Asian and African studies blog

8 posts from March 2013

31 March 2013

Easter Celebrations at the Mughal Court

Jesuit missionaries were the first group of Europeans to visit the Mughal court. They initially arrived at the Portuguese colony of Goa in 1542. At the invitation of Akbar (r. 1556-1605), there were altogether three Jesuit missions. The third was headed by Father Jerome Xavier (1549-1617) who arrived in Lahore in 1595 and remained at court until 1615.

J.8,6_720 Two Jesuit priests dressed in distinctive high blocked black caps and dark robes stand among a crowd bringing gifts to a Mughal prince, possibly Salim. Mughal, 1590–1600 (Johnson Album 8,6)

Xavier’s regular reports back to the Provincial in Goa include details of extravagent cultural activities, all aimed at winning converts. In a letter written from Agra on 6 September 1604 (BL Add MS 9854, currently on exhibit in ‘Mughal India’) he writes about affairs in Lahore (see Maclagan, p. 96):

The feasts of Christmas and Easter are kept at Lahor with great solemnity, and the church being so large and beautiful, everything can be well carried out.

Although the Jesuits were unsuccessful in their primary aim to convert Akbar and his son Jahangir to Catholicism, they did achieve some success when, on 5 September 1610, three of Akbar’s grandsons, Tahmuras, Baysunghar and Hushang were baptised (though they reverted to Islam a few years later when relations with the Portuguese deteriorated). On Easter Sunday 1611 they attended Mass, ate Easter eggs with relish and watched entertainments arranged by the Jesuit Fathers. These apparently included the performance of a tight-rope walker and the burning of a figure of Judas, stuffed with fireworks, on the roof of the chapel (see Maclagan, The Jesuits and the Great Mogul, pp. 72-73; 94)

Harley 5455_f214-5
The concluding chapter, on Christ’s resurrection, and postscript of Jerome Xavier’s Mirʼāt al-Quds (‘Life of Christ’), copied on 8 Ramazan 1027 (29 Aug 1618). Xavier’s translation was made at the request of the Emperor Akbar and was completed at Agra in 1602 with assistance from Mawlavi ʻAbd al-Sattār ibn Qāsim of Lahore (Harley 5455, ff. 214-5)  

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies

Follow us on Twitter @BLAsia_Africa


Further reading:

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, “The Lahore Mirat al-Quds and the Impact of Jesuit Theater on Mughal Painting,” South Asian Studies 13 (1997), pp. 95-108
E. D. Maclagan,  “The Jesuit Missions to the Emperor Akbar”, Journal of the Asiatic Societyof Bengal 65, part 1 (1896), pp. 38-113
E. D. Maclagan, The Jesuits and the Great Mogul. London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1932
Pedro de Moura Carvalho and Wheeler M. Thackston, Mirʼāt al-quds (Mirror of Holiness): a Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar: a Commentary on Father Jerome Xavier's Text and the Miniatures of Cleveland Museum of Art, Acc. no. 2005.145; edited and translated by W. M. Thackston. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012

28 March 2013

Imperial legal compendia: from the Mughals to the British

Aurangzeb’s Legal Project: the Fatāwā ‘Ālamgīriyyah

The Fatāwā ‘Ālamgīriyyah is a compendium of Ḥanafi fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) whose composition was ordered by Emperor Aurangzeb.  Aurangzeb gathered the most prestigious Islamic scholars from the Mughal realms and, according to the historical chronicle, the Ma’ās̲ir-i ‘Alamgīrī, requested that they examine the legal treatises in the imperial library and collect all of the previous rulings of jurists (muftīs) in order to create a standardised reference for judges (qāżīs) throughout the Mughal Empire.  The Fatāwā ‘Ālamgīriyyah took eight years to complete (AH 1078-86/ AD 1667-75), engaged the skills of forty to fifty Islamic legal scholars under the head jurist, Shaykh Niẓām Burhānpūrī, and in its final form occupied over thirty volumes. This self-conscious attempt to update and standardise the norms of Islamic jurisprudence in the Mughal Empire served the practical purpose of creating an authoritative and comprehensive reference for judges, but also supported Aurangzeb’s political discourse of legitimising Mughal rule through championing the shari’a (Islamic law).  Originally composed in Arabic, the Fatāwā was translated into Persian during the Mughal period, and later into Urdu, the language in which it is widely disseminated and read today.  Prior to Ibn ‘Ābidīn’s 19th-century work on Ḥanafī jurisprudence, the Radd al-Muḥtār ‘alā Durr al-Mukhtār, the Fatāwā ‘Ālamgīriyyah, or as it was known in the Turkish and Arabic-speaking lands of the Ottoman Empire, the Fatāwā Hindiyyah (i.e., the Indian fatwas) was the most comprehensive work in the field.

RSPA 91_2_720Beginning of volume 4 of the Fatāwā ‘Ālamgīriyyah: Kitāb al-Shuf‘a (‘the right of pre-emption’). An 18th century copy which belonged formerly to Sir William Jones (RSPA 91, ff 1v-2)  noc

Kitāb al-Shuf‘a
(‘The book of the right of pre-emption’)

One volume of this thirty volume work which is currently on display in the exhibition ‘Mughal India’ is the section dealing with shufa‘ or the right of pre-emption. This deals with the sale of property, including land, and specifies who has the right of purchase before other buyers. For instance, the rules of shufa‘ stipulate that the co-owner of a property has the right to purchase the property before an outsider if the other co-owner decides to sell. Another illustration of the type of case dealt with in the Kitāb al-Shufa‘ is the sale of land to neighbouring property owner. If a landowner decides to sell a plot of land, the other landowners who share an adjacent border would have a right to purchase before an outside buyer. Not the most thrilling reading, but vitally important to maintaining law and order among property owners in the vast territories of the Mughal, and later British, empire in the subcontinent.

Sir William Jones: at the intersection of Islamic jurisprudence and colonial administration

This particular copy of the Fatāwā belonged to Sir William Jones (1746-1794), whose name is visible in the illuminated frontispiece pictured in the image above. Sir William Jones was appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court of Bengal in 1783 and is famous for founding the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. Jones had studied Arabic and Persian during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford; unimpressed with the quality of his lectures, he turned to native speakers to teach him. By the time he was appointed judge in the Bengal supreme court, he had already published a number of learned translations from Arabic and Persian (of the Mu‘allaqāt and the history of Nadir Shāh, among other works) as well a study of the Islamic law of inheritance. Jones’ career in many ways embodied the conflicting political currents of the age. On the one hand, he engaged in radical politics - radical for the time, that is, he penned political treatises in favour of universal male suffrage and defended the rights of the Welsh peasantry, as well as voicing support for the American revolution – while on the other hand he played a central role in the colonial administration of India. In addition to Arabic and Persian, he studied Sanskrit once he was in Calcutta and published a translation of the famous play by Kālidāsa, the Abhijñānaśākuntalā (‘The Sign of Shakuntala’), which exercised an enormous impact on the German romantic poets and philosophers of the period. In his capacity as a judge and colonial administrator under William Hastings, he was engaged in a project to codify ‘Indian’ law, an endeavour which echoed Aurangzeb’s original project of imperial legitimation in commissioning the Fatāwa ‘Ālamgīriyyah. As part of this project, he translated the Mānavadharmaśāstra (the Institutes of Hindu law: or, the ordinances of Menu) and wrote a work entitled al-Sirājiyyah, which was a study of Islamic law. The impact of Jones’ translation and linguistic theories was felt acutely throughout the 19th century, and the roots planted by his scholarship still exercise an influence on many current political and cultural constructions of the past.


Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies



Further reading:

M.L. Bhatia, Administrative History of Medieval India: A Study of Muslim Jurisprudence under Aurangzeb. New Delhi: Radha Publications, 1992

S. Moinul Haq, Khafi Khan’s History of ‘Alamgir: Being an English translation of the relevant parts of Muntakhab al-Lubab with notes and an introduction. Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, 1975

Saqi Mustaʻidd Khan, Maāsir-i-ʿĀlamgiri: A history of the Emperor Aurangzib-ʿĀlamgir (reign 1658-1707 A.D.), translated into English and annotated by Sir Jadunath Sarkar. Calcutta: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1947


24 March 2013

A nobleman celebrating the festival of Holi

A magnificent 18th century painting in the current exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire depicts the celebration of the spring festival of Holi. This Hindu festival typically falls during the month of March and symbolizes fertility and spring harvests. This year, the Holi festival falls on March 27th.

A young nobleman enjoying Holi with his consort Attributed to the artist Nidhamal, Lucknow, 1760-5 British Library, Add.Or.5700

A young nobleman enjoying Holi with his consort
Attributed to the artist Nidhamal, Lucknow, 1760-5
British Library, Add.Or.5700  noc

The Emperor Akbar, one of the greatest rulers of the subcontinent (ruled from 1556-1605) advocated religious tolerance. The peace and well-being of the empire depended on maintaining a balance between the interests of the Hindu majority and those of the Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jain, Sikh  and other religions. One of Akbar’s greatest political accomplishments was to abolish the poll tax levied on non-Muslims. He also won over the rulers of the Hindu Rajput kingdoms by marrying their daughters into his family. Akbar himself married Princess Manmati; she was the daughter of Raja Bhagwandas of Amber (today Jaipur).

Study of Akbar's head Attributed to Govardhan, 1600-5 British Library, Add.Or.1039
Study of Akbar's head
Attributed to Govardhan, 1600-5
British Library, Add.Or.1039  noc

Akbar and Manmanti's son Jahangir wrote in his memoirs about this religious festival:
‘Their day is Holi, which in their belief is the last day of the year. This day falls in the month of Isfandarmudh, when the sun is in Pisces. On the eve of this day they light fires in all the lanes and streets. When it is daylight they spray powder on each other’s heads and faces for one watch and create an amazing uproar. After that, they wash themselves, put their clothes on, and go to gardens and fields. Since it is an established custom of among the Hindus to burn their dead, the lighting of fires on the last night of the year s a metaphor for burning the old year as though it were a corpse.’ - from the Jahangirnama

Detail from Portrait of Prince Salim (future emperor Jahangir) Mughal, c. 1620-30 British Library, Add.Or.3854

Detail from Portrait of Prince Salim (future emperor Jahangir)
Mughal, c. 1620-30
British Library, Add.Or.3854  noc

In our exquisite painting of the celebration of Holi, a young ruler from the Mughal province of Avadh, is featured enjoying a dancing performance on a terrace with his favourite womenfolk, nine of whom sit alongside him. They are sharing several hookahs. Piles of sweetmeats are placed in front of them while attendants behind them bring more. Across the terrace a young woman performs a solo dance to the accompaniment of female voices and male musicians. In the foreground other members of the navab’s entourage enjoy the performance. Two yoginis or female ascetics stand out with their darker skin and pink and green garments. Otherwise everything is coloured red and yellow from the powders (called abira) and liquids that they have all been hurling at each other in the riotous spring festival of Holi. Even the fountains and the lakes have turned red. In the fairytale world of Avadhi painting, all men are young and handsome and all girls young and beautiful. There is little room for the old or not quite so beautiful, so the old duenna beside the women and a grey-haired musician opposite strike a somewhat unexpected note.

Further reading:

Ifran Habib,Akbar and his India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997

Jahangir, Emperor of Hindustan, The Jahangirnama, Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India, trans. and ed. W.M. Thackston, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1999


Malini Roy   ccownwork
Visual Arts Curator, British Library

21 March 2013

Jahangir celebrates the New Year

Iranians worldwide are today celebrating Noruz and the beginning of the new year. Originating in pre-Islamic times, the Noruz festival was formally incorporated by the emperor Akbar into his ‘divine era’ (tārīkh-ilāhī) as marking the beginning of the solar year.

Or.1644_f11v_720Jahangir seated on his throne. From an early 19th century copy of Jahāngir’s memoirs, the Jahāngīrnāmah or Tūzuk-i Jahāngīrī, edited by Muḥammad Hādī (Or.1644, f 11v)    noc

Noruz was the occasion of partying and lavish exchanges of presents as described by Jahangir in his memoirs the Jahāngīrnāmah or Tūzuk-i Jahāngīrī. On March 21st 1619, the first day of his 14th regnal year, Jahangir participated in an entertainment organised by his son Shah Jahan. Jahangir was presented with “choice rarities and valuables from every region”. These included jewels valued at 156,000 rupees, a sword-hilt especially designed by Shah Jahan containing jewels he had himself set and cut, a miniature orchestra made of silver, and a golden elephant howdah (platform for carrying passengers).

IO Isl 164_720Description of the Noruz festivities at the beginning of the 14th year of Jahangir’s reign. From an 18th century copy of Jahangir’s memoirs (IO Islamic 164)  noc

There were also two large elephants and five [others with] trappings from the offering of Qutbulmulk, the ruler of Golconda. The first elephant was named Dad-i-Ilahi. Since it entered the royal elephant stable on Nawroz, I renamed it Nur-i-Nawroz. It is an extremely fine elephant, with nothing to detract from its size, beauty, and magnificence. Since I liked its looks, I got on and rode it around the palace.
(Thackston, The Jahangirnama, see below, p. 297)

The festivities lasted 19 days during which more presents were given and the emperor granted many imperial titles and promotions.

Sir Thomas Roe independently gives an account of the Noruz festivities at the beginning of Jahangir’s 11th regnal year in March 1616, in which he describes the Emperor enthroned, sourrounded by paintings of English royals and nobility:

The manner is: ther is erected a Throne fower foote from the ground, in the Durbar Court, from the back wherof to the place wher the King comes out, a square of 56 Paces long and 43 broad was rayled in, and couered ouer with faire Semianes or Canopyes of cloth of gould, silke, or veluett, joyned together and susteyned with Canes so couered. At the vpper end were sett out the pictures of the King of England, the Queene, my lady Elizabeth, the Countesse[s] of Sommersett and Salisbury, and of a Cittizens wife of London; below them another of Sir Thomas Smyth, gouernor of the East India company. Vnder foote it is layd with good Persian Carpetts of great lardgnes. Into which place come all the men of qualetye to attend the King, except some fewe that are within a little rayle right before the Throne to receiue his Commandes. Within this square there were sett out for showe many little howses (one of siluer) and some other Curiosityes of Price. The Prince Sultan Coronne had at the lefte syde a Pauilion, the supporters wherof were Couered with Siluer (as were some of those also neare the Kings throne). The forme therof was Square; the matter wood, inlayd with mother of pearle, borne vp with fower pillars and Couered with Cloth of gould about the edge. Ouerhead, like a valence, was a nett fringe of good pearle, vpon which hung downe Pomegranetts, apples, peares, and such fruicts of gould, but hollow. Within yt the king sate on Cushions very rich in Pearles and Jewells. Round about the Court before the Throne the Principall men had erected tents, which encompassed the Court, and lined them with veluett, damask and taffety ordinaryly, some few with Cloth of gould, wherin they retyred and sett to show all theyr wealth; for anciently the kings were vsed to goe to euery tent and there take what pleased them, but now it is Changed, the King sitting to receiue what new years guifts are brought to him.
(The embassy of Sir Thomas Roe
, vol. 1, pp. 142-4)


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies


Further reading

The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India; translated, edited and annotated by Wheeler Thackston. Washington D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art, 1999

Thomas Roe, The Embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to the Court of the Great Mogul, 1615-1619, as narrated in his Journal and Correspondence; edited by William Foster. 2v. London: Hakluyt Society, 1899



17 March 2013

A lavishly decorated Indian Qurʼan

A particularly enigmatic manuscript in the British Library’s collection is IO [India Office] Islamic 3113A, a sumptuously decorated Qur’an which, according to the detached label that accompanies it, was copied by the Mughal emperor Shah ʻAlam (1643-1712).

IO Isl 3113A_opening_720
The opening pages of the Qurʼan, containing the Sūrat al-Fātiḥah (‘the opening’) and the beginning of the Sūrat al-Baqarah (‘the cow’). The upper panels contain the chapter (sūrah) headings and the lower panels contain Qur’anic verses, on the right: ‘None touch it except the purified’ (Sūrah 59:79) and on the left: ‘It is a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds’ (Sūrah 69:43). (IO Islamic 3113A, ff. 1v-2)

The manuscript consists of 209 folios, each highly decorated with very few repetitions in the design. The beginning of each of the 30 sections (juzʼ) is easily recognisable by its dense illumination whereas the remaining folios are slightly less ornate. The final chapter is followed by a two-line prayer in a different hand, below which is given a date: fī tārīkh sannah 1141 (1728/29). It seems probable that the concluding prayer and the date were added after the manuscript was completed, perhaps by a later owner who might also have done the fairly extensive repairs which have been painted and written over. The paper itself is of an inferior quality.

IO Isl 3113A_binding_720
The Qurʼan is bound in green velvet, worked with silver thread


Accompanying the manuscript is a label claiming that the copyist was Shah ʻAlam, Awrangzeb’s successor who ruled as Bahadur Shah I from 1707 to 1712.

IO Isl 3113A_label_720

The contemporary historian Mustaʻidd Khan writes in his Maʻāsir-i ʻĀlamgīrī that, while still a boy, prince Muḥammad Muʻaẓẓam Shāh ʻĀlam had acquired a perfect knowledge of the Qurʼan: “He is deeply read in Arabic, and the fluency and elegance of his diction are the wonder of the very Kurán-readers of Arabia.” It would be tempting to link this Qurʼan with him, but in the absence of supporting evidence it can only remain a suggestion. Another puzzling fact is that at the end of the manuscript the date 1141 (1728-29) had been added in a different hand. However Shāh ʻĀlam I (Bahādur Shāh) had died by then and Shāh ʻĀlam II  would have been less than a year old! How the manuscript was acquired by the India Office Library and the identity of the previous owner seem, unfortunately, to be unrecorded.

Below are some examples demonstrating the individual character of the illumination. I hope that by making this Qur’an more generally known readers may be able to let us know of any parallel examples.

IO Isl 3113A_f77-8_700

The Qur’ān is divided into 30 sections to facilitate a monthly reading schedule. In this manuscript the beginning of each section is easily recognised by the densely decorated margins. The line of gold marks the beginning of section 12 (IO Islamic 3113A, ff 77v-8)

IO Isl 3113A_f156-7_720

Sūrah 39, Sūrat al-Zumar (‘troops’). This double page is less densely illuminated (IO Islamic 3113A, ff 156v-157)


IO Isl 3113A_f171-2_720

The beginning of section 26 and Sūrah 46, Sūrat al-Aḥqāf (‘dunes’).   (IO Islamic 3113A, ff 171v-172)   noc


IO Isl 3113A_f178-9_720

The beginning of Sūrah 51, Sūrat al-Dhāriyāt (‘scatterers’) (IO Islamic 3113A, ff 178v-179)

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies

Follow us on twitter @BLAsia_Africa


10 March 2013

The highjacking of the Ganj-i Sawaʼi

A major diplomatic incident in 1695

Piracy and highjackings have been in the news recently, but in Mughal times they were such a problem that they several times brought about a complete breakdown in relations between the Mughals and the European countries.

During the 17th century, Surat was the most important port in Western India. It was a major trading centre and also the embarkation point for an estimated 15,000 pilgrims per year (see Hajj, below), travelling to the ports of Mocha and Jeddah on their way to Mecca. As early as 1613 Portuguese traders had siezed the Queen Mother Maryam Makani’s flagship Rahimi, carrying off her entire cargo and approximately 700 passengers to Goa (see Findley below). The resulting deterioration in Jahangir’s relationship with Portugal opened a window of opportunity for Sir Thomas Roe’s mission of 1615-18.

Acts of piracy continued in the years that followed, culminating in 1695 with the self-styled ‘Captain’ Avery’s capture of the Ganj-i Sawa’i, the largest of the Mughal ships, on its voyage home to Surat. This incident is described in some detail in the Persian Muntakhab al-lubāb by a contemporary historian Khāfī Khān who had several acquaintances on board. The ship was carrying fifty-two lacs of rupees in gold coins, the revenue from the sale of Indian goods at Mocha and Jedda. Despite having eighty cannon and four hundred muskets, it was captured and boarded by pirates (Moinul Haq’s translation, see below, pp. 419-25):

The whole of the ship came under their control and they carried away all the gold and silver along with a large number of prisoners to their ship. When their ship became over-loaded, they brought the imperial ship to the sea-coast near one of their settlements. After having remained engaged for a week, in searching for plunder, stripping the men of their clothes and dishonouring the old and young women, they left the ship and its passengers to their fate. Some of the women getting an opportunity, threw themselves into the sea to save their honour while others committed suicide using knives and daggers.

Add.6574_f168_720Khāfī Khān’s account of the capture of the Ganj-i Sawaʼi. This copy beloged formerly to James Grant (1750–1808), the East India Company’s sarishtahdar  (‘account-keeper’), who had it copied in 1782 from a copy in the library of the late Ṣamṣām al-Mulk Shāhnavāz Khān (d.1781), minister of Nizam ul-Mulk in Haidarabad and editor of the famous biographical dictionary Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ (Add.6574, f.168)

Avery’s act seriously jeopardised the East India Company’s trading activities. A huge reward was offered for his capture but he was never tracked down. The emperor Aurangzeb, on his part, retaliated by imprisoning the English traders at the East India Company factory in Surat and threatened a siege of Bombay. Khāfī Khān recounts the occasion when, during the hostilities, he was transporting goods from Surat to Rahiri (Raigarh) and had an interview with the governor of Bombay Sir John Gayer.

…the discourse turned upon different topics, pleasant and unpleasant, bitter and sweet; questions and answers were made. Of these questions one was about the cause of the arrest of his agents. Trusting that God and His Prophet would protect me, I said in answer: “You do not take upon yourself the responsibility of the shameful deeds committed by your men, which are condemned by all sensible men”.

Despite assurances that the pirates, though English, were nothing to do with the East India Company, Khāfī Khān reflected:

The revenue of the island of Bombay most of which is derived from betel-nuts and cocoa-nuts, does not amount to more than two or three lakhs of rupees. It is reported that the entire amount of trade of that wicked fellow [the Governor of Bombay] is not more than twenty lakhs of rupees. The source of the remaining unstable income of the English is the plunder and capture of the ships going to the House of God. At intervals of one or two years, they attack these ships, not at the time when, loaded with grains, they proceed to Mukhkhah and Jeddah, but when they return, bringing gold, silver, Ibrāhīmis and riyāls [non-Mughal currencies].

Henry Avery and his legacy

Born in the West Country, Henry Avery (or Every, also known as John Avery and ‘Long Ben’) was recruited as first mate on a ship which he highjacked and sailed to Madagascar. There he recruited a larger crew and embarked on a successful though short-lived career of piracy. After the capture of Ganj-i Sawai, Avery and his men sailed to the West Indies where they went their separate ways. Several crew members were caught and hanged but Avery was never heard of again.

Capt Avery_720From A General and True History of the Lives and Actions of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers etc., originally published in 1724 (this edition: Birmingham: R. Walker, 1742). The author, Captain Charles Johnson, has been identified with Daniel Defoe (c1660-1731)

Meanwhile Avery became a household name in 18th and 19th century Britain, synonymous with the spirit of adventure and life at sea. Numerous fictional and semi-biographical accounts of his life were published: The Ballad of Long Ben and The King of Pirates by Daniel Defoe, to mention just a few. In the earliest, The life and adventures of Capt. John Avery written by a pseudonymous Adrian van Broeck and published in 1709 (see below), Captain Avery seized not only Ganj-i Sawai’s treasure but the Emperor Aurangzeb’s granddaughter who happened to be on board. They married and sailed away to Madagascar where they lived happily (almost) ever after:

As time obliterates the most deep impressions of sorrow, so the lady was not long before she forgot the pleasures of her grandfather’s court, in the joys of her own, and found herself happily brought to bed of a son...while the female part of her retinue were no less backward in presenting their husbands with the fruits of their conjugal endearments.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies

Further reading

Ellison B. Findly, “The Capture of Maryam-uz-Zamānī’s Ship: Mughal Women and European Traders”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 108/2 (1988), pp. 227-38
Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam,
ed. Venetia Porter. London: British Museum Press, 2012, p.169
S. Moinul Haq, Khafi Khan’s History of ʻAlamgir. Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, 1975
Adrian van Broeck, The life and adventures of Capt. John Avery, the famous English pirate... Written by a person who made his escape from thence, and faithfully extracted from his journal. London: J. Baker, [1709]. Available online in Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)






06 March 2013

Milo C. Beach explores 'The Gulshan Album'

Lecture by Milo C. Beach
Sun 10 Mar 2013, 14.30-16.30
£7.50 / £5 concessions
British Library
Book tickets


As part of the series of events accompanying the exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire at the British Library (ends April 2nd), Milo C. Beach, the former director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries (the Smithson's Museums of Asian Art) will be delivering a talk on the Gulshan Album.

The Gulshan Album (Muraqqa'-e Gulshan) described as one of the world’s greatest books, was originally assembled for Prince Salim, the future emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27). Illustrated folios in the Golestan Palace in Tehran have recently been made available for study and show both the international interests of the highly cosmopolitan Mughal court and the important role in the development of Mughal painting played by the emperor Jahangir. It was for him that the book began to be assembled even before his accession in 1605.


Milo C. Beach, a museum director, teacher, and scholar of Indian painting, has written, lectured, and organized international exhibitions on paintings from Rajasthan and the Mughal court. Dr. Beach held curatorial positions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, before becoming a professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In 1984 he moved to Washington, DC, to head the new Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, eventually becoming director of both that museum and the Freer Gallery of Art. Dr. Beach retired in 2001 and now devotes his time to research and lecturing.

  Portrait of Prince Salim Mughal, c. 1620-30 British Library, Add.Or.3854

Portrait of Prince Salim
Mughal, c. 1620-30
British Library, Add.Or.3854  noc

05 March 2013

18th century route map from Delhi to Kandahar

In addition to single drawings and maps contained in larger works, the Mughals almost certainly used route maps which had obvious practical applications. Some 18th century examples exist in the form of schematic lists, while others are diagrammatic representations. Maps in this format may well have been produced centuries earlier, but are not to be found among the few surviving examples of which the British Library is fortunate in having two. These are almost identical copies of the route from Delhi to Kandahar in Afghanistan. One (IO Islamic 4725) is a scroll measuring 20 metres, and the smaller (IO Islamic 4380), on display in the exhibition ‘Mughal India’, is 12 metres long. No indication of orientation or scale is given.

Neither of the maps is dated, but a note in English on the back of the larger scroll mentions a “Moulvee Ghulaam Kadur”. This is possibly Mawlavi ʻAbd al-Qadir Khan ("Abould Kadir Khan" in the published report) who in 1806 worked for John Lumsden, a civil servant of the East India Company at the Nawab Vizier’s Court in Lucknow. As a result of a threatened invasion by the ruler of Afghanistan, Zaman Shah Durrani (ruled 1793-1800), Lumsden, in 1797, sent an agent, Shaykh Rahim ʻAli to Kabul to collect data and report back. From Rahim ʻAli's notes, ʻAbd al-Qadir extracted an account of the 75 stages of the journey from Delhi to Kabul and published it in The Asiatic Annual Register for 1806 (for details see below). It is possible, however, that the British Library maps were based on an earlier model since their details complement rather than duplicate the printed account. They include references to the residence of Maharaja Amar Singh who ruled Patiala from 1748 to 1782,  and "the late Burhan al-Mulk", the first Nawab of Oudh, who died in 1739, besides frequent mention of ruined serais (‘travel-lodges’) which were probably destroyed in the disturbances from the mid to late 18th century. Unlike the memoir, both maps extend the route as far as Kandahar.

IO Isl 4725_3_720The Fort of Delhi and the area to the north (IO Islamic 4725) 

The map begins at Delhi with the area around the Red Fort, north of the River Jumna. On the lower right is Salimgarh Gate and on the left is Buland Bagh. To the left of the Delhi Gate is Saʻd Allah Khan's Chowk. North of the Fort are vineyards on the right and a rose garden on the left. Between the Fort and Chandi Chowk (in the centre going north) are the garden pavilion of Shaista Khan and the Urdu Bazar. At the top of this section are the Faiz Canal on the right and the Khass Bazar on the left.

IO Isl 4380_Sirhind_700The route between Patiala and Ludhiana (IO Islamic 4380)

The section illustrated above shows, from the bottom on the left, Patiala the residence of Raja Amar Singh, 14 kroh (1 kroh is about 1.5 miles) from Sirhind, and on the right, Banur. The Sirhind Bridge takes the road to Sirhind Fort “destroyed by the Sikhs”.  Beyond that, on the bank of the river Sutlej on the right is the Maikhor garden built by Fidai Khan and Qasba Ropar. After passing an old serai, the road reaches Lashkar Khan’s Sarai and beyond that the Serai of Ludhiana with Ghat Manchiwara on the right and Qasba Payak on the left.

The corresponding stages, 14-17, in the printed account describe the roads of Sirhind as excellent, “with many wells, fountains, and shady mango trees on each side, and the lands in the highest state of cultivation”. The next stage is “quite deserted, and only fit for an army to halt at”. At Ludhiana the Zamindars (landowners) are recently converted Muslims, formerly Rajputs. The roads are shaded with a number of wells, mango orchards and tanks. The local chiefs are Tara Singh and Ghaiba Singh.

IO Isl 4380_49_Qandahar_700
The city of Kandahar  (IO Islamic 4380)

The final destination is the city of Kandahar situated 118 kroh from Kabul, 409 from Lahore and 667 from the capital Shahjahanabad. The road continues westwards with the mountains on the north leading to the Darya-i Shur, while the southern mountains face Mecca, leading to Tur and Jabal.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies



Further reading

Susan Gole, Indian Maps and Plans: From Earliest Times to the Advent of European Surveys. New Delhi, India: Manohar Publications, 1989. Includes a reduced facsimile copy of IO Islamic 4725, together with a complete translation of the Persian text

Abdul Rehman, Historic towns of Punjab: ancient & medieval period, Lahore: Ferozsons, 1997, pp.157-60. Includes a reduced facsimile copy of IO Islamic 4380, of the section from Serai Khan Khanan to Khairabad

Mawlavi ʻAbd al-Qadir Khan, “Miscellaneous Tracts for the year 1806”, The Asiatic Annual Register: or, A View of the History of Hindustan, and of the Politics, Commerce, and Literature of Asia, 8. 2 (1806 [1809]), pp.46-57