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178 posts categorized "South East Asia"

22 June 2018

The Bugis diary of the Maqdanrang of Bone

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The most well-known Bugis manuscript in the British Library is the diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone (r. 1775-1812), covering the two decades from the start of his reign in 1775 to 1795. This treasury of information on daily life at the court of Bone in south Sulawesi was made accessible through the doctoral study by Rahilah Omar (2003), and the full diary, Add. 12354, is accessible online.

Now a second Bugis court diary from Bone, Or. 8154, covering the years 1790 to 1800, has also been digitised. A. A. Cense identified the diarist as the Maqdanrang, one of the highest Bone officials: “it was he who dealt with all kinds of state affairs and through whose hands all important letters passed. The notes for the years 1795-8 give much information on the struggle between Bone and Sidenreng, the attitude of the other south Sulawesi states, and Dutch efforts to maintain peace. Some notes refer to battles, the erection of strongholds, and chiefs who died in action. For the rest the diary contains notes on legal questions, especially on matrimonial law and property. Events in the royal family and the ruling classes receive great attention” (Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 34). Rahilah (2003: 58) has named the Maqdanrang as Muhammad Ramallang (the Bugis form of the Arabic Ramaḍān), Arung (Lord) Ponre, father-in-law and maternal uncle of the ruler, Sultan Ahmad al-Salih. An entry in the Sultan's diary for 7 July 1775 announces the appointment of Muhammad Ramallang as Maqdanrang or private secretary to the ruler, one of the three most senior officials in the Bone administration, along with the Tomarilalang, head of the advisory council, and the Maqkedangngetana, 'Spokesman of the Land' (Rahilah 2003: 196).

Or_8154_f077r   Add_ms_12354_f143v
The diary of the Maqdanrang is much more sparsely filled, with an average of 5 entries per month, than that of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih, which has around 22 entries per month (Rahilah 2003: 34),  as shown above in a comparison of the same month. Left, diary of the Maqdanrang for March 1794. British Library, Or. 8154, f. 77r . Right, diary of the Sultan of Bone for March 1794. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 143v  noc

As was usual for Bugis court diaries, the pages were prepared in advance, with one month per page according to the Gregorian (AD) calendar, with one line allocated for each day of the month, and Fridays (Jumaat) highlighted in red. If the events of the day took up more than one line, the scribe would write in a rectangular labyrinthine pattern, as shown above. In between each year, a few pages were always originally left blank, and these could be filled with miscellaneous jottings and copies of important documents. Found in the Maqdanrang's diary are notes on a wide variety of subjects, including on alliances and war activities, correspondence with the Dutch, and on the astronomical, meteorological, and agricultural calendar.

On the left-hand page are notes on names of days and their auspicious or inauspicious natures, and on the right-hand page are rules for people who pay homage to the Arumpone (the sultan), as well as calligraphic sketches of letter headings. British Library, Or. 8154, ff. 7v-8r  noc

Stored alongside this diary is a second volume, Or. 8154*, which contains 103 letters, fragments of letters, and scraps of paper in Bugis, Makasarese, Malay and Arabic, said to have been found inside the binding of Or. 8154, presumably when the volume was rebound in the British Museum bindery in the early 20th century. Both volumes were presented to the British Museum in 1916 by a Miss E. G. Wren. It is probable that these two volumes - like the other Bugis manuscripts in the British Library from the collection of John Crawfurd - were acquired during the British military campaign against Bone in 1814.

Among the miscellaneous notes found in the diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih are sketches for his seal, and a similar feature is encountered in the Maqdanrang's diary. As can be seen on the left-hand page above, nestled amongst notes is a circular sketch of a seal, inscribed in Arabic al-wāthiq billāh Muhammad Ramadan ibn al-Sultan Jalaluddin, ‘He who trusts in God, Muhammad Ramadan, son of the Sultan Jalaluddin’, referring to his father Sultan Abdul Razak Jalaluddin of Bone (r. 1748-1775). This inscription can be linked with a 12-petalled seal of which numerous faint  impressions are found in Or. 8154*, while a much clearer impression can be seen on a contract between Bone and the Dutch of 27 December 1794, signed and sealed by the Sultan, Maqdanrang and Tomarilalang of Bone. The original silver seal matrix is held today in the Museum Lapawawoi in Watampone, Bone. 

Sketch for a seal in the name of Muhammad Ramadan in the diary of the Maqdanrang of Bone. Or. 8154, f. 8r   noc

Scan0021-det    #416-28
Left: lampblack impression of Muhammad Ramadan's seal, on a renewal agreement with the Dutch of 27 December 1794, annotated Het zegel van der Madanrang, 'the seal of the Madanrang'. National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia, Makassar 375/45.
Right: original silver seal matrix of Muhammad Ramadan. Museum La Pawawoi, Watampone, Sulawesi Selatan; photograph courtesy of Mukrimin, October 2017.

Faint impressions of the seal of Muhammad Ramadan on a document. British Library, Or. 8154*, f. 40v   noc

Further reading:
Rahilah Omar, The history of Bone AD 1775-1795: the diary of Sultan Ahmad as-Salleh Syamsuddin. [Ph.D. thesis]. University of Hull, 2003.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Southeast Asia collections in the British Library

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

20 June 2018

Sir Hans Sloane’s Old Javanese manuscript, Sloane 3480

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Today’s post, by Ida Bagus Komang Sudarma in Bali, Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan in Sydney, and Arlo Griffiths in Paris, was written following yesterday’s post on the Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection. The speed of this response, identifying and transliterating for the first time this manuscript fragment in Old Javanese, illustrates well how collaborative scholarship across oceans is enabled by digitisation.

Detail of line v2, showing the characters // bhraṣṭaṅkaḍa, with an elegantly knotted tail of the subscript (gantungan) grapheme . British Library, Sloane 3480, f. 1v  noc

Sloane 3480 is a manuscript fragment which represents less than half of the right side of a single palm leaf (lontar), and would originally have had a string hole in its middle, as it still does in its right margin. In its original condition, the leaf would have had four lines of writing on each side.

The text, incised into the palm leaf in Balinese characters, is written in Old Javanese language. The fragment contains parts of stanzas 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 (but not of stanza 13) from canto 10 of the Arjunavijaya, a court poem (kakavin) authored by Mpu Tantular in the second half of the 14th century, describing a scene of confrontation between Śiva’s attendant Nandīśvara and the demon Rāvaṇa. The fact that it was collected during the lifetime of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) means that the manuscript must be older than 1753, which makes this one of the oldest known witnesses for this important classic of Old Javanese literature (cf. Arps & van der Molen 1994). A critical edition of the text and English translation was published by Supomo (1977).

In our diplomatic edition below, we transliterate according to the system proposed by Acri & Griffiths (2014), which is based on the ISO standard 15919. The original is written in scriptio continua. We apply word breaks generally in conformity with the edition by Supomo, but with some adaptations in the light of our different understanding of how word boundaries in Old Javanese are to be represented in transliterated text. In the lines r2 and v3, where the top/bottom parts of all akṣaras (syllabic characters) are lost, we act as though a given grapheme is present unless no trace of the expected grapheme remains at all; in the latter case, we indicate the restored grapheme(s) in square brackets. Such restorations are uncertain at all the edges of the fragments, where parts of akṣaras are missing and it is often difficult to be sure whether this witness agreed with the critical edition or had a variant reading. In the parts that are well preserved, this witness does show several variant readings vis-à-vis Supomo’s critical edition. The sign # represents the breaks in the text on the right end of each line as they exist today.

British Library, Sloane 3480, f. 1r  noc

(r1) lost
(r2) # nr[i] °l̥ṅk[ā] / mva[ṁ van]duva[rg]gamu kabeḥ[n]ya mah[ə]ntya [d]e[n]ya / n[ā liṁn]ya / [h]e[t]u[ni h]uyu[ṁ] daśavaktrar[ā]ja
(r3) #-ānaṁ tapodhara haneṅ giriparśva māvr̥g· / mvaṅ siṅha bharvaṅ alayū sahananya meṅas· / yatnā bha
(r4) #ri taṅannira lvat· / krodheya makrak ikanaṁ daśavaktrarāja // humyaṅ kabeḥ haliliṅi

British Library, Sloane 3480, f. 1v  noc

(v1) # sira harṣacitta / yekan vinehnira vənaṁ munuseṁ taṅanya / hyunhyun sire vuvus ikan varara
(v2) # len taṁ pravīrabala rakṣasasaṅghya mahyaṁ // bhraṣṭaṅ kaḍatvan ika siṅ kaparaḥ ya curṇna / gəmpu
(v3) # hat i patapan s[u]ramya / ramyaṅ [k]ap[u]ṇ[ḍu]ṅ ika d[u]ryan ike j[u]raṁnya / maṅ[gu]ṣ[ṭa] la[s]b ika poḥ paṇaśāg[ṅ] aby[u]
(v4) lost

Supomo’s translation (1977, II: 203–4) of the relevant stanzas – depicting the confrontation between Nandīśvara and the demon Rāvaṇa (here designated several times by his epithet ‘the Ten-faced one’, Daśāsya or Daśavaktra) – was as follows:

12 ‘Hey, Daśāsya, you [have committed the sin] of despising others by laughing at my appearance. Therefore, in time to come, monkeys will destroy your kingdom of Ləṅkā and exterminate all your kinsfolk as well.’ Thus he spoke; and Daśavaktra was now furious.
13 Ferociously clenching his teeth, he put his hands under the base of Mount Girīndra, and took it in his arms, intending to destroy it completely. The Lord, who had just finished making love, was startled, and Pārvatī, who was exhausted, had not even put on her kain.
14 The hermits living on the slopes of the mountain were agitated and distressed, the lions and bears fled in opposite directions. Knowing the reason for what was happening, the Lord carefully pressed down the peak of the mountain with the big toe of his left foot.
15 In short, Daśāsya’s arms were trapped under the mountain, and he was not able to move them. Now he was all the more determined to pull them out, but he could not move them; furiously he cursed, and screamed aloud.
16 The three worlds were stunned by his great voice; the gods and others were astounded, and their shouts could be heard even from the world of Śiva, for his voice was most terrible, booming like turbulent sea, in truth like the sound of a hundred thousand thunderbolts clashing at the same time.
17 The god Jagatguru grinned with delight, and then allowed him to pull his arms free; the God was pleased at the sound of his excellent screams, and so the Lord called him Rāvaṇa.
18 Then Daśāsya departed from Mount Girīndra, after making obeisance to the Lord and asking his pardon. Riding his chariot, he now ranged around the world at great speed, accompanied by all the roaring demon officers and soldiers.
19 All the palaces he attacked were shattered and reduced to dust; the kings and their armies were all exterminated, and all ring-communities, cloister-halls and temple-complexes he seized by force as he swept along boldly throughout the three worlds.
20 Soon king Daśāsya came to Mount Himavan, and was delighted at the sight of beautiful hermitages. The slopes were beautiful with kapuṇḍuṅ, durian, mangosteen, laṅsəb, mango and jackfruit tree, laden with great fruits; …

Acri, Andrea, and Arlo Griffiths. 2014. “The Romanisation of Indic Script Used in Ancient Indonesia.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 170 (2/3): 365–78.
Arps, Bernard, and Willem van der Molen (eds.). 1994. Serat Lokapala kawi: an eighteenth-century manuscript of the Old Javanese Arjunawijaya by Mpu Tantular. A facsimile edition of manuscript Cod. Or. 2048 in the Library of Leiden University. Leiden: Indonesian Linguistics Development Project (ILDEP) in co-operation with Legatum Warnerianum in the Library of Leiden University. (Manuscripta Indonesica, 3.)
Supomo, S. 1977. Arjunawijaya: A Kakawin of Mpu Tantular. 2 vols. (Bibliotheca Indonesica 14.) The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Ida Bagus Komang Sudarma, Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan and Arlo Griffiths  ccownwork

19 June 2018

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

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The British Museum was founded through the generosity, intellectual curiosity, and vision of the physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). On his death in 1753, Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed to the nation his vast collections of natural history specimens, coins, medals and curiosities, as well as 50,000 books, prints and manuscripts, on condition that they be housed in a new and publicly accessible museum. In 1972 the books and manuscripts held in the British Museum, including the Sloane collection, were transferred to the British Library.

Sir Hans Sloane. Stipple engraving by T. Prescott. Wellcome Library, ICV No 5682L. Courtesy Wellcome Images.

The extraordinarily eclectic nature of Sloane's manuscript collection has been described with some understatement as ‘very heterogenous’ (Arnold 2012: 190), and this evaluation could in turn be applied to the selection of his manuscripts from island Southeast Asia. In addition to two manuscripts in Malay, Sloane owned five items from Java, which though fragmentary in nature encompass a wide variety of languages and scripts (Javanese, Old Javanese, Lampung and Chinese) and writing materials (palm leaf, bamboo and paper), and range from commercial documents to a primer of religious law. Sloane's Javanese manuscripts, which are of interest not only for their diversity but also for their relatively early date, have now all been digitised and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts website. For each manuscript, the first hyperlink below leads to the catalogue entry, and the second directly to the digitised image.

The broken piece of palm leaf shown above, Sloane 3480, contains an unidentified text written in Old Javanese, an early form of the Javanese language marked by a very high proportion of words derived from Sanskrit. Old Javanese was in use from around the 8th to the 13th centuries in Java, but manuscripts in Old Javanese continued to be found in scholarly circles in Bali until recent times. British Library, Sloane 3480  noc

This palm leaf document inscribed in Javanese, Sloane 1035, is a record of a debt between a Chinese, Si Cina Kamasan, and Ratu Kilen. The piece of palm leaf is folded down the middle, with the spine evident along the top. British Library, Sloane 1035  noc

Sloane 1403A is a single piece of palm-leaf is inscribed with Javanese text on one side and Chinese on the reverse. The Chinese text  is a record of the purchase of four cows, and is dated in the Chinese cycle perhaps equivalent to 1715. According to Dick van der Meij, the form of the Javanese characters on this leaf suggests an origin from Bali. British Library, Sloane 1403A  noc

Sloane 1403E is a document written on a piece of bamboo, with two lines of Javanese text and annotations in Javanese and Lampung script on one side, and Chinese on the reverse. The Chinese text is probably a record of an account, dated in the Chinese cycle perhaps equivalent to 1708.  British Library, Sloane 1403E   noc

Sloane_ms_1403a_f001v   Sloane_ms_1403e_f001v
Left: Sloane 1403A, palm leaf, the uninked Chinese inscription on the reverse reads: 乙未年正月初五日買牛四隻艮□廿九文
Right: Sloane 1403E, bamboo, with Chinese text in black ink on the reverse: □甲螺打甲之厘勿殺 〇之厘勿殺同□□再借去鉛子四仟/戊子年四月十四日借去鉛子拾伍仟議还米每文六于冬算〇係去覽榜限至三箇月

The final manuscript, Sloane 2645, is a volume in Arabic with interlinear commentary in Javanese in Arabic (pegon) script, containing the Mukhtaṣar, ‘Commentary’, by the 16th-century scholar from the Hadramaut, ‘Abd Allāh bin ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Bā Faḍl. This work, the Muqaddima al-ḥaḍramiyya, 'Hadrami Introduction', also entitled Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, 'Questions for instruction', is an important text of the Shafi‘ī school of law, which was widely used throughout the Indian Ocean littoral spreading out from Yemen to East Africa and Southeast Asia. This well-preserved manuscript, copied in 1623, is one of the earliest dated manuscripts written on dluwang, Javanese paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree.

Opening pages of Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, with the first word of the title highlighted in gold, and rubrication on the first two pages. British Library, Sloane 2645, ff. 5v-6r  noc

The colophon of Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, giving the name of the scribe as Abdul Qadim, and the date of copying in the Javanese era: hādhā ashkāla (i.e. sengkala) al-jāwī min farāghihi 1545, ‘this is the Jawi (i.e. Southeast Asian Muslim) chronogram of the affluent 1545' (AD 1623/4). British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 116r  noc

The writing of the date 1545 (AD 1623/4) in numerals is of some interest. It shows very clearly the standard Indian form of the numeral 5, like a reversed B, used throughout Southeast Asia until the late 19th century, but barely recognized any longer, having long been displaced by the standard Middle Eastern form of the numeral 5, ۵.  More intriguing is the use of a system of dots indicating the unit place: the 1 is followed by three dots indicating thousands, 5 is followed by two dots indicating hundreds, 4 is followed by one dot indicating tens, and finally 5 is in the unit of ones. Exactly the same protocol is utilised in a decorative roundel found at the start of the manuscript, reproduced below.

Decorative medallion containing the date at the start of the manuscript, 1545 in the Javanese era (AH), equivalent to AD 1623/4. British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 5r  noc

Further reading:
Arnold Hunt, ‘Sloane as a collector of manuscripts’, in From books to bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and his collections, ed. Alison Walker, Arthur MacGregor and Michael Hunter (London: The British Library, 2012).
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 45.
A.T. Gallop with B. Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia (London: British Library; Jakarta: Lontar, 1991), p.100.

With thanks to Dick van der Meij for advice on the Javanese, and Emma Goodliffe for reading the Chinese inscriptions.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork


15 June 2018

Two Makasar manuscripts now digitised

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The Makasar people originate from south Sulawesi, the bottom left arm of the orchid-shaped island of Sulawesi. In the 17th century the port-city of Makasar (alternatively spelled Makassar or Macassar), comprising the twin kingdoms of Gowa and Tallo’, was one of the greatest and most cosmopolitan ports in Southeast Asia. A gateway to the spice trade of the Moluccas, and an important source of rice, Makasar had particularly benefitted from an influx of Malay and other Muslim merchants following the fall of Melaka to the Portuguese in 1511. Makasar embraced Islam relatively late, with the conversion of the sultan of Gowa in 1605, but Islam rapidly became firmly entrenched in south Sulawesi society.

Map of Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes, from a 17th-century Dutch portolano. Makasar is located in the bottom left corner. British Library, Add. 34184, f.62  noc

Writing traditions in the Makasar language (also referred to as Makasarese, Makassar or Makassarese) date back at least to the 17th century, and may be encountered in four different scripts. Old Makasar script is of Indic origin, and is written from left to right. It is mainly associated with manuscripts in the 17th and 18th century and appears to have become obsolete in the course of the 19th century, since when the Bugis/Makasar script has been used. However, the Bugis/Makasar script (often called simply Bugis script) coexisted with Old Makasar script from the 17th century onwards, and both probably developed from an earlier prototype similar to Kawi or Old Javanese script. Makasar can also be written in  Arabic script (known locally as serang), which was frequently used in religious contexts, and texts in Roman script are also found (Tol 1996: 214).

The British Library holds only two manuscripts in Makasar, one written in Old Makasar script and one in Bugis/Makasar script. Both have now been digitised, and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts website and by following the hyperlinks below. Like the larger number of Bugis manuscripts in the British Library, these two Makasar manuscripts derive from the collection of John Crawfurd, who served with the British administration in Java from 1811 to 1815. In 1814 Crawfurd led a punitive British expedition to south Sulawesi, and the two Makasar manuscripts were most likely acquired on this occasion. Crawfurd’s manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1842.

Copies of treaties between Goa and Tallo' in the 16th century, in Makasarese in Old Makasar script. British Library, Add. 12351, ff. 12v-13r.  [NB these pages have been bound upside down in the manuscript.]  noc

The manuscript in Old Makasar script, Add. 12351, contains copies of documents on a variety of historical, diplomatic and legal topics, which were identified by Dr A. A. Cense for the catalogue of Indonesian mansucripts in British collections (Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977: 99).  Contents include the sayings of former princes, declarations of war, and notes on right behaviour and customary law.  There are also texts on the status of the countries of the island of Sumbawa which were subdued by Tumenanga riAgamana, king of Tallo’ and co-ruler of Goa in the beginning of the 17th century, as well as copies of treaties between Goa and Bone, and between Goa and Tallo’ in the 16th century.  Other texts concern the history of various polities in south Sulawesi covering periods up to the mid-17th century, including Goa, up to and including the reign of Tu-menanga riPapambatuna (1649-53); Tallo’, up to and including the reign of Tu-mammalianga riTimoro' (1636-41); Sanrabone, Maros and Bangkala’, as well as notes on the ancestors of Karaeng Cenrana and of Tu-menanga riLakiung (lived 1652-1709).  Parts of this manuscript (from ff. 12v-35v) have been bound upside down.

Hikayat Amir Hamzah, written in Makasarese in Bugis/Makasar script, with names of the characters written in Arabic script in black ink, and chapter headings and 'paragraph words' in Malay written in red in Arabic (Jawi) script. Add. 12347, ff. 11v-12r.  noc

The second Makasar manuscript, Add. 12347, is a fragment of a Makasar version of the Malay Hikayat Amir Hamzah, itself derived from the Persian Hamzanama, recounting the adventures of the uncle of the prophet Muhammad. The manuscript is written in Makasar script (which reads from left to right), with insertions in Malay in Jawi script (which reads from right to left) marking the start of new chapters and sections in the text. Reflecting the confusion of a 19th-century custodian, the folios in the manuscript have been numbered ‘backwards’. The volume therefore begins on f. 37r with the 59th chapter (with a heading in Malay in Jawi script: ceritera yang keanam puluh sembilan), dealing with Amir Hamza's fight against Sudad and his grief at the death of his wife Mihrananigara. The manuscript ends abruptly in the 68th chapter, in which Hamza's voyage to the country of Ḥuṭānah is described, where he finds Raja Nasarwan (Nasruwan), on the way encountering a group of fire-worshippers.

Although these are the only two full manuscript volumes in Makasar in the British Library, there are also a number of documents and fragmentary texts in Makasar contained in mainly Bugis manuscripts. For example, Or 8154*, a volume consisting of scraps of texts found within the binding of the Bugis diary of a prince of Bone for the years 1790-1800, contains a few Makasar documents including a fragment of a page from a diary written in Old Makasar script for 1733 shown below.

Fragment of a diary in Old Makasar script, for 1733. British Library, Or. 8154*, f. 100  noc

Through the Endangered Archives Programme, the British Library also holds digital copies of a few Makasar manuscripts, documented during a pilot project in Makassar.

Local history of Galesong, Makassar, copied ca. 1975 from a lontara' belonging to Karaeng Galesong, now held by Daeng Jarung, Desa Boddia, Galesong. British Library, EAP365/2/2

Further reading:

Roger Tol, A separate empire: writings of south Sulawesi.  Illuminations: writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. Ann Kumar & John H. McGlynn; pp. 213-230.  Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

08 June 2018

Buddhism Illuminated through Southeast Asian Manuscript Art (1)

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Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia is a lavishly-illustrated book which has just been published by the British Library, in collaboration with Washington University Press. The book, by two curators in the British Library's Southeast Asia section, is dedicated to the memory of the Library’s former Curator of Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections, Dr Henry D. Ginsburg (1940-2007), who was a leading expert and one of the pioneers of research on Buddhist manuscript art in Southeast Asia. The purpose of this book is to share many years of research on the British Library’s unique collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts on Buddhism, which illustrate not only the life and teachings of the historical Buddha, but also everyday Buddhist practice, life within the monastic order, festivals, cosmology, and ethical principles and values.

Blog01 front cover full
Front cover of Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia, London: British Library 2018.

The book contains six chapters and over 200 high-quality coloured photographs of manuscripts which have mostly been digitised with generous funding from Henry Ginsburg’s Legacy. The illustrations are mainly from eighteenth and nineteenth century Burmese and Thai manuscripts, and the book provides detailed background information on Theravada Buddhism in general and Buddhist art in mainland Southeast Asia in particular.

The first chapter is an introduction to Buddhist manuscripts in Southeast Asia and gives an overview of the British Library’s Burmese, Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections. It discusses not only the production and contents of Buddhist manuscripts in the region, but also all aspects of manuscript culture, including storage chests and cabinets, and manuscript wrappers and binding ribbons (sazigyo).

A palm leaf manuscript of the Malalankara (the Burmese version of the Life of Gotama Buddha) from Burma, dated 1883. British Library, Or 16673 Noc

The palm leaf manuscript shown above has five bundles and is a fine example of Burmese craftsmanship and artistry. The leaves with gilded and lacquered edges are bound between a pair of red lacquered binding boards, together with a hand-woven sazigyo featuring Burmese script. The manuscript is wrapped in a cotton cloth with butterfly and flower patterns on a red coloured background. The text on the sazigyo states ‘May the merit of writing the scripture of the Buddha’s 45 years of glorious teachings help me to attain nibbana.’

The Library’s collections are particularly rich in illustrated folding books and palm leaf manuscripts featuring scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Jataka stories or Birth Tales, Buddhist cosmology, as well as festivals and rituals.

A Thai paper folding book (samut khoi) from the eighteenth century containing extracts from the Tipitaka with illustrations from the Ten Birth Tales (or the last Ten Jatakas). British Library, Or. 14068, f. 4 Noc

Each of the last Ten Birth Tales illustrates one of the Buddha’s great qualities, mahabuddhaguna. Illustrated in the Thai folding book above is the Nimi Jataka, illustrating the quality of resolution through the story of Prince Nimi who, thanks to his great merits, was invited to visit the Buddhist heavens. On his journey there, the charioteer stopped briefly at one hell where Nimi learned of the torments and sufferings in the Buddhist hells. This is one of a small number of surviving eighteenth-century manuscripts from central Thailand with illustrations of outstanding quality.

The second chapter,  “Buddha – The Enlightened One,” introduces the concept of Buddhahood and shows how the historical Gotama Buddha, who lived and taught in northeast India over 2,500 years ago, is depicted in manuscript illustrations. An overview is given of the 28 Buddhas of the past, as well as examples of Jatakas, stories of previous lives of the historical Buddha. Also presented in this chapter are important episodes from the life of the historical Buddha such as his birth as Prince Siddhattha, his famous renunciation of worldly life, the miracles of the Enlightened One, the Buddha’s visit to Tavatimsa heaven, his passing into parinibbana and the coming of the future Buddha Metteyya.

Folding book with scenes from the life of Gotama Buddha. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 14297, f. 6 Noc

The birth of the Buddha-to-be (Prince Siddhattha Gotama) illustrated in the rare Burmese manuscript shown above depicts the procession of Queen Maha Maya through Lumbini Garden on her way to Devadaha, depicted at the bottom of the page. Above left we see Queen Maha Maya holding with her right hand a branch of the Sal tree for support and ease of pain while giving birth, with her left hand draped around the shoulder of Pajapati Gotami, the queen’s sister. The scene in the top right corner depicts the Brahmas receiving the new-born prince into the world. This is a fine example of Burmese artistic interpretations of scenes from the Life of Gotama Buddha.

After his enlightenment, the Buddha told his disciples and followers of his experiences in his previous existences, before he was born as Prince Siddhattha. The Buddha’s previous lives are the subject of a large collection of stories commonly known as Jatakas, or Birth Tales. The Jatakas show how he gradually acquired greater moral stature in passing from one incarnation to another. These stories are well-known in all Buddhist cultures of mainland Southeast Asia. The Buddha is thought to have narrated them during his ministry to his followers, using each Jataka to teach certain ethical principles and values.

Illustration of the Dipankara Jataka from Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Mss Burmese 202, f.1 Noc

The Dipankara Jataka, the story of Dipankara Buddha, is special in the way that it tells of how the historical Buddha in one of his earlier incarnations met one of the 28 Buddhas of the past. The illustration above shows how the Buddha-to-be Sumedha receives his niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood) from Dipankara Buddha, who had reached enlightenment aeons before Gotama Buddha. When he arrived at a place called Ramma, to honour him, local people cleaned the road for him to walk upon, and Sumedha took responsibility for one stretch of the muddy road. The Buddha Dipankara addressed the hermit Sumedha and foretells that in due time he will himself attain enlightenment and become a Buddha.

As well as the Buddhas of the past, the Buddha of the future, Metteyya, is also depicted in illustrated manuscripts. He is often portrayed in Thai manuscripts telling the legend of the monk Phra Malai, who, during his journey to the Buddhist heavens, learns about the coming of the future Buddha.

Folding book containing the story of the monk Phra Malai. Central Thailand, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 6630, f. 42 Noc

These two generously gilded illustrations in the Thai painting style of the nineteenth century are set in two of the Buddhist heavens, Tavatimsa (left) and Tusita (right). On the left, the monk Phra Malai is shown seated, in orange robes, in front of the heavenly Culamani Ceti. This stupa houses the hair collected by the god Sakka when Prince Siddhattha cut his topknot on adopting the ascetic life. Phra Malai converses with Sakka (shown here as a green figure) and a deva attendant. On the right the Bodhisatta Natha, the future Buddha Metteyya residing in Tusita heaven, is depicted with a group of female attendant deities, all wearing glamorous outfits. Tusita heaven is thought to be the residence of divine beings (devata). The appearance of the future Buddha Metteyya forecasts a blissful future for those humans who follow the Dhamma, or Buddha’s teachings.

Although the life of Gotama Buddha, and those of the Buddhas of the past and the future Buddha, are often at the center of Buddhist manuscript art, there is much more to learn from Southeast Asian manuscript art about Buddha’s teachings, life in the monastic order and everyday Buddhist practice. All the details can be found in the newly published book, and a few more will be revealed in part two of this blog which will follow soon.

San San May and Jana Igunma, Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia, London: British Library 2018. (ISBN 978 0 7123 5206 2)

The book is available from all major booksellers and online.

San San May, Curator for Burmese
Jana Igunma, Henry D. Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian



05 June 2018

Another Chinese paper stamp in a Malay manuscript

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A few years ago, I became intrigued by the red ink stamps of Chinese paper makers occasionally glimpsed on the pages of Malay and Javanese manuscripts in the British Library, and in a post on Malay manuscripts on Chinese paper illustrated all the examples encountered so far. Recently, another example has surfaced, in a fine illuminated copy of the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Muhammad Kasim in 1805. The manuscript was previously owned by John Leyden, and is therefore most likely to have been copied in Penang, where Leyden spent four months convalescing from late 1805 to early 1806. On the bottom left hand corner of f. 61 r is a red ink stamp of an animal, a rather rotund quadruped resembling a hippopotamus or rhinoceros.

Initial illuminated frames of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Muhammad Kasim on 29 Jumadilakhir 1220 (25 August 1805), probably in Penang. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, ff.1v-2r.  noc

Red Chinese paper stamp of an animal, in Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, 1805.  MSS Malay B.6, ff. 60v-61r.  noc

My interest in Chinese paper-maker stamps had been rekindled by the fascinating blog post about the history of printing in China by Emily Mokros, From the page up: the Peking Gazette and the histories of everyday print in East Asia. In the second installment of her post, Mokros highlighted the presence of papermakers’ stamps in mid-19th century manuscript copies from Canton of the Peking Gazette, and commented on the important role of Canton as a hub of the southern paper trade, serving both the Qing empire and markets beyond its shores in Southeast Asia. Although little research has yet been carried out on papermakers’ stamps, there has recently been interest in the subject, and Mokros provided links to the main references.

Particularly helpful is a blog post on Chinese paper stamps by Devin Fitzgerald of Harvard University in March 2017 noting the potential value of these stamps for the study of Chinese bibliography and codicology, and proposing the compilation of a database. In a response the following month, David Helliwell published all ten stamps that he had come across – by chance, rather than design – in the Bodleian Library’s collection. The most thorough study of the field to date is by Chang Pao-san of National Taiwan University. In his paper on Paper manufacturer hallmarks in rare Chinese books from the Qing dynasty, Chang proposes three categories of textual hallmarks:
Type 1: a red rectangular mark that clearly states the name of the manufacturer followed by the phrase “observed production” or “selected the material”
Type 2: a red rectangular mark that contains the name of the manufacturer and the type of paper, or only the name of the manufacturer
Type 3: a long, thin, red and blue mark of an images with parts of one or more characters. Sometimes there are no characters, only a red or blue image.

One aspect that Chang does not mention is pictorial elements, such as the animal mark found in the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah. That these pictures evidently functioned as easily recognizable trademarks is implied by the reference to the “Double Children Seal” of Changfa studios, a red ink stamp of two children holding a ball, found by Guillermo Ruiz-Stovel in a manuscript of 1798 in the National Archives of the Philippines, and published by Devin Fitzgerald in his post. Incidentally, the three related stamps documented by Ruiz-Stovel – the red ink “Double Children Seal”, accompanied by two blue ink textual seals in the name of Changfa studios – are exactly those noted in my 2014 post as having been seen by Midori Kawashima in an Islamic manuscript from Mindanao, suggesting the widespread use of that particular brand of Chinese paper in the Philippines.

“Double Children Seal” of Changfa studios, in a manuscript from the Ahmad Bashir Collection at the Jamiatu Muslim Mindanao, Marawi City, Mindanao, Ms9; image courtesy of Mr. Mahdi Ahmad Bashir through Midori Kawashima.

Following David Helliwell’s example of collating all examples known so far, presented below are the four Chinese paper stamps found in Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library, with links (where available) to the catalogue entry and the digitised manuscript.

1. Panji Angreni., late 18th-early 19th century, Java. British Library, MSS Jav 17, f. 10v [not yet digitised]  noc
Chinese - 3

2. Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, 1805, probably Penang. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, f. 61r.  noc

2. Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, early 19th century, Malay peninsula or Java. British Library, Add. 12382, f. 29v  noc
Chinese - 2

3. Syair Dang Sarat, early 19th century, Malay peninsula or Java. British Library, Add. 12381, f. 20r  noc
Chinese - 1


Chang Pao-san, Paper manufacturer hallmarks in rare Chinese books from the Qing dynasty, presentation from the conference 'Texting China: Composition, Transmission, Preservation of pre-modern Chinese textual materials', University of Chicago, 11-13 May 2012; published as: 'Paper manufacturers' marks stamped in the rare Chinese books of the Qing dynasty', Bulletin of the Department of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University, December 2012, 39: 213-246.
Devin Fitzgerald, Chinese paper stamps, blog post, 26 March 2017, Books and the early modern world: the research of Devin Fitzgerald
Annabel Gallop, Malay manuscripts on Chinese paper, blog post, 27 February 2014, British Library, Asian and African Studies
David Helliwell, Papermarks, blog post, 26 April 2017, Serica: some notes on old Chinese books by David Helliwell
Emily Mokros, From the page up: the Peking Gazette and the histories of everyday print in East Asia (2), blog post, 21 May 2018, British Library, Asian and African Studies

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

25 May 2018

Classes and costumes in traditional Vietnamese society

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In traditional Vietnamese society people were divided into four classes, similar to those found in Chinese and other East Asian Confucian societies. The tứ dân, or four social hierarchical classes, were scholars (sĩ), farmers (nông), craftsmen (công) and merchants (thương).

At the top of the social hierarchy were the scholars or intellectuals, who led relatively comfortable lives in respected occupations such as doctors, mandarins and teachers. Commoners who were not born into this class but wanted to climb the social ladder to enter it were able to do so by studying very hard and sitting civil service examinations, supported financially by their own families. If they were successful, they brought great honour upon themselves and their families, and even their villages, and they might be welcomed back to their villages with parties paid for by their neighbours (Woodside: 1981, p.170). The royal court would award them special costumes which distinguished them from common folk, and they could even be appointed as local mandarins.

Costume of the first grade military mandarin, adorned with the ‘four mythical creatures’ pattern (Trần Đinh Sơn 2013: 127). British Library OIJ 391.009597.

Vietnamese mandarins, both civil and military, were divided into nine grades and each grade was further subdivided into senior and junior levels. High ranking mandarins were distinguished by their official robes in purple or red, colours reserved for their class, while lower ranking officials wore blue robes. Commoners could only wear black, brown or white dyed costumes, as Harry A. Franck, an American travel writer, observed in Tonkin in 1923: “the Tonkinese were dressed in a cinnamon or tobacco-juice colour that suddenly became as universal as black had been further south … the country women, then their men, and finally all the hand-labouring class, took to wearing long cotton cloaks of this reddish brown hue” (Franck 1926: 191).

A mandarin accompanied by his servants; only the mandarin wears shoes. Oger [1909]: f. 4. British Library, Or. TC 4

Below the class of scholars was the largest social grouping in Vietnamese society: farmers, primarily rice farmers, who could be further sub-divided into three different groups according to land ownership: trung nông, bần nông and cố nông. Trung nông were farmers who owned land and farming tools. This was the most well-off group economically and socially, as they could produce enough rice or other agricultural products to support themselves, and therefore did not have to labour for the state in lieu of taxation. Bần nông were farmers who owned a small amount of land, albeit not large enough to yield sufficient rice to support their families. They therefore had to work on land belonging to landlords, and also had to rent their farming tools. Cố nông or tenants were farmers who owned no land or farming tools at all and had to till the land for landlords to earn their living. They were the poorest people in the society and were frequently subject to exploitation.

The third class was craftsmen, whose numbers were relatively small compared to farmers. Some were actually farmers who had developed skills in crafts such as carpentry, weaving or blacksmithing. At the village level their scale of production was very small and did not have significant economic impact, but in larger towns they formed their own guilds to protect their interests and to support each other. Those who were highly skilled could be recruited to work for the court, but the court did not support them to develop their production into an industrial scale.

At the bottom of the social hieracy were merchants. From a modern perspective it may come as a surprise to find that in a traditional self-sufficient economy merchants actually played a very insignificant role, since farmers were able to produce most of their daily necessities and could barter goods with each other, rather than relying on tradesmen. Traditional Confucian society also disapproved of the mercantile practice of “buying cheap, selling dear”.

A peasant farmer in his raincoat made of grass. Oger [1909]: f. 302. British Library, Or. TC 4

Towards the end of the 19th century, Vietnamese hierachical society was still very much intact. Even though French colonial rule brought about some social and economic changes, these were not powerful enough to uproot entirely the traditional system of four social classes. Newly emerging social groups, such as the French-educated literati or colonial employees, still fitted into the scholar class (sĩ) despite the different ideological basis. The number of poor farmers and landless peasants increased, and their plight may even have been exacerbated through colonial land ownership and tax policies.

A bride in a western-style costume. Oger [1909]: f. 315. British Library, Or. TC 4

Traditionally, Vietnamese women wore both skirts and trousers. In the 17th century Emperor Lê Hyuền Tông issued a decree forbidding women to wear trousers, but this decision was reversed during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang (r.1820-1841) who instead forbade the wearing of skirts (Ngô Đức Thịnh 2009: 2). In the 1820s, George Finlayson wrote of the Vietnamese: “…though living not only in a mild, but warm climate, the partiality for dress is universal. There is no one, however mean, but is clothed at least from head to the knee, and if their dress is not always of the smartest, it is owing more to their poverty than to their want of taste … the principal and most expensive article in their dress is the turban ... A loose jacket, somewhat resembling a large shirt, but with wide sleeves, reaching nearly to the knee, and buttoning on the right side, constitutes the principal covering of the body. Two of these, the under one of the white silk, are generally worn, and they increase the number according to their circumstances and the state of the weather. Women wear a dress but little different from this, though lighter, and both wear a pair of wide pantaloons, of various colours. The dress of the poorer class is made of coarse cotton, but this not very common, coarse silks being more in vogue. Those of China or Tonquin are worn by the more opulent classes. Shoes are also worn only by the wealthy, and of Chinese manufacture, clogs, in fact, rather than shoes” (Finlayson 1988: 378-9).

A Vietnamese gentleman wearing a western-style cap rather than a traditional turban. Oger [1909]: f. 32. British Library, Or. TC 4

Almost a century after Finlayson’s account, almost no major changes in the costumes of Vietnamese commoners could be observed. Henri Oger’s pictorial records of daily life in and around Hanoi at the turn of the nineteenth century illustrate the slow rate of change in social class in this French colony. One might argue that some changes in fashion can be noticed reflecting western influence, but these mainly affect the elite and wealthy classes. As for the poor, Oger’s drawings suggest that they barely benefitted from the social and economic changes brought about by the new ruler.

Harry A. Franck reports on the clothing of the period: “Among the coolie class these overcoats of both sexes were of thin cotton. The well-to-do men in towns and in autobuses wore jet-black ones, thin as gauze … with flowered designs of the same hue woven in them, … and fastened together down the side with little gold buttons … A black cloth carelessly wound about the head distinguished most coolies, but all men above that class wore the most unique item of the Annamese costume, a black band-turban permanently arranged in many little folds … At least along this main route of the French railway and autobus highway both men and women of the well-to-do class wore gold and other valuable ornaments openly. Long necklaces of grains of gold of the size of peas are the favourite adornment”(Franck 1926: 106).

Westerners mingling with locals during the colonial era. Oger [1909]: f. 263. British Library, Or. TC 4

Further reading:

George Finlayson. The mission to Siam, and Hué, the capital of Cochin China, in the years 1821-2. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Harry A. Franck. East of Siam: Ramblings in the five divisions of French Indo-China. London: T. Fisher Unwin, ltd., 1926.
Ngô Đức Thịnh. Traditional costumes of Viet Nam. Thế giới, 2009.
Henri Oger. Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite. Paris: Geuthner Librarie-Éditeur, [1909].
Trần Đinh Sơn. Đại lễ phục Việt Nam thaời Nguyễn 1802-1945. Hà Nội : Nhà xuất bản hồng Đức, 2013.
A.B. Woodside. Vietnam and the Chinese model. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese

17 April 2018

The Burmese New Year

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The Burmese New Year falls in the second week of the Burmese month of Tagu (April). It is an auspicious time for Burmese people, who each year determine to make the New Year a happier, healthier and more successful one. The New Year is ushered in with the Thingyan water festival, which starts on 13 April and lasts for four days, after which comes New Year's Day itself. The word Thingyan is derived from the Sanskrit word Samkranti, which means literally ‘a passing on’, and the exact date and the precise time of the commencement and termination of Thingyan and New Year’s Day are fixed through astrological calculations. The first day of the festival is called Thingyan a-kyo nei (welcoming day), the second day is Thingyan a-kya nei (falling day) and the third day is Thingyan a-kyat nei (tight day). Certain years may contain one or two extra a-kyat days, and then the last day of the festival is Thingyan a-tet nei (rising day). The following day, 17 April, is celebrated as the Burmese New Year's Day.

Saṅʿkranʿ tvakʿ naññʿʺ cā (Calculation the Thingyan), ca. 1880. British Library, Mss. Burmese 116

Shown above is a half-length Burmese palm leaf manuscript of Thingyan sa, which gives explanations of Thingyan with calculations. Thingyan sa are traditionally written annually at the time of the Thingyan festival, based on astrological calculations, and purport to predict the great events of the coming year.

The Tagu Thingyan festival, depicted in a Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, Or.15021, ff. 1-3

The above illustration portrays royal people in a procession to celebrate Thingyan and New Year, attended by musicians. Some carry small water pots with flowers on their shoulders, some carry long fans and some wear masks resembling mythical animals. According to traditional beliefs, Sakka, king of the Tavatimsa heaven, descends to the earth from his celestial abode on a-kya day. People place a small pot with seven different kinds of flowers representing seven days of the week in front of their house to welcome Sakka. He remains upon earth for three days. During the festival people, regardless of age, gender or religion, wear colourful dresses and sing and dance together, sprinkling scented water on one another, in the belief that the Thingyan festival water will make them healthy. For fun, some people enjoy playing with water hoses at their temporary pavilions.

A depiction of an alms-giving ceremony, 19th century. British Library, Or.13293 , f. 1

The above illustration shows an alms-giving ceremony. The practice of offering food to monks is the most common ritual practised in in Burma, and is a peaceful and spiritual ceremony. Indeed, the true spirit in which the New Year should be celebrated is by fasting, giving alms, doing meritorious deeds and observing the Buddha’s teachings (Dhamma) on New Year’s Day. Kadaw (Homage) day is held in this season. On this day, people pay their respects to their parents, teachers and superiors, and novitiation ceremonies are held in towns, cities and villages.

This painted scene depicts the ruler receiving homage from his ministers and court officials on Kadaw or Homage day. The king is seated in a pavilion and traditional offerings of coconuts and bananas are set before him. The bottom yellow border of the painting is inscribed in Burmese characters, ‘Receiving homage’. British Library, Or.14963, f. 7  

Paying homage to the king on the New Year Day.  British Library, Or.6779, f.2

In the scene above, the king is shown receiving homage from his ministers and members of the royal family. The ceremony features folk music troupes and processions of elephants and horses. During the days of royal rule, the New Year celebration included the state-sponsored feeding of monks for three continuous days, the watering of the sacred banyan trees and the cleansing of Buddha statues, and a three-gun salute was fired to usher in the New Year.

Further reading:

Khin Myo Chit. Flowers and festivals round the Myanmar Year. Yangon: Sarpaylawka, 2002.

San San May, Curator for Burmese