THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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75 posts categorized "Mughal India"

10 February 2017

Some British ‘Islamic’ style seals in Persian manuscripts from India

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The history of manuscript movements, usage and ownership in the Islamicate world is a comparatively underdeveloped subject. Happily, however, paratextual studies especially of seals and ownership inscriptions are now becoming increasingly important in research on the early-modern period. In an earlier post, my colleague Daniel Lowe (Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ Seals of British Colonial Officers) gave examples of ‘Islamic’ style seals used by British colonial officers in the Gulf well into the 19th and 20th centuries. I thought I would parallel this with some examples of Europeans’ seals found in our Persian manuscripts from India. These can reflect the official status of the owner of the seal or more simply act as a personal statement of ownership. The list is arranged chronologically and is by no means exhaustive, reflecting very much current work in progress!

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Seal of Archibald Swinton (1731-1804) dated 1174 in the 2nd regnal year of Shah ʻAlam II (1760/61): Archībāld Svīntan Bahādur Rustam Jang, 1174 [year] 2. From a copy of the poem Sūz va Gudāz ‘Burning and Melting’ by Nawʻī Khabūshānī (BL Or.2839, f.1r
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Originally trained as a surgeon Archibald Swinton (1731-1804) began his career in India in 1752 serving under Robert Clive in the Carnatic. From the end of 1759 he participated in the Company’s campaigns against Shah ʻAlam II and at the beginning of 1761 after the battle of Gaya was sent by Major Carnac to negotiate terms with him. Presumably this was when Swinton was awarded the Mughal title Rustam Jang. One hundred and twenty of Swinton's mostly Persian manuscripts were sold after his death by Christie’s on June 6th 1810, however this by no means included all his manuscripts of which the British Library has several.

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Seal of Major James Browne dated 1191 (1777/78): Muʻīn al-Dawlah Naṣīr al-Mulk Jīms Brawn Bahādur Ṣalābat Jang, 1191. From a history of the Kachwaha Rajas of Dhundhar commissioned by Browne in 1784 (BL Or.1271, f.11r)
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James Browne had joined the East India Company in 1765 and in 1782 was chosen to be Warren Hastings representative at the Mughal Court in Delhi on a mission to supplant the Marathas in Shah ‘Alam's loyalties. Due to delays he was not however presented until 5 Feb 1784. This particular manuscript, according to an adjacent inscription, entered Swinton's library at the Capital (Dār al-, at the beginning of the month Rabīʻ II 1198 (February 1784).

It was during his time in Delhi that Browne wrote his History of the origin and progress of the Sicks which he translated from an especially commissioned Persian manuscript. After Warren Hastings’ resignation and return to England in 1785, Browne was withdrawn from Delhi due to policy changes. The British Library has several of his manuscripts, two of which subsequently belonged to the Marquess of Hastings, Governor-General 1813–1823.

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Bookplate of Richard Johnson (1753-1807) based on his seal dated 1780: Mumtāz al-Dawlah Mufakhkhar al-Mulk Richārd Jānsan Bahādur Ḥusām Jang, 1194. (BL IO Islamic 1518)
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Richard Johnson (See ʻWhite Mughal’ Richard Johnson and Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat) arrived in Calcutta as a writer for the East India Company in 1770. In 1780 he was nominated for an embassy to the Mughal Emperor but for some reason this mission did not materialise[1]. This must have been the occasion of his being awarded the titles Mumtāz al-Dawlah (ʻChosen of the Dynastyʼ), Mufakhkhar al-Mulk (ʻExalted of the Kingdomʼ), Bahādur (ʻValiantʼ) and Ḥusām Jang (ʻSharp Blade in Warʼ) by Shāh ʻĀlam II on 4 Rabīʻ I 1194 (10 March 1780). The titles carried with them the rank (mansab) of 6,000 and insignia of a fish and two balls, a kettle-drum and fringed palankeen[2]. Johnson’s 716 manuscripts and 64 albums of paintings were acquired by the East India Company Library in 1807 and today form one of the most important of the British Library Persian and Arabic manuscript collections.

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Seal of James Grant dated 1193 in the Bengali era (1786/7): Jams Grānṭ Ṣadr-i Sarrishtahdār va Mulāḥiz̤-i Kull-i Dafātir az ṭaraf-i Dīvān-i Ṣūbahjāt-i Bangālah va Bahār va ghayrih Madār al-Mahām Sipahsālār Angrīz Kampanī, sannah Bangalah 1193. Unlike the seals above which included Mughal titles, this is an official Company seal though it seems to have been used here in a private capacity. Note the early typographical use of a retroflex <ṭ> in Grant's name, as is also found twice in Richard Rotton's seal below (BL Add. 6574, f.4r)
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James Grant (1750-1808) was from 1782 to 1784 the East India Company’s Resident at the Court of the Nizam at Hyderabad and while there had several important historical works transcribed for him from the library of Ṣamṣām al-Mulk Shāhnavāz Khān (d.1781), minister of the Nizam. After his return to Bengal, in 1785 he was appointed Chief Sarrishtahdār (‘Account Keeper’) of the Board of Revenue and continued his research into the system of land tenure publishing several important works on the subject. The post was abolished in 1789 and Grant returned to Scotland. Several of his manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1825 as part of a bequest of the Rev. John Fowler Hull.

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Seal of Richard Whytell Rotton dated in the 32nd regnal year of Shah ʻAlam II (1790-91): Rawshan al-Dawlah Mubāriz al-Mulk Richārd Vial Rāin Asʻad Bahādur Sābit Jang, [year] 32. The seal is accompanied by Rotton's signature: ʻR.W. Rotton 14 April 1791ʼ (BL Egerton 1016, f.3v)

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Major Richard Rotton (b. 1770[3]) was an English mercenary who, unsuccessful in joining the East India Company in 1801, for economic reasons joined the Marathas. He became one of Richard Wellesley’s most highly prized spies before being discharged and transferring to the Company in 1803 at the beginning of the Second Anglo-Maratha War (Cooper, pp. 241; 264-6). Rotton had obviously been active in India for a long time before this to judge from the date of his seal which presumably corresponded with the date of his being awarded his titles. One of his sons with an Indian mother, Felix, was employed by successive nawabs of Awadh for twenty years or so, commanding part of their artillery, and reaching the rank of captain in 1856 [4].

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Seal of William Yule dated 1213 (1798/99), an example of musanná calligraphy in which the letters of his name are written on each side as mirror images. Yule subsequently developed this design to form a cat-shaped bookplate dated 1805 (BL Add.16802, f3r and flyleaf)
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William Yule  (1764-1839) went to India as a cadet in 1781, returning to Scotland in 1806. During the latter part of his career he was Assistant Resident in Lucknow under Lieut.-Col. William Scott, and afterwards in Delhi under Lieut.-Col. David Ochterlony. His collection of 267 Arabic, Persian, and Urdu manuscripts were given to the British Museum by his sons in 1847 and 1850. It includes many very important works partly derived from the libraries of the Safavid prince Abuʼl-Fath Mirza, the Dīwān of Awadh Maharaja Tikait Rai Bahadur (1760–1808), and of the French General Claude Martin (d.1800), all of whom were his contemporaries in Lucknow.

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Seal of William Price, dated 1811/12: Vilyam Prāʼīs, 1226. This seal occurs on the same manuscript, mentioned above, which was previously owned by James Browne (BL Or.1271, f.2r)
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Although there were several people with this name active in India at the time, this is likely to be William Price (1788-1888) who taught Sanskrit, Bengali and Hindi at the College of Fort William Calcutta between 1813 and 1831.

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Seal of James Skinner (1778–1841): Nāṣir al-Dawlah Karnīl Jams Iskinar Bahādur Ghālib Jang, 1830 (BL Add.27254, f.3v)
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James Skinner (for more on him see James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised) the son of a Scottish soldier father and Rajput mother, like William Rotton above was a mercenary working for the Marathas. When war broke out between the East India Company and the Marathas in 1803, he took advantage of the Company’s offer to come over to its side. He founded the famous regiment of irregular cavalry, Skinner’s Horse, known as the ‘Yellow Boys’. The manuscript in which this seal occurs was Skinner's own copy of his Tazkirat al-Umarāʼ (‘Biographies of Nobles’) which he presented to his friend Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) who had just retired as Governor of Bombay. The titles Nāṣir al-Dawlah (‘Defender of the Stateʼ) and Ghālib Jang (ʻVictorious in War’) were  granted to him on 3 May 1830 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar II.

There are doubtless many more examples of similar seals waiting to be recorded. Apart from telling us more about the individual seal owners and their taste in reading matter, the dates and titles granted demonstrate the increasing assimilation and integration of the British into the Indo-Persian culture of pre-modern India.


Further reading:
Annabel Teh Gallop, Venetia Porter, and Heba Nayel Barakat, Lasting impressions: seals from the Islamic world. Kuala Lumpur  Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.
S.A.I. Tirmizi, Index to titles (1798–1885). Delhi: National Archives of India, 1979.
Lucian Harris,
 “Archibald Swinton, A New Source for Albums of Indian Miniatures in William Beckford's Collection”, The Burlington Magazine 143, no. 1179 (June 2001): 360-366.
Sir Evan Cotton, “The Journals of Archibald Swinton”, Bengal Past and Present 31/1 (Jan-Mar 1926): 13-38.
Krishna Dayal Bhargava, Browne Correspondence. Delhi: National Archives of India, 1960.
Randolph G.S. Cooper, The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India. Cambridge UP, 2003.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian Collections
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[1] Richard Johnson, (1753-1807): nabob, collector and scholar…. London, 1973.
[2] BL IO Islamic 4749, f.13r-v.
[3] MyHeritage
[4] Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, The great uprising in India, 1857-58: untold stories, Indian and British. Woodbridge, 2007, p.60.

08 November 2016

The Anvar-i Suhayli or 'Lights of Canopus'

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In tonight’s episode of Treasures of the British Library (Sky Arts, 21.00 Tuesdays), Julia Donaldson, writer and author of The Gruffalo, talks to Dr Muhammad Isa Waley about one of our most engaging Persian manuscripts, a copy of the Anvār-i Suhaylī or ʻLights of Canopusʼ - the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina - which was copied for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27).

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The decorated opening of the Anvār-i Suhaylī, completed in 1610/11 (Add.MS.18579, ff.2-3)
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The Anvār-i Suhaylī, is a 15th century version of a story of two jackals, Kalilah and Dimnah, by the Timurid author Ḥusayn Vāʻiz̤ Kāshifi. It is based on a collection of interrelated fables, mostly about animals, set within a frame story, which became best known in the West as the Fables of Bidpai and was first published in English in 1570 as The Morall Philosophie of Doni.

The fables owe their origin to India where they are best known in Sanskrit as the Panchatantra, but it was largely through the Arabic translation by Ibn al-Muqaffāʻ (died c. 757) that they became so popular in Persian. The story describes how the Sasanian king of Iran, Anushirvan (Khusraw I, r. 531-579), heard of a book treasured by the kings of India which had been compiled from the speech of animals, birds, reptiles and wild beasts. Anushirvan sent his physician Burzuyah on a mission to India to discover the book and Burzuyah returned with a copy which he translated into Middle Persian. The original translation is lost but the stories were re-translated into Arabic and Syriac, and then from Arabic into Persian and other languages.

At the end of the 15th century the Timurid Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara (r.1469-1506) asked Ḥusayn Vāʻiz̤ Kāshifī to produce another, simplified, version in Persian and it was this which subsequently became the most popular, especially with the Mughal Emperors in India who commissioned several luxurious copies.

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The eloquent crow successfully persuades the assembly of birds not to elect the owl as their leader. Artist: Ḥusayn (Add.MS.18579, f.201v)
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The manuscript featured in Julia Donaldson's programme was created for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and completed in AH 1019 (1610/11) though its 36 miniatures were probably painted earlier while Jahangir, as Prince Salim, held court in Allahabad. The paintings are mostly ascribed to well-known Mughal artists and two are personally dedicated to Prince Salim and dated AH 1013 (1604/5).

As in the story of the Gruffalo, a mouse hero features several times in the Anvār-i Suhaylī (see our blog The Cat and the Rat: a popular Persian fable). To mark the programme we have selected a few of the other stories to illustrate the charm of this ever popular work. This manuscript has now been digitised and you can read the whole work here.

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The story of the young falcon (watching from the rocks) who usurped the position of the king's favourite falcon. This painting is dated AH 1013 (1604/5) and signed by the artist Aqā Muḥammad Riz̤ā who describes himself as the ‘disciple of padshah Salim’ (Add.MS.18579, f.36r)
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In this illustration to the story of the lion and the hare, the clever hare reports to the ferocious but stupid lion that the reason he was late for his appointment to act as the lion's dinner was because he had been delayed by an even more ferocious lion. The lion asked to be taken to this potential rival and the hare took him to a well. On seeing his own reflexion the lion jumped in and drowned. Artist: Durga (Add.MS.18579, f.77v)
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The duplicitous jackal Dimnah tricks the ox Shanzabah into thinking that his ally the lion has turned against him and is about to eat him (Add.MS.18579, f.87v)
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Two sandpipers had built their nest by the sea. When the sea carried their young away they complained to the other birds. Their king, the Simurgh, collected a huge army together and forced the sea to give the young birds back, thereby humiliating him — the moral being that one neglects even the humblest creature at one’s own cost (Add.MS.18579, f.104r)
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The story of the king of Yemen and his servant who stole a golden dish but was ultimately forgiven. Artist: Aqā Riz̤ā (Add.MS.18579, f.331v)
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Further reading

Eastwick , Edward B. The Anvár-i Suhailí, or the Lights of Canopus: Being the Persian Version of the Fables of Pilpay, or the Book “Kalílah Und Damnah”. Hertford: Austin, 1854.
Wollaston, Arthur N. The Anwár-i-Suhailí; Or, Lights of Canopus, Commonly Known As Kalílah and Damnah. London: W.H. Allen & Co, 1877.
Wilkinson, J. V. S. The lights of Canopus: Anvār i Suhailī. London: The Studio, 1929.
J.P.Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire: Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London: The British Library, 2012, pp. 88-92.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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31 October 2016

Launch of ‘South Asia Series’ talks

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November 2016 marks the launch of the ‘South Asia Series’ at the British Library. This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s South Asia collections and the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project. The talks will be delivered by academics and researchers from UK and abroad, who will share the results of their original and cutting-edge research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place between 5-6.30 pm at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.

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Nathaniel Halhed's 'A Grammar of the Bengal Language' (Hoogly, 1778). British Library, T 6863. Noc

The first talk, on Monday 14th November, is by Dr. Richard Williams, a cultural historian and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. The talk, ‘Forgotten Music and Muted Women: gender, performance, and print in the British Library,’ will examine manuscripts, paintings and lithographed books in a variety of languages at the British Library to draw out forgotten forms of performance culture, but also to provide clues to the processes of marginalization and silencing that have shaped the way classical music is thought of today. Dr. Richard Williams will focus on female musicians, dancers, poets, and patrons, and demonstrate how women — and not just ‘courtesans’ — were deeply involved in pre-modern musical culture.

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An illustrated page from the Sarmayah i 'ishrat, an Urdu musciological treatise, by Sadiq Ali Khan Dihlavi (1875).  British Library, VT 638 Noc

The second talk in the series, on Monday 21st November, will be given by Neha Vermani, a third-year PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her talk entitled ‘Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal elite’ will deconstruct the stereotype of Mughals as ‘meat-loving’ and ‘fat/cream-obsessed’ royals. Neha will use cookbooks and domestic manuals produced in the Mughal courts between the 16th-18th century held in the British Library collection to provide a more nuanced understanding of cooking techniques, influence of regional, Islamicate and European courts on Mughal food.

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A banquet including a roasted goose given to Babur by a Timurid mirza. Artist: Tiriyya (1507). British Library, Or. 3714, f. 260v (detail). Noc

The third and last of the talks scheduled for the month, on Monday 28th November 2016, will be given by Dr. Priyanka Basu, who obtained her PhD from SOAS and currently works in the British Library's Asian and African Collections as a Bengali language specialist. Her talk, entitled ‘The ‘High’ and ‘Low’ of the Farce in Colonial Bengal: Bat-tala, Proscenium and Beyond’ considers literary productions from Calcutta in the second-half of the nineteenth century, particularly the genre of farce. Dr. Basu will explore the marginal and subversive nature of the farce in comparison to the colonial Bengali dramatic canon, and more broadly the cultural and literary politics surrounding the farce in colonial Bengal.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate. For further information, please contact:

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator, ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’

layli.uddin@bl.uk   Ccownwork

 

15 August 2016

Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting

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Being invited to give a series of three lectures on this wide ranging topic at a seminar at the Universita di Ca’ Foscari in Venice in July 2016, it seemed a good opportunity to write a blog highlighting the interesting material in the British Library. Here are discussed such images in Mughal and Deccani painting.

Yogis and other types of ascetics are found in Mughal illustrated historical manuscripts showing encounters recorded in Mughal histories between the emperors Babur, Akbar and Jahangir; and also in indivdual album paintings. From the Mughal point of view more or less all Hindu ascetics were classed as yogis since they all practised bodily asceticisms of some kind or another. The Mughal concern with naturalism towards the end of the reign of Akbar to some degree accounts for what appears to be the accuracy of the early Mughal images of ascetics and yogis. Early Mughal pictorial representations of yogis have as Jim Mallinson points out (Mallinson, “Yogis in Mughal India”) enormous value as historical documents on account of the accuracy and consistency of their detail, overwriting in many instances what can be gleaned from the conflicting literary traditions. It is obvious, he writes, that a variety of traditions shared ascetic archetypes and freely exchanged doctrines and practices.

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Ascetics being shaved at Gurkhattri in 1505. Detail from painting by Gobind from a copy of  ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan’s Persian translation of the Baburnamah, 1590-92  (British Library Or.3714, f.197r)
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In the account in his autobiography, the Baburnamah, of his first raid into Hindustan in 1505, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in 1526 when he overthrew the Lodi Sultans of Delhi, mentions the well-known cave of Gurkhattri near Bigram (Peshawar) with its then-famous great banyan tree: ‘It was a holy place for yogis and Hindus, who came from faraway places to cut their hair and beards there’[1], but did not visit it at that time.

In 1519, in the course of another incursion, he managed to visit it.

... reaching Bigram, went to see Gurh Kattri. We entered a small, dark chamber like a monk’s cell and after passing through the door and down two or three steps, we had to lie down to get in. It was impossible to see without a candle. All around was an unending pile of hair and beard that had been clipped there. Many chambers like the ones in madrasas and caravansaries surround Gurh Kattri. The first year I came to Kabul ... I went to the great banyan tree in Bigram and was sorry not to have seen Gurh Kattri, but it turned out not to be much to be sorry for.[1]

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Ascetics at Gurkhattri in 1519. Detail from painting by Kesu Khurd from  the Baburnamah, 1590-92  (British Library Or.3714, f.320v)
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The sacred site at Gurkhattri was clearly in the hands of the Nath yogis, followers of Gorakhnath’s Hathayoga system. Nath yogis can be distinguished by the horn worn suspended round the neck, by the fillet worn round the top of the head and in their leaders by the necklace suspended from the shoulders to which are attached strips of cloth. They also wear cloaks often patched, but they do not have any sectarian marks, although they later became Shaivas. Note that at this stage Nath yogis wear hooped earrings through their earlobes and have not yet become the Kanphat or Split-ear yogis who split the actual cartilege of the ear. Other characteristics that mark them out is their long matted hair, piled up into jatas or loose, their nakedness or nearly such, and the smearing of their body with ashes. Note also the yogapattas or meditation bands and the fact that some seem still to wear the sacred thread.

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A shepherd offers flowers to a holy man. Attributed to Basawan, c. 1585 (British Library J.22, 13)
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Alongside these historical manuscripts individual album paintings were also being produced in the Mughal studio in Akbar’s reign. Some of them poke fun at the ascetic tradition as had long been traditional in Indian culture, as in Basavan’s study from around 1585 of a poor shepherd offering flowers to a grotesquely bloated ascetic as he stalks by unheeding; he is followed by an acolyte whose body is as thin as his master’s is the reverse.

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A Nath yogi as a border decoration. Mughal, 1605 (British Library Or.14139, f. 100v)
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By 1605 studies of yogis had become so commonplace that they could be added to the marginalia round illustrated manuscripts, as with this nearly naked Nath yogi tending his fire, complete with horn and earrings, from a manuscript of the Divan of Hafiz that was copied by Sultan ‘Ali of Mashhad but beautified with marginal studies at the beginning of Jahangir’s reign. Pictures of yogis were especially useful for Mughal artists since their nakedness could be used as an exercise in depicting the volumes of the human body or alternatively their voluminous robes for an exercise in modelling.

Although Akbar was interested in all religions and especially those of his Indian subjects and of course had numerous Sanskrit texts translated into Persian, it is his son Salim afterwards Jahangir who seems to have had a specific interest in yoga and ascetic practices, although the Library has no representations relevant to Jahangir here. Instead there are several studies of Nath yogis and other ascetics living in remote places (for example Falk and Archer, Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, nos. 25-27, 45-46).
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Two ascetics from the Album of Dara Shikoh. Attributed to Govardhan, c. 1610 (British Library Add.Or.3129, ff.11v, 12r)
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It was Jahangir’s grandson, Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, born in 1615, who was most famously involved with Hindu philosophy and ascetics. Here are two facing pages from Dara Shikoh’s Album, compiled in the early 1630s just before his marriage, showing two ascetics in yogic postures, attributed to the great artist Govardhan early in his career around 1610. Both wear long beards and have their uncut hair twisted up on to their head: the one of the right has a Vaishnava sect mark and holds up a manuscript page, the one on the left holds a rosary.

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A group of Nath yogis. Ascribed to Mas’ud, Mughal, 1630-40 (British Library J.22, 15)
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Govardhan’s famous study from the 1630s, formerly in the Cary Welch collection, of four nearly naked ascetics seated beside a fire seems to have served as inspiration for this study of Nath yogis by Mas’ud, which reproduces in mirror reverse Govardhan’s shrine on the hill and the tree with a group of ascetics seated before a fire. A young ascetic is bringing them food.

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An imaginary meeting between Dara Shikoh and Kamal, the son of Kabir. Mughal, early 18th century (British Library J.19, 1)
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Dara Shikoh is often represented in later paintings meeting ascetics, normally Muslim ones such as Mian Mir and Mulla Shah, but occasionally also Hindu as here. The accompanying inscription suggests that this is Dara Shikoh with La‘l Sahib, who was born in Malwa in the reign of Jahangir, among whose disciples was Dara Shikoh. The ascetic however in his white robe patched with pieces of variously coloured cloth, his sacred thread and his particular turban with a black fillet wound round a white kulah appears again in an important mid-17th century painting in the V&A Museum showing ten earlier Hindu mystics seated outside a Sufi shrine, where he is named as Kamal and seated beside his supposed father, the 15th century religious reformer Kabir. Both paintings are reproduced in Binyon and Arnold 1921, pls. XVII-XIX and XXII, who note that the two figures are the same but separate their identities according to the inscriptions. Kamal is mentioned in various hagiographical accounts of Kabir’s life and appears more of a spiritual than a biological son, but if he lived it was certainly earlier than Dara Shikoh. His presence here with Dara Shikoh adds weight to Elinor Gadon’s supposition (Facets of Indian Art, p. 157) that this prince was the patron of the V&A picture.

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A royal ascetic. Deccani, Bijapur, c. 1660 (British Library, J.16, 2)
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Artists in the Deccani studios were no less interested in portraying yogis than their Mughal counterparts, and they also developed the artistic idea of the female yogi or yogini. The Library’s only 17th century image of a Deccani yogi is this magnificent and engimatic study of a royal ascetic wearing the patchwork robe of a yogi, seated on a tiger skin beside a fire and with the crescent moon linking him with the great yogi Shiva himself. His sword, dagger, club and fakir’s crutch (no less useful as a weapon than a support for meditation) suggest he might be one of the warrior ascetics who roamed India in bands in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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A female ascetic with devotees. Farrukhabad, c. 1770 (British Library J.66, 5)
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Yogis and ascetics continued as the subjects of paintings in the late 18th century, but now from the schools of Bengal and Awadh. Images of female ascetics became increasingly common in the later 18th century. They normally wear long gowns and have their hair piled up on top of their head or wear a turban. They live out in the open with other yogis and attracted devotees just as did their male counterparts, as in this example from the variation of the Awadhi style from Farrukhabad in western UP. Here a group of women have brought fruit and flowers to such a one, watched by other ascetics. A small śivalingam beside her being perpetually lustrated indicates her orientation.

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A noblewoman visiting a group of ascetics. Murshidabad, c. 1770 (British Library Add.Or.5607)
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In another painting from Murshidabad, a noblewoman has brought her child to a hermitage where live two male ascetics, one old the other young, who sit there telling their beads, while a female ascetic, naked to the waist, supports herself on a swing and smokes from a nargila. The fire beside her suggests she is undergoing mortification, standing up supported by the swing while she exposes herself to the heat of the fire. Female ascetics leaning on swings are a feature of several other late 18th century paintings. The whole concept of Hindu female asceticism in India has only fairly recently become the focus of scholarly attention, specifically of anthropologists studying modern communities, but unless we are to believe that these pictorial studies are fantasies, then it clearly is a phenomenon known for several centuries.


Further reading:
Binyon, L., and Arnold, T.W., The Court Painters of the Grand Moguls, Oxford, 1921
Diamond, D. ed., Yoga: the Art of Transformation, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, 2013
Losty, J.P., Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting: the Mughal and Deccani tradition, 2016
Mallinson, James, ‘Yogis in Mughal India’, in Diamond, D. ed., Yoga: the Art of Transformation, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, 2013, pp. 68-83
——— ‘Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation’, 2013
Skelton, R., et al. eds., Facets of Indian Art: a Symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum April-May 1982, London, 1986
Falk, T and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981

J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts, Emeritus
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[1] W. M. Thackston. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor (Washington D.C., 1996), pp.186 and 285

04 August 2016

New display of Dara Shikoh Album in Treasures Gallery

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Regular visitors to the Treasures Gallery of the British Library will know that the wall case displaying Indian book arts has recently had a change of display. On exhibition are eight folios from the Dara Shikoh Album (Add.Or.3129), one of the great treasures of the Asian and African department, which are discussed in this blog. The album is known to have been compiled by Dara Shikoh (1615–59), the eldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, from the inscription in the prince’s hand on folio 2 dated 1056/1646–47. The inscription records the gift of the album to his wife Nadira Banu Begam, his cousin and the daughter of Sultan Parviz, whom he had married in 1633.

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Dedicatory inscription written by Dara Shikoh, dated 1056/1646-7 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.2r)
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The inscription reads: īn muraqqa‘-i nafīs ba-anīs-i khāṣṣ u hamdam u hamrāz ba-ikhtiṣāṣ Nādirah Bānū Bēgam dādah [shud az] Muḥammad Dārā Shikōh ibn Shāh Jahān pādshāh-i ghāzī sannah 1056 (‘This precious volume was given to his dearest intimate friend Nadira Banu Begam by Muhammad Dara Shikoh son of Shah Jahan emperor and victor, year 1056/1646–47’).

The previously accepted date of the inscription 1051/1641-2 has been revised by John Seyller, who has suggested a date of 1056/1646-7 on the basis of enhanced digital imagery (click here to see enhanced photo), and this revised date is accepted here. For a list of the contents of the album see Falk and Archer (Indian Miniatures, no. 68) who date it 1633–42 and Catalogue of India Office Select Materials. Only two dates are inscribed which can definitely be assigned to the period before Dara Shikoh's death, one on a painting by Muhammad Khan dated 1043/1633-34, the other in the previously mentioned dedicatory inscription.

After the fratricidal war precipitated by Shah Jahan’s illness in 1657, Dara Shikoh was executed by the victorious Aurangzeb in 1659, a few months after his wife had died while attempting to flee with her husband to Iran. The album came into the possession of Aurangzeb and attempts were made to blot out the memory of ‘the apostate’, as his rigidly orthodox brother regarded him. The inscription was obliterated with gold paint which has since worn away, allowing Dara Shikoh’s writing to reappear. After Dara’s death, the album was handed over to Pariwash, librarian to the Nawab ‘Aliyyah, on 21 Rajab, regnal year 3 (of Aurangzeb, i.e. 1661), according to the inscription on folio 1r. The title Nawab ‘Aliyyah, previously borne by Mumtaz Mahal herself, was awarded after the death of her mother to Shah Jahan’s eldest daughter and favourite Jahanara (1614-80), who became the Nawab ‘Aliyyah Padshah Begum Sahibah (Inayat Khan, Shah Jahan Nama, p. 3), as discussed in my forthcoming paper (Losty, ‘Dating the Dara Shikoh Album’).

The seventy-four folios with sixty-eight paintings interspersed with calligraphy and the gilt tooled leather covers represent the album almost in its entirety.  Five leaves are missing according to an early foliation, which may have included Dara Shikoh’s own calligraphy or other pages with inscriptions relating to him.

In the book accompanying the British Library’s 2012 exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, the present writer argued that the contents of the album, containing portraits of teenage princes and princesses, would most naturally fit into the time frame 1631-33 when Dara Shikoh was 16-18, between his engagement to his cousin, the postponement of the marriage owing to the death of his mother Mumtaz Mahal in 1631, and the eventual celebration of the nuptials in 1633 (Losty and Roy, Mughal India, pp. 124-37).  There is no need to argue, as almost all previous writers have done, that the contents of the album must be dated between the two inscribed dates of 1633 and 1642 (now 1647).

The paintings are arranged in facing pairs, as was normal in Mughal albums. The contents mostly consist of portraits of the aformentioned teenage princes and princesses, of holy men of various sorts, and studies of flowers and of birds. Ths inner album borders normally match, except where a folio is missing, and the outer borders all bear floral designs in gold. The paintings are all fairly simple and have sometimes been criticised for not matching the quality of the albums associated with the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan, but then as a princely album it would have been inappropiate to do so, any more than do the Salim and Khurram albums, compiled by the future emperors when princes.

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Right: A prince pouring wine, ascribed to Muhammad Khan and dated 1043/1633-4 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.21v)
Left: a prince holding a turban ornament, attributed to Muhammad Khan, c. 1633 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.22r)
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The otherwise uknown artist Muhammad Khan signed and dated one painting in the album of a prince dressed in Persian costume and its facing pair of a similarly dressed prince with an attendant can safely be attributed to the same hand. They are linked by similar backgrounds and by a frieze of exquisitely detailed flowers across the bottoms of the paintings. Despite their Persianate appearance, these paintings are not Persian, but nothing is known of Muhammad Khan’s origin or his other work. He is possibly a Deccani artist employed by the prince 1630-32 when the court was in Burhanpur and who returned to Agra with him. Some of the flower studies in the album can also be attributed to his hand.

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Right: Dara Shikoh with a jewel, attributed to Chitarman, c. 1630 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.27v)
Left: lady with a wine cup, attributed to Bichitr, 1630-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.28r)
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It was argued in the 2012 book that most of the princely portraits in the album were in fact of the young Dara Shikoh between the ages of 15 and 18 and also that while the court was in Burhanpur the prince had access to his father’s artists. Certainly Chitarman was in Shah Jahan’s employ in 1628 (his portrait is in the Kevorkian Album in the Metropolitan Museum, New York) before becoming associated with Dara Shikoh throughout the 1630s. These two portraits obviously form a pair and the young prince is holding up a sumptous jewelled pendant, a heart-shaped ruby or spinel surrounded by pearls and with a large pendant pearl, for presentation to the lady opposite. She is unknown of course, but was important enough to be painted in the latest style that is associated with the artist Bichitr around 1630, with its receding European landscape in grisaille as a backdrop, as in Bichitr's portrait of Asaf Khan from 1631 in the V&A.

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Right: Dara Shikoh with a tutor, attributed to Chitarman, c. 1630 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.33v)
Left: Lady with a narcissus, perhaps Mumtaz Mahal, attributed to Bishndas, 1631-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.34r)
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This pair of paintings, although now facing each other, cannot have been originally intended to do so since the inner borders do not match, although there is no break in the early foliation. The young prince seems to be about 12 from his size although somewhat older judging by his features. He holds out his hand to his tutor who seems to be about to hand him the book. The lightly painted drawing is typical of Chitarman’s work for the prince. The lady opposite, somewhat more mature than the majority of the female portraits in the album, wears jewels of imperial quality and stands with one hand on a prunus tree and the other holding a narcissus. That and the white narcissus growing before her, white being associated with mourning, suggest that this could be Dara Shikoh’s mother Mumtaz Mahal (b. 1593), who died in Burhanpur in 1631 giving birth to her 14th child. The unrelated borders suggest a possible intervention by the prince, who rearranged the order of the folios in order for his mother to cast her benevolent gaze over his studies. The handling of her head and the prunus in the background suggest that this could be the work of Bishndas.

The Album is also famous for its exquisite studies of birds and flowers, and one of each category was selected for display, illustrated here within their original album mounts decorated with gold flowers.

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The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) with a lily. Mughal, 1630-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.9v)
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The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a medium-sized found throughout many parts of the world including South and South-east Asia. Such herons have a black crown and back, with the remainder of the body white or grey, their eyes are red, and legs yellow. Being relatively stocky, with shorter bills, legs, and necks than other heron species, they do not fit the typical body form of the heron family. Their resting posture is normally somewhat hunched, but when hunting they extend their necks and look more like other wading birds. These birds stand still at the water's edge and wait to ambush prey lurking in the water, mainly at night or early morning. All these characteristics are evident in our portrait of such a bird, hunched and stocky, its feet in the shallow water of a jhil.

Jahangir’s passion for natural history was not inherited by his son Shah Jahan and grandson Dara Shikoh. It was during the 1630s that flowers and floral arrangements with their decorative possibilities came to dominate Mughal textiles and the adornment of architecture and album pages. Hence the addition of an egregious lily has transformed the painting from a natural history study into a decorative album page.

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Exotic flowers with butterflies. Mughal, 1630-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.64r)
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The album contains several studies of flowers that could pass muster as natural history paintings, albeit derived ultimately from European herbals (see my earlier post Mughal flower studies and their European inspiration), but many more are in a more decorative vein as here. This exotic plant with its double flowers, protuberant stigma and folded over toothed leaves could be intended for a lily or a hibiscus, but the intention of the painting is decorative, not naturalistic. The flowers are regularly spaced radially in the Chinese manner throughout the field and are linked by spiralling stems in the arabesque patterns that are also seen in the tulips at the base of Muhammad Khan’s painting of a prince above, as well as elsewhere in the album. Such floral patterns, still less the paintings of different flowers all springing from a single stem (e.g. Losty and Roy, Mughal India, fig. 86), did not make it into Shahjahani decoration in general and are possibly examples of artists’ early experimenting with such ideas before settling on the more familiar sprays seen in album borders and pietra dura work.  These ideas will be explored in a forthcoming paper.

Further reading:
Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981
Inayat Khan, The Shah Jahan Nama of ‘Inayat Khan, trans. A.R. Fuller, ed. W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1990  
Losty, J.P., ‘Dating the Dara Shikoh Album: the Floral Evidence’, in Ebba Koch and Ali Anooshahr, eds., The Mughal Empire under Shah Jahan (1628-58) – New trends of research, forthcoming
Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Art, Emeritus
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21 June 2016

A Mughal Shahnamah

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In a recent post I wrote about some of our loans to the exhibition The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination in Delhi. These included our Mughal illustrated Shāhnāmah (Add.5600). A direct benefit of participating in exhibitions such as this is that we have now been able to digitise it and make it available on our website.

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The heroes Gīv and Pīrān bring Kay Khusraw from Turan to Iran to be crowned king. Artist: Shamāl (British Library Add.5600. f. 139v)  noc

This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.

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Rustam, glass in hand, prepares to eat a wild ass alfresco while Bahman contemplates killing him with a giant boulder. Artist: Banvārī (British Library Add.5600, f. 320v)  noc

In his Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: 263-73, John Seyller expands Jerry Losty's view (Art of the Book: 122-3) that the paintings were added for the great statesman and patron ʻAbd al-Raḥīm Khān Khānān (1556-1627). The artists Qāsim and Kamāl are known to have worked for him and one of the paintings, ascribed to the artist Shamāl (f. 274r), is dated 1025 (1616/17) which places the Shāhnāmah in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's studio at that time. The volume, Seyller suggests, was probably incomplete when ʻAbd al-Raḥīm acquired it. Thirty-five of the paintings were added directly to blank painting areas, leaving four completely empty (for example f. 446v). Some folios were replacements for missing ones. The remaining 55 original illustrations were covered with paper which was then painted over. Occasionally the original painting is visible from the other side, as in folio 338 illustrated below, or round the edges of the new paintings.

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Right:  folio 338v showing the dying Rustam, impaled in a pit of spears, shooting Shaghad through the tree trunk. Left:  folio 338r, the other side of the same leaf showing visible traces of over-painted branches of a tree (British Library Add.5600, f. 338)  noc

Add5600_f257r_reworking Add5600_f189r_reworking
Left: folio 257r and right: folio 189r,  examples of original paintings showing round the edges

The artists of the Shāhnāmah
The 90 paintings are the work of seven named artists listed below. Follow the hyperlinks to go directly to the digital image. Details of the individual illustrations are available here.

Banvārī 26, (ff. 32v, 65v, 84v, 107v, 128r, 130r, 134r, 154v, 178r, 200v, 234v, 295r, 304v, 314v, 320v, 325v, 333r, 343v, 344v, 357r, 437r, 452v, 488v, 525r, 555v, 562v)

Bhagvatī 3 (ff. 28r, 68v, 338v)

Būlā 1 (f. 24v)

Kamāl 11, (ff. 54r, 88r, 156v, 211v, 264v, 346v, 353r, 361v, 464v, 551v, 578v)

Mādhū 1 (f. 12v)

Qāsim 25 (ff. 37r, 42v, 64r, 75v, 78v, 99r, 142v, 147v, 182v, 222v, 236v, 269v, 280v, 285r, 288v, 310v, 350r, 372r, 399v, 404v, 408v, 477v, 483v, 548r, 573v)

Shamāl 21 (ff. 18v, 51r, 116v, 139v, 169v, 176r, 180v, 183v, 189r, 197v, 244v, 250r, 257r, 274r, 277v, 364v, 385v, 411v, 419v, 506r, 538v)

Unattributed or erased 2 (ff. 387v, 402v)


An illustrious past
Lack of  ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's name in Add.5600 means we can only deduce his connection from other evidence, but luckily we have a bit more concrete information about what happened after it left his studio. The details, however, are far from certain and allow plenty of scope for future research!

The first piece of tangible evidence occurs in inscription A below, which records that the manuscript was given in 1625 to Muʻtaqid Khān who had been awarded this title by Jahāngīr when he was made chief huntsman (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668-72). After Jahāngīr’s death in 1627, Muʻtaqid Khān was promoted to Ilāhvirdī Khān by Shāh Jahān as a reward for his loyalty at the time of succession. This explains inscription B written by Muʻtaqid, now Ilāhvirdī Khān (or Chelah as his name is in the inscription), which confirms that the Shāhnāmah had been a gift from Jahāngīr which he was now presenting to his brother Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd1. The inscription is dated on the first of the month of Āzar, regnal year 8. Both John Seyller (“Workshop and Patron”: 264) and Jerry Losty (Art of the Book: 122-3) have interpreted this date as referring to the eighth year of Jahāngīr’s reign (November 1613) which is problematic. If the manuscript was presented to Ilāhvirdī Khān in 1613, then how could it have been in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm’s studio when the artist Shamāl completed his painting in 1616? Bearing in mind that inscriptions A and B presumably refer to the same person, the later inscription B, written after Jahāngīr's death, is surely more likely to indicate a date in Shāh Jahān’s reign equivalent to November 16352 referring to the time when Ilāhvirdī presented the book to Muḥammad Rashīd.

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Portrait of Ilāhvirdī Khān (d. 1659), identified in a Persian inscription, c. 1680 (Johnson Album 64, 2)  noc
 
Inscription C is unfortunately undated but records that the manuscript passed from Muḥammad Rashīd, Ilāhvirdī's brother, to his son Muḥammad ʻĀrif. It is accompanied by his seal.

Several others are mentioned in later inscriptions and seals, but Khān Jahān Bahādur, mentioned in inscription D can perhaps be identified with Aurangzeb's military commander Khān Jahān Bahādur Ẓafar Jang Kokaltāsh who was awarded the title Khān Jahān Bahādur in regnal year 16 (1672/73). The seal associated with this inscription is dated 1101 (1689/90). Khān Jahān Bahādur became Governor of the Punjab in regnal year 34 (1690/91) and remained there until summoned to court three years later. He died in 1697 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 1: 783-91).

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Portrait of Khān Jahān Bahādur (d.1697), identified from a Persian inscription, by the artist Hūnhār, c. 1690. See also Mughal India, pp.156-8 (British Library Johnson Album 18, 12)  noc

The octagonal seal E on folio 1v is dated 1142? (1729/30) and belongs to Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur who was perhaps Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur Khvīshagī (d. 1743), a learned scholar and collector who was given the title Mutahhavar Khān after Aurangzebʼs death in 1707 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 2: 333-43).

The most recent owner was Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), famous for his grammar of Bengali, his support of Warren Hastings and also his promotion of the self-proclaimed prophet Richard Brothers. Halhed acquired a fine collection of oriental manuscripts mainly in Calcutta between 1776 and 1789 and sold them to the British Museum in 1795 and 1796 (Add.5569-5661).

 
Seals and Inscriptions
3

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Left: Add.5600, folio 2r; right: Add.5600, folio 1v  noc

A
(in gold): Ba-tārīkh-i hashtum-i māh-i Amurdād [ilāhī] sannah 20 julūs-i mubārak [...] [ba-m]uʻtamad Muʻtaqid Khān ʻināyat k[ardah]
Translation: On the 8th of the month Amurdād ilāhī year 20 of the blessed accession [of Jahāngīr] (August 1625) [this book] was given to the trusted Muʻtaqid Khān

B (the left hand margin recopied at the time of repairs and added in [ ]): Īn Shāhnāmah rā ḥuz̤ūr-i ghufrān panāh Jahāngīr [pādshāh] bah kamtarīn-i ghulāmān Ilāhvirdī Chelah ʻināyat farm[ūdah būdand] bah tārīkh-i ghurrah-i māh Āzar ilāhī sannah 8 chūn milk-i [bandah būd] [ba-]barādar-i ʻazīz Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd guzarānīd[ah shud]
Translation: The late Jahāngīr pādshāh had given this Shāhnāmah to the least of his slaves, Ilāhvirdī Chelah. On the first of the month of Āzar ilāhī year 8 (of Shāh Jahān = November 1635), since it was mine (lit. the property of this slave), it was presented to [my] dear brother, Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd

C: Min mutamallakāt al-muḥtāj ilá raḥmat Allāh al-Malik al-Ḥamīd, Muḥammad ʻĀrif ibn Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd
Translation: From the possessions of one who needs the mercy of God the king the praised one, Muḥammad ʻĀrif son of Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd ...
This is followed by a seal (undated): Dīn-i ʻĀrif ibn Muḥammad Rashīd yāftah bar fayz̤-i ilāhī kilīd

D: Min mutamallakāt-i Muḥammad ʻĀdil ibn Muḥammad Saʻīd bin Muḥammad Ḥasan mutannā-yi4 Navvāb Khān Jahān Bahādur ba-qaymat-i haftṣad rūpiyah dar Lāhūr kharīd namūdah shud.
Translation: From the property of Muḥammad ʻĀdil son of Muḥammad Saʻīd son of Muḥammad Ḥasan, purchased for 700 rupees at Lahore at the desire of Nawab Khān Jahān Bahādur.
This is followed by a seal:  ʻĀdil hast ibn Saʻīd Khān 1101? (1689/90)

E: Octagonal seal: Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur 1142? (1729/30)


Further reading

John Seyller, “Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Rāmāyaṇa and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ʻAbd al-Raḥīm”, Artibus Asiæ. Supplementum, 42 (1999): 263-73, 378.
J.P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982: 122-3.
J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire: Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012.

 

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

[1] Ilāhvirdī Khān is known to have had one brother, Mukhliṣ Khān (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668), but he may well have had others whom we don’t know about!
[2] The ilāhī era was in use for the first 10 years of Shāh Jahānʼs reign until 1638 (Stephen Blake, Time in Early Modern Islam, CUP 2013, p.131).
[3] I am grateful to my colleague Saqib Baburi for his help and patience with these inscriptions!
[4] I am grateful to John Seyller for this suggestion.

 

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10 February 2016

A Group of Sikh Miniatures on Ivory

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A recently acquired group of miniatures painted on ivory and laid down on paper supports with identifying inscriptions,  still mostly with their original glass, is of considerable interest. Such items were increasingly the stock products of the tourist trade in Delhi in the later nineteenth century, but the inscriptions of this particular group suggested that they must have been made before 1850 and in Lahore or Amritsar rather than Delhi, the usual production centre for such items. The portraits include various Maharajas of the Punjab from 1839-49 with other rulers. They were presumably bought and pasted down onto sheets of paper in order to be sent off to Britain for the enlightenment of friends or relations at home, so that they could put a face to the names that occupied so much of the British press in the 1840s with the doings of the Lahore court and the two Sikh Wars, which ended in the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. Several of the inscriptions are unfortunately in error.

Add.Or.5680-82    
Inscribed: Now Nihal Sing successor to Rangeet Sing [i.e. Kharak Singh]; Maharajah of Lahore Ranjeet Sing; Bahadoor Shaw present King of Delhi [i.e. Akbar II]  (British Library, Add.Or.5680-82)   noc

The miniatures are arranged in four groups. Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore (r. 1799-1839) is given primacy of place in the first group with the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1838-58) to his right and Ranjit Singh’s son Kharak Singh (r. 1839-40) to his left. The inscriber has wrongly identified the latter as Nau Nihal Singh (r. 1840), who was the son and successor of Maharaja Kharak Singh (see next). He was still only aged nineteen when he was killed on returning from his father’s obsequies by masonry falling from an arch, and the portrait is of his father Kharak Singh. For his portrait around 1840 showing him with just a chin beard, see Archer 1966, pl. 35. The inscribed ‘present King of Delhi’ (as the British called the Emperor) dates paintings and inscriptions to at least before 1858. The inscriber seems mistaken here also, since the portrait is surely of Bahadur Shah’s father Akbar II (r. 1806-37) (see Dalrymple and Sharma 2012, nos. 30, 32-36). 

Add.Or.5683-85
Inscribed: Dhuleep Sing present Ruler of Lahore; Kurruck Sing successor to Now Nihal Sing of Lahore; Kurrum Sing Rajah of Putteala [i.e. Kharak Singh] (British Library, Add.Or.5683-85)   noc

The second group has again a central portrait, that of Maharaja Kharak Singh (r. 1839-40), son and successor of Ranjit Singh, who died, it was rumoured, of poison. He has a very distinctive long pointed black beard. The inscriber has muddled Kharak Singh and his son Nau Nihal Singh. The latter was succeeded by Maharaja Sher Singh (r. 1840-43), another son of Ranjit Singh, who is represented later in the portraits, see below. Kharak Singh’s successor was Maharaja Dalip Singh (r. 1843-49), the youngest son of Ranjit Singh, identified with an inscription ‘the present Ruler of Lahore’ which firmly dates the whole group to before 1849. The other portrait in this group purports to be Maharaja Karam Singh of Patiala (r. 1813-45), ruler of one of the Cis-Sutlej states outside Ranjit Singh’s empire and allied to British India, but this portrait does not resemble him (for his portrait, see Stronge 1999, no. 188 and Falk and Archer 1981, no. 553). Again the long pointed black beard suggests Kharak Singh as in Add.Or.5680 above.

Add.Or.5686-89_2000
Inscribed: Rajah of Nepaul; Sumroo Begum; Mirza Zanghir 3 son King of Delhi [i.e. Maharaja Sher Singh]; Dost Mahomet (British Library, Add.Or.5686-89)   noc

Four of the remaining ivories are meant to be of local notables. These are the Maharaja of Nepal, who would seem to be the teenage Maharaja Surendra Bir Bikram Shah (b. 1829, r. 1847-81). Next is the Begum Samru of Sardhana (d. 1836) who ruled her own jagir near Meerut east of Delhi, one of the most redoubtable characters of early 19th century India. Next, a portrait labelled as Mirza Jahangir, the third and favourite son of the Emperor Akbar II, who died in confinement in Allahabad in 1821, cannot be him since this figure is wearing a Sikh type of turban. In fact he is almost certainly the missing Maharaja Sher Singh of Lahore (r. 1841-43), identified by comparison with other portraits by Sikh artists as well as his well-known portraits by both Emily Eden and the Austrian artist T.A. Schoefft (for his portraits by Indian artists, see Archer 1966, pls. 92, 104). Finally in this group is Dost Muhammad, the Amir of Afghanistan (r. 1825-39, and again 1845-63). Dost Muhammad repeatedly fought with the Sikhs in his first reign over the disputed border territory of Peshawar, but then allied himself with them in the second period of his reign before the final annexation. He is often depicted in other groupings of Sikh notables.

The various dates of rulers presented above suggest that the grouping of the portraits was done some time between 1847 and 1849. After the final annexation of the Punjab in 1849, artists in both Lahore and Amritsar produced many sets of portraits on ivory of Sikh rulers and notables in the period of their greatness. The British Library already has five such sets (Archer 1969, nos. 190-194), including one set from the 1850s that is almost certainly among the earliest known (Stronge 1999, no. 20), but this new set is definitely from the late 1840s. It must have been put together put together by a British officer probably in the British Residency in Lahore that was established by the Treaty of Bhairowal in 1846, and sent back home as suggested above for the enlightenment of his friends.

While the arrangement of the first two groups of three portraits is perhaps arbitrary, nonetheless the central large portrait flanked by two smaller ones closely resembles that of the jewels of bazubands, the jewelled armbands worn by the elite as can be seen in the larger portrait of Kharak Singh above (Add.Or.5684). Whereas portraits on ivory by Delhi artists were normally individual commissions, and even when in sets such as of the Mughal emperors were individually framed, the idea behind these groupings of Sikh notables seems to have been to have them mounted up in a frame, as are indeed all those in the British Library which are enclosed in 19th century frames (see Stronge 1999, no. 20).

Add.Or.5691-94
Inscribed: [Ko]otub Minar Church at Delhi [Bui]ldings… at Delhi (British Library Add.Or.5691-94)   noc

The set ends (apart from one unidentified ruler, Add.Or.5690) rather oddly perhaps with three pictures on ivory of monuments of Delhi, all of them mounted up on the same sort of paper and with inscriptions in the same handwriting. In the middle is what is meant to be the church at Delhi, the church of St. James, built by Col. James Skinner near the Kashmir Gate and consecrated in 1836. It does however look rather more like a Mughal tomb such as that of Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri and clearly the artist did not have a very good model for his depiction, although the dome and the parapet are passable. The heavy eave and the Mughal jalis or screens should not be there, but the tomb of William Fraser of 1836 seems to be present in front of the church.

Pictures on ivory of monuments had a different purpose from portraits, since often at this period they were mounted as brooches. Indeed one of the earliest such examples is a picture of the gateway of the Taj Mahal mounted up in a gold brooch with an inscription saying that it was sent from India by Lady Sale in 1840 (private collection). Later such pictures were mounted up into ivory boxes or else, as small circles or ovals, into cufflinks or shirt studs. Apart from brooches, they could also, we now learn from this set, be turned into earrings, since it has two pictures of the Qutb Minar, the famous 12/13th century tower in old Delhi, painted on shapes that are surely destined to be long drop earrings, when encased in gold. Below the tower are painted little round pictures of the Taj Mahal in Agra on one and what appears to be the tomb of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq on the other. An additional small circular painting of the Quwwat al-Islam mosque and the Qutb Minar may indeed have been for one of the roundels covering the ear lobe from which such drop earrings normally hung in the Victorian era. The roundel is actually loose but is positioned in the above image as if this was indeed the case.

The earring paintings can be dated by the presence of the cupola in Mughal style added to the top of the Qutb Minar during a restoration in 1828 by Major Robert Smith of the Bengal Engineers, which was removed in 1848. Although artists in Lahore or Amritsar might not necessarily have known this, they liked to be up to date with their depictions, so this is yet another reason to date the set to the late 1840s.

Although there is no direct evidence that this group of miniatures in ivory was painted in the Punjab, their subjects of local interest to the Punjab and their somewhat unsophisticated technique would certainly suggest that this was so. Sikh artists do not seem to have attempted to paint on ivory any earlier. Such work when done by Delhi artists is more refined and polished, and this will be the subject of a second blog.


References:

Archer, M., Company Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1972
Archer, W.G., Painting of the Sikhs, HMSO, London, 1966
Dalrymple, W., and Sharma, Y., Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857, Asia Society, New York, 2012
Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1981
Stronge, S., ed., The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, V & A, London, 1999


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus)
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14 January 2016

A Dictionary Packed with Stories from Eighteenth-Century Delhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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