THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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23 posts categorized "Persian"

14 February 2017

Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts

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For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry in particular has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts, we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.

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Illustration to a ghazal celebrating love and music from an undated Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ. The painting is unsigned (BL Grenville XLI, f. 66v noc

We begin with a painting (Grenville XLI, f. 66v) illustrating a lyric poem or ghazal (rhyming a-a, b-a, c-a, and so on) by one the genre’s most distinguished exponents, Ḥāfiẓ of Shīrāz (d. circa 1202). Although its tone is initially celebratory, the composition continues by examining different aspects of the lover’s condition, gradually moving toward the melancholic. Couplets 1, 2, and 6 illustrate this shift:

Love's musician possesses an amazing instrument and sound / every air composed strikes a chord.
May the world never empty of lovers’ laments / their sound possesses a delightful harmony.
Showing tears of blood, doctors commented / it is the disease of love, requiring heartrending medication.

The painting is broadly consistent with the ghazal’s narrative arc, showing seated musicians in the foreground facing several figures on a canopied stone platform. The mature male on the left is presumably Ḥāfiẓ addressing his patron, seated on the right, notionally depicted here as a youth absorbed in love’s sorrows.

Although the manuscript is not dated, it is thought to have been transcribed around 1600-1605 in Timurid/Mughal India, and illustrated very soon after. Some of the damage caused to other figures in the same scene is due to the partial obliteration of faces and strategic overpainting (now partially removed), ordered by later owners. Another Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ (Or 14139, f. 47r) refurbished with decorated margins just a few years earlier at the same court isolates the celebratory theme of the first couplet interpreted more straightforwardly as a European musical entertainer playing a fiddle-like instrument while dancing on the spot, and enclosed within an ornamental cartouche.

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Ghazal celebrating love and music from a Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ dateable to circa 1470, with illumination added in the margins as part of later refurbishment (BL Or 14139, f. 47r)  noc

Epic poetry and romances play an important role in distilling specific personal traits and emotional states in the characters of the heroes, heroines, and lovers they seek to celebrate, and thereby humanising the ghazal’s expressive and frequently abstract repertoire of conceits and metaphors. The exploits of the archetypal hero, Sasanian ruler Bahrām Gūr (Bahrām V, d. 438), are the subject of several works of epic poetry, notably the Haft Paykar, part of the Khamsah or Quintet of poems by Niẓāmī of Ganjah (d. 599/1203). In one of the finest manuscript treasures at the British Library, the interpretation of a distinctly amorous scene has been the source of some confusion (Or 2265, f. 221r).

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Scene from the tale of King Turktāzī and Turktāz, queen of the faeries, as told by the Princess of India in the Haft Paykar from Shāh Ṭahmāsp Ṣafavī's Khamsah of Niẓāmī. Signed by Muḥammad Zamān, dated 1086/1675-76. For more on this painting see Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman (BL Or 2265, f. 221v)  noc

The Haft Paykar’s allegorical narrative describes Bahrām Gūr’s encounters with seven princesses over the period of seven evenings. An illustration close to the beginning of the narrative appears at first to depict the first of the seven encounters, specifically, with the Princess of India dressed in black, representing Saturn. A closer reading of the text indicates the painting is an illustration from an edifying tale told by the Indian princess of King Turktāzī entertained by Turktāz, queen of the faeries.

After a lengthy description of Turktāzī awaking in an enchanted garden, the mas̲navī (couplets rhyming a-a, b-b, c-c, and so forth) gradually recounts the impression made be the queen’s magical arrival and unveiling to expose her European (literally Rūmī or Byzantine) features and complexion. Following tender exchanges, the romantically-charged feast of duck (replaced in the painting by pomegranates) and wine takes on a renewed intensity. It is at this point the surge of passion is delicately summarised by the use of familiar musical metaphors establishing the convivial mood:

The musician entered and cup bearers departed / joyousness hardly needed an excuse.
Every imperforate pearl was pierced (in sequence) / every song followed another.
Dance opened the field to form a circle / entering on foot, skipping and gesturing.

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Zayd revives the fainting Laylá and Majnūn (Qays) in the wilderness in Laylá va Majnūn from the Khamsah of Niẓāmī written for  the Timurid/Mughal Emperor Akbar I. Ascribed to Farrukh Chelah (BL Or 12208, f. 123r)  noc

In another mas̲navī from the same work, but a different illustrated manuscript (Or 12208, f. 122v), Niẓāmī records with particular sensitivity the doomed relationship of two pre-Islamic lovers, Laylá and Majnūn (originally known as Qays). Qays, distracted with love’s ardour for his beloved since childhood, Laylá, is driven to the wilderness where he is reduced to rags. It is at this point he is given the epithet majnūn, Arabic for ‘possessed by jinns’ or ‘maniac.’ Later, a mutual friend, Zayd, momentarily reunites Majnūn with Laylá in the vicinity of her tents. The scene of their dramatic meeting is evoked in the following selection of couplets:

Majnūn, upon seeing his beloved / glimpsing his soul in a dark veil.
He, alive, though spiritless / she, withholding her life, yet dead.
The two lovers collapsed, senseless / worldly sounds evade their ears.
Bloodthirsty beasts encircle / sharpening their claws in the dead.
The two fallen lovers remained / until midday on the path.

We see in the exquisitely detailed painting by Farrukh Chelah (ascribed in the lower border) that Laylá and Majnūn are being revived by Zayd with a bottle of perfume, just as the text specifies. However, Farrukh Chelah has used this illustration as an opportunity to fill his composition with an array of vegetal, animal, and topographical features that go beyond the text, to make a visually stimulating whole.

Returning to the ghazal genre, a perennial concern to literary critics is the degree to which poets and their audiences, including later illustrators of their works, interpret meaning. Insofar as the Persian language is essentially gender neutral, that is, you cannot automatically infer from a text whether the subject is male or female in the absence of a gendered attribute, poets have in the past been able to encode into their compositions both heterosexual and homosexual references. Such constructive ambiguity, to borrow a recent term, has in turn been exploited by illustrators to respond to the demands of their patrons, in determining the male or female gender of the beloved as described.

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An older man clasps the hand of a departing adolescent boy, based on a ghazal from the Kullīyāt of Saʿdī, dated 1624 (BL IO Islamic 843, f. 322r)  noc

In a painting from a lavishly illustrated copy of the Kullīyāt or compendium of collected works by Saʿdī (d. 690/1291), dated 1624 and made in Safavid Shīrāz, the poet’s place of birth (IO Islamic 843, f. 322r), we witness the interplay between words and the painted image. The scene shows men seated around a pool, several of them with books in hand, indicating a genial poetic gathering. The bearded man seated in a recess clasps the hand of an adolescent boy about to depart. The relevant couplet illustrated here does not, however, mention either the gathering of men, the reading of poetry, or the detention of a boy specifically, except for the daring khvājah, who is in this context a mature man. It is evident from the range of certain visual interpretations of gender in illustrated manuscripts of poetry that patrons and readers generally approached such nuanced subjects with latitude.


Sâqib Bâburî

Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project
 ccownwork

10 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian Collections
 ccownwork

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

16 January 2017

The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix

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One of the more enigmatic manuscripts now in the British Library (IO Islamic 1255) from the rich library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore (d. 1213/1799), is the untitled qiṣṣah or tale featuring a figure popular across the range of Persian literature, the Prophet Sulaymān (the biblical Solomon, son of David). In this tale, the prophet-king is confronted by the head of the ranks of birds, the Sīmurgh (Phoenix), expressing its disbelief in the doctrine of predestination (qaz̤āʾ va qadr). Having angered Allāh, Jibrāʾīl (the archangel Gabriel) is sent to inform Sulaymān of a prophecy foretelling the birth of the Prince of the East (Malikzādah-′i Mashriq) and the Princess of the West, daughter of the Malik-i Maghrib, who together bear a child out of wedlock. The Sīmurgh believes it can prevent this outcome. Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh conclude an agreement (qawl) to reassess the situation after fifteen years, by which time the accuracy of the prophecy would be apparent.

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The Prophet Solomon and the Phoenix’s agreement is witnessed by members of his court; the two yogis in the foreground represent the assembled jinns. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 2v. Noc

The tale additionally interweaves several digressive subplots focussing on the adventures of the Prince of the East from his minority to adolescence. In the process, his development into a pious youth is mapped through a succession of episodes where he interacts with magical beasts, Satan, kings, courtiers, merchants, and sages. This didactic tale may be part of the ‘mirror for princes’ tradition, but as we shall later discover, there is more to it than appears at first glance.

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The Prince of the East (not shown) overhears a king’s angry exchanges with his courtiers while seated amid special trees. Note the lengthy jamahs and sweeping turbans that indicate eighteenth-century courtly fashions, while the patterned floorcoverings attempt to capture the rich texture of contemporary embroidered and brocaded soft furnishings. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 8r. Noc

Profusely illustrated, the manuscript IO Islamic 1255 has surprisingly eluded scholarly attention. Although it ends without a dated colophon, the distinctive style and details of its 63 illustrations on 26 folios offer sufficient evidence to locate its origins in mid-eighteenth-century Deccan, possibly even the Carnatic, ruled by the Nawabs of Arcot. On the other hand, the coarse nastaʿlīq script tending toward taʿlīq makes it clear that this is not the product of an élite or royal workshop. The absence of gold illumination and the use of a muted colour palette further strengthen this impression. The unusually tall and narrow format underscores the peculiarity of the volume as a whole. Though the paintings have oxidised in areas, the manuscript must have been a valued item in Tipu’s library, as the work was bound in a contemporary finely-tooled, gilded, and painted leather binding.

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The Prince of the East is discovered by his two Arabian horses while sheltering under the hide of a horse at the foot an isolated tree. This image shows the increased levels of pigment oxidation in paintings towards the end of the manuscript. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library, British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 22r. Noc

The tale’s literary significance is heightened when considering the version in another British Library manuscript catalogued recently, entitled Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr (IO Islamic 4806). We encounter the familiar characters of the Prophet Sulaymān, the Sīmurgh, the Prince of the East and Princess of the West, with the narrative sharing the same basic structure. Like the version in the Tipu manuscript, the tale’s author is not named. Differences lie in the laconic style of the substantially abridged account, with some passages and episodes rearranged, and others omitted. Occasionally, the simplicity of prose is abandoned in favour of a more formal style and additional poems, while adjectives and titles take on a distinctly courtly flavour. Notwithstanding, the overall feel is that of a relatively faithful retelling of the Tipu version.

The most original feature of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr is its introductory matter (ff. 1v-3r), which elevates it to the status of pseudo-history and prophetic tradition. Accordingly, when the Prophet Muḥammad was troubled by Meccan groups, Jibrāʾīl appears and gives him the seal of Sulaymān, a gift from Allāh. Jibrāʾīl is asked if it prevents death. He clarifies that there are two kinds of death, qaz̤ā-′i muḥkam or conspicuous (avoidable?) death and qaz̤ā-′i mubram or certain death. After a few days, Jibrāʾīl reappears and narrates the tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh to demonstrate how nothing escapes the certainty of fate. The tale begins from this point forward in much the same way as the Tipu manuscript.

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Illuminated sarlawḥ and opening passage of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr. British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 1v. Noc

The tale’s connection with the Prophet Muḥammad is established on the authority of a tenuous chain of transmission, mentioning the names of Ibn Saʿd (d. ca. 66/686), who heard it from Ḥasan Baṣrī (d. 110/728), who heard it from one of the unidentified muʿtamadān or confidants of the Prophet. Whether or not the chain of transmission is authentic, such details are unnecessary for the purpose of a mere adventure tale, indicating the intention to emphasise its moral and pious message. While subsequent details correspond closely with the Tipu manuscript, these extraordinary passages do not appear in that version.

The Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr manuscript is not dated and owners’ marks have been erased. It consists of 26 folios commencing with a gilded and painted sarlawḥ or headpiece, and has gold rulings throughout, with scribal nastaʿlīq on thin burnished paper. The nine brightly coloured illustrations are painted with sparsely populated simplistic compositions. Only the King of the West and the Prince of the East are depicted wearing Persian (Safavid) costume, while the remaining characters are dressed in eighteenth-century Hindustani attire. Neither manuscript has chapter or section headings, making it difficult to follow the programme of illustration in both manuscripts without closely reading adjacent text. A comparative list of illustrations in both manuscripts can be found here: Download Solomon and the Phoenix illustrations.

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The King of the West’s men shoot at the Phoenix stealing the Princess’s cradle. Note the differentiation in status between figures reflected in their costume. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 3v. Noc

BL_IO_Islamic_4806_f19r
The Princess of the West falls in love with the Prince of the East, who finds his way to the foot of the isolated tree where she is held captive by the Phoenix. The Princess here is dressed in the Hindustani peshvaz and dupattah, while the Prince sports a turban in a distinctly Safavid style with the ends of the qamarband always tucked in. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 19r. Noc

Given that both manuscripts discussed here are associated with South Asia, one might be forgiven for taking this as an indication of the tale’s origins, perhaps traceable to some obscure Sufi source of moralistic parables. Evidence to counter this regional association is found in a fragile Judaeo-Persian manuscript from the British Library’s Gaster Collection (Or 10195). Although the fragmentary volume has several compositions in poetry and prose, one of these comprises yet another prose rendition of the same tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh. While the work needs to be studied in detail, it would be particularly revealing if it could be verified that this version commences with or without the prophetic tradition, and whether it consists of the lengthier or abridged version. The systematic comparison of all texts may form the basis of future research to identify a common Urtext, which might not even be in Persian at all. It is hoped this article may mark the start of the process.

Bibliographical note on IO Islamic 1255
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the Late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809, p. 84, where it is listed as the third of the Persian fables. Hermann Ethé, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford, 1903, vol. 1, coll. 544, no. 854. Another undated manuscript (IO Islamic 1627), also from Tipu Sultan’s library, reproduces over ff. 106v-111v an independent work based on a fragment of the same tale comprising episodes 14-28 (Ethé, no. 853).

Dr Sâqib Bâburî
Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project Ccownwork

Acknowledgements
I am grateful to Ursula Sims-Williams for referring me to IO Islamic 1255. I would also like to thank Ilana Tahan and Zsofia Buda for their research and help with Judeo-Persian.

21 November 2016

Nasir Shah's Book of Delights

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To celebrate our new series of South Asian seminars and especially the focus on food with Neha Vermani's talk this evening Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal elite I thought I would write about our most ʻfoodyʼ Persian manuscript, the only surviving copy of the Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (Nasir Shah's Book of Delights) written for Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (r.1469-1500) and completed by his son Nasir al-Din Shah (r.1500-1510). We are planning to digitise this manuscript in the near future but meanwhile I hope some of these recipes will whet your appetite.

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Recipes for samosas (see below) with illustrations showing cows being milked (right) and Sultan Ghiyas al-Din seated on his throne (left), attended by servants (British Library IO Islamic 149, ff4v-5r)
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This beautifully written and illustrated work was composed for the Sultan of Malwa Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji who ruled from 1469 to 1500. According to the ʻAdilshahi historian Firishtah[1] this colourful ruler shortly after his accession,

...gave a grand entertainment; on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated, that as he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banners of his illustrious father, he now yielded up the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy ease the rest of his days. He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court, and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.

These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trades. 500 female Turks, dressed in men's clothes, stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly, 500 Abyssinian women also in uniform, armed with firearms. This might seem quite an extravagent description but it is confirmed by the paintings and recipes in the book which describe in detail the methods for cooking luxurious savouries and sweetmeats, for preparing medical remedies, for making perfumes[2] and for going on expeditions, whether in battle or hunting.

The Ni’matnāmah is undated and there are many unanswered questions about the format it has today. The first few leaves have been added later and there is no expected author’s introduction. The main work appears to end on folio 161v and then a new section begins on folio 162v which has the title Kitāb-i Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (‘Nasir Shah’s book of delights’). Altogether at least 15 leaves are missing which were extracted at various different times before it was acquired by the East India Company after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799. It seems most likely that the first part of the work at least was written in the latter part of Ghiyas Shah’s reign and then perhaps the second section was added after his son had taken over in 1500. The 50 illustrations demonstrate a fusion of Persian ‘Turkman’ Shiraz influence of the second half of the fifteenth century with a progressively Indic style, especially in the use of colours and the style of the costumes and architecture.

A flavour of the Niʻmatnāmah
We are very fortunate in having a published facsimile (albeit black and white) and translation of the Niʻmatnāmah made over the course of several years by Norah Titley after her retirement from the British Library in 1983. Below I quote her translations alongside some of the illustrations.

A recipe for samosas (ff. 4v-5r, see above)

Mix together well-cooked mince with the same amount of minced onion and chopped dried ginger, a quarter of those, and half a tūlcha [a measure] of ground garlic and having ground three tūlchas of saffron in rosewater, mix it with the mince together with aubergine pulp. Stuff the samosas and fry (them) in ghee. Whether made from thin course flour bread or from fine flour bread or from uncooked dough, any of the three (can be used) for cooking samosas, they are delicious. (Titley, p. 4)

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Preparation of rice water (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.32r)
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A recipe for making broth

Another recipe for the method of  pīchha, namely the surplus water that is removed from the cooking pot after cooking rice and separating it. Put mūng pulse into the water and boil it. Chop fresh sandal and take its juice. Put the myrobalan and cardamoms into it and cook it. Put in salt. When it is cooked add some mint leaves and serve it. (Titley, p. 17)

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Ghiyas Shah watching preparations for sherbert (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.66r)
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A recipe for making sherbet

Another recipe for sherbet: mince coconut and leave it (to soak) in sweetened water. Strain off the coconut milk and, if desired, put the syrup in it and also mangoes if so wished. Then drink it with bhāt and add fresh ginger, onions, lime juice, cardamoms, cloves, pepper, turmeric and fenugreek and flavor it with asafoetida. Then drink it with bhāt [cooked rice or maize]. (Titley, p. 32)

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Ghiyas al-Din watches the process of cooking green vegetables (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.79v)
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A recipe for cooking greens

Another recipe for green vegetables: boil vine greens in dūgh and water. Then take them off, squeeze them well and open them out and fan them. Then having roasted and ground cumin, salt and sesame seeds, add them. (Titley, p.38)

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Ghiyas al-Din eats a betel chew (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.100v)
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On the uses of and recipes for betel

The qualities of that tanbūl are that the teeth are strengthened, diseases of the tongue, lips, gullet, throat and windpipe are prevented, as is inflammation of the chest. All the foregoing diseases are prevented and the intellect is strengthened, the eyes made bright, the quality of hearing is improved, the nose is purified, halitosis is banished and all illnesses are repelled. Hair becomes longer and shinier and is strengthened, broken bones mend and food that is bound up in the stomach is dissolved and digestion of food is assisted. Phlegm is prevented, the stomach is soft and an appetite for food is enhanced and it makes for a life of beauty and chastity. Coarse wind that may be in the stomach is relieved. It is astringent so bile and excess blood are decreased and phlegm is prevented. Blood is purified, ejaculation is delayed, gripes are cured and the stomach is tightened. If it is rubbed on the skin of the body, leprosy is driven away and the colour of the skin is made white and bad odours are prevented. It is the jewel of the mouth, the mouth is purified and the ardour of passion is increased. (Titley, p.50)

This universal panacea is followed by a list of 57 separate ingredients consisting of flowers, herbs, nuts and spices.

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Left: Ghiyas al-Din on a hunting expedition (IO Islamic 149, f.159r)
Right: perfumes being distilled (IO Islamic 149, f.111v)
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The history of the Niʻmatnāmah
The details of what happened to the Niʻmatnāmah between the time of its completion ca. 1500 and its arrival in London after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799 are far from clear. However there are some facts of which we can be certain. An inscription on folio 196v mentions that the manuscript was inspected on 24 Sha’ban 978 (21 Jan 1571). Unfortunately there isn't any indication of where this was done.

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Flyleaf with the abraded circular seal of Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah, r.1627–1657 (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.Ir)
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Another inscription on folio 1r reads: “Niʻmatnamah on the science of medicine in naskh writing, in a red binding, from the possession of Malik Almās, entered the court library on 22 Rab I 1044 (15 Sept 1634)”. A similar inscription, dated eight days later, occurs on the flyleaf (above). These were previously thought to be Mughal inscriptions but the wording is identical to inscriptions used by the ʻAdilshahi librarians. Moreover the large circular seal on the flyleaf can now be identified conclusively as the circular seal of Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah who ruled in Bijapur from 1627-57. The seal itself is not very clear but can be read by comparing it with a better preserved copy on a manuscript from Bijapur. It contains the sajʼ (coin legend in verse):
Dārad az luṭf-i ḥaqq sar afrāzī
Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh ghāzī    
“By the grace of God he has eminence, Sultan Muhammad Shah the conqueror.”

The second smaller seal has so far defied interpretation! However there is no reason to think it is a Mughal seal nor that the manuscript has in fact any Mughal connection at all.

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Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah's seal (British Library Bijapur 207, f.1r)

As for the previous owner Malik Almas, there was someone of this name in Golconda who died in 1674. He served as a steward of Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah (r.1580-1612) and in the reign of Sultan ʻAbd Allah (1626-72), he became superintendent of buildings[3]. In 1633 Muhammad ʻAdil Shah married Sultan ʻAbd Allah's sister, Khadija Sultana, so if this the same Malik Almas, a possible scenario might be that the Niʻmatnāmah came to Bijapur from Golconda with Khadija, perhaps as a wedding present?

From Bijapur the manuscript was acquired by Tipu Sultan and came as part of his collection to the Library of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street, London between 1806 and 1808. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any identifiable record of it in the contemporary lists of Tipu's Library (see my earlier blog Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah) nor in the printed catalogue of the collection by Charles Stewart (A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore. Cambridge, 1809).

Further reading
Norah M. Titley, The Niʻmatnāma Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu. London, 2005.
Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982, no. 41.

I am grateful to colleagues Saqib Baburi and Keelan Overton for discussing some of the problems with me.
Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
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[1] John Briggs, History of the rise of the Mahomedan power in India, till the year A. D. 1612 / translated from the original Persian of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta, Vol. 4. London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1829.
[2] By chance William Dalrymple has just published an article in the Economist's 1843 magazine “Scents and sensuality on ittars and perfumes, particularly mentioning their use in the Niʻmatnāmah.
[3] See SA Bilgrami, Landmarks of the Deccan. Reprinted Delhi, 1992, pp.102-4).

08 November 2016

The Anvar-i Suhayli or 'Lights of Canopus'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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15 August 2016

Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

27 June 2016

Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah (IO Islamic 3214)

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While recently looking for documentation on the Library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), my eye fell on this entry in Charles Stewart's Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (Cambridge, 1809), pp. 72-3:

XCIV. Diwāni Sindbād Hakīm. Thick quarto, common hand, ornamented with pictures, &c. The instructions of the philosopher Sindbād to his pupil, the ignorant son of a king; in a series of interesting and facetious stories. The author is unknown; but it is dedicated to Shāh Mahmūd Bahmeny of the Dekhan, A.D. 1374.

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The philosopher Sindbad promises the king to teach his son (BL IO Islamic 3214, fol. 18v)
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Immediately I was reminded of the Sindbādnāmah about which I had written in an earlier blog (The Story of Sinbad or the Seven Sages). Circumstantial evidence had given this manuscript an origin in South India, probably Golconda, between 1575 and 1585 (Weinstein, p. 127), but how it arrived in the East India Company Library remained a mystery.

Thanks to the manuscript being digitised, I was immediately able to look for mention of a date of composition and found the year 776 (1374/5) of Stewart's description mentioned in the introduction on folio 8v  — although the patron was definitely Persian (tāj bakhsh-i ʻajam) rather than Bahmanid. I then had the good fortune to discover that a volume in the India Office Records and Private Papers described as Tipu Sultan papers (Mss Eur E 196) included copies of lists of books allocated by the Prize Agents to the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the East India Company Library. Sure enough, not only was the volume mentioned in a list of manuscripts designated for the East India Company Library in 1799, but it also occurred in a list of books due to be despatched from Calcutta in February 1807.

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Above: List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. the Court of Directors, submitted by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam in December 1799
Below: “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad, the Poetical works of Hakeem Sindbad, with Paintings” (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff.70r and 74v)
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Although 197 volumes of Arabic and Persian manuscripts were deposited in the Library on 16 July 1806 (Library Day Book for 1806), it wasn't until 1807 (204 vols) and April 1808 (68 vols) that the full allocation was received. Of almost 2000 volumes of the original library, the East India Company received an estimated total of 469 while the rest were divided between the Asiatic Society and the College of Fort William, Calcutta.

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Binding of IO Islamic 3214 labelled “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad”
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Above: Packed ready for despatch, a List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted, included in a letter from Wm. Hunter, Secy. to College Council, Fort William, dated 17 February 1807, to Thomas Brown, Chief Secy. to Government
Below: Details of manuscripts sent (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff 90r and 91r)
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Folio 1r of the Sindbādnāmah contains several abraded seals. One is the East India Library stamp which was deliberately effaced when the book was stolen from the library (see my earlier post). Jerry Losty (Art of the Book,  p.71) and Laura Weinstein (Variations on a Persian theme, p. 127) had already suggested that at least one of the others might be a seal of the Qutbshahi dynasty. Examination using sophisticated filters at RetroReveal.com and comparison with other Qutbshahi seals show that it is likely to be the seal of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, and is probably dated 1012 (1603/4). The fact that many of Tipu Sultan's manuscripts had belonged previously to the Qutbshahi dynasty only serves to strengthen this connection.

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Folio 1r showing the abraded Qutbshahi seals (BL IO Islamic 3214, f. 1r)
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Above: Seals of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, from another Tipu manuscript (BL IO Islamic 550)
Below: Seal of IO Islamic 3214 viewed with help from RetroReveal, revealing the letters مهر ز on the lower right side

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This research has resulted in some exciting discoveries of new source material on the royal library at Seringapatam. I'll be posting the results during the next few months as we digitise selected manuscripts from Tipu Sultan's collection.

Further reading
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809
Laura S. Weinstein, Variations on a Persian theme: adaptation and innovation in early manuscripts from Golconda. PhD diss., Columbia University, 2011
Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India, London, 1982
Mss Eur/E196, ff.70-82: Copy of List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. The Court of Directors, dated 1 & 28 December 1799, signed by D. Price, S.W. Ogg
Mss Eur/E196, ff 90-94: List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted. Signed W. Hunter, Secy. C.C.
Mss Eur/F303/1: Library Day Book 1801-1814

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

 


The story of Sinbad or the seven sages
Tipu Sultan’s dream book (IO Islamic 3563)

21 June 2016

A Mughal Shahnamah

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

Add_5600_f139v
The heroes Gīv and Pīrān bring Kay Khusraw from Turan to Iran to be crowned king. Artist: Shamāl (British Library Add.5600. f. 139v)  noc

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

Add_5600_f320v
Rustam, glass in hand, prepares to eat a wild ass alfresco while Bahman contemplates killing him with a giant boulder. Artist: Banvārī (British Library Add.5600, f. 320v)  noc

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

Add5600_f338_repainting
Right:  folio 338v showing the dying Rustam, impaled in a pit of spears, shooting Shaghad through the tree trunk. Left:  folio 338r, the other side of the same leaf showing visible traces of over-painted branches of a tree (British Library Add.5600, f. 338)  noc

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

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

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

Bhagvatī 3 (ff. 28r, 68v, 338v)

Būlā 1 (f. 24v)

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

Mādhū 1 (f. 12v)

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

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

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


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

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

J64,2_Ilahvardi Khan_whole_2000
Portrait of Ilāhvirdī Khān (d. 1659), identified in a Persian inscription, c. 1680 (Johnson Album 64, 2)  noc
 
Inscription C is unfortunately undated but records that the manuscript passed from Muḥammad Rashīd, Ilāhvirdī's brother, to his son Muḥammad ʻĀrif. It is accompanied by his seal.

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

J18-12_Khan Jahan Bahadur.JPG_2000
Portrait of Khān Jahān Bahādur (d.1697), identified from a Persian inscription, by the artist Hūnhār, c. 1690. See also Mughal India, pp.156-8 (British Library Johnson Album 18, 12)  noc

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

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

 
Seals and Inscriptions
3

Add5600f2r Add5600f1v
Left: Add.5600, folio 2r; right: Add.5600, folio 1v  noc

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

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

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

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

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


Further reading

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

 

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

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

 

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