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51 posts categorized "Iran"

28 April 2017

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

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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

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405v 34v  
175v
Details of illuminated openings on ff. 2v405v34v, and 175v. 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

03 April 2017

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

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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.

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
 ccownwork

 

14 January 2016

A Dictionary Packed with Stories from Eighteenth-Century Delhi

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In a previous post (When Good Literary Taste Was Part of a Bureaucrat’s Job Description) I introduced readers to the high-ranking courtier, poet and writer Ānand Rām Mukhliṣ (1697?-1751). Here I focus on his idiosyncratic dictionary, the Mirʾāt al-iṣt̤ilāḥ (ʻMirror of Expressionsʼ) completed in 1158/1745, which provides us with a delightful hodgepodge of cultural and social information about eighteenth-century India

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Decorative shamsah followed by the opening page of Mirʾāt al-iṣt̤ilāḥ (British Library Or.1813, f. 11)  noc

The biographical note on a certain Rājah Harīsingh from Sialkot, for example, which describes him as peerless in archery and entertaining (ʿilm-i majlis), is a little unusual in its detail but unremarkable for this book:

On dark nights he shot by torchlight at a target made from knot of horsehair. He had a servant named Gopī… [Gopī] would place a piece of candle on the tip of his finger, set a lentil on it, place a grain of rice on top, and stand facing the Rajah, and the Rajah bent his bow. First he knocked the rice then the lentil then the candle from his finger. Neither did the Rajah make a mistake nor did the unjust [sic] servant frown. Now I come to his knowledge of entertaining...
(Mukhliṣ 2013: 238, my translation).

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Biography of Rājah Harīsingh from Sialkot inserted into an explanation of the phrase tīr-būtah ʻarchery rangeʼ (British Library Or.1813, f. 90r)  noc

The account continues by explaining that the Rajah had not studied Persian but could make conversation so impressively in the language that Iranians praised him. He also recited poetry in Hindi and Persian. He was a musician himself, and kept qawwāls (Sufi singers) and dancing girls in his retinue. This was a man who clearly knew how to throw a good party.

Historians delight in such specific descriptions of particular people in history, but it is of course unusual to find them in a text that purports to be a dictionary. In this case, the account of the Rajah fits into an entry on tīr-būtah (meaning an archery range). An elegantly written copy of this remarkable dictionary—or perhaps it is better to see it as a miscellany cast in the form of a dictionary—is available at the British Library in manuscript (Or.1813) and has recently been printed in a critical edition (Mukhliṣ 2013). Besides providing us with details about life in eighteenth-century Delhi, even a cursory reading of the text demonstrates the richness of Persian scholarship and literary society in late Mughal India.

The historical importance of Persian in India has all but faded from modern cultural memory, but it was undeniably the key medium of expression among north Indian elites during the Mughal period. Though Persian is written in the same script as Arabic and therefore often pigeonholed as an Islamic language, Persian was a secular language in pre-modern India in the sense that all communities had access to it (though there was a class divide—it was mostly an elite language) and many Hindus like Mukhliṣ made their living by mastering it. The parallels between the Persian of pre-colonial times and the English of today as languages of personal advancement in South Asia are striking. (For more on this, see my new book Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History (Dudney 2015), which addresses the history of Persian in India in far more detail than I can here.)

The composition of Mukhliṣ’s dictionary came at a time of great uncertainty for Delhi’s elite. Patronage for poets and indeed the whole political system was being renegotiated in the wake of Nādir Shāh’s conquest of Delhi in 1739. Nādir, ethnically a Turk, had conquered the whole of Iran and the region that became Afghanistan and turned next to India. It is undeniable that politics were by then quite different from how they were in the Empire’s glory days, but it is almost eerie to trace how literary culture not only carried on but arguably shone with greater brilliance in the aftermath of the worst bloodshed Mughal Delhi had ever seen.

Nadir Shah
Three-quarter length portrait of Nādir Shāh, Shah of Iran (r. 1736–1747), painted by an anonymous artist ca. 1740. Oil on canvas (British Library F44)  noc

Mirʾāt al-iṣt̤ilāḥ has a particular interest in administrative terminology as well as in words and expressions having to do with painting, clothing, handicrafts, animals, flowers, hot beverages (particularly coffee), games, and so on. It is different from other Persian dictionaries in that it contains a great number of  ʻproto-anthropologicalʼ observations as well as long digressions describing, for example, particular people that Mukhliṣ knew such as the poet and scholar Sirājuddīn ʿAlī Khān Ārzū (briefly defining the term ārzū as ʻhope and desireʼ in as many words serves an excuse to launch into several hundred words of praise for his friend and teacher) or objects like the Peacock Throne. Additionally, it ends each letter’s section with a series of adages (amsāl), some of which have Urdu equivalents provided.

Or1813_f141r

In this passage the expression dar jang ḥalvā bakhsh nimīkunand  [During war they don't hand out sweets] is rendered in Hindi (written in a special calligraphic script) as laṛāʾī meṁ koʾī laḍḍū nahīṁ baṭte —Indian laddus have been substituted for halwa (British Library Or.1813, f. 141r)  noc

Despite these unusual features, Mirʾāt fits squarely into a remarkable tradition of Persian lexicography that began in Central Asia and continued in the Indian Subcontinent, with virtually no counterpart in Iran. In fact, there is a gap of nearly three centuries between Surūrī’s Majmaʿ al-furs (first ed. 1008/1599-1600, compiled in Isfahan) and the next major dictionary written in Iran, Riẓā Qulī Khān Hidāyat’s Farhang-i anjuman-ārā-yi nāṣirī (1288/1871, compiled in Tehran). (The fullest account of Persian lexicography in English remains Henry Blochmann’s 1868 article)

Like earlier dictionaries, Mirʾāt bridges different usages around the vast region where Persian was a language of high culture, a region that at its peak stretched from Anatolia (modern Turkey) in the west across Central and Southern Asia to the Chinese frontier in the east. Scholars debate the question of how different Indian Persian was from Iranian Persian—remarkably there has been little dispassionate analysis of this topic since the starting point is usually the misleading assumption that Indo-Persian, whatever it was, could not have been ʻauthenticʼ compared to Iranian usage. That is a discussion for another time but worth mentioning in the context of Mukhliṣ’s scholarship because he was so attuned to how different people used words and expressions.

There is an apocryphal story that Mukhliṣ chased after the Qizilbash soldiers of Nādir Shāh’s army to ask them about points of Persian usage. The logic is that they were native speakers, and he wanted to know how Persian was really spoken. One difficulty in this story is that these soldiers were not actually native speakers in our sense because in daily life they either spoke Turkish dialects (like Nādir Shāh himself) or local variants of Persian. The category of native speaker (usually translating the term ahl-i zabān) is a problem in this context because literary Persian was a learned language. Mirʾāt was part of this economy of teaching Persian. The entry in Encyclopaedia Iranica claims that Mukhliṣ’s dictionary was intended to “to improve the falling standard of Persian in India”—but its preface does not in fact say anything like that (and indeed though there is a reference to īrān-zamīn [the land of Iran] in the colophon, this was written in 1850, a full hundred years after Mukhliṣ, and therefore cannot be assumed to reflect his thinking). Even the editors of the 2013 critical edition claim that “It can be seen from a close reading of the text that after finishing the work, he got it authenticated from speakers of the language just arrived in India” (2013: 33, English introduction). While some of his material comes from such people, the implication is wrong: He was asking them not because he thought of them as ʻnative speakersʼ but because they knew administrative terminology current in the establishment of Nādir Shāh, who having just conquered Delhi had modified the administrative structure to suit his needs. To find positions under the new regime, Mukhliṣ and his colleagues needed to be savvy in the new terms and procedures. It was not that Indian elites were desperate for Iranian native speakers to sort out their degenerate Persian but rather that they sought insider knowledge about the new political dispensation.


Further reading
Anand Ram Mukhlis, Mirʾāt al-iṣt̤ilāḥ, edited by Chander Shekhar, Hamidreza Ghelichkani and Houman Yousefdahi. Delhi: National Mission for Manuscripts, 2013.
—,  Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Medieval India: Mirat-ul-Istilah, translated by Tasneem Ahmad. Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 1993.  A complete English translation of the text, this is a useful tool but too ambiguous and inaccurate to be used without consulting the Persian text.
Ahmad, B, “Ānand Rām Mokles: Chronicler, Lexicographer, and Poet of the Later Mughal Period”, Encyclopædia Iranica vol. 2.1, p. 1 (1985).
Blochmann, Henry, “Contributions to Persian Lexicography”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal 37 (1): 1-72 (1868).
Dudney, Arthur Dale,  A Desire for Meaning: Ḳhān-i Ārzū's Philology and the Place of India in the Eighteenth-Century Persianate World. Columbia University Academic Commons, 2013.
—, Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History. New Delhi: Hay House India, 2015.

Arthur Dudney, University of Cambridge
add38@cam.ac.uk
 ccownwork

22 October 2015

Marking the Aftermath of the Massacre at Karbala: New manuscripts of the Mukhtarnamah

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Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic lunar Hijrī calendar and considered, along with Ramaz̤ān (the ninth month) and others, to be one of the sacred months marked for pious observances. Culminating with the day of ʿāshūrāʾ (literally, the ‘tenth’ day – this year falling on Friday, 23 October 2015), the first ten days of Muḥarram hold particular significance. This period coincides with remembrances of the military confrontation between two rival factions claiming legitimacy over the political succession and moral leadership of the early Islamic community.

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Muharram festival. Gouache on mica. Benares or Patna style, 1830-40 (British Library Add.Or.401)
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Two important figures in the Arabian peninsula, 1) Imām Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, the grandson of the Prophet Muḥammad, and 2) ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Zubayr (d. 73/692), a distant relative, refused to submit to the authority of Yazīd ibn Muʿāviyah (d. 64/683), the newly succeeding Umayyad caliph ruling in Damascus. Angered by this, Yazīd dispatched southward a large force to eliminate all rebels. Invited to take power in Kufa in place of Yazīd’s appointed governor, Ḥusayn, his extended family, and a small military contingent departed Medina via Mecca, but were confronted en route at Karbala, then a desolate and arid desert location. On the tenth day of Muḥarram or ʿāshūrāʾ, Ḥusayn and his companions were massacred (10 Muḥarram 61/10 October 680), leaving only a few survivors.

Celebrating the exploits of Amīr Abū Isḥāq Mukhtār ibn Abū ʿUbaydah ibn Masʿūd al-Thaqafī (d. 67/687), an early rebel leader of the southern Iraqi city of Kufa, a previously unknown version of the Mukhtārnāmah has recently come to light. Read for its narrative of events connecting to ʿāshūrāʾ commemorations, the Mukhtārnāmah’s importance extends beyond pure biography to encompass political, religious, and ethical themes of perennial interest to Muslim communities across the world.

The Mukhtārnāmah records how, learning of the atrocities while in Kufa, Mukhtār joined the wave of revulsion reverberating through the region. He later came to challenge competing Umayyad and Zubayrid claims for the caliphate by ruling Kufa and other parts of Iraq as an independent emirate, while pursuing revenge against the named perpetrators of atrocities against Ḥusayn and his family. Although his rebellion did not last long, Mukhtār’s doomed stand against tyranny and reverence for the Prophet Muḥammad’s family were admired by contemporaries and preserved in various literary forms for later generations to honour as part of annual ʿāshūrāʾ commemorations.

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Opening page from the recently discovered Mukhtārnāmah  dating from the early nineteenth century. Though decorated with an illuminated headpiece and interlinear gilding, the slightly awkward scribal quality of the nastaʿlīq hand continues throughout (British Library IO Islamic 3716, f. 1v)
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The recently discovered manuscript of the Mukhtārnāmah (IO Islamic 3716) is an anonymous version in simple prose, completed by Aṣghar ʿAlī Bayg known as Sangī Bayg for Mirzā Khudā Bakhsh Bayg Khān, 19 Muḥarram 1228/22 January 1813. Though it lacks a preface or introduction, the narrative is arranged into several majālis or gatherings, which help contextualise the work’s recitation in ʿāshūrāʾ-related gatherings in mosques and imāmbārahs.

The British Library holds another older copy (Or.10948), also in prose, dated 1[0]96/1684-5, the text of which is similarly arranged into majālis. Crucially, its narrative differs from IO Islamic 3716 in style and occasionally in points of detail, as well as unsatisfactorily beginning without the first complete majlis (singular of majālis). The later Mukhtārnāmah (IO Islamic 3716) presents a more complete narrative and deserves to be studied closely.

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Opening from the earlier Mukhtārnāmah , showing the original late-seventeenth-century illuminated text transcribed in naskh on the left (f. 2r), and a simpler near-contemporary replacement folio, also in naskh, on the right (f. 1v). Though both versions are in prose, the content of this version differs from the recently discovered Mukhtārnāmah (above) (British Library Or.10948, ff. 1v-2r)
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Sâqib Bâburî, Asian and African Studies
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18 August 2015

The travels of a manuscript: Rashid al-Din's Compendium of Chronicles (Add.7628)

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The Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh or ‘Compendium of Chronicles’ is a monumental universal history composed by Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1317) in Persian at the beginning of the 14th century. It was originally written for the Mongol Ilkhan of Iran Ghazan Khan (d. 1304) but was finally presented to his brother and successor Oljaytu Khan (d. 1317) possibly in 1307. The work acquired enormous popularity both in medieval and modern times especially for its unique description of the rise of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire. There are copies of this work in all the major libraries in Europe and the Middle East, including several masterpieces of 14th century manuscript illustration.


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Heading in the hand of Shah Rukh’s third son Baysunghur (1397-1433). Sultan Muhammad's seal is stamped in the margin (British Library Add.7628, f. 410v)
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The British Library has a number of interesting copies of this work. One of the earliest is the recently digitised Add.16688, copied possibly in the late 14th or early 15th century, but incomplete. It has an interesting re-arrangement of the contents and, as has been suggested recently (Kamola, p. 233), contains some unique insights into the composition of the work. Another remarkable copy is IO Islamic 3524, a 16th century copy, but one which contains the entire two volumes of the chronicle [1].

However perhaps the most valuable copy held at the British library is Add.7628. Although now fully accessible online, it is difficult to appreciate its immense size and magnificence. Comprising 728 folios, and measuring 45.72 x 27.94 cm (18 x 11 in), it is written in several different hands in a clear early 15th century naskh script, thus immediately indicating its royal origin. In addition to many other important features, the manuscript includes a number of seals and signatures which provide some interesting insights into the origin and history of the manuscript. It is these on which I shall focus in this post.

Although the colophon lacks a specific date, some of the references to historical figures that appear in the text allow us to approximate a relative date of copy. One of these is a short note mentioning the Timurid Sultan Shah Rukh (d. 1447), who ruled in Khorasan, Afghanistan and Central Asia after the death of his father Timur. This describes how the work was originally copied for the Ilkhan Ghazan Khan (letters in gold) and describes Shah Rukh, the shadow of God on Earth (ظلا الله فی الارضین) etc, as the owner (f. 403v). The royal connection is even more evident on folio 410v, illustrated above, where the words Khaṭ-i Bāysunghur (‘Baysunghur’s handwriting’) are written in golden letters. This name can be easily identified with Shah Rukh son’s Ghiyas al-Din Baysunghur (d. 1433), the well-known patron of the arts who was also a calligrapher himself. Since Baysunghur died in 1433, the manuscript must have been copied before then. The manuscript also includes empty spaces left perhaps for illustrations which were, however, never incorporated.

The manuscript contains a number of interesting seals that help to partially reconstruct its history. It is not surprising that some of these seals belong to members of the Timurid royal family, who had this copy in their personal libraries. A seal that appears four times belonged to the above-mentioned Sultan Shah Rukh. In addition, a seal belonging to his grandson Sultan Muhammad (d. 1452), who ruled after his grandfather until he was executed by a rival family member (Manz, p. 270), sometimes appears next to that of his grandfather.

Add.7628_f623r
Top: seal of Shah Rukh (d. 1447):  
من کتب خزانة السلطان الاعظم شاه رخ بهادر ‘From the library of the greatest Sulṭān Shāh Rukh Bahādur’
Bottom: seal of his grandson Muhammad Sultan (d. 1451-2):
حسبی الله ولی الاحسان واناالعبد محمد سلطان ‘Sufficient for me is God, the Source of all Goodness, and I am [his] slave Muḥammad Sulṭān’
(British Library Add.7628, f.623r)
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This suggests that the manuscript remained in Herat at least until the middle of the 15th century. However, the fate of the book is less certain when trying to reconstruct what happened to it in the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries. A seal of possible Aq Quyunlu origin appears on folio 414r mentioning a certain ʻAbd al-Wahhāb bin Luṭf Allāh Sangalākhī (?)[2]. If this is the case, then the manuscript could have been taken as booty during one of several Aq Quyunlu raids in the area of Herat during Uzun Hasan’s reign (r. 1453-71) or be part of a diplomatic gift between the Timurids and the Aq Quyunlu confederation before that date (Woods, pp.112-3). In either case, the manuscript might have travelled west from Khurasan around the middle of the 15th century.

Add.7628_f414r
Late 15th or even early 16th century seal, most probably Aq Quyunlu:
 ﺍلمتوكل على الله اﺍلفقیر ﺍلر[ا]جي عبد اﺍلوﻫاﺏ بن لطف الله سنگلاخي؟
‘Confident in God, the needy one hoping [for God's help] ʻAbd al-Wahhāb bin Luṭf Allāh Sangalākhī (?)’
(British Library Add. 7628, f. 414r)
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Another puzzling seal is one in kufic script which occurs on the first leaf of the manuscript. Kufic seals were sometimes used as personal seals, even without specifying any personal names [3], but in this case the seal is found next to an Ottoman seal containing the name of a certain Muṣṭafá Ṣidqī. The two seals could date from different periods but luckily for us, the same two seals are found together in another British Library manuscript (RSPA 59). This is an allegedly 14th century copy of the Javāmiʻ al-ḥikāyāt va lavāmiʻ al-rivāyāt, a work on ethics containing anecdotes and tales in Persian by Muḥammad ʻAwfī (fl. 1228). The identical seals appear on folio 7v, suggesting that the kufic seal actually belonged to the bibliophile Muṣṭafá Ṣidqī  (d. 1769/70) [4]. These two seals also occur together as a pair in British Library Or.13127, f. 1r and in a number of other manuscripts listed in the Chester Beatty Islamic Seals database (for example CBL Ar 3008 f1a).

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British Library Add.7628, f. 3r
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British Library RSPA 59, f 7r
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Small kufic seal: ما شا الله لاقوة ﺍلا بالله  'What God Wills. There is no Power except by God'
Larger oval Ottoman seal: من متملكات اﺍلفقیر اﺍلحاج مصطفى صدقي غفر له ۱۷۹  ‘[One] of properties of the needy al-Ḥājj Muṣṭafá Ṣidqī, may [God’s] mercy be upon him [1]179 (1765/66)

The Ottoman seals together with two ownership notes in Ottoman Turkish at the beginning of the manuscript on folio 3r suggest that the book travelled even further west in the 18th century. The first note mentions that the manuscript was bought by Ahmed Resmi, a Greek Ottoman diplomat, from a bookseller at the Imperial camp in Babadağı (present day Rumania) in AH 1185 (April 1771). It was subsequently acquired by a certain ʻĀrif, who signed the second note dated AH 1210 (1795/6). In 1818 Claudius James Rich purchased the manuscript in Baghdad (f. 1r). As was common among British colonial officials [5], Rich had his seal written in Arabic script, with his name in the central panel surrounded by an Arabic text in praise of the Prophet Muhammad taken from Saʻdī’s Gūlistān. Finally the manuscript was sold to the British Museum from Claudius Rich's estate in 1825.

Add.7628_f002r
Seal of Claudius James Rich (1786-1821), resident at Baghdad 1808-21, dated AH 1227 (1812/13). His name is in the centre, surrounded by a verse in Arabic quoted from Saʻdī’s Gulistān: 
بلغَ العلی بِکمالِه کشفَ الدُّجی بِجَمالِه        حَسنتْ جَمیعُ خِصالِه صلّوا علیه و آله  (British Library Add. 7628, f. 2r)
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Despite the popularity of the Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh and the amount of secondary literature that has been written about it, the study of individual manuscripts can reveal aspects of its history which are lost if we only consider published editions. In this case, by looking at the seals in Add.7628, we can trace the travels of this manuscript from the Timurid court in early 15th century Herat all the way to colonial Britain via the Ottoman Empire.

 

Further reading

Text editions:
Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb, Jāmiʻ al-tavārīkh, ed. Bahman Karīmī, 2v. Tihrān: Iqbāl, 1959
Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb, Jāmiʻ al-tavārīkh, eds. Muṣṭafá Mūsavī, and Muḥammad Rawshan, 4v. Tihrān: Nashr-i Alburz, 1994

Other works:
Stefan T. Kamola, “Rashīd al-Dīn and the making of history in Mongol Iran.” PhD. Diss., University of Washington, 2013
Beatrice Forbes Manz, Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007
John Woods, The Aqquyunlu : clan, confederation, empire. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999

Bruno De Nicola, University of St. Andrews, European Research Council project: The Islamisation of Anatolia (ERC grant number 284076)
 ccownwork

with thanks especially to Manijeh Bayani for her help with the inscriptions, and also to Daniel Lowe and Ursula Sims-Williams

 



[1] Other copies in the British Library Collection are IO Islamic 4710 (early 19th century) containing only the section on Ghazan Khan; Add.18878 (vol. 2 only, also 19th century, copied in India); IO Islamic 1784 (undated).
[2] Special thanks to Manijeh Bayani for this suggestion and the reading of the seal.
[3] Personal communication from Annabel Gallop.
[4] See François Déroche, Islamic codicology: an introduction to the study of manuscripts in Arabic script. London: al-Furqan, 2006, p. 341, fig. 133.
[5] See Daniel Lowe, “Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ Seals of British Colonial Officers.

08 August 2015

Cats in Persian manuscripts

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Since August 8th is International Cat Day, it seemed a good excuse to publish some of the more picturesque felines from the manuscripts we have been working with during the last three years of our project ‘Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts’.

Or_13506_f2-3r_1500
Double-page opening to the tales of the two jackals Kalilah and Dimnah, by Naṣr Allāh ibn Muḥammad, dated AH 707/1307-8. Here the king is enthroned on the left, surrounded by courtiers with two lions beneath and, on the right, hunting cheetahs, a horse and a hawk (Or.13506, ff 2v-3r)
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The most frequently illustrated is probably the lion who features alternately as the noble king of the animals and a ferocious wild creature. In the context of animal tales, which abound in Persian literature, the lion is often accompanied by the leopard.  The snow leopard, especially, was prized for its coat which, like the famous tiger skin of the warrior Rustam, appears in paintings, worn by heroes and kings. Cheetahs were used as hunting animals, sometimes shown accompanying their masters on horseback. Tigers are less common in Persian manuscripts - except as clothing - , and domestic cats hardly feature at all.

The earliest examples (illustrated immediately above and below) are from Naṣr Allāh's translation of the Arabic version, Kalīlah wa Dimnah, of the tales of Bidpai. This manuscript is dated AH 707/1307-8 and originates from Southern Iran.

Hare and lion_Or13506_54 Or_13506_f041r
Left: The hare tricks the lion into attacking his own reflection in a well (Or.13506, f. 52v)
Right: The lion with its courtiers, leopard, wolf, gazelle and Dimnah the jackal (Or.13506, f. 41r)
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Add.18579, a Mughal copy of Bidpai's tales, the Anvār-i Suḥaylī  by Ḥusayn Vāʻiz̤ Kāshifī, shows much more life-like felines. This copy was made especially for the emperor Jahangir between 1604 and 1611.

Add_18579_f146r
The lioness in conference with the leopard, the cheetah and other animals. Artist: Ustād Ḥusayn (Add.18579, f 146r)
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A common theme at the beginning of manuscripts of Iranian origin is for King Solomon to be portrayed holding court, usually with Bilqis (Sheba) on a facing page, surrounded by animals, angels, divs (demons), and birds.

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Solomon enthroned. Opening to a 16th century copy from Shiraz of Firdawsīʼs epic history of Iran the Shāhnāmah (IO Islamic 3540, f. 1v)
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Io_islamic_3540_f017r_2000
Here Guyumars, the first king of Iran and clad in the skin of a snow leopard, holds court in an idyllic age when all wild creatures were tamed (IO Islamic 3540, f. 17r)
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An equally popular theme involving animal audiences is that of the lovelorn Majnun who, separated form his beloved Layla, wasted away in the desert with wild animals as his only friends.

Or_2265_f166r
Majnun in the wilderness, from Shah Tahmasp's imperial copy of the Khamsah by Niz̤āmī. Mid-16th century, painted by Mīrak (Or.2265, f. 166r)
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Or12208_f150v
In this copy of the same work, commissioned for the Mughal emperor Akbar and dated AH 1004/1595-6, Majnun affectionally strokes a tiger - you can almost see him purring. Beside him lies  a lion while pairs of cheetahs and leopards relax alongside animals who would normally be their prey. Artist: Sānvalah (Or.12208, f. 150v)
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Another frequently illustrated 'lion' episode in Niz̤āmī's Khamsah occurs in the romance of Khusraw and Shirin.

Add_ms_6613_f048v
In this scene the Sasanian king Khusraw Parviz and Shirin were feasting together when suddenly a lion approached the royal pavilion. Khusraw hit the lion with his fist and killed it instantly. From a Safavid manuscript dated AH 1076-7/1665-7 (Add.6613, f. 48v)
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F031v_Khusraw kills a lion
This slightly unorthodox portrayal of the same scene - in which the lion looks more like a tame pet- comes from a recent acquisition originating from North or Western India from the Sultanate (i.e. pre-Mughal) period, dating from the end of the 15th century  (Or.16919, f. 31v)
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Many other Persian manuscripts besides those already mentioned depict members of the cat family in incidental scenes of courtly life. An interesting example is this painting from the Sufi allegory Manṭiq al-ṭayr ‘Speech of the Birds’ by the poet Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār which shows a hunting cheetah carried on horseback.

Add_ms_7735_f084r
The tale of two foxes from Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār's Manṭiq al-ṭayr. Late 15th or early 16th century from Herat (Add.7735, f. 84r)
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Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār’s famous poem Manṭiq al-ṭayr (‘Speech of the Birds’), a Sufi allegory of the quest for God - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/mantiq-al-tayr-the-speech-of-birds-part-3.html#sthash.gSdfvUW0.dpuf

And finally an  example of the domestic cat:

Add7760-2
Inside front cover from a Qajar binding depicting a woman with her attendant and pet cat. Late 18th century (Add. 7760)
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Most of these manuscripts have been fully digitised. Follow the hyperlinks to explore them further.


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

The archaeology of a manuscript: the Khamsah of Khvaju Kirmani

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For an art historian, one of the most exciting things in working with manuscripts is having the opportunity to examine a masterpiece firsthand. High-quality digital reproduction tells us much, and it is to the credit of the BL that they have digitized so many of their masterpieces, including one that I have been working on: ms. Add. 18113, a copy of three poems by Khvaju Kirmani penned by Mir Ali b. Ilyas in 796/1396. (See Ursula Sims-William’s post of 1 August 2013 “An illustrated 14th century Khamsah by Khvaju Kirmani")

But examining the physical manuscript can tell us more. For that reason I was especially grateful that Ursula Sims-Williams, Curator of Iranian Collections, arranged for three of us—my husband Jonathan Bloom, a specialist in Islamic paper; Cheryl Porter, a conservator specializing in pigments; and me—to examine the manuscript firsthand in the conservation laboratory.

01 BL viewing
Fig. 1. Cheryl Porter, Sheila Blair and Ursula Sims-Williams examining the Khvaju Kirmani manuscript in the British Library. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

More than 600 years old, the manuscript still holds many secrets. The mystery I wanted to investigate was how the paintings were combined with the text. I hoped to confirm some hypotheses I had broached in my recent book, Text and Image in Medieval Persian Art (Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

All of the folios in the manuscript are composite, that is, they are assembled with two different sheets of paper: a thinner white paper in the center and a heavier buff paper for the frame. This is clear even when looking at the manuscript on-line (Add.18113). But looking at the folios through transmitted light shows that these pages were assembled in two different ways. The simplest method, used for all text folios, was simply to insert the rectangular block with the four columns of text into the frame like a window. Hence, I called them framed folios.

02 folio 49
Fig.2. Folio 49 seen through transmitted light: a framed folio with the colophon to
Humay and Humayun on the front side and a blank back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

This straightforward method was also used for to assemble one illustrated folio: folio 64, with the painting of ʿAli slaying the infidel on the back.

03 folio 64
Fig. 3. Folio 64 seen through transmitted light: a framed folio with text on the front and
ʿAli slays the infidel on the back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

The painting occupied the same space as the columns of text, so it was easy just to use the same method of inserting a rectangular block into the frame. 

But the other eight illustrations in the manuscript are different. They are much bigger, spreading well beyond the written surface on the other side. So it was impossible just to assemble them by inserting them like a window into a frame. How were they combined with the border? The reason it was important to know is that it has been suggested that the paintings, or at least some of them, had been made for a different manuscript and were pasted into the text. 

I disagree. I think that the text and the paintings are integral in this manuscript, and our recent investigations confirmed what I had originally suggested: that the paintings were executed directly onto the same white paper used for copying the text and that at a later date—when someone decided to reframe the manuscript within heavier buff borders—the illustrated folios were simply pasted onto (not inserted into) the borders. I called these laminated folios.

I had made this suggestion following my earlier examination of the manuscript in 2011 with BL conservator David Jacobs. Looking at the illustrated folios such as folio 45 with the painting of the Celebrations for the consummation of Humay’s marriage to Humayun under strong transmitted light showed three areas of different opacity: a lighter area in the center, the buff frame visible at the outermost edge, and a third even darker area between the two.

04 folio 45
Fig. 4. Folio 45 seen through transmitted light: a laminated folio with text on the front and Celebrations for the consummation of Humay’s marriage to Humayun on the back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

I suggested that the third area was darker because it was thicker, as it was a laminate of the original white paper and the buff frame.

David Jacobs suggested that I might be able to confirm my suggestion by measuring the folios with a micrometer, and that is exactly what Ursula Sims-Williams arranged for us to do. We measured several different folios in several different places and found three different thicknesses on illustrated folios that had the paintings laminated to the frame.

The white paper in the center was the thinnest. Regular text folios averaged 0.12 mm, although individual measurements varied from 0.11 to 0.16 mm, undoubtedly due to variations in the handmade paper and the difficulties in measuring a folio that was still in a bound manuscript. 

The white paper in the illustrated folios was a little thicker because one side also had paint, not just inked text.  For example, we measured folio 23 with Humay and Humayun in combat in several places in the center of the painting where there was text on the other side: under the trees, beneath the horses, and between the horses.

05 folio 23 (1)
Fig. 5. Folio 23 seen through transmitted light, with
Humay and Humayun in combat on the front and text on the back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

The average thickness of the white paper was 0.145 mm, although the three measurements varied from 0.135 to 0.15 mm.  On average, then, the paint added 0.25 mm to the thickness of the paper.

The buff paper used for the frame was thicker. On both text and illustrated folios, it averaged 0.18 mm, with individual measurements ranging between 0.15 and 0.22 mm. 

But the thickest of all was the third zone where the white sheet with the illustration had been laminated onto the buff frame.  Again we measured folio 23 with Humay and Humayun in combat in three places: at the top, middle, and bottom. The average thickness in this third zone was 0.23 mm, with individual measurements ranging from 0.22 to 0.24 mm. The margin with the gold leaf was even thicker: 0.26 mm, with individual measurements ranging from 0.25 to 0.27 mm.

Measuring with a micrometer thus confirmed my hypothesis that the paintings were integral with the original manuscript and that the large ones on the original white paper had later been laminated onto a heavier buff frame. 

Such a hypothesis about the origin of the illustrations can also be confirmed by looking at the layout of the paintings on the laminated folios through transmitted light, for the composition is directly related to the columnar rulings set out for the text on the other side. This is especially true of the architectural scenes. For example, looking at folio 45 through transmitted light (fig. 4) shows that the architecture corresponds exactly to the text columns. Humayun’s palace with its curtained canopy occupies three columns; the doorway with the servant occupies the fourth; and Humay’s palace lies beyond the written area. The dimensions correspond horizontally as well. The valance above the curtain in Humayun’s palace marks the top of the written area on the front. The carpet below the enthroned princess marks the bottom of the written area. Paintings like this one must have been composed directly on the surface of the ruled folio, because the painter, in this case Junayd who signed his work in the stucco grille just above the valance, laid out his composition directly in accordance with the ruled text.

There is no question, therefore, that close first-hand examination of the manuscript shows that the text and paintings in this superb copy of Khvaju Kirmani’s poems dated 796/1396 are contemporary and that the illustrations were painted onto folios that had already had the text transcribed onto them. I thank the staff of the British Library for making it possible for me to confirm my hypothesis.

Sheila S. Blair, Norma Jean Calderwood University Professor of Islamic and Asian Art, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
sheila.blair@bc.edu

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