THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

09 April 2018

Burmese marionette theatre

Burmese puppet shows (yokthe pwe) were a popular entertainment under the Burmese monarchy, and possibly date back to the Pagan kingdom of the 11th century. Historical sources show that puppet plays have certainly been performed since the early 15th century, and rapidly grew in prestige and popularity in the 17th century. By the 18th century, puppet shows were common in ordinary Burmese circles, and were seen as a means of educating people in history, religion, culture and everyday life. At court, puppet shows were patronized by the Burmese kings, and the Thabin-wun (Minister for the performing arts) was in charge of performances.

The string puppets used in Burma (Myanmar) are made of wood, ideally Yamane wood (botanical name, Gamelina arborea) which is light and soft. Teak is also used, but it is heavier than Yamane wood. The size of the puppets varies from one to three feet tall, with small dancing puppets while non-dancing puppets are made larger. The standard repertoire involves a troupe of 28 puppets of characters comprising a nat (deva), sakka (ruler of the Tavatimsa heaven), zawgyi (alchemist), a king and queen, four ministers, a prince and princess, a hermit, a pageboy, punna (brahmin), bhilu (ogre), nat kadaw (spirit medium), two prince regents, a handmaiden, and animals including tiger, horse, elephant, monkey, parrot, garuda (mythical bird, in Burmese galon), naga (serpant), kinnara and kinnari (mythical birds). Each puppet has its own style of dancing, with accompanying song and music.

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A depiction of a traditional Burmese puppet show, late 19th century. British Library, Or.14031, ff. 19-20 Noc

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Detail of the Burmese puppets, from the painting above. British Library, Or.14031, ff. 19-20 Noc

A late 19th century Burmese manuscript in the British Library (Or.14031) contains painted scenes of a courtly puppet show and dramatic performance. The painting on folio 9 is inscribed on the bottom left in English, ‘Maung Tsa Painter.’ This identifies the painter as Saya Sa, the son of the most famous court painter U Kya Nyunt, who served as a royal artist to King Mindon (r. 1853-1878). Saya Sa was also a royal artist at the Burmese court, who served King Mindon’s son and successor, King Thibaw (r. 1878-1885). The illustration above shows the stage for the puppet show which is built of bamboo and thatch. The marionettes on the stage are surrounded by green trees. The white backdrop is about waist high. The puppeteers who work behind the curtain are visible to the audience. The stage is bare except for a male and female dancers and page boys against the white backdrop. The duet danced on the stage is performed by the leading characters in romantic scenes which are favourites with the audience. The puppets are dressed in real clothes and the puppeteers skilfully make their puppets act like living performers. The show is held under the open sky, and the grounds are filled with people who stand to watch the show. Spectators, enjoying the free entertainment, walk along the line of food stalls in the bazaar in the marionette theatre grounds.

The puppet show was allowed to use a stage as the puppets would otherwise be too small to be seen, and was hence termed amyint thabin (raised performance). However the puppet theatre was the only form of entertainment allowed to use a stage at the royal court at that time, and other entertainments performed by men and women could only be staged on the ground. Amyint thabin was later called yoke thay, and the popular saying, tha bin a sa yoke thay ka, ‘dance and drama began with marionettes’, reflects the prestige of the puppet theatre.

The themes of the puppet plays were based on the Buddha’s previous births (Jataka stories), Buddhist fables and stories, folktales and incidents in Burmese history, including the history of the pagodas. The last ten Jataka tales were very popular as they describe the perfection of ten important virtues. People learned about history, astrology, court intrigues and ethics from puppet plays.

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Court entertainment, British Library, Or.14031, f. 1-3 Noc

The painting above, from the same manuscript, portrays a royal dramatic performance. The king is shown on the stage on the right watching the court musicians and dancers in the large white umbrella hall shown in the centre. Two drum circles are in place on either side of the stage, and alongside each of them is a brass gong circle. The drum circle consists of 21 drums, and the player sits within the circular frames and strikes the drums with his bare fingers and the heels of his hands. The brass gong circle is similar in design and there are 18 brass gongs. The player sits in the middle of the gongs and strikes them with a short knobbed stick (glimpsed on the left). In the centre, the male and female dancers sing and dance the duet hna-par-thwar. All the dancers and musicians perform on the ground, as they are not allowed to dance on a stage.

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Detail of the dancers, from the painting above. British library, Or.14031, f. 1-3 Noc

A Burmese puppet troupe includes puppeteers, singers and musicians. The most complex aspect of the art of the Burmese marionette is the working of the marionette strings. 16 strings are attached to the head, hands and feet of each puppet, and these strings are then attached to a cross-piece handle. The puppeteer needs great skill to hold the handles in both his hands and pull the strings to make the marionettes perform delicate movements. The vocalists sit behind the screen and the puppeteers stand behind the screen to handle the puppets, working in conjunction with each other. A skilful puppeteer can operate the puppet in time with the vocalist’s dialogue or song, bringing the puppets alive. Some vocalists could sing both male and female voices, playing many different roles. Sometimes the puppeteer is able to perform both tasks, to sing and to manipulate the strings at the same time.

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A Burmese puppet show (Yoke thay pwe), photograph taken by Philip Adolphe Klier in 1890s. British Library, Photo 88/1(42). Noc

The marionette stage in the photo above is built of bamboo. A group of some thirty people are seated on bamboo mats spread on the bare ground, watching the performance. The puppets are arranged on the stage, and in front is the saing (puppet troupe orchestra). At one side of the stage is a throne, and puppets such as the king and queen, the prince and princess, the hermit, the minister, the page boy and the elephant can be seen on the stage. The hermit puppet is depicted as a religious image and is treated with respect by puppeteers. The scene being performed is set at the royal court and involves the king, queen and the minister.

In the present day, puppet shows can be seen at pagoda festivals in Rangoon and Mandalay, which are still occasions for traditional entertainment, with food and other bazaar stalls in the festival grounds. The dance style of the puppets differs from that of humans, but nowadays in Burma we see human performances adopting puppet characteristics and movements, as professional artists try to save this beautiful art form from disappearing.

Further reading

Khin Myo Chit, ‘Burmese marionette theatre’, The Guardian, Rangoon, 1976.
Dagon Nat Shin. Myanmar Yoke thay thabin. Rangoon: Yin Kye Mu, 1959.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  Ccownwork

05 April 2018

Making his mark: the seals of Tipu Sultan

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

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The opening pages of the highly illuminated and calligraphic Miʼat kalimah ʻAlīyah ʻālīyah Murtaḍawīyah (the 100 sayings of  ʻAli ibn Abi Talib) with an interlinear Persian verse translation. Tipu's personal seal dated 1186 (1772/73) is placed at the top. This manuscript was probably acquired in 1780 when the previous owner Nawab ʻAbd al-Vahhab was defeated by Hyder ʻAli’s forces and was despatched to Seringapatam with his family as prisoners (British Library IO Islamic 1662)
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Tipu's personal seal
In many ways this is the most interesting of the three seals as it perhaps reflects Tipu's personal interests. The rectangular seal is inscribed Tīpū Sulṭān 1186 (1772/73), measuring 16 x 11.5 mm (interior measurement: 15 x 11 mm). The seal predates Tipu's accession to the throne at the end of 1782 after the death of his father Hyder ʻAli.

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Tipu's personal seal dated 1186 (1772/73), placed in the right hand margin of the opening of the poem Masnavī-i khvurshīd va māh by Nasafi (British Library IO Islamic 241)
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It would take too long to go into details here and I hope to write more fully about it later, but to summarise, of the twenty-one volumes discovered so far, fourteen are volumes of poetry by Amir Khusraw, ʻAttar, Nasafi, Ahmad-i Jam, Zulali, Kamal Khujandi, ʻUrfi, Ahsan Allah[1] and others (but surprisingly not Firdawsi, Hafiz or Nizami). Other works with Tipu's seal include four historical works, a dictionary and two works on letter writing (inshāʼ). For the most part these volumes are very ordinary, only two, for example IO Islamic 1662 illustrated above, could be described as high quality. Since there were many other deluxe volumes in his collection which did not carry his seal, we can perhaps assume that it was the content Tipu especially valued.

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

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


Official seals of 1787 and 1796
Within a few months of ascending the throne Tipu instigated calendrical changes by renaming the twelve months and the year names of the 60 year cycle, while still also using the traditional hijri era for the year. An example of this can be seen in the documents mentioned above. However in his fifth regnal year, he established a new lunisolar system which he called muhammadi or mawludi[2], ie. dating from the supposed birth of the Prophet which was taken to be in 572 AD. A further innovation was to record the numbers from right to left instead of the usual way round, from left to right.

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

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

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

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

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

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Instructions for the special seal from chapter 1 of Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī (British Library IO Islamic 2379, f. 4r)
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The design of this new seal is another example of Tipu's fondness for the tiger motif and was presumably introduced in 1796 to coincide with the orders. It reads: Tipū Sulṭān 3221 [ie. 1223] Maw lū d-i Muḥammad (1795/96). It measures 19 x 15 (17 x 13 mm) and like the earlier seal is found on documents and government manuals of which several copies exist.

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Seal dated 1223 mawludi (1795/96) heading an official register of names for different kinds of horses and bullocks, dated 1 Ahmadi, Shadab, 1226 (March 1798) (British Library IO Islamic 4684, f. 94v)
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This seal has been found in five volumes so far:

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


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

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Wax sealing  (British Library IO Islamic 4683)
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Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
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[1] Royal Asiatic Society RAS Per 310.
[2] See Kirkpatrick, W., Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Public Functionaries ... London, 1811, especially his notes on the calendar and Mauludi era, pp.xxvi-xxxvii; also Henderson, J.R., The coins of Haidar Alī and Tīpū Sultān. Madras, 1921. p. 28.
[3] The first year of the mawludi era is sometimes reckoned as 1786-7 AD, but fortunately some documents are dated in both the mauludi and the hijri era which makes a start date of 1787-8 incontrovertible.
[4] Shīr usually refers to a lion, but there is no doubt that tiger is implied here because of the babri 'tiger' stripe.

 

01 April 2018

Two Christian manuscripts in Malay

Only two known Malay manuscripts in the British Library relate to Christianity, and they represent very different periods in the spread of the faith in Southeast Asia. One is a compilation of hymns, psalms and Christian services, written in Maluku in the 17th century, at a time when all aspects of Calvinist church activities were firmly controlled by the Dutch East India Company, the VOC. Church ministers were all VOC employees, and hence Protestantism was termed Agama Kumpeni, ‘the Company Religion’, to differentiate it from Catholicism.  The second manuscript is a Malay account of a conversion to Christianity in Singapore in the early 19th century, a period when Christian missionary work took place essentially outside the government orbit.

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The island of Ambon in the Moluccas, from Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën by François Valentyn, 1724-1725.  Source: Atlast of Mutual Heritage, Wikimedia Commons.  noc

The 17th-century book (Sloane 3115) is one of the oldest Malay manuscripts in the British Library, as it was in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, founding father of the British Museum and its Library. An inscription in Dutch on the first page states that this book belonged to Cornelius van der Sluijs (Sluys) who in the year 1672 sailed on the ship ‘The Coat of Arms of Alkmaar’ ('t Wapen van Alkmaar) to the East Indies, as a church comforter of the sick (krankbezoeker).

According to notes kindly provided by Th. van den End, Cornelius van der Sluijs was born ca. 1648 at Sluis, in the Dutch part of Flanders. He matriculated in 1665 in the theological faculty at Utrecht and sailed to the Indies, and in July 1673 was posted to Ambon where he was immediately appointed ‘proponent’ minister, giving him a licence to compose his own sermons, but not to administer the sacraments. On 10 April 1678 Van der Sluijs took his final church exams, at last becoming a minister with full rights, and served in this capactity with the church in Ambon until 1684. From 1684 to 1690 he held the same position in Ternate, and from 1690 to 1697 in Batavia. He then spent five years back in the Netherlands, but in 1702 was again in Batavia, where he died in 1715.

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Njanjihan terpoudji, derri annac dara Maria: the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) in 17th-century Malay. British Library, Sloane 3115, ff. 35v-36r.  noc

Van der Sluijs was well known for his knowledge of Malay, and during his final years in Batavia he worked on revising the Bible translation of Leydecker and Van der Vorm. However he is not personally recorded as having submitted translations to the church council in Ambon or Batavia, and so the Malay hymns in this volume are unlikely to be his own work. Van den End indeed suggests that discernible Portuguese influence in the vocabulary points towards a much earlier date of translation, perhaps from the first half of the 17th century, indicating that the contents of this volume were probably copied from existing manuscript or printed sources. It is most likely that the manuscript was compiled to mark the important occasion of Van der Sluijs' appointment as a full minister in Ambon in 1678, making him not only the leader of his own church, but also the third highest official in the local VOC hierarchy.

The hierarchical, state-sanctioned circles of 17th-century churchmen in Indonesia were very different from the missionary world of the Straits Settlements in the early 19th century. Judged by its impact on the fields of education and printing, the Christian mission among Malays in the Malay peninsula and Singapore was of enormous significance, but from the perspective of its primary aim, namely the conversion of souls, success was much more limited. Thus a small manuscript of four pages in the British Library (Or. 4942, f. 229)  is of some interest as a rare autobiographical account in Malay of a conversion to Christianity. Nothing is known of the provenance of this item, although it was written before 1888 (the date of its acquisition by the British Museum). The author lived in Kampung Boyan in Singapore, the settlement of people from Bawean island, off the north coast of Java, which suggests a date of composition after the 1840s, when migration to Singapore from Bawean increased markedly. 

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British Library, Or. 4942, f. 228r.  noc

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Pages 2-3 of a Malay account of a conversion to Christianity, Singapore, mid-19th century. British Library, Or 4942, f. 229v.  noc

This account was clearly written by the convert at the behest of an unnamed missionary. The anonymous author, simply referred to as sahaya, 'I', recounts how he first met the missionary, only called Tuan, 'Sir', and how he listened to his preaching, but then returned home, unmoved by the message. This scenario occurs several times:

Lain hari datang pula ka ruma tuan mengajar kepada sahaya, abis mengajar tuan kepada sahaya, pulang sahaya sampai ka ruma berpikir pula, serta sahaya berbandingkan dengan sahaya punya kitab Melayu, mana yang betul kitab Melayu dengan kitab Injil tuhan Isa, suda itu sahaya abis berpikir serta berbanding agama orang itam dengan puti, belum juga sahaya bergerak. 
'Another day I came again to your house when you were teaching, after which I returned home and thought about it, and I compared the teachings with my own books in Malay, and pondered as to which were true, the Malay books or the Gospel of Lord Jesus, and then I thought and compared the religion of the dark-skinned people with the white man’s religion, but I was still not moved.'

Finally, through the intercession of Encik Amat, a Malay who had been Christian since birth or at least since childhood, and who was thus able to act as interlocuter with ‘dark skinned people’ for the ‘white man’s religion’, sahaya is convinced, and is converted.

Sahaya is no Munsyi Abdullah, the great contemporaneous Malay writer, printer, teacher and associate of Singapore missionaries: as can be seen above, his literary style is ponderous and repetitive, with certain orthographic characteristics such as the consistent dropping of ha both initially (abis for habis, itam for hitam) and at the end of words (suda for sudah, ruma for rumah).  One interesting choice of vocabulary, which  occurs ten times in this short text, is the term bergerak, a verb meaning literally 'to move'. As in the extract above, bergerak is used here to signify a stirring of emotion or inclination, reflecting the extent of the impact of the Christian message upon sahaya, and is ultimately also used to mean moved spiritually to the extent of conversion. Another notable linguistic feature of this account is that although it is implied that the writer was originally Muslim – he talks about agama orang Melayu, 'the religion of the Malays' – nowhere is the word Islam mentioned, suggesting a deeply-held and respectful reticence, and perhaps inviting a deeper dissection of the text. The full text and English translation of this account can be read here.

Further reading

John Roxborogh, Early nineteenth-century foundations of Christianity in Malaya: churches and missions in Penang, Melaka and Singapore from 1786-1842. 1990. [See 'Christianity in the Straits Settlements' on John Roxborogh's site.]

Lourens de Vries, Iang Evangelium Ul-Kadus menjurat kapada Marcum. The first Malay Gospel of Mark (1629-1639) and the Agama Kumpeni. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 174 (2018), pp. 47-79.

With many thanks to Th. van den End for his notes on Cornelius van der Sluis (personal communication, 2 October 2015).

Related posts

Malay manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Further Deccani and Mughal drawings of Christian subjects

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

28 March 2018

Canonical Hindustani music treatises of Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir’s reign

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

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Fig. 1. The opening folios of the Sahasras, a compilation of dhrupad songs by the early 16th-century master-musician, Nayak Bakhshu, especially compiled for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Mid-17th century (British Library IO Islamic 1116, ff. 1v–2r)
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On 12th March 2018 I retold a revealing story about the great seventeenth-century Indian musician Khushhal Khan kalāwant ‘Gunasamudra’, the ‘Ocean of Virtue’. Khushhal Khan was one of the most feted Mughal court musicians of his time. Great-grandson of the most famous Indian musician of them all, Tansen, and chief musician to the Mughal emperors Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58) and Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (r. 1658–1707), he was written about extensively in his lifetime as a virtuoso classical singer of exceptional merit and serious character. A portrait of him, dressed in pink and singing with other renowned court musicians at the wedding of Dara Shukoh in 1633, may be found in this c.1700 painting in the Royal Collection. In the podcast, I look at this larger-than-life figure from two perspectives. The principal one is a lengthy story that memorialised Khushhal Khan one hundred years after his heyday, as told by Mughal nobleman Inayat Khan ‘Rasikh’ in the first ever stand-alone biographical dictionary (taẕkira) of Hindustani musicians—the Risāla-i Ẕikr-i Mughanniyān-i Hindūstān-i Bihisht-nishīn (1753).

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Fig. 2. Inayat Khan’s taẕkira incorporated (beginning at the bottom of the page) into an anonymous general work on music written for emperor Shah ‘Alam II (r. 1759–1806)[1] (British Library Delhi Persian 1501, f. 9r)
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But in order to understand his dramatic tale of Khushhal Khan’s supernatural interference in the 1657–8 Mughal War of Succession between rival princes Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb, I also delve deep into the canonical Mughal treatises on Hindustani music, which were written in Persian during the reign of Aurangzeb. As well as providing some visuals to accompany the podcast, this guest post allows me to highlight further some of the incredible Mughal writings on Hindustani music held in the British Library.

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

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Fig. 3. The bherī or dhol, from the chapter on instruments. Ghunyat al-Munya (British Library IO Islamic 1863, f. 47v)
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The second is Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī or Jewels of Music, a unique Persian and vernacular manuscript from the ‘Adil Shahi court of Bijapur, at the core of which is what remains of a c.1570 Dakhni translation of the Ocean of Music. (See Part 1  and Part 2 of my earlier discussion of this extraordinary text. See also digital version of this work). The Javāhir gets rid of the Ocean of Music’s outdated way of discussing the rāgas—the all-important melodic frameworks of Hindustani musical performances—and replaces it with a newfangled rāgamālā (‘garland of rāgas’) of peculiar vibrancy and potency.

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Fig. 4. As well as being melodic frameworks for musical performance, the rāgas were personified and visualised as heroes, heroines, deities, jogis, and other beings with emotional and supernatural powers. Ragini Asavari. Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī (British Library Or.12857, f. 102r)
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Sanskrit authors continued to write a variety of musical texts in the Mughal domains. But what’s notable in the seventeenth century is a substantial new effort to recodify and systematise Hindustani music, specifically for the new Mughal era, in more accessible languages. The first major piece of Mughal theoretical writing in Persian on Hindustani music could not be more canonical: the chapters on music and musicians written by Akbar’s great ideologue ‘Abu’l Fazl in his 1593 Ā’īn-i Akbarī (Volume III). What has recently emerged, thanks to the work of Richard David Williams, is that Mughal ventures to recodify Hindustani music seem to have moved from there into classical Hindi, or Brajbhasha, during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Take, for example, Figure 1 above, the well-known Sahasras or Thousand Sentiments, the compilation for Shah Jahan of 1004 dhrupad songs by the early sixteenth-century master-musician, Nayak Bakhshu. Its preface is in Persian, but the songs themselves are in Brajbhasha.

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

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Fig. 5. Interlinear copy of the Saṅgīta-darpaṇa produced for East India Company official Richard Johnson  (British Library IO San 2399)
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But it was in Aurangzeb’s reign that this recodifying impetus manifested itself in earnest in the Persian language, in a flurry of treatises designed to satisfy the needs of high-ranking connoisseurs of Hindustani music who were more comfortable in the offical language of the Mughal empire[3]. These six key treatises in Persian became the canonical core of Mughal music theory for the next two hundred years:

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

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Fig. 6. Précis of Qazi Hasan’s Miftāḥ al-Sarūd in the margins of folio 48r of this nineteenth-century copy of the 1547 Bijapuri Persian translation of al-Qazwini’s Ajā’ib al-Makhlūqāt. On the facing page, a depiction of the planet Saturn (British Library IO Islamic 3243, ff. 47v-48r)
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2) The Rāg Darpan or Mirror of Rāga, an original work written in 1666 by high-ranking Mughal nobleman Saif Khan ‘Faqirullah’, completed when he was governor of Kashmir. Faqirullah cites extensively verbatim from the Mānakutūhala, an early sixteenth-century Hindavi work traditionally attributed to Raja Man Singh of Gwalior.

3) The Tarjuma-i Kitāb-i Pārījātak, Figure 7: the stunning 1666 Translation of Ahobala Pandit’s Sanskrit masterpiece Saṅgītapārijāta by high-ranking Mughal nobleman Mirza Raushan ‘Zamir’, for Aurangzeb. Zamir was a renowned poet in Brajbhasha, and was also Khushhal Khan’s disciple in the practical arts of music. This is an early copy from 1688.
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Fig. 7. The melodic outline of Ragini Todi, Tarjuma-i Kitāb-i Pārījātak (British Library RSPA 72, f. 28r)
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4) The fifth chapter of the Tuḥfat al-Hind or Gift of India, Figure 8: Mirza Khan’s famous work on Indian sciences written c. 1675 for Aurangzeb’s son Prince Muhammad A‘zam Shah (1653–1707), who himself wrote Hindustani songs and was the first patron of Niʻmat Khan ‘Sadarang’, the greatest musician of the next century. Almost all of this monumental work is drawn from Damodara’s Mirror of Music and Faqirullah’s Mirror of Rāga, but it is exhaustive, and was hugely influential in later centuries.

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Fig. 8. Sir William Jones’ copy of the Tuḥfat al-Hind, covered in his own annotations (British Library RSPA 78, f. 178v)
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5) The Shams al-Aṣwāt or Sun of Songs, written for Aurangzeb by the chief hereditary musician of his atelier in 1698, Ras Baras Khan kalāwant, son of Khushhal Khan and great-great-grandson of Tansen. This work is primarily a new Persian translation of Damodara’s Mirror of Music, but is full of invaluable insights from the orally transmitted knowledge of Ras Baras’s esteemed musical lineage.

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

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

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

 and by way of explanation:

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

 

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

Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College London
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With thanks to the British Academy and the European Research Council; and also to William Dalrymple, Bruce Wannell, and Richard David Williams. Any errors are mine.

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

21 March 2018

Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project launched by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X

On 20 March 2018 Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, Governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta, visited the British Library to launch the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project. Through the generous support of Mr S P Lohia, over the next twelve months 75 Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta now held in the British Library will be digitised, and will be made fully and freely accessible online through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. On completion of the project in March 2019, complete sets of the 30,000 digital images will be presented to the Libraries and Archives Board of Yogyakarta (Badan Perpustakaan dan Arsip Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta) and to the National Library (Perpustakaan Nasional) of Indonesia in Jakarta. The manuscripts will also be accessible through Mr Lohia’s website, SPLRareBooks.

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H.E. the Governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X and Ibu GKR Hemas, H.E. the Indonesian Ambassador Dr Rizal Sukma and Ibu Hana Satrijo, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, and Annabel Gallop, Head of the Southeast Asia section, at the launch of the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project at the British Library in London.

The 75 Javanese manuscripts to be digitised include 70 known or believed to have been taken by British troops following an armed assault on the Palace (Kraton) of Yogyakarta in June 1812 by forces under the command of the Lieutenant-Governor of Java, Thomas Stamford Raffles, as well as five other related manuscripts. The manuscripts primarily comprise works on Javanese history, literature and ethics, Islamic stories and compilations of wayang (shadow theatre) tales, as well as court papers, written in Javanese in both Javanese characters (hanacaraka) and in modified Arabic script (pegon), on European and locally-made Javanese paper (dluwang). Some of these manuscripts are by now well known, such as the Babad bedah ing Ngayogyakarta, Add. 12330, a personal account by Pangéran Arya Panular (ca. 1771-1826) of the British attack on the Kraton and its aftermath, published by Peter Carey (1992), and the Babad ing Sangkala, ‘Chronogram chronicle’, MSS Jav 36(B), dated 1738 and identified by Merle Ricklefs (1978) as the oldest surviving original copy of a Javanese chronicle so far known. Peter Carey (1980 & 2000) has also published the Archive of Yogyakarta, two volumes of court documents, correspondence and legal papers. However, many of the other manuscripts have never been published.

At the request of Sri Sultan, the launching of the Project commenced with a recitation from a Javanese manuscript. The manuscript chosen was a copy of the Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24) copied by a court scribe in Yogyakarta in 1803, and the opening stanzas written in dandanggula metre, in which the writer profers his humble apologies for all the inadequacies of his style and manners, were beautifully sung by Mr Sujarwo Joko Prehatin. The Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang and a few other Kraton manuscripts which are now available online are shown below, and can be accessed online by clicking on the hyperlinks in the captions.

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Opening of Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, 1803. MSS Jav 24, ff. 2v-3r  noc

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Babad Kraton, dated 1778. British Library, Add. 12320, ff. 1v-2r  noc

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Pawukon, Javanese calendrical manuscript, showing Wukir, the third wuku. British Library, Add. 12338, ff. 82v-83r  noc

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Surya Ngalam, legal text. British Library, Add. 12329, ff. 1v-2r    noc 

In his address at the launch ceremony at the British Library, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X mused upon how the small area of Gunung Kidul around Yogyakarta on the south coast of central Java had played such a pivotal role in Javanese history through the centuries. Sri Sultan expressed his profound curiosity about the particular characteristics or factors that might have made this mountainous region the birthplace of such important political and cultural movements. It is hoped that by making so many significant primary sources more widely accessible, the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project will stimulate the study of Javanese history and cultural heritage, and perhaps one day help to answer these questions.

Javanese Project 05
Roly Keating presenting Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X with a framed print from the Pawukon manuscript shown above.

References

Carey, P. B. R. (ed.), The archive of Yogyakarta. Volume I. Documents relating to politics and internal court affairs. Oxford: published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1980.

Carey, Peter (ed.). The British in Java, 1811-1816 : a Javanese account : a text edition, English synopsis and commentary on British Library Additional Manuscript 12330 (Babad Bĕdhah ing Ngayogyakarta) [Pangéran Arya Panular, , approximately 1771-1826. Oxford : Published for The British Academy by Oxford University Press, c1992.

Carey, Peter and Hoadley, Mason C. (eds.), The archive of Yogyakarta. Volume II. Documents relating to economic and agrarian affairs. Oxford: published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ricklefs, M.C., Modern Javanese historical tradition : a study of an original Kartasura chronicle and related materials. London : School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1978.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head of Southeast Asia section  ccownwork

14 March 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


Further reading

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


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

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
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Related articles

07 March 2018

Introducing the Lotus Sutra Project

Conserving and digitising the Stein Collection's Chinese copies of the Lotus Sutra at the British Library

The Lotus Sūtra, whose earliest known Sanskrit title is the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra and means “Sūtra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma,” was possibly composed between the first century BCE and the second century CE. It is thought to contain the Buddha’s final teaching, complete and sufficient for salvation. Through the medium of parables and short stories, it delivers the message that all sentient beings have the potential to attain Buddhahood. As such, it is one of the most influential scriptures of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, and it is highly regarded in a number of Asian countries, including China, Korea and Japan, where it has been traditionally practised.

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Frontispiece of Chapter 5 of the Lotus Sūtra, "The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs" (British Library Or.8210/S.1511)    noc

The most prevalent versions of this Sūtra in Chinese are the Zheng fahua jing (徵法華經 “Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Correct law”), translated by the monk Dharmarakṣa between 286 and 288, and the Miaofa lianhua jing, (妙法蓮華經 “Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law”), translated by Kumarajiva over a century later, in 406. There is also an alternative version called the Tianpin Miaofa lianhua jing (添品妙法蓮華經 “Supplemented Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law"), compiled in 601 by the masters Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta.

Images and scenes inspired by the Lotus Sūtra can be seen in the murals adorning the caves of the Mogao Buddhist complex, near the oasis-town of Dunhuang, Gansu. An estimated 4,000 copies of the Lotus Sūtra were also found in one of the caves, commonly called the Library Cave or Cave 17. They are now dispersed across various institutions in Beijing, Paris, St Petersburg and London. In the British Library's collection, the Lotus Sūtra outnumbers all the other Chinese Buddhist texts brought back by Sir Aurel Stein during his second expedition to Central Asia (1906-1908). There are over a thousand manuscripts, some of which are scrolls measuring up to 13 metres long.

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End piece of Or.8210/S.54, with wooden roller  (British Library Or.8210/S.54)    noc

If a few have already been digitised and are now accessible via the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) website, a large proportion has remained practically untouched since their discovery in 1907 and is currently unavailable online. Thanks to a generous grant from the Bei Shan Tang Foundation, in Hong Kong, work is now underway to address this issue. The aim of this four-year project is to conserve and digitise nearly 800 copies of the Lotus Sūtra in Chinese, with a view to make images and information about them freely accessible on the Internet.

For the past six months, I have been busy checking the condition of all these manuscripts in order to plan both the conservation and digitisation workflows for the years to come. I have been extremely lucky to be joined in this task by three colleagues from the British Library Conservation department, who have volunteered some of their precious time to assess the collection with me. Together, we have been writing up detailed condition status reports to facilitate future conservation treatment and handling during photography. Another important part of my curatorial role has also been to enhance information on each of the corresponding catalogue recor

Meanwhile, Vania Assis, full-time conservator for the project, has started conserving the scrolls. Although an initial estimate based on a sample of manuscripts had established that between 200 and 300 items would need to be conserved, the ongoing assessment of the scrolls has so far revealed that most of them require some level of intervention. They are extremely fragile: they present tears, missing areas, creases and other damage that make photographing them in their current state inadvisable. Vania has already completed treatment of more than 50 items and will tell you about her amazing work in a separate post.

The project's team should soon include two senior imaging technicians, who will be ensuring the digitisation of the Lotus Sūtra copies. We will let you know how the project progresses and will post updates as regularly as possible, so watch this space!

Mélodie Doumy, Curator, Chinese collections
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01 March 2018

'South Asia Series' talks from April to May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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