Asian and African studies blog

12 posts from January 2014

30 January 2014

Happy New Year 新年快樂

31 January 2014 is the first day of the Year of the Horse, according to the traditional lunisolar Chinese Calendar.  According to this system years are counted in a series of sixty-year cycles, each identified by a combination of two Chinese characters – the first from a cycle of ten known as the Heavenly Stems representing the elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water, the second from a cycle of twelve known as the Earthly Branches represented by animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and pig.

People born in each of these years are traditionally believed to display particular characteristics –those born in the Year of the Horse, for example, are said to be passionate, talented, adventurous and independent but also self-centred and headstrong.

The Chinese Calendar was widely used in East and at various times was adopted in Japan, Korea, Tibet and Vietnam. In all these cultures the horse had a prominent role in practical life and was widely depicted in art.

Part of a printed almanac from Dunhuang dating from AD 877. Babylonian, Persian and Indian influences can be seen including the animal zodiac. (Or.8210/P.6)

In Chinese culture the horse is an animal that represents health and persistence and the written character for horse 馬 is found in many metaphors and idioms related to fortune and well-being.  For example, 千里馬 qiān lǐ mǎ (literally: 10,000-mile horse) is a metaphor used for talented people and 馬到成功 mǎ dào chéng gōng (literally: riding to success) is used to wish someone good fortune.

In pre-modern Japan the horse was highly prized by the warrior class and horsemanship was one of the key skills of the Samurai.  The image below is taken from Riō busshoku zusetsu ‘An illustrated explanation of the selection of strong horses and cows’ (Or.15562), an album dated 1647 depicting 97 horses and 14 cows, with anatomical annotations, by Kurosawa Sekisai 黒澤石齋 (1622-1678), an expert adviser on horses to the Tokugawa Shogunate.

A selection of different kinds of horses from the Japanese Riō busshoku zusetsu (Or.15562)

Although the Chinese calendar is not widely used in Thailand, the zodiac is important for fortune-telling. According to Thai horoscopes, people born in the year of the horse almost always achieve prosperity and wealth during their lifetime. They are often successful, but not always kind-hearted. They have to be careful in their thirties, sixties and eighties as there are certain years in which they can face danger or even death. It is important at these times to make much merit (in the Buddhist sense).

Horoscope for those born in the year of the horse (ม้า ma, as in Chinese). This illustration also shows the female avatar for the year of the horse and the banana tree. (Or.13650, f 4r)

Curators of the East Asian Section, Asian and African Studies

29 January 2014

Rare Malay newspaper in the Wellcome Library

This blog is normally used to present items from the British Library’s collections, but today I would like to introduce a Malay gem from a neighbouring institution in London. The Wellcome Library, housed at 186 Euston Road, was founded on the collections of Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936).  Best known for its medical materials, the Wellcome also holds important Asian collections especially pertaining to medicine, divination and magic, including Malay, Batak and Javanese manuscripts (described in Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1982).   

Last week Wellcome Images was launched, making over 100,000 images freely available for download and reuse, in both low and high resolution.  A search on the keyword ‘Malay’ yielded a wealth of items including Malay manuscripts on magic, photographs of Sarawak and Penang, and watercolour drawings of Singapore and Johor.  But the most exciting item to me was a copy of an early Malay newspaper published in Singapore in 1877, no other copies of which are known to survive anywhere else in the world: Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar, ‘The revolution of the sun and the moon’.  

Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar, issue no.20, 30 August 1877.  Wellcome Library, Malay collection / Hervey collection / Pamphlets / 1.  noc

The publication of the title was first noted in January 1880 by E.W. Birch, who mentioned Peridaran Shamsu Walkamer as one of two early Malay newspapers that had ‘after a short run, died out’.  When William Roff published his seminal guide to pre-war Malay periodicals in 1972, although no copies had been traced he guessed that the paper was hand-lithographed.  The existence of a copy of this rare newspaper in the D.F.A. Hervey collection in the Wellcome Library was first brought to light by Ellen, Hooker & Milner (1981: 92), but as their article was mainly about Hervey's Malay manuscripts, not many scholars of early Malay printing were alerted to this discovery.  In 1992, Ahmat Adam noted a contemporary reference in the Padang newspaper Bentara Melajoe, no.8, of 8 May 1887, which mentioned that Peridaran was a weekly, first published on 19 April 1877, and that the editor ‘had studied with Keasberry and Abdullah Munsyi’.  Benjamin Peach Keasberry (1811-1875) was an American missionary who had pioneered lithographic printing in Singapore, while Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munsyi (1796-1854) - a renowned Malay writer, scribe and teacher, and author of the Hikayat Abdullah (1849) - had first learned typeset printing from missionaries in Melaka, and later worked with Keasberry at his lithographic press at Bukit Zion in Singapore.

The issue of Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar shown here is no.20, dated 30 August 1877, with its 8 pages numbered 160-167, and it is indeed lithographed.  From information on the front page, the newspaper appeared every Thursday, and cost 15 cents per issue.  The list of agents covers not only the states of the Malay peninsula but also further afield: Johor and Teluk Belanga, Melaka, Kelang – Selangor, Pulau Pinang, Betawi [present-day Jakarta], Padang, Pontianak and Sarawak.  As well as articles on Aceh and Cirebon and the Russo-Turkish war, of great interest is the main story on the front page: a portion of the serialised Pelayaran Ibrahim Munsyi, ‘The voyages of Ibrahim Munsyi’.  This account by Ibrahim, Dato’ Bentara Dalam of Johor (d. 1904) and son of Abdullah Munsyi, was previously believed to have been printed for the first time posthumously in 1919 (Sweeney & Phillips 1975: xxxii).   Hervey had studied Malay with Ibrahim, and this might be a reason why he kept this issue of the newspaper.

The first Malay newspaper to be published in Singapore was the typeset Jawi Peranakkan, launched in 1876.  However, the earliest surviving copies of this title, which are held in the British Library, only date from March 1881.  This leaves the Wellcome Library’s copy of Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar of August 1877 not just the only known issue of this title, but also as the oldest known surviving issue of a Malay newspaper from Singapore.

OP434_0001_c0149-06_page 1
The oldest surviving issue of Jawi Peranakkan, vol.5, no.214, 28 March 1881.  British Library, OP 434.  noc

Further reading

Ahmat Adam, Sejarah dan bibliografi akhbar dan majalah Melayu abad kesembilan belas.  Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1992.
E.W. Birch, The vernacular press in the Straits. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1879, (4):51-5.
R.F. Ellen, M.B. Hooker and A.C. Milner, The Hervey Malay Collections in the Wellcome Institute.  Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1981, 54 (1): 82-92.
M.C. Ricklefs & P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1982, Vol.XLV, Part 2, pp.300-322.
William R. Roff, Bibliography of Malay and Arabic periodicals published in the Straits Settlements and Peninsular Malay States, 1876-1941. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Amin Sweeney and Nigel Phillips. The voyages of Mohamed Ibrahim Munsyi.  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


27 January 2014

15,000 images of Persian manuscripts online

Asian and African Studies have just uploaded more than 15,000 images of Persian manuscripts online. This is the result of two years' work in an ongoing project sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation together with the Bahari Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute.

The jackal Dimnah tricks the ox Shanzabah into believing that his former friend the lion had turned against him, and was intending to eat him. From Husayn Va'iz Kashifi’s Anvar-i Suhayli. Mughal, 1610-11 (BL Add.18579, f87v)

The manuscripts were selected for their historical, literary and artistic importance and form part of a three year project to provide digital records of our Persian manuscript collection and images of 50 manuscripts.  We have created a dedicated project page which gives details of all the digitised manuscripts together with links to their images and supporting documentation. This is located at Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts but can also be easily found by clicking on the ‘Persian’ tab at the top of this page.

We’ve already written posts about several of these manuscripts, for example the Jalayirid Khamsah of Khvaju Kirmani (Add18113); Shah Tahmasp’s copy of Nizami’s Khamsah (Or.2265) and the late Timurid Mantiq al-Tayr by Farid al-Din ʻAttar (Add.7735), posts 1, 2 and 3 . We’ll be publishing more during the next few months so please subscribe to our blog (add your email in the box at the top of this page) to keep up with further developments.

Meanwhile, here is a selection from what we’ve digitised so far! Click on the links to go directly to the digitised folio.

The well known story of the hare who tricks the lion into drowning by attacking his own reflection in the well. From Naṣr Allāh Munshī's Kalīlah va Dimnah dated 707/1307-8 (BL Or.13506, f 52v)

The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket encyclopedia containing 23 works. Copied 813-4/1410-11 (BL Add.27261, ff 2v-3r)

The fire-ordeal of Siyavush. From Firdawsi’s Shahnamah, Shiraz Safavid style, dating from the 16th century (BL IO Islamic 3540, f 98r)

The dragon outside its mountain cave explaining to Darab that it had been sent by God as His servant on earth. Artist: Narayan, c.1580-85. From the Darabnamah, a prose romance written in the 12th century by Abu Tahir Tarsusi (BL Or.4615, f112v)

A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r)

Fath ʻAli Shah Qajar with two princes in attendance, receiving Mirza Riza Quli Munshi al-Mamalik. From the Shahanshah namah by Fath ʻAli Khan Saba. Qajar, dated 1225/1810 (BL IO Islamic 3442, f 64v)

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies



24 January 2014

Vietnam War Art

The Vietnam War had a substantial impact on those involved, with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. During the 1960s and 1970s, artists from both sides of the conflict, Vietnamese and American, created paintings to capture the human side of the war.

BL 0007
Weaving. Pastel. Artist: Dương Ðình Khoa. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1969, no.139. British Library, SU216(2)

In June the Army Vietnam Combat Artists programme was established as part of the United States Army Art programme. From August 1966 through to 1970, the U.S. Army sent teams of artists into Vietnam to record their experiences as soldier artists.

In Vietnam, art was also utilised as a propaganda tool to enlist mass support for the war. In the North the Hanoi College of Fine Arts, which was founded by the French in 1925 during the period of colonial rule, played a vital role in training artists during the Vietnam War, while in the South, from 1961 unofficial art classes began in the Resistance or “liberated” areas controlled by the National Liberation Front (NLF) or the Việt Cộng in the Mekong Delta.  From June 1962 patriotic artists from the North volunteered to go to the South to train fellow artists in the liberated zones. From 1964, official art classes started at NLF headquarters (Buchanan 2008: 2, [19]).

BL 0018
Grandmother. Lacquer. Artist: Phạm Viết Song. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1970, no.152. British Library, SU216(2)

BL 0012
Mother heads to the Alert Unit. Silk painting. Aritst: Nguyễn Phan Chánh. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1972, no.167. British Library, SU216(2)

Despite hardships and difficulties during the war, the Vietnam War artists from both the North and the South risked their lives to capture many different aspects and events of the War in various media including paintings, drawings, and sketches. Nguyễn Toan Thi, a guerrilla artist in the South, who after the War became the Director of Hô Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum, recounts his experiences as follows:  “Art classes were held outside in the forest until our schools were bombed: classes were then held underground. Art teachers and students shared the same trenches. We fought and sketched together, to record spontaneous and realistic images of the battlefield and our life in the forest. Our headquarters were not like a mini-Pentagon. The administration, soldiers and artists lived in nylon and canvas tents under the forest trees … We moved camp every two or three days… As a guerrilla artist, I was fully engaged in the fighting. Unlike artists who were civilians…”  (Nguyễn Toan Thi, “Memories of a Guerrilla Artist”, in Buchanan 2008: [29-30])

BL 0017
Fight till the end. Silk painting. Artist: Cố Tấn Long Châu. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1967, no.115. British Library, SU216(2)

In 1966 the Fine Arts Museum opened in Hanoi and occasionally displayed works from the Vietnam War artists.  In addition to these art exhibitions, the Hanoi regime also published art works in their various official publications.

Although the British Library does not hold original examples of this art work, it has a number of official publications in its Vietnamese collections, which published artworks from the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s. All the pictures shown here were reproduced in Báo Ảnh Việt Nam [SU216(2)], a serial which started publication before the War, and still operates today.

BL 0020
A guerrilla fighter returns to cosy shelter on Route 9. Pastel. Artist: Huỳnh Biếc. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1971, no.159. British Library, SU216(2)

BL 0022

After the battle. Watercolour. Artist: Việt Sơn. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1971, no.161. British Library, SU216(2)

Further reading

Báo Ảnh Việt Nam.  Hà Nội: Thông tấn xã Việt Nam, 195[?]-.  British Library, SU216(2). 

Buchanan, Sherry. Mekong Diaries 1964-1975. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Vietnam behind the lines : images from the war, 1965-1975.  Jessica Harrison-Hall with contributions by Sherry Buchanan, Katharine Lockett, and Thu Stern. London : British Museum Press, 2002.

Two websites on American art and propaganda from the Vietnam War:

Sud Chonchirdsin
Curator for Vietnamese

22 January 2014

Pahari Paintings at the British Library

The collection of Indian paintings in the former India Office Library’s Prints and Drawings section (now British Library Visual Arts) is famous above all for its individual imperial Mughal and later Mughal paintings, forming a complement to the collection of illustrated Mughal manuscripts that came to the British Library from the British Museum’s collections.  Not so well known are the individual items from other schools of Indian painting, particularly the Rajasthani and Pahari paintings.  The collection of Pahari paintings was very small when described by Toby Falk and Mildred Archer for their seminal 1981 catalogue, and it still is, but this post will pick out the highlights of what was in the collection in 1981 and the paintings acquired subsequently.

We begin with four paintings acquired since the publication of the 1981 catalogue showing the Pahari style in its early form little influenced by Mughal painting.

Mangala, the planet Mars, holding mace and water-pot and unusually riding a tiger.  By a Mankot artist, c.1700-20.  83 by 131 mm; page 107 by 155 mm.  Add.Or.4318, acquired 1986.
Mangala, the planet Mars, holding mace and water-pot and unusually riding a tiger.  By a Mankot artist, c.1700-20.  83 by 131 mm; page 107 by 155 mm.  Add.Or.4318, acquired 1986.  noc

Mangala wears a lotus-topped crown, a sprigged dhoti, and a muslin dupatta with flowered ends, and rides facing left on a snarling orange and white tiger.  The ground is a dark red, with a narrow band of cloud-streaked sky at the top and another of green at the bottom; the latter is lightly applied over the dark red ground, and is relieved by clumps of white daisies.  Inscribed above in white takri characters is the name Magala and on the verso is a verse detailing the consequences good or evil of seeing the planet, indicating the painting comes from a dream manual.  The iconography is unusual, since Mangala normally rides a goat. The composition is typical of early Pahari painting with the subject silhouetted against a coloured ground with flowers below and a sky above, but without any indication of space or spatial recession.  Although acquired as from Chamba, subsequent research by Goswamy and Fischer (1992, pp. 95-125) suggests Mankot as a more likely school and possibly from the hand of the artist they designate the ‘Master at the Court of Mankot’.   Our Mangala can be compared with that master’s image of Rama being worshipped by Hanuman in the Rietberg Museum (ibid., no. 52), while the tiger with its fearsome claws is close to that master’s tiger in Vasudeva crossing the Jumna with the infant Krishna in a painting now in Chandigarh (ibid., no. 43).

Rama and Laksmana are pinned by serpentine arrows.  By a Pahari artist from Bahu or Kulu, from the Shangri Ramayana, Style III, circa 1700-10.  186 by 290 mm; page 215 x 316 mm. Add.Or.5696, acquired 2010.
Rama and Laksmana are pinned by serpentine arrows.  By a Pahari artist from Bahu or Kulu, from the Shangri Ramayana, Style III, circa 1700-10.  186 by 290 mm; page 215 x 316 mm. Add.Or.5696, acquired 2010.  noc

The Shangri Ramayana series is one of the most hotly disputed topics in Pahari painting.  A large part of this loose-leaf series is in the National Museum, New Delhi, but many paintings are also dispersed.  When it was first analysed by W.G. Archer (1973, pp. 325-29), he thought it was prepared at Kulu and discerned four separate styles between 1690 and 1710.  B.N. Goswamy and E. Fischer (1992, pp. 76-91) moved the first two styles to Bahu, an offshoot of Jammu, but this unfortunately left the last two styles in an artistic limbo, since they have absolutely nothing in common with either Bahu or Jammu paintings, and much further research is needed to resolve this.  Wherever it comes from, style III with its wonderfully human monkeys is one of the most exuberant and charming of all the Pahari styles.

Our page is from Book 6, the Yuddhakanda or Lankakanda (Book of Battles or Lanka), of the Ramayana, canto 49.  Ravana's terrifying magician son Indrajit, who has the power to make himself invisible, has successfully ensnared Rama and Laksmana in serpentine coils so that they cannot move and lie on the ground unconscious, their eyes rolled up. On the left stands the monkey king Sugriva who is seeking advice from his nephew Angada and the king of the bears Jambavan as to what to do.  All the other monkeys, including the blue crowned monkey general Nila, are terrified when they see Vibhisana, Ravana's brother, advancing on them with his club.  Vibhisana had previously abandoned his doomed brother and had come over to Rama's side, but the monkeys mistake him for the invisible Indrajit and run away in terror.

This particular artist has a peculiar trick of perspective.  The monkeys are not climbing up over each other in order to escape but are actually in a receding line:  other paintings by this artist show him resolving perspective issues of one person or monkey behind another in the same individual way.  The artist is trying to adjust his inherited style to include depth but he lacks awareness of how to do it.

This archaic style continued in use in several Pahari court styles until late in the 18th century, even after other styles were becoming increasingly influenced by Mughal painting from the court of Muhammad Shah (reg. 1719-48).

Raja Shamsher Sen of Mandi (reg. 1727-81) enjoying a smoke.  By a Mandi artist, 1760-70.  180 by 207 mm.  Add.Or.5600, acquired 2006.  From the collection of W.G. and Mildred Archer (1967, no. 30).
Raja Shamsher Sen of Mandi (reg. 1727-81) enjoying a smoke.  By a Mandi artist, 1760-70.  180 by 207 mm.  Add.Or.5600, acquired 2006.  From the collection of W.G. and Mildred Archer (1967, no. 30).  noc

Raja Shamsher Sen of Mandi is kneeling on a terrace and much enjoying the fragrant smoke from a hookah.  The artist shows the tobacco smoke rising from the hookah’s burning pan before some is drawn down and through the rosewater in the body of the hookah and then emerging from the raja’s mouth.  He is accompanied by a young attendant waving a white cloth (one of the insignia of royalty) and by another tending the hookah, both wearing the long dreadlocks fashionable at the time among young men.  Portraits of rulers sitting on terraces had by this time become standard throughout the various schools of Indian painting, but in Mandi no concession is made to depicting space even though the terrace is now separated from the plain ground beyond.  Shamsher Sen, who inherited the throne from his grandfather, the formidable Sidh Sen at the age of five, was by all accounts a fairly weak and superstitious character and his numerous portraits suggest this.

Raja Ranjit Singh of Suket (reg.1762-1791) with his younger brother Kishan Singh.  By a Kangra artist, c. 1780.  224 by 165 mm.  Add.Or.5601, acquired 2006.   From the collection of W.G. and Mildred Archer (Archer 1973, vol. 1, p. 283, vol. 2, p. 197)
Raja Ranjit Singh of Suket (reg.1762-1791) with his younger brother Kishan Singh.  By a Kangra artist, c. 1780.  224 by 165 mm.  Add.Or.5601, acquired 2006.   From the collection of W.G. and Mildred Archer (Archer 1973, vol. 1, p. 283, vol. 2, p. 197)  noc

Court artists in Kangra were commissioned to produce a large series of portraits of neighbouring rulers from early in the reign of Sansar Chand (reg. 1775-1823) (Archer 1973, vol. 2, pp. 196-97).  In this portrait, set within a jharoka or window frame, Ranjit Singh reclines against a red bolster and smokes from his hookah.  On the left, his brother Kishan Singh is pictured facing Ranjit Singh.  His figure is much larger in proportion to his brother, no doubt because Kishan Singh was in fact Sansar Chand’s father-in-law.   On the right, an attendant waves a morchhal (peacock-feather fan, another of the insignia of royalty) with his right hand and holds the hilt of a wrapped-up sword in his left.  Although Kangra painting has become synonymous with a naturalistic, elegant and gracious style (see below), this was not the case with its portraiture which even later than this preserved an archaic and hieratic approach.

The marriage ceremony of Vasudeva and Devaki.  Illustration to the Bhagavata Purana.  By a Guler artist at Basohli, possibly Fattu son of Manaku, c. 1760.  227 by 334 mm; page 298 by 403 mm.  Add.Or.1811, acquired 1960 (Falk and Archer 1981, no, 543).
The marriage ceremony of Vasudeva and Devaki.  Illustration to the Bhagavata Purana.  By a Guler artist at Basohli, possibly Fattu son of Manaku, c. 1760.  227 by 334 mm; page 298 by 403 mm.  Add.Or.1811, acquired 1960 (Falk and Archer 1981, no, 543).  noc

Signs of change first became apparent in Pahari painting in 1730, with the Guler artist Manaku’s Gita Govinda (Lahore and Chandigarh Museums, and dispersed).  He and his brother Nainsukh were both exposed to contemporary Mughal painting and in their different ways in the period 1730-60 introduced stylistic change into the painting of the hills, softening the jagged outlines, moderating the fierce colours, and giving solidity to their figures and depth to their compositions.  The two brothers had six sons between them.  All of them followed the family profession and introduced the new style to the various court studios of the hills. 

A page from what is now called the large Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana was acquired in 1960, when 200 or so individual paintings from the set from the collection of Mrs F.C. Smith were dispersed at auction.  This dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana is one of the most important achievements of Pahari artists and the most influential in determining the development of Pahari painting at Guler and Kangra in the illustration of poetical Vaishnava texts.  It is also among the most controversial, although most authorities agree that Manaku’s son Fattu had a hand in it.

Pahari artists introduced depth into their compositions by raising the viewpoint, so that figures could be depicted one behind the other in some kind of believable spatial setting.  That this did not come naturally to them is suggested by the somewhat awkward wall zigzagging across the picture plane, a feature of quite a few paintings from this series.  Within the high walls of the palace at Mathura and under the night sky, Vasudeva and Devaki, the future parents of Krishna, are married.  They wear the traditional marriage costumes, while the priests facing them add ghee to the sacred fire and chant the Vedic mantras.  They sit side by side beneath a canopy decorated with parakeets. Household ladies and other priests are gathered on either side, while women at the palace windows above look down on the scene or chatter among themselves.

Radha makes love to Krishna in a grove.  An illustration to the Rasikapriya of Keshav Das.  Kangra, c. 1820.  Attributed to Purkhu and his school.  248 by151 mm; page 272 by 177 mm.  Add.Or.26, acquired 1955 (Falk and Archer 1981, no. 548).
Radha makes love to Krishna in a grove.  An illustration to the Rasikapriya of Keshav Das.  Kangra, c. 1820.  Attributed to Purkhu and his school.  248 by151 mm; page 272 by 177 mm.  Add.Or.26, acquired 1955 (Falk and Archer 1981, no. 548).  noc

Some of the great masterpieces of the new style were produced for Sansar Chand of Kangra early in his reign, including now dispersed series of the Gita Govinda, Bhagavata Purana and Ramayana.  Sansar Chand at the age of 20 in 1786 set out to make himself the preeminent chief in the hills and was indeed so by 1806, with most of the rajas paying him tribute.  In that year occurred the disastrous Gurkha invasions from Nepal when Kangra was overrun and Sansar Chand was forced to appeal to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab for assistance.  It was granted and the Gurkhas were expelled by 1809, but at the price of Sansar Chand having from then on to release the other states from paying tribute and indeed having to pay tribute himself to the Lahore court. 

Sansar Chand from then on lived more in retirement, but still commissioning paintings.  The first flush of brilliance in the style had passed and was replaced by a more mannered but still lyrical elegance.   Typical of this period is a very large dispersed series from around 1820 illustrating the Hindi text on poetics, the Rasikapriya, by Keshav Das.  This work classifies the various types of heroines and their lovers and proved irresistible to patrons and artists alike as a way of combining sringara rasa, the erotic sentiment of classical poetic theory, with the bhakti movement of personal devotion to Krishna, since the lover in the pictures was often identified with Krishna himself.  Goswamy and Fischer now attribute the series to the artist Purkhu with assistants (2011).

The painting illustrates the verse 1.20, prachanna-samyoga-sringara (‘hidden love in union’):

‘One day Vrishabhanu’s daughter [Radha] and Murari [Krishna] decided to hide in the forest and engage in reverse love  play.  Fully immersed in each other and groaning with pleasure they were fully enjoying each other.  During the amorous acitivity Radha’ sapphire-studded pendant tied round her neck with a black thread was moving and it seemed as Surya and Saturn were swinging’ (translated Harsha Dehejia, 2013).

In our painting in a blossoming grove by a pool, Radha, wearing a flowing pink gown, makes love to Krishna who dressed in saffron lies beneath her.   Sansar Chand was visited in 1820 by the traveller William Moorcroft whose manuscript journals and letters are in the British Library and quoted extensively by Archer (1973) for his assessment of Sansar Chand and his patronage of artists:  ‘He is fond of drawing, keeps several artists who execute the minute parts with great fidelity but are almost wholly ignorant of perspective.  His collection of drawings is very great … Many subjects from the Mahabharut are given in details, some of which for decency’s sake might have been spared, yet there were few of the latter description’ (MSS Eur D241, f. 67, quoted Archer 1973, vol. 1, pp. 262-63).


Further reading:

Archer, Mildred, Indian Miniatures and Folk Painting from the Collection of Mildred and W.G. Archer, London, 1967

Archer, W.G., Indian Painting from the Punjab Hills, London, 1973

Dehejia, Harsha V., Rasikapriya: Ritikavya of Keshavdas in Ateliers of Love, DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2013

Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1981

Goswamy, B.N., and Fischer, E., Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India, Delhi, 1992

Goswamy, B.N., and Fischer, E., ‘Purkhu of Kangra’ in Beach, M.C., Fischer, E., and Goswamy, B.N., Masters of Indian Painting, Artibus Asiae, Zurich, 2011, pp. 719-32


J.P. Losty (Curator of Visual Arts, Emeritus)  ccownwork

J.P. Losty (Curator of Visual Arts, Emeritus)

20 January 2014

A prodigal Balinese manuscript leaf is reunited with its family

In 1970 the British Museum purchased a small illustrated Balinese palm leaf manuscript from a vendor, who last week – nearly 44 years later! – contacted the British Library to say “As a matter of fact the MS was missing a page, because I had given it to my then girlfriend.  Recently I saw her again, and she returned the page, which I think ought to be reunited with the whole.”  And so last Wednesday I met Clive Sinclair, renowned author (his latest book, Death & Texas will be published in London next month by Peter Halban) and in fact no stranger to the British Library, where he was Penguin Writers Fellow in 1996.  In the course of sorting out his literary archive, which has been acquired by the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Clive had rediscovered the palm leaf folio and, very generously, resolved to bring it back into the fold of its family.  

Or.13277 (1)
Clive Sinclair with the Balinese palm leaf (lontar) manuscript of Sutasoma Kakawin (Or.13277), together with the framed fourth folio, now reunited with its siblings.  Photo by A.T. Gallop, 15.1.2014.

Clive Sinclair had bought the manuscript, at the time described as a ‘Chinese book’, in Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California, in early 1970.  The manuscript originally consisted of eight numbered palm leaves with illustrations – incised with a sharp knife and then inked with black ink – on one side, and brief explanations in Balinese on the reverse, between two bamboo covers.  The fourth leaf was given to his girlfriend, who had it framed as an artwork in its own right.  It subsequently travelled with her to Australia and on to South Africa, before coming back to London only recently.  

The seven leaves acquired by the British Library in July 1970 were given the shelfmark Or.13277.  The manuscript – which was probably written within a few decades of its purchase – narrates an episode from the Balinese version of the Sutasoma Kakawin, an Old Javanese Buddhist court poem perhaps dating from the 14th century, remotely related to the Maha-sutasoma-jataka.  The illustrations depict the arrival of Prince Sutasoma on the island Gili Mas [Small Gold Isle] in a lake at Benares, to wed the Princess Candravati, sister of King Dasabahu.  Archived correspondence shows that the then Keeper of the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books of the British Museum, Dr G.E. Marrison, had enthusiastically set about getting the greatest experts in Balinese literature to work on the manuscript.  He first contacted Dr C. Hooykaas, Reader in Old Javanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, who in 1968 had published a facsimile edition of the British Museum’s finest illustrated Balinese manuscript, Bagus Umbara (Or. 12579).  Hooykaas in turn had consulted Prof. Ensink of Groningen, an expert on the Sutasoma story, and eventually sent Marrison in August 1970 a full reading of the Balinese text found on each leaf, together with an English translation.  As these notes do not appear ever to have been published, they are presented here alongside a picture of each illustrated leaf, together with an image of the reverse of the first leaf to show the Balinese writing.

Or.13277, f.1r
Or.13277, f.1v

Or.13277, f.1r & f.1v. Puniki Gili Mas, sami kuri, umah, priyangan kayu-2, sami khmas, kahilehi tlagā, mmageṅ bvaya mahā yan, tan dadi kanak mrika. ‘This represents Gili Mas, gates, houses, chapels/temples, trees, all of them golden, encircled by a lake; great crocodiles, it is forbidden with the result that people do not go thither.’  noc

Or.13277, f.2r
Or.13277, f.2r. Sampun pada ravuh riṅ Gili Keñcana, Sraṅ Devi Pramésvari, Devi Candravati, taṅkil inṅ  i raka, Saṅ Prabhu Dasabahu, Saṅ Sutasoma. ‘All have arrived at Gili Mas; the two Devi pay homage to Sang Prabhu Dasabahu and Sang Sutasoma.’  noc

Or.13277, f.3r
Or.13277, f.3r. I bvaya, dadi raksasa, ṅuniṅayaṅ dévanya, pacaṅ dadi kreteg, sareṅ papat, riṅ Saṅ Sutasoma. ‘The crocodiles, having become monsters, inform their god that the four of them will become a bridge on behalf of Sutasoma.’  noc

Or.13277, f.4r
Or. 13277, f.4r.  This is the well-travelled leaf, now restored to its correct position in the manuscript.  Although the text on the reverse has not yet been read, the scene evidently shows the crocodiles of f.3 in their guise as monsters.  noc

Or.13277, f.5r
Or.13277, f.5r. I bvaya sampun dadi kṛteg ka Gili Keñcana. ‘The crocodiles have been transformed into a bridge leading to Gili Mas.’  noc

Or.13277, f.6r
Or.13277, f.6r. Vidyadhari kahutus, maṅda luṅa ka Gili Keñcana, dadi juru hyas, pavaraṅan, Saṅ Hyaṅ Buddha. ‘The heavenly nymph goes to Gili Mas to be a chamber maid; conversation; Lord God Buddha.’  noc

Or.13277, f.7r
Or.13277, f.7r. Vidyadhari bluṅa ka Gili Keñcana, dadi juru hyas. ‘The heavenly nymph goes to Gili Mas to be a chamber maid.’  noc

Or.13277, f.8r
Or.13277, f.8r. Devi Saci, vidyadhari, luṅha ka Gili Keñcana. 'Devi Saci and the heavenly nymph on their way to Gili Mas.’  noc

Further reading

C. Hooykaas, Bagus Umbarara, Prince of Koripan.  The story of a Prince of Bali and a Princess of Java, illustrated on palm leaves by a Balinese artist, with Balinese text and English translation.  [Or. 12579].  London: British Museum, 1968.

Raechelle Rubinstein, ‘Leaves of palm: Balinese lontar’ in: Illuminations: the writing traditions of Indonesia: featuring manuscripts from the National Library of Indonesia, ed. by Ann Kumar and John H. McGlynn.  New York: Weatherhill; Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996, pp.129-154.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

17 January 2014

North Korea in the news

With recent events bringing North Korea increasingly into the news, the British Library is looking at ways to improve access to reliable information about the country for its users.  To this end a free trial of the NK News (North Korea News) website has been organised to collect feedback from potential users.  From 13th January to 12th February 2014 users onsite in British Library reading rooms will be able to access the site from BL computer terminals. User feedback is welcomed and will be used to determine the business case for taking out a subscription to the site.

NK News
NK News top page

NK News describes itself as “the leading independent news, information and data service that focuses uniquely on North Korea”. It publishes breaking news, in-depth investigations, exclusive interviews and analysis from the world’s leading experts. The website has a range of data tools that aid research on North Korea and allow users to track and explore North Korean domestic media output. Its archives, which go back to 1997, provide access to articles that may have been deleted or suppressed elsewhere. The Leadership Tracker feature allows users to map and monitor the movements and appearances of North Korea’s political and military elite and there is an extensive list of biographies of the movers and shakers in North Korean politics.

Chongyon munhak
Chǒngnyǒn munhak, a North Korean literary journal. British Library, ST.329/4

Digital resources such as NK News would supplement the Library’s holdings of Korean-language material consist of approximately 15,000 monographs and over 500 serials titles from South and North Korea, of which 300 are currently acquired. The antiquarian collection contains nearly 200 works printed before 1900 and 50 manuscripts. These are concentrated in the Asian and African Studies department but there are holdings of material relating to Korea elsewhere in the British Library, notably the Map Library, the Sound Archive and in the Western language collections.

While the bulk of the collection relates to pre-division Korea or to the Republic of Korea, there are also sizable holdings of material published in or dealing with North Korea.  The 1100 book and periodical titles cover a broad range of topics in both Korean and English including, history, politics, labour conditions, literature and culture as well as works by Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il.

The Library also acquires the leading daily newspaper Nodong [Rodong] sinmun, widely regarded as the official mouthpiece of the North Korean government.

Nodong sinmun
Nodong sinmun, North Korea’s leading daily newspaper. British Library, ST.332/5

Hamish Todd
Lead Curator, Japanese & Korean Studies

15 January 2014

Mantiq al-tayr ('the Speech of Birds'), part 3

Among the treasures recently digitised thanks to the generous support of the Iran Heritage Foundation is a fine illustrated copy (BL Add. 7735) of Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār’s famous poem Manṭiq al-ṭayr (‘Speech of the Birds’), a Sufi allegory of the quest for God. The first posting in this series introduced the poem and discussed some textual and artistic features of the manuscript. The second examined three illustrations while, this, the third in the series, examines three more miniatures and the accompanying text, in relation to ‘Aṭṭār’s poem and some of its principal themes.

British Library Add. 7735, folio 68r  noc

The skilful and atmospheric painting on folio 68r (ed. Gawharīn, p. 93) illustrates one of the more charming stories in the Manṭiq al-ṭayr, in which Sultan Mas‘ūd of Ghazna, son of the redoubtable Maḥmūd, is depicted helping a poor orphan to catch fish. The miniature, too, is attractive although it is slightly discoloured and the setting is less ambitious than that of most Bihzād school paintings (see my earlier post). In both the catalogue description by Norah Titley (Miniatures, p. 35) and the brief mention of the episode by Helmut Ritter in his vast study of ‘Aṭṭār, the royal protagonist is misidentified as Maḥmūd rather than Mas‘ūd.

The sad-faced boy needs fish to feed himself and his six siblings. Mas‘ūd, whose name means ‘fortunate’, catches a hundred fish for him but declines the half share of the catch which the boy offers him. Next day the Sultan sends for the boy, having found him to be a sincere friend, who unlike some of his courtiers asks nothing of his king – and shares his throne with him.

While galloping his grey horse as fast as the wind,
  he espied a child sitting by a river,
with a net cast into the flowing stream.
  The King greeted and sat down next to him.
The youngster sat there despondently;
  he was sore of heart and weary of soul.
Said [the King], ‘Why are you so sorrowful?
  I never saw anyone as mournful as you!’
The youngster replied: ‘O most virtuous Prince,
  we are seven children, now fatherless.
We have a mother, who’s unable to move;
  she is so very poor, and all alone.
Every day I cast out a net for fish;
  until nightfall I stay here at my post.
If I catch one fish, with a hundred pains,
  that’s our food until the next night, great Prince.’
Said the King, ‘O dejected child, would you like
  me to join in and be partners with you?’
The youngster was happy to be his partner;
  the king began casting the net in the stream.

British Library Add. 7735, folio 75v  noc

The mysteriousness of Providence features once again in the passage in ‘Aṭṭār’s poem to which folio 75v relates (ed. Gawharīn, pp. 102-3). One night the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) hears from on high the cries of a worshipper whom he takes to be a person of great purity of soul. Unable to locate that individual, the Angel seeks directions from God, Who directs him to a temple in Rūm, or Asia Minor. There Gabriel finds a man from whom the imprecations are emanating, and he is kneeling before a golden idol. Deeply puzzled that such a pure-sounding prayer should come from an idolater, Gabriel implores God for an explanation. The response is that the man is the victim of his own ignorance, that he is to be pardoned, and that by Divine Providence this idolater will be guided to true faith.

Jibrīl went, and espied him, plain to see,
  imploring that idol most plaintively.
Jibrīl, perturbed at such goings-on,
  returned to [God’s] Presence, scandalized;
then, opening his mouth, he said: ‘You Who need naught,
  unveil this mystery for my sake.
A man in a temple – addressing an idol!
  Do You respond to him with kindness?’
God Most High said: ‘He has a blackened heart.
  Knowing not, he has erred in the path he’s taken.’

British Library Add. 7735, folio 84r  noc

In the previous illustration the Archangel flies, or hovers, in the margin of the page. Likewise, this painting on folio 84r (ed. Gawharīn, p. 112), which like many Persian miniatures ‘reads’ from right to left, makes imaginative use of the space beyond the text frame. The subsidiary characters are at the centre, while the main ones leap into the margin and almost, as it were, off the page. The artist has brought the text to life with charm and inventiveness.

By contrast, however, this vignette from Manṭiq al-ṭayr exemplifies ‘Aṭṭār’s sometimes grim sense of humour. Narrated in just four couplets, it is a tale of two foxes whose happy life together comes to an abrupt end when a king (thus in ‘Aṭṭār’s text – but the artist has painted a young, beardless prince, accompanied by an older huntsman) appears on the scene, hunting with a falcon and cheetah. The second couplet of the four in this passage, which mentions the royal hunter’s arrival, is mysteriously missing from the text in our manuscript. A number of other omissions from Add. 7735 were mentioned in the first posting in this series.

Two foxes met and became companions;
  then a couple, living a fine life together.
[A king came to their land with a falcon and cheetah,
   parting those two foxes from one another.]
The vixen asked the dog, ‘O bolt-hole seeker,
  do tell me, please: where shall we meet again?’
Said he, ‘Even if we survive for a while,
  it will be in town – in the furriers’ shop!’

ʻAṭṭār’s contemporaries in northeastern Iran had experienced extreme and bloody upheavals even before the horror of the Mongol invasion in the early 7th/13th century. They would probably not have been surprised at the fact that the theme of the nearness of death looms large in his poetry – any more than we are surprised that the same is true of many of those who seven centuries later found themselves fighting in a Great War, a ‘War to end all Wars.’

Follow this link to see the whole manuscript on the British Library's digitised manuscripts site, and keep in touch with further developments at @BLAsia_Africa.

(Translations by M.I. Waley)

Further reading
‘Aṭṭār, Farīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm. Manṭiq al-ṭayr. Ed. and comm. Sayyid Ṣādiq Gawharīn. Tehran, 1342/1963.
Attar, Farid ud-Din. The Conference of the Birds. Tr. Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis. London, 1984.
Ritter, Helmut. The Ocean of the Soul: men, the world and God in the stories of Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār. Tr. J. O’Kane. Leiden, 2003.
Titley, N.M. Miniatures from Persian manuscripts. London, 1974.


Muhammad Isa Waley, Asian and African Studies