THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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147 posts categorized "South East Asia"

17 February 2017

Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

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Kammavaca is a Pali term describing an assemblage of passages from the Tipitaka –  the Theravada Buddhist canon –  that relate to ordination, the bestowing of robes, and other rituals of monastic life. A Kammavaca is a highly ornamental type of manuscript usually commissioned by lay members of society as a work of merit, to be presented to monasteries when a son enters the Buddhist Order as a novice or becomes ordained as a monk. The novitiation ceremony of a Buddhist monk is an important family ritual, the main purpose being to gain merit for their future life. A novice may remain a monk for as long as he wishes, whether for one week or one season of lent or even for life, and he may undergo the initiation ceremony as many times as he likes. The most important Kammavaca were prepared for the upasampada (higher ordination), the ritual for the ordination of a Buddhist monk. 

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British Library, Add. 15289, f. 1v, top outer leaf  noc
Add15289
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script on gilded and lacquered palm leaf, 18th century. The outer leaf, shown above, has eight octagonal panels with lotus patterns within circles, while the leaf below shows the beginning of the ordination text (upasampada), flanked by similar larger lotus patterns. British Library, Add. 15289, f.1.  noc

Kammavaca manuscripts are written on a variety of materials, primarily on palm leaf but also on stiffened cloth, or gold, silver, metal or ivory sheets in the shape of palm leaf. Thickly applied lacquer or gilded decoration appears on the leaves themselves and also on the cover boards. The Pali text is written in black lacquer in ornate Burmese characters known as ‘tamarind-seed’ script, also refered to as ‘square’ script, which differs from the usual round Burmese writing. Some attractive and unusual Kammavaca may be made from discarded monastic robes thickly covered with black lacquer, with inlaid mother-of-pearl letters.

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British Library, Or. 12010H, f.1v  noc
Or12010H
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script on ivory, 18th century. The outer leaf shown at the top is lacquered and gilded with birds and lotuses in octagonal panels, while  the opening leaf of the ordination section (upasampada) shown below has black lacquered text and gilded lotus patterns. British Library, Or. 12010H, f. 1r  noc

In the 12th century, the Sihala Ordination was introduced into Burma by Chappaṭa who had studied the canon and commentaries in Sri Lanka. In the 15th century, Sri Lanka was again turned to as the source of orthodoxy, and in 1476, twenty two disciples and chosen bhikkhus (monks) were sent in two ships to the island. They were duly ordained by the Mahavihara monks at the consecrated sima or ordination hall on the Kalyani River, near Colombo. Upon the return of these monks, King Dhammaceti (1471-1492) built the Kalyani Sima in Pegu (Bago), to which bhikkhus from neighbouring countries came to receive ordination.

Two types of ordination ceremonies are held in sima: ordination for novices (Pabbajja), and ordination for monks (Upasampada). To become a novice, the follower has to recite the Ten Precepts as well as the Three Refuges for a monk.  In order to become a monk, the Sangha or monastic community will perform the Upasampada ordination on fulfillment of the five conditions: Perfection of a person, Perfection of an assembly, Perfection of the Sima, Perfection of the motion, and Perfection of the Kammavaca. The most senior monk will lead the assembly for the newly-ordained monk, while selected monks will recite the Kammavaca taking great care with articulation and pronunciation.

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British Library, Or. 12010E, front board  noc
Or12010E
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script, written on palm leaf, 19th century. Shown at the top is the binding board, with lacquered and gilt lotuses in roundels; below is the text written in black lacquer on a red lacquer ground. British Library, Or. 12010E, f. 1r  noc

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British Library, Or. 13896, f. 1r  noc
Or13896.2
British Library, Or. 13896, f. 16r  noc
Or13896
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script, written on metal gilded and lacquered in red, 19th century. British Library, Or. 13896, f. 1v  noc

The outer sides of the first and last leaves of the Kammavaca manuscript shown above (Or. 13896) have unusual and fine decoration in gold and red of scenes from the Buddha’s life. At the top, Prince Siddhartha cuts off his hair with his sword, the symbolic gesture of the renunciation, and Sakka, the king of the celestial abodes, receives it, while on the right devas present a robe and alms bowl to Prince Siddhartha. On the final leaf shown in the middle, when Prince Siddhartha becomes a monk, Sakka plays the harp to show Siddhartha the way to the Middle Path, and devas come to pay respects. The outer margins of text leaves are decorated with deva.

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British Library, Or. 12010A, f. 1v, outer front board   noc
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British Library, Or. 12010A, inner front board with donor's name  noc
Or 12010A
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script, lacquered cloth, with gilded and lacquered boards, 19th century. British Library, Or. 12010A, f. 1r.  noc

The leaves of this manuscript (Or. 12010A) consist of cloth thickly covered with lacquer to provide a rigid surface, which is then gilded with background decoration of floral sprigs. In the margins are depicted kneeling deva or celestial figures with their hands clasped in reverence for the Kammavaca text. The text leaves are stored between a pair of bevelled binding boards, red on the inside, and lacquered and gilt on the outside, with devas within panels. A Burmese inscription on the inside of the top board of this Kammavaca records that the manuscript was a pious gift of lay devotee U Tha Hsan and his wife Ma Lun.

The manuscript contains the following Kammavaca texts: Upasampada  (Official Act for the conferment of the Higher Ordination), Kathinadussadana (Official Act for the holding of the Kathina ceremony), Ticivarena-avippavasa (text for the investiture of a monk with the three robes), Sima-sammannita (Official Act for the Agreement of boundary limits), Thera-sammuti (Official Act to agree upon the seniority of theras), Nama-sammuti (Official Act to agree upon a name), Vihara-kappa-bhumi-sammuti (text of the dedication of a Vihara), Kuṭi-vatthu-sammuti (Official Act to search and agree upon a site for a hut), Nissaya-muti-sammuti (Official Act to agree upon relaxation of the requisites). 

The leaves of the various Kammavaca manuscripts illustrated in this post range are made of various materials including palm leaf, ivory, metal and lacquered cloth, and range in size from 50 to 60 cm in length, and from 10 to 15 cm in width. The outer sides of the first and final leaves of the Kammavaca are usually decorated with panels of birds, lotus, flower and leaf designs, devas, figures of the Buddha and geometric patterns. The leaves have two holes in them in which small bamboo sticks are usually inserted in order to hold the leaves together, and the leaves are bound between decorated binding boards. Kammavaca were usually wrapped in woven or silk wrappers, and secured with a woven ribbon and placed in a gilded box.

Further reading:
To Cin Khui, The Kalyani Inscriptions erected by King Dhammaceti at Pegu in 1476 A.D. Rangoon: Superintendent, Government Printing, 1892.
Sao Htun Hmat Win, The initiation of novicehood and the ordination of monkhood in the Burmese Buddhist culture. Rangoon: Department  of Religious Affairs, 1986.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  ccownwork

06 February 2017

Abdul Samad of Palembang, Malay guide to the writings of al-Ghazālī

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Abdul Samad (ca. 1704-1791) from Palembang in south Sumatra (‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Falimbānī) was  the most prominent and influential Malay religious scholar of the 18th century, who spent most of his life studying, teaching and writing in the Arabian peninsula. From references in his own works we know he was living in Mecca and Taif between 1764 and 1789. According to al-Nafas al-Yamānī by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Sulaymān al-Ahda, in AH 1206 (AD 1791) Abdul Samad arrived in Zabid, Yemen, to teach. This is the last firm date that we have in his biography, and he probably died in the Hijaz without ever returning to Sumatra. Abdul Samad wrote in Malay and Arabic on the Sammaniyya Sufi brotherhood and on jihād or holy war, but his most important contribution is undoubtedly his Malay translations of the great 12th-century theologian, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (ca. 1058-1111), who was born in Tus in Khorasan, Iran. Al-Ghazālī earned from his contemporaries the sobriquet Hujjat al-Islam, ‘Proof of Islam’, and is credited for reconciling in his writings both legal and mystical aspects of Islam. 

Abdulsamad
‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Jāwī al-Falimbānī, ‘Abdul Samad, the Jawi [i.e. Muslim from Southeast Asia], from Palembang’: the name of the author as given in a manuscript of his work Hidāyat al-sālikīn . British Library, Or. 16604, f. 2r (detail)  noc

In 1778 Abdul Samad completed Hidāyat al-sālikīn fī sulūk maslak al-muttaqīn, ‘A guide for travellers on the path of those who fear God’, a Malay adaptation of al-Ghazālī’s Bidāyat al-hidāya, ‘Beginning of guidance’, which deals with a number of subjects pertaining to dogmatics, sharī‘a and other matters in a somewhat mystical way. According to the colophon the work was completed in Mecca on  5 Muharram 1192  (3 February 1778).  This work was extremely popular throughout the Malay world: over 82 manuscripts have been documented from published catalogues alone, held in Leiden, Paris, Jakarta, Palembang, Aceh and Malaysia, including 50 in the National Library of Malaysia. Hidāyat al-sālikīn was one of the first Malay works to be published in the 19th century in Cairo, Mecca, Bombay and Singapore, and it is still in print in Malaysia and Indonesia today.

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Hidāyat al-sālikīn, a copy from Aceh, 19th c. Museum Negeri Aceh, 07-0002. Source of image: Portal Naskah Nusantara

The British Library holds one manuscript of Hidāyat al-sālikīn from Aceh which appears to be the earliest dated copy known (Or. 16604). According to the colophon, the manuscript belonged to Teungku Busangan who had married the daughter of Teungku Abdul Rahman, who was of Ottoman extraction (saudara bani ‘Uthmaniyyah), and it was copied by Teungku Haji Hasyim ibn Abdul Rahman Patani in negeri l.m.s.y.n (Lamsayun in Aceh?), on 4 Rabiulawal 1197 (9 February 1783). The manuscript thus dates from just five years after the composition of the work, at a time when Abdul Samad was still actively writing. Another manuscript – one of ten copies of this text now held in the famous Islamic madrasah at Tanoh Abee in Aceh – is dated just a few months later, as it was copied in Mecca by Lebai Malim from Lam Bait in Aceh on 19 Jumadilakhir 1197 (22 May 1783) (Fathurahman 2010: 196). The presence of two manuscripts of this work copied thousands of miles apart, within five years of the work’s composition, illustrates well the impact of Abdul Samad’s writings within his own lifetime.

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Initial pages of Hidāyat al-sālikīn by Abdul Samad of Palembang, a translation of Bidāyat al-hidāya by al-Ghazālī. British Library, Or. 16604, ff. 1v-2r  noc

BL Or.16604, ff.147v-148r (1)
Final pages with colophon of Abdul Samad al-Palembani’s Hidāyat al-sālikīn, copied in Aceh in 1783. British Library, Or. 16604, ff. 147v-148r  noc

A year after completing Hidāyat al-sālikīn, Abdul Samad started on his final and most ambitious project, a rendering into Malay of an abbreviated version of the most influential of al-Ghazālī's works, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, ‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’.  The Iḥyāʾ is presented in four sections, each containing ten chapters. 'Acts of worship' (Rub‘ al-‘ibadāt), deals with knowledge and the requirements of faith; 'Norms of daily life' (Rub‘ al-‘adat), concentrates on people and society; 'The ways to perdition' (Rub‘  al-muhlikāt) discusses vices to be overcome, while the final book, 'The Ways to Salvation' (Rub‘  al-munjiyāt), focusses on the virtues to be strived for.

Abdul Samad’s Malay work, entitled Sayr al-sālikīn ilā ‘ibādat rabb al-‘ālamīn, was likewise presented in four parts (bahagi), each comprising ten chapters (bab). The first, Pada menyatakan ilmu usuluddin, on prescriptions for ritual purity, prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, recitation of the Qur’an, and so forth, was started in 1779 and completed in Mecca in 1780. The second, Pada menyatakan adat, on manners related to eating, marriage, earning a living, friendship and other societal matters, was finished in Taif in Ramadan 1195 (August-September 1781). The third book, Pada menyatakan muhlikat yakni yang membinasakan, discusses the destructive impact of vices, and was completed in Mecca on 19  Safar 1197 (24 January 1783). The fourth and final book, Pada menyatakan munjiyat yakni yang melepaskan dari pada yang membinasakan akan agama ini, focusses on virtues which overcome threats to faith, and was completed on 20 Ramadhan 1203 (14 June 1789). Sayr al-sālikīn was also extremely popular throughout Southeast Asia, with over 60 manuscripts known today (often containing just one part), including 14 manuscripts in Dayah Tanoh Abee and 36 in the National Library of Malaysia, with the majority originating from Aceh.

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A beautifully written and decorated copy of the third book of Sayr al-sālikīn, a copy from Aceh, probably 19th c. National Library of Malaysia, MSS 2399, ff. 2v-3r.

The British Library holds a manuscript which contains only the final two-thirds of the third book of Sayr al-sālikīn , in two stitched bundles of quires, enclosed in a loose leather wrapper (Or. 15646). The text begins in the middle of the third chapter, on crushing the two desires, of the stomach and the genitals (pada menyatakan memecahkan syahwat), with the section on curbing the appetite for food (pasal pada menyatakan bersalah-salahan hukum lapar). The manuscript continues through the chapters on defects of the tongue (kebinasaan lidah), and condemnations (kecelaan) of anger (marah), worldly mores (dunia), love of wealth (orang yang kasih akan arta), ostentation (kasih kemegahan), pride and conceit (kejahilan) and self-delusion (orang yang terpedaya).  According to a note on the leather wrapper, this manuscript was owned by Muhammad Yusuf from Tanoh Abee in Aceh.

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Colophon to the third part of Abdul Samad's Sayr al-sālikīn, composed in Mecca in 1783; this undated manuscript was probably copied in the 19th century in Aceh. British Library, Or. 15646, ff. 136v-137r  noc

Public institutions in the UK hold some of the most important Malay literary and historical manuscripts extant, in line with the interests and preoccupations of their mainly 19th-century British collectors, but these collections are equally characterised by a marked absence of works reflecting Islamic thought and practice in Southeast Asia. It is remarkable that these two manuscripts in the British Library of works by Abdul Samad of Palembang, found in such large numbers throughout Southeast Asia, are the only known copies in British collections. Both have now been fully digitised, and can be read through the hyperlinks or on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website.

Further reading:
Azyumardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern 'ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004. [See pp. 112-117, 130-136.]
G.W.J. Drewes, Directions for travellers on the mystic path. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977. [See pp. 222-224.]
Oman Fathurahman, Katalog naskah Dayah Tanoh Abee Aceh Besar: Aceh manuscripts, Dayah Tanoh Abee collection. Jakarta: Komunitas Bambu, 2010.
R. Michael Feener, ‘Abd al-Samad in Arabia: the Yemeni years of a Shaykh from Sumatra.  Southeast Asian Studies, 4(2), 2015.
Sair as-salikin
. Banda Aceh: Museum Negeri Aceh, 1985/1986. [Transliteration of MS no. 923 in the MNA by A. Muin Umar, with a biographical note by Henri Chambert-Loir, ‘Abdussamad al-Falimbani sebagai ulama Jawi’.]
Hidayatus salikin: Syeikh Abdus Shamad al-Falimbani, ed. Hj. Wan Mohd. Shaghir Abdullah. Kuala Lumpur: Khazanah Fathaniyah, 1997-2000. 3 vols.

ghazali.org: a virtual online library on al-Ghazali, including a page in Malay

This blog was updated on 11 February 2017 to incorporate new biographical information from Feener 2015.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

27 January 2017

The Year of the Rooster, from a Thai perspective

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According to the Chinese luni-solar calendar, the Year of the Rooster (or Chicken) begins on the 28th January 2017. It falls on the day of the new moon halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  A variety of calendrical systems has traditionally been used in Thailand, one of them being the Chinese calendar, together with the Chinese zodiac system. The Thai people have adapted the Chinese zodiac symbols in accordance with their own purposes and ideas, still following the principle of the twelve-year lunar cycle with each year represented by an animal, except with the Chinese dragon replaced by a Buddhist nāga (serpent). The completion of a twelve-year cycle was and is important for Thais as a reminder of their birth year and as a means to calculate their age. The zodiac is also often used for forecasting horoscopes, match making and fortune telling.

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Page of a Thai Phrommachāt manuscript dealing with predictions for people born in the Year of the Rooster. Dated 1885 A.D. British Library, Or.3593, f.14 Noc

The twelve animals of the Thai zodiac are called sipsǭng rāsī and it is believed that a person's fate can be determined by the position of the major planets at the time and date of a person's birth, along with the positions of the moon and the sun. Thai manuscripts dealing with the Thai zodiac and divination or fortune telling, usually in paper folding book format, are called Phrommachāt. They are usually illustrated with four images of each of the twelve animals, which are combined with alternating male and female “avatars” of the birthplace (chātphūm) and number diagrams. Each animal is also associated with an element (metal, wood, water, fire, earth) and a particular plant in which the khwan (soul) lives. The features and colours of the characters and their costumes depicted in the paintings are mostly in the unique Thai painting style of the Rattanakosin period, but some older versions and local variations exist as well.

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Four roosters, each representing one quarter of a year, with a male giant (yaksa) as “avatar” of the birthplace with a unique waist cloth, a plant and a number diagram determining the lucky and unlucky numbers for people born in the year of the rooster. This manuscript was rescued from a burning temple in Rangoon. Phrommachāt, 19th century. British Library, Or.12167, f.21 Noc

In Thailand, the Year of the Rooster is called Pī rakā. Its element is metal, and the avatar is a male yak (yaksa). Its lucky directions are North, East and South-West. People born in the Year of the Rooster are generally believed to be honest, competitive, punctual, generous, and self-confident. However, there are variations: people born in the 5th, 6th and 7th month of the year can be easy to teach as children, they will progress well in their career, and gain prosperity. Those born in the 8th, 9th and 10th month can be difficult as children and have a bad temper, but are intelligent and may gain wisdom and prosperity in later life. People born in the 11th, 12th and 1st month may get into trouble or live in poverty, but could make the acquaintance of a great supporter and do considerably well in the civil service and trade. People born in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th month are believed to gain great wisdom, knowledge and wealth. “Roosters” are thought to make good matches with people born in the Year of the Ox, the Year of the Snake, and the Year of the Serpent. Marriages between “Roosters” should be avoided by all means.  

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Illustrations with highly symbolic meanings are used to determine the fate of people born on a particular day. Phrommachāt, 19th century. British Library, Or.13650, f.22 Noc

People born on Saturday or Sunday (represented by a yaksa riding on a rooster) may be troublesome as children and have a bad temper, but become powerful due to effort and persistence. People born on a Monday (nobleman riding on a horse) are bound to become leaders and gain prosperity, but will have to move around the country a lot and may not settle down. People born on a Tuesday (noblewoman on a pedestal) are thought to have a successful career and live a comfortable and wealthy life. People born on a Wednesday (mahout riding on an elephant) may become very knowledgeable and do well in government service, but there is a chance they will not be happy and have to move far away. People born on Thursday (human carrying goods) may have a lot of trouble and do hard work, but through hard study they could do well and find a dedicated supporter. People born on a Friday (dēva riding on a nāga serpent) are believed to become highly respected persons with an ascending career in government, but their character may be intolerant and impatient and they may not do very well in trade.    

Orb.30.5675
Thai trading card showing one of the fortune-telling symbols for the Year of the Rooster adopted from Phrommachāt manuscripts, [ca. 1920-1940]. These collectibles, which came with packages of cigarettes, were very popular in the first decades of the 20th century. British Library, ORB.30/6575, p.2 Noc

The beginning of the Thai New Year, however, does not coincide with the Chinese New Year or the beginning of a new cycle of the Thai lunar year (which usually occurs in December). It is determined by the Buddhist calendar and initially coincided with the rising of Aries in the astrological chart, but is now fixed on 13 April (5th month of the Thai lunar calendar). On this occasion, colourful banners with the twelve animals of the Thai zodiac are drawn and added to sand pagodas in many northern Thai Buddhist temples. Every zodiac symbol is associated with one particular Buddhist temple in Thailand. Many people aspire to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime to the temple that represents their birth year to give offerings and make merit.  Associated with the Year of the Rooster is the Hariphunchai temple in Lamphun, which derives its name from the ancient Mon Kingdom of Hariphunchai.

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Page related to the Year of the Rooster in a Phrommachāt manuscript in Mon language in Burmese script, 19th century. British Library, Or.14532, f. 11 Noc

The Mon people were the founders of some of the earliest kingdoms in mainland Southeast Asia. Right up until today, Mon communities live in Thailand and Burma. The Mon created versions of the Phrommachāt in their own language and script, although the illustrations are usually similar to those in Thai manuscripts. In some Mon manuscripts, the Burmese script was used rather than Mon script. Other versions of the Phrommachāt exist in Northern Thai (Lanna), Lao, Tai Lue and Tai Nuea languages.

Further reading
Eade, J. C., The Calendrical Systems of Mainland South-East Asia. Leiden: Brill, 1995
Rom Hiranpruk, Traditional Thai calendar system.
ʿUrukhin Wiriyabūrana, Phrommachāt : chabap lūang pračham bān dū dūai ton ʿēng. Bangkok:  S. Thammaphakdī, 1957
Wales, H. G. Quaritch, Divination in Thailand. The hopes and fears of a Southeast Asian people. London & Dublin: Curzon, 1983

Jana Igunma, Henry D. Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

23 January 2017

The Seal of Prophethood: Malay prayers for protection

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Malay manuscripts are generally written in conventional ‘book’ form, but a few scrolls are also encountered. Malay manuscript scrolls are primarily associated with sermons, to be read in the congregational mosque at the Friday prayers, but occasionally small scrolls are found containing prayers and amulets which appear to have been compiled by individuals for their own personal use and protection. The British Library holds one such Malay scroll (Or. 16875), which contains a variety of prayers and talismanic symbols in Arabic, with explanations in Malay about their efficacy and directions for use. The scroll, which measures nearly three metres long when unrolled, is very finely written in black and purple ink. The manuscript has been fully digitised and can be read by clicking on the hyperlinks below the images.

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Decorative presentation of the shahadah, ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God’, from a Malay prayer scroll. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The main contents of the scroll is a series of depictions of the ‘Seal of Prophethood’ (in Persian muhr-i nubuvvat, in Arabic khātam al-nubuwwah, and in Malay mohor nubuat). The Seal refers to a special mark borne by Muhammad described by all who knew him as a type of mole or fleshy protruberance located between his shoulder blades (Savage-Smith 1997: 1.106). All over the Islamic world, manuscripts are known depicting the Seal of Prophethood, usually in the form of circular diagrams containing prayers or letters and numbers believed to have magical significance, which acted as talismans whose protective power could be activated by gazing upon them.

The Malay prayer scroll Or. 16875 contains seven diagrams of the ‘Seal of Prophethood’, each said to be found on a different part of Muhammad’s body, and each carrying different protective powers if viewed morning and evening, or written on a piece of paper and carried around. Gazing on the Seal on the Prophet's forehead (dahi) will ensure such success in business that it will feel like entering heaven (pelaris segala jualan seperti masuk syurga); that on his face (muka) will bring happiness (kesukaan); that on his left side (lambung kiri) will bring honour and long life; gazing at that on his right [side] (kanan) is a service (khidmat) to the Prophet and will be rewarded with God's safekeeping; and carrying an amulet (azimat) of the Seal on his mouth (mulut) will ensure that kings and great men will grant the bearer's request. Show below is the Seal of Prophethood said to found on Muhammad’s cheek: ‘This is the Seal of Prophethood on the cheek of the messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, according to ‘Abd al-Raḥman, may God be pleased with him, whoever looks upon this [mark of] Prophethood, his sins will be forgiven by God the Glorious and Exalted, or whoever writes it down and takes it to war will be safe wherever he goes, and whatever he wishes for will be granted by God, it will not be denied to him through the grace of God the Glorious and Exalted’ (Ini mohor al-nubuat pada pipi rasul Allāh ṣallā Allāh ‘alayhi wa-sallam, cetera daripada ‘Abd al-Raḥman raḍī Allāh ‘anhu, barang siapa melihat dia nubuat ini diampun Allāh subḥānahu wa-ta‘ālā sekalian dosanya atau disurat bawa berperang barang ke mana perginya selamat dengan barang hajatnya dikabulkan Allāh tiada tertolak orang itu dengan berkat kurnia Allāh subḥānahu wa-ta‘ālā akan dia).

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The circular diagram depicts the Seal of Prophethood said to be on the cheek of the prophet. In the centre is the name of God, and in the border are the names of the four first Caliphs of Islam. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll also contains a series of repeated esoteric letters and formulae said to be associated with early figures of Islam, including the Prophet, his grandsons Hasan and Husayn, his uncle Hamzah, Husayn’s son Zayn al-‘Abidin, and the prophets Sulayman, Yaqub and Adam. Each sequence is introduced by the phrase bab ini pakaian, ‘these are the letters used by’, followed by the appropriate name.

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The letters associated with the Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon). British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll also contains a few magical symbols which are often encountered in Malay manuscripts. These include the five-pointed star, the pentagram, which can be ‘strengthened’ further by the addition of loops or 'lunettes' to its tips, and the angka sangga Siti Fatimah (seen below), which in another Malay manuscript in believed to have the power to make a thief return an item he had stolen to the rightful owner (Farouk 2016: 198).

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Magical signs include the pentagram, with looped tips or 'lunettes', and in the lower right corner the angka sangga Siti Fatimah. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

In the writing of Islamic talismans, it is believed that letters will exert a greater power if they are written in certain ways. Thus diacritical dots are often missing, in emulation of the antique angular script. A particularly notable feature is a preference for the stretched-out form of the letter kaf, as can be seen to very striking effect in the amulet below.

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Horizontally elongated kaf, believe to enhance efficacy of this prayer. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll ends with a Qur’anic verse (Q. 61:13) very often found in amulets, ‘Help from God and a speedy victory, so give the Glad Tidings to the Believers.’

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Qur’anic quotation from Sura 61, al-Saff, v.13, at the end of the scroll. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The Malay language is used in all parts of maritime Southeast Asia, and as there is no information on the scribe, date or place of writing of this scroll, or any evident linguistic localisms, it is very difficult to ascertain where it comes from. A very cautious guess, based partly on the use of purple ink, suggests a possible origin from the Malay peninsula in the late 19th or early 20th century.

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The manuscript was photographed in the British Library by senior photographer Elizabeth Hunter, who in addition to detailed images of each section, also managed to capture the entire scroll – measuring 2850 x 80 mm, made up of five piece of paper glued together – in a single shot. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

Further reading:
Farouk Yahya, Magic and divination in Malay illustrated manuscripts. Leiden: Brill, 2016. (Arts and archaeology of the Islamic world; Vol. 6).
Francesca Leoni, Power and protection: Islamic art and the supernatural. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2016.
Emilie Savage-Smith, Science, tools & magic. Part One. Body and spirit, mapping the universe, Francis Maddison and Emilie Savage-Smith. Part Two. Mundane worlds, Emilie Savage-Smith, with contributions from Francis Maddison, Ralph Pinder-Wilson and Tim Stanley. London: Nour Foundation, 1997. (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art; Vol.12).

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

09 January 2017

Malay literary manuscripts in the John Leyden collection

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The collection of Malay manuscripts formed by the Scottish poet and scholar of Oriental languages John Leyden (1775-1811), now held in the British Library, is an exceptionally important resource for Malay literature. Leyden spent four months in Penang from late 1805 to early 1806, staying in the house of Thomas Stamford Raffles, initiating a deep friendship which lasted until Leyden’s early death in Batavia in 1811. The 25 volumes of Malay manuscripts in the Leyden collection contain 33 literary works, comprising 28 hikayat in prose and five syair in narrative verse, with some titles existing in multiple copies. Nearly all the manuscripts come from the environs of Kedah, Perlis and Penang and were collected by Leyden or Raffles, while a few were copied in Melaka, where Raffles was stationed in 1811 and where Leyden spent some weeks en route to Batavia. 24 of the works are dated to between 1802 and 1808, and over ten names of scribes are found in the colophons. The collection thus affords a remarkable snapshot of literary activity along the northwest coast of the Malay peninsula in the first decade of the 19th century.

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John Leyden, by an unknown artist. Ink on paper. Bequeathed by W.F. Watson, 1886. Scottish National Portrait Gallery, PG 1686

Some of the Malay works in Leyden’s collection are found in multiple copies and versions all over the Malay archipelago.  For example, manuscripts of the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka date back to the 17th century, and there are three copies in Leyden's own collection. Hikayat Dewa Mandu is known from at least 14 other Malay manuscripts from the peninsula, Sumatra and Java, and is also found in Cham regions in present-day Cambodia and Vietnam, where it is known as Akayet Deva Mano. Other texts are less familiar: Leyden’s copies of Hikayat Raja Dewa Maharupa and Hikayat Ular Nangkawang are the only manuscripts known of these works, while his copy of Hikayat Silindung Dalima is the only prose copy known of this work usually encountered as a syair.

MSS Malay D 1, ff.1v-2r
Hikayat Raja Dewa Maharupa, copied in a fine neat hand, completed on 22 Zulkaidah 1216 (26 March 1802) in Penang.  The manuscript shows clear signs of having been read, with smudges and small red crosses in the margin. British Library, MSS Malay D 2, ff. 1v-2r  noc

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Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, early 19th c. British Library, MSS Malay A 1, ff. 1v-2r  noc

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Colophon of the Hikayat Silindung Dalima, copied in Melaka on 5 Muharam 1223 (3 March 1808). The name of the scribe is given as Tuan Haji Mahmud from Bintan or Banten (b.n.t.n), but this may be the name of the scribe of the original MS from which this copy was made. British Library, MSS Malay C 6, f. 65v  noc

Five of the manuscripts in the John Leyden collection are copies commissioned by Raffles, as stated clearly in the colophon, but most of the others appear to be ‘working’ manuscripts created for a Malay audience and used within that community, as can be gauged by well-thumbed and smudged pages, and reading marks throughout the text. Paper was clearly a valuable commodity: in most of the manuscripts the text is written densely across the full surface of the page, with no extraneous embellishment. On two pages of Hikayat Dewa Mandu, the scribe has taken the decision that ink scribbles should not hinder the continued usage of the paper, and he has annotated the top of the page: ini surat dipakai tiada salah, 'this page has been used, there is essentially nothing wrong with it' (MSS Malay D.1, ff. 37r, 39r).

Isma yatim
Part of a page of Hikayat Isma Yatim, early 19th c., with an 'x' in the margin probably indicating the place reached by a reader.  The two '//' marks at the end of the third line have been used by the scribe as a 'filler' to ensure a neat right-hand edge to the text block. British Library, MSS Malay C 4, f. 17r (detail)  noc

Mss_malay_d_1_f037r
Page from Hikayat Dewa Mandu, copied in 1808, which the scribe decided to use despite the ink scribbles on the paper, writing at the top ini surat dipakai tiada salah. British Library, MSS Malay D 1, f. 37r (detail)  noc

 On the initial page of Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, the scribe has practised writing out the basmala and the heading for the opening of the Qur'an, with the words Sūrat al-Fātiḥah al-Kitāb sab‘ah āyāt, ‘The Chapter of the Opening of the Book, six verses’.  Recent research by Ali Akbar (2015: 317) has shown that the headings Sūrat al-Fātiḥah al-Kitāb or Sūrat Fātiḥah al-Kitāb for the first chapter of the Qur'an are strongly associated with Ottoman Qur'an manuscripts, and in Southeast Asia are only encountered in Qur'an manuscripts from the east coast of the Malay peninsula, in the Terengganu-Patani cultural zone. In Qur'ans from all other parts of the Malay world, such as Aceh, Java and Sulawesi, the chapter heading is presented simply as Sūrat al-Fātiḥah.  This suggests that the scribe of Hikayat Ular Nangkawang was familiar with this Ottoman practice, perhaps through its manifestation in Qur'an manuscripts from the east coast of peninsula, which were exported to many other parts of the Malay world.

 Mss_malay_a_1_f001r
Heading for Surat al-Fatihah, from the beginning of Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, early 19th c. British Library, MSS Malay A 1, f. 1r   noc

All the Malay literary manuscripts in the John Leyden collection have now been fully digitised and are accessible through the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website or via the Malay Manuscripts project page, or directly from the hyperlinks below:

Prose works (hikayat)
Hikayat Bayan Budiman, MSS Malay B.7 & MSS Malay B.8
Hikayat Budak Miskin, MSS Malay D.6
Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, MSS Malay C.1 & MSS Malay C.2
Hikayat Dewa Mandu, MSS Malay D.1
Hikayat Hang Tuah, MSS Malay B.1
Hikayat Isma Yatim, MSS Malay C.4 & MSS Malay C.5
Hikayat Lima Fasal, comprising five short works: (1) Hikayat fakir; (2) Hikayat orang miskin yang bernama Ishak; (3) Hikayat Raja Jumjumah dengan anak isteri baginda; (4) Hikayat anak saudagar bersahabat dengan orang kaya dan miskin; (5) Hikayat anak saudagar menjadi raja, MSS Malay B.10
Hikayat Maharaja Boma, MSS Malay C.8
Hikayat Mesa Tandraman, MSS Malay C.3
Hikayat Mi’raj Nabi Muhammad, MSS Malay B.3
Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, MSS Malay B.6 & MSS Malay D.5
Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, Perlis, MSS Malay D.4
Hikayat Nabi Muhammad berperang dengan Raja Khaibar, MSS Malay D.5
Hikayat Pandawa Jaya
, MSS Malay B.4
Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, MSS Malay B.2, MSS Malay D.5 & MSS Malay B.10
Hikayat Parang Puting, MSS Malay D.3
Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, MSS Malay B.12
Hikayat Putera Jaya Pati, MSS Malay B.5
Hikayat Raja Dewa Maharupa, MSS Malay D.2
Hikayat Silindung Dalima, MSS Malay C.6
Hikayat Syahi Mardan, MSS Malay D.5
Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, MSS Malay A.1

Poetical works (syair)
Syair orang berbuat amal, MSS Malay B.3
Syair Silambari, MSS Malay B.3
Syair surat kirim kepada perempuan, MSS Malay B.3
Syair Jaran Tamasa, MSS Malay D.6 & MSS Malay B.9

Further reading:
Ali Akbar, ‘The influence of Ottoman Qur'ans in Southeast Asia through the ages’, in From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, eds A.C.S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop; pp.311-334.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. (Proceedings of the British Academy; 200).
John Bastin, John Leyden and Thomas Stamford Raffles.  Eastbourne: printed for the author, 2003.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

20 December 2016

Old Javanese copper charters in the British Library

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One of the greatest periods of building in stone ever known commenced in central Java in the late 7th century, and reached a climax with the construction of Borobudur – the largest Buddhist monument in the world – in the 8th century, and the Prambanan temple complex in the 9th century. During the 10th century, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, the centre of activity shifted from central Java to east Java, where Hindu-Buddhist temples were built in stone and then brick through to the late 15th century, until halted with the spread of Islam throughout the island. Neglected and uncared for, the temples fell into disuse and thence decay, hastened by the unchecked growth of vegetation and volcanic and seismic activity.

The traditional writing material in Java was palm leaf or paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree. Although if treated with great care organic materials may survive for several hundred years in the tropical climate, most of what we know about the early Javanese civilisations responsible for these great monuments is necessarily gleaned from a study of inscriptions engraved on more durable materials such as stone and copper.  The earliest known inscriptions from Java were written in Old Malay and Sanskrit, but by the 9th century Old Javanese was used. The Old Javanese language differs from modern Javanese in the very high proportion of Sanskrit words, while Old Javanese script, sometimes known as Kawi script, also differs from that used for modern Javanese. The earliest dated inscription in Old Javanese is the Sukabumi inscription of 804 AD, and Old Javanese continued to be used until the 15th century.  Hundreds of inscriptions survive, engraved on stone and copper. Some of the copper charters are later copies of earlier inscriptions, or more portable copies of inscriptions originally engraved on stone.

Junghuhn_Gunung_Sumbing_in_Zentral-Java
Mount Sumbing, a volcano in central Java, shown with a selection of Javanese antiquities in the foreground. From the Java-Album by Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864). Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1856. British Library, 1781.a.21, Plate 5.

The British Library holds three separate copper charters in Old Javanese, all of which have now been digitised.  The two charters held as Ind. Ch. 57, both incomplete, relate to a man named Ugra in a village called Pabuharan. Although undated, there are textual indications that these charters may date from the 9th century. The plate which can properly be termed the ‘Pabuharan inscription’ (Prasasti Pabuharan), Ind. Ch. 57 (B), records a grant of the attributes of the Brahman-order and Kṣatriya-order by the king to Ugra's children named Dyah Kataywat and Dyah Nariyama in the domain (sima) of Pabuharan.  On this occasion several ceremonial gifts of cloth and gold were presented to various officials, and are listed in the inscription.

Ind_ch_57_f002v
Pabuharan inscription, copper charter, in poor condition, possibly 9th century AD. British Library, Ind. Ch. 57 (B), f. 2v.

The accompanying plate, Ind Ch 57 (A), records the making of a canal in the lěmah asinan of Pabuharan by Ugra, who is described as a a teacher, with some rights and regulations to be maintained for it.

Both plates were in the possession of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Java from 1811 to 1816, but there is no information on how Raffles acquired them in Java. The plates were originally held in the British Museum before being transferred to the British Library.

Ind_ch_57_f001r
Old Javanese charter recording the digging of a canal in Pabuharan. British Library, Ind. Ch. 57 (A), f. 1r.

The third charter was issued by King Siṇḍok, who reigned in Java from ca. 929 to 947, and it was probably during his reign that the main shift from central to east Java took place. Known as the Sobhāmṛta inscription (Prasasti Sobhāmṛta), the complete charter consists of seven plates, of which the first and third plates are held in the National Museum of World Cultures in Leiden, while the five remaining plates are held in the British Library as MSS Jav 106.  On the basis of the style of script, this is clearly a copy made sometime between the late 13th and 15th centuries of the original charter.  The inscription records that on 11 Suklapaksa in the month Waisakha 861 Saka ( 2 May 939 AD), the king – named in the text as Sri Maharaja Rake Hino Mpu Sindok Sri Isanawijaya Dharmottunggadewa – gave orders that rice fields, orchards, and house lands in Sobhāmṛta were to become a freehold area, in return for the duty of maintaining a temple.  The charter was discovered in 1815 in a village south of Surabaya in East Java during work on a water supply.  The name of this village was Betra, which could possibly be a corrupt version of the Sanskrit name Sobhāmṛta, meaning ‘splendid holy water’, from nine centuries earlier.

Mss_jav_106_f001r
The beginning of Plate 2 of the Sobhāmṛta inscription, dated śāka 861 (A.D. 939), in Old Javanese. A copy made in the Majapahit period (1293 - ca.1500). British Library, MSS Jav 106, f. 1r

The last plate ends with a series of decorative motifs marking the end of the text, including two floral motifs probably derived from the lotus blossom.

Mss_jav_106_f005v-det
Floral motifs marking the end of the text of the Sobhāmṛta inscription. British Library, MSS Jav 106, f. 5v  noc

For a full list of digitised Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library, click here.

Further reading:
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve & A.T.Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: EFEO, 2014; p. 257.

Ind. Ch. 57
Albertine Gaur, Indian charters on copper plates. London: British Museum, 1975; p. 32.
OJO (Oud-Javaansche Oorkonden) no. CXV in: J.L.A. Brandes, 'Oud-Javaansche oorkonden: nagelaten transcripties', edited by N.J. Krom. Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, 60 (parts 1 and 2), 1913. Batavia; ’s-Hage: Albrecht; Nijhoff; pp. 250-251.
Boechari, and A.S. Wibowo. Prasasti Koleksi Museum Nasional. Vol. 1. Jakarta: Proyek Pengembangan Museum Nasional, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, 1985-1986; inscription E.1.II (reading based on a cast).

MSS Jav 106
A.T. Gallop with B. Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia. London: British Library; Jakarta: Lontar, 1991; pp. 74-75.
Titi Surti Nastiti. Prasasti Sobhāmṛta. Jakarta: Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Arkeologi Nasional, Departemen Kebudayaan dan Pariwisata, 2007

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

12 December 2016

O graceful fawn, o gentle doe: Deer in Thai manuscript art

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Among the most gorgeous images in Thai manuscript painting are those of forest animals. Illustrations of the heavenly forest Himmaphan (Pali: Himavanta), which in Buddhist cosmology is thought to surround the base of the mythical Mount Meru, are unthinkable without squirrels, rabbits, birds, lions, tigers, monkeys, elephants and deer. Scenes involving birds, elephants and deer, usually against a background of trees, plants and rocks, express an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. Deer seem to be of particular importance as they often feature in funeral books containing extracts from the Pali canon. In Thai Buddhism, symbolic meanings of deer include harmony, happiness and serenity, but also sensitivity and watchfulness. According to the Buddhist scriptures, there could have been no better place for Gautama Buddha to give his first sermon than in the tranquil landscape of the Deer Park at Sarnath.         

OR_14027_f027vsmall
A pair of deer, one looking watchfully backward, frolicking in a rocky landscape with a blossoming tree and flowers. Illustration from a Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka in Pali language, late 18th or early 19th century. British Library, Or 14027, f.54 Noc
 
Some of Buddha’s Birth Stories (Jataka) also involve deer, like for example the King Banyan Deer Jataka or the Suvannasama Jataka. The King Banyan Deer Jataka tells of one of Buddha’s former incarnations as a golden deer king whose herd was captured and held in a park for the King of Benares to hunt. The king granted the golden deer immunity, but wished to hunt the other deer and eat venison meat every day. When it was the turn of a pregnant doe to be slaughtered, King Banyan Deer sacrificed himself and laid his golden neck on the butcher’s block. The King of Benares was surprised to see this and asked why the deer king offered his own life. When he heard that King Banyan Deer had taken upon himself the plight of the pregnant doe, the king prohibited hunting of deer and all other animals in his kingdom.       

OR_14068_f003r
Scenes from the Sama Jataka in a rare 18th century folding book from Thailand. This manuscript contains short extracts from the Tipitaka, including a text on the great qualities of the Buddha (Mahabuddhaguna) which are illustrated by scenes from the Ten Birth Tales. British Library, Or 14068, f.5 Noc

A popular Jataka involving deer is part of the circle of the last Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha with the title Sama Jataka (in Thailand also known as Suvannasama Jataka). Illustrations of this Jataka can often be found in Thai funeral or commemoration volumes in folding book format containing a text on the Buddha’s great qualities, and sometimes the legend of the Buddhist saint Phra Malai. The painting style and preference of certain colours varies according to the period in which a manuscript was created. Whereas deer in 18th century illustrations usually appear static, a century later they are often shown in motion.

OR_14559_f003vsmall
Naturalistic scene from the Sama Jataka with deer fleeing the violent event of Sama being shot by the King of Benares. Illustration from a 19th century Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka and the legend of Phra Malai. British Library, Or 14559, f.6 Noc

The Sama Jataka tells of a son who, with great devotion, cared for his parents who had lost their sight as a result of snake bites. Every day, he fetched water from the forest. Because of his gentle, peaceful character the deer in the forest would always follow him. One day the King of Benares went hunting in the same forest and accidentally shot Sama in the chest. Realising his mistake, he went to Sama’s parents to inform them and to apologise. The parents, however, remained calm and asked him to lead them to their dead son’s body where they pleaded with the gods to restore his life, and due to his extraordinary merit he did indeed come back to life and the king was forgiven. The parents also regained their eyesight.

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On the left, an illustration in an innovative, dynamic style shows Sama who was shot in the chest stumbling into the river. Two deer are by his side, the spilling water pot between them. On the right are Sama’s blind parents waiting for their son’s return from the forest. From a 19th century Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka. British Library, Or 16552, f.9 Noc

The Jataka best known Thailand is without doubt the Vessantara Jataka, the last of the Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha. This Jataka symbolises the virtue of generosity and narrates the life of prince Vessantara who from early childhood on showed a great sense of charity. He gave away all his possessions, including an elephant that he grew up with, his horses, even his children and finally his beloved wife Maddi. However, as a result of his great merits, his sacrifices and acts of generosity were always rewarded. For example, when he gave away his horses that were pulling his carriage to a forest hermitage a marvellous deer appeared immediately to replace the horses. In the end, the whole family and their animals got together again with a great celebration.   

OR_16552_f013vsmall
Scene from the Vessantara Jataka showing a marvellous deer with gold decorations replacing the horses that Vessantara, standing on the carriage, had given away. From a 19th century Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka. British Library, Or 16552, f.26 Noc

Not only in Thai manuscript paintings can one find images of deer, but also on manuscript covers and manuscript chests in the form of gold-on-lacquer decorations. These would usually represent scenes from the heavenly forest Himmaphan. The lavishly decorated manuscript cover below shows a deer in the centre, standing gracefully between two mythical lions and smaller forest animals, perhaps squirrels, before a delicate background of flowers and foliage.     

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Gilt and lacquered cover of a Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka and the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. British Library, Or 15257, front cover  Noc

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

05 December 2016

A Malay work on Islamic law from Aceh: Mirat al-tullab

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In the 16th century the sultanate of Aceh on the north coast of Sumatra grew to become the most powerful Muslim kingdom in Southeast Asia and a great centre for the study and teaching of Islam.  One of the most famous scholars and writers from Aceh was Abdul Rauf (‘Abd al-Ra’ūf ibn ‘Alī al-Jāwī al-Fanṣurī al-Sinkīlī), who was born at Singkel on the west coast of Sumatra in around 1615. Like many intellectuals from the Malay world, Abdul Rauf undertook the hajj pilgrimage and spent several years en route studying with a succession of teachers, first in Yemen and then in Jeddah, Mecca and Medina in the Arabian peninsula.  After nineteen years in the Middle East, in 1661 Abdul Rauf returned to Aceh during the reign of the first queen, Sultanah Tajul Alam Safiatuddin Syah (r.1641-1675), daughter of Aceh’s most famous ruler, Iskandar Muda (r.1607-1636).

Abdul Rauf composed numerous works in Malay and Arabic, including the first Malay interpretation of the Qur’an, Tarjumān al-mustafīd, based on the Tafsīr al-Jalālayn.  At the behest of Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah in 1663, he also wrote a work on jurisprudence (fiqh), comprising a guide to religious obligations in all aspects of life in accordance with Islamic law, entitled Mir’āt al-ṭullāb fī tashīl ma‘rifat al-aḥkām al-shar‘iya lil-mālik al-wahhāb, 'Mirror of the seekers of knowledge of the law of God'. Written to complement Nuruddin al-Raniri’s Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm, another popular Malay work on fiqh composed in Aceh in 1644 which focused solely on religious obligations, the Mir’āt al-ṭullāb covers a much broader range of topics affecting social, political and economic life, arranged in sections on commercial, matrimonial and criminal law.

Or_16035_f001r
Start of the manuscript of the Mir’āt al-ṭullāb. This is the second page of the original book, as there would originally have been a first page opening to the right, with an illuminated frame mirroring the decoration on the surviving page. The illumination is typically Acehnese in style, with a palette of red, black, yellow and reserved white.  British Library, Or. 16035, f. 1r.  noc

Although composed in Aceh, Mir’āt al-ṭullāb was influential throughout the Malay archipelago, including areas as far eastwards as Gorontalo in north Sulawesi and Mindanao.  27 manuscript copies of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb are known so far, held in libraries in Jakarta, Aceh, Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, Leiden and London (for a full list see Jelani 2015: 132-134).  The London manuscript, which is held in the British Library as Or. 16035, has now been fully digitised and can be read here. According to the colophon it was copied on 14 Muharam 1178 (14 July 1764), and from the illumination and other codicological features was clearly written in Aceh.

Traditional Malay manuscripts do not use punctuation, paragraphing, or page numbering.  Apart from rubrication – the highlighting in red ink of significant words – there are few visual aids to differentiate between the different parts of the text, and it is difficult to envisage exactly how early readers managed to navigage their way around long books.  Uniquely in some manuscripts from Aceh, though, we do find a developed system of marginalia, flagging up visually to readers the start of a new subject within the text. 

BL Or
Mir’āt al-ṭullāb by Abdul Rauf of Singkel, with a calligraphic marginal subject indicator.  British Library, Or. 16035, ff. 74v-75r.  noc

The British Library manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb contains some of the finest and most elaborate examples known of these calligraphic marginal subject indicators.  All commence with the Arabic words maṭlab baḥth, ‘section discussing […]’, written in a stylish boat-shaped flourish, orientated at an angle to the text, some of which are further decorated with typically Acehnese ornamental foliate flourishes. There are a total of 31 such maṭlab baḥth markers in this manuscript, some simply inscribed maṭlab baḥth but others include explanations in Malay on the particular type of law being discussed, as in the example shown above on f.74v: maṭlab baḥth yang seyogyanya diketahui yang qāḍī itu hukum sharikat , ‘section discussing what should be understood by judges on the law of association’.  At the start of the manuscript, from f. 8r onwards, the markers are relatively simple inscriptions.  From f. 32r onwards, they become more elaborate, and in some examples are enhanced with the use of red ink, dots and even glittery inks. 

Shown below are several examples of calligraphic maṭlab baḥth subject markers from the manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb, offering us a glimpse into one of the few artistic outlets available for a Malay manuscript scribe in Aceh in the 18th century.  In the illustrations below the markers have been rotated to facilitate reading, but the hyperlinks below the images will link to the actual page of the manuscript containing the marker.

BL Or
Simple subject marker at the start of the manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb  inscribed maṭlab baḥth hukum riyāh, ‘section on the law of dissemblance’.  British Library, Or.16035, f. 8r.  noc

BL Or.16035 (20)
Elaborate marginal inscription reading maṭlab baḥth [in black ink] yang seyogyanya diketahui yang qāḍī itu hukum sharikat [in red ink], ‘section on that which should be understood by judges on the law of association’. British Library, Or.16035, f.74v.  noc

BL Or
Marginal subject marker inscribed maṭlab baḥth [in red ink] yang seyogyanya diketahui setengah daripada hakim hukum ṣālaḥ [in black ink], ‘section on what should be known by the judges on the laws of prayer’.  British Library, Or.16035, f. 66r.  noc

BL Or
Subject marker inscribed maṭlab baḥth pada menyatakan hukum farā’iḍ, ‘section on the laws of inheritance’  British Library, Or.16035, f. 119v.  noc

Or_16035, f.135r
Monochrome marker inscribed maṭlab baḥth pada menyatakan waṣiyyat, ‘section regarding wills'. British Library, Or. 16035, f. 135r.  noc

Or_16035_f70r
An example of a marginal marker inscribed simply maṭlab baḥth, without any further explanation of the content of the new section. British Library, Or. 16035, f. 70r.  noc

A full list of all the decorative marginal maṭlab baḥth indicators in the manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb, Or. 16035, with hyperlinks, is given below:
f. 8r, f. 10v, f. 15r, f. 17v, f. 24v, f. 28v, f. 30ar, f. 32r, f. 33v, f. 35r, f. 36v, f. 41r, f. 56r, f. 62r, f. 65r, f. 66r, f. 70r, f. 74v, f. 98r, f. 107v, f. 112r, f. 118r, f. 119v, f. 123r, f. 124r, f. 125v, f. 129v, f. 135r, f. 139v, f. 183v

References:

Azyumardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern 'ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004.  [See pp. 70-86.]
Jelani Harun, Mir'at al-tullab by Syeikh Abdul Rauf Singkel: a preliminary study of manuscripts kept in the Special Collections, Leiden University LibraryMalay literature, 2015, 26(2): 119-138.
Annabel Teh Gallop,  An Acehnese style of manuscript illuminationArchipel, 2004, 68: 193-240.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork