THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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17 posts categorized "Central Asia"

18 July 2016

The Wise Collection: Acquiring Knowledge on Tibet in the late 1850s

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The drawings in the British Library’s Wise Collection probably form the most comprehensive set of large-scale visual representations of mid-nineteenth century Tibet and the Western Himalayan kingdoms of Ladakh and Zangskar. These drawings were made in the late 1850s – at a time when the mapping of British India was largely complete, but before or around the time when Tibet began to be mapped for the first time by Indian Pundits.

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This map shows the border area between Tibet and today’s Arunachal Pradesh in Northeastern India and Bhutan. The right part of the map is oriented to the south (BL Add.Or.3017, f. 6)
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The acquisition of systematic knowledge of Tibetan landscapes and societies became an ambitious goal for the British Empire in the 19th century. Such knowledge was often dependent on the aid of local informants. As a result the region was occasionally culturally represented and visualized by local people – such as in case of the Wise Collection.

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This map shows the area around Mt. Kailash in Western Tibet. Several lakes are depicted as well as market places and trading centres. The mountains with the white peaks on the upper part of the map represent the Himalaya - the map is oriented to the south (BL Add.Or.3015, f. 4)
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Untitled
Detail from the map above, showing Mt. Kailash and surroundings in great detail with the circumambulation path, monasteries, a lake, streams and a tall prayer flag pole

The story of the collection’s origin is a puzzle that has only become accessible piece by piece. The collection was named after Thomas Alexander Wise (1802-1889), a Scottish polymath and collector who served in the Indian Medical Service in Bengal in the first half of the 19th century. According to a typewritten note dating from the 1960s, the ‘drawings appear to be by a Tibetan artist, probably a lama, who had contact with Europeans and had developed a semi-European style of drawing.’I have recently uncovered one of the most important parts of the whole ‘Wise puzzle’ – the name of the Scotsman who commissioned the drawings. It was William Edmund Hay (1805-1879), former assistant commissioner of Kulu in today’s Northwest India. Charles Horne writes (Horne 1873: 28)

In the year 1857 one of the travelling Llamas [lamas] from Llassa [Lhasa] came to Lahoul, in the Kûlû country on the Himalêh [Himalaya], and hearing of the mutiny [this refers to the Indian rebellion in 1857] was afraid to proceed. Major Hay, who was at that place in political employ, engaged this man to draw and describe for him many very interesting ceremonies in use in Llassa, […].

William Howard Russell – former special correspondent of The Times – visited Simla in July 1858 and mentions in his diary that ‘Major Hay, formerly resident at Kulu, is here on his way home, with a very curious and valuable collection of Thibetan drawings’ (Russell 1860: 136). These statements most probably refer to the drawings that now form the British Library’s Wise Collection. At the current state of research no definitive statement can be made about the circumstances in which Wise acquired the drawings; most probably Hay sold them to him. The name of the lama who made the drawings also remains unknown, but I have started following the traces he left and hope to identify him one day.

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Map showing a part of the Indus Valley in Ladakh (BL Add.Or.3014, f. 4)
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Indus
Detail from the map above with explanatory notes:

36: Remains of a very old fort. There were said to have been 3 sisters; one built a fort, a second erected 108 chortens [stupas], and the third planted the place with trees: there is this place. 37: A hot spring only visible in winter, as in summer when the river has swollen it over flows it.

The collection comprises six large picture maps – drawn on 27 sheets in total – which add up to a panorama of the 1,800 km between Ladakh and Central Tibet. They are accompanied by 28 related drawings illustrating monastic rituals, ceremonies, etc. referring to places shown on the maps. Placed side by side, the maps present a continuous panorama measuring more than fifteen metres long. Places on the maps are consecutively numbered from Lhasa westwards. Taken together there are more than 900 numbered annotations on the drawings. Explanatory notes referring to the numbers on the drawings were written on separate sheets of paper. Full keys exist only for some maps and for most of the accompanying drawings; other drawings are mainly labelled by captions in Tibetan, while on others English captions dominate. Some drawings lack both captions and explanatory texts. Watermarks on the paper together with internal evidence from the explanatory notes and from the drawings themselves support the fact that the drawings were created in the late 1850s.

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The left side of this map shows an illustration of Gyantse in Southern Tibet. On the right side the Yamdroktso Lake and the confluence of Yarlung Tsangpo River and Kyichu River as well as the Chaksam ferry station are depicted. This map is oriented to the north. (BL Add.Or.3016, f. 3)
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Bridge
Detail from the map above, showing amongst others the Yamdroktso Lake, the Yarlung Tsangpo River, several monasteries and mountain passes. The Chaksam ferry is depicted in great detail – showing the iron chain bridge, a horse head ferry and a hide boat

Compared to maps created by Westerners the picture maps in the Wise Collection are not primarily concerned with topographical accuracy, but provide a much wider range of visual information. They transmit valuable ideas about the artist’s perception and representation of the territory they illustrate. The panorama shown on the maps represents the area along the travel routes that were used by several groups of people in mid-19th century Tibet – such as traders, pilgrims and officials. The maps present information about topographical characteristics such as mountains, rivers, lakes, flora, fauna and settlements. Furthermore a large amount of detailed information on infrastructure such as bridges, ferries, travel routes, roads and mountain passes is depicted. Illustrations of monasteries, forts and military garrisons – the three main seats of power in mid-19th century Tibet – are highlighted. Thus the drawings supply information not only about strategic details but also about spheres of influence. The question of what purpose the maps served remains a matter for speculation at present. William Edmund Hay was experienced in surveying and mapmaking – he travelled not only in the areas around Kulu, but also in Ladakh and in the Tibetan borderlands. He was also a collector with varied cultural interests. He never had the chance to travel to Central Tibet himself, but his interest in acquiring knowledge about Tibet were characterised by an encyclopaedic approach: he wanted to gather as wide a range of information on the area as possible.

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This drawing shows different people and a selection of different types of tents – supplemented by English and Tibetan captions (BL Add.Or.3033)
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Illustration of a part of a wedding ceremony: the bride is picked up at her house. The whole ceremony is shown on several plates (BL Add.Or.3037)
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What makes the Wise Collection so fascinating is the fact that it can be studied from different disciplines. On the one hand the picture maps can be assigned to Tibetan cartography and topography; on the other they represent an illustrated ‘ethnographic atlas’. Supplemented by the accompanying drawings and explanatory notes, the Wise Collection represents a ‘compendium of knowledge’ on Tibet.

When I started doing research on the Wise Collection I thought I knew where I was going. But the longer I studied the material and the deeper understanding I gained of the collection as a whole, the more new questions emerged. I realized that the drawings require a wider frame of analysis in their understanding. Thus I focused not just on the stories in the drawings but also on the story of the drawings. The expected results of my research will expand our knowledge about the connection between the production of knowledge and cultural interactions. As the result of a collaborative project of at least two people with different cultural backgrounds, the Wise Collection reflects a complex interpretation of Tibet commissioned by a Scotsman and created by a Buddhist monk. The result of their collaboration represents a ‘visible history’ of the exploration of Tibet. The entire Wise Collection and my research results will be published in my forthcoming large-format monograph.

The whole collection was restored and digitised in 2009 and is available on British Library Images Online (search by shelfmark). The drawings are catalogued as the ‘Wise Albums’ under the shelfmark Add.Or.3013-43. Originally all the drawings were bound in three large red half-leather albums. The related drawings and the relevant explanatory notes are still bound in these albums. The large picture maps have been removed and window-mounted for conservation reasons. The Lhasa map was on display in the exhibition Tibet's Secret Temple held at the Wellcome earlier this year and several of the drawings will also be exhibited in  Monumental Lhasa: Fortress, Palace, Temple, opening in September 2016 at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York

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The Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse in Southern Tibet (Detail from BL Add.Or.3016,  f. 2)
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Illustration of a ceremony taken place in the courtyard of the Nechung Monastery in Lhasa, seat of the former Tibetan State Oracle (BL Add.Or.3043)
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Further reading:

Diana Lange, Journey of Discovery: An Atlas of the Himalayas by a Nineteenth-Century Tibetan Monk. The British Librarys Wise Collection (working title of forthcoming publication).
––– “A Dundee’s Doctor’s Collection(s) on Tibet: Thomas Alexander Wise (1802–1889).” In: Charles Ramble and Ulrike Rösler (eds) Tibetan and Himalayan Healing. An Anthology for Anthony Aris. Kathmandu, 2015: 433–52.
–––“Visual representation of Ladakh and Zangskar in the British Library’s Wise Collection.” In: Robert Linrothe and Heinrich Pöll (eds) Visible Heritage: Essays on the Art and Architecture of Greater Ladakh. New Delhi, 2016: 131-68.
William Edmund Hay, “Report on the Valley of Spiti; and facts collected with a view to a Future Revenue Settlement,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 19 (1850): 429–51.
Charles Horne, “Art. III.—On the Methods of Disposing of the Dead at Llassa, Thibet, etc.,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland 6 (1873): 28–35.
William Howard Russell, My Diary in India, in the Year 1858-59, vol. 2. London, 1860.

 

Diana Lange, Humboldt University Berlin
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04 April 2016

Eighth and ninth century versions of the Rustam cycle

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Stories of the hero Rustam and his trusty steed Rakhsh, immortalized by the tenth century poet Firdawsi in his epic poem the Shahnamah (ʻBook of kingsʼ), are among the best loved in the whole of Persian literature. Not so well-known, however, are unique versions of the same story dating from the eighth and ninth centuries which are currently on display in the international exhibition The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination at the National Museum, Delhi (More on this exhibition in my recent post Celebrating Noruz in Delhi with new 'Everlasting Flame').

Opening
Introducing the Rustam story in the eighth century Panjikent wall paintings to Dr. Najma Heptulla, Minister of Minority Affairs, at the exhibition opening in Delhi. Photo: National Museum

Rustam's Rakhsh in Firdawsi’s Shahnamah
Rakhsh was no ordinary horse. The Shahnamah tells us how Rustam inspected the horses of Zabulistan and Kabul and finally selected a colt with the chest and shoulders of a lion, as strong as an elephant, and the colour of rose leaves scattered on a saffron background. This colt, already known as ‘Rustam’s Rakhsh’, was, it seems, pre-destined to carry the defender of the land of Iran.

Rakhsh was not only fast and strong, he was intelligent and an active protagonist. Perhaps his best-known exploit was the first of the seven ‘trials’ which Rustam underwent on the quest to liberate king Kavus from the demons of Mazandaran. Exhausted by his long journey, Rustam fell asleep. Nearby, however, hidden in the reeds was a fierce and hungry lion. The lion attacked but Rakhsh pounded the lion’s head with his hooves, bit his neck and tore the lion into pieces. When Rustam woke, the lion was dead.

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Rakhsh kills a lion. From Firdawsi’s Shahnamah. Copied in 891/1486, Turkman/Timurid style (British Library Add.18188, f. 90v)  noc

In future, Rustam ordered, Rakhsh was to wake him if an enemy drew near. However, during the third ‘trial’, Rustam, while asleep, was approached again, this time by a monstrous dragon. Twice woken by his horse Rakhsh, in the darkness of the night he failed to see any danger and went back to sleep. Woken a third time, however, Rustam finally saw the dragon and with Rakhsh’s help succeeded in killing him.

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Rustam and Rakhsh in the third ‘trial’ when together they defeat a dragon, Rakhsh biting the dragon while Rustam cuts off his head. Copied in 891/1486, Turkman/Timurid style (British Library Add.18188, f 91v)  noc

The Sogdian Rustam fragment
The Middle Persian Xwaday-namag ‘Book of kings’ (de Blois, “Epics”), one of the sources on which Firdawsi drew, was probably not a poem, but rather a prose compendium of legendary and historical traditions put together toward the end of the Sasanian empire. Although it is referred to frequently in Arabic sources, no extant copy survives as such. The name Rustam, however, began to be common at the very end of the Sasanian period, in the seventh century, no doubt reflecting the fact that by this time the Rustam legend had become widely popular in the Western Iranian lands, especially in Sogdiana (modern day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) the homeland of the Sogdians (Sims-Williams, 2015).

The British Library is fortunate in having in its collections part of a fragment of the story written in Sogdian (an eastern Iranian language spoken by the Sogdians), which probably dates from the ninth century. It was discovered in 1907 in cave 17 at Dunhuang, China, during Stein’s second expedition to Central Asia. The upper part of the same manuscript was subsequently acquired by Paul Pelliot the following year and is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Together these two fragments form the only surviving textual evidence for an early Rustam cycle, copied some 200 years before Firdawsi completed his epic poem.

[Paris fragment] ... [The demons] immediately fled towards [the city]. Rustam went in pursuit right up to the city gates. Many demons died from being trampled; only a thousand managed to enter the city. They shut the gates. Rustam returned with great renown. He went to a good pasture, stopped, took off the saddle and let his horse loose on the grass. He himself rested, ate a meal, was satisfied, spread a rug, lay down and began to sleep.

The demons stood in malevolent consultation. They said to one another: It was a great evil, a great shame on us, that we should have taken refuge in the city from a single horseman. Why should we not go out? Either let us all die and be annihilated or let us exact vengeance for our lords! The demons, who were left a meagre remnant of their former strength, began to prepare great heavy equipment with strong armour and with great ...

They opened the city gates. Many archers, many charioteers, many riding elephants, many riding monsters, many riding pigs, many riding foxes, many riding dogs, many riding on snakes and on lizards, many on foot, many who went flying like vultures and ..., many upside-down, the head downwards and the feet upwards: they all bellowed out a roar, they raised a mighty storm, rain, snow, hail, [lightning] and thunder, they opened their evil mouths and spouted fire, flame and smoke. They departed in search of the valiant Rustam.

Then the observant Rakhsh came and woke Rustam. Rustam arose from his sleep, quickly donned his leopard-skin garment, tied on his bow-case, mounted Rakhsh and hastened towards the demons. When Rustam saw from afar the army of the demons, he said to Rakhsh [beginning of the London fragment]: Come, sir, run away little [by little]; let us perform [a trick] so that the demons [pursue us] to the flat [plain ...]. Rakhsh agreed. Immediately Rustam turned back. When the demons saw, at once both the cavalry and the infantry quickly hurled themselves forward. They said to one another: Now the chief’s hope has been crushed; no longer is he prepared to do battle with us. By no means let him escape! Do not kill him either, but take him alive so that we may show him evil punishment and harsh torture! The demons encouraged one another greatly; they all howled and departed in pursuit of Rustam. Then Rustam turned round and attacked the demons like a fierce lion attacking a deer or a hyena attacking a flock or herd, like a falcon attacking a [hare or] a porcupine attacking a snake, and he began [to destroy] them ...

(translation N. Sims-Williams)

The murals of Panjikent
Additional archaeological evidence for an early Rustam cycle is to be found in wall-paintings discovered by the archaeologist B. Stavisky in 1956-7 in a two storeyed house in the south east of medieval Panjikent, Tajikistan.

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The Rustam frieze from Panjikent, Room 41/VI now on display in the State Hermitage Museum St Petersburg. Photo: Ursula Sims-Williams

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Reconstruction of the Rustam frieze, made at the time of excavation by artists Gremyachinskaya and Nikitin, now in the Museum of History of Culture of Panjikent, Tajikistan. Photo: Ursula Sims-Williams

The friezes are attributed to the first half of the eighth century and depict a series of episodes in which Rustam and Rakhsh are engaged in battle with demons. While identifications with known episodes in the Shahnamah are difficult it is tempting to think that one of the scenes may correspond to that described in the Sogdian fragment discovered at Dunhuang.

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Currently on display in the National Museum Delhi: Rustam, mounted on Rakhsh, fights an adversary. Wall-painting on dry loess plaster from Panjikent, Tajikistan, c. 740 AD (The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, SA-16223). Photo: Ursula Sims-Williams


Further reading
Firdawsi, Shahnameh: the Persian book of kings; tr. Dick Davis. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.
Nicholas Sims-Williams, “The Sogdian Fragments of the British Library,” Indo-Iranian Journal 18, 1976, pp. 43-82. Transcription and edition of Paris and BL fragments on pp. 54-61.
Nicholas and Ursula Sims-Williams, “Rustam and his zīn-i palang.” In: From Aṣl to Zāʼid: Essays in Honour of Éva M. Jeremiaś, ed. I. Szánto. Piliscsaba: Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, 2015, pp. 249-58.
Guitty Azarpay and others, Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
Boris I. Marshak, and V. A. Livshits, Legends, Tales, and Fables in the Art of Sogdiana. New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press, 2002, especially pp. 25-54.
Boris I. Marshak, “Panjikant”, Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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16 February 2015

Happy Chinese New Year! The Year of the Goat

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This year the Chinese New Year will be celebrated on the night between the 18th and the 19th of February, when the year of the Horse will end and a new year of the Goat will begin.

The celebrations for the Chinese New Year (年节nian jie), also called Spring Festival (春节 chun jie), mark the beginning of a new year in the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Even though the traditional calendar is now not officially used in China, it is still essential to determine the Chinese festivities. The Chinese New Year Festival is the most important event of the year for the Chinese communities and its occurrence determines also the date of other important events related to the lunisolar calendar, such as the Lantern Festival (元宵节 yuan xiao jie), the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duan wu jie) or the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节zhong qiu jie). Furthermore, the traditional calendar is widely used to determine the best date for some special occasions in people’s life, such as marriages. The traditional Chinese calendar is called农历 nong li (in traditional characters 農曆, which can be translated as “rural calendar” as nong means agriculture) or 阴历 yin li (in traditional characters 陰曆, where yin represents the moon, as opposed to the official solar calendar which is called 阳历 yang li).

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Detail from a printed almanac from Dunhuang dating from AD 877. From right to left, the figures of a snake, a horse, a goat, a monkey and a cock are visible (BL Stein Collection Or.8210/P.6) International Dunhuang Project website
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Every year of the lunisolar calendar is traditionally associated with one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, which are called 生肖 (sheng xiao). These animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Each of them is associated to a natural element (Wood, Fire, Metal or Water) and, as in Western astrology, it is believed that people born under a different zodiac sign have different personality characteristics. The year when a person is born is called in Chinese their 本命年 (ben ming nian), meaning “the year of destiny’s roots”. People born during the year of the Goat (so, for example, in 1955, 1967, 1979 and 1991) are said to be peaceful, polite, helpful and trustworthy.

Zodiac animals_1500Five of a set of the twelve zodiac animals dating from the Tang dynasty (618–907), depicting (left to right) dragon, snake, horse, goat, and monkey. Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an © U. Sims-Williams
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Illustration from the album “Coloured Drawings of Chinese Flora and Fauna”, 18th century, China (BL Sloane collection Add. 15503, f.10)
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The Chinese New Year is celebrated not only in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but in other countries where the Chinese population is significant, such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and the Chinatowns across the world. Furthermore, the traditional Chinese calendar and the related zodiac animals can be found in literature and art productions of countries which have been influenced by the Chinese traditional culture, such as Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Thailand.


Mongolia
In Mongolia, for example, the 12 animals of the zodiac are called Арван хоёр жил which means “12 years”. The Mongolian calendar is slightly different from the Chinese one and therefore sometimes New Year's day falls on a different date.

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Mongolian diagram showing the twelve animals of the zodiac. From B. Batzhargal, Ėrtniĭ Mongolyn Matematik (Эртний Монголын Матэматик, “Early Mongolian Mathematics”. Ulaanbaatar, 1976, p. 171 (British Library MON 596) ⓒ


Japan

In Japan, the Chinese calendar was introduced in the 6th century and it was officially used in some variations until 1873, when the Gregorian solar calendar was formally adopted. In the Japanese collections at the British Library, we find a variety of representations of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, sometimes depicted in form of Gods, warriors or spiritual entities. The first woodblock-printed item below, for example, shows the Twelve Heavenly Generals of the Buddhist tradition (called十二神将, pronounced Jūni Shinshō in Japanese and Shi er shen jiang in Chinese). Each of them is associated with one of the twelve animals of the zodiac.

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Left: “Great miscellany of calendrical and practical knowledge” (Eitai daizassho banreki taisei  永代大雑書萬暦大成), 1856 reprint. Woodblock printed. Right: the same image has been modified to highlight the position of every animal (BL 16000.a.8)
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Some illustrations (left) and cover page (right) of a practical design book (Ōyō manga 応用漫画), illustrated by Ogino, 1903. The goat’s stylised shape is visible on the bottom of the left page (BL ORB.30/6167)
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Detail from Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi 一勇斎国芳 (1798-1861) “The comic transformation of actors into the twelve animals of the zodiac” (Dōke miburi jūnishi 道外見富利十二志).  Single sheet woodblock colour-printed [c.1844-1855] (BL ORB.99/102)
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Thailand

The British Library holds a magnificent manuscript from Thailand dated 1885 (Or.13650). It contains a series of drawings based on the Chinese Zodiac and its animals. A male or female avatar, a plant and a number are associated to every zodiacal sign. This manuscript has been fully digitised and can be seen here.

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Horoscope for the year of the goat. The four goats on the left represent four three-month periods within the year. On the right there is the female avatar for the year of the goat (BL Or.13650, f.8v)
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10 Illustrations of omens for events that could happen on a certain date within the year of the goat. In the upper left corner the female avatar for the year is riding a goat. Only a ritual specialist (หมอดู) would have been able to interpret these omens and to give advice on how to avoid unfortunate or dangerous events (BL Or.13650, f.20v)
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Central Asia

A unique 9th century document from Khotan, (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) written in the middle-Iranian language Khotanese,  is called “The twelve year leaders and their influences”, and lists the animals in the 12 year cycle with predictions for people born in that year. A man born in the year of the Sheep (or Goat) “will be blessed, meritorious. He will be blessed in everything, in crop and money”. However, it is not all good news! The description continues: “He will be sickly and short-lived. There will be bad illnesses upon him. And a lot of itching will arise for him as well as a wound. If his wives [become] pregnant, they will die. And whatever sons they bear will be short-lived”[1].

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Predictions in Khotanese for the man born in the year of the Goat, dating from the early 9th century. Document from Khotan (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) (BL Or.11252/1, lines 38-41)  International Dunhuang Project website
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It is worth mentioning that the character 羊 (yang) in Chinese is associated with various animals which belong to the Bovidae family and it therefore can be translated as goat, but also as sheep or even antelope. This is why in English, when referring to the Chinese zodiac sign 羊, “goat” and “sheep” are both widely used as translations.

We hope that the images in this article will be inspiring and auspicious to all our blog readers and we wish you a wonderful New Year of the  !

 新年快乐! 新年快樂!

 
Curators of the East Asia, South East Asia and Middle East collections
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[1] P.O. Skjærvø, Khotanese manuscripts from Chinese Turkestan in the British Library. London, 2002, p. 84

16 January 2015

Inscriptions in the Iskandar Sultan Miscellany (Add.27261)

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A previous posting on this remarkable manuscript, one of the British Library’s greatest treasures, introduced the volume and discussed a few of its pages. In this piece we discuss the inscriptions which it contains, beginning with the elaborate illuminated double-pages opening (folios 2v-3r) which contain the dedication of the manuscript to its patron.
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The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket miscellany containing 23 works. Copied 813-4/1410-11 (Add.27261, ff. 2v-3r)
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The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket miscellany containing 23 works. Copied 813-4/1410-11 (BL Add.27261, ff 2v-3r)
http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01a73d64de59970d-pi - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/03/the-miscellany-of-iskandar-sultan-add27261.html#sthash.UxOo0y4y.dpuf

The text in the upper and lower panels is written in an especially ornate version of floriated Kufic script (compare, for example, the much clearer decorative title headings for two poems, Kitāb Jām-i Jam (f. 420v) and Sa‘ādat-nāma (f. 504v). The text appears to consist of supplicatory phrases. The present writer has begun, but not completed, the struggle to decipher them. Perhaps some readers of this blog can do better, in which case we should be glad to hear from them. In any case, the contents complement the prayer in Arabic for the manuscript’s patron, Iskandar Sultan, inscribed in thulth script in the lobed circular central panel on the right hand page (f. 2v):

O God, perpetuate the rule of the most mighty Sultan, the most just and noble emperor, sovereign of the sovereigns of the Arabs and non-Arabs…

The continuation, in the panel on the left hand page (3r), reads:

…the Shadow of God upon all regions of the Earth, the Champion of Water and Clay [i.e. Defender of the Interests of Mankind], the Reliant [upon God], the Supreme King, Glory of the Nation and Faith [of Islam] Iskandar, may God make his dominion eternal.

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Close up of (left) f. 3r and (right) f. 2v

Among the special ‘personal touches’ found elsewhere in the manuscript are the inscriptions half-concealed in the ornately illuminated margins of three pages: folios 343v, 344r, and 345r. All are in verse, and here they appear to be addressed to Iskandar Sultan, although that does not necessarily mean that they were originally composed for him; their authorship has yet to be established.

Folio 343v, which incidentally is featured (as are folios f. 2v and f. 3r) in the ‘Turning The Pages’ presentation of selected pages of this Miscellany, contains geometrical theorems from the first Book of Euclid’s Principles. Written in gold, half-hidden within the decorative cartouches ranged along the margins of this and the following page (f. 344r), are verses praising the manuscript's royal patron using imagery entirely appropriate to a bibliophile:

Add. 27261, f. 343v
1
Ay daftar-i iqbāl-rā naqsh-i ḥavāshī nām-i tū3
bar lawḥ-i taqdīr az qaẓā nukḥustīn ḥarf kām-i tu
2
Dawlat ba-kilk-i ma‘dalat āyāt-i fal u makramat
4
binvishta matn u ḥāshiya bar ṣaḥfa-’i ayyām-i tu.

O you whose name has been marked down
   in the margins of Success’s book!
Your will is, by the decree of Fate,
   the first letter on Destiny’s Tablet.
With the pen of Justice, Good Fortune
   wrote the signs of virtue and greatness
upon the page of these, your times,
   in both the text space and the margins.

The inscription contained within four cartouches in the margin of folio 344r is much easier to read:

Add. 27261, f. 344r
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.48.43
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.49.34
Nigīn-i sa‘ādat
/ ba-nām-i tū bād
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.50.33
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.51.26
Hama kār-i dawlat / ba-kām-i tū bād

May Fortune’s signet ring
    be [inscribed] with your name;
and all matters of state
    accord with your desire.

As if the preceding eulogies were not enough, they are followed by a still more flattering single bayt or couplet on f. 345r, together with the name ‘Alī in gold on blue, calligraphed in square Kufic.

Add. 27261, f. 345r
Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.35.45 

Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.37.34Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.37.56
Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.35.11
Ay az bihisht / tu juzvī / va
z ramat āyatī / aqq-rā ba-rūzgār-i / tū bā mā ‘ināyatī

You who are a part of Heaven, a portent of [Divine] Mercy;
in this your era, God [has shown His] favour and concern for us.

Let us now turn our attention to the various colophons in Add. 27261. The first of these occurs on f. 112v, at the end of Ilāhī-nāma (‘Book of the Divine), a didactic poem by the great mystical poet Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār (d. ca. 1220). In it, one of the two calligraphers who worked on this Miscellany, Muḥammad al-Ḥalvā’ī, states that he finished copying the text in Jumādā l-avval (sic: normally in the feminine form Jumādā l-ūlā) 813, which month began on September 9th 1410. Here, as in another of his colophons (see below), which are in Arabic as convention dictates, this scribe employs phrases which show him to have been an admirer of the mystical Path and its people, and perhaps a Sufi himself.
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Colophon in the margin at the end of ʻAṭṭār's Ilāhī-nāma (‘Book of the Divine), dated 813/1410. Add.27261, f. 112v
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[This copy of] “The Book of the Divine”, by the Sultan of the Knowers and Lovers [of God], Protector of the Protégés of the Ancients and Moderns, the Unique One of the World and the Faith (Farīd al-Dunyā wa l-Dīn) Muḥammad known as ‘the Perfumer’ (‘Aṭṭār) – may God cool his resting-place, illumine his dwelling-place (mathwā), and make the Pool of Paradise his drinking-place (ma’rā) – was completed on Saturday 27th of Jumādā l-awwal 813. Praise is due to God alone, and God’s salutations and innumerable greetings be upon the Best of His Creation Muḥammad and his goodly, pure Family, one and all. By the hand of the weak and feeble servant, wholly reliant upon [God] the Eternally Self-Sufficient Sovereign: Muḥammad known as al-Ḥalvā’ī (‘The Sweetmeat Man’), may God improve his condition and put his mind at rest.

By contrast, the colophon written by al-Ḥalvā’ī on f. 294r at the end of Niẓāmī’s Khamsa (‘Five Poems’) is exiguous and looks as though it may have been composed and executed in haste. No acknowledgement to the Creator, salutations to the Prophet, or honorifics for the author; the scribe’s name is there, but has just been squeezed in at the end of a line:

End of the book known as the Khamsa of Niẓāmī. Written by Muḥammad, and [may Divine] forgiveness [be his], in Jumādā l-ūlā of the year 814’ (equivalent to late August-September 1411.

Another inscription of interest, which occurs on f. 302r, appears in the form of a flattering addition to what is announced as Niẓām al-tavārīkh, an abridgement and continuation of this short history of Persia from earliest times down to 674/1275 by ‘Abd Allāh al-Bayẓāvī. Immediately after a brief notice of the Mongol Īlkhān Abū Sa‘īd (d. 736/1335) we find this:

And [today, God’s] creatures are in the shade (sāya, repeated again on the next line) of the justice and the shadow of the compassion of the Just King…Jalāl al-Dunyā va l-Dīn Iskandar Bahādur, may God perpetuate his rule…’ (the remainder of the text resembling that of the prayer on f. 340r translated below).

The colophon (f. 340r) which concludes a selection of ghazals or lyric verses by several different poets, is almost as long as that on f. 112v and yet contains no date; in this respect the volume exhibits no standard style. In it we read:

The ghazals have been completed, with the help and goodly aid to success of God, Transcendent and Exalted is He. Salutations and peace be upon Muḥammad, the Best of His Creation, and his Pure Family. Written by the poor servant Muḥammad, scribe to the Majestic Sovereign Iskandar (al-kātib al-Jalālī al-Khāqānī al-Iskandarī), may God perpetuate his (i.e. the sovereign’s, not – as the syntax suggests – the scribe’s) kingship and establish his justice and beneficence throughout the universe, by the Prophet and his goodly descendants.


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Colophon concluding a collection of ghazals. Add.27261, f 340r
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After this point in the manuscript there are no further lengthy colophons. Whereas the opening of the more famous Manṭiq al-ṭayr and Ilāhī-nāma, found earlier in the volume, are marked only by episode headings, the poems Jām-i Jam and (part of) Sa‘ādat-nāma both have ornamental title headings. Neither of the latter, however, has any kind of inscription at the end. And although there remain some artistic pyrotechnics to come, as regards the textual content the Miscellany rather peters out. The last colophon (f. 542v) consists of two lines of text directly below the end of the treatise on astronomy with which the Miscellany concludes. Instead of being configured in the conventional keystone form, these two lines are written exactly as if they were part of the text. The first line announces the conclusion of of Rawat al-munajjimīn (‘Astronomers’ Garden’), while the second reads:

Katabahu turāb al-fuqarā’ va l-sālikāin Nāir al-Kātib, asana Llāh ‘avāqibahu, fī salkh Jumādā l-sānī 814

Written by [one who is] dust [at the feet] of the dervishes and the [spiritual] wayfarers, Nāṣir the Scribe – may God grant him a goodly life Hereafter – at the end of Jumādā l-sānī 814 (equivalent to early October 1411).

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Colophon at the end of Rawat al-munajjimīn (‘Astronomers’ Garden’), dated 814/1411. Add.27261, f. 542v
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Lastly, there are two very different inscriptions which were added by later owners of the manuscript at the end of it. These have been described and discussed in the ‘Turning The Pages’ presentation of the Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan, together with a selection of 74 other pages.

A detailed catalogue description with links to the individual works and paintings can be read or downloaded here.

Muhammad Isa Waley, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

 

23 October 2014

Twenty more Persian manuscript treasures now online

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This month sees a new upload of 20 Persian manuscripts (8588 images) to the Library's Digitised Manuscripts, generously funded by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation, the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and others. These works have been selected for their artistic, historical and cultural importance and are among the most treasured of the Library's Persian manuscripts. Bringing this work to fruition has been one of the most rewarding tasks I have done: being able to look deep into the detail of a painting, examining minute annotations and studying the text itself is a luxury which was previously only possible to the priveleged few who could make it to the Library's reading room. Now you can do it from your desk, on the bus, or even in the dentist's waiting room!

The works in this recent upload include:

Add.18188  Firdawsi's Shāhnāmah ('Book of kings'). Copied in 1486 by Ghiyas al-Din Bayazid Sarraf and illustrated with 72 miniatures, Turkman/Timurid style.

Add.27262  Saʻdi's Būstān ('Orchard') dated at Agra in November 1629 and illustrated with ten miniatures. The calligrapher was the well-known physician and poet Hakim Rukn al-Din Masʻud, known as Hakim Rukna, who emigrated from Iran to India in the reign of Akbar and subsequently became one of Shah Jahan’s favourite poets.

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The poet Saʻdi and his companions meet a young man whose sheep was tamed by kindness (Add.27262, f. 37r)
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IO Islamic 137  The Ẓafarnāmah, a history of the conquests of Timur by Sharaf al-Din Yazdi completed ca. 1424. Illustrated with 30 miniatures in the 16th century Shiraz style.

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The defeat of Damascus. Timur watches the flames as the city burns (IO Islamic 137, f. 358r)
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IO Islamic 138  The only known copy of the Khamsah ('Five poems') composed by the poet Jamali who lived at the beginning of the 15th century. Dated 1465 at Baghdad and illustrated with six miniatures.

IO Islamic 3214  The Sindbādnāmah, an anonymous version of the adventures of Sindbad in Persian verse. It was probably copied in Golconda, India, around 1575, and contains 72 illustrations.
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The vizier’s tale of the confectioner, his unfaithful wife, and the parrot (IO Islamic 3214, f. 36v)
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IO Islamic 3558
The Dīvān-i Khāqān, a beautifully illuminated copy in calligraphic shikastah of the poems of  Fath ʻAli Shah Qajar, Shah of Iran (r. 1797-1834), who wrote poetry under the name Khaqan.

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The Shah hunting and a floral arrangement on the inside and outside of the contemporary lacquer binding of Fath ʻAli Shah Khaqanʼs Dīvān (IO Islamic 3558, inside and outside front cover)
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Or.166  The Aḥvāl-i Humāyūn Pādshāh. Princess Gulbadan Begam's autobiographical account of the reigns of her father, the Mughal Emperor Babur, and his successor, her brother Humayun. Although this manuscript probably dates from the early 17th century, it is the only known copy to have survived.

Or.343   Futūḥ al-Ḥaramayn, a poetical description of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina and the rites of pilgrimage by Muhyi Lari (d.1526 or 1527). Includes 17 miniatures dating from the 17th century.

Or.2839  Sūz va Gudāz (‘Burning and melting’) by Nawʻi Khabushani, the story of a bride whose betrothed was killed by a falling wall on his way to the wedding and her subsequent suicide on his funeral pyre. It was commissioned by Akbar's son Prince Danyal (1581-1614) who requested a change from traditional tales. It contains three miniatures and dates from the early 17th century.

Or.3714  Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī, the memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30), originally written in Chaghatai Turkish and translated into Persian at his grandson Akbar’s request by Mirza ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan in 1589. This imperial copy, containing 143 illustrations, mostly by attributed artists, was completed c. 1590-93.

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Babur with birdcatchers near Kabul, in 1504. Artist: Shiyam (Or.3714, f. 190r)
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Or.5302  Saʻdi's Gulistān ('Flower garden') copied in 975 (1567/68) in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and ascribed in the colophon to the famous calligrapher Mir ʻAli Husayni. It includes six Bukhara-style paintings which were commissioned at Akbar's request. The manuscript was 'improved'  in India in Jahangir's reign when seven more paintings were added, probably between 1605 and 1609.

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Chaos in the classroom: the story of the schoolmaster who became infatuated with one of his pupils  (Or.5302, f. 80r)
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Or.5637  Muʼnis al-arvāḥ ('The confidant of spirits'), an autograph copy by Princess Jahanara (1641-81), daughter of Shah Jahan, of her biography, composed in 1640, of the Sufi saint Muʻīn al-Dīn Chishtī (see blog: Princess Jahanara’s biography of a Sufi saint).

Or.7043  The Salīm Khānnāmah, a poetical history of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Selim II (r.1566-1574) composed by Luqman in 1580. Copy dated 1099 (1687-88) containing eight miniatures, Ottoman

Or.7573  The Dīvān of Hafiz copied in Akbar’s reign in 990/1582-3 by ‘Abd al-Samad Shirin-qalam and enhanced by Jahangir c. 1611 with nine miniature paintings. Panels containing pairs of birds separate the verses thoroughout the volume. The final part of the manuscript including the colophon and one miniature is preserved at the Chester Beatty Library Dublin (see blog: Jahangir’s Hafiz and the Madrasa Jurist).

Or.8193  The 'Yazd' anthology, a collection of Turkish works written in calligraphic Uighur script in Yazd in 1431 with the addition of the Persian Dīvāns of Kamal-i Khujand and Amiri in the margins.

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Facing pages with the Uighur text in the central panels and the Persian poems in the margins (Or.8193, ff. 46-47)
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Or.11846  The Dīvān of Hafiz Saʻd copied by Shaykh Mahmud Pir Budaqi at Shiraz for the library of the Qaraqoyunlu prince Pir Budaq (d.1466).

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The opening shamsah with a dedication to Abu'l-Fath Pir Budaq Bahadur Khan (Or.11846, f. 1v)
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Or.12208  The emperor Akbar's copy of Nizami's Khamsah, dated between 1593 and 1595 and copied by ʻAbd al-Rahim ʻAnbarin-qalam. It contains 38 illustrated folios attributed to the major artists of the imperial Mughal studio and an original lacquered binding.

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A scene from the Haft paykar in which the king escaped from a tower, carried off by magical bird. Artist: Dharamdas (Or.12208, f. 195r)
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Or.12857  ʻAbd al-Karīm al-Qādirī Jawnpūrī's Javāhir al-mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, a musical treatise dedicated to Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56) dating from the 17th century which includes 48 Deccani miniatures from an earlier Dakhini manuscript dating from around 1570 (see blogs: Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1 and Part 2).

Or.12988  An imperial copy of the first volume of Abu'l-Fazl's history of the reign of Akbar, the  Akbarnāmah. Completed ca.1602, it contains 39 paintings and inscriptions (unfortunately pasted over during a previous refurbishment and now only visible with infrared photography) by Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
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The baby Akbar and his mother Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani. Artists: Sanvalah and Narsingh (Or.12988, f. 22r)
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Or.14139  The Dīvān of Hafiz, copied at Herat or Mashhad ca. 1470 by, according to Shah Jahan’s note on folio 1 , the famous calligrapher Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi. The whole work was refurbished and remargined at the Mughal court ca. 1605 with cartouches containing images of animals, birds, musicians, workmen, soldiers etc. 

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The opening of the Dīvān-i Ḥāfiẓ, copied by Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi (Or.14139, f. 1v)
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More details about these manuscripts, together with links to catalogue descriptions and related literature, can be found at Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts. This page is very much a 'work in progress' page to which we add continually, so please keep looking there to follow new developments.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork


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25 September 2014

Two Persian ‘Ming’ manuscripts on view at the British Museum

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Last week the BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China opened at the British Museum. This exhibition documents the years 1400-1450, fifty years which saw the building of the Forbidden City and Beijing established as the capital city of China. It was also a time of intense diplomatic and cultural engagement with Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Some surprising exhibits on view resulting from cultural exchanges include the painting of a giraffe presented to the Yongle Emperor in 1414 as tribute by the Sultan of Bengal, Sayf al-Din Hamza Shah, and ‘The adoration of the Magi’, dating from c. 1495-1505, by the Italian artist Andrea Mantegna, depicting a Ming porcelain bowl. Equally exotic are two British Library 15th century Persian manuscripts, Add.16561 and Add.7759 copied in Shirvan and possibly in Herat on decorated paper exported from Ming China.

Add_ms_16561_f1-2r
Prince entertained in a garden, the opening from an anthology of poetry produced in Shamakhi (Shirvan) in 873/1468, North Provincial Timurid style painting on Ming decorated paper (British Library Add.16561, ff. 1v-2r)
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There were several missions exchanged between the Timurids and the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402-24). After Timur's death, the first Chinese embassy to Shahrukh arrived in Herat in 815/1412. A second embassy arrived in Rabiʻ I 820/April 1417 with three hundred horsemen and gifts and presents sent by the Emperor of China consisting of falcons, brocades, velvets, silks, porcelain vessels and Chinese paper, etc. A third embassy reached Herat in Ramadan 822/October 1419 (see Thackston, p.279, citing the Persian sources Mujmal-i faṣīhī by Fasih al-Din Khvafi, and Maṭlaʻ-i saʻdayn  by ʻAbd al-Razzaq Samarqandi). Return missions also took place with the artist Ghiyas al-Din Naqqash, Baysunghur’s representative, keeping a detailed diary of his journey between December 1419 and August 1422 (see Thackston’s translation below).

Chinese paper was much valued by the Timurids and gave rise to a fashion for using coloured dyes and decorating with gold. It was regarded as good to write on. Slightly tinted paper was considered restful to the eye while dark colours suited coloured inks[1]. Add.16561, pictured below, is a collection of poetry by 12 different authors of the 14th and 15th century. It was copied in 1468 in Shirvan in present day Azerbayjan by Sharaf al-Din Husayn, a royal scribe, possibly at the court of the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yasar (1462-1501). The manuscript contains one double-page and seven single miniatures. The paper is highly polished and dyed different shades of pink, mauve and yellow/green, decorated with large flecks of gold.

Add16561_f2-3
Opening to the Dīvān of the 14th century poet Kamal Khujandi on highly polished gold flecked dyed paper. Copied by Sharaf al-Din Husayn Sultani, dated Shamakhi (Shirvan) at the beginning of Rabiʻ II 873/ Oct.1468  (British Library Add.16561, ff 2-3)
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The second of the two manuscripts on display is Add.7759, the Dīvān of Hafiz, copied by Sulayman al-Fushanji in Ramazan 855/October 1451. Although no place is mentioned in the colophon, the name of the scribe may be connected to Fushanj in the province of Herat, Afghanistan, possibly suggesting Herat as a place of origin. The paper is unusually heavy and includes 31 pages decorated with Chinese ornamentation of which seven can be identified as containing designs of bamboos, pomegranates and other plants while twelve show Chinese landscapes and buildings. The paper is coloured various shades of orange, pink, blue, yellow/green, grey and purple.

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A Chinese palace set against a background of mountains and lakes, with pine trees in the foreground (British Library Add.7759, f. 3r)
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Facing pages of the Dīvān of Hafiz. Copied by Sulayman al-Fushanji in Ramazan 855/October 1451 (British Library Add.7759, ff. 60v-61r)
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In her study of the New York Public Library Makhzan al-asrār (Spencer Persian 41), dated 25 Jumada I 883/24 August 1478, Priscilla Soucek demonstrated, by reconstructing several examples, that the decorated Chinese paper had originally been in the form of sheets which were painted before being cut up. A further example of the same feature can be seen in folios 17r and 10v below where the outlines of the mountains on the two pages are almost contiguous. As in the New York manuscript, the designs in Add.7759 are at right angles to the text.

Add7759_ff17r and 10v
Folios 17r (left) and 10v (right), formed from the same sheet of paper (British Library Add.7759)
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Both Add.7759 and Add.16561 have now been fully digitized and will be published on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts page during the next few months. This will hopefully allow a much needed detailed study to be made of the paper.

Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015. An illustrated catalogue of the same title by the exhibition curators Craig Clunas and Jessica Harrison-Hall is available from the British Museum shop.

 
Further reading

W. M. Thackston, “Report to Mirza Baysunghur on the Timurid Legation to the Ming Court at Peking” in A century of princes: sources on Timurid history and art. Cambridge, Mass, 1989, pp. 279-97

David J. Roxburgh,The Persian Album, 1400-1600: From Dispersal to Collection. Yale University, 2005, pp. 159-165

Priscilla Soucek, “The New York Public Library ‘Makhzan al-asrār’ and Its Importance, Ars Orientalis 18 (1988), pp. 1-37

Sheila S. Blair, “Color and Gold: The Decorated Papers used in Manuscripts in later Islamic Times,” Muqarnas 17 (2000), pp. 24-36

N. Titley, Persian Miniature Painting and Its Influence on the Art of Turkey and India: The British Library Collections. London, 1984, pp. 240-41

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork


[1] Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi quoted by Qadi Ahmad, Calligraphers and Painters (tr. V. Minorsky), Washington, 1959, p. 113

16 September 2014

One-day Symposium: British Library Persian Manuscripts: Collections and Research

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One day symposium: British Library Persian Manuscripts: Collections and Research
British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Friday, 31 October 2014, 9.30-17.30 (Programme details here)

Or_2265_f066v_1000Khusraw and Shirin listen to stories told by Shirin's handmaidens. From Nizami's Khamsah. Painting in Safavid Tabriz style c 1540s,  ascribed to Aqa Mirak (British Library Or.2265, f. 66v)
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The British Library is holding a one-day symposium on the theme of digitisation and new research on its collection of Persian manuscripts, one of the most significant in the world in both size and importance. It is currently mid-way through a partnership project with the Iran Heritage Foundation and other supporters to convert catalogue records for Persian manuscripts into digital format as well as to digitise selected items from the Library’s vast collection with a view to making the data freely accessible online to readers worldwide. The main underlying objectives are to aid scholarship on the cultures and history of the Islamicate and Persianate world, and to help preserve this delicate material for posterity. Although only a small number of manuscripts have been digitised to date, the range is expected to grow over the coming years thanks to continued public and private funding.

Progress so far has already facilitated some exciting developments and discoveries. Join project members and scholars to explore the Library's Persian collections and find out more about recent research.


Registration
:

Booking will be available from Monday 22 September from British Library Events . Tickets include a light lunch and refreshments and are priced at £15, £12 (over 60s), £10 (concessions).


Speakers:

Dr Sâqib Bâburî, British Library (abstract)
Two new sources for the study of Muḥammad Vājid ʿAlī Shāh in the William Irvine Collection

Dr Bruno De Nicola, University of St Andrews (abstract)
Rashīd al-Dīn’s World History: manuscripts of Jāmi‘ al-tavārīkh in the British Library

Dr Walter N. Hakala, University at Buffalo, SUNY (USA) (abstract)
Minimum taxable knowledge: the niṣāb genre of multilingual vocabularies in verse

Jeremiah Losty, British Library (Emeritus) (abstract)
James Skinner's artists

Dr Stephan Popp, Institut für Iranistik, Vienna (abstract)
Horoscopes as propaganda under Akbar and Shāh Jahān

Dr Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College, London (abstract)
The confluence of two oceans: Hindustani music in the British Library Persian collections

Dr Emily Shovelton, Independent Scholar (abstract)
Margins of the Divine: the Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan  (British Library Add. 27261)

Dr Eleanor Sims, Editor of Islamic Art and Independent Scholar (abstract)
More from Mashhad? A recently re-discovered illustrated Shahnama manuscript of the 17th century

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, British Library (abstract)
Niẓāmī through digital eyes: observations on masterworks in the British Library

 

Further reading

Recent posts on some of our Persian manuscripts:

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 2
Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1
Two Persian ‘Ming’ manuscripts on view at the British Museum
Persian letters from the Nawabs of the Carnatic 1777-1816
James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised
A Khamsah with illustrations ascribed to the painter Bihzad (Add. 25900)
A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts and postscript
Some portraits of the Zand rulers of Iran (1751-1794)
The Khamsah of Nizami: A Timurid Masterpiece

 

For further information: contact Dr. Sâqib Bâburî (Saqib.Baburi@bl.uk)

 

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07 July 2014

A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts

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The British Library has exciting news for researchers of Persian manuscripts. The previously unpublished descriptions for a projected third volume of the Catalogue of the India Office Library's Persian manuscript collection have been digitised and made available on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website. The catalogue was already well under way in the 1930s but with the intervention of the 2nd World War, the project was never completed. It contains, however, descriptions of about 1,500 works and it is our sincere hope that by making them available, this part of the British Library’s collection will become more accessible to researchers interested in the literature, history and culture of the Persianate world. The digitisation of this important catalogue has been made possible by a grant from the Barakat Trust.

IO Isl 3682_f29r
The murder of Iraj by his brothers Tur and Salm in a 16th century Shahnamah partly illustrated by Muhammad Yusuf (see earlier post on this manuscript). One of the manuscripts included in the newly digitised catalogue (BL IO Islamic 3682, f. 29r)
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Three giants of Persian scholarship

These draft descriptions, which were primarily written by hand, are the work of three towering figures in Oriental Studies in the UK.

The first scholar whose work is digitised here is Charles Ambrose Storey (1888-1968), who read Classics and Arabic at Cambridge.  He is famous for his monumental work, Persian Literature: A Bio-bibliographical Survey, which was intended as a response to Carl Brockelmann's Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur.  However, Storey's survey, though unfinished, is much more detailed and thorough, including the content of the works he discusses, information about the life of the author and others connected with the text, lists of known manuscripts with dates of their transcription, as well as a full bibliography of studies, modern editions, and translations. In 1919 Storey became Assistant Librarian and later Librarian at the India Office before being elected Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at Cambridge in 1933, a great honour and distinction.  When Storey passed away, he left his worldly possessions to the Royal Asiatic Society, which has worked to publish posthumously the remainder of his survey.  In addition to his survey, Storey also generated a great deal of research on the Persian manuscripts in the India Office collections which he continued working on after 1933 and which was never published; it is this that has been digitised and made available on-line.  

The other authors are the equally well-known scholars, Reuben Levy (1891-1966) and Arthur John Arberry (1905-1969).  Levy read Persian, Turkish and Semitic languages at Oxford and taught Persian there until moving to Cambridge in the 1920s, where he was a lecturer of Persian before becoming full professor in 1950. Records show that he was still cataloguing manuscripts for the India Office Library as late as 1959. He translated a number of seminal texts from Persian into English, including the Qabusnamah of Kay Kawus b. Iskandar in 1951.  

The third scholar to contribute to the planned third volume of the Indian Office Persian manuscripts catalogue was A.J. Arberry.  Like Storey, Arberry was employed by the India Office Library between 1934 and 1939, before being appointed to the Chair of Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and subsequently – again following in Storey’s footsteps – to the Sir Thomas Adams Professorship of Arabic at Cambridge University.  A profilic scholar, Arberry's many editions of texts and translations from Arabic and Persian, along with his books on a range of topics on the literature and culture of the Islamic world, number around 90 volumes.  Famous for introducing the poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi to the west, he also made elegant translations of the Qur'an and the poetry of Hafiz. Arberry also compiled catalogues of  the Arabic and Persian manuscript collections in the India Office Library, Cambridge University Library, and the Chester Beatty Library, all of which are indispensible tools for the researcher today.  

DP843B
The opening of Qarabadin-i Qadiri, a medical pharmacopoeia by Muhammad Akbar Arzani, dated 1792 (BL Delhi Persian 843B)
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How to use the catalogue

There are three manuscript sequences included in the catalogue: India Office (IO Islamic) Persian manuscripts acquired between 1903 and 1936, and Delhi Arabic and Delhi Persian — these last two formerly part of the Mughal Imperial Library, Delhi. The digitised catalogue consists of 3778 images grouped in 38 folders (Mss Eur E207/1-38) but arranged in a somewhat haphazard order, partly by subject and to some extent by author.

If readers wish to browse the catalogue, there are partial subject indexes to 33 of the 38 folders:

Folders 1-4:  Sufism, by Arberry:
Folders 5-9: History, by Storey
Folders 10-14 : mostly Sufism, by Levy
Folders 15-16: poetry, biography by Storey
Folders 17-24: miscellaneous, poetry, science by Levy
Folders 25-33: Delhi Persian 411-945, by Levy

Readers wishing to look up specific numbers quoted, for example, in Storey’s Persian Literature, or manuscripts listed in Fihrist (the online union catalogue of Arabic script manuscripts in the United Kingdom) should follow this link to the

Online index and concordance to vol 3 of the Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the India Office Library, Mss Eur E207 (unpublished)

This lists the contents of the catalogue in manuscript order. Each number is linked directly to its digital image on the web. If the description is several pages long, readers can move to the following or preceding page by using the forward and backward arrows at the top of the screen. A word of warning though: the numbers in the catalogue are largely unchecked and may sometimes be inaccurate!

To facilitate browsing the Delhi Persian collection, we have copied below a general classification of the collection according to a preliminary handlist (IO Islamic 4601-3) which was compiled in Calcutta under the supervision of H. Blochmann ca. 1869.

Delhi Persian 1-34: Qur'anic commentaries and treatises
Delhi Persian 35-72: Works on Hadith
Delhi Persian 73-122: Adʼiyah or devotional works
Delhi Persian 123-125: Principles of law
Delhi Persian 126-222: Law
Delhi Persian 226-253: ʻAqaʼid or doctrines
Delhi Persian 257-326: Kalam
Delhi Persian 329-417: Grammar
Delhi Persian 420-429: Rhetoric
Delhi Persian 431-507: Insha, or prose and letter-writers
Delhi Persian 508-567: Lexicography
Delhi Persian 569-783: History and biography
Delhi Persian 785-788: Physiognomy
Delhi Persian 789-797: Logic and dialectics
Delhi Persian 798-806: Natural philosophy
Delhi Persian 807-872: Medicine
Delhi Persian 873-899: Works on Mawaʻiz, homilies and khutbahs etc
Delhi Persian 902-953: Ethics
Delhi Persian 954-1198: Sufiism
Delhi Persian 1200-1202: Dreambooks
Delhi Persian 1302-1209: Anecdotes or comic writings
Delhi Persian 1210-1213: Riddles
Delhi Persian 1222-1420: Poetry
Delhi Persian 1424-1475: Mathematics and astronomy
Delhi Persian 1492-1499: Charms and geomancy
Delhi Persian 1500-1502: Music
Delhi Persian 1503-1550: Miscellaneous

Further Reading:
Storey, C.A., Persian Literature: A Bio-bibliographical Survey (London, 1972-ongoing). Section 1 is on line: Qur’anic Literature (1927)
Arberry, A.J., The Koran Interpreted: A Translation (Reprinted New York, 1996).
---------------,  Fifty Poems of Hafiz (Cambridge, 1962)
Levy, R., A Mirror for Princes: The Qābūs Nāma (London, 1951)


Nur Sobers-Khan, Curator for Turkey, Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar Museums Authority
Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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