Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues


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

25 September 2023

Sang Hyang Hayu: an Old Javanese 'Great Book' in three different scripts

This guest blog post is by Agung Kriswanto and Aditia Gunawan, librarians at the National Library of Indonesia. In June 2023, Agung spent a week at the British Library through the Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project and recently contributed a blog post on Javanese palm leaf manuscripts written in Buda script. This post looks specifically at one Old Javanese text, Sang Hyang Hayu, the subject of Aditia's recent Ph.D. at École Pratique des Hautes Études - PSL, Paris.

MSS Jav 53 is a collection of 35 palm leaf manuscripts, numbered MSS Jav 53 a to MSS Jav 53 ii, which has been digitised by the British Library in collaboration with the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO). The collection was obtained in Java by Colonel Colin Mackenzie during his time on the island between 1811 to 1813. The manuscripts, which are all written on the palmyra palm leaf known in Indonesia as lontar (Borassus flabellifer), contain texts written in Javanese, Old Javanese and Balinese languages, and in a variety of scripts.

The oldest known Javanese palm leaf manuscript in Buda script, dated 1493
The oldest known Javanese palm leaf manuscript in Buda script, dated 1493. British Library, MSS Jav 53 t Noc

Six manuscripts in the British Library collection MSS Jav 53 are written in the archaic Buda or Gunung ('Mountain') script, and probably the most significant is found in MSS Jav 53 t, a lontar manuscript containing the text Sang Hyang Hayu, 'The Holy Good', a religious treatise in Old Javanese probably composed in the 14th century. Although Sang Hyang Hayu was written in Old Javanese, it does not appear to have been a popular text in Old Javanese literary circles, whether in Central or East Java, or in Bali. In fact, this text circulated more widely in the Sundanese cultural region of West Java, as can be seen from the fact that almost all known manuscripts of Sang Hyang Hayu originate from West Java, and nearly all are written on gebang palm leaf (Corypha gebanga), not the more usual lontar.

The importance of this text for Sundanese communities can be judged from its reception in this region: the most important portions of the text were translated into Old Sundanese by the author of Sang Hyang Sasana Mahaguru, 'Sacred Instructions of the Master', in around the 15th century. Certain authors of Old Sundanese texts have referred to Sang Hyang Hayu as vataṅ agəṅ,'The Great Book', reflecting its authoritative status (Aditia Gunawan 2023).

The importance of the British Library manuscript MSS Jav 53 t lies in the fact that this is the only copy known of Sang Hyang Hayu written in Buda script, for this text is not found in the large Merapi-Merbabu collection in National Library in Jakarta, or in any other collection of Buda-script manuscripts worldwide. Furthermore, this manuscript is complete, compared to the other Buda-script manuscripts in MSS Jav 53 which contain only fragmentary texts; equally crucially, the Sang Hyang Hayu text in MSS Jav 53 t contains a colophon. The scribe of MSS Jav 53 t also described this work as apus agəṅ, 'The Great Book', echoing the approbation of the Sundanese writers. The colophon states that the manuscript was written within the hermitage (batur) of Kasinoman, Ketralingga (read: Kertalingga?), in the Javanese Śaka year 1415, equivalent to 1493 AD. Although the precise location of Kasinoman and Ketralingga cannot be identified, the dating of 1493 AD is extremely significant not only within the group of Buda-script Javanese manuscripts, but also in the broader context of other Indonesian manuscripts, for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, MSS Jav 53 t is older than the Ramayana manuscript dated 1521 AD in the Merapi-Merbabu collection held in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta, which has long been regarded as the oldest known Buda-script manuscript (Kuntara Wiryamartana & van der Molen, 2001: 55). Secondly, this is the second oldest known manuscript of Sang Hyang Hayu, after manuscript L 638 in the National Library of Indonesia, which is dated Śaka 1357, equivalent to 1435 AD. Thirdly, with its date of 1493, MSS Jav 53 t is by far the oldest Indonesian manuscript in the British Library. 

Colophon of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script, dated 1493
Colophon of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script: ti titi pva yeka vula(n) saptami, kr̥ṣṇāpakṣa ø I śaka, 1415 ø Om̐ saṁ hyaṁ [...], giving a date equivalent to 1493 AD. British Library, MSS Jav 53 t, f. 43r  Noc

In the MSS Jav 53 collection, apart from MSS Jav 53 t which is in Buda script, there is another lontar manuscript of Sang Hyang Hayu written in a different script: MSS Jav 53 gg, which is in a form of coastal (pasisir) Javanese script. This manuscript is also extremely important as the only known copy of Sang Hyang Hayu written in Javanese script. Unfortunately, and unlike MSS Jav 53 t, MSS Jav 53 gg does not have a colophon giving details of its production, and so it is not known where or when the manuscript was written. Thus the Mackenzie collection MSS Jav 53 contains two copies of Sang Hyang Hayu, both originating from the Javanese tradition, written using two different scripts, namely Buda script and (coastal) Javanese script.

Sang Hyang Hayu, written in Javanese script
Sang Hyang Hayu, written in (coastal) Javanese script. British Library, MSS Jav 53 gg  Noc

In the British Library, in addition to the two Sang Hyang Hayu manuscripts in the MSS Jav 53 collection, there is a third Sang Hyang Hayu manuscript, MSS Jav 105, which is written in Old West Javanese quadratic script (see Acri, 2017: 48). This manuscript comes from the West Javanese tradition as it is written on gebang leaf, like the other Sang Hyang Hayu manuscripts known from West Java.

The opening lines of the text of Sang Hyang Hayu in the manuscripts MSS Jav 53 t and MSS Jav 53 gg, written on lontar, are essentially identical to that found in MSS Jav 105, which is written on gebang leaf, and all other known texts of Sang Hyang Hayu also start in the same way. It can therefore be concluded that the two copies of the Sang Hyang Hayu text found in MSS Jav 53, and written in Buda script and Javanese script on lontar (and therefore both originating from the Javanese cultural milieu of Central and East Java ), are the only two known copies of this text from a manuscript tradition outside West Java.

Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script, incised on lontar
Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script, incised on lontar (palmyra leaf): Om̐ Avighnam astu nāma siḍəm· ø ndaḥ saṁ hyaṁ hayu hikaṁ hajarakna mami riṅ vaṁ kadi kita, kunaṁ deyanta humiḍəpā... British Library, MSS Jav 53 t, f. 1v  Noc

Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Javanese script, incised on lontar
Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in (coastal) Javanese script, incised on lontar (palmyra leaf): Om̐ Avighnam astu nama. ṅdaḥ saṁ hyaṁ hayu hajarakna mami (- -) kadi kita, kunaṁ deyanta humiḍəp·... British Library, MSS Jav 53 gg, f. 2v   Noc

Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Old West Javanese quadratic script, written in ink on gebang lea
Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Old West Javanese quadratic script, written in ink on gebang leaf: //ø// Om̐ Avignam astu //ø// nḍaḥ saṁ hyaṁ yu Ikaṁ Ajarakna mami riṅ vaṁ kaḍi kita, kunəṁ deyanta humiḍəpā...  British Library, MSS Jav 105, f. 1v   Noc

Munawar Holil and Aditia Gunawan (2010: 140-141) have identified five Sang Hyang Hayu manuscripts in the National Library in Jakarta. Two more are held in the Kabuyutan (hermitage) of Ciburuy, at Garut in West Java, which have been digitised through the Endangered Archives Project EAP280 (EAP280/1/2/5 and EAP280/1/2/3). The text of Sang Hyang Hayu was edited by Undang A. Darsa in his master's thesis in 1998, based on three manuscripts in the National Library of Indonesia. The most recent research by Aditia Gunawan (2023) listed 12 copies of Sang Hyang Hayu held in collections worldwide. The two lontar manuscripts described above, MSS Jav 53 t and MSS Jav gg, now bring the total number of copies of this text to 14, while also showing that the 'Great Book' Sang Hyang Hayu circulated not only in the western part of Java, but also further east in the island.

Agung Kriswanto and Aditia Gunawan, Librarians, National Library of Indonesia Ccownwork

[This blog post was translated by Annabel Gallop from the Indonesian original, which can be read  here]

The two authors of this blog - (left) Aditia Gunawan and (right) Agung Kriswanto
The two authors of this blog - (left) Aditia Gunawan and (right) Agung Kriswanto - with manuscripts of Sang Hyang Hayu in the Reading Room of the National Library of Indonesia, Jakarta.

Acri, A. (2017). Dharma Pātañjala: A Śaiva Scripture from Ancient Java : Studied in the Light of Related Old Javanese and Sanskrit Texts. Second Edition. Śata-Piṭaka Series 654. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan.
Aditia Gunawan (2023). Sundanese Religion in the 15th century: Philological Study based on the Śikṣā Guru, Sasana Mahaguru, and the Siksa Kandaṅ Karəsian. Ph.D Thesis, EPHE-PSL, Paris.
Kartika Setyawati, Kuntara Wiryamartana & Willem van der Molen. (2002). Katalog Naskah Merapi-Merbabu Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia. Yogyakarta: Universitas Sanata Dharma.
Kuntara Wiryamartana & Molen, Willem van der (2001). The Merapi-Merbabu manuscripts A Neglected Collection. Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land-En Volkenkunde, 157(1), 51–64.
Munawar Holil dan Aditia Gunawan (2010). ‘Membuka Peti Sunda Kuna di Perpustakaan Nasional RI: Upaya Rekatalogisasi’. In: Sundalana 9. Bandung: Pusat Studi Sunda.
Ricklefs, M.C., P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop (2014). Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia. [Includes a facsimile edition of Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977.]
Undang Ahmad Darsa (1998). ‘Sang Hyang Hayu: Kajian filologi naskah bahasa Jawa Kuno di Sunda pada abad XVI’. Master's thesis, Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung.


18 September 2023

The Romantic Sufi: an early copy of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi copied by Jaʿfar Tabrizi

The British Library exceptionally holds four significant 15th-century manuscripts in the hand of the prominent Persian calligrapher, Jaʻfar Tabrizi (Baysunghuri), copied between 1420 and 1435.

Originally from Tabriz, Jaʻfar was trained by the canoniser of nastaʻliq script, Mir ʻAli b. Hasan Tabrizi or his son, to became one of the most influential figures in the development of the script. He was already a skillful scribe when around 1420 he was appointed as head of the celebrated atelier of the bibliophile Prince Baysunghur (1397–1433) in Herat.

The British Library manuscripts penned by Jaʻfar are the complete Khamsa of Nizami (Or. 12087), dated 1420; Tarikh of Hamza Isfahani (Or. 2773), dated 1431; Makhzan al-Asrar of Nizami (Or. 11919), dated 1435; and an undated Divan of Kamal Khujandi (Or. 15395). None of these four manuscripts have received the attention they deserve in the West nor in Iran, except for a few succinct mentions in scholarly publications[1].  This is a brief introduction to the little-studied Divan of Kamal Khujandi.

1. Opening illumination of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi
Fig. 1. Opening illumination of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi, copied by Ja‘far Baysunghuri, undated (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 3r). Public domain

Kamal al-Din Masʻud Khujandi

Born in Khujand in Greater Iran (today’s Tajikistan) around 1320, Kamal al-Din Masʻud Khujandi was a renowned Persian poet, whose poems are remarkable for his delicate imagination, subtle similes, and his style in lyrical poems. He was contemporary with several significant Persian poets, who were famous for their innovative verses in the ghazal genre (lyric poetry) in the 14th century; namely, Khvaju Kirmani (1290–1349), ʻImad al-Din Faqih Kirmani (d. 1371), Salman Savaji (1309–1376) and above all Hafiz Shirazi (1315–1390). Prince Baysunghur commissioned poems of all those poets to be edited and copied for his library[2].

In his Tazkira al-Shu‘ara’ (Biographies of the Poets), Daulatshah Samarqandi describes Kamal’s poetry as mystical and passionate. He was indeed a mystical figure and unlike other poets of his time such as Khvaju Kirmani, who in pursuit of patrons praised every courtly and Sufi authority in his poems, Kamal exceptionally composed almost no panegyrical verses in his life[3]. Although the Jalayirid Sultan Husayn (r. 1374–82) patronised him by ordering a khanqah (Sufi lodge) be erected for him, the poet never joined the Sultan’s court and resided in his lodge in Tabriz until the end of his life.

The earliest copy of his poetry is dated 1398, which is preserved in the Astan Qods Library (MS. 4739)[4].  The British Library copy (Or. 15395) is unfortunately undated, but was certainly produced in the first half of the 15th century. Despite being an early copy, it has never been used in any of the numerous editions of Kamal’s Divan published since 1958. The reason for this manuscript remaining neglected is probably because it had been misidentified as the Divan of Kamal al-Din Isma‘il (1173–1237), who was also a distinguished poet, but lived over a century prior to Kamal Khujandi.

The British Library Manuscript

Prince Baysunghur’s copy of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi is bound in an early 19th-century binding of dark brown leather. It is decorated with a cusped oval centrepiece and two small pendants, stamped on leather of lighter colour, with the doublures of plain red leather. Its handmade, burnished paper is of light chickpea colour, medium thickness, flexible and soft. The text is arranged in two columns and 17 lines to a page, with rulings in gold and lapis blue, as found in majority of Baysunghuri manuscripts. The initial 13 folios have been repaired and remounted on thick handmade sheets, which is slightly darker and thicker than the original paper. The book title, written in a later hand on f. 1v and dated 1806, incorrectly states Divan-i Kamal Isma‘il al-shahir bih Khallaq al-Ma‘ani (The Divan of Kamal Isma‘il known as The Creator of Meaning). The second folio bears memoranda on birth dates of a 19th-century family.

The opening (f. 3r, fig. 1) presents an oval shamsa with pointed ends, beautifully illuminated with palmette and arabesque motifs in gold, dark red and black on a ground that was once lapis blue, but is washed out now. The central ground is black with washed out red arabesque vines, on which there is a cartouche and two large pendants in gold. The inscriptions on them are almost illegible, except for the traces on the upper pendant, which reads Divan-i Kamal.

2. Opening illumination of the Shahnama and Khamsa  copied by Muhammad b. Mutahhar
Fig. 2: Opening illumination of the Shahnama and Khamsa, copied by Muhammad b. Mutahhar, 833/1430 (Malek Library, MS 6031).  By permission of the Malek National Library and Museum

We know of more than 30 manuscripts produced for Baysunghur in Herat, among which only one other manuscript bears a pointed oval ex libris: a dual-text manuscript at the Malek Library (MS no. 6031), containing the Shahnama of Firdausi and the Khamsa of Nizami, dated 1430 (fig. 2)[5].  The illuminated heading (fig. 3) of our Divan is similarly damaged with damp, where the blue is washed out and only the black and gold have survived. The colophon is signed by Jaʿfar Tabrizi (f. 182v, fig. 4) with his sobriquet Baysunghuri: علی ید العبد الضعیف جعفر البایسنغری (In the hand of the slave, the weak, Jaʻfar al-Baysunghuri)

3. Illuminated heading  Or.15395  f. 3v
Fig. 3. The illuminated heading of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi, copied by Ja‘far Baysunghuri, undated (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 3v). Public domain

4. Colophon of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi  with the scribe's signature Ja‘far Baysunghuri  Or.15395  f. 182v
Fig. 4. Ja‘far Baysunghuri's signature in the colophon of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi, undated (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 182v). Public domain

There is not much known about the peregrination of this manuscript, but the two seal impressions on the opening (3r) and colophon page (182v) reveal that the manuscript belonged to Mahdi al-Musavi al-Safavi [Kashmiri] around 1884 (مهدی الموسوی الصفوی ۱۳۰۲). He was the author of several books of religious studies in Persian and Arabic and died in April 1892. After him, the manuscript was in the possession of Nasir al-Mulk in 1911 (هوالله ناصرالملک نایب‌ السلطنه ۱۳۲۹). Abu’l-Qasim Nasir al-Mulk Shirazi (1856–1927) was a member of Nasir al-Din Shah’s consultative council and the regent of Ahmad Shah Qajar. Nasir al-Mulk was the first Iranian to study at Oxford University (1879, Balliol College), where he perfected his Latin and Greek. He translated The Merchant of Venice and Othello into Persian for the first time. Still in Iran around 1911, the manuscript was purchased at Bonhams sale by the British Library in 1997. 

5. COlophon and seals
Fig. 5. Seals of Mahdi al-Musavi al-Safavi and Nasir al-Mulk (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 182v). Public domain

Dating the Manuscript

There is no information on the place and date of completion, but a comparison of the shamsa might help dating the BL copy. The aforementioned Malek Library manuscript (MS no. 6031) with the pointed oval ex libris was initiated soon after the Preface to the Baysunghur’s Shahnama was composed by the Timurid court historiographer Hafiz Abru in 1426. The preface starts with two couplets from the Divan of Kamal Khujandi.

On the other hand, the illuminated heading of the Divan of Kamal (f. 1v. fig. 3) closely resembles an illuminated heading in Baysunghur’s Divan of Khvaju Kirmani, copied in 1426 (Malek Library, MS. 5963), with the same colour palette: red, black, gold and (washed out) lapis blue, which was not a common colour palette in other codices in Prince’s corpus. Furthermore, the decoration of the central cartouche and two pendants within the pointed oval medallion of the Divan of Kamal suggests that it was done no later than 1426, as it was not a favoured design after that date when the atelier created a different emblematic ex libris for its use. Examples of similar central pieces in Baysunghuri manuscripts are found as early as 1420 in the Khamsa of Nizami (Or. 12087, fig.6) and as late as 1425 in a dual-text codex containing the Zafarnama of Shami and Zayl-i Zafarnama of Hafiz Abru (Suleymaniye Library, Nuruosmaniye 3267)[6].  It is almost certain that the British Library manuscript was produced sometime between 1420 and 1426. Following the scribe’s active years helps narrow this spectrum further down.

6. Opening shamsa of the Khamsa of Nizami
Fig. 6. Opening shamsa of the Khamsa of Nizami, 823/1420 (British Library, Or. 12087, f. 1r). Public domain

Jaʿfar was occupied with the Khamsa of Nizami in 1420, the Khusrau u Shirin of Nizami in 1421 (St Petersburg Institute of Oriental Studies, B-132), the Divan of Hasan Dihlavi in 1422 (Majles Library, MS no. 4017), the undated Divan of Hafiz around 1425 (TIEM, MS no. 1923), the Sirr al-asrar in 1426 (Chester Beatty, Ar. 4183), the Gulistan of Saʿdi in 1427 (Chester Beatty, Per. 119). He then began the three-year great project of copying the famous Baysunghur’s Shahnama (Golestan Palace, MS. 716) in 1427, while also working on the Nuzhat al-Arvah (current location unknown). Given his responsibilities as the head of the library-atelier and the supervisor of artistic and architectural projects at the court, Jaʿfar might have copied it around 1423 and 1424, the years from which we have no manuscript penned by him. At any case, the British Library Divan of Kamal Khujandi is a valuable source not only for its artistic traits of calligraphy and illumination, but also as an early witness to the text.

Dr Shiva Mihan, Washington University in St. Louis


Bibliographical Notes

[1] I have discussed the Khamsa, Tarikh-i Isfahani and Divan of Kamal Khujandi in my PhD dissertation (Cambridge University, 2018), along with some mentions of the posthumously-completed Makhzan al-Asrar. The Tarikh-i Iṣfahani, Or. 2773, has been discussed briefly by Tom Lentz, Painting at Herat under Baysunghur ibn Shah Rukh (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1985): 128. Alison Ohta has discussed its binding in her PhD thesis: Covering the Book: Bindings of the Mamluk period, 1250–1516 CE (S.O.A.S., University of London, 2012). It has also been mentioned briefly in Roxburgh, D.J. The Persian Album, 1400–1600: from dispersal to collection (New Haven, 2005): 336, n. 68; Thackston, W.M. Album Prefaces and Other Documents on the History of Calligraphers and Painters (Leiden, Boston, Cologne, 2001): 45, n. 22; and Lentz & Lowry Lentz, T.W. & G.D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision: Persian art and culture in the fifteenth century (Los Angeles, 1989): 369.

[2] Baysunghur’s copies of the mentioned poets are: Kulliyyat of Khvaju Kirmani (Malek Library, MS no. 5963), Kulliyyat of ‘Imad al-Din Faqih Kirmani (Bodleian Library, Elliott 210), selected poems of Salman Savaji (Astan Qods, MS no. 10399) and Divan of Ḥafiẓ (TIEM, MS no. 1923).

[3] For Khujandi’s relationship with Ḥafiẓ, see Losensky, P.E. “Kamal Ḵojandi” (2010), Iranicaonline. Also see Daulatshah Samarqandi, Taẕkirat al-shuʻarāʾ, ed. E.G. Browne (Tehran, 1382/2004): 325–31. For more details of Khujandi’s life, see Lewisohn, L. “The life and times of Kamal Khujandi”, ed. M.E. Subtelny, Journal of Turkish Studies, 18 (1994): 163–77. On his accusation of stealing Hasan Dihlavi’s style and poems, ssee Ṣafā, Ẕ. Tārīkh-i adabīyyāt dar Īrān, 4 vols (Tehran, 1369/1990): 1134.

[4] Other early copies include MS. 339/1, Majles Library and MS. 266, Sepahsalar Library both dated 1418; MS. 9475, the Majles Library, dated 1421, and a copy in Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, dated 1422, Shiraz; Supplément Persan 742, BNF, dated 1424; and MS. 362, Golestan Palace Library, dated 1432. The British Library holds yet another early copy of the same work (Or. 8193), which is dated 1436.

[5] A study of the Malek manuscript is found in Mihan, S. “The Baysunghuri manuscript in the Malek Library”, Shahnama Studies III: The reception of the Shahnama, ed. C.P. Melville & G. Van den Berg (Leiden, Boston, 2018): 373–419.

[6] For the Khamsa of Niẓami (Or. 12087), see Brend, Barbara, Perspectives on Persian Painting: Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsah: 56–57, and De Blois, Francois, Persian Literature - A Bio-Bibliographical Survey: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period, (2004): 484–85.


11 September 2023

How Old is the Language of Young Malay Manuscripts?

This guest blog, by Prof. Edwin Wieringa of Cologne University, How Old is the Language of Young Malay Manuscripts? A note on the unusual Malay reflexive phrase bertunjukkan diri(nya), turns the spotlight on a phrase in of one of the oldest Malay texts, ‘Tales of the Wise Parrot’.

A drawing of a green parrot
A drawing of a green parrot, in a copy of the Arabic text, Kitāb ʿajāʾib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʾib al-mawjūdāt, 16th-century. British Library, Or 4701, f. 214r Noc

Some years ago, when two copies of the Hikayat Bayan Budiman or Tale(s) of the Wise Parrot just had been digitized, Annabel Teh Gallop posted helpful background information to this work and its textual witnesses on this blog, pointing out that it was probably composed in the 15th century or earlier, but that the two digitized manuscripts at the British Library dated from the early 19th century. This considerable time gap prompts the general and broader, though rarely raised or discussed, question as to whether such relatively young copies may still be regarded as faithful keepers of an older language layer. As the Dutch philologist Roelof Roolvink (1965: 311) warns us, “at any period a copyist, apart from making the usual copyist’s mistakes and embellishments of style etc., was inclined – as was only natural – to substitute new words and forms for those that had already become obsolete or otherwise unintelligible at the time the copy was made.”

Opening pages of Hikayat Bayan Budiman, copied in Penang in 180
Opening pages of Hikayat Bayan Budiman, copied in Penang in 1808. British Library, MSS Malay B.7, ff. 1v-2r  Noc

An intriguing example of a substitution of an unusual grammatical expression can be observed in the transmission of the Hikayat Bayan Budiman. Profiting from the availability of digitized images of MSS Malay B.7, which I recently used for a course in reading the Jawi script of Malay manuscripts, my attention was drawn to a reflexive phrase with an unconventional ber-…-kan verb, namely bertunjukkan dirinya (“to show itself/herself/himself/themselves”), which may very well represent the original wording of many centuries ago. This variant reading does not occur in the critical text edition made by Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt (1878-1966), which is based on two other principal manuscripts from the 19th century. In the Malay Concordance Project, a wonderful online research tool of the late Ian Proudfoot (1946-2011), the latter observed “a tendency to complex verbal morphology” in the Hikayat Bayan Budiman; Proudfoot’s list of words found in Winstedt’s edition facilitates research in this aspect of the text, but without – of course – reference to the morphological form ber-tunjuk-kan.

The opening of the frame story in MSS Malay B.7, which I had chosen for students as reading matter, telling about the plucking of the parrot by the merchant’s wife, is not too difficult to read, because the script is clear and easily legible, while the text runs parallel to Winstedt’s edition. However, in the episode in which the published text edition (Winstedt 1966: 14) has Maka bayan itupun keluarlah terbang menunjukkan dirinya kapada isteri saudagar itu seraya katanya (“Then the parrot came out flying, showing itself to the merchant’s wife, while saying …”), the British Library manuscript is considerably shorter, namely (f. 7v, line 12): Maka bayan itupun bertunjukkan dirinya kepada perempuan itu seraya katanya (“Then the parrot showed itself to the woman, while saying…”).

A line of Malay text from Hikayat Bayan Budiman
The line reading: Maka bayan itupun bertunjukkan dirinya kepada perempuan itu seraya katanya from Hikayat Bayan Budiman, 1808. British Library, MSS Malay B.7, f. 7v (line 12) Noc

The reflexive phrase consisting of a ber-...-kan verb with the reflexive pronoun diri (“self”) is not found in the dictionaries (including the online official monolingual dictionaries of Indonesia and Malaysia), whereas Roolvink (1965), in a rare case study of the historical grammar of the Malay language, could not muster any examples of bertunjukkan. Roolvink based his grammatical study on a corpus of fifteen text editions, including Winstedt’s Hikayat Bayan Budiman, which in my opinion is merely a random sample, though Roolvink (1965: 313) confidently thought that it gave “a good representative of the older language”.

Fortunately, over the last decades, many more text editions have become available, but the unusual reflexive phrase remains a peculiarity: a Malay Concordance Project search for bertunjukkan mentions only one example in the Hikayat Indraputra, in which the eponymous protagonist is “showing himself” (Indraputra … bertunjukkan dirinya…) and is subsequently seen by the nymphs (maka Indraputrapun dilihat oleh segala bidadari). The MCP also mentions three other examples of bertunjukkan (but without diri(nya)), namely two from the Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnain and one from a 17th century collection of Sufi tracts. An internet search brought to light another example in a copy of the Hikayat Amir Hamzah (Indonesian National Library, ML 23, p. 3), in which the two brothers Ghar Turki and Tar Turki, who want to attack Hamzah, “show themselves” (bertunjukkan dirinya), whereas the text edition by A. Samad Said has the common expression of menunjukkan dirinya.* As the Hikayat Indraputra and the Hikayat Amir Hamzah together with the Hikayat Bayan Budiman belong to the oldest works of traditional Malay literature, it seems likely that the reflexive phrase bertunjukkan diri(nya) reflects an older layer of Malay, which by the 19th century was considered by copyists as an archaism in need of revision.

All this goes to show that a reader of Malay manuscripts needs to be sensitive to the textual instability of the transmitted texts. Variant readings are invariably cause for ‘philological alarm’ and should draw us into closer reading.

* Retrieved from an unpublished paper by Prima Hariyanto, p. 27, uploaded on Scribd. The Romanised transliteration in this paper (which I could not check against the original) is: “Maka arikian Goraterka dan Taraterka pun bertunjukkan dirinya.” The corresponding sentence in A. Samad Ahmad’s text edition (1987: 323) reads: “Ketika itu Tarturki dan Gharturki pun menunjukkan dirinya.”

R. Roolvink, “The passive-active per-/ber- // per-/memper- correspondence in Malay” in Lingua 15 (1965), 310-337.
A. Samad Said, Hikayat Amir Hamzah. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1987.
R.O. Winstedt, Hikayat Bayan Budiman. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Edwin P. Wieringa, Professor of Indonesian Philology and Islamic Studies, University of Cologne, Germany Ccownwork