bl.uk.

 

Further reading:

E.C. Joslin, The standard of catalogue of British orders, decorations and medals, 2nd edition (London, 1972)

J.H. Mayo, Medals and decorations of the British army and navy, 2 volumes (Westminster, 1897)

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator

 

07 April 2017

Take a feather and a candle: why thorough spring cleaning is so important

Looking through our collection of digitised Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, you may have noticed that amongst all of the biblical scenes and decorative letters, there are scenes of families cleaning their houses. Given the same spatial importance of scenes of lofty figures like Abraham and Moses, these scenes jump out to modern eyes as they seem to show families cleaning their homes together, with the men helping out with the housework too.

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Golden Haggadah. Catalonia, Spain, 2nd quarter of the 14th century. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 27210 f.15r)   noc

These manuscripts are all examples of a type of Hebrew book called a Haggadah. The Haggadah is a service book used in Jewish households during the ritual meal on Passover. Originally included in the text of Jewish prayer books, the Haggadah became an independent unit around the end of the 13th century. The Hebrew manuscript collection at the British Library features many illuminated Haggadot from the late 13th/early 14th century, mainly from Spain. These Haggadot have now been digitised thanks to the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Part of what makes them so charming and historically significant, is that they show contemporary domestic scenes, presumably of the families who commissioned and owned the manuscripts. While obviously they aren’t snapshots of reality, they are depictions of how the families wanted to represent themselves.

If you look more closely at the images, you can see the women sweeping the surfaces, and the man looking into a cupboard and sweeping it clean with a feather, and a young boy holding a small bowl to catch the crumbs. He is also holding a candle, helping him to see into the dark corners. Candles, feathers and bowls are not necessary part of the standard medieval dustpan and brush set; they represent a very specific part of the Jewish customs surrounding Passover. These scenes are faithful representations the Jewish commandment to look for hamets (leaven) on the eve of Passover.

Leaven, or hamets refers to foods which are forbidden on the Jewish holiday of Passover. Based on the Exodus from Egypt when the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise, grains that have been mixed with water and left to start the leavening process are not permitted to be eaten or possessed during the week-long festival. Indeed there is a specific commandment to remove all hamets from one’s home. This work must take place before midday on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan. In 2017, that date falls on Monday the 10th of April.

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Ashkenazi Haggadah. Germany, c.1460. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 14762 f.1v)  noc

Look at the fifteenth-century Ashkenazi Haggadah (Add MS 14762). Right at the beginning, you can see a man sweeping a cupboard clean with a feather and gathering the crumbs into a small bowl. He is richly dressed with lavish robes and money belt, clearly the head of his family and not a servant. The main text on the same page is the blessing that should traditionally be recited before this ritual search for crumbs:

On the eve of the fourteenth [of Nisan] one searches [the house] for leaven by the light of a candle and says the blessing: “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us about removing the leaven.”

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Sister Haggadah. Barcelona, Spain, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century. Similar to the Golden Haggadah, the female members of the family are sweeping the house from floor to ceiling, while the head of the family is sweeping the cupboards and brushing crumbs into a bowl held by a small boy. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Or.2884 f.17r )  noc

What makes these images so interesting is that they don’t only show the action of the cleaning, but also the specific detail within the ritual as describe in Jewish law. The Shulhan Arukh, (one of the most important Jewish legal codes) emphasises that first and foremost it is the house owner’s responsibility to search for the leaven. Even if he asks a member of his household to help, ideally he should say the blessing and he should participate in the search. (SA, Orah hayim, 432). Jewish tradition also specifies the use of the candle, feather, and wooden bowl or spoon. The candle is necessary, because it gives enough light in the evening to look for crumbs in the small cracks and holes of the house (SA, Orah hayim, 433).

Some of the manuscripts also show what to do with all of the hamets crumbs after you have found them.

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Haggadah for Passover with the commentaries of Isaac Abravanel. Altona, Germany, 1740. Full manuscript can be viewed here (British Library Add MS 18724 f.2r )  noc

You have to burn them! Just have a look at the relevant page from this eighteenth- century Haggadah. In the upper part of the page we find the blessing for the searching for the leaven, while underneath an Aramaic statement, which one recites to nullify the leaven which might still be in his possession that hasn’t been found:

All leaven that is in my possession, that I have seen and not seen, that I have beheld and not beheld, that I have removed and not removed, let it be nullified and like the dust of the earth.

In the initial word of Barukh (Blessed), we can see a man searching for the leaven with the help of a feather, a bowl and a candle. In the initial word of Kol (All), we find the same man busy burning in the fireplace what he found. It is thought that the use of the wooden vessel to sweep the crumbs into was practical for this stage, as it could be burnt even if no hamets had been found, allowing this ritual to still be performed.

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The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nation
s. Published in 1733 by Jean Frédéric Bernard with etchings by Bernard Picart. It was reprinted several more times during the 18th century, and translated into 5 languages. This image is from the 1733 London edition (British Library 878.l.2)  noc

This ‘spring clean’ ritual of searching for the hamets drew the attention of non-Jewish artists as well. In one of the great publishing enterprises of the Enlightenment period, The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations, one of the two images devoted to Passover is the depiction of the Searching for Leaven. It is interesting that with all of the different rituals and complexities surrounding Passover, like with the Hebrew manuscripts, this ritual was considered so important to depict. The illustrations were designed by Bernard Picart, who relied heavily on his own observations of the Sefardic Jewish community of Amsterdam.

In the context of the Haggadah, these images may have served as visual aids, instructions for the family on the precise nature of the tradition, a kind of non-textual manual. But they could also have served as a kind of self-representation. Could it have been that a whole family cleaning their house together was so unusual? Or was it just that this particular scene was such a good example of the detail and specificity within Jewish law, and how families ensured that people knew how strictly they were adhering to it?

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Ashkenazi Haggadah, Germany, c.1430-1470. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 14762 f.6r)  noc

After the spring-cleaning, the family is able to sit down to their Passover meal, read their Haggadah, and drink wine. They’ve earned it!

Zsofia Buda and Miriam Lewis, The Hebrew Manuscripts digitisation project, Asian and African Collections
http://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts
 ccownwork

03 April 2017

On display in the Treasures Gallery: Humayun’s meeting with Shah Tahmasp

In conjunction with the British Library’s Learning Team we recently held a very successful study day:  Mughal India: Art and Culture. To coincide with the event we have installed three new ʻMughalʼ manuscripts in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. These are: A Royal copy of Nizami’s ‘Five poems’, dating from Herat, ca.1494 (Or. 6810, f. 3r), A mother rebukes her arrogant son, a copy of Saʻdi’s Būstān dated at Agra, 1629 (Add. 27262, f. 145r) and, the subject of my post today, Humayun received by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp of Iran, from Abu’l-Fazl’s Akbarnāmah, dating from Agra, ca. 1602-3 (Or. 12988, f. 98r). All these manuscripts have been digitised and can be seen by following the hyperlinks.

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The Mughal Emperor Humayun's meeting with Shah Tahmasp of Iran in 1544 by the artist Sanvala, 1602-3. Note what are probably the painter's instructions partially covered in the lower margin (British Library Or. 12988, f. 98r)  noc

The manuscript on display is the first of a three-part imperial set (Losty and Roy, pp. 58-70) of the Akbarnāmah ‘History of Akbar’, an official history written by the court historian Abu’l-Fazl.  This volume describes the reigns of Akbar’s predecessors and his childhood and contains 39 paintings ascribed to major artists of the imperial court. The copyist was the famous  calligrapher Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri[1]. A second volume of the same set is preserved in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Indian Ms 3, see Leach, pp. 232-300). The painting is ascribed to the artist Sanvala and depicts the two monarchs meeting in July 1544. The setting, in a luxuriously furbished tent, includes a backdrop of distant snow-clad mountains, verdant pastures and a medieval city. Quoted above the painting are some typically bombastic verses by the Safavid poet Mirza Qasim Gunabadi [2] (Abu’l-Fazl, p. 81, Thackston's tanslation):

Two Lords of Conjunction meeting at one assembly like the sun and the moon,
Two lights of vision for the eye of fortune,
 two blessed holidays for the month and year,

Two stars with which the firmament is adorned, together in one place like the Farqadain[3],
Two world eyes, rein to rein, bending toward each other like two eyebrows,

One constellation the location for two lucky stars in the firmament, one casket the place for two exalted pearls.

In 1530, the Mughal Emperor Humayun inherited an empire that was far from consolidated and after his decisive defeat by Sher Shah Suri at the battle of Kannauj in 1540 he was forced to retreat. He spent the next three years attempting to regain his position in Sindh during which he met and married Hamida Banu who gave birth to Akbar at Umarcot on 15 Oct 1542. Unsuccessful in Sindh and at the same time thwarted in his attempt to retreat to Kandahar he decided late in 1543 to seek the protection of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–1576), leaving the 15 month old Akbar behind with his relatives.

Humayun’s stay in Safavid Iran is described by Abu’l-Fazl in glowing terms almost as if it were a recommendation for TripAdvisor. Shah Tahmasp couldn't have been more delighted to host Humayun's visit and ordered drums to be beaten in celebration for three days in his capital Qazvin. Incredibly detailed instructions for Humayun's reception were sent to the Governor of Herat which included marmalades of Mashhad apples to be served after sherbet prepared with lemon syrup and chilled with ice and snow. Once the visitors reached Mashhad and were joined by the Shah’s amirs, 1,200 different dishes of food fit for a king were to be served at each meal!

After Noruz at Herat and much successful sightseeing, Humayun caught up with the Royal Camp between Abhar and Sultaniya and met the Shah in July 1544 in a ʻlofty palace, on which painters had long been at work executing marvels of their craftʼ (Abu’l-Fazl, p. 79). Princely celebrations were held daily and gifts exchanged. After several days the royal party moved on to Sultaniya where a hunt was organised. This was followed by two more hunting parties at the end of which Humayun was sent on his return journey accompanied by the Shah's son Prince Murad, 12,000 horsemen and 300 arms bearers from the Shah's own bodyguard.

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Humayun and Shah Tahmasp hunting at Sultaniya. Principle portraits by Narsingh, remainder by Ganga Sen (British Library Or. 12988, f. 103r)  noc

Apart from a brief moment of tension alluded to by Abu’l-Fazl in just two short sentences, it would seem that relations between the two rulers could not have been better. However a quite different impression is given in Tazkirat al-vāqi‘āt ‘Memoir of Events’, by Jawhar Aftabchi, Humayun's personal ewer-bearer, who accompanied Humayun in exile to Iran and during his subsequent struggle to regain the throne. Unlike the Akbarnamah which was an official chronicle of Akbar's reign, Jawhar’s account is a much more detailed record of events and to judge from his own references, he was always close to the Emperor and was therefore present at important conversations.

One of the first things Tahmasp asked Humayun, according to Jawhar, was whether he was willing to wear the tāj (the typical Safavid batonned headdress). He was happy to agree to this but the next day he was ordered to convert to Shiʻa Islam (Thackston, p.122):

Firewood had been gathered for an entertainment for the emperor. The shah sent a message, saying, ʻIf you embrace our religion, we will support you. Otherwise, we wonʼt. We will set fire to all the people of your religion with this kindling and burn you up!ʼ

As a staunch Sunni, Humayun initially refused but eventually agreed under duress, at least temporarily, and continued to enjoy his host’s generous hospitality. However Tahmasp had not apparently given up the idea of killing Humayun. On hearing his planned treachery Tahmasp's sister burst into tears. When he asked her why, she replied (Thackston, p. 126):

‘... you have enemies in all four directions: Ottomans, Uzbeks, Circassians, and Franks. It has been heard that Muhammad Humayun Padishah has a son and brothers. What will be gained by harming him? If you cannot have compassion on him and help to elevate and assist him, give him leave to go wherever he can.’ The shah listened to this. Immediately he cheered up and said, ‘All my amirs have been giving me their foolish advice, but none is better than what you have said.’

Another example of a situation saved by a woman!

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Passage from a copy dated 1610 of Jawhar's Tazkirat showing the passage describing Shah Tahmasp's proposed treachery with a marginal comment by the Safavid prince Sultan Muhammad Mirza (see below). The pencilled annotations are probably by Charles Stewart who published a translation of this manuscript in 1832 (British Library Add. 16711, f. 76r)  noc

An interesting postscript to this story is told us by Charles Stewart who was lent this manuscript (Add. 16711) by his friend William Yule from whose estate it was acquired by the British Museum in 1847. Yule had suggested that he should publish a translation. He writes (Stewart, p. 70):

About the time that Major Yule procured this MS. there was a descendant of the Seffy family residing at Lucknow, who received a small pension from the Nuwab Assuf addowleh, and bore the title of Persian Prince. Major Yule having lent him the MS. he wrote on the margin at this passage [over Tahmasp's contemplated treachery, f.76r], ʻThe author has here been guilty of falsehood, or he must have been deranged, as this circumstance has never been mentioned by any other historian.ʼ

The Safavid prince concerned was Abu'l-Fath Sultan Muhammad Mirza Bahadur Khan Safavi, a son of  Shah Sultan Husayn II, who lived as a pensioner in Lucknow from 1793 or 4 until his death in 1816 or 17.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

Further reading
J.P. Losty, and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012
Linda York Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, vol.1. London, 1995
Abu'l-Fazl, The History of Akbar, vol. 2; edited and translated by Wheeler Thackston. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016
Three Memoirs of Homayun; edited and translated by Wheeler Thackston. Costa Mesa, 2009
Charles Stewart, The Tezkereh al Vakiāt; or, Private Memoirs of the Moghul Emperor Humāyūn. London, 1832

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[1] The manuscript has no colophon but a damaged and over-pasted note by the Emperor Jahangir on f.1r mentions ʻthe musk-like string of pearls of …[cut off]…. Kashmiriʼ, which must surely refer to Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri zarrin-qalam. I thank S. Baburi for his help with this inscription.
[2] Author of a poetical history of Shah Ismaʻil Safavi. For more on him see C. Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol. 2 (London, 1881), pp. 660-1.
[3] The two inseparable stars in Ursa minor.