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23 October 2014

Twenty more Persian manuscript treasures now online

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

The works in this recent upload include:

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

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

The poet Saʻdi and his companions meet a young man whose sheep was tamed by kindness (Add.27262, f. 37r)

IO Islamic 137  The Ẓafarnāmah, a history of the conquests of Timur by Sharaf al-Din Yazdi completed ca. 1424. Illustrated with 30 miniatures in the 16th century Shiraz style.

The defeat of Damascus. Timur watches the flames as the city burns (IO Islamic 137, f. 358r)

IO Islamic 138  The only known copy of the Khamsah ('Five poems') composed by the poet Jamali who lived at the beginning of the 15th century. Dated 1465 at Baghdad and illustrated with six miniatures.

IO Islamic 3214  The Sindbādnāmah, an anonymous version of the adventures of Sindbad in Persian verse. It was probably copied in Golconda, India, around 1575, and contains 72 illustrations.
The vizier’s tale of the confectioner, his unfaithful wife, and the parrot (IO Islamic 3214, f. 36v)

IO Islamic 3558
The Dīvān-i Khāqān, a beautifully illuminated copy in calligraphic shikastah of the poems of  Fath ʻAli Shah Qajar, Shah of Iran (r. 1797-1834), who wrote poetry under the name Khaqan.

Io_islamic_3558_fbrigr Io_islamic_3558_fbrigv
The Shah hunting and a floral arrangement on the inside and outside of the contemporary lacquer binding of Fath ʻAli Shah Khaqanʼs Dīvān (IO Islamic 3558, inside and outside front cover)

Or.166  The Aḥvāl-i Humāyūn Pādshāh. Princess Gulbadan Begam's autobiographical account of the reigns of her father, the Mughal Emperor Babur, and his successor, her brother Humayun. Although this manuscript probably dates from the early 17th century, it is the only known copy to have survived.

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

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

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

Babur with birdcatchers near Kabul, in 1504. Artist: Shiyam (Or.3714, f. 190r)

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

Chaos in the classroom: the story of the schoolmaster who became infatuated with one of his pupils  (Or.5302, f. 80r)

Or.5637  Muʼnis al-arvāḥ ('The confidant of spirits'), an autograph copy by Princess Jahanara (1641-81), daughter of Shah Jahan, of her biography, composed in 1640, of the Sufi saint Muʻīn al-Dīn Chishtī (see blog: Princess Jahanara’s biography of a Sufi saint).

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

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

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

Facing pages with the Uighur text in the central panels and the Persian poems in the margins (Or.8193, ff. 46-47)

Or.11846  The Dīvān of Hafiz Saʻd copied by Shaykh Mahmud Pir Budaqi at Shiraz for the library of the Qaraqoyunlu prince Pir Budaq (d.1466).

The opening shamsah with a dedication to Abu'l-Fath Pir Budaq Bahadur Khan (Or.11846, f. 1v)

Or.12208  The emperor Akbar's copy of Nizami's Khamsah, dated between 1593 and 1595 and copied by ʻAbd al-Rahim ʻAnbarin-qalam. It contains 38 illustrated folios attributed to the major artists of the imperial Mughal studio and an original lacquered binding.

A scene from the Haft paykar in which the king escaped from a tower, carried off by magical bird. Artist: Dharamdas (Or.12208, f. 195r)

Or.12857  ʻAbd al-Karīm al-Qādirī Jawnpūrī's Javāhir al-mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, a musical treatise dedicated to Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56) dating from the 17th century which includes 48 Deccani miniatures from an earlier Dakhini manuscript dating from around 1570 (see blogs: Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1 and Part 2).

Or.12988  An imperial copy of the first volume of Abu'l-Fazl's history of the reign of Akbar, the  Akbarnāmah. Completed ca.1602, it contains 39 paintings and inscriptions (unfortunately pasted over during a previous refurbishment and now only visible with infrared photography) by Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
The baby Akbar and his mother Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani. Artists: Sanvalah and Narsingh (Or.12988, f. 22r)

Or.14139  The Dīvān of Hafiz, copied at Herat or Mashhad ca. 1470 by, according to Shah Jahan’s note on folio 1 , the famous calligrapher Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi. The whole work was refurbished and remargined at the Mughal court ca. 1605 with cartouches containing images of animals, birds, musicians, workmen, soldiers etc. 

The opening of the Dīvān-i Ḥāfiẓ, copied by Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi (Or.14139, f. 1v)

More details about these manuscripts, together with links to catalogue descriptions and related literature, can be found at Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts. This page is very much a 'work in progress' page to which we add continually, so please keep looking there to follow new developments.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies


13 October 2014

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 2

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The second of two posts on the Bijapur manuscript Javāhir al-mūsīqāt, c.1570/c.1630 by guest blogger Katherine Butler Schofield of King’s College London. This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios.

This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios. - See more at:

The replacement frontispiece of the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, reused from elsewhere. (British Library Or.12857, f. 1v)

In my last post, I concluded that Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s musical masterwork, the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, is a multilingual palimpsest of three treatises: a translation c. 1570 of the 13th-century Sanskrit Saṅgītaratnākara into 16th-century Dakhni, probably for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur (r.1558-80), which was split apart and its paintings reused by Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim to form the central thread of a more elaborate 17th-century Persian translation dedicated to ‘Ali’s great-nephew, Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56). This unique work is culturally significant for several reasons. For one thing, when placed in wider geographical context it testifies to a significant vernacularisation of Sanskrit music theory in the 16th century, preceding by nearly a century its recodification in Persian under the Mughals (see Brown below).

Deskar, the fourth rāginī of Megh (British Library Or.12857, f. 119r)

A number of other noteworthy vernacular music treatises made their appearance in this century: e.g. a miniature Awadhi verse treatise inserted into Qutban’s Sufi romance the Mṛgāvatī (1503) produced in Jaunpur (Behl, pp. 131-133); a Braj rāgamālā called the Mānakutūhala, traditionally attributed to Raja Man Singh of Gwalior (d.1516)[1]. ; and a Marathi translation of the Saṅgītaratnākara with paintings of very similar style and date to the Jawāhir (Zebrowski, pp. 60-4). The production of a substantial Dakhni recension of the Saṅgītaratnākara in Bijapur thus confirms a growing picture of a vernacularising 16th century in north and central India’s independent courts.

But a major reason this work is of importance to music and cultural history is Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s systematic integration of ideas from the Islamicate sciences about the power of sound and its effects in human affairs into a work of Indic musicology. We already know from work done on the great astrological treatise written in Persian for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, the Nujum al-‘ulūm (1570) – whose paintings are used to date the Jawāhir’s – that ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, and later Ibrahim ʻAdil Shah II (r.1580-1626), freely mixed Hindu and Muslim symbology and theories of supernatural power, including those associated with music, and incorporated them into their courtly ideologies (see Flatt; Leach, v.2, pp. 819-89; Hutton, pp. 51-2 and fig. 2.14; Zebrowski, pp. 60-4).

Asavari, the second rāginī of Malkausik (British Library Or.12857, f. 102r)

Although Muhammad ʻAdil Shah is sometimes characterised as more narrowly orthodox, this generous attitude remains primary in Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s vision. Strikingly, with respect to music’s origin myths and explanations of its power to regulate the universe, he treats the philosophies of “ ‘Arabia, ‘Ajam and Hind” as effectively equal in truth value (f. 5v).

More important, though, is his systematic appropriation of the Indian rāgas into the Greco-Islamicate system of humoral medicine known as Unani ṭibb. Every rāga and rāginī in the Indic system is supposed to have a specific effect on the listener’s psychological state, their physical wellbeing, or indeed on the wider natural world. Rāginī Dhanashri, for example, is supposed to evoke feelings of loss and longing caused by the absent beloved. Rāg Megh, one of the six main rāgas, has the power to bring the monsoon rains; the coming of the rains is furthermore associated with the joy of union with the beloved.

Rag Megh, the third rāga (British Library Or.12857, f. 112v)

In Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s rāgamālā he systematically attributes the essential emotional flavour of every rāga to one of the four elements of Islamicate natural sciences – fire, earth, air and water. He furthermore describes the effect of each of the four kinds of rāga on the physical and mental state of the listener in terms borrowed from Sufi teaching and ethical literature (akhlāq): fiery rāgas ignite passionate love (‘ishq) in the listener’s heart; earthy rāgas enlighten the listener with the mystical knowledge (‘irfān) of their true selves; airy rāgas overwhelm the listener with longing for the absent beloved (firāq); and watery rāgas annhilate the listener in union (viṣal) with the great Existence (ff. 66v-8r). 

The iconography of rāgamālā paintings is supposed to intensify and enrich the rāgas’ affective associations using visual and imaginative rather than aural means. The c.1570 rāgamālā paintings of the Javāhir belong to a time when rāga-rāginī sets were clearly not yet standardised. Although it uses the same six rāgas as the contemporaneous “Painters system” – Bhairav, Hindol, Megh, Malkausik, Shri and Dipak – I have not before encountered its particular configuration of rāginīs. In addition, the classic iconography we are accustomed to was clearly not yet settled. Some rāgas had already acquired their standard form. Rag Megh, for example, is of course watery in essence, and listening to it engenders loving union; singing this rāga may cause clouds to gather in the heavens or rain to fall, powerful lightening to strike and frogs to start croaking. In the rāgamālā text and painting Megh is depicted as a dark-skinned lord dressed in green and riding a black buck, with the monsoon rainclouds gathering above his head and two pied cuckoos in the background.  Ragini Dhanashri, on the other hand, is not depicted in her now customary form: a woman consumed with longing, gazing at a portrait of her absent beloved as she is consoled by her girlfriends.  The mood of viraha or firāq is nonetheless sustained in the Javāhir pictorially by Dhanashri’s loose dishevelled hair, her chin resting disconsolately on her hand as she sits on a bed waiting for her lover’s return. And Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim makes it explicit in the Persian text: Dhanashri is an airy rāginī, and thus listening to her overwhelms the listener with longing (ff. 99r-100r).  
Dhanashri, the first rāginī of Malkausik (British Library Or.12857, f. 100r)

In this way the rāgas and their rich aesthetic and affective powers are here recruited to the service of Sufi devotion and appropriated as medicinal and supernatural formulae, thus giving excellent grounds for a Muslim ruler like Muhammad ‘Adil Shah to use the rāgas in regulating and maintaining order in the body politic. It is important to note that the elemental associations of the Javāhir rāga descriptions are not in the Dakhni text. Their relation to the paintings is thus an early- to mid- 17th-century interpretation, undertaken in a more Persianate universe. I thus want to speculate in conclusion about the impact this text, and perhaps other Bijapuri treatises like it, now lost, had on the Mughal recodification of śastric music theory in Persian during the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (1658-1707) (see Schofield below).

The evidence is circumstantial, but cumulative and therefore tantalising. From the first brief Mughal formulation of saṅgītaśāstra in Persian, Abuʼl-Fazl’s chapter on saṅgīt in the Ā’īn-i Akbarī (1593),  Mughal music theorists all venerated the south and especially the Deccan as the arbiter of authority in Indian music.  Political and cultural emissaries were sent regularly between the Mughal and Bijapur courts from the time of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, and in the first decades of the 17th century the two powers came into direct conflict, and then more peaceful accommodation, over the collapse of the Nizam Shahi state of Ahmadnagar.  Akbar and Jahangir certainly knew of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah’s musical prowess; Jahangir even made note of Ibrahim’s famous song collection, the Kitāb-i nauras, in his memoir, and welcomed one of his musicians to the Mughal court.  And Ibrahim in turn was fascinated by Akbar’s great musician Tansen and the quality of Akbar’s relationship with him. 

What, then, of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah and his connections with his exact Mughal contemporary Shah Jahan (r.1628-58) and his Deccan viceroy Aurangzeb, the future emperor ‘Alamgir? Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim portrays Muhammad ‘Adil Shah as a great lover and connoisseur of music  – and to my knowledge, the Javāhir is the earliest extant full-scale Persian work of Indian musicology from the Mughal period. Why write it in Persian not Dakhni? We know that the miniature paintings of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah’s reign draw to an unprecedented extent on Mughal inspiration, which included importing Mughal artists.  Did Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s choice to write a great treatise in Persian similarly reflect his patron’s aspirations to Mughal recognition, in a subject in which Bijapur was already renowned as the authority? Conversely, what impact did the Javāhir’s unapologetic mixing of Indic musical science with Islamicate natural and esoteric sciences and mystical and ethical teaching have on the explosion of music theory in Persian at ‘Alamgir’s court in the 1660s and 70s? It is suggestive that the first full-scale Indian music treatise in Persian for a Mughal emperor – Qazi Hasan’s Miftāḥ al-surūd (1663-4) – was written in Daulatabad for ‘Alamgir, and has many similar features.  More importantly, the humoral explanation of the rāgās’ potency is fundamental to several treatises written at ‘Alamgir’s court itself. 

We do not have the evidence to say definitively that Mughal connoisseurs and intellectuals were inspired to translate Indian music theory into Persian by what they saw coming out of Bijapur. What we can say is that the Javāhir al-mūsiqāt-i Muḥammadī is a precious landmark in Indian musicology: the earliest known musicological work in Dakhni, and the earliest full-scale Persian work on Indian music from the Mughal period still extant. Yet it is just one of hundreds of Indian musical treasures held today in the British Library’s collections.

Further reading

K B Brown [Schofield], “Hindustani music in the time of Aurangzeb,” unpublished PhD thesis (SOAS, 2003).
K B Schofield, “Reviving the Golden Age again,” Ethnomusicology 54.3 (2010), pp. 484-517
A Behl, The Magic Doe, W Doniger, ed. (Oxford, 2012).
M Zebrowski, Deccani painting (London, 1983).
E J Flatt, “The authorship and significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm,” JAOS 131.2 (2011), pp. 223-44.
L Y Leach, Mughal and other Indian paintings from the Chester Beatty Library (London, 1995).
D Hutton, Art of the court of Bijapur (Oxford, 2011).
J P Losty,  “Early Bijapuri musical paintings”, in An Age of Splendour, Islamic Art in India, ed. K. Khandalavala (Bombay, 1983), pp. 128-31.

With thanks to the European Research Council; and to Molly E Aitken, Yael Rice and Margaret E Walker for art-historical, codicological and dance-historical advice. Any errors are mine.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London


[1] Mānakutūhala (Oriental Institute, Central Library, Baroda, acc. no. 2125). I am grateful to Nalini Delvoye for drawing my attention to this manuscript

07 October 2014

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1

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The first of two posts on the Bijapur manuscript Javāhir al-mūsīqāt, c.1570/c.1630 by guest blogger Katherine Butler Schofield of King’s College London. This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios.

The third type of the ād-sanj position (British Library Or.12857, f. 171r)

The dancer sinks into a deep plié, both heels raised with her toes planted on the ground, her shins at a distance of one hand span above the floor, both shoulders parallel with her knees, and the thumb and forefinger of each hand completing the circle of the haṃsāsya hand gesture, the “wild-goose beak”, as she demonstrates the third of three ād-sanj positions[1]. As the dancers who follow her show more taxonomically, this scene is straight out of the Saṅgītaratnākara, the greatest Sanskrit music treatise of the second millennium CE, which the Kashmiri pandit Śārṅgadeva wrote for the Yadava king Siṅghaṇa (r.1210-47) at his court of Devagiri, now Daulatabad, in the Deccan. Śārṅgadeva’s work was considered seminally important in both North and South Indian musical traditions in the 16th century when this dancer was painted – a mārga (universal) treatise for all times and places. Yet the page across which she dances is also rooted in a particular desh (region): the text is Dakhni and in Arabic script, betraying its regional roots in the Muslim Deccan; and the dancer is indisputably trained in South Indian traditions. Not for her the flowing ankle-length robes and pajamas and cypress-like stance of her counterparts at the Mughal court. Bare-legged and sharply angled, she wears a short wide skirt like Baz Bahadur’s Mandu dancers, forced to perform in captivity for Akbar in 1561; and the longer skirts of her sisters in subsequent paintings are pulled up between their legs like trousers, in a manner reminiscent of today’s Bharatanatyam dancers. Both costumes are designed to accommodate legs bent wide in plié – still the iconic basic posture of South Indian dance today.

The first and second of the “single hand” gestures as established in the Saṅgītaratnākara: patāka “flag” and tripatāka “three-finger flag” (British Library Or. 12857, f. 174v)

She may be dancing her way through a Sanskritic taxonomy of mudrās and maṇḍalas (hand gestures and body postures), but her male companion is dressed in visibly Persianate robes and is sporting the tight conical turban characteristic of the 16th-century Muslim Deccan, specifically the ‘Adil Shahi court of Bijapur. This figure is slightly more difficult to interpret: is the rod in his right hand indicative of authority, perhaps of instruction? That he is apparently exemplifying the haṃsāsya gesture to the dancer – a gesture that was itself used in the Saṅgītaratnākara to signify “instruction” – certainly underlines that impression. Is he, perhaps, the dancer’s instructor? If so, is that not a little intriguing: a courtier embracing the Persianate styles of the ‘Adil Shahi court teaching the universal way of the Sanskrit treatises to someone trained in the regional dance forms of the South? The multilinguality of the codex that yields this image, too, is as complicated as the painting’s cultural mixture: choice morsels of Dakhni scattered through a weighty Persian dish poached in a Sanskrit reduction and seasoned with judicious pinches of Sufi-infused Arabic (See Aitken below). Added to which there is confusion over its date: the paintings have the unmistakable savour of the court of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah c.1570 – based largely on the blatant similarity of the paintings to the Chester Beatty Nujūm al-‘ulūm completed in 1570 for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah (Michell & Zebrowski, p. 162 and Flatt below) – but the codex’s Persian dedication is to his great-nephew, Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56). How might we make sense of this work?

For the past few years, I and my team on the European Research Council project “Musical Transitions to European Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean” have been compiling information about all the major texts on North Indian art music and dance produced c. 1600–1900. The British Library possesses by far the largest and richest set of materials on North Indian music we have yet encountered. These include hundreds of paintings of the melodic modes of North Indian classical music – the male rāgas and female rāginīs – as heroes, heroines, jogis and deities, alone or collated together into sets called “garlands of rāgas” or rāgamālās. The rāgamālā paintings that form the centrepiece of Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim bin Shaikh Farid Ansari al-Qadiri Jaunpuri’s masterwork, the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, are quite possibly the Library’s oldest.

Bangālī, the third rāginī of Rag Bhairav (British Library Or. 12857, f. 76r)

The Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, the “jewels/essences of music belonging to Muhammad”, is not the British Library’s most beautiful Indian musical manuscript; its 48 miniatures have been deemed a crude, if charming, footnote to the productions of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah (r.1558-80) (Michell & Zebrowski) and its calligraphy is somewhat slapdash. But it is undoubtedly one of the Library’s rarest – this is the only known copy[2] – and one of its most important, for several reasons.

In my next post I will talk about the Javāhir’s wider cultural resonances; here I want to focus on the manuscript’s literary and musicological significance. The codex is largely in Persian, but it contains within it the earliest known Dakhni work on music theory, c.1570, predating the famed Kitāb-i Nauras of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II (r.1580-1626) by several decades (Haider). Until now, the Javāhir has only really passed under the eyes of art historians, whose firm dating of the miniatures to 1570s Bijapur has been confounded by the “perplexing dedicatory note on fol. 4a to Sultan Muhammad Adil Shah”, who came to power more than 50 years later (Michell & Zebrowski). A close examination of the codex reveals what I think is the likely process of this unique work’s construction:

1) Firstly, in c.1570 an anonymous author prepared a densely illustrated Dakhni translation of the 13th-century Saṅgītaratnākara probably for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur, but with the replacement of its rāga chapter with a much newer iconic rāgamālā. All the miniatures have passages of Dakhni prose on the reverse. These do not correspond to the painting on the front, but to the next painting in the section.

Bangālī, reverse folio. The text describes the fourth rāginī of Rag Bhairav, Ragini Bairari (British Library Or. 12857, f. 76v)

By using digital images of the folios, it is possible to reconstruct large portions of the original treatise. The section on the seven notes of the scale (swara) – which has unique paintings of the swaras personified like rāgas – and the dance section are patently literal translations of the corresponding subchapters of the classic Sanskrit work of music theory, the Saṅgītaratnākara.

The first note of the scale, Sa (ṣadj), whose sound derives from the cry of the peacock, and its four microtones (śrutis) (British Library Or. 12857, f. 39r)

2) Around 1630 or so, Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim, a Qadiri Sufi whose family hailed originally from Jaunpur in the north, split the Dakhni treatise apart and reused its paintings in a more elaborate and refined Persian translation for Muhammad ‘Adil Shah, with a Suficate preface and six chapters: the origins of sound; the musical scale; the rāgas and rāginīs; two chapters on the rhythmic system (tāla); and dance. This essentially forms the manuscript we have now. Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim calls the work he is translating the Kitāb-i Sangīt, the “Book of Music” (e.g. Javāhir, f. 69v). This designation may refer to the Saṅgītaratnākara itself; the more traditional sections compare almost exactly. However the remaining Dakhni is also followed very closely, though with key interpolations from the Islamic sciences (see my next post). Sticking my neck out I would suggest Kitāb-i Sangīt refers to the Dakhni text. Even what remains indicates its textual portions were originally much more extensive.

3) At some point comparatively early in its long history, through wear and tear the manuscript lost its colophon, and the first few pages became so degraded that a second headpiece was reused to replace the original – you can see where the previous text was cut out – and the first few pages were retranscribed on newer paper.

The retranscribed dedication to Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (British Library Or. 12,857, f. 4r)

4) Finally, by the time the codex was bound in its current form, what is now the third folio ended up bound out of place (folio four runs on from folio two), and several pages in the middle – all the rāg-rāginī illustrations for Rags Shri and Dipak and the beginning of the fourth chapter – had sadly gone missing. Where the English pencil folio numbering (followed for citations here) goes from 123v to 124r, the oldest Persian numbering skips from 141 to 177. Suddenly, from enjoying a description of Shri Rag, we find ourselves in the middle of a sentence describing the Sanskritic notation system for poetical and musical metre.

The Javāhir is thus a multilingual palimpsest of three treatises layered up like an onion: a translation of the 13th-century Sanskrit Saṅgītaratnākara into 16th-century Dakhni, which was split apart and its paintings reused to form the central thread of a more elaborate and aspirational 17th-century Persian translation.

This remarkable manuscript constitutes the earliest work of Indian music theory in Dakhni that we know of. But it is also the earliest music treatise in Persian that we still possess from the Mughal period. I will discuss the wider cultural and historical significance of this text in my next post.

[1] The term Ād-sanj appears to be a distortion of the Sanskrit term, asaṃyukta, for the “single hands” section that follows, but at the moment it’s not clear where the three subpostures come from.

[2] The British Library copy of the Ghunyat al-munya is often cited as unique, but there is at least one other: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, owns a copy (Cambridge University Library, Corpus no. 884).

Further reading

Śārṅgadeva, Saṅgītaratnākara, S S Sastri, ed. (Madras, 1943), vol. i, pp. ix-x
M E Aitken, “Parataxis and the practice of reuse,” Archives of Asian art 59 (2009), 81-103, pp. 82, 97-100 for the comandeering of the Indian culinary term khichṛī, a rich stew of rice and lentils, to describe cultural and religious mixing in early-modern India.
G Michell & M Zebrowski, Architecture and art of the Deccan sultanates (Cambridge, 1999).
E J Flatt, “The authorship and significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm,” JAOS 131.2 (2011), 223-44.
N N Haider, “The Kitab-i Nauras,” in N N Haider, ed., Sultans of the South (New York, 2011), 26-43.
N M Titley, Miniatures from Persian Manuscripts) a Catalogue and Subject Index of Paintings from Persia, India and Turkey in the British Library and the British Museum (London, 1977) pp. 1-2.
J P Losty,  “Early Bijapuri musical paintings”, in An Age of Splendour, Islamic Art in India, ed. K. Khandalavala (Bombay, 1983), pp. 128-31.

With thanks to the European Research Council; and to Molly E Aitken, Yael Rice and Margaret E Walker for art-historical, codicological and dance-historical advice. Any errors are mine.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College London

07 June 2014

An Album of Maratha and Deccani Paintings - Add.21475, part 2

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In a previous post (April 2014), I looked at the first three paintings in this album and explored the connections between the Maratha court in Poona and Jaipur artists.  The remaining five paintings in the album are all from a large Hyderabad-type series of the Rasikapriya, the classic text by Keshavdas on Hindi poetics that the author wrote at Orccha in 1594 for Kunwar Indrajit Singh, the brother of the ruler Raja Ram Shah of Orccha (1592-1605).  Although a literary work, it was written in the context of the Vaishnava revival in northern and western India in the 16th century.  Keshavdas took the love of Krishna and Radha out of the pastoral settings of the Gita Govinda and placed it in a courtly ambience.  He used their relationship to explore all the different kinds of literary heroes and heroines and the erotic sentiment (sringara rasa) in all its variety.

A complete set of illustrations to this text involves several hundred paintings.  Our album contains only five such paintings. If there were more, their whereabouts is not now known.   Originally the Hindi verses were inscribed in nagari in a separate box above the paintings and text and paintings were contained within gilded and coloured ruled lines, but for some reason the original text panels were cut out and replaced with other panel pasted down from the reverse.  The remains of the tops of the original aksaras are visible only on folio 7.  The pictures are not particularly specific and their subjects could apply to many of the verses and situations in the text.   On the reverse of each folio are inscribed brief Hindi labels for the subject of the painting taken from Keshavdas together with a number different from that associated with the relevant verse in its chapter in the printed editions, and a written out Persian numbering.  As noted in the earlier post, all the paintings were at some time removed from their original album pages and let into European paper frames.

Two of the paintings (ff. 4 and 8) have an oversize Krishna as the hero or nayaka, wearing a tall golden crown, which serves to locate the provenance of the paintings as southern, as do the large white palatial buildings in the background which resemble those in the Johnson Hyderabad Ragamala in the British Library of c. 1760 (J. 37, Falk and Archer 1981, no. 426).  The style of the paintings will be discussed later after dealing with the subject matter.  The inscription on the reverse is here taken as the title of the painting.  For the complete text and translation of the verses of the Rasikapriya, along with numerous examples of their illustrations, see Dehejia 2013.

 Add.21475, f.4
Nayaka ko prakasa biyoga sringara,
Krishna’s ‘open’ love in separation (Rasikapriya 1, 27-28).  301 x 217 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.4  noc

The verses on folio 4 come from the conclusion of the opening chapter, in which Keshavdas makes some general remarks about the emotion of romantic love and its two major varieties, love in union and love in separation.  Keshavdas divides his descriptive verses into ‘open’ (prakasa) or clear and ‘hidden’ (prachanna) or more suggestive.  Here the sakhi (confidante) has been to see Krishna and describes him to Radha:  ‘He is totally unresponsive and has stopped eating and drinking.  All of Braj is concerned about him and you are sitting here unconcerned.  Get up and do something about it.  This is the result of his longing for you.’  The artist shows Krishna sitting mournful and unresponsive in one pavilion while the sakhi tries to talk to him and then she goes off to find Radha, who is meant to be some way away in another pavilion.

Add.21475, f.5
Ajnata yauvana,
a youthful maiden unaware of her own flowering.  336 x 257 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.5  noc

The term on the reverse of folio 5, ajnata yauvana, a youthful maiden unaware of her own flowering, comes not from the Rasikapriya but from Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari, an earlier work in Sanskrit on the same topic.  Similarly the verse above our painting is not found in Keshavdas’s work, where the relevant verses (3, 20-21) speak about a navayauvana mugdha nayika, a maiden newly grown to adolescence.  Their purport is the same:  her waist is slimmer, her hips have expanded, her gait is more steady but she does not know why this should be so.  Chapter 3 of the Rasikapriya deals with the different types of heroine or nayika, which are classified in various waysThe artist shows the maiden sitting by a pool populated by ducks in an extensive meadow while her confidante tries to reassure her about what is happening to her body. A girl standing with flower wands perhaps signifies her impending marriage.   In the distance is a white palace set beside a garden.

Add.21475, f.6
Nayaka ko prachanna sravana darsana,
Radha’s hidden meeting [with her lover] through hearing [his name] (Rasikapriya 4, 15).  331 x 246 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.6  noc

The verse for this painting comes from the fourth chapter, on how lovers meet:  in person, through a portrait, in a dream or through hearing the other’s name.  Radha chides her sakhi for speaking of Krishna for she does not know what to do now that Krishna is so enshrined in her heart.  The artist shows Radha sitting under a canopy with her friends in a meadow with what appear to be flamingos in a pond in the foreground.

Add.21475, f.7
Radha ko prachanna citra darsana,
Radha’s hidden meeting [with her lover] through a painting (Rasikapriya 4, 8).  335 x 250 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.7  noc

From the same chapter 4, the nayika can ‘meet’ her lover through seeing his portrait.  Radha’s mind was filled with love on seeing her beloved’s portrait, but her shyness caused her to tremble.  She is shown holding a portrait and sitting on a carpeted terrace with her friends in front of a palace with flamingos again in the foreground.

Add.21475, f.8
Madhya adhira nayika,
the plain speaking experienced heroine (Rasikapriya 3, 48).  340 x 250 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.8  noc

In chapter 3, heroines can be mugdha, madhya or praudha (adolescent, experienced or mature).  The madhya heroine is subdivided various ways, of which one is according to the way she speaks to her lover, which can be dhira, adhira or adiradhira (firmly, harshly or scoldingly).  Here the heroine is unable to restrain her indignation at her lover’s fickleness and speaks harshly to him with words capable of two meanings: “Your body is like that of your father [for just as he shakes on account of old age so do you tremble for fear that your secrets will be out].  In strength you resemble your brother Balaram [for just as he is intoxicated with wine you are intoxicated with love].  Your face is like your mother’s [she has a tilak on her forehead and you have a love mark] and just as her mind is full of motherly love you are infatuated with thoughts of love.  Your temperament is stable like that of the earth [for you are able to sustain the frailties of others].  Your mind is restless like the wind and pure like water.  Your mouth [on account of chewing betel] is red like fire.  As is the sky full of space and sound, you who are dark as the cloud and your words that speak of your misdeeds prevail in every home.  Like Rati [the consort of Kamdev] is your love [for separation torments you as it affected her].  Your form is pleasing like that of Rati’s lord.  Tell me, Lord, how did you learn to speak such lies?” (adapted from Dehejia 2013, p. 60).

The artist sets the scene in the countryside with a pavilion in which Radha is upbraiding Krishna for his fickleness.  Beside the stream with its birds and flowers in the foreground a cowherd is milking a cow, with a gopi standingready to churn the milk into butter, while on the hill in the background a prince, presumably meant to be Balarama as he is white, is sitting with a woman.  The latter reference is easy to pick up, although there is no sign of wine, but the pastoral activity in the foreground is possibly a reference to Krishna’s being like the earth.

The style of the five paintings in our album relates to eighteenth century Hindu Hyderabadi painting, in which Krishna wears the tall crown typical of that style.

 J.45,39 Hyderabad c. 1770
Krishna, a peacock, cows and a devotee.  Hyderabad, c. 1770.  British Library, J.45,39. noc

See Falk and Archer 1981, no. 472iv for another example of this style.  Some of the most important paintings from 18th century Hyderabad are found in a group of Ragamala sets, of which Richard Johnson’s album in the British Library J.37 is typical.

J.36,6 2
Vasant raga
from the Hyderabad Ragamala, Hyderabad, c. 1760.  British Library, J.37, 6. noc

Exquisite figures male and female disport themselves on palatial terraces or in idyllic visions of the country.  This fine set of 36 paintings was collected by Johnson during his appointment as Resident at the court of Nizam ‘Ali Khan in Hyderabad from 1784-85.  Nizam ‘Ali (1762-1802) was a patron of music, poetry and painting and Johnson apparently came to know him well, since he was constantly espousing the Nizam’s interests as against those of his superiors in Calcutta which resulted in his early recall.  These sets are famous among other things for their perspective views of architecture with semi-naturalistic vanishing points, in contrast to our album paintings where all the buildings are viewed frontally.  Nonetheless it is possible to see the resemblances in the architecture:  the white chunam-covered buildings tend to have a tall ground storey with smaller pavilions on top.  The beautiful canopied pavilion on folio 6 is also found several times in the Ragamala set.  Yet the treatment of landscape, flowers and birds do differ, for here in the album the artist is very free.  By the 1760s the Hyderabad landscape style was turning harder with conceptualised hills and meadows criss-crossing each other to suggest depth, while our artist takes a more naturalistic approach to recession, as in the exquisite meadow of folio 6 and in the various naturalistic clumps of flowers as opposed to the regimented rows in the Ragamala.  More open landscapes were a feature of Deccani painting in the first quarter of the 18th century (see Zebrowski 1983, ch. 11) and it is at the end of that period that our five album paintings seem best placed.  Bold distortion of forms in our album as in the overlarge Krishna figure, the tiny steps and minuscule foreground trees are all features found in the earlier style. Only one other painting has so far been identified as related to the style of our five paintings, showing a prince seated on a carpet amidst flowers and miniscule trees in a meadow leading back as in f.5 of our set to white palatial buildings on the horizon.  This was formerly in the William K. Ehrenfeld collection in San Francisco (Ehnbom 1985, no. 36, where it is called Golconda, 1660-70) and its whereabouts is not now known.

As to the set’s patron, the fall of Bijapur and Golconda to Aurangzeb in 1686-87 released many of their artists for patronage elsewhere, as is well known for various Rajput courts, but many others stayed locally to work for the local nobility of the former Golconda kingdom as well as for Mughal or Rajput patrons depending on their appointments to positions within the new Mughal subahs of the Deccan.  Aurangabad (now in western Maharashtra) remained the principal Mughal capital in the Deccan and even Asaf Jah, the first Nizam of the newly independent Hyderabad state from 1724, was based there before his successors moved the capital to Hyderabad.  This distinctness from Hyderabad proper is perhaps reflected in the Hindu costume of skirt, bodice and orhni worn by nearly all the women as distinct from the more Muslim costume (paijama and peshwaj) of the Hyderabad Ragamala sets done later under Nizam ‘Ali’s patronage.  A provenance from Maharashtra would thus put the five paintings within the orbit of the Peshwas based at Poona and link them to the other three paintings in the album.


Further reading:

Dehejia, Harsha V., Rasikapriya: Ritikavya of Keshavdas in Ateliers of Love, DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2013

Ehnbom, D., Indian Miniatures:  the Ehrenfeld Collection, American Federation of Arts, New York, 1985

Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1981

Losty, J.P.,

Zebrowski, M., Deccani Painting, Sotheby Publications, University of California Press, London and Los Angeles, 1983


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus) ccownwork


17 February 2014

Fashion in 14th century Mosul: a new exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery

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The British Library is loaning several key items to a new exhibition, ‘Court and Craft: a masterpiece from Northern Iraq’, which opens at the Courtauld Gallery on 20 February 2014.  The exhibition has at its centrepiece an exquisite bag probably manufactured at Mosul and dating from between 1300 and 1330. Made of brass and inlaid with gold, silver and a black material, it is decorated with intricate geometric patterns and scenes depicting musicians, hunters and revelers. Despite being metal, the bag is light and plaques with integral loops at each side suggest that it was probably worn as a handbag over the shoulders. Developing the themes illustrated on the bag, the exhibition includes metal-work, glass, jewellery and paintings from Northern Iraq, dating from the 14th century.

The Courtauld bag. Mosul, 1300-30 (possibly during the reign of the Il-Khanid Sultan Uljaytu, 1304-16). © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Unfortunately manuscripts from this early period are comparatively rare, but the British Library is fortunate in having some of the best examples which will be exhibited alongside the Courtauld bag. One of the most beautiful is the Khamsah (‘five poems’) by the Persian poet Khvaju Kirmani (1290-1349?) about which I wrote in an earlier post (‘An illustrated 14th century Khamsah by Khvaju Kirmani’). Copied by the calligrapher Mir ʻAli ibn Ilyas al-Tabrizi in 798 (1396) at the Jalayirid capital Baghdad, one of the paintings is ascribed to the artist Junayd, a pupil of Shams al-Din who worked under the Jalayirid Sultan Uways I (ruled 1356-74).

Humayun, daughter of the Emperor of China, and prince Humay feasting in a garden (Add 18113, f 40v)

In the scene above, Humay and Humayun are seated in a garden surrounded by courtiers and attendants and being entertained by musicians. On the left, one of Humayun’s personal attendants is shown carrying a bag which closely resembles the Courtauld bag. Two others carry a mirror and a bottle of perfume. Below the couple is an array of flasks, trays, gold candlesticks and incense burners, examples of which are included in the exhibition.

Details of folio 40v

The decoration of the Courtauld bag includes roundels and a panel on the lid showing hunting scenes and convivial celebrations.

Bag - detail
Court scene in the centre of the lid showing a man and woman sourrounded by figures and courtly paraphanalia. © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

These are also depicted in three leaves from the British Library's copy (Or.14140) of the Arabic treatise ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt (‘the Wonders of Creation’) by al-Qazwini (c. 1203-83). Although our profusely illustrated copy contains no colophon, Stefano Carboni (see below) has attributed it to Mosul and dates it to the turn of the 14th century, most probably  between 1295 and 1302.

Musicians and a dancer perform during a drought at a dried-up spring to make the water flow again.  (Or.14140. f. 63v)

Writing about the first month of the year, Farvardin, Qazwini describes how a horse and falcon are presented to the king when he wakes on New Year's Day. Unfortunately the painting is damaged and only the king's bolster is visible on the left. (Or.14140, f. 20v)

The geometric designs which form such an integral part of the decoration of the Courtauld bag are also evident in the magnificent thirty-volume Qur’an commissioned by Sultan Uljaytu. This Qurʼan was completed, according to its colophon, in Mosul in the year 710 (1310) and was copied by ʻAli ibn Muhammad al-Husayni. It includes a commissioning certificate in the names of Uljaytu's viziers Saʻd al-Din and the famous historian Rashid al-Din (c. 1247-1318) whose history Jāmiʻ al-tavārīkh (‘Compendium of Chronicles’) is also illustrated in the exhibition by four early 14th century drawings.  6a017ee66ba427970d01a3fcb45ab1970b-580wi
Carpet page decorations forming the opening of volume 25 of Uljaytu's Qurʼan. Copied at Mosul in 710/1310. (Or.4945, ff. 1v-2r)

The exhibition, curated by Rachel Ward, runs from 20th February until 18th May 2014 at the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, WCR ORN. It is  accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue (see below). I have just come back from installing the British Library loans, and was lucky enough to see almost everything in place! Although it is comparatively small (36 items altogether), the themed approach makes it a very exciting and successful exhibition.


Further reading

Rachel Ward, Court and Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq. London, 2014.

Teresa Fitzherbert, “Khwājū Kirmānī (689-753/1290-1352): An Éminence Grise of Fourteenth Century Persian Painting”, Iran 29 (1991): pp. 137-51.

Stefano Carboni, “The London Qazwini: An Early 14th Century Copy of the ʿAjāʾib al-makhlūqāt,” Islamic Art: An Annual Dedicated to the Art and Culture of the Muslim World 3, 1988-89, pp. 15-31.

Stefano Carboni, “The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Ilkhanid Painting: A Study of the London Qazwini British Library Ms. Or. 14140,” Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1992. Download free from British Library Electronic Theses Online Services (ETHoS).

Colin F Baker, Qurʼan manuscripts: calligraphy, illumination, design, London, 2007, pp. 56-65.

Add.18113, containing three of the five poems from the Khamsah of Khvaju Kirmani (1290-1349?). - See more at:


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies

29 May 2013

A recently digitised Korean royal manuscript

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A digital version is now available online of the highlight of the British Library’s Korean collections, a lavishly illustrated manuscript entitled Records of the ritual presentation and banquet in the kisa year (Kisa chinp'yori chinch'an ŭigwe' 己巳進表裏進饌儀軌) produced in 1809.

Or 7458_f11v (compr)_720
Arrangement of the Hall of Bright Spring for the presentation ceremony (Or.7458, fol. 11 verso)

The manuscript was created for the Korean Royal Court as a record of the ceremonies conducted in the first and second months of 1809 to mark the 60th anniversary of the consummation of the marriage of Lady Hyegyŏng 惠慶宮 (1735-1815), grandmother of the reigning King Sunjo. Lady Hyegyǒng was married in 1744 at the age of 9 to Crown Prince Sado (1735-1762), son and heir of King Yǒngjo. However, the marriage was only consummated 5 years later when she and her husband reached adulthood and it is the anniversary of this event which is commemorated in the British Library's manuscript. Crown Prince Sado became mentally unstable and was eventually put to death on his father’s orders by being locked in a rice chest till he starved. Lady Hyegyǒng survived her husband’s disgrace and her own subsequent fall from favour. She lived to see her son and grandson, Kings Chǒngjo and Sunjo, ascend the throne, in 1776 and 1800 respectively, and was ultimately elevated to the rank of Queen Dowager. Lady Hyegyong left a vivid account of her life, Hanjungnok (Records of Silence), which has been published in translation several times, most recently as The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong (see below).

Or 7458_f17r (compr)_720
The musicians and orchestra (Or.7458, fol. 17 recto)

The ceremonies organised in 1809 were part of the King Sunjo’s desire to make amends for the past ignominies his grandmother had suffered and no expense was spared. The manuscript provides a faithful record in words and images of the formal presentation of cloth (chinp’yori) and of the banquet (chinch’an). There are detailed plans of the layout of the palace halls where the events took place, lists of the edicts issued to regulate them and of the court officials involved. However, the most striking section of the manuscripts are the 18 folios of meticulous paintings showing the buildings, regalia, musicians, musical instruments, furniture and floral decorations used in the ceremonies.

Or 7458_f20v (compr)_720
Flower arrangements (Or.7458, fol. 20 verso)

Commemorative manuscripts of this type, called in Korean ǔigwe, were produced for many royal events in Chosǒn Period Korea. Usually several copies were produced, the finest being kept as a “royal viewing copy” with other less elaborate versions being housed for safety in repositories in different parts of Korea. One of the most important of these archives was housed in the Oegyujanggak on Kanghwa Island in the estuary of the Han River which was looted in 1866 by a French naval contingent under Admiral Roze in retaliation for the murder of French missionaries. The contents of the library were taken back to France and for many years were kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. In 2010, after years of intergovernmental negotiation, a total of 297 ǔigwe were returned to Korea on a long-term renewable loan.

The exact provenance of the British Library’s manuscript and the circumstances under which it left Korea are unclear. What is known from documents in the BL archives is that it was purchased by the British Museum in 1891 for £10 from a certain H Fauré, a Parisian cheese merchant. It is clear that he was an agent acting on behalf of the actual owner whose identity is not revealed in the extant documents. The manuscript was transferred from the British Museum to the British Library on its establishment in 1973.

Hamish Todd, Lead Curator, Japanese and Korean

Follow us on Twitter @BLAsia_Africa

Further reading
The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea, translated by JaHyun Kim Haboush. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

20 May 2013

'The Mughals: Art, Culture and Empire' in Kabul

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Queen's Palace, Babur Gardens, Kabul
12 May - 25 June 2013

The hugely successful Mughals exhibition at the British Library has now been made accessible to an Afghan audience in the form of high-quality digital facsimiles of the majority of the items seen in the original exhibition. The venue of the present exhibition, which opened in the Queen’s Palace in the Babur Gardens in Kabul, is particularly appropriate, situated as it is only a stone’s throw from the tomb of Babur, the first Mughal emperor.

Babur tomb
Babur's Tomb in Babur's Garden, Kabul  
  ccownwork John Falconer

The exhibition forms part of an ongoing collaborative partnership between the British Library and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, supported by the Norwegian Government through the Afghan Cultural Initiative.

The exhibition was opened on Sunday 12 May at an event attended by representatives from the diplomatic community, Afghan cultural institutions and the Afghan Government. Opening addresses were given by Ajmal Maiwandi (CEO Aga Khan Trust for Culture), Sayed Musadiq Khalili (Deputy Minister of Information and Culture), H.E. Nurjehan Mawani (Diplomatic Representative, Aga Khan Development Network), H.E. Nils Hangstveit (Norwegian Ambassador to Afghanistan) and John Falconer (British Library).

The exhibition will be on view in Kabul until 25 June. It is hoped that the exhibition will also tour within Afghanistan, to Herat and/or Balkh.

The mounting of a facsimile version of the Mughals exhibition in Kabul is the second collaboration between the British Library and Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and follows an exhibition of prints, drawings and photographs of Afghanistan from the British Library collections, which was seen in the same location in 2010.

Photograph albums of the installation, exhibition and opening event can be viewed at

A few photographs from the exhibition follow.
Mughal Kabul openingMughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Babur's Gardens, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

Mughal Kabul 4
Installing Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul
 ccownwork John Falconer


Mughal Kabul 2
Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

For more images of the installation, exhibition and opening event, see the Flickr album:

To read more about the British Library's exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, please see our blog post 'A farewell to the Mughals'.


John Falconer
Lead Curator, Visual Arts

24 March 2013

A nobleman celebrating the festival of Holi

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A magnificent 18th century painting in the current exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire depicts the celebration of the spring festival of Holi. This Hindu festival typically falls during the month of March and symbolizes fertility and spring harvests. This year, the Holi festival falls on March 27th.


A young nobleman enjoying Holi with his consort
Attributed to the artist Nidhamal, Lucknow, 1760-5
British Library, Add.Or.5700  noc

The Emperor Akbar, one of the greatest rulers of the subcontinent (ruled from 1556-1605) advocated religious tolerance. The peace and well-being of the empire depended on maintaining a balance between the interests of the Hindu majority and those of the Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jain, Sikh  and other religions. One of Akbar’s greatest political accomplishments was to abolish the poll tax levied on non-Muslims. He also won over the rulers of the Hindu Rajput kingdoms by marrying their daughters into his family. Akbar himself married Princess Manmati; she was the daughter of Raja Bhagwandas of Amber (today Jaipur).

Study of Akbar's head
Attributed to Govardhan, 1600-5
British Library, Add.Or.1039  noc

Akbar and Manmanti's son Jahangir wrote in his memoirs about this religious festival:
‘Their day is Holi, which in their belief is the last day of the year. This day falls in the month of Isfandarmudh, when the sun is in Pisces. On the eve of this day they light fires in all the lanes and streets. When it is daylight they spray powder on each other’s heads and faces for one watch and create an amazing uproar. After that, they wash themselves, put their clothes on, and go to gardens and fields. Since it is an established custom of among the Hindus to burn their dead, the lighting of fires on the last night of the year s a metaphor for burning the old year as though it were a corpse.’ - from the Jahangirnama

Details of Jahangir

Detail from Portrait of Prince Salim (future emperor Jahangir)
Mughal, c. 1620-30
British Library, Add.Or.3854  noc

In our exquisite painting of the celebration of Holi, a young ruler from the Mughal province of Avadh, is featured enjoying a dancing performance on a terrace with his favourite womenfolk, nine of whom sit alongside him. They are sharing several hookahs. Piles of sweetmeats are placed in front of them while attendants behind them bring more. Across the terrace a young woman performs a solo dance to the accompaniment of female voices and male musicians. In the foreground other members of the navab’s entourage enjoy the performance. Two yoginis or female ascetics stand out with their darker skin and pink and green garments. Otherwise everything is coloured red and yellow from the powders (called abira) and liquids that they have all been hurling at each other in the riotous spring festival of Holi. Even the fountains and the lakes have turned red. In the fairytale world of Avadhi painting, all men are young and handsome and all girls young and beautiful. There is little room for the old or not quite so beautiful, so the old duenna beside the women and a grey-haired musician opposite strike a somewhat unexpected note.

Further reading:

Ifran Habib,Akbar and his India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997

Jahangir, Emperor of Hindustan, The Jahangirnama, Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India, trans. and ed. W.M. Thackston, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1999


Malini Roy   ccownwork
Visual Arts Curator, British Library