THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

87 posts categorized "Mughal India"

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).

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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 )
 https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

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.

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The decorated opening of the Dīvān of Khvajah Hijri, dating from between 1556 and 1560 (BL IO Islamic 791, f. 1v)
https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

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.

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Preliminary leaf showing Hamidah Banu’s seal with the inscriptions and seals of subsequent librarians and owners (BL IO Islamic 791, f. IIIr)
https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

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

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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.

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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)
https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

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
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad3ace627200b-pi


[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.

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

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

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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)
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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).

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(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)
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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)
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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.

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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)
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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’
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad35bc1f1200c-pi

 

28 June 2018

Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and Hindustani airs

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This guest post by Katherine Butler Schofield introduces her recent talk at the British Library on Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and 'Hindustani airs', now available as a podcast “The Courtesan and the Memsahib: Khanum Jan meets Sophia Plowden at the Court of Lucknow”, and accompanied here by a collection of images forming a visual record. The podcast, produced by Chris Elcombe with music by harpsichordist Jane Chapman, is part of a series of presentations at the British Library in 2018 for Katherine’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship programme “Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India”.  Special thanks are due to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce the images below from MS 380, Mrs Plowden’s beautiful collection of North Indian song lyrics and tunes.

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Mrs Sophia Elizabeth Plowden in middle age (BL MSS Eur F127/100)  noc

Among the British Library’s extraordinary collection of materials relating to the history of Indian music in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries lie dozens of European accounts of the nautch—intimate musical parties at which troupes of high-status North Indian courtesans would sing, dance, recite poetry, and match wits with the assembled company, often to mark special occasions like marriages or festivals. In the late Mughal and early colonial period, nautch troupes were employed as enthusiastically by Europeans as by Indian gentlemen. This famous painting from the Library’s collections below shows a man who is almost certainly Sir David Ochterlony, early nineteenth-century British Resident to the Mughal emperor, being entertained by his own personal nautch troupe at his home in Delhi.

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David Ochterlony (1758–1825) watching a nautch. Delhi, 1820 (BL Add.Or.2)  noc

Published European travel writings from this period, by men and women, nearly all feature noteworthy encounters with North India’s famous “dancing girls”. But some of the most important materials on the nautch and its performers are to be found in the private papers of Europeans resident in India preserved in the collections of the India Office.

Of these, one set in particular stands out as unusual: the diary, letters, and other papers of an eighteenth-century Englishwoman—the memsahib of my title—Sophia Elizabeth Plowden. Sophia and her husband, the East India Company officer Richard Chicheley Plowden, were resident 1777–90 in Calcutta and the independent princely state of Lucknow under its ruler the Nawab Asafuddaula (r. 1775–97). The portrait of her in her papers, above, shows her as a respectable middle-aged matron of ten children, having returned to London and a genteel life in Harley Street. But in her younger days in India, in between having several babies Sophia spent a great deal of her time collecting and performing the Persian and Hindustani songs of nautch performers at the Lucknow court. One in particular captured her fascination—the celebrated Kashmiri courtesan Khanum Jan. Sophia wrote down Khanum’s songs and those of her companions in European notation; they were then turned into harmonised arrangements for the harpsichord, and published to great acclaim by William Hamilton Bird in Calcutta in 1789. For a while, these European-style salon pieces known as “Hindustani Airs” were all the rage in drawing rooms across the British Empire from Inverness to Singapore.

2A BirdFrontis_2000 2A BirdFrontis_2000
The frontispiece and Air no. IV, “Sakia! fuſul beharuſt, by Chanam”, from William Hamilton Bird’s Oriental Miscellany. Published Calcutta, 1789 (BL RM.16.c.5)  noc

The European side of this story has been told before: it was in fact the British Library’s Ursula Sims-Williams who wrote the first lengthy piece on the Hindustani Airs phenomenon in 1981 for the India Office Library and Records Newsletter. Those who are interested can explore this angle further in books by Ian Woodfield, Music of the Raj, and Gerry Farrell, Indian Music and the West. Plowden’s harpsichord transcriptions and Bird’s arrangments squeezed the Indian originals firmly into European corsets, rendering Khanum’s songs ultimately impossible to recover. This has led to the obvious interpretation that they were instances of colonial violence to Indian culture. But recently I have been investigating a number of sources from the Indian side for this and similar musical engagements with Europeans in the late eighteenth century. These suggest that the episode was more complex, mutually enjoyable, and less morally certain.

At a time of heightened debate over the ethics of empire, it is important to keep in mind that sharing a moment of musical harmony was not why Plowden and her compatriots were in Lucknow. The British were there to pursue a colonial project designed to benefit themselves; and less than seventy years later in 1856, the East India Company would use the last Nawab of Lucknow’s attentions to exactly the same kind of music as their primary excuse to depose him—a major grievance that fed into the horrendous tragedy of the 1857 Indian Uprising. At the same time, viewing Plowden’s efforts from the perspective of the Indian musicians who engaged with her and others like her in the 1780s reveals the Hindustani Airs episode to have been a two-way affair of mutual curiosity and delight in musical minutiae— an open exploration of affinities and possibilities through trained bodily proficiencies, rather than a closing of ears to offensive differences. The wider historical ramifications of the mutually pleasurable liminal space of the nautch are thus ambiguous and unsettled.

The most important of the Indian sources for the Hindustani Airs are the loose-leaf folios of poetry in Persian, Urdu (then called rekhta), Punjabi, and other Indian languages that Sophia Plowden brought back with her from India alongide the tunes she wrote down from live nautch performances. These are held together as MS 380 in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and are an invaluable counterpart to her other papers in the British Library. Until recently, because of the exquisite illustrations garnishing each one, the loose-leaf folios were mischaracterised as a set of miniature paintings. But through painstaking detective work, I have identified them instead as the lyrics that go with the tunes. I have also managed to put about a quarter of them back together for the first time in over 200 years.

The question then is—is it possible to bring them back to life?
Sauda
Above: Urdu mukhammasKya kam kya dil ne” by Sauda (1713–81). Plowden Album f. 12.
Below: Tunebook f. 21v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

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Join me and harpsichordist Jane Chapman as we retell the story of the entangled lives of these two extraordinary women musicians, Khanum Jan and Sophia Plowden, in the “Courtesan and the Memsahib” podcast —of a world in which an Indian courtesan could be treated like a celebrity London opera singer and an Englishwoman made a Mughal Begum by none other than the Emperor Shah ‘Alam II himself. Throughout, we explore the question—philosophically and practically through our own musical experiments—of whether it is possible to reconstruct the songs of the Lucknow court as both Sophia and Khanum may have performed them in the 1780s.

The images in this blogpost accompany the podcast, and will help guide you in your journey with us to the underworld of the Indian musical past, as we seek to discover whether or not it is ever possible for Orpheus to bring Eurydice back from the dead. A larger version of the images is available by clicking on each individually.

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Left: the dress of a Lucknow courtesan. Plowden Album f. 25, detail. Lucknow, 1787–8. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum
Right: Sophia’s letter to her sister Lucy describing in detail the dress made for her to appear as a courtesan in a Calcutta masquerade. Calcutta, 4th April 1783 (BL MSS Eur B 187)  noc

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Detail of the royal farman (order) from Emperor Shah ‘Alam II making Mrs Plowden a Begum (BL IO Islamic 4439)  noc

Saqi’a
Above: anonymous Persian rubaʻiSaqi’a fasl-i bahar ast: mubarak bashad” (see also above: Air no. IV, “Sakia! fuſul beharuſt, by Chanum”). Plowden Album f. 8 and below: Tunebook f. 14v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

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khayal
Above: anonymous Urdu khayal “of the snake charmers” “Sun re ma‘shuqa be-wafa”. Plowden Album f. 8, and below: Tunebook f. 14v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum
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Asafuddaula is entertained by musicians at court. Lucknow, c.1812. (BL Add.Or.2600)  noc

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Entry in Sophia’s diary for 23rd December 1787: her first encounter with Khanum Jan (BL Mss Eur F127/94)  noc

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Painting of Colonel James Skinner’s nautch troupe, given as a souvenir to a European visitor. Delhi, c. 1838 (BL Add.Or.2598)  noc

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Colonel William Blair and his family in India with his daughter Jane at the pianoforte.  Johan Zoffany, 1786 (Tate Britain, T12610)  ccownwork

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An upright piano in the ghusal-khana (hammam) in the Red Fort, Delhi, by a late Mughal artist c. 1830–40. Traditionally, the ghusal-khana was where the Mughal emperors held their most intimate musical gatherings. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis E and Theresa S Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art, 1994 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1994. 71)  noc

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Illustration for James Skinner’s entry on the “bazigar” or conjurors. Tashrih al-Aqwam. Delhi, 1825 (BL Add.27255)  noc

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Crotch’s specimen no. 336, “the song with which the natives charm the snakes.” London, 1807. (BL Music Collections h.344)  noc


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Above: Persian ghazal by Hafiz (1310–79) “Mutrib-i khush-nava be-go: taza ba taza no ba no” Plowden Album f. 1 and below: Tunebook f. 12r. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

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Mutru bekhoosh nuwa begofurther transformed into Air IV from Biggs & Opie A second set of Hindoo airs (BL P/W 98)  noc

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“A dancing woman of Lucknow, exhibiting before an European family,” by Charles D’Oyly. Plate from Thomas Williamson, The costume and customs of modern India. London, c.1824 (BL X 380)  noc

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Lucknow artist Mihr Chand’s painting of a fantasy courtesan, modelled on a European nude. Awadh, c. 1765–70 (BL J. 66,2)  noc

Surwi ruwani kisti
Above: Persian ghazal by or in homage to Khaqani (1122–90) “Surwi ruwani kisti”. Plowden Album f. 11 and below: Tunebook f. 19r. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

Surwi ruwani kisti

“The Courtesan and the Memsahib” was written and performed by Katherine Butler Schofield with harpsichordist Jane Chapman. Additional voices were: Georgie Pope, Kanav Gupta, Priyanka Basu, and Michael Bywater. Recordings of vocalists Kesarbai Kerkar and Gangubai Hangal, and sarangi player Hamid Hussain, are courtesy of the Archive of Indian Music and Vikram Sampath; selections from Jane Chapman’s studio recording “The Oriental Miscellany” are found on Signum Classics.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London
email: katherine.schofield@kcl.ac.uk
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20 April 2018

Sketchfab 3-D modelling of trooper Ami Chand of Skinner's Horse

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Last month as part of a pilot on using three-dimensional modelling at the British Library's Digitisation Studio, a few objects from the Visual Arts section were photographed and rendered using a Cyreal 3D camera rig and made available through Sketchfab. One of the objects selected is the terracotta model of 'Ummeechund', a trooper of Skinner's Horse which painted using polychrome pigments and modelled with wires and an armature. It measures 28.5 cm high. The trooper is featured wearing the distinctive long yellow coat with red trimmings, a black jacket with red frogging, a tiger-skin bandolier, a tall shark marked with a crescent and with red trimmings and tassels, and white pantaloons. His left hand rests on the hilt of his upright sword. As the trooper was last displayed in the Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire exhibition at the British Library from 2012-13 and now currently in storage, it was the ideal candidate for digital modelling as it is fragile.

Ami Chand ('Ummeechund'), a trooper in Skinner's Horse. Delhi or Lucknow, c. 1819-20. British Library, Foster 979.

Skinner's Horse was the regiment of irregular cavalry established by James Skinner (1778-1841) in 1803 in northern India. As Skinner was an Anglo Indian, son of a Scottish solider and Rajasthani mother, he was not allowed to serve in the East India Company as a solider and established an independent cavalry. Skinner initially supported the Marathas against the British, but changed sides in 1803. In 1814, he established the second regiment of the irregular cavalry to support the British against the Nepalese. Aside from establishing Skinner's Horse or the 'Yellow Boys', Skinner is recognised as a key patron of art in Delhi during the first half of the 20th century. Skinner was close friends with artist James Baillie Fraser and his brother William Fraser, the Assistant to the Resident at Delhi from 1805, who were also patrons of local artists.

The terracotta figure of Ami Chand was produced approximately in 1819-20. The portrayal is closely linked to a portrait of Ami Chand, commissioned by William Fraser (in the collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan) in May 1819. The inscription below the painting in William Fraser's hand reads: 'Ummee Chund the son of Oodey Ram by birth a Bath of vil. Gundana District Gohand province Hissar or Hurreeanah. The man who saved my life when an assassin cut me down by seizing him tho' unarmed himself. In his troop dress - done in May 1819.' Ami Chand saved Fraser by throwing an inkstand at the assassin. According to correspondence between the Fraser brothers, Ami Chand was employed by the Frasers for several years and featured in at least two portraits belonging to the brothers. A study of six recruits from the peasant castes Jat and Gujjar that lived on the outskirts of Delhi is featured below for comparison of the style of the uniform.  

 Add Or 1261 copySix recruits to the second regiment of Skinner's Horse, Delhi 1815-20. British Library, Add Or 1261. Noc
 

Ami Chand was not the only servant working for the Fraser brothers that was portrayed. In the David Collection in Copenhagen, there are two drawings featuring Kala, one showing him dressed in simply trousers and turban with no top based on his attire while out hunting and a second in full regimental attire of the irregular cavalry of Skinner's Horse. 

Further reading:

Mildred Archer and Toby Falk, India Revealed: the Art and Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35, London, 1989.

J. P. Losty, 'New evidence for the style of the 'Fraser artist' in Delhi: Portraits of Afghans in 1808-10', AAS Blog, 01/11/2015.

J.P. Losty, 'James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised'AAS Blog, 07/07/2014.

J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012, ch. 4.

Malini Roy, Head of Visual Arts

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”.

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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)
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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).

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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)
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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.

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

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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)
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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].

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Fig. 5. Interlinear copy of the Saṅgīta-darpaṇa produced for East India Company official Richard Johnson  (British Library IO San 2399)
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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)
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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.
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Fig. 7. The melodic outline of Ragini Todi, Tarjuma-i Kitāb-i Pārījātak (British Library RSPA 72, f. 28r)
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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.

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

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

 

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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
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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.

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[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.

14 March 2018

A Mughal copy of Nizami’s Layla Majnun (IO Islamic 384)

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Some of our best-known Mughal manuscripts in the British Library’s Persian collection have already been digitised. These include the imperial Akbarnāmah (Or.12988 ), Akbar’s copy of Nizami’s Khamsah (Or.12208), and the Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī, ‘Memoirs of Babur’, (Or.3714), to mention just a few. However far more works remain undigitised and many are comparatively little-known. Over the coming months we’ll be publicising some of these in the hope that people will become more familiar with them.

IO Islamic 384_f2r_2000 IO Islamic 384_f1v_2000
Opening of Nizami's Laylā Majnūn, copied by Muhammad Baqir in 1557-8 (British Library IO Islamic 384, ff. 1v-2r)
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Today’s choice is a copy of Nizami’s Laylā Majnūn, IO Islamic 384, one of the five narrative poems forming his Khamsah, ‘Quintet’. Consisting of approximately 4,600 lines of verse and completed in 584/1188, it tells of the fateful romance between Layla and Qays who, driven to madness (majnūn), took refuge in the desert with wild creatures as his only friends. When Layla eventually died of a broken heart, Majnun rushed to her grave and instantly died himself. Interpreted on several levels, the story of Layla and Majnun is one of the most popular Persian romances with versions by many of the best-known authors. Nizami’s poem was itself frequently copied and illustrated, especially in Mughal India.

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Layla and Majnun as children at school (British Library IO Islamic 384, f. 7r)
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This particular manuscript, IO Islamic 384, is dated Rabiʻ al-avval 965 (Dec 1557/Jan 1558) and was copied by Muhammad Baqir [ibn] Mulla Mir ʻAli, the son and pupil of the famous calligrapher Mir ʻAli Haravi who worked in Herat and Bukhara. Muhammad Baqir migrated to India and was already, in Akbar’s reign, described as a noted calligrapher by Abu’l-Fazl (A’īn-i Akbarī, tr. Blochmann, p. 109). In India he worked for the courtier and patron ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan Khanan (Soucek, p. 169 citing Nihavandi’s Ma’āsir-i Raḥīmī).

IO Islamic 384_f50r_col_2000
The colophon giving the date of completion: Rabiʻ al-avval 965 (Dec 1557/Jan 1558), and the name of the scribe Muḥammad Bāqir [ibn] Mullā Mīr ʻAlī (British Library IO Islamic 384, f. 50r)
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As can be seen from the image above, the manuscript begins with a fine illuminated heading. Additional illumination includes vertical bands separating the four columns of text, and chapter headings in red, set in rectangular panels of flowers on a gold ground. The five paintings were added some fifty years later. While none is attributed to any artist, Soucek has suggested that the painter might be Mushfiq who is known to have worked at ʻAbd al-Rahim’s court.

IO Islamic 384_f23r_2000 IO Islamic 384_f34v_2000
Left: Layla’s father gives her in marriage to Ibn Salam (IO Islamic 384, f. 23r)
Right: A hermit brings Layla to the place appointed for her meeting with Majnun but she shrinks from the encounter (IO Islamic 384, f. 34v)
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Layla visits Majnun in the wilderness surrounded by animals (IO Islamic 384, f. 42r)
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Majnun throws himself on Layla’s tomb (IO Islamic 384, f. 48r)
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Our copy was purchased by the East India Company from Richard Johnson who acquired it in Lucknow, probably between 1780 and 1782 while he was Assistant to the Resident, Nathaniel Middleton (for more on Johnson and his collection see our earlier post ‘White Mughal’ Richard Johnson and Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat). Before that it had belonged, according to a Persian inscription on f. 1r, to one Faqir ʻAbd al-Hakim who had bought it for 22 rupees at the beginning of Ramazan in the first regnal year of an unspecified ruler.


Further reading

H. Pinder-Wilson , “Three Illustrated Manuscripts of the Mughal Period”, Ars Orientalis, Vol. 2 (1957): 413-422.


Priscilla Soucek, “Persian Artists in Mughal India: Influences and Transformations”, Muqarnas 4 (1987): 166-181.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
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01 March 2018

'South Asia Series' talks from April to May 2018

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The Asia and African Collections department at British Library (BL) is pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in April-May 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects such as Muharram, Delhi waters, Tipu Sultan’s library collection, Sufism and Persian manuscripts, Mughal musical rivalries, colonial police and food! This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ and the South Asian collections. The speakers will range from scholars and academics in the UK and elsewhere as well as our own curators, who will share their original and cutting-edge research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

Lunn
Muharram festival, 1830-1840 (British Library Add.Or. 401)   noc

On 16th April 2018, David Lunn, Simon Digby Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS,  will talk about transformations in the Shi’a festival of Muharram, which commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, in South and Southeast Asia during the colonial period. His talk entitled ‘Painting, Singing, and Telling Muharram in 19th-century India and Singapore focuses on various examples of art work from India in the British Library collections; the ‘Muharram processional scroll’, a painting from c. 1840 Madras now in the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore; and the Syair Tabut, a 146-quatrain Malay narrative poem from 1864 Singapore. These representations of Muharram will be viewed in the context of colonial era contests over public space and access to it.

Birkinshaw
‘The Jharna or Waterfall at the Kootoob’ from Sir Thomas Metcalfe’s 'Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi,' 1842-44 (British Library, Add.Or.5475 )   noc

Matt Birkinshaw, who recently completed his PhD in Geography at LSE, focuses on a long history of urban water provision in Delhi on 23rd April 2018. In his talk ‘Waters of Delhi: Continuity and Change under Mughal, Company and British Rule’, he examines how Delhi transformed from being a city with a sophisticated systems of well, channels and canal under Mughal rule to becoming a dangerously unhealthy city with inadequate water and drainage concerns under British rule. In his talk he will trace how water was understood and accessed under different systems of rule, the changes and continuities in water supply and their present day relevance.

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Front board of Tipu Sultan’s personal Qur’an (British Library, IO Islamic 3562)   noc

In our last talk in April, Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator of Persian Collections, British Library, in her talk on 30th April, ‘Researching the Manuscript Collection of Tipu Sultan of Mysore’, will explore some of the rare and valuable manuscripts at the British Library that were once part of Tipu Sultan’s Library collection. Tipu Sultan of Mysore is one of the most colourful characters in the history of South Asia. On the one hand he is often castigated as a fanatical Muslim and brutal ruler but at the same time he is regarded by many as a martyr whose wars against the British foreshadowed the historic uprising of 1857 by around 50 years. On the basis of his collection, Ursula Sims-Williams will shed new light on the charismatic Tipu Sultan, whose library at the time of the fall of Seringapatam in 1799, was estimated to consist of about 2000 volumes.

Baburi
List of contents from the opening of a late-sixteenth-century collection of letters teaching mystical principles (British Library, Delhi Persian 1129B)  noc

We will begin May with another talk from one of our curators! On Wednesday 9th May, Sâqib Bâburî, Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project, will talk on ‘Sufism and Persian Manuscripts from the Delhi Collection’. Acquired by the Government of India in 1859, the ‘Delhi Collection’ was transferred to the India Office Library in 1876, and is now part of the British Library's collections. Sâqib Bâburi in his talk explores some of the rare manuscripts in the Delhi collection that specifically deal with Sufism, mysticism and metaphysics to help illustrate Delhi’s diverse spiritual traditions.

Schofield
Nawab Muhammad ‘Abd ul-Rahman Khan of Jhajjhar entertained by members of the Delhi kalāwant lineage, 1849 (British Library Add.Or. 4680)   noc

Katherine Butler Schofield, Senior Lecturer in Music at King’s College London, will present on the 14th May 2018 on musical rivalries in Mughal times as part of her series of talks at the British Library entitled Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing about Music in Late Mughal India. Her talk ‘The Rivals: Anjha Baras Khan, Adarang, and What Happened to Muhammad Shah’s Court’ based on 18th and early 19th musician biographies, a genre new to writing on music at the time, will offer unusual access to the history of elite artisans on the move in late Mughal and early colonial India. The biographies offer themselves as both a product and a record of the upheaval, dispersal, diversification and innovation of those times.

Shil_2000
Life in the Indian Police, by C.E Gouldsbury (London, 1912), p. 42  (British Library T 9029)   noc

On 21st May 2018, we have a talk on ‘Police in Colonial India: A Study of the Recruitment of Constabulary Labour in Late Nineteenth Century Bengal’, given by Partha Pratim Shil, Junior Research Fellow for research in History at Trinity College, Cambridge. The talk examines the archival corpus at the British Library for the study of the police establishment in Colonial Bengal. Using the police archive, Partha Pratim Shil demonstrates the different and new ways of looking at the recruitment of workers at the lowest rungs of the police, i.e., the constabulary in the Bengal and Calcutta Police establishments, in the late nineteenth century. The talk reveals how colonial police officials had to dip into the wider market of security work in Bengal to derive its constabulary, and how the operation of this labouring world shaped the colonial state apparatuses.

Khosla
Left:  Sultan Ghiyas al-Din seated on his throne and right: Cows being milked (British Library IO Islamic 149)   noc

We end our spring talks on 30th May 2018 with a presentation by Preeti Khosla, an independent scholar, on Mughal-era cookbooks. Her talk entitled ‘Reintroducing the Celebrated Niʿmatnāmah Half a Century Later ‘brings to life the gastronomic delights, aromas and indulgences of the 16th century Malwa court using the British Library manuscript, the Niʿmatnāmah. Dedicated to the Malwa Sultans, Ghiyas-al-Din Shah and Nasir-al-Din Shah, its many illustrations and accompanying text provide a rare vista into the decadence of this Sultanate court and its obliging female retinue. Evidently an illustrated manuscript that was esteemed over the centuries, this talk takes another look at the celebrated Niʿmatnāmah more than half a century after it came to light.

No advance booking for these talks is required, and the sessions are free to attend. For further info, please contact Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ at layli.uddin@bl.uk. Please do come along, listen and participate!

26 January 2018

The 'Agra Scroll': Agra in the early 19th century

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The riverfront at Agra once formed one of the great sights of Mughal India.  In addition to the great fort rebuilt by the Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) and the Taj Mahal (the tomb built for the Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, d.1633), both banks of the River Yamuna were lined with great mansions, palatial garden houses, grand tombs and imperial gardens.  The houses of the princes and mansabdars lined the right bank up- and down-river from the fort, while the left bank was mostly devoted to imperial gardens.  The Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30) had been the first to build a garden at Agra, nearly opposite the site of the Taj Mahal, and other imperial gardens were laid out on the left bank of the river mostly in the time of the Emperors Jahangir (r.1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r.1628-58).  Jahangir and Shah Jahan gave the land on the riverbanks to their sons and to the great nobles of the empire.  Jahangir’s powerful Iranian wife Nur Jahan laid out the garden now known as the Ram Bagh and also converted the garden of her parents, I`timad al-Daula and his wife ‘Asmat Banu Begum, into the first of the great tombs in Agra itself, while Mumtaz Mahal herself began the garden that was finished by her daughter Jahanara.  Apart from the emperor and the imperial women, all the men who built gardens or tombs on the river front were mansabdars (high-ranking officers of the court).

Land could be bought, but the prestigious riverfront sites were granted to the nobles by the emperor and could be reclaimed after their death.  The best way for a Mughal mansabdar to ensure that his mansion or land was not reclaimed was to build his tomb on it, when it became inviolable.  Several of the garden houses were therefore converted into tomb gardens.  After Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi in 1648, Agra declined and its gardens and buildings became of less importance to the emperor, so that most of those houses and gardens remaining are still generally known by their last Shahjahani owner.

Apart from the Taj Mahal and the fort, only the gardens and tombs of the upper left bank of the river round the tomb of I`timad al-Daula survive today in anything like the state in which their former splendour can be appreciated.  The city was repeatedly sacked in the eighteenth century by Afghan invaders as well as more local marauders in the form of Jats, Rohillas and Marathas, until it came into the possession of the East India Company in 1803.  A thorough study of the riverfront at Agra was made by Ebba Koch in her book on the Taj Mahal published in 2006.  The evidence there presented can now be supplemented by an important panoramic scroll of the riverfront at Agra acquired recently by the British Library (Or.16805).  This painted and inscribed scroll shows the elevations of all the buildings along both sides of the river as it flows through the whole length of the city. The length of the scroll is 763 cm and the width 32 cm.  A full description of the scroll can be found in Ebba Koch’s and the present writer’s joint article in the eBLJ (9 of 2017).

The scroll is drawn in a way consistent with the development of Indian topographical mapping.  The river is simply a blank straight path in the middle of the scroll, its great bend totally ignored, while the buildings and gardens on either side are rendered in elevation strung out along a straight base line.  Buildings and inscriptions on each side of the river are therefore upside down compared to those on the opposite side.  Inscriptions in English and Urdu are written above each building, two of which enable the scroll to be approximately dated.  ‘Major Taylor's garden’ is noted near the Taj Mahal.  This is Joseph Taylor of the Bengal Engineers who worked at Agra on and off from 1809 until his death in 1835.  His rank was that of a Major between 1827 and 1831.  He had lived with his family in the imperial apartments in the fort (this was no longer allowed by 1831) and also had fitted up a suite of rooms at the Taj Mahal between the mihman khana (the assembly hall for imperial visits on the east side of the tomb itself) and the adjacent river tower. This piece of evidence is however contradicted by the absence on the riverbank north of the fort of the Great Gun of Agra, which was depicted in all panoramic views of the fort from the river, until it was blown up for its scrap value in 1833 (see the present author’s essay on the Great Gun in the BLJ in 1989). At the moment it seems best to date the scroll to c. 1830.  It must be stressed, however, that the artist was not necessarily sketching all the monuments afresh, but could rather as with most Indian artists be relying on earlier versions of the same subject for some of them.  A key discrepancy for instance arises in Ja`far Khan’s tomb, which is much better preserved in the scroll than in a drawing in Florentia Sale’s notebook also from c. 1830 (MSS Eur B360(a), no. 43). 

Jafar Khan's tomb
The garden of I`tiqad Khan and the tomb of Ja’far Khan, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

The scroll reveals the tomb for the first time as a double-storeyed structure, much resembling that of Ja’far Khan’s grandfather I’timad al-Daula across the river, built by his daughter Nur Jahan whom Jahangir had married in 1611, thereby propelling her family to the most important positions in the empire.  An important new finding from the scroll is the evidence of the concentration of the upper right bank of the Yamuna of structures connected with the family of Nur Jahan.  Just upriver from Ja’far Khan’s tomb were the gardens of Nur Jahan’s brother and sister I`tiqad Khan (d. 1650) and Manija Begum,.  Ja`far Khan (d. 1670) was the son of another of Nur Jahan’s sisters and was married to his cousin Farzana Begum, Asaf Khan’s daughter and the sister of Mumtaz Mahal.  He was thus the son-in-law as well as the nephew of Jahangir’s vizier powerful Asaf Khan and also Shah Jahan’s brother-in-law.  His mansion was downstream nearer the Fort as was that of his uncle Asaf Khan, next to the mansions of the imperial princes.

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The Agra Fort, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Downstream from the Fort were the mansions of some of the great officers of state of Jahangir and Shah Jahan – Islam Khan Mashhadi, A’zam Khan, who was son-in-law to Asaf Khan, Mahabat Khan (Jahangir’s thuggish general), Raja Man Singh of Amber (who owned land in Agra including the site of the Taj Mahal, exchanged with Shah Jahan for four other mansions in Agra), and Khan ‘Alam, Jahangir’s ambassador to Shah ‘Abbas I of Iran, who retired early in the reign of Shah Jahan to his garden in Agra on account of his old age and his addiction to opium.  His mansion was next to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.

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Khan ‘Alam’s mansion and garden, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc


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The Taj Mahal, with part of Major Taylor’s garden on the left, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

After the Taj Mahal came the garden established by Major Taylor and then the mansion of Khan Dauran. Ebljarticle92017_Page_21_Image_0002
The mansion of Khan Dauran and Major Taylor's Garden, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

We now cross the river and proceed back upstream.  The gardens and monuments on the left or eastern bank on the scroll are numbered in the reverse direction to those on the opposite bank.  On this side there are fewer mansions and more gardens, most of them former imperial gardens.

Mahtab bagh
The Mahtab Bagh, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Our anonymous scribe continues the mistaken tradition that Shah Jahan had the Mahtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden laid out opposite the Taj Mahal (‘Emperor Shah Jahan had it built as his grave’) so that he could be buried there.  In fact it was laid out by the emperor as a char bagh garden (divided by paths and canals into four) for viewing the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal on the opposite bank.  An octagonal pool reflected the Taj Mahal in its waters and this was immediately in front of the bangla pavilion depicted here.

The left bank was largely occupied by imperial gardens with few structures surviving until much further upstream with the tomb of I’timad al-Daula, Jahangir’s vizier, and his wife.  After his vizier’s death in 1622, shortly after that of his wife, Jahangir gave his property to Nur Jahan and she (and not her father as erroneously claimed in the inscription) was therefore able to build this tomb for her parents in his garden on the bank of the Yamuna (all the property of deceased mansabdars normally reverted to the state on their death).    Just upriver is the domed tomb of Sultan Pariviz, Jahangir’s second son, whose excessive indulgence in alcohol resulted in his death in 1626. 

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Tomb of I’timad al-Daula and Sultan Parviz’s tomb, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Upriver is the tomb of Wazir Khan.  Hakim ‘Alim al-Din titled Wazir Khan was one of the most esteemed nobles of the reign of Shah Jahan.  He was governor of the Punjab 1631-41 and renowned for his patronage of architecture in Lahore, where his comparatively long governorship enabled him to build a famous mosque and a hamman or baths.  Only the two corner towers of his garden in Agra survive, the central pavilion and its tahkhana being now ruinous, and the rest of the garden has been built over.

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Garden of Wazir Khan and tomb of Afzal Khan (the ‘China tomb’), Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Alongside Wazir Khan’s tomb is that of Afzal Khan Shirazi, who was divan-i kul or finance minister under Shah Jahan. He died in 1639 at Lahore and his body was brought back to Agra to be buried in the tomb he had built in his lifetime.  It is decorated outside with the coloured tiles which were a speciality of Lahore, as found on the walls of the Lahore fort and of the mosque of Wazir Khan, and with painted decorations inside.  The tomb survives but its original decoration is largely gone and the interior has been repainted. 

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Jahanara’s garden and Nur Jahan’s garden, the Rambagh, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Jahanara (1614-81) was the eldest child as well as the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, and she held a special place in her father’s affections after the death of her mother in 1631, when she became the Begum Sahiba and ran the emperor’s household.  Her garden was one of the largest on the Agra riverfront. It was in fact begun by her mother during Jahangir’s reign and is the only foundation which can be connected to the patronage of the Lady of the Taj.  The earlier construction phase can be seen in the uncusped arches of the lower two storeys of the corner towers, to which Jahanara added smaller chhatris.  Only one of them survives and the large pavilion fronting the river has now gone, so that the scroll’s evidence is of the greatest importance in showing the details of the riverside elevation. 

Next door to Jahanara’s garden is Nur Jahan’s garden, now known as the Rambagh.  She seems to have laid out this garden shortly after her wedding to Jahangir in 1611 and it is the earliest surviving Mughal garden in Agra.  It was named the Bagh-i Nur Afshan, the name Ram Bagh by which it is popularly known being a corruption of its later denomination Aram Bagh.  Two pavilions end on to the river, each consisting of alternate open verandas and enclosed rooms, face each other across a pool on an elevated terrace, with a tahkhana beneath.  The garden was never meant to be symmetrical, unlike later Mughal ones, and the pavilions occupy the southern end of the elevated terrace by the river.

From this unique scroll we learn that despite the ravages of time, neglect and war, in 1830 there was still considerable evidence of Agra’s imperial past to be seen along the riverfronts.  Many towers and facades remained along with a considerable number of mansabdari and princely mansions albeit partly ruinous.  After the Uprising of 1858, the picture changes dramatically.  As in Delhi, whole swathes of the city near the fort were demolished to afford a clear field of fire and the remains of all the nearby mansions were blown up.  Roads were laid out along the right bank punching through the gardens that were left.  Bridges were constructed across the Yamuna for rail and road that destroyed the environment at either end.  Only a few of the imperial gardens at the northern end of the left bank survived in any form, while the rest were converted into fields for crops and are now being built over for Agra’s expanding population.   It is now 400 years since the heyday of Agra as an imperial capital and our scroll, suspended half way between then and now, affords us a precious glimpse of how it once was.

Further reading:

Koch, Ebba, The Complete Taj Mahal, London, 2006

Koch, E., and Losty, J.P., ‘The Riverside Mansions and Tombs of Agra:  New Evidence from a Panoramic Scroll recently acquired by the British Library’, in eBLJ, 2017/9

Losty, J.P., ‘The Great Gun at Agra’, British Library Journal, xv (1989), pp. 35-58

J.P. Losty (Curator Emeritus, Visual Arts Collection)