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125 posts categorized "Middle East"

21 October 2018

A Photographic Tour of the Persian Gulf and Iraq, 1906

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House of the dragoman [translator] of British Consulate Basra’, 1906 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 27)

In November 1906, Wilfrid Malleson, a British military intelligence officer, departed from Simla in British India on an intelligence-gathering tour of the Persian Gulf and what British officials then termed ‘Turkish Arabia’ (the south of modern Iraq, then part of the Ottoman Empire). Britain was already the dominant imperial power in the Gulf and was keen to ascertain the situation in those territories to its north that remained under the sway of the Ottomans. Malleson’s report of his journey – that included stops in Muscat, Kuwait, Basra, Baghdad and Mohammerah – provides a fascinating snapshot of the region at this time.

‘Mosque and minaret of coloured tiles at Basra’. Malleson described it as: “a brick building with a minaret ornamented with some pretty blue tiles, but, on the whole, a squalid and sorry structure which in India one would hardly turn aside to look at” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)

In addition to Malleson’s narrative, the report also contains a series of photographs of the places that he visited, foremost amongst them, Basra and Baghdad. Although Malleson apologised for their poor quality in the preface to his official report, over a hundred years later they provide an evocative glimpse of locations that have changed dramatically since and in some cases, came under British military occupation less than a decade after his visit. Indeed, Malleson made notes regarding the military defences (or lack thereof) of the places that he visited including Basra, of which he remarked, “[t]here are no defences and a landing could easily be covered from ships in the river”. Malleson also speculated that “judicious treatment [by Britain] could easily succeed in turning the local Arab against the much-hated Turk”. Eight years later – perhaps using intelligence supplied by Malleson – the British army invaded and conquered Basra as a part of the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War, events that eventually led to the establishment of the modern nation state of Iraq. In 2003, almost a hundred years after Malleson’s visit, the British Army invaded and occupied Basra again.

‘The British Consulate and Messrs Lynch’s offices Basra; Showing 4,000 tons of merchandise awaiting shipment to Bagdad’. Malleson noted that Basra’s shops were “full of Manchester goods of a florid and ornate pattern suited to the local taste”. The workmen or “coolies” on Basra’s wharfs were said by Malleson to be “Arabs and Chaldeans” that “are of fine physique and can lift great weights. They work from sunrise to sunset, but refuse to work when it is wet and knock off when they feel inclined” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)

In addition to military matters, the report discusses a wide range of other topics including trade, agriculture, history, transport infrastructure and religious communities, as well as the activities of rival powers, notably the German and Ottoman Empires. As Malleson noted apologetically in its preface, the report contains much “not of immediate military interest”.

Image 4
‘Bahreini pilgrims on board the Khalifa’. Malleson took the Khalifa upriver to Baghdad and commented “[m]ore interesting than the country passed through were the pilgrims we took along with us. They were of every type, coming from all parts of the Muhammadan world in order to make the pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Kerbela and Nejef” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 33)

Malleson also recorded the various characters that he met during the course of his journey including a German trader on the boat to Muscat and a pair of hospitable “Cosmopolitan Jews” in Basra’s quarantine station. The two men, father and son, were merchants and the latter was re-locating his business to Manchester in the north of England. Malleson commented that the dominance of Manchester in Baghdad’s trade “became apparent to us later”. He also encountered an explorer who was willing to share his findings with British intelligence and believed that “a strong British policy in the Gulf would mean progress and the spread of civilisation, and would, therefore, further the interests of the world in general”.

‘Cafe and mosque near the North Gate, Bagdad’. Malleson remarked that “[t]he cafes are largely frequented by the Turkish soldiery who, for the most part slouching and out-at-elbows, seem to have little enough to do” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)

‘View in Baghdad’. Malleson was struck by Baghdad’s diversity stating that “[i]n addition to a large population of Arabs…and representatives of most of the peoples of Asia there are some 35,000 Jews, and a great number of queer Christian sects, such as Armenians, Nestorians, and Neo-Nestorians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, Arians, Jacbobites and Manichaeans. Most of them wear some distinguishing garments and the varied hues and shapes of these make a very striking effect” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 35)

The report, though engagingly written, is replete with the lamentable orientalist and misogynistic attitudes that characterised the stance of many British imperial officials in this period. In perhaps the most unpleasant instance of racist language in the report – and as testament to the ongoing existence of slavery in the region during this period – when discussing the women that he saw in Baghdad, Malleson wrote that they “of course go veiled when abroad, even those of the numerous Christian sects and the Jewesses. The latter wear extraordinarily gorgeous silken garments, and the really smart thing is to possess a white donkey tended by the blackest and ugliest of negro slaves”.

‘Near the big mosque, Bagdad’ Medieval Baghdad, Malleson noted, had flourished while “the greater part of Europe had hardly emerged from the primitive barbarism it had sunk with the fall of the Roman Empire, or from which it had never emerged” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 37)

‘A Street in Bagdad’. The reality of modern Baghdad was underwhelming however, Malleson believed “[t]he traveller who, attracted merely by the glamour of a name, expects to find in Bagdad the wondrous city of his dreams is doomed to disappointment”(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)

As well as visiting modern settlements while in Iraq, Malleson also visited historical ruins including the remains of ancient Babylon and Ctesiphon, the former capital of the Sassanian Empire.

‘The arch of Ctesiphon’. Although Malleson reported that “[l]ocal experts are of opinion that this majestic ruin cannot much longer stand”, over a hundred years later, in spite of repeated invasions and wars, the arch still stands (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 48)

‘Our conveyance across the desert to Babylon’. In Malleson’s words, “[i]t was a queer looking shandridan, half bathing-machine and half grocer’s cart, with very narrow and uncomfortable seats, and drawn by a team of four, and sometimes five, mules harnessed abreast and driven by a wild-looking son of the desert” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 43)

‘The only arch so far discovered in Babylon’. Discussing his visit to Babylon, Malleson wrote “Here, too ‘midst the ashes of dead empires and the havoc wrought by man, the philosopher may muse on the mutability of mundane things, the fleeting character of fame, the mockery of riches and the vanity of power”(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 47)

Concluding his report, Malleson wrote: “[a]nd so, with a heightened interest in the problems of the Middle East, and with, perhaps, some increase of knowledge; with friendships made with useful people, and numerous promises of help and correspondence, we turn our backs on Turkish Arabia and shape a course for Bushire and Karachi”.

Further reading:
For details on the connection between Manchester and Middle Eastern trade see: Fred Halliday, “The millet of Manchester: Arab merchants and cotton trade”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies   19:2 (1992), pp. 159-176.

An illustrated account of a tour of the same region in 1886-87: Turkish Arabia: Being an Account of an Official Tour in Babylonia, Assyria, and Mesopotamia, 1886-87 (India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F112/384).

A photographic album of a tour of the same region in 1916-18: Album of tour of the Persian Gulf. Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6).

An official account of Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign during the First World War: ‘HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR BASED ON OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS. THE CAMPAIGN IN MESOPOTAMIA 1914-1918. VOLUME I’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/66/1).

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

24 September 2018

The Queen’s poetry book: Hamidah Banu’s Divan-i Hijri

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It is well established that the Mughal royal ladies were highly educated and could read and write in several languages. For example Babur’s daughter Gulbadan wrote her own autobiography (A Mughal princess's autobiography) and Princess Jahanara completed a life of the Sufi saint Muʻin al-Din Chishti (Princess Jahanara’s biography of a Sufi saint). We also know from contemporary sources and inscriptions that they were book collectors with their own libraries. Perhaps the best-known of these was Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani (d. 1604), wife of the Mughal emperor Humayun (r. 1530–40; 1555–56) and mother of the emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605).

Baby Akbar
The baby Akbar and his mother Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani, from Abu'l-Fazl's Akbarnāmah. Artists: Sanvala and Narsingh (BL Or.12988, f. 22r )

The British Library has one of thirteen known manuscripts which belonged to Hamidah Banu (Das, Books and pictures). This is the little-known Dīvān-i Hijrī, a collection of poems composed mostly in honour of Akbar. The author is likely to be one of Akbar’s court poets, Khvajah Hijri who was described by the contemporary historian Bada’uni (Muntakhab al-tavārīkh , vol 3). Hijri was descended from Shaykh Ahmad-i Jam Namaqi, as was Hamidah Banu herself – and this might explain why she had a copy. Bada’uni described him as “very pious, chaste, and pure, and had an angelic disposition.” His dīvān apparently consisted of 5000 couplets of which Bada’uni quotes several long extracts. The British Library copy, consisting of 80 pages each containing a maximum of 17 couplets, is much shorter, but to my knowledge, no other copy is known to compare it with.

IO Isl 791_f1v
The decorated opening of the Dīvān of Khvajah Hijri, dating from between 1556 and 1560 (BL IO Islamic 791, f. 1v)

Our copy has no colophon but was completed after Humayun’s death in 963 (1556) – as is mentioned in a chronogram –, and presumably before 968 (1560/61), the date of the second of Hamidah’s two seals (see below). It is written in a good calligraphic nastaʻliq hand and many leaves have been dyed yellow, pink and pale blue.

IO Isl 791_fIIIr copy 2
Preliminary leaf showing Hamidah Banu’s seal with the inscriptions and seals of subsequent librarians and owners (BL IO Islamic 791, f. IIIr)

Hamidah’s twelve-lobed petal-shaped seal is stamped at the front of the volume and reads Ḥamīdah Bānū bint ʻAlī Akbar, 957  ‘Hamidah Banu daughter of ʻAli Akbar, 957 (1550/51)’. It is known to occur on five other manuscripts and was also apparently used as an official seal on documents (Tirmizi, Edicts, pp. 2-10). In contrast, Hamidah’s second seal, dated 968 (1560/61) is square-shaped, inscribed with her name Hamidah Banu Begam and a legend which plays on the two words muhr ‘seal’ and mihr ‘ love’, loosely translated as ‘Let her seal be the love which signifies affection, let her seal be the mirror of the face of good fortune’.

خاتم مهر كه توقيع محبت باشد
مهر او آئینهٔ چهرهٔ دولت باشد

IOIslamic791_fiiir CBL_Per_257_f-1a-seal-5-cropped
Left: Hamidah Banu’s seal dated 957 (1550/51), stamped at the front of the Dīvān-i Hijrī (BL IO Islamic 791, f. IIIr)
Right: her later seal dated 968 (1560/61), from the Dīvān-i Shāhī (CBL Per 257, f.1r) © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

This second seal occurs on two of the most valuable manuscripts of the imperial collection both graded as ‘First Class’ [1]: the Khamsah of Navaʼi (RCIN 1005032) and the anthology of Mir ʻAli (NMI 48.6/11). The Dīvān-i Shāhī shown above (CBL Per 257) although only graded as ‘Class two, grade one’ had belonged apparently to Shah ʻAbbas and included the personal inscription of the Emperor Jahangir.

IO Isl 791_f40v_2
Inscription recording the transfer of the manuscript from the property of Nawab Maryam-Makani to Mulla ʻAli on the 12th of Mihr Ilahi year 49 (September 1604) (BL IO Islamic 791, f. 40v)

For a detailed history of these manuscripts as recorded by their seals and librarians’ inscriptions, see John Seyller’s “Inspection and Valuation” (below). It is sufficient here to note that the manuscripts with the earlier seal share many similar features. Three are graded ‘Class three’ and they were all transferred from Hamidah Banu’s library to the care of one Mulla ʻAli in 1604 within a few weeks of her death. In addition they have inspection dates and seals in common which suggest that they may have followed a separate trajectory from the other manuscripts Hamidah Banu is known to have owned.

Further reading
John Seyller, “ The Inspection and Valuation of Manuscripts in the Imperial Mughal Library”, Artibus Asiae 57, No. 3/4 (1997), pp. 243-349.
Asok Kumar Das, “Books and pictures from the Zenana Mahal: the collection of manuscripts of Hamida Banu Begam” in The diverse world of Indian painting: vichitra-viśva : essays in honour of Dr. Vishwa Chander Ohri , eds. Usha Bhatia, Amar Nath Khanna, and Vijay Sharma. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2009, pp. 20-28.
SAI Tirmizi, Edicts from the Mughal harem, Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1979.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian

[1] The early Mughal emperors categorised their books as ‘Select’, ‘Class one grade one’, ‘Class two’ and ‘Class three’ etc.

19 September 2018

‘South Asia Series’, Autumn/Winter 2018

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Asia and African Collections at the British Library (BL) are pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in their new 'South Asia Series', October-December 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects from 'Theosophy and Bengali spirituality' to 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the last Mughal emperors'! This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s project ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ and its South Asian collections. The speakers include scholars and academics from the UK and elsewhere who will share their original research followed by an open discussion. The presentations will take place on Mondays at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

Image 1
The Bhagavad Gita translated by Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1887) (BL 14065.e.25)

On 1st October 2018, Mriganka Mukhpadhyay from the University of Amsterdam will talk on theosophy and Bengali spirituality, focusing on the works of Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1858-1936), a member of the Bengal Theosophical Society (from 1882) and a significant member of the Theosophical Movement. His talk 'Theosophy and Bengali Spirituality: Mohini Mohun Chatterji’s Works' will discuss how Chatterji’s translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts, original essays and his public lectures shaped the Western world’s understanding of oriental spirituality. More importantly, as a Bengali theosophist and philosopher, he became a major figure in the history of transcultural spirituality in the modern world. This talk will discuss how Chatterji’s publications created a distinctive identity for modern Hindu spirituality in the Western intellectual world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Image 2
Indian Music and Rabindranath Tagore by Arnold Bake (1932?) (BL P/V 2339)

Moushumi Bhowmik, a singer, writer and music researcher based in Kolkata who works in India, Bangladesh and the UK, will talk about the Bake-in-Bengal archives. In her talk 'The Bake-in-Bengal Archives, and Beyond' on 8th October 2018 she will focus on the works of Arnold Bake both in the British Library Sound archives as well as from her fieldwork experiences in Bengal in collaboration with audiographer Sukanta Majumdar. In this presentation Moushumi will talk about the fascinating sonic maps of Bengal, their process of map-making, tracing contour lines from listening and recording, to listening to recordings, and to recording the act of listening. The talk addresses several questions including what was at the source of the motion: the Bake-in Bengal archives scattered in many places, or what lies beyond?

A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony, British Resident to the Mughal court 1803–06 and 1818–25, watching a nautch in his house in Delhi (c. 1820) (BL Add. Or. 2)

On 22nd October 2018, Katherine Butler Schofield, a historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the colonial Indian Ocean based in King’s College London will take us through the financial accounts of the East India Company that are alive with details of music and dance in Jaipur state in nineteenth century India.  Her talk 'Mayalee Dancing Girl versus the East India Company' will focus on a particular musician who stands out in these accounts as an exceptional, Mayalee “dancing girl”, an important courtesan. Little exculpatory notes in the margins of successive accounts reveal that Mayalee successfully resisted the Company’s attempt to force her to give up her salt stipend in exchange for cash. This talk looks at what official British records yield about Indian musicians and especially courtesans.

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I Spy with My Little Eye by Humphry House, Calcutta 1937 (BL P/T 2530)

On 5th November 2018 we have Supriya Chaudhuri, Professor Emerita, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, who will talk about a modernist community in 1930s Calcutta formed around the literary journal Parichay. The Parichay group included not only writers and artists, but also scientists, historians, politicians, philosophers, and spies. Its contacts extended to a number of disaffected colonialists in Calcutta: the geologist John Bicknell Auden, brother of the poet Wystan, the Dickens and Hopkins scholar Humphry House, the colonial official Michael Carritt, ICS, and Michael Scott, Chaplain to the Bishop of Calcutta, the last two being spies for the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this talk entitled 'Modernist Communities in 1930s Calcutta: Print, Politics and Surveillance', she will trace the network of connections through the Parichay archives, through other digitized records held at Jadavpur University, and through British Library holdings (for example Michael Carritt’s papers).

Image 5
(Secret) Government of Bengal: Home Department Political: District Officer’s Chronicle of Events of Disturbances, August 1942-March 1943 (BL IOR/R/3/1/358: 1943)

Anwesha Roy, Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of History, King’s College London will focus on the years 1940-1942 before the Quit India Movement in Bengal in her talk 'Prelude to Quit India in Bengal: War Rumours and Revolutionary Parties, 1940-42' on 12th November 2018. She will discuss how war-time colonial state policies created annoying disruptions and intrusions in various ways in the day-to-day lives of the people of Bengal, building up mass discontent up to the edge, which, coupled with war rumours, reconfigured the image of the colonial state in Bengal. This talk taps into the psyche of the colonised mind, which was increasingly and collectively coming to see the hoax of British invincibility in the face of serious reverses in the Eastern Front and Japanese victories.

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Bodhan by Kazi Nazrul Islam in the periodical Moslem Bharat (1920) (BL 14133.k.2)

On 20th November 2018, Ahona Panda, doctoral candidate, University of Chicago, will focus on the National Poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam in her talk 'Kazi Nazrul Islam and the Partition of Bengal: A Language of Unity, a Language of Loss'. This talk will explore how Nazrul tried to create a new Bengali language single-handedly. Using a large number of periodicals from the British Library’s collection, and drawing from extensive research in Bangladesh, this talk reconstructs Nazrul’s early years in journalism in which as writer and editor, he forged a new literary register for the Bengali Muslim community and crafted a political language that was anti-separatist, socialist whilw referring to a philological landscape including centuries of Islamic and Hindu literary traditions. The talk will conclude with how Nazrul found new life in the language movement in East Pakistan in the 1950s, in the years leading up to the Liberation War of 1971.

Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant, chief hereditary musician to the last of the Mughal emperors Akbar Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar. From James Skinner’s Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Hansi (near Delhi) (1825) (BL Add. 27,255, f. 134v)

We end our autumn/winter talks for 2018 with Katherine Butler Schofield from King’s College London talking about musicians in the Mughal court in her talk 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the Last Mughal Emperors' on 3rd December 2018. This talk focusses on contemporary Indian writings on and a portrait of Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1845), chief hereditary musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r. 1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–58). In this talk she will also make sense of the divergence of these competing lineages of musical knowledge in Persian, Urdu and English c. 1780–1850, by considering them side by side. It will show how viewing proto-ethnographic paintings and writings against a remarkable new wave of music treatises c. 1793–1853 reveal an incipient indigenous modernity running in parallel with colonial knowledge in the most authoritative centres of Hindustani music production, Delhi and Lucknow.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate!

Priyanka Basu, Project Cataloguer of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’


11 July 2018

‘An inexperienced and incompetent chauffeur’: the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran

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At dawn on 25th August 1941, the people of Iran awoke to a full-scale invasion of their country by the combined forces of Britain and the Soviet Union. Within three weeks the Iranian military had been overwhelmed, Tehran had fallen under foreign occupation for the first time in its history, and the Shah had been forced into exile and replaced with his 21-year-old son Mohammad Reza. Operation Countenance, as the invasion was codenamed, was one of the most successful Allied campaigns of the war and it was carried out against a neutral nation. Although British troops had occupied parts of Iran during the First World War, that occupation had been characterised as a response to direct German and Ottoman aggression in the region and they had neither entered the capital nor disrupted the government. There were a complex array of factors that provoked the far more extreme manoeuvres of 1941, some of which are revealed within certain India Office Record files held at the British Library.

Detail from a map of Iran (1912) showing the unofficial demarcation line between the British and Soviet spheres of influence (British Library, India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/17/15/5, f 230)

The reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi had been marked by his large-scale modernisation projects, not least in terms of Iranian military power. Even before his elevation to the throne, as Minister of War under his predecessor Ahmad Shah Qajar, he had created the country’s first unified standing army. As Shah he continued to build on this, making significant arms purchases from various countries. “We have been viewing with a certain amount of concern Persia’s large orders in the arms markets of Europe and America” wrote Hastings Ismay in the introduction to a War Office report of 1933 estimating that in the previous two years Iran had purchased 119 aircraft, 1,400 machine-guns, nearly 200,000 rifles and over 16 million rounds of ammunition, among much else.

Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shah of Iran (1925-1941)

However, not everyone in the British Government agreed that these purchases were a cause for concern. “All these highly technical appliances are of little value unless the best can be got out of them” a Foreign Office official wrote in reply to Ismay’s report, “I have not noticed anywhere that the Persian Army is considered either highly trained or high in morale.” A report from 1936 agreed with this assessment that the Iranian military were ill equipped to make use of their newly acquired equipment, comparing them to “an inexperienced and incompetent chauffeur placed in sole charge of a fleet of expensive motor cars of intricate design.” The British Government certainly never made any serious attempt to limit Iranian arms purchases. As late as 14th July 1941, less than six weeks prior to the invasion, a Foreign Office telegram sent to the UK Ambassador in Iran stated that the Government would “continue to permit the export to Iran of aircraft material.”

Telegram from the Government of India to the War Office, 28th June 1941, suggesting an end to military exports to Iran (British Library, India Office Records IOR/L/PS/12/551)

Taken more seriously as a threat than Iran’s military strength was the perceived growth of German influence in the region. A small number of German engineers employed in Iran as industrial consultants were suspected not just of promoting their country’s cause to those in positions of power, but also of secretly stirring up anti-British sentiment among the native population. Although Iran may have favoured the Allies at the outbreak of the war, wrote the British Envoy to Tehran Sir Reader Bullard in March of 1940, “recently there has been a slight change in the other direction.” A telegram from the Government of India to the India Office sent on 6th July 1941 described Iran as the “centre of German intrigue in Asia [which] now harbours important Arab revolutionaries,” and suggested that the removal of German nationals “could not fail to add to military security and upset the German plans.” In the months leading up to the invasion both the British and Soviet governments put increasing pressure on the Shah to expel all Germans from Iran and his failure to comply was cited as justification for their intervention.

British officers inspecting a Soviet tank during the invasion, 31st August 1941

Soviet concerns over German influence were initially kept in check by their non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. On 22nd June 1941 the pact was suddenly demolished by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, which created drastic implications for the situation in Iran. “German attack on Russia has introduced entirely new element into situation,” wrote India Secretary Leo Amery three days later, “which affects our whole policy in Central Asia.” He classified Iran as being in “immediate danger from a German victory.”

Sir Reader Bullard, British Minister in Tehran, outlines British justification for the invasion in his annual report issued at the end of 1941 (British Library, India Office Records IOR/L/PS/12/3472A)

In the weeks following Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, British and Soviet considerations over Iran escalated quickly. Of particular concern was the sudden vulnerability of Soviet oilfields in the Caucasus region. Should these fall to Germany, Iran would then become a vital component of the Allied war effort, meaning that securing their position there was of the utmost importance. Sir Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, reported on 8th July that Stalin felt that “the Germans and the Italians will try to carry out a coup against Baku oilfields, and against us in Persia and that it is urgently necessary that something should be done about it.” Far from perceiving Iran’s increased military strength as a threat, the Allies were now worried that Iran was too weak to resist German influence and potential invasion. Furthermore the supposedly neutral Shah was considered to be uncontrollable at best, a Nazi sympathiser at worst. The British and Soviet governments reached the conclusion that trying to influence Iran would not be enough. Slightly over two months after Operation Barbarossa, Operation Countenance was launched.

Primary sources
IOR/L/PS/12/87 ‘Persia: Persian armaments’
IOR/L/PS/12/551 ‘Persia: situation leading up to, and after, the Allied occupation’
IOR/L/PS/12/553 ‘Persia – General Situation (Sept. & Oct. 1941)’
IOR/L/PS/12/3472A ‘Persia: Annual Reports, 1932- ’

Further reading
Amin Banani, The Modernization of Iran, 1921-1941. Stanford University Press, 1961
Mohammad Gholi Majd, August 1941: The Anglo-Russian Occupation of Iran and Change of Shahs. University Press of America, 2012
Ursula Sims-Williams, ‘The New Age (Ruzgar-i naw): World War II cultural propaganda in Persian’ , Asian and African Studies Blog 12 May 2014

Matt Griffin, Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QF Partnership

12 June 2018

Thirty-leaved Qur’ans from India

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Manuscripts of the Qur’an exist in many different sizes and forms: in single volumes and also in multi-volume sets ranging from two to seven, ten, thirty or sixty volumes. However it was not until recently, while working on Qur’ans in the Tipu Sultan collection, that I became aware of the popularity of thirty-leaved Qur’ans, described as ‘si-varqī’ which were popular in South Asia from the seventeenth century onwards. These copies are based on the thirty equal sections juz’ (pl. ajzā’), designed to be read over a single thirty-day month, notably the fasting month of Ramadan, with one juz’ spread over two facing pages.

The opening section (juz’) of a thirty-leaved Qur’an, copied on an unusually thick paper (BL IO Islamic 1267 ff.1v-2r)

The earliest reference to this format that I have come across is in the Tazkirah-ʼi khvushnivīsān, a biographical dictionary of calligraphers by the late eighteenth-century calligrapher Ghulam Muhammad Raqim Haft-qalami (Haft-qalami, pp 125-6, quoted by Bayani, pp.172-3). Haft-qalami writes that in the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) a scribe called ʻAbd Allah, better known as ʻAbd al-Baqi Haddad, a particularly famous naskh calligrapher, came to India from Iran and presented prince Awrangzeb with a thirty-leaved Qur’an and other manuscripts for which he was awarded the title Yāqūt-raqam before returning home again.

The earliest thirty-leaved Qur’an that I have detailed information about is CBL Is 1562[1], in the Chester Beatty Library, which dates from before 1083 (1672/73) – the date of an inscription following the colophon. The illuminated opening contains the Sūrat al-Fātiḥah spread over two pages, while throughout the manuscript margins, delineated by ruled borders, are filled with stemmed flowering plants in gold (similar to those found in the margins of many seventeenth-century imperial Mughal albums) and simple gold medallions marking divisions of the text. The British Library has altogether four thirty-leaved Qur’ans, three of which belonged formerly to Tipu Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-99). Although undated, one, IO Islamic 1267, is stamped with the octagonal seal of a previous owner Zu’l-Fiqar ʻAli Khan 1141 (1728/29). The other two, IO Islamic 1376 and IO Islamic 3250 are probably more recent, but Tipu Sultan’s death in 1799 places them in the eighteenth century or earlier. A fourth Qur’an, IO Islamic 3534, dated 1266 (1849/50), is much later and includes a Persian commentary in the margins.

Unlike the Tipu Qur’ans, this copy dated 1266 (1849/50) by the scribe Vali, includes a half-page ornamental heading (sarlawḥ). The margins contain an as yet unidentified Persian commentary. The text block is divided by three lines of larger calligraphic script on a gold ground (BL IO Islamic 3534, ff.1v-2r)

These Qur’ans share many features typical of Indian Qur’ans such as the division of the text into quarters or eighths of a juzʼ[2] and the use of interlinear rulings between each line of text. However one especially striking feature is the use of the letter alif at the beginning of each line, which occurs in two of our four copies. Such Qur’ans are today much prized and termed ‘alifi’. A search on the web reveals any number of deluxe printed editions. However ‘alifi’ manuscript Qur’ans seem to be comparatively little known, or at least they have not been the subject of written research.

Details showing (above) an initial alif in red ink at the beginning of each line of the main text. In the lower image, which occurs at the beginning of the second juz’, the alifs were never inserted, leaving an empty space. The fact that the first two lines begin with a black alif, suggest that perhaps the scribe ran out of red ink and then forgot to finish off the copy later. Also visible in the margins is the juz’ eighth marker (thumn al-rubʻ) and medallions which in this Qur’an serve a purely decorative purpose (BL IO Islamic 1376, ff. 1v and 2v)

The double page opening of an undated thirty-leaved Qur’an from Tipu Sultan’s library. The initial alifs, the use of gold, the marginal devices and the calligraphic panels at the top, middle and bottom of each page, suggest that this was a particularly valuable Qurʼan (IO Islamic 1376, ff. 1v-2r)

The largest of our four thirty-leaved Qur’ans, IO Islamic 1376 (pictured above), is 43 x 23.2 cms, so from a practical point of view it would be quite easy to hold. The limitations of the thirty-leaved format, however, required that the text be proportionally small making it therefore correspondingly difficult to read. Our copies were written in a small naskh hand although in IO Islamic 1376 and IO Islamic 3534 the top, middle and bottom line of each page has been copied in a larger script. This tri-partite division is particularly noteworthy, shared, for example, by only one of the thirteen thirty-leaved Qurʼans in the Salar Jung collection[3]. To save space the headings in three of the four are also quite minimal, placed in the upper margin above the text block so as not to interfere with the basic design of one juz’ per opening.

Illuminated heading placed in the upper margin above the text block. The sūrah headings and the juzʼ indications are written inline in red ink and each line is separated by a double interlinear ruling (BL IO Islamic 1267, f. 1v)

Here a scalloped triangle forms the basis of the heading which is repeated on the facing page. The sūrah heading, in gold, and the first verse are in a larger calligraphic script. Note also the raised gold verse markers and the interlinear rulings (BL IO Islamic 1376, f. 1v)

A similarly scalloped heading is outlined above the two opening pages at the beginning of this Qur’an. Here the sūrah headings are marked inline in red and the juz’ indications are given in the margins (BL IO Islamic 3250, f. 1v)

The half-page sarlawḥ of a thirty-leaved Qur’an dated 1266 (1849/50). The dimensions of the heading have had the effect of displacing the division of the sections (juz’) which begin mid-page rather than at the top right of each opening (BL IO Islamic 3534, f. 1v)

In terms of marginal decorations, only IO Islamic 1376 has the typical medallion-shaped devices which are a regular feature of Qur’anic illumination. The margins of IO Islamic 1267 are decorated with gilt floral arabesques on a blue ground in the opening and on a clear ground in the subsequent pages. The margins of IO Islamic 3534 contain a Persian commentary enclosed within gilt leaf-inspired edges, with occasional flowers and leaves interspersed.

Detail showing the final sūrahs and colophon (BL IO Islamic 3534, f. 30r)

Marginal decoration half-way through section two (BL IO Islamic 1267, f. 3r)

Thirty-leaved Qur’ans were clearly a popular format. Although only four are preserved at the British Library, Charles Stewart's 1809 Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore mentions six (out of a total of seventy-nine Qurʼans or parts of the Qur'an in Tipu Sultan's collection). There are descriptions of a further five in the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, Patna, one of which (no. 1171) was copied in Muharram 1112 (1700) by the same calligrapher ʻAbd al-Baqi Haddad mentioned in the Tazkirah-ʼi khvushnivīsān referred to above. Muhammad Ashraf, in his catalogue of the Salar Jung Qur'ans, describes thirteen copies which include one (Ms 202, no 108), an alifi Qur’an dated 1109 (1697/98), copied by Muhammad Baqi in the island of Socotra. Four of the Salar Jung copies date from the seventeenth century, eight from the eighteenth and one from the nineteenth. Three of these are alifi Qur’ans.

For those interested in Qur’anic illumination and decoration in general there is an extensive literature available and Qur’ans have been the subject of several recent exhibitions including Sacred at the British Library and The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts at the Freer Sackler. However the study of Indian Qur’ans has been much neglected with even less written on manuscripts from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries apart from Manijeh Bayani and Tim Stanley’s work on the Khalili Collection (see below: The decorated word). There is a vast amount of material available, however, leaving plenty of scope for future research by enterprising scholars.

Further reading
Bayani, Manijeh, Anna Contadini, and Tim Stanley. The decorated word: Qurʼans of the 17th to 19th centuries, part 1 (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art. 4). London: The Nour Foundation in association with Azimuth editions and Oxford University Press, 1999.

Annabel Teh Gallop. “The Boné Qur’an from South Sulawesi”. In Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the book and calligraphy, ed. Margaret S. Graves and Benoît Junod. Istanbul: Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sakip Sabanci University & Museum, 2010, pp.162-173.

Salar Jung Museum and Library. A catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the Salar Jung Museum and Library; v. 2: The glorious Qurʾan, its parts and fragments, by Muhammad Ashraf. Hyderabad: Salar Jung Museum & Library, 1962.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
with thanks to Elaine Wright and my colleagues Colin Baker, Annabel Teh Gallop and Sâqib Bâburî


[1] I thank Elaine Wright for sending me details of this Qur’an.
[2] Many of these features are also shared with Qur’ans from Southeast Asia as described in Annabel Teh Gallop’s “The Boné Qur’an from South Sulawesi” (see above).
[3] Ms 175, no. 213 in Salar Jung, catalogue (see above).

25 April 2018

Tracking down the earliest copy of Khvaju Kirmani's collected works: British Library Or. 11519

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Our guest contributor today is Shiva Mihan of the University of Cambridge who recently completed her thesis Timurid Manuscript Production: The Scholarship and Aesthetics of Prince Bāysunghur’s Royal Atelier (1420–1435).

Or11519L.JPG_1500 Or11519R.JPG_1500
Opening to the British Library's copy of the Kullīyāt of Khvājū Kirmānī (BL Or. 11519, ff. 1v-2r)

When I came across the following description of  British Library Persian manuscript Or. 11519 on page 63 of G.M. Meredith-Owens, Handlist of Persian Manuscripts 1895-1966, my interest was piqued:

Or. 11519 Selected poems (mostly kasidahs) of Khvājū Kirmānī, apparently once part of a majmū‘eh of 500 f. xvth century. 66 f. 30.3 x 21 cm.

At the time, I was writing up my doctoral research into 15th century Persian book production under the patronage of Prince Baysunghur in his atelier in Herat, modern day Afghanistan. I had discovered that the most complete early manuscript of the works of Khvājū Kirmānī (died c.1352) was almost certainly produced under Baysunghur, i.e. Tehran Malek 5963. I had identified the scribe of this manuscript, which is dated 1426, as Muḥammad b. Muṭahhar, a senior scribe in Bāysunghur’s atelier, who had copied other important manuscripts for him. The manuscript Malek 5963, is an exquisite example of Timurid royal book production, now sadly slightly defective at the beginning and the end.

Beginning of Gul u Nawrūz from the Kullīyāt - Malek Library  5963  p. 811_1500
The beginning of Gul u Nawrūz, from the Kullīyāt of Khvājū Kirmānī (Malek 5963, p. 811) By permission of the Malek National Library

Malek 5963  internal colophon - Malek Library  5963  p. 1070
Malek 5963, internal colophon dated 1 Shaʿbān 829/7 June 1426, Herat, penned by the royal scribe, Muḥammad b. Muṭahhar b. Yūsuf b. Abū Sa‘īd al-Qāz̤ī al-Nisābūrī (Malek  5963, p. 1070) By permission of the Malek National Library

In order to verify the completeness of the Baysunghuri manuscript, bar the minor losses at start and end, I had compared its contents to the oldest known Khvājū Kirmānī manuscript, now housed in the same library, Malek 5980. That manuscript was copied during the poet’s lifetime, in 750/1349, by another accomplished scribe, Muḥammad b. ʿImrān al-Kirmānī. It too is very beautifully illuminated, and was very likely the presentation copy for the poet’s patron, the vizier Tāj al-Dīn Aḥmad who had commissioned the collection.

Sarlawḥ of the Rawz̤at al-anvār - Malek Library  5980  p. 435_1500
Sarlawḥ of the Rawz̤at al-anvār (Malek  5980, p. 435) By permission of the Malek National Library

The colophon signed by the scribe - Malek Library  5980  p. 708_1500
The colophon signed by the scribe, Muḥammad b. ʿImrān al-Kirmānī on 9th Ṣafar 750/1349 (Malek  5980, p. 708) By permission of the Malek National Library

Malek 5980 is thought to be the oldest extant manuscript by some 50 years. Khvājū Kirmānī is highly regarded in Iran to this day, and in 2013 a facsimile edition of Malek 5980 was produced by the University of Kerman in 2013 (see Further reading).

So, with this background, the reader might well imagine the excitement when the good people of the British Library delivered Ms. Or. 11519 to me in the Reading Room. On opening up the manuscript, I was confronted by a beautiful illuminated double-page frontispiece and a few folios later a magnificent double-page heading (sarlawḥ).

IMG_4792_1500 IMG_4791_1500
Double-page sarlawḥ  to mark the beginning of the text (BL Or. 11519, ff. 4v-5r)

Straightaway, it was clear to me that the catalogue had been in error – this was not the work of the 15th, but of the 14th century. But the hand, a beautiful Persian script (a combination of taʿlīq and naskh) seemed strangely familiar to me. When I read the colophon I was amazed to find that although it was undated, the scribe named himself as Muḥammad b. ʿImrān.

The undated colophon signed by Muḥammad b. ʻImrān (BL Or. 11519, f. 66r)

No wonder I recognized the hand. There was no doubt in my mind: this manuscript must date to the mid-14th century, around the time the same scribe had copied the oldest known manuscript, Malek 5980, in 1349. As with the Malek manuscript, when Or. 11519 was copied, the poet himself was still alive.

To what was Glyn Meredith-Owens referring when he said “apparently once part of a majmuʿeh [collection] of 500 folios”? There is a note in Turkish on the first folio, which says something to this effect (where the number, I believe, is not 500, but 580). Could Or. 11519 (66 folios) and Malek 5980 (352 folios) have once been part of a single manuscript? If so, were there other parts remaining to be discovered? These seemed intriguing possibilities.
A note in Turkish, in Arabic script, records that the manuscript once contained 580 folios (BL Or. 11519, f.1r)

The similarity of the illuminations and the common scribe were very suggestive. It remained for me to study the text of the BL manuscript in more detail. Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator of the Persian collections, very kindly sent me photographs to enable this. I laboriously tracked down every poem by comparing the manuscript to the edition of Suhayli Khwansari (1336 shamsi/1957) and to other early manuscripts, using images kindly provided by librarians in Iran. Those other early manuscripts of the Kullīyāt of Khvājū Kirmānī were:

  • Tehran University Central Library, no. 5154, dated 808/1405
  • Tehran, Majles Library, no. 352, dated at a later time 820/1417, but I suspect it might date back to the late 14th century
  • Tehran, Golestan Palace Library, no. 335, dated 824/1421
  • Tehran, Malek National Library, no. 5963, dated 829/1426 (the Baysunghurī manuscript)

The valuable Jalayirid manuscript of the recently digitised BL Add.18113, dated 798/1396, is older than the above copies (see earlier posts  An illustrated 14th century Khamsah by Khvaju Kirmani and The archaeology of a manuscript: the Khamsah of Khvaju Kirmani), but since it only contains three mathnavis, it was of little use in this comparative analysis.

As a result of my analysis, I can now say with confidence that there is no overlap in content between Or.  11519 and Muhammad b. ‘Imrān’s other Khvājū manuscript, Malek 5980. Putting all the evidence together, although Malek 5980 was previously thought to be a complete manuscript, in fact, BL Or. 11519 almost certain formed the first part of it. As such, despite the unfortunate inaccuracy in the catalogue, Or. 11519 presents a very good claim to being the earliest complete extant manuscript of Khvājū Kirmānī’s poetry. It is an unsuspected treasure of the Persian collection and a great gift for devotees of Khvājū Kirmānī.

Recalling the note in Turkish at the beginning of Or. 11519 stating that the original manuscript contained 580 folios, I was determined to do what I could to track down other missing parts, with a view to reconstructing the complete works of Khvājū in its original form. My initial investigations threw up to two strong candidates and another outside possibility. Firstly, a manuscript in the Konya Mevlana Museum, no. 140, was catalogued as 748 AH. Secondly, a Dīvān of Khvājū Kirmānī was said to be in the hand of our scribe, Muḥammad b. ‘Imrān, but was catalogued as a work of the 13th/19th century, in Mashhad, Astan Qods Library, no. 4650. With the help of colleagues in Turkey and in Iran I was able to study digital images of both manuscripts. As it turned out, neither was a part of the original Khvājū manuscript: the first had mistaken the date of composition for the date of copying, and the second proved to be a literal copy, including the colophon, of Malek 5980.

The third manuscript on my list, the outside chance, I had found catalogued as Khvājū’s Mafātiḥ al-qulūb in Tehran University Central Library, no. 2043, dated 705/1305, and penned by Muḥammad b. ʿUmar, 44 folios. The date had to be wrong, so why not the scribe’s name? More excitement was in store. When, thanks to the generosity of the Director, I was able to examine the manuscript first hand in Tehran University Library, I immediately recognised it was yet another part of the puzzle: here again was the same handwriting and the same style of illumination, the same paper, folio size, layout, rulings, ink, and headings.

Heading (sarlawḥ) of the Mafātiḥ al-qulūb of Khvājū - Tehran University 2043  f. 1v_1500
Heading (sarlawḥ) of the Mafātiḥ al-qulūb of Khvājū (Tehran University 2043, f. 1v) By permission of Tehran University

Tehran University 2043 is incomplete at the end and so has no colophon. However, a note at the beginning of the manuscript in a similar hand to that of the scribe, provides the title of the work and the name of the scribe, Muḥammad b. ‘Imrān (not ʿUmar), as well as the year, 750 (not 705)/1349. Other notes on the same folio tell us that the manuscript was once owned by Luṭf ‘Alī b. Muḥammad Kāẓim in 1343/1924.

20th century ownership notes and ‘signature’ in the manner of Muḥammad b. ‘Imrān - Tehran University  2043  f. 1r_1500
20th century ownership notes and ‘signature’ in the manner of Muḥammad b. ‘Imrān (Tehran University  2043, f. 1r) By permission of Tehran University

Luṭf ‘Alī b. Muḥammad Kāẓim (1857-1931), known as Ṣadr al-Afāz̤il, was a prominent scholar and calligrapher as well as a collector of Islamic manuscripts, in a line of such men (the Nasīrī-Amīnīs)[1]. A close examination of the Tehran University manuscript convinced me that the scribe’s signature (f. 1r) was not in the hand of Muḥammad b. ‘Imrān, but was a skilful forgery. The similarities with the authentic colophons of BL Or. 11519 and in Malek 5980 suggest that whoever forged this note had seen one or both of the other colophons. Yet another note, at the beginning of Malek 5980, signed by Ṣadr al-Afāz̤il, states his ownership of that manuscript also in 1339/1920. The BL manuscript was presented to the British Museum by R.S. Greenshields in 1934. Of course these could all be coincidences, but the signs are that the original Kullīyāt (of 580 folios?) – containing what would become BL Or. 11519, Malek 5980, and Tehran University 2043, and perhaps other fragments, yet to be discovered – was divided up between 1920 and 1934.

As stated above, I have compared the three parts of the original manuscript to numerous later ones (all pre-1440). The results have been both interesting and complicated. The poetic content of BL Or. 11519 is found in each of the four manuscripts I listed above. In Tehran University 5154 that content is faithfully reproduced; however, in the other three manuscripts, extra poems appear in this section, drawn from the first section of Malek 5980, but the redistribution of poems is different in each case. Surely, BL-Malek-Tehran University should now be regarded as the core corpus against which later reorganisations and additions are assessed, and much work by Khvājū Kirmānī scholars remains to be done in this area. To facilitate such work, and to satisfy a demand for reproductions of high quality illuminated manuscripts from the period, it is intended that a facsimile of the BL and Tehran University manuscripts be published to complement the University of Kerman’s Malek facsimile of 2013. The complexities of my textual comparisons will be provided in the introduction to the facsimile.

Further reading
Khvājū Kirmānī, Kullīyāt-i Khvājū-yi Kirmānī, ed. A. Hāshimī & M. Mudabbirī (Tehran, 1392 shamsi/2013).
Wright, E.J. The Look of the Book: manuscript production in Shiraz, 1303–1452 (Washington, D.C., Seattle, Dublin, 2012).
Adamova, A.T. & M. Bayani, Persian painting: the arts of the book and potraiture (Farnborough, 2015).
Swietochowski, M.L. & S. Carboni, Illustrated poetry and epic images Persian painting of the 1330s and 1340s (New York, 1994). 


Shiva Mihan, University of Cambridge


[1] For more on faked manuscript interventions and the part played by Ṣadr al-Afāz̤il and his family, see F. Richard, “FORGERIES iv. OF ISLAMIC MANUSCRIPTS” and A. Soudavar, Reassessing Early Safavid Art and History, pp. 85-9.


05 April 2018

Making his mark: the seals of Tipu Sultan

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Over the past year or so I have been working on the library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), of which an estimated 600 volumes were deposited in the library of the East India Company between 1806 and 1808 and again in 1837 after the Library of its college at Fort William was disbanded (for more on this see my earlier post Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah (IO Islamic 3214). By now I have examined well over half of the British Library manuscripts, and a few in other libraries, but have been surprised at how few of the volumes actually contain the seal of Tipu Sultan himself. So far I have found only twenty-eight, some with more than one impression. With the exception of one, they can be divided into three basic types: a personal seal dated 1186 (1772/73), and official seals dating from 1215 (1787/88) and 1223 (1795/96) of the muhammadi or mawludi era.

The opening pages of the highly illuminated and calligraphic Miʼat kalimah ʻAlīyah ʻālīyah Murtaḍawīyah (the 100 sayings of  ʻAli ibn Abi Talib) with an interlinear Persian verse translation. Tipu's personal seal dated 1186 (1772/73) is placed at the top. This manuscript was probably acquired in 1780 when the previous owner Nawab ʻAbd al-Vahhab was defeated by Hyder ʻAli’s forces and was despatched to Seringapatam with his family as prisoners (British Library IO Islamic 1662)

Tipu's personal seal
In many ways this is the most interesting of the three seals as it perhaps reflects Tipu's personal interests. The rectangular seal is inscribed Tīpū Sulṭān 1186 (1772/73), measuring 16 x 11.5 mm (interior measurement: 15 x 11 mm). The seal predates Tipu's accession to the throne at the end of 1782 after the death of his father Hyder ʻAli.

Untitled 2
Tipu's personal seal dated 1186 (1772/73), placed in the right hand margin of the opening of the poem Masnavī-i khvurshīd va māh by Nasafi (British Library IO Islamic 241)

It would take too long to go into details here and I hope to write more fully about it later, but to summarise, of the twenty-one volumes discovered so far, fourteen are volumes of poetry by Amir Khusraw, ʻAttar, Nasafi, Ahmad-i Jam, Zulali, Kamal Khujandi, ʻUrfi, Ahsan Allah[1] and others (but surprisingly not Firdawsi, Hafiz or Nizami). Other works with Tipu's seal include four historical works, a dictionary and two works on letter writing (inshāʼ). For the most part these volumes are very ordinary, only two, for example IO Islamic 1662 illustrated above, could be described as high quality. Since there were many other deluxe volumes in his collection which did not carry his seal, we can perhaps assume that it was the content Tipu especially valued.

It is not known when these manuscripts were acquired though at least five had belonged to Nawab ʻAbd al-Vahhab of Chittoor, brother of Muhammad ʻAli Nawab of the Carnatic, who was taken prisoner with his family in 1780. Another manuscript had belonged to the Qutb Shahs of Golconda and includes the seals of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (r. 1580-1612) and his successor Muhammad Qutb Shah (r. 1612-26) – his seal dated 1021 (1612/13).

The one exception to these otherwise literary manuscripts is IO Islamic 4683: a collection of original documents from Seringapatam bound together in one volume. This seal occurs occurs on documents dated 15 Jaʻfari, year Azal 1198 AH (1784), and 1 Ahmadi, year Dalv 1200 AH (1786), ie. dating from before 1787, the date of the earlier of his two official seals described below.

Official seals of 1787 and 1796
Within a few months of ascending the throne Tipu instigated calendrical changes by renaming the twelve months and the year names of the 60 year cycle, while still also using the traditional hijri era for the year. An example of this can be seen in the documents mentioned above. However in his fifth regnal year, he established a new lunisolar system which he called muhammadi or mawludi[2], ie. dating from the supposed spiritual or actual birth of the Prophet which he believed to be thirteen years before the hijra in 622. A further innovation was to record the numbers from right to left instead of the usual way round, from left to right.

The reasons for establishing this new era are not clear but Kirkpatrick (Select Letters, p. xxxi) mentions a letter dated 29 Izadi (11th month) of the year Dalv, ie. at the beginning of 1787, written shortly before the change, in which Tipu Sultan requested information from scholars as to the exact dates of the birth, mission and flight of the Prophet.

The new system was reckoned to begin with the month Ahmadi 1215, year Sha, which commenced on the 20 March 1787[3]. The new seal was no doubt created to mark the new era and it continued to be used during the following years. It is found at the head or to the right side of documents and official manuals written at his request. It reads Tipū Sulṭān, 5121, i.e. 1215 mawludi era (1787/88) and measures 19 x 15 mm (interior measurement: 16 x 13 mm).

IO Islamic 447
Official seal dated 1215 mawludi (1787/88) in Muʼayyid al-mujāhidīn, an official collection of 104 sermons in verse to be read at prayers, composed by order of Tipu Sultan by Zayn al-ʻĀbidin Mūsavī Shūshtarī. This manuscript, copied by the author, is dated 27 Ramazan 1221 muhammadi corresponding to 7021 (ie 1207) hijri (8 May 1793) (British Library IO Islamic 447, f. 1v)

This seal has been found in three volumes so far:

  • IO Islamic 447: Muʼayyid al-mujāhidīn (mentioned above)
  • IO Islamic 1663: Fatavā-yi Muḥammadī, legal decisions arranged in 313 short chapters at the request of Tipu Sultan
  • IO Islamic 4685, a collection of orders (hukmnāmah) bound together in one volume. Seal impressions occur on ff 6v, 26v, 54r, and 84r, on documents dated 1221-2 mawludi (1793-5)

Eight years later a second seal was introduced. A description of this seal is given in Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī, regulations issued 21 Haydari, Hirasat, 1224 corresponding to 19 Rabiʻ I, 1121 hijri (22 September 1796) on the correct royal insignia to be used in seals and standards, and on the form of official cyphers to be used in different government departments. Instructions are given there for the special seal (muhr-i khāṣṣ) to measure one finger (angusht) by half with the tughra Tipu Sultan in the shape of a tiger’s (shīr[4]) mouth, and the four corners to carry the letters maw lū d-i Muḥammad. The tughra was also to contain 6 tiger (babrī) stripes.

IO Islamic 2379_f3-4
Instructions for the special seal from chapter 1 of Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī (British Library IO Islamic 2379, f. 4r)

The design of this new seal is another example of Tipu's fondness for the tiger motif and was presumably introduced in 1796 to coincide with the orders. It reads: Tipū Sulṭān 3221 [ie. 1223] Maw lū d-i Muḥammad (1795/96). It measures 19 x 15 (17 x 13 mm) and like the earlier seal is found on documents and government manuals of which several copies exist.

IO Isl 4684 f94v seal
Seal dated 1223 mawludi (1795/96) heading an official register of names for different kinds of horses and bullocks, dated 1 Ahmadi, Shadab, 1226 (March 1798) (British Library IO Islamic 4684, f. 94v)

This seal has been found in five volumes so far:

  • IO Islamic 1638, Mufarriḥ al-qulūb, a collection of mixed Persian and Dakhni songs collected for Tipu Sultan by Hasan ʻAli ʻIzzat and completed in AH 1199 (1784-5). For more on this manuscript see Kirkpatrick, Select Letters, pp. 391-3. This was one of many copies (see Ethe's Persian manuscripts in India Office Library nos. 2024-2032  and also Kirkpatrick (ibid, p.379)
  • IO Islamic 2379, Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī, regulations for the correct royal insignia for seals, on standards and the form of official cyphers to be used in different government departments, drawn up on 21 Haydari, Hirasat, 1224 corresponding to 19 Rabiʻ I, 1121 hijri (22 September 1796)
  • RAS Per 171, another copy of Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī
  • IO Islamic 4683, heading an official copy (f. 174v) of a consultation to the six government departments, dated 15 Ahmadi, Shadab (April 1798)
  • IO Islamic 4684 (see above)

Wax impression of a further official seal
Finally a unique  example of a European style wax sealing is found in IO Islamic 4683 attached to a consultation to Tipu's six government departments, dated 15 Ahmadi, Shadab (April 1798). The left-hand seal is inscribed yā ḥāfiz̤, and is possibly dated 1219 (1791/92), but if so, it is quite a few years earlier than the document it is connected to. Unfortunately I haven't been able to decipher the right hand seal. There were no doubt other seals of this type, but by virtue of their ephemeral nature they have not survived.

IO Islamic 4683n_wax seal
Wax sealing  (British Library IO Islamic 4683)


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian


[1] Royal Asiatic Society RAS Per 310.
[2] See Kirkpatrick, W., Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Public Functionaries ... London, 1811, especially his notes on the calendar and Mauludi era, pp.xxvi-xxxvii; also Henderson, J.R., The coins of Haidar Alī and Tīpū Sultān. Madras, 1921. p. 28.
[3] The first year of the mawludi era is sometimes reckoned as 1786-7 AD, but fortunately some documents are dated in both the mauludi and the hijri era which makes a start date of 1787-8 incontrovertible.
[4] Shīr usually refers to a lion, but there is no doubt that tiger is implied here because of the babri 'tiger' stripe.


28 March 2018

Canonical Hindustani music treatises of Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir’s reign

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This guest post by Katherine Butler Schofield accompanies the podcast “The Maestro: Remembering Khushhal Khan Gunasamudra in Eighteenth-Century Delhi”, the second of six lectures and conversations she is presenting at the British Library in 2018 as part of her British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship “Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India”.

Fig. 1. The opening folios of the Sahasras, a compilation of dhrupad songs by the early 16th-century master-musician, Nayak Bakhshu, especially compiled for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Mid-17th century (British Library IO Islamic 1116, ff. 1v–2r)

On 12th March 2018 I retold a revealing story about the great seventeenth-century Indian musician Khushhal Khan kalāwant ‘Gunasamudra’, the ‘Ocean of Virtue’. Khushhal Khan was one of the most feted Mughal court musicians of his time. Great-grandson of the most famous Indian musician of them all, Tansen, and chief musician to the Mughal emperors Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58) and Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (r. 1658–1707), he was written about extensively in his lifetime as a virtuoso classical singer of exceptional merit and serious character. A portrait of him, dressed in pink and singing with other renowned court musicians at the wedding of Dara Shukoh in 1633, may be found in this c.1700 painting in the Royal Collection. In the podcast, I look at this larger-than-life figure from two perspectives. The principal one is a lengthy story that memorialised Khushhal Khan one hundred years after his heyday, as told by Mughal nobleman Inayat Khan ‘Rasikh’ in the first ever stand-alone biographical dictionary (taẕkira) of Hindustani musicians—the Risāla-i Ẕikr-i Mughanniyān-i Hindūstān-i Bihisht-nishīn (1753).

Fig. 2. Inayat Khan’s taẕkira incorporated (beginning at the bottom of the page) into an anonymous general work on music written for emperor Shah ‘Alam II (r. 1759–1806)[1] (British Library Delhi Persian 1501, f. 9r)

But in order to understand his dramatic tale of Khushhal Khan’s supernatural interference in the 1657–8 Mughal War of Succession between rival princes Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb, I also delve deep into the canonical Mughal treatises on Hindustani music, which were written in Persian during the reign of Aurangzeb. As well as providing some visuals to accompany the podcast, this guest post allows me to highlight further some of the incredible Mughal writings on Hindustani music held in the British Library.

Of all the arts and sciences cultivated in Mughal India outside poetry, it is music that is by far the best documented. Hundreds of substantial works on music from the Mughal period are still extant, in Sanskrit, Persian, and North Indian vernaculars. Theoretical writing on Indian music began very early, flourishing in Sanskrit from the very first centuries of the Common Era. The first known writings in Persian on Indian music date from the thirteenth century CE, and in vernacular languages from the early sixteenth. These often directly translated Sanskrit theoretical texts. A particularly authoritative model was Sharngadeva’s Saṅgīta-ratnākara, the Ocean of Music, written c. 1210–47 for the Yadava ruler of Devagiri (Daulatabad) in the Deccan. But Persian and vernacular authors added to their Sanskrit models in interesting ways. These two early examples from the British Library’s collections, Figures 3 and 4, offer translations of the Ocean of Music into Persian and Dakhni, but also include large additional sections presenting material contemporary to the times and places in which they were written. The first is the Ghunyat al-Munya or Richness of Desire, the earliest known Persian treatise specifically on Hindustani music, composed in 1375 for the Delhi-sultanate governor of Gujarat. The British Library’s copy is one of only two still extant.

Fig. 3. The bherī or dhol, from the chapter on instruments. Ghunyat al-Munya (British Library IO Islamic 1863, f. 47v)

The second is Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī or Jewels of Music, a unique Persian and vernacular manuscript from the ‘Adil Shahi court of Bijapur, at the core of which is what remains of a c.1570 Dakhni translation of the Ocean of Music. (See Part 1  and Part 2 of my earlier discussion of this extraordinary text. See also digital version of this work). The Javāhir gets rid of the Ocean of Music’s outdated way of discussing the rāgas—the all-important melodic frameworks of Hindustani musical performances—and replaces it with a newfangled rāgamālā (‘garland of rāgas’) of peculiar vibrancy and potency.

Fig. 4. As well as being melodic frameworks for musical performance, the rāgas were personified and visualised as heroes, heroines, deities, jogis, and other beings with emotional and supernatural powers. Ragini Asavari. Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī (British Library Or.12857, f. 102r)

Sanskrit authors continued to write a variety of musical texts in the Mughal domains. But what’s notable in the seventeenth century is a substantial new effort to recodify and systematise Hindustani music, specifically for the new Mughal era, in more accessible languages. The first major piece of Mughal theoretical writing in Persian on Hindustani music could not be more canonical: the chapters on music and musicians written by Akbar’s great ideologue ‘Abu’l Fazl in his 1593 Ā’īn-i Akbarī (Volume III). What has recently emerged, thanks to the work of Richard David Williams, is that Mughal ventures to recodify Hindustani music seem to have moved from there into classical Hindi, or Brajbhasha, during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Take, for example, Figure 1 above, the well-known Sahasras or Thousand Sentiments, the compilation for Shah Jahan of 1004 dhrupad songs by the early sixteenth-century master-musician, Nayak Bakhshu. Its preface is in Persian, but the songs themselves are in Brajbhasha.

Another example is an eighteenth-century interlinear copy of the premier Sanskrit treatise of the early seventeenth century, Damodara’s Saṅgīta-darpaṇa or Mirror of Music. Here, alongside the Sanskrit text, we have Harivallabha’s hugely popular mid seventeenth-century Brajbhasha translation, combined with an eighteenth-century gloss in modern Hindi by a living hereditary musician, Jivan Khan[2].

Fig. 5. Interlinear copy of the Saṅgīta-darpaṇa produced for East India Company official Richard Johnson  (British Library IO San 2399)

But it was in Aurangzeb’s reign that this recodifying impetus manifested itself in earnest in the Persian language, in a flurry of treatises designed to satisfy the needs of high-ranking connoisseurs of Hindustani music who were more comfortable in the offical language of the Mughal empire[3]. These six key treatises in Persian became the canonical core of Mughal music theory for the next two hundred years:

1) The Miftāḥ al-Sarūd or Key to Music, Figure 6: a translation of a lost Sanskrit work called Bhārata-saṅgīta by Mughal official Qazi Hasan, written for Aurangzeb in 1664 near Daulatabad[4]. Although this treatise is not itself available in the British Library (there is a beautiful 1691 illustrated copy in the Victoria and Albert Museum IS.61:1-197), a précis of it appears in the margins of some copies of the 1547 Persian translation of al-Qazwini’s famous Wonders of Creation.

IO Islamic 3243_f48r_1500IO Islamic 3243_f47v_1500
Fig. 6. Précis of Qazi Hasan’s Miftāḥ al-Sarūd in the margins of folio 48r of this nineteenth-century copy of the 1547 Bijapuri Persian translation of al-Qazwini’s Ajā’ib al-Makhlūqāt. On the facing page, a depiction of the planet Saturn (British Library IO Islamic 3243, ff. 47v-48r)

2) The Rāg Darpan or Mirror of Rāga, an original work written in 1666 by high-ranking Mughal nobleman Saif Khan ‘Faqirullah’, completed when he was governor of Kashmir. Faqirullah cites extensively verbatim from the Mānakutūhala, an early sixteenth-century Hindavi work traditionally attributed to Raja Man Singh of Gwalior.

3) The Tarjuma-i Kitāb-i Pārījātak, Figure 7: the stunning 1666 Translation of Ahobala Pandit’s Sanskrit masterpiece Saṅgītapārijāta by high-ranking Mughal nobleman Mirza Raushan ‘Zamir’, for Aurangzeb. Zamir was a renowned poet in Brajbhasha, and was also Khushhal Khan’s disciple in the practical arts of music. This is an early copy from 1688.
Fig. 7. The melodic outline of Ragini Todi, Tarjuma-i Kitāb-i Pārījātak (British Library RSPA 72, f. 28r)

4) The fifth chapter of the Tuḥfat al-Hind or Gift of India, Figure 8: Mirza Khan’s famous work on Indian sciences written c. 1675 for Aurangzeb’s son Prince Muhammad A‘zam Shah (1653–1707), who himself wrote Hindustani songs and was the first patron of Niʻmat Khan ‘Sadarang’, the greatest musician of the next century. Almost all of this monumental work is drawn from Damodara’s Mirror of Music and Faqirullah’s Mirror of Rāga, but it is exhaustive, and was hugely influential in later centuries.

Fig. 8. Sir William Jones’ copy of the Tuḥfat al-Hind, covered in his own annotations (British Library RSPA 78, f. 178v)

5) The Shams al-Aṣwāt or Sun of Songs, written for Aurangzeb by the chief hereditary musician of his atelier in 1698, Ras Baras Khan kalāwant, son of Khushhal Khan and great-great-grandson of Tansen. This work is primarily a new Persian translation of Damodara’s Mirror of Music, but is full of invaluable insights from the orally transmitted knowledge of Ras Baras’s esteemed musical lineage.

6) The Nishāṯ-ārā or Ornament of Pleasure, by the hereditary Sufi musician Mir Salih qawwāl Dehlavi (‘of Delhi’). This treatise is most likely late seventeenth-century; certainly no later than 1722, the date of the Royal Asiatic Society copy RAS Persian 210 (5). But there is a possibility that it was written in Shah Jahan’s reign by his librarian, Mir Muhammad Salih ‘Kashfi’, as stated in the colophon of one British Library copy, Delhi Persian 1502c.

These and other treatises written in the time of Aurangzeb range over exceptionally wide musical terrain in significant depth. But if they have one overpowering and unifying theme, it is their concern with the nature of the rāga, and the need to understand the true basis of its tremendous supernatural power in order to control and harness it for the wellbeing of individual Mughal men and the empire as a whole.

For more on how Khushhal Khan was able to use Ragini Todi to put the emperor Shah Jahan under his spell, with fatal consequences, you will need to listen to the podcast! Here are a couple of additional visuals to guide your imagination as you do:

 and by way of explanation:

Fig. 9. Inayat Khan’s story of Khushhal Khan ‘Gunasamudra’: dramatis personae


Fig. 10. The scale of the Hindustani rāgas worked out on the string of the bīn according to Pythagorian ratios, and their supernatural correlations; distilled by Katherine Schofield from the Aurangzeb-era treatises of Ahobala, Mirza Raushan ‘Zamir’, ‘Iwaz Muhammad Kamilkhani, Ras Baras Khan, and Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim

Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College London

With thanks to the British Academy and the European Research Council; and also to William Dalrymple, Bruce Wannell, and Richard David Williams. Any errors are mine.


[1] C A Storey’s handlist of the Delhi Persian collection states that the Shah ‘Alam of the colophon is Shah ‘Alam I (r. 1707–12), but it’s Shah ‘Alam II: the author adds a biographical note on Firoz Khan ‘Adarang’, fl. 1720–60s, calling him ‘today’s’ greatest musician.
[2] I am grateful to Richard David Williams for drawing my attention to this manuscript, and sharing his insights on it.
[3] Contrary to popular belief, Aurangzeb did not ban music. For more on Hindustani music and musical treatises in the time of Aurangzeb, see Katherine Butler Brown [Schofield], “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music?” Modern Asian Studies 41.1 (2007): 77–120; and Katherine Butler Schofield, “Reviving the Golden Age Again,” Ethnomusicology 54.3 (2010): 484–517.
[4] This treatise is sometimes erroneously dated 1674.