THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

11 posts categorized "South Asia"

24 September 2018

Call for applications now open

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting preliminary applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 12 noon 19 November 2018 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.

DCL 0003Digitising in Cuba

The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. The Programme awards grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise it, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The Programme has funded over 350 projects in 90 countries world-wide and has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals.

There three main types of grant:

  • Pilot projects investigate the potential for and/or feasibility of a major grant. A pilot can also be a small digitisation project. They should last for no more than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
  • Major projects gather and copy material. This type of grant may also relocate the material to a more secure location/institution within the country. These projects usually last 12 months, or up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £60,000.
  • Area grants will be awarded for larger scale projects. They are similar to a major grant, but larger in scale and ambition. Applicants must demonstrate an outstanding track record of archival preservation work and be associated with an institution that has the capacity to facilitate a large-scale project. The EAP will only award a maximum of two area grants in each funding round. They can last for up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £150,000.

A further type of grant will be introduced in 2019:

  • Rapid-response grants can be used to safeguard an archive which is in immediate and severe danger. These grants are intended for the most urgent situations where a delay in the decision process could result in extensive damage to the material. These grants are not subject to the time restrictions of the yearly EAP funding cycle and can be applied for at any time. They must last for less than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.

If you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk

10 May 2018

Endangered Urdu Periodicals

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This blog post has been written by Mr Nasir Javaid, grant holder for EAP839. The material has just been submitted to the EAP Office and it will be online later in the year.

EAP839 produced digital images of rare Urdu periodicals from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century in order to preserve and make them available to researchers. During this period the project team has successfully produced 3,832 issues. Urdu journals played a significant role in the development of Urdu literature, especially fiction, religion, history, poetry and culture of the South Asian region as a whole, particularly in Pakistan and India. If someone wants to write on the development of fiction or religious literature, they should refer back to these rare periodicals. Literature on Urdu criticism also flourished through these periodicals. Numerous books that were published later also drew content from these periodicals. Some of the best novels available in Urdu were first published in parts in Urdu journals. These periodicals also remained the primary source of advertisements for all major trade brands of that time. A large number of prominent writers and society figures gained popularity through these periodicals.

EAP839_Humayun_May_1935_v27_no5

Humayn, May 1935

EAP839_Biswin_sadi_August_1951_v15_no8

Baby Powder advertisement, August 1951

Unfortunately, the highly acidic paper used has made this literature highly vulnerable. It is rare to find complete runs of even the most important Urdu periodicals. Some of the publications have vanished; others are on the verge of extinction. Through digitisation and online presentation it becomes possible to access the publications, overcoming obstacles of location.

EAP839_Taj_October-November_1924_v2_no1-2

Taj, October - November 1924

Urdu language, now spoken by more than 60 million people worldwide, was the lingua franca of 19th century northern India. It was a common medium of mainstream communication when mass printing culture began. It was also the primary South Asian language used by colonial rulers for administrative purposes during the early British Raj. Previously it was very difficult for researchers to find full runs of the first Urdu periodicals. Further, tensions between Pakistan and India have made it very difficult for scholars to complete their research in topics requiring materials published across the national borders.  Making the rare Urdu periodicals accessible online will help improve scholarship on both sides of the border. During this project we have received many requests for copies of these digitised journals from India. The Endangered Archives Programme is making a major contribution towards the preservation of cultural heritage in countries, such as Pakistan, where the governmental support of such initiatives is not a priority.

EAP839_Humayun_January_1945_v47_no1

Humayun, January 1945

This project has enabled staff in Pakistan to develop professionally and to attain levels of performance in the field of technology never before attained within a Pakistani library. Project staff have not only learned to preserve and digitise, but also have become expert in the listing and cataloguing of periodicals. It was our fortune that while scanning these journals we had a chance to see and learn a lot of interesting articles and advertisements on different aspects of social life. Through this project the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust for the Advancement of Knowledge and Culture has developed exceptionally strong and close working relationships with the contributing institution in Pakistan and shared knowledge and skills with those partners.

EAP839_Ismat_May_1928_v40_no5_001 - Copy

Ismat, May 1928

The Urdu literary journals have a long publication history some of these have been published continuously for more than a hundred years. It was not an easy task to locate the issues, even family members of the founder, editor and publishers of these journals have only limited numbers. When we digitised these journals they were incredibly pleased that we have preserved the legacy of their ancestors. On occasion, when they need an article they would contact us and also referred other people to us.

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Political cartoon, Avadh Punch 1886

The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre was also the archival partner on EAP566 resulting in 8635 issues of rare Urdu journals with total number of 615000 images having been digitised. No other institution in South Asia has extensively worked to preserve Urdu journals to this extent.

03 July 2017

New collections online - June 2017

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 We have three new collections available to view on the Endangered Archives Programme website: a collection of Newārī medieval manuscripts from the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal; an archaeological photographic archive from Romania; and finally the archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile.

EAP790: The Melvin Seiden Award: Digital documentation of endangered medieval manuscripts in individual and Vihāra collections from various Newār settlements in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

The main focus of this project was to digitise rare medieval Sanskrit manuscripts as well as rescue those threatened by the earthquake of 2015. Nepal is home to significant collections of Sanskrit as well as Hindu manuscripts, with the Newār people having contributed enormously to the development of literary culture in the country. In vernacular Newārī the manuscripts are called ‘Thyasaphu’ and are not merely handwritten texts, but an object of veneration and part of their religious lives. The Buddhist Vajracharyas and Shakyas, and Hindu Karmacharyas from the Newār communities, were directly concerned with manuscript writing, recitation and performing rituals. In spite of the manuscripts’ importance, few are aware of their literary heritage and little attention has been paid to preserve and disseminate the manuscripts despite their religious and historical significance. Newar families still own manuscripts but unfortunately, most of the precious manuscripts are left to decay and are often now in poor condition. An inability to read the scripts and/or language, or little knowledge of the subject matter, has restricted people from reading these medieval manuscripts.

The project team were able to digitise 21 separate collections consisting of 687 manuscripts. In total over 28,000 images were produced. These included religious manuscripts related to Buddhism and Hinduism, literary works, medical texts, records of events, and other secular texts. These are important records for Buddhist and Hindu Newārs to perform religious duties and also for scholars of Newār Buddhism, Vajrayana rituals, Hinduism, the Vajracharya priests and practitioners and others. Throughout the project, workshops and programmes were organised to train staff and local stakeholders, including those from the Newār community, to search, catalogue and digitise the manuscripts.

EAP790_1_1-_024_LEAP790/1/1 - Puja Vidhi [17th century]

EAP790_1_82-002_LEAP790/1/82 - Mahalakshmi, Bagalamukhi and Sarva Sambhagyesvari Yantra [18th century]

EAP790_17_1-002_LEAP790/17/1 - Svasthani Vrata Katha [19th century]

EAP816: Selective digitisation and preservation of the photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania

The ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology’s photography archive provides a unique source of information for archaeological research and monument recording and restoration between 1880 and 1925 in Romania. Large numbers of archaeological sites and monuments, then surviving across Romania, are represented in a vast array of excavation, exploration and restoration photographs, covering all periods from the earliest farming communities to the pre-industrial centuries of the last millennium. Many of the archaeological sites and landscapes represented in the photographs, along with a host of medieval churches and many villages, were totally destroyed during and after the two World Wars. The majority of the earliest material focuses on the Romanian Black Sea area, a region called Dobrogea, the richest region of Romania in terms of its archaeological heritage. It also used to be the most ethnically diverse region of Romania and until the end of World War I was one of the most rural and arid. Many of the photographs shed light on the ethnic diversity of the region, nowadays hugely different, and on the unaltered landscape of the area, much changed due to the huge communist agricultural programmes of the sixties and seventies, which included erasing to the ground entire villages along with their churches and traditional field systems. Archaeological artefacts – pottery, sculptures, metal objects – are also represented, along with other items of major historical importance: objects of religious art, paintings, sculptures and fabrics, many of them subsequently destroyed or lost, sometimes plundered by German, Russian or other troops during the wars that have affected Romania in the past 150 years. The on-site images include extremely beautiful local ethnographic photographs and rural landscape images depicting a world long gone, especially in the Black Sea area, populated by a wide mix of differing nationalities in the period before WWII.

EAP816_1_6-EAP816_C6F_00125_LEAP816/1/6 - Adamclisi 2

EAP816_1_4-EAP816_C4S_00052_LEAp816/1/4 - Tropaeum Traiani

EAP816_1_2-EAP816_C2S_00029_LEAP816/1/2 - Pietroasa treasure

EAP821: Documentary heritage at risk: digitisation and enhancement of the archive of the Monastery of Dominican nuns of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile

This project catalogued and digitised the archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, one of the four oldest and most important archives of female writing of Chile. Founded in 1680 as a Beguine convent, it later became a monastery in 1754. The Dominican sisters of the monastery were characterised by their cultural and intellectual life which is reflected in the documents digitised as part of the archive. This is a unique set of documents as the testimonies of women from this period have been preserved in few other places in Chile. Among the files are valuable diaries and autobiographies such as that of Dolores Peña y Lillo, which highlights the features of regional and local female idiosyncrasies. These documents are a great resource for scholars and contribute to research, study and dissemination of the model of female education at that time, based on the intellectual culture, crafts and arts. The project team digitised 107 volumes in total consisting of over 27,000 images.

EAP821_1_1_1-EAP821_DSR0001_07_LEAP821/1/1/1 - Life and Virtues of the Servant of God Father Ignacio García of the Society of Jesus, by Fr Francisco Javier Zevallos [17th century-19th century]

EAP821_1_1_71-EAP821_DSR00071_25_LEAP821/1/1/71 - Prayers for the Rosary of the Holy Mass [19th century]

EAP821_1_1_87-EAP821_DSR00087_05_L

EAP821/1/1/87 - Maps and drawings related to the cloister and Church of the monastery Dominicans of Santa Rosa in Santiago [18th century]

12 May 2017

Representing Self and Family: Preserving Tamil Studio Photography

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Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, it was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. Previously no local forms of popular portraiture existed aside from representations of the divinities.

1. Nalla Pillai studio_Kumbakonam (2)Negative from the Nalla Pillai Studio, Kumbakonam

Tamil portrait photography, often facing restricted access to technological improvements, rapidly developed into a rich practice, where technical inventions, ingenious adaptions and artistic achievements rubbed shoulders. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families. Their idioms combined the use of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage, and montage. Throughout the first half of the 20th century constraints imposed by high costs and difficulties in importing recent photographic equipment resulted in the prolonged use of older photographic equipment and processes by small family-run studios.

The advent of mechanised processing and printing of colour photography followed by the digital revolution radically transformed photographic practices and production. A very large number of studios closed down (with their archives often, but not always, lost) as they could not financially manage to acquire the expensive equipment necessary. The studios that did manage to survive these successive technological revolutions discarded manual processing and printing of black and white portraiture which had been their trade and skill for over a century (cf. Article in The Hindu, “In a Fading Light”, by A. Shripathi, 13/07/2015).

2. Discarded prints in a second hand shop (2)Discarded prints in a second hand shop

Over the last 25 years, the 'visual turn' in South Asian Studies, has afforded glimpses into numerous visual media produced in the Indian subcontinent over the last century and a half. Concerning the field of Indian photography, the vast majority of publications and archives concern colonial practices of photography and north or central Indian appropriations of the photographic media during the 20th century. The productions of South Indian studio photographers are largely unexplored and no archive exists to foster research on this vast and rich topic of study. The material digitised during the project will provide visual evidence of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes.

5. Studio interior in TirunelvelliStudio interior in Tirunelvelli

This major project will create the first archive of Tamil studio photography, namely family portraiture, from the time of the introduction of commercial photo studios in the second half of the 19th century up to the introduction of mechanised photographic processing. The project aims to cover the different productions of black and white manually processed studio photography (prints, negatives and glass plates) which are rapidly disappearing either through natural degradation or, in many cases, voluntary destruction. The feasibility of creating this archive was explored in the pilot project EAP737 through the survey of 100 studios in 14 localities.

The EAP946 archive aims to provide researchers with unique visual material and metadata of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes. Besides the study of photographic processes and mediums throughout history, of the evolutions of representation of women and men, a wide range of issues could be investigated such as the consequences of the introduction of photo portraits in the homes; the ways in which these have affected vernacular notions of individuality and dual dimension of personhood (akam/interior and puram/exterior); their impact on representations of marriage from alliance to conjugality; the uses of family portraits as hybrid photo-objects subject to daily domestic ritual venerated alongside chromolithographs of divinities in Tamil households; the transformation of regional and sectarian dress codes etc.

4. Salem studio archives (2)Salem Studio archives

These unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors. Firstly, many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of accelerated deterioration due to the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic productions. This situation is aggravated by the tropical climate of southern India with its year round high level of humidity which is particularly detrimental to both prints and negatives. Secondly, large parts of photographic productions have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed due to a lack of awareness about the importance of preserving this heritage. During a century (1880-1980) of black and white photographic productions, many studios were regularly destroying their collections by selling negatives (glass and film) to silver-extractors. Similarly, families are discarding the portraits of the older generations by selling them to second-hand wood and glass dealers who dismantle the frame to recycle the materials. The photos (generally piled on the ground of the shop) are kept by these dealers for the occasional passer-by who can purchase these private portraits for a minimal price. Thirdly, the lack of awareness about the value of this unique heritage further results in the deterioration of the remaining photographic material in Tamil Nadu. Many of the earliest studios have closed over the last 30 years and the descendants of studio photographers often have minimal knowledge of preservation conditions for negatives and prints, nor an understanding for the value and vulnerability of their forefathers’ photographic productions. Besides the major objective of creating an archive of this endangered material, the project will also raise awareness and interest of the collection holders in order to preserve in the best possible conditions the remnants of this invaluable heritage.

7. Ramesh Kumar digitizing (EAP 737) (2)Ramesh Kumar digitising images (EAP 737)

Private photo collections from photo studios will be the primary source for digitisation efforts. Researchers will be able to study the technical and ‘stylistic’ transformation of studio photography over the decades, and eventually, when compared to other studios in other places, the study of regional variations. The digitisation of each studio archives constitutes a corpus of its own that enables systematic image analysis to be done. The project will also aim to digitise photographic material from private homes which should provide interesting documentation on the photographic consumption of families. Digitising sessions will be conducted in 8 medium and large sized towns in Tamil Nadu: Kumbakonam, Karaikudi, Cuddalore, Pondicherry, Madurai, Chennai, Tirunelveli, and Coimbatore.

8. Coordinators Ramesh Kumar and Zoe Headley on a tea break (EAP 737)Coordinators Ramesh Kumar and Zoe Headley on a tea break (EAP 737)

Written by Zoé Headley, French Institute of Pondicherry. Zoé is the grant holder for the ongoing EAP946 major project along with Ramesh Kumar and Alexandra de Heering. Zoé and Ramesh conducted the pilot project EAP737. There are already some fantastic images online from the pilot project to check out. I've added a few below, and you can see more here. We're really looking forward to seeing what we receive for EAP946!

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_021_LEAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_023_LEAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

  EAP737_4_4_12-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_FN_B12_025_LEAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]

EAP737_4_4_12-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_FN_B12_029_LEAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]

 

09 February 2017

New collections online - February 2017

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This month we have three new collections added to the EAP website: Buddhist manuscripts from Laos, and Tamil and Burmese studio photography.

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_002_L
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP737: Representing Self and Family. Preserving early Tamil studio photography

Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, the constraints and costs of acquiring photographic equipment meant that photography was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s medium size towns, and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. In South India, prior to the arrival of commercial photography, there existed no local forms of popular portraiture aside from the representations of divinities. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families, combining the uses of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage and montage.

There is a real urgency in preserving these photographs. Many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of deterioration due to some of the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic production. The climatic conditions of South India are extremely detrimental for photographic prints and negatives, even for those printed from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. With the advent of mechanised processing and printing followed by the digital revolution in photography, many of the old photo studios have closed down and their archives of glass-plate negatives and film negatives have been destroyed, either through lack of interest or space to conserve them.

The project team were able to conduct fieldwork in the eight target towns (Chennai, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Karaikudi, Kumbakonam, Madurai, Pondicherry, Tirunelveli), and were also able to carry out surveys in an additional six towns (Chidambaram, Jayamkundan, Meencuruti, Pollachi, Tindivanam, Villupuram). In each locality, the oldest photo studios where sought out and in total 100 photo studios were approached over the course of the pilot project. In many instances, but not all, the owners of the photo collections have given their consent for future digitisation of their archives. Also, family members of studios which have closed down over the last 30 years were also sought out as some of them still hold the archives of the old family business.

This survey has confirmed that these unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors and their digitisation is urgent. The team members have noted that in most of the cases, either the owners had destroyed whole collections for lack of interest or lack of space, or the remaining photographic material is in a state of severe degradation due to poor conservation conditions.

The project team were able to digitise a sample of around 1000 photographs from some of the studios surveyed, from private family collections, and from those purchased by the team in local second-hand shops.

EAP737_4_3_8-EAP_737_Coll4_E_FN_B30_013_L
EAP737/4/3/8 - Events Negatives Box 30 [1962]

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_023_L
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP691: Rare manuscripts of great Buddhist thinkers of Laos: digitisation, translation and relocation at the 'Buddhist Archive of Luang Prabang'

The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by several great Buddhist abbots of Luang Prabang in Laos. The manuscripts present valuable insight into the diverse intellectual interests of leading Theravada thinkers of the 20th century in one of the least known Buddhist cultures in the world. Notwithstanding its rich culture, deeply influenced by Theravada Buddhism, Laos is still one of the least researched countries of Southeast Asia. During the second half of the 20th century, significant parts of the country’s cultural heritage have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, due to foreign interventions, civil war, and revolution. As a great surprise to international researchers, Buddhist monks of Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal capital, managed to preserve important parts of Lao heritage.

The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by Pha Khamchan Virachitto (Vat Saen Sukharam), Pha Khamfan Silasangvara (Vat Suvannakhili), and Pha Bunchankeo Phothichitto (Vat Xiang Muan). Colophons and other paratexts (such as prefaces and titles) were transcribed into modern Lao. Roughly half of the manuscripts have such colophons which in most cases mention not only the date when the writing of the manuscript was finished, but also the names of sponsors and donors of the manuscripts and, more rarely, the name of the scribes. Preservation work has also been carried out on the original manuscripts which are now stored under safer and more accessible conditions

EAP691_3_2_18-EAP691_VSS_1_0340_5_004_L
EAP691/3/2/18 - Thanakhan Ban Pai ( fascicle no.5) (ທານະຂັນບັ້ນປາຍຜູກ 5) (1674)

EAP898: Myanmar negative record

This project aimed to set out to investigate the remaining negative archives and collections of local Burmese photographers. The project was able to identify two studios in Yangon that agreed to have some of the negatives in their archives digitised. The majority of the negatives come from the Bellay Photo Studio, with a smaller collection digitised from Asia Studio.

The owner of the Bellay Photo Studio, Tun Tun Lay, agreed to the digitisation of some of the negatives taken by his father, Har Si Yoi, starting in 1963, only one year after General Ne Win’s coup d’état. The images taken in the studio capture life during the so-called ‘lost decades’ and present a unique insight into this time period, as there are no archives in Myanmar or abroad that hold a comprehensive collection of images from those decades. Bellay Photo Studio is run by an ethnically Chinese family and many of the clients were Chinese-Burmese as well. A community that suffered greatly during Ne Win’s Burmese Way of Socialism; they were persecuted, their properties were nationalised, and finally a ban on Chinese-language education was issued, which forced a major exodus of Burmese-Chinese to other countries. The negatives at the studio used to be stored in two large wooden cabinets which were destroyed by termites and humidity along with more than 50% of the negatives. The loose negatives, which had been kept in envelopes, have been stored in plastic bags since 2012.

Another small but important archive of 134 negatives, including glass plates, was archived on the outskirts of Yangon. The grandson of the famed Asia Studio proprietor, U Kyawt, allowed the project to digitise a small section of his collection. The negatives and plates are stored in a wooden box without any kind of protection. The images include press photography capturing Aung San who is considered to be the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar and a hero for his struggle for independence. He is also the father of politician and current Minister of Foreign affairs, Aung San Suu Kyi. The images were taken in the 1940s; Aung San was assassinated in 1947. The Asia Studio archive holds many more valuable images that are at risk due to the storage environment.

The digitised negatives form a very important record from after Myanmar’s independence and will allow not only researchers in the West but also Burmese to access the unique photographic culture of their past that documented everyday life and how Burmese citizens wanted to be portrayed. This is especially true for the images from Bellay Photo Studio, as they represent various communities of Yangon in the late 1960s and 70s.

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EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]

EAP898_1_1-EAP898_ASIA_SUDIO-94_L
EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]

EAP898_2_1-EAP898_BELLAY_STUDIO-4438_L
EAP898/2/1 - Bellay Studio [1969-1982]

20 January 2017

A Royal Proposal of Marriage

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Now well into our digitisation workflow process, team EAP880 all took some time out mesmerised by the contents of one particular file…

01_DSC07084

Caught at the crossworlds of British India, Tibetan Buddhism, and Burmese political transitions, this file captures the furtive and subsequent official engagement between a Himalayan prince, HRH Sidkeong Tulku of Sikkim (1879-1914) and a Burmese princess-in-exile, HRH Teik-Tin Ma Lat (b.1894).

Through first-hand accounts, it provides a rare lens into the emerging internationalism of the era touching upon Britain, Ladakh, India, Sikkim, Tibet, Burma, and Japan. It takes us through the couple’s first meeting, their love letters, their differences, and their wedding plans, and culminates with the Prince’s untimely and mysterious death—three months before his wedding—at age 35.

02_IMG_1383
Photo: Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal was never destined for the throne: As the second son of Sikkim’s 9th Chogyal (King) Thutob Namgyal and a recognised reincarnate lama he had taken monastic vows of celibacy and was beginning his Buddhist studies in the monastery.

 

03_IMG_1461
Photo: 9th Sikkim Chogyal (King) Thutob Namgyal © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

However, his father’s reign had been characterised by waves of aggression from both modern day Nepal and Bhutan, and—in a regional theatre dominated by the Great Game—increasing British interventionism as the latter strove to counter a perceived Russian influence in Lhasa. It was through the Sikkim Himalayas that they saw their greatest chances of success.

Increasingly wary of the scope of Tibetan belligerence, the British sought to exert influence over Sikkim’s politics: On refusing to recall Crown Prince Tsodag from their summer estates in Chumbi (Tibet), the British held the Chogyal and his family, for two years near Darjeeling – ironically, a tract of land leased to them by the 8th Chogyal of Sikkim.

While in captivity, the Chogyal—out of mistrust of British intention and fear for his son’s life—maintained his refusal to order the Crown Prince’s return. He was finally released when the Viceroy of India, authorised the removal of the Crown Prince from the line of the succession, and investing Prince Sidkeong Tulku as heir apparent. And so, began the generous grooming of Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal.

 

04_IMG_1466Photo: Lt. O’Connor © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

After a brief stint with Sarat Chandra Das and at St. Paul’s School (Darjeeling), the prince went to Pembroke College, Oxford University (1906-08), during which time he was under the care of Lt. Col. O’Connor with whom he became quite close, and John Claude White (Political Officer, Sikkim).

Fluent in Chinese, Hindi, English, Lepcha, Nepali, and Tibetan, the Prince visited New York, European capitals, and Burma keeping a handwritten, large-format diary—in English—of his travels, replete with photos, mementos, invitations, and playbills. He returned to Sikkim progressive and full of energy, advocating for judicial, land, and monastic reforms.

05_DSC00601
Photo: Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to John Claude White (5th November, 1906)

By 1906, Sikkim’s new Crown Prince decided he should soon marry and began a search for a well-educated woman with a compatible fluency in English, and a shared Buddhist heritage.

Though the Government of India had no objection, the Chogyal of Sikkim, still raw from the treatment he had been subjected to and perhaps moved deeply by his devotion to the Buddha dharma, held the opinion that the Prince—an incarnation of a lama—should refrain from both marriage and activity in worldly affairs, in favour of spiritual practice. The British, in contrast, were only too eager to help the Crown Prince!

06_DSC00600Photo: Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to Curzon Wylie (13th June, 1908)

Prince Sidkeong Tulku—in admiration of Japanese culture—wished to marry a Japanese. During a visit to Japan, the British Ambassador bore the responsibility of inviting Sidkeong to various dances and dinners, but with no obvious match made, the Government of India decided that a Burmese would be preferable, as unlike Japan, Tibet, or Siam, Burma was under British rule.

07_DSC00599Photo: Letter from W.H. Hodges to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (9th October, 1910)

It then fell on the Government of Burma to provide a list of suitable ladies, and the respective governments of Bombay and the United Provinces, to provide lists of Burma’s royal lineage ladies whose families were living in exile in India. These were  presented to the Prince in late 1910.

The Prince of Limbin (Limbin Mintha), a grandson of King Tharrawaddy, and his daughters were living in Allahabad, which, in December 1910 was (rather conveniently) preparing to host the the three-month Allahabad Exhibition. This provided the perfect opportunity for Prince Sidkeong to meet Limbin Mintha’s family, while arousing minimal suspician at home.

Accompanied by Kazi Gyaltsen to Allahabad, Prince Sidkeong hosted a dinner party for Limbin Mintha and gifted Princess Ma Lat an image of the Buddha and a basket of Sikkim oranges. After a few meetings, Charles Bell (Political Officer, Sikkim) noted that the prince had not made a decision and that he had instead requested enquiries to be made for potential brides in Siam, Kashmir, Ladakh, and again in Japan.

However, finding a woman in Siam educated in English proved too difficult, and though one Shimchung Gialmon Lhadun of Mathu (Ladakh) was suggested, the Prince disapproved of her illiteracy (despite remarking on her physical beauty).

Again, in 1911, he wrote to Colin J. Davidson (Assistant Secretary, British Embassy in Japan) requesting his help in finding a suitable bride, however, the Anglo-Japan relation was deteriorating and Davidson advised against this, citing in addition that, “The knowledge they (Japanese ladies) acquire is very meagre and as a rule almost useless for practical purposes…”

So it was in 1912 that Prince Sidkeong chose to marry Princess Ma Lat, whose family by this time had returned to Rangoon, despite the fact that on principle, his father—the Chogyal—still opposed any marriage just as he had in 1908.

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Photo: Letter from W.H. Hodges to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (30th June, 1913); and Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to Charles Bell (28th July, 1913).

Instead, the Government of India assumed the role of a negotiater securing the consent of Limbin Mintha for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Prince Sidkeong advised that the Chogyal should not yet be informed due to the seriousness of his father’s illness. Yet in the meantime, the Prince made a visit to Rangoon, to fulfill the dual purpose of both pilgrimage and proposal.

09_DSC00605Photo: Letter from Princess Ma Lat to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (22nd November, 1913)

The initial 1913 Rangoon wedding date was repeatedly postponed by the Prince whose concern for his father’s deteriorating health became his priority. However, over the course of a regular correspondence between the engaged, the Prince and Princess exchanged letters discussing designs of the wedding dress and rings, as well as expenses.

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Photo: Sub-folder of astrological calculations for the marriage of Prince Sidkeong Tulku of Sikkim with Princess Ma Lat of Limbin (Burma)

In June 1914—as per Sikkimese custom—an astrologer was consulted on whose advice the Prince set the wedding for 24th January 1915 in Rangoon. Meanwhile, the Princess Ma Lat had requested Sidkeong to send her a Sikkimese ayah in order to help familiarise herself with Sikkimese culture. (The Prince advises Ma Lat to read more books instead!)

On 10th February, 1914, Chogyal Thutob Namgyal passed away. The prince wrote to his fiancée explaining the Sikkimese custom of one year’s mourning, which was especially important given there was some disapproval of the match in Sikkim. Moreover, he notes that Britain was now at war with Germany and under such situations, officials were busy with war efforts.

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Photo: Letter from Princess Ma Lat to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (26th November, 2014)

This was likely the last letter the Prince received from his fiancée for after only nine months on the throne, in December 1914, Prince Sidkeong Tulku died in what the British call “mysterious circumstances” while ill in bed, just one month before his marriage.

 

Written by Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880

26 October 2016

Fragments of Sikkim

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Pema Abrahams' blog describes her recently awarded project (EAP880) that seeks to preserve, document, digitise, and make accessible a collection of approximately 100,000 documents from the Sikkim Palace Archives, 1875 – 1975.

Sikkim is a landlocked state of India, hidden amongst the deep folds of the Himalaya, tucked between Nepal, Tibet, West Bengal, and Bhutan.

Sikkim_area_map_svgSikkim area map: Wikimedia Foundation (www.wikimedia.org)  CC BY 4.0  via Wikimedia Commons

A former Buddhist kingdom ruled for over 300 years by the Namgyal dynasty of ‘Chogyals’ (or dharma rajas – spiritual and temporal monarchs). Sikkim was often called the ‘Switzerland of the East’ and has been best known for its unique Buddhist traditions, its agricultural produce, for providing the British Empire with an access route to Tibet, and for the magnificent beauty of its natural landscape, including Mt. Khangchendzonga, the world’s third highest peak.

Khanchendzonga sunrise (2)Khanchendzonga at sunrise: copyright Pema Abrahams

In fact, just earlier this year we took much pride in 25% of the state being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, representing India’s first mixed category site—for the area’s natural significance which includes a vertical sweep of over seven kilometers within an area of only 178,400 hectares, as well as its cultural significance for the mythological stories and the indigenous practices that have been, and continue to be, integrated with these mountains, caves, lakes, and rivers, many of which we consider sacred.

Dzongri west Sikkim (2)Dzongri west Sikkim: copyright Pema Abrahams

However, nowadays discussions, whether academic or popular, concerning historical aspects of Sikkim suffer from a paucity of sources, exacerbated by the sensitive political situation of Sikkim after its annexation by India in 1975. As a result its in-depth study is restricted, a balanced understanding of the history of this region is impossible, no Sikkim history is taught in any local school, and not a single museum exists in the state.

For a population of over 600,000 Sikkimese who speak over 10 distinct languages amongst them, the consequences that this historical vacuum leaves - which denies our communities a sense of historical identity and access to their roots, as well as the facility of cultural preservation in a rapidly homogenising India - can often be painful to acknowledge, and does our current generation an immense disservice.

Photo No 3 StorageStorage of part of the collection

This collection which numbers approximately 100,000 documents will provide an overview of, and a rare insight into, late 19th and 20th century Sikkim, introducing the characters and events that shaped the development of the kingdom and its eventual integration into India. Its contents are powerful, never-before-seen documents, which breathe life into a series of engaging stories about the people, the land, and its complex history at the crosswords of British India and Tibetan Buddhism. They contain a unique and priceless record of the region that will be of interest to scholars of both this Himalayan state and the wider region of South and Central Asia, and they harbour the potential to guide Sikkimese, visitors, and scholars alike in discovering the richness of this forgotten kingdom, and in giving voice to the untold histories of one of India's youngest states. 

Hoping to contribute to the growing archive of historical research and cultural revitalization in India, this project was born out of a thirst for knowledge and exists as an exercise of scholarship and archive, of discourse and development. Our goal is to make this information accessible and engaging to audiences both international and domestic. But at the heart of this project is our aspiration that the information unearthed in this collection will be of benefit to our Sikkimese youth who will bear the responsibility for the direction of our collective relationships with our communities and our cultures, who have precious few historical references on which to fall back on.

_DSC1376The EAP880 team with Dr Alex McKay, Prakash Ram and Sundar Ganesan (R-L)

At our core are a team of five, young Sikkimese who have a genuine interest in the material, and a strong commitment to the values of the project. In the five weeks since the start of our twelve-month project, we’ve created a database with rough details of the 800+ folders in our collection and have labelled, for ease of our own sorting and finding the filing cabinets in which the collection has been held, untouched, for much of the past 40 years. We’ve enjoyed a visit by our Academic Advisor, Dr Alex McKay, who in addition to creating an exhaustive list of categories and sub-categories for the collection, gave a series of talks sharing some of his expertise with our young team to help us put the collection into historical context and understand its full value.

2016-10-04 16.24.25 copyDr Alex McKay overseeing work on the archive

We’ve also hosted Sundar Ganesan (Director) and Prakash Ram (Assistant Director) from The Roja Muthiah Research Library (Chennai) to train our team in archival methodology, documentation of collections, and digitisation techniques. It was an enlightening week for us all; an experience for which we are all very grateful, and a relationship we feel very fortunate to have forged and hope to continue throughout our own development process.

_DSC1358Pema Abrahams with Sundar Ganesan (R) and Prakash Ram (C)

_DSC1356Discussing the project with Prakash Ram

01 September 2016

Call for Applications

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 4 November 2016 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website. This year we will also be accepting online applications.

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EAP843: Part of the Archibishopric’s Archive, Sandiago de Cuba. A pilot project undertaken in 2015 with a major project about to begin.

The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The digital collections from 165 projects are currently available online, consisting of over 5 million images and several thousand sound recordings.

This year we have started making our sound recordings available for online streaming and one of our most popular archives is the Syliphone Label.

The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals. Since 2004 approximately 300 projects have been funded. Last year awards were given for projects based in Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ghana, India, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turks and Caicos Islands.

The following images give a sense of the type of material that went online over the past year.

Image 4EAP692/1/1/2  Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa Ceiling East [17th Century]. Part of the pilot project to digitise temple murals in Tamil Nadu. The team have now started a major grant.

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EAP727/6/25: བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid-19th century]. Tibetan Buddhist manuscript from Amdo, PR China

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EAP755/1/1/86 Mendoza. Photographs taken by Annemarie Heinrich, Argentina. The team working on this project have also been awarded  a major grant.

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EAP856/1/6 Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony (Tome III) [May 1881 - Sep 1881]. 19th century archives written by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (written in Malagasy.  Another project is also underway on Madagascar.

So, if you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk