Asian and African studies blog

7 posts from October 2014

30 October 2014

Ghoulish images from East Asia

The new exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, which will run until Tuesday 20 January 2015, provides fascinating insights into the dark side of British literary culture and explores its diffusion through different media. But the attraction of terror and wonder was a phenomenon of no lesser importance in other literary cultures as well. Despite being set in completely different landscapes and employing diverse imageries the weird, the macabre, and the mysterious enthralled readers of all ages across the globe.

In China, for example, short tales about extraordinary or unusual events, called chuan qi 傳奇, had a long-lasting popularity which began in the Tang dynasty (618-907) and continued throughout the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). There are in fact numerous collections of chuan qi produced in those periods, most notably Jian deng xin hua 剪燈新話 (1378) by Qu You 瞿佑, Jian deng yu hua 剪燈餘話 (c. 1420) by Li Zhen 李禎, and Mi deng yin hua 覓燈因話 (1592) by Shao Jingzhan 邵景詹. Their popularity was long lasting, and in the mid-19th century these three works were still being reprinted under the collective title of San deng cong hua 三燈叢話.

These collections of chuan qi circulated widely throughout East Asia. Reprints of the original Chinese texts, for instance Shinpen sentō yowa 新編剪燈餘話 (see Gardner, pp. 87-88), bear witness to their great success even outside China. In particular, Jian deng xin hua was very well received in Korea, Vietnam and Japan, and became the source of inspiration for other similar collections of weird stories compiled in those countries: Geumo Sinhwa 金鰲新話 (Korea), Truyền kì mạn lục 傳奇漫錄 (Vietnam), and Otogibōko 伽婢子 (Japan).

Left: title page of a later edition of Jian deng xin hua 剪燈新話, which is included in San deng cong hua he ke 三燈叢話合刻 (1847) (British Library 15331.d.14)
Right: preface of Shinpen Sentō yowa 新編剪燈餘話, movable-type edition of Jiandeng yuhua 剪燈餘話 published in Japan during the seventeenth-century (c. 1615-30)  (British Library ORB 30/217)

In Japan, the publication of Otogibōko 伽婢子 (1666) heralded the start of a new vogue for stories concerning mysteries and supernatural events. This multi-volume collection of 13 booklets, compiled by Asai Ryōi 浅井了意 and published in Kyōto by Nishizawa Tahee 西澤太兵衛, contain numerous tales of terror and wonder written in vernacular Japanese and illustrated with beautiful black and white woodcuts. Asai Ryōi drew inspiration from pre-existing stories, originally composed on the continent, translating and adapting them to meet the taste of early-modern Japanese readers of popular fiction. Of the 68 tales contained in Otogibōko, 16 are taken from the above-mentioned Jian deng xin hua, 2 from Geumo Sinhwa, 2 from Jian deng yu hua, and the remainder were taken from other Chinese collections of weird happenings.

Close-up of some of the volumes comprising the edition of Otogibōko held at the British Library (British Library 16107.c.45)

The array of tales narrated in Otogibōko varies considerably, ranging from the bizarre to the macabre, from the grotesque to the surreal. Each story vividly sketches scenes of ordinary life, which are then flavoured with a supernatural twist, mysterious illness, inexplicable happenings, the appearance of monsters, ghosts, or other ghoulish creatures.  

Details from some of the illustrated leaves in Otogibōko (vol. 11, f. 26v; vol. 2, f.14v; vol. 3, f. 13r; vol. 3, f. 18r)  (British Library 16107.c.45)

Asai Ryōi’s text was widely appreciated long after its first publication. Otogibōko itself was reprinted several times (in 1699 and 1826) and served as archetype for other collections of tales of terror and wonder produced in the following decades – for example Shin Otogibōko新御伽婢子 (1683) and Shui Otogibōko 拾遺伽婢子 (1704). The publication of Otogibōko marked an important milestone in the history of Japanese literature, and many other works of popular fiction featuring ghosts, demons and other supernatural beings drew their inspiration from the stories contained therein.

Although the Chinese and Japanese literary traditions leave little or no room for Dracula- and Frankenstein-like monsters, they were nonetheless populated by equally terrifying and nightmarish monsters.

On this night of horror, better keep an eye out......

Bakemono Yotsugi no hachinoki 化物世櫃鉢木 (1781) ( British Library 16107.c.20)

Further Reading

Gardner, Kenneth Bursham, Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Library Printed Before 1700 (London, Tenri: The British Library, Tenri Central Library, 1993)
Nienhauser, William, The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), pp. 275-76
Asai Ryōi, Otogibōko, in Tōyō bunkō v.475 and v. 480 (Tōkyō: Heibonsha 1988)

Alessandro Bianchi,  Asian and African Studies and PhD student, University of Cambridge
together with Hamish Todd, Ohtsuka Yasuyo and Sara Chiesura

23 October 2014

Twenty more Persian manuscript treasures now online

This month sees a new upload of 20 Persian manuscripts (8588 images) to the Library's Digitised Manuscripts, generously funded by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation, the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and others. These works have been selected for their artistic, historical and cultural importance and are among the most treasured of the Library's Persian manuscripts. Bringing this work to fruition has been one of the most rewarding tasks I have done: being able to look deep into the detail of a painting, examining minute annotations and studying the text itself is a luxury which was previously only possible to the priveleged few who could make it to the Library's reading room. Now you can do it from your desk, on the bus, or even in the dentist's waiting room!

The works in this recent upload include:

Add.18188  Firdawsi's Shāhnāmah ('Book of kings'). Copied in 1486 by Ghiyas al-Din Bayazid Sarraf and illustrated with 72 miniatures, Turkman/Timurid style.

Add.27262  Saʻdi's Būstān ('Orchard') dated at Agra in November 1629 and illustrated with ten miniatures. The calligrapher was the well-known physician and poet Hakim Rukn al-Din Masʻud, known as Hakim Rukna, who emigrated from Iran to India in the reign of Akbar and subsequently became one of Shah Jahan’s favourite poets.

The poet Saʻdi and his companions meet a young man whose sheep was tamed by kindness (Add.27262, f. 37r)

IO Islamic 137  The Ẓafarnāmah, a history of the conquests of Timur by Sharaf al-Din Yazdi completed ca. 1424. Illustrated with 30 miniatures in the 16th century Shiraz style.

The defeat of Damascus. Timur watches the flames as the city burns (IO Islamic 137, f. 358r)

IO Islamic 138  The only known copy of the Khamsah ('Five poems') composed by the poet Jamali who lived at the beginning of the 15th century. Dated 1465 at Baghdad and illustrated with six miniatures.

IO Islamic 3214  The Sindbādnāmah, an anonymous version of the adventures of Sindbad in Persian verse. It was probably copied in Golconda, India, around 1575, and contains 72 illustrations.
The vizier’s tale of the confectioner, his unfaithful wife, and the parrot (IO Islamic 3214, f. 36v)

IO Islamic 3558
The Dīvān-i Khāqān, a beautifully illuminated copy in calligraphic shikastah of the poems of  Fath ʻAli Shah Qajar, Shah of Iran (r. 1797-1834), who wrote poetry under the name Khaqan.

Io_islamic_3558_fbrigr Io_islamic_3558_fbrigv
The Shah hunting and a floral arrangement on the inside and outside of the contemporary lacquer binding of Fath ʻAli Shah Khaqanʼs Dīvān (IO Islamic 3558, inside and outside front cover)

Or.166  The Aḥvāl-i Humāyūn Pādshāh. Princess Gulbadan Begam's autobiographical account of the reigns of her father, the Mughal Emperor Babur, and his successor, her brother Humayun. Although this manuscript probably dates from the early 17th century, it is the only known copy to have survived.

Or.343   Futūḥ al-Ḥaramayn, a poetical description of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina and the rites of pilgrimage by Muhyi Lari (d.1526 or 1527). Includes 17 miniatures dating from the 17th century.

Or.2839  Sūz va Gudāz (‘Burning and melting’) by Nawʻi Khabushani, the story of a bride whose betrothed was killed by a falling wall on his way to the wedding and her subsequent suicide on his funeral pyre. It was commissioned by Akbar's son Prince Danyal (1581-1614) who requested a change from traditional tales. It contains three miniatures and dates from the early 17th century.

Or.3714  Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī, the memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30), originally written in Chaghatai Turkish and translated into Persian at his grandson Akbar’s request by Mirza ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan in 1589. This imperial copy, containing 143 illustrations, mostly by attributed artists, was completed c. 1590-93.

Babur with birdcatchers near Kabul, in 1504. Artist: Shiyam (Or.3714, f. 190r)

Or.5302  Saʻdi's Gulistān ('Flower garden') copied in 975 (1567/68) in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and ascribed in the colophon to the famous calligrapher Mir ʻAli Husayni. It includes six Bukhara-style paintings which were commissioned at Akbar's request. The manuscript was 'improved'  in India in Jahangir's reign when seven more paintings were added, probably between 1605 and 1609.

Chaos in the classroom: the story of the schoolmaster who became infatuated with one of his pupils  (Or.5302, f. 80r)

Or.5637  Muʼnis al-arvāḥ ('The confidant of spirits'), an autograph copy by Princess Jahanara (1641-81), daughter of Shah Jahan, of her biography, composed in 1640, of the Sufi saint Muʻīn al-Dīn Chishtī (see blog: Princess Jahanara’s biography of a Sufi saint).

Or.7043  The Salīm Khānnāmah, a poetical history of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Selim II (r.1566-1574) composed by Luqman in 1580. Copy dated 1099 (1687-88) containing eight miniatures, Ottoman

Or.7573  The Dīvān of Hafiz copied in Akbar’s reign in 990/1582-3 by ‘Abd al-Samad Shirin-qalam and enhanced by Jahangir c. 1611 with nine miniature paintings. Panels containing pairs of birds separate the verses thoroughout the volume. The final part of the manuscript including the colophon and one miniature is preserved at the Chester Beatty Library Dublin (see blog: Jahangir’s Hafiz and the Madrasa Jurist).

Or.8193  The 'Yazd' anthology, a collection of Turkish works written in calligraphic Uighur script in Yazd in 1431 with the addition of the Persian Dīvāns of Kamal-i Khujand and Amiri in the margins.

Facing pages with the Uighur text in the central panels and the Persian poems in the margins (Or.8193, ff. 46-47)

Or.11846  The Dīvān of Hafiz Saʻd copied by Shaykh Mahmud Pir Budaqi at Shiraz for the library of the Qaraqoyunlu prince Pir Budaq (d.1466).

The opening shamsah with a dedication to Abu'l-Fath Pir Budaq Bahadur Khan (Or.11846, f. 1v)

Or.12208  The emperor Akbar's copy of Nizami's Khamsah, dated between 1593 and 1595 and copied by ʻAbd al-Rahim ʻAnbarin-qalam. It contains 38 illustrated folios attributed to the major artists of the imperial Mughal studio and an original lacquered binding.

A scene from the Haft paykar in which the king escaped from a tower, carried off by magical bird. Artist: Dharamdas (Or.12208, f. 195r)

Or.12857  ʻAbd al-Karīm al-Qādirī Jawnpūrī's Javāhir al-mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, a musical treatise dedicated to Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56) dating from the 17th century which includes 48 Deccani miniatures from an earlier Dakhini manuscript dating from around 1570 (see blogs: Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1 and Part 2).

Or.12988  An imperial copy of the first volume of Abu'l-Fazl's history of the reign of Akbar, the  Akbarnāmah. Completed ca.1602, it contains 39 paintings and inscriptions (unfortunately pasted over during a previous refurbishment and now only visible with infrared photography) by Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
The baby Akbar and his mother Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani. Artists: Sanvalah and Narsingh (Or.12988, f. 22r)

Or.14139  The Dīvān of Hafiz, copied at Herat or Mashhad ca. 1470 by, according to Shah Jahan’s note on folio 1 , the famous calligrapher Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi. The whole work was refurbished and remargined at the Mughal court ca. 1605 with cartouches containing images of animals, birds, musicians, workmen, soldiers etc. 

The opening of the Dīvān-i Ḥāfiẓ, copied by Sultan ʻAli Mashhadi (Or.14139, f. 1v)

More details about these manuscripts, together with links to catalogue descriptions and related literature, can be found at Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts. This page is very much a 'work in progress' page to which we add continually, so please keep looking there to follow new developments.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies


18 October 2014

A royal Malay letter from Ternate

In 1579 Francis Drake sailed into Ternate harbour during his circumnavigation of the globe. This was the first official visit by an Englishman to the islands of what is now Indonesia.  The visit appears to have been a diplomatic success, and Drake brought back a letter to Queen Elizabeth and a gold ring.  However the follow-up was less than satisfactory from the Ternate point of view, for it was not until 1605 that the next English ships arrived in Ternate, captained by Henry Middleton. Middleton carried back to London a letter to James I from Sultan Said Syah (held today in the National Archives, SP 102/4/24) in which the sultan noted acerbically that in the over twenty years that had passed since Drake’s visit, he had sired eleven children, without receiving any further overtures of friendship from England  (dalam kerajaan itu sebellas anak beta, itu pun tiada jua sesuatu khabar Inggliterra hendak berkasih-kasihan Ingglitera dengan orang Maluku). Hardly surprisingly, the sultan refused the English permission to trade in Ternate, citing his alliance with the Dutch (Gallop 2003: 413-418).

Ilhas de Maluco, 'The islands of the Moluccas', showing from left to right the islands of Hiri, Ternate, Maitara, Tidore, Mare and Makian, with an interesting treatment of perspective which emphasises the height of the volcanoes which rise from the sea to form each of the islands. Livro do Estado da India Oriental, by Pedro Barreto de Resende, 1646. British Library, Sloane MS 197, ff.395v-396r.  noc

Despite such ups and down, over the next three centuries diplomatic channels of communication between Ternate and Britain remained open, as reflected in an occasional series of royal letters preserved in various repositories.  Presented here is a newly-digitised letter in Malay from Sultan Kaicil Patra Muhammad Yasin of Ternate (r.1801-1807) to the British Commissioner in Ambon in the central Moluccas, dated 26 Zulhijah 1216 (19 April 1802) (Add.18141, f.2r).  At that time the Commissioner was Col. J. Oliver, but the letter may have been intended for his predecessor, Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar (1776-1830) - British commercial Resident of Ambon from the late 1790s until 1801 and subsequently Lieutenant-Governor of Penang from 1804-1805 and first Governor of Mauritius from 1810 to 1823 - for the letter was presented to the British Museum in 1850 by his son, Sir Walter Minto Farquhar (who had evidently been named after the oldest son of Lord Minto, Governor-General of India).  In this letter, the Sultan informs the Commissioner that a joint British-Ternatan force had been despatched to Halmahera to settle a disturbance in Sawu provoked by the kingdom of Jailolo (kuku Jailolo dengan manisnya membujuk negeri Sawu, maka berdiri sama2 menunjuk berani, ‘sweet-talking Jailolo has managed to dig its nails into Sawu, and now they’re both acting up’).

Letter in Malay from Sultan Muhammad Yasin of Ternate to the British Commissioner in Ambon, 1802. British Library, Add. 18141, f.2r.  noc

The letter is written in superb calligraphy, confident and stylish, by a master of the craft who makes good use of the thick and thin edges of the nib of the pen, as particularly evident in the first line, a detail of which is shown below.  The hand in this letter shares some characteristics with other royal letters from the Moluccas, in particular the sweeping, cursive style of writing which greatly exaggerates the tails of letters. One of the most characteristic letter forms is ya or medial or final ha (see the word maha below), both of which are usually written as two convex arcs joined at the lower tip, like an elongated curved v tipped towards the right, while also notable is the pyramidal (or mountain-like?) presentation of the sultan’s name in the first line shown here.
Detail of part of the first line of the letter, reading 'Wherefore His Majesty the Sultan of Ternate ...' (Bahwa  paduka  seri  maha  yang  tuan sultan  Ternate al-buldan taj ...).  The scribe has taken a very cavalier and almost playful approach to certain letters, such as the dal (d) of paduka, and the convoluted tail of nga in the word yang.

Further reading:

A.T. Gallop, 'Seventeenth-century Indonesian letters in the Public Record Office', Indonesia and Malay World, vol.31, no.91 (2003), pp. 412-439.

The full Malay text of the letter shown here can be read in the catalogue entry for Add.18141, f.2r.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

13 October 2014

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 2

The second of two posts on the Bijapur manuscript Javāhir al-mūsīqāt, c.1570/c.1630 by guest blogger Katherine Butler Schofield of King’s College London. This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios.

This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios. - See more at:

The replacement frontispiece of the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, reused from elsewhere. (British Library Or.12857, f. 1v)

In my last post, I concluded that Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s musical masterwork, the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, is a multilingual palimpsest of three treatises: a translation c. 1570 of the 13th-century Sanskrit Saṅgītaratnākara into 16th-century Dakhni, probably for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur (r.1558-80), which was split apart and its paintings reused by Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim to form the central thread of a more elaborate 17th-century Persian translation dedicated to ‘Ali’s great-nephew, Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56). This unique work is culturally significant for several reasons. For one thing, when placed in wider geographical context it testifies to a significant vernacularisation of Sanskrit music theory in the 16th century, preceding by nearly a century its recodification in Persian under the Mughals (see Brown below).

Deskar, the fourth rāginī of Megh (British Library Or.12857, f. 119r)

A number of other noteworthy vernacular music treatises made their appearance in this century: e.g. a miniature Awadhi verse treatise inserted into Qutban’s Sufi romance the Mṛgāvatī (1503) produced in Jaunpur (Behl, pp. 131-133); a Braj rāgamālā called the Mānakutūhala, traditionally attributed to Raja Man Singh of Gwalior (d.1516)[1]. ; and a Marathi translation of the Saṅgītaratnākara with paintings of very similar style and date to the Jawāhir (Zebrowski, pp. 60-4). The production of a substantial Dakhni recension of the Saṅgītaratnākara in Bijapur thus confirms a growing picture of a vernacularising 16th century in north and central India’s independent courts.

But a major reason this work is of importance to music and cultural history is Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s systematic integration of ideas from the Islamicate sciences about the power of sound and its effects in human affairs into a work of Indic musicology. We already know from work done on the great astrological treatise written in Persian for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, the Nujum al-‘ulūm (1570) – whose paintings are used to date the Jawāhir’s – that ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, and later Ibrahim ʻAdil Shah II (r.1580-1626), freely mixed Hindu and Muslim symbology and theories of supernatural power, including those associated with music, and incorporated them into their courtly ideologies (see Flatt; Leach, v.2, pp. 819-89; Hutton, pp. 51-2 and fig. 2.14; Zebrowski, pp. 60-4).

Asavari, the second rāginī of Malkausik (British Library Or.12857, f. 102r)

Although Muhammad ʻAdil Shah is sometimes characterised as more narrowly orthodox, this generous attitude remains primary in Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s vision. Strikingly, with respect to music’s origin myths and explanations of its power to regulate the universe, he treats the philosophies of “ ‘Arabia, ‘Ajam and Hind” as effectively equal in truth value (f. 5v).

More important, though, is his systematic appropriation of the Indian rāgas into the Greco-Islamicate system of humoral medicine known as Unani ṭibb. Every rāga and rāginī in the Indic system is supposed to have a specific effect on the listener’s psychological state, their physical wellbeing, or indeed on the wider natural world. Rāginī Dhanashri, for example, is supposed to evoke feelings of loss and longing caused by the absent beloved. Rāg Megh, one of the six main rāgas, has the power to bring the monsoon rains; the coming of the rains is furthermore associated with the joy of union with the beloved.

Rag Megh, the third rāga (British Library Or.12857, f. 112v)

In Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s rāgamālā he systematically attributes the essential emotional flavour of every rāga to one of the four elements of Islamicate natural sciences – fire, earth, air and water. He furthermore describes the effect of each of the four kinds of rāga on the physical and mental state of the listener in terms borrowed from Sufi teaching and ethical literature (akhlāq): fiery rāgas ignite passionate love (‘ishq) in the listener’s heart; earthy rāgas enlighten the listener with the mystical knowledge (‘irfān) of their true selves; airy rāgas overwhelm the listener with longing for the absent beloved (firāq); and watery rāgas annhilate the listener in union (viṣal) with the great Existence (ff. 66v-8r). 

The iconography of rāgamālā paintings is supposed to intensify and enrich the rāgas’ affective associations using visual and imaginative rather than aural means. The c.1570 rāgamālā paintings of the Javāhir belong to a time when rāga-rāginī sets were clearly not yet standardised. Although it uses the same six rāgas as the contemporaneous “Painters system” – Bhairav, Hindol, Megh, Malkausik, Shri and Dipak – I have not before encountered its particular configuration of rāginīs. In addition, the classic iconography we are accustomed to was clearly not yet settled. Some rāgas had already acquired their standard form. Rag Megh, for example, is of course watery in essence, and listening to it engenders loving union; singing this rāga may cause clouds to gather in the heavens or rain to fall, powerful lightening to strike and frogs to start croaking. In the rāgamālā text and painting Megh is depicted as a dark-skinned lord dressed in green and riding a black buck, with the monsoon rainclouds gathering above his head and two pied cuckoos in the background.  Ragini Dhanashri, on the other hand, is not depicted in her now customary form: a woman consumed with longing, gazing at a portrait of her absent beloved as she is consoled by her girlfriends.  The mood of viraha or firāq is nonetheless sustained in the Javāhir pictorially by Dhanashri’s loose dishevelled hair, her chin resting disconsolately on her hand as she sits on a bed waiting for her lover’s return. And Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim makes it explicit in the Persian text: Dhanashri is an airy rāginī, and thus listening to her overwhelms the listener with longing (ff. 99r-100r).  
Dhanashri, the first rāginī of Malkausik (British Library Or.12857, f. 100r)

In this way the rāgas and their rich aesthetic and affective powers are here recruited to the service of Sufi devotion and appropriated as medicinal and supernatural formulae, thus giving excellent grounds for a Muslim ruler like Muhammad ‘Adil Shah to use the rāgas in regulating and maintaining order in the body politic. It is important to note that the elemental associations of the Javāhir rāga descriptions are not in the Dakhni text. Their relation to the paintings is thus an early- to mid- 17th-century interpretation, undertaken in a more Persianate universe. I thus want to speculate in conclusion about the impact this text, and perhaps other Bijapuri treatises like it, now lost, had on the Mughal recodification of śastric music theory in Persian during the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (1658-1707) (see Schofield below).

The evidence is circumstantial, but cumulative and therefore tantalising. From the first brief Mughal formulation of saṅgītaśāstra in Persian, Abuʼl-Fazl’s chapter on saṅgīt in the Ā’īn-i Akbarī (1593),  Mughal music theorists all venerated the south and especially the Deccan as the arbiter of authority in Indian music.  Political and cultural emissaries were sent regularly between the Mughal and Bijapur courts from the time of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, and in the first decades of the 17th century the two powers came into direct conflict, and then more peaceful accommodation, over the collapse of the Nizam Shahi state of Ahmadnagar.  Akbar and Jahangir certainly knew of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah’s musical prowess; Jahangir even made note of Ibrahim’s famous song collection, the Kitāb-i nauras, in his memoir, and welcomed one of his musicians to the Mughal court.  And Ibrahim in turn was fascinated by Akbar’s great musician Tansen and the quality of Akbar’s relationship with him. 

What, then, of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah and his connections with his exact Mughal contemporary Shah Jahan (r.1628-58) and his Deccan viceroy Aurangzeb, the future emperor ‘Alamgir? Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim portrays Muhammad ‘Adil Shah as a great lover and connoisseur of music  – and to my knowledge, the Javāhir is the earliest extant full-scale Persian work of Indian musicology from the Mughal period. Why write it in Persian not Dakhni? We know that the miniature paintings of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah’s reign draw to an unprecedented extent on Mughal inspiration, which included importing Mughal artists.  Did Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s choice to write a great treatise in Persian similarly reflect his patron’s aspirations to Mughal recognition, in a subject in which Bijapur was already renowned as the authority? Conversely, what impact did the Javāhir’s unapologetic mixing of Indic musical science with Islamicate natural and esoteric sciences and mystical and ethical teaching have on the explosion of music theory in Persian at ‘Alamgir’s court in the 1660s and 70s? It is suggestive that the first full-scale Indian music treatise in Persian for a Mughal emperor – Qazi Hasan’s Miftāḥ al-surūd (1663-4) – was written in Daulatabad for ‘Alamgir, and has many similar features.  More importantly, the humoral explanation of the rāgās’ potency is fundamental to several treatises written at ‘Alamgir’s court itself. 

We do not have the evidence to say definitively that Mughal connoisseurs and intellectuals were inspired to translate Indian music theory into Persian by what they saw coming out of Bijapur. What we can say is that the Javāhir al-mūsiqāt-i Muḥammadī is a precious landmark in Indian musicology: the earliest known musicological work in Dakhni, and the earliest full-scale Persian work on Indian music from the Mughal period still extant. Yet it is just one of hundreds of Indian musical treasures held today in the British Library’s collections.

Further reading

K B Brown [Schofield], “Hindustani music in the time of Aurangzeb,” unpublished PhD thesis (SOAS, 2003).
K B Schofield, “Reviving the Golden Age again,” Ethnomusicology 54.3 (2010), pp. 484-517
A Behl, The Magic Doe, W Doniger, ed. (Oxford, 2012).
M Zebrowski, Deccani painting (London, 1983).
E J Flatt, “The authorship and significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm,” JAOS 131.2 (2011), pp. 223-44.
L Y Leach, Mughal and other Indian paintings from the Chester Beatty Library (London, 1995).
D Hutton, Art of the court of Bijapur (Oxford, 2011).
J P Losty,  “Early Bijapuri musical paintings”, in An Age of Splendour, Islamic Art in India, ed. K. Khandalavala (Bombay, 1983), pp. 128-31.

With thanks to the European Research Council; and to Molly E Aitken, Yael Rice and Margaret E Walker for art-historical, codicological and dance-historical advice. Any errors are mine.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London


[1] Mānakutūhala (Oriental Institute, Central Library, Baroda, acc. no. 2125). I am grateful to Nalini Delvoye for drawing my attention to this manuscript

10 October 2014

Three volumes of the Yongle Dadian now on display at the British Museum

The BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015. During the years 1400-1450 the Chinese empire reached a peak in its own cultural and artistic productions and in its trade and exchange with other cultures. The stunning exhibition at the British Museum vividly represents the first-class  products of those years, with 280 extraordinary works from the Museum collections and from many other institutions.

Among the most interesting pieces from the British Library collections which are now on display, we find 3 volumes of the Yongle Encyclopaedia (永樂大典 Yongle Dadian), which takes its name from the Ming Emperor who commissioned it.
Emperor Yongle (Yongle 永樂 means perpetual happiness) as portrayed in an 18th century painted album (British Library Or. 2231)

Emperor Yongle (born with the name of Zhu Di 朱棣) was the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty and he reigned from 1402 to 1424. He was a key figure of the development of the Chinese empire: he transferred the capital of the empire from Nanjing to Beijing and ordered the building of the Forbidden City. Under his reign Admiral Zheng He travelled to the Middle East and East Africa strengthening the trade and diplomatic links with foreign countries. Indeed the importance of China as a production centre for the export of high quality goods during the first half of the 15th century is testified by some exquisite British Library Persian manuscripts, written on Chinese decorated paper, now on display in the exhibition.

Emperor Yongle commissioned the Yongle Dadian in July 1403 and the project involved 2169 scholars and compilers from the Hanlin Academy and the National University. Completed in 1408, it was the world’s largest literary compilation, comprising 22,877 chapters bound in 11,095 volumes. The Yongle Dadian was taken as an example and frequently quoted in the Qing dynasty encyclopaedia Siku quanshu (四庫禁書 “Complete Library of the Four Treasuries”), a colossal compilation in 36,275 volumes commissioned in 1773 by Emperor Qianlong.

The size, the type of paper, and the binding of the volumes are different from the other Chinese encyclopaedias. The paper is heavy with dark red vertical rulings. The subject headings are written in red on the outer edges of the pages. The binding is in the “wrapped-back” style (包背裝 bao bei zhuang), but with a distinctive yellow silk hard-cover to protect the paper.
Distinctive yellow hard cover from the volume containing chapters 7389 and 7390 of the Yongle Dadian (Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7) (British Library Or.11758)

The Yongle Dadian is unique not only for its physical appearance but also for its content arrangement: unlike other Chinese compilations, the parts are not ordered by subject, but by the rhythm system of the dictionary 洪武正韻 (Hongwu zhengyun). This system is closer to the idea of an alphabetical arrangement, and in this way it was easier to find a specific entry.

A page from the woodblock printed dictionary 洪武正韻 (Hongwu zhengyun) which is named after Hongwu (r. 1368-1398), the first emperor of the Ming dynasty who commissioned this work in 1375. 16th century copy (British Library 15342.b.14)

The content of the encyclopaedia covers all aspects of traditional “Confucian” knowledge and contains the most representative literature available at that time, ranging from history and drama to farming techniques. It comprises large sections of historical documents and other sources, transcribed character for character, with the name of the author or the source in red.
In fact, the term encyclopaedia, which is commonly used when referring to the Yongle Dadian, is slightly misleading since 大典 (da dian) means grand “canon” or “code” and the Yongle Dadian should be regarded rather as the Chinese literary genre of 類書 (lei shu), which literally means “classified writings”. These literary compilations span a wide variety of texts, such as dictionaries, reference books, manuals and anthologies. Unlike Western encyclopaedias which are based on edited entries, the Yongle Dadian is a collection of readings and excerpts from existing literature. Despite the non-originality (as we understand the term now) of these types of work, the value of the Yongle Dadian is enormous as it preserves many texts which otherwise would have been lost.
Left: Chapter 7389 (Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7) of the Yongle Dadian, concerned mainly with funeral rites (喪禮  sang li) (British Library Or.11758, f.1r)
Right: Illustration from the same item (British Library Or.11758, f.3v)

Even though printing techniques were already well developed in the Ming dynasty (the earliest dated woodblock-printed item, the Diamond Sutra, dates back to the 9th century), the Yongle Dadian was handwritten because of its length and extent. The only 1408 manuscript was almost destroyed by fire during the sixteenth century, and as a result two other copies were produced during the reigns of Jiajing 嘉靖 (1522-1566) and Longqing 隆慶 (1567-1572). This was not enough to keep the precious manuscripts safe: during the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Qing in 1644, the 1408 copy was destroyed and some of the later ones were lost or dispersed. The 1562-7 copies were at that time the earliest edition to survive and the number of volumes went down to 800. During the Boxer Uprising in Beijing during the spring of 1900, half of the remaining volumes which were stored in the Hanlin Academy were destroyed and now less than 400 juan (chapters) remain. They represent only the 3% of the total initial corpus.
Soy bean recipes on folio 3 (verso) of  chapter 13340 from the Yongle Dadian (British Library Or. 12020, Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7)

David Helliwell, Curator of Chinese Collections at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, has worked extensively on the Yongle Dadian volumes held in the European libraries (see Helliwell below), tracing their arrival from Beijing and identifying in 1997 a new volume in the University of Aberdeen Library [1]. Today there are about 56 volumes in Europe (51 in the United Kingdom and the remaining 5 in Berlin). The British Library currently holds 24 volumes of the Yongle Dadian, corresponding to 49 chapters. During the 1930s the National Library of China made copies of some chapters and donated them to the British Museum Library. Furthermore, in 1960, the Chinese publisher 中華書局 Zhonghua Shuju produced facsimiles of all the existing volumes.

Geomantic diagrams in chapter 14219 from the Yongle Dadian dedicated to geomancy (British Library Or. 14446, f. 5r, Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7)

Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015.
The British Library’s Yongle Dadian volumes 7389-90, 14219-20 and 13340-41 pictured in this article are on display.

Grinstead, Eric Douglas, “The Yung-lo Ta-tien: an Unrecorded Volume”, in The British Museum Quarterly no. 26, 1962.
Harrison-Hall, Jessica, “‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’ at the British Museum”, in Orientations, vol. 45, no. 6, 2014.
Helliwell, David, “Holdings of Yongle Dadian in United Kingdom libraries” in Yongle Dadian bianzuan 600 zhounian guoji yantaohui lunwenji, Beijing, 2003.
Shih-shan, Henry Tsai, Perpetual Happiness: the Ming Emperor Yongle, University of Washington Press, 2001.


Sara Chiesura, Asian and African Studies


[1] Helliwell, David, “The Aberdeen volume of Yongle Dadian”, lecture given to the University of Aberdeen Chinese Studies Group, 16 March 2009.

07 October 2014

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1

The first of two posts on the Bijapur manuscript Javāhir al-mūsīqāt, c.1570/c.1630 by guest blogger Katherine Butler Schofield of King’s College London. This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios.

The third type of the ād-sanj position (British Library Or.12857, f. 171r)

The dancer sinks into a deep plié, both heels raised with her toes planted on the ground, her shins at a distance of one hand span above the floor, both shoulders parallel with her knees, and the thumb and forefinger of each hand completing the circle of the haṃsāsya hand gesture, the “wild-goose beak”, as she demonstrates the third of three ād-sanj positions[1]. As the dancers who follow her show more taxonomically, this scene is straight out of the Saṅgītaratnākara, the greatest Sanskrit music treatise of the second millennium CE, which the Kashmiri pandit Śārṅgadeva wrote for the Yadava king Siṅghaṇa (r.1210-47) at his court of Devagiri, now Daulatabad, in the Deccan. Śārṅgadeva’s work was considered seminally important in both North and South Indian musical traditions in the 16th century when this dancer was painted – a mārga (universal) treatise for all times and places. Yet the page across which she dances is also rooted in a particular desh (region): the text is Dakhni and in Arabic script, betraying its regional roots in the Muslim Deccan; and the dancer is indisputably trained in South Indian traditions. Not for her the flowing ankle-length robes and pajamas and cypress-like stance of her counterparts at the Mughal court. Bare-legged and sharply angled, she wears a short wide skirt like Baz Bahadur’s Mandu dancers, forced to perform in captivity for Akbar in 1561; and the longer skirts of her sisters in subsequent paintings are pulled up between their legs like trousers, in a manner reminiscent of today’s Bharatanatyam dancers. Both costumes are designed to accommodate legs bent wide in plié – still the iconic basic posture of South Indian dance today.

The first and second of the “single hand” gestures as established in the Saṅgītaratnākara: patāka “flag” and tripatāka “three-finger flag” (British Library Or. 12857, f. 174v)

She may be dancing her way through a Sanskritic taxonomy of mudrās and maṇḍalas (hand gestures and body postures), but her male companion is dressed in visibly Persianate robes and is sporting the tight conical turban characteristic of the 16th-century Muslim Deccan, specifically the ‘Adil Shahi court of Bijapur. This figure is slightly more difficult to interpret: is the rod in his right hand indicative of authority, perhaps of instruction? That he is apparently exemplifying the haṃsāsya gesture to the dancer – a gesture that was itself used in the Saṅgītaratnākara to signify “instruction” – certainly underlines that impression. Is he, perhaps, the dancer’s instructor? If so, is that not a little intriguing: a courtier embracing the Persianate styles of the ‘Adil Shahi court teaching the universal way of the Sanskrit treatises to someone trained in the regional dance forms of the South? The multilinguality of the codex that yields this image, too, is as complicated as the painting’s cultural mixture: choice morsels of Dakhni scattered through a weighty Persian dish poached in a Sanskrit reduction and seasoned with judicious pinches of Sufi-infused Arabic (See Aitken below). Added to which there is confusion over its date: the paintings have the unmistakable savour of the court of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah c.1570 – based largely on the blatant similarity of the paintings to the Chester Beatty Nujūm al-‘ulūm completed in 1570 for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah (Michell & Zebrowski, p. 162 and Flatt below) – but the codex’s Persian dedication is to his great-nephew, Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56). How might we make sense of this work?

For the past few years, I and my team on the European Research Council project “Musical Transitions to European Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean” have been compiling information about all the major texts on North Indian art music and dance produced c. 1600–1900. The British Library possesses by far the largest and richest set of materials on North Indian music we have yet encountered. These include hundreds of paintings of the melodic modes of North Indian classical music – the male rāgas and female rāginīs – as heroes, heroines, jogis and deities, alone or collated together into sets called “garlands of rāgas” or rāgamālās. The rāgamālā paintings that form the centrepiece of Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim bin Shaikh Farid Ansari al-Qadiri Jaunpuri’s masterwork, the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, are quite possibly the Library’s oldest.

Bangālī, the third rāginī of Rag Bhairav (British Library Or. 12857, f. 76r)

The Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, the “jewels/essences of music belonging to Muhammad”, is not the British Library’s most beautiful Indian musical manuscript; its 48 miniatures have been deemed a crude, if charming, footnote to the productions of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah (r.1558-80) (Michell & Zebrowski) and its calligraphy is somewhat slapdash. But it is undoubtedly one of the Library’s rarest – this is the only known copy[2] – and one of its most important, for several reasons.

In my next post I will talk about the Javāhir’s wider cultural resonances; here I want to focus on the manuscript’s literary and musicological significance. The codex is largely in Persian, but it contains within it the earliest known Dakhni work on music theory, c.1570, predating the famed Kitāb-i Nauras of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II (r.1580-1626) by several decades (Haider). Until now, the Javāhir has only really passed under the eyes of art historians, whose firm dating of the miniatures to 1570s Bijapur has been confounded by the “perplexing dedicatory note on fol. 4a to Sultan Muhammad Adil Shah”, who came to power more than 50 years later (Michell & Zebrowski). A close examination of the codex reveals what I think is the likely process of this unique work’s construction:

1) Firstly, in c.1570 an anonymous author prepared a densely illustrated Dakhni translation of the 13th-century Saṅgītaratnākara probably for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur, but with the replacement of its rāga chapter with a much newer iconic rāgamālā. All the miniatures have passages of Dakhni prose on the reverse. These do not correspond to the painting on the front, but to the next painting in the section.

Bangālī, reverse folio. The text describes the fourth rāginī of Rag Bhairav, Ragini Bairari (British Library Or. 12857, f. 76v)

By using digital images of the folios, it is possible to reconstruct large portions of the original treatise. The section on the seven notes of the scale (swara) – which has unique paintings of the swaras personified like rāgas – and the dance section are patently literal translations of the corresponding subchapters of the classic Sanskrit work of music theory, the Saṅgītaratnākara.

The first note of the scale, Sa (ṣadj), whose sound derives from the cry of the peacock, and its four microtones (śrutis) (British Library Or. 12857, f. 39r)

2) Around 1630 or so, Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim, a Qadiri Sufi whose family hailed originally from Jaunpur in the north, split the Dakhni treatise apart and reused its paintings in a more elaborate and refined Persian translation for Muhammad ‘Adil Shah, with a Suficate preface and six chapters: the origins of sound; the musical scale; the rāgas and rāginīs; two chapters on the rhythmic system (tāla); and dance. This essentially forms the manuscript we have now. Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim calls the work he is translating the Kitāb-i Sangīt, the “Book of Music” (e.g. Javāhir, f. 69v). This designation may refer to the Saṅgītaratnākara itself; the more traditional sections compare almost exactly. However the remaining Dakhni is also followed very closely, though with key interpolations from the Islamic sciences (see my next post). Sticking my neck out I would suggest Kitāb-i Sangīt refers to the Dakhni text. Even what remains indicates its textual portions were originally much more extensive.

3) At some point comparatively early in its long history, through wear and tear the manuscript lost its colophon, and the first few pages became so degraded that a second headpiece was reused to replace the original – you can see where the previous text was cut out – and the first few pages were retranscribed on newer paper.

The retranscribed dedication to Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (British Library Or. 12,857, f. 4r)

4) Finally, by the time the codex was bound in its current form, what is now the third folio ended up bound out of place (folio four runs on from folio two), and several pages in the middle – all the rāg-rāginī illustrations for Rags Shri and Dipak and the beginning of the fourth chapter – had sadly gone missing. Where the English pencil folio numbering (followed for citations here) goes from 123v to 124r, the oldest Persian numbering skips from 141 to 177. Suddenly, from enjoying a description of Shri Rag, we find ourselves in the middle of a sentence describing the Sanskritic notation system for poetical and musical metre.

The Javāhir is thus a multilingual palimpsest of three treatises layered up like an onion: a translation of the 13th-century Sanskrit Saṅgītaratnākara into 16th-century Dakhni, which was split apart and its paintings reused to form the central thread of a more elaborate and aspirational 17th-century Persian translation.

This remarkable manuscript constitutes the earliest work of Indian music theory in Dakhni that we know of. But it is also the earliest music treatise in Persian that we still possess from the Mughal period. I will discuss the wider cultural and historical significance of this text in my next post.

[1] The term Ād-sanj appears to be a distortion of the Sanskrit term, asaṃyukta, for the “single hands” section that follows, but at the moment it’s not clear where the three subpostures come from.

[2] The British Library copy of the Ghunyat al-munya is often cited as unique, but there is at least one other: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, owns a copy (Cambridge University Library, Corpus no. 884).

Further reading

Śārṅgadeva, Saṅgītaratnākara, S S Sastri, ed. (Madras, 1943), vol. i, pp. ix-x
M E Aitken, “Parataxis and the practice of reuse,” Archives of Asian art 59 (2009), 81-103, pp. 82, 97-100 for the comandeering of the Indian culinary term khichṛī, a rich stew of rice and lentils, to describe cultural and religious mixing in early-modern India.
G Michell & M Zebrowski, Architecture and art of the Deccan sultanates (Cambridge, 1999).
E J Flatt, “The authorship and significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm,” JAOS 131.2 (2011), 223-44.
N N Haider, “The Kitab-i Nauras,” in N N Haider, ed., Sultans of the South (New York, 2011), 26-43.
N M Titley, Miniatures from Persian Manuscripts) a Catalogue and Subject Index of Paintings from Persia, India and Turkey in the British Library and the British Museum (London, 1977) pp. 1-2.
J P Losty,  “Early Bijapuri musical paintings”, in An Age of Splendour, Islamic Art in India, ed. K. Khandalavala (Bombay, 1983), pp. 128-31.

With thanks to the European Research Council; and to Molly E Aitken, Yael Rice and Margaret E Walker for art-historical, codicological and dance-historical advice. Any errors are mine.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College London

02 October 2014

Heirloom manuscripts from Jambi

Throughout island Southeast Asia, the hot and humid tropical climate with attendant rodent and insect life is usually judged hostile to the preservation of manuscripts. And yet in certain highland communities in the province of Jambi in east Sumatra, manuscripts can and do survive for centuries, as reflected in a recent Endangered Archives project, EAP117, Digitising ‘sacred heirlooms’ in private collections in Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia.  
Buffalo horn manuscript inscribed with the story of the journey of Uti Unduk Pinang Masak and Dayang Berani, written in the Kerinci incung script, in the collection of Depati Singolago Tuo (the text is transliterated in Tambo Kerinci no.37). British Library, EAP117/2/1

In many villages in the interior of Jambi, manuscripts in Malay on paper, horn and bamboo, written in Arabic or the Indic incung script, have been preserved as sacred village heirlooms along with other auspicious objects such as weapons, coins, pieces of porcelain and elephant teeth. Usually carefully stored in a wooden box in the loft of the house of the village headman, these precious items could only be brought out on occasional ritual feasts to celebrate the origins of the village (Watson 2009).  In retrospect, it can be seen that the combination of secure storage of these manuscripts at the top of the house, where smoke from the kitchen below would act both as an insect repellent and as a natural dehumidifier, together with very occasional ‘airings’, was an extremely effective form of preservation.  In one spectacular case, a code of laws from the village of Tanjung Tanah written on treebark paper has been carbon-dated to the 14th century, making it the oldest known surviving Malay manuscript in the world (Kozok 2006).

Heirloom edict from Jambi dated 1794. When it was seen by P. Voorhoeve in 1941 and transliterated in Tambo Kerinci (no.43), the first line could still be read (Inilah cap serta tapak tangan Pangeran (Suria) Kesuma dan Pangeran Ratu serta Raja Sultan Ahmad Badruddin ... marhum). By the time the document was photographed in 2008 for the Endangered Archives Programme, it had been slightly damaged. British Library, EAP117/2/1/7.

In early 1941 a survey of village heirlooms of Kerinci was carried out by Petrus Voorhoeve, a Dutch language officer working for the colonial administration.  Voorhoeve and his team documented and photographed some 260 manuscripts, and then produced the 'Tambo Kerintji', an unpublished volume containing transliterations of all the texts into latin script. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, Voorhoeve was imprisoned and sent to work on the Burma railway.  At the end of the war, all his notes were feared lost – until 1973, when C.W. Watson discovered in Kerinci one surviving copy of ‘Tambo Kerintji’, and arranged for this to be retyped and distributed to a few libraries. And in 2006, Uli Kozok uploaded the Tambo Kerinci on to the website of the University of Hawaii, where it can now be freely consulted. 

Kozok returned to Kerinci in 2007 with an Endangered Archives grant to document the sacred heirlooms of 65 villages, including some of the very items seen by Voorhoeve in 1941; the results can be consulted online here. In addition to locally-produced manuscripts, there are copies of the Qur’an and songs in praise of the Prophet (the well-known Mawlid Barzanji) printed in Bombay in the second half of the 19th century, and colourful maps of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, evidently brought back to central Sumatra after the hajj pilgrimage.

Map of Mecca and Medina, probably brought back to Kerinci by a pilgrim returning from the hajj, in the collection of Mangku Suka Rame.  British Library, EAP117/11/1/4

A selection of copies of the Qur’an, printed in Bomby in the 19th century, in the collection of Mesjid Keramat, Kerinci. British Library, EAP117/22/1/8.

Liha or rehal, stand for a copy of the Qur’an, from the collection of Mangku Rajo Perang. British Library, EAP117/46/2/23

Among the most historically significant manuscripts documented in these heirloom collections are royal edicts issued by the sultan and nobles of Jambi, to local leaders (dipati) upstream. For centuries, valuable products from the highlands such as gold, ivory and resin were brought downstream to the coastal regions for trade.  The economic and political relationship between the lowland court of the sultan of Jambi and the peoples of the highlands was formalised and cemented through the issuing of royal edicts (piagam) in Malay.  In these edicts, the sultan or his nobles would grant an honorific title and jurisdiction over a certain territory to highland leaders, who in return would be bound to uphold the law and respect the royal prerogative to certain types of forest produce.


Sealed decree (piagam) issued by Pangeran Sukarta, probably 18th c., rolled and stored in a bamboo tube, from collection of Depati Lindo Indah Jati. Britsh Library, EAP117/9/1/2.

Some royal piagam contain detailed descriptions of the territory awarded to certain village leaders, and it is the boundary lists in these centuries-old documents that have ensured their contemporary relevance, particularly with the increasing threat of encroachment by commercial interests. While I was researching a group of 17th-century royal edicts found in Serampas, south of Kerinci, I was very interested to find out that in 2006, KKI Warsi - an Indonesian NGO promoting community-based forest management - had made use of an heirloom edict dated 1756 to support the village of Guguk in neighbouring Merangin in its successful struggle to manage its own ancestral lands.

The heirloom royal edict (piagam) dated 1756 of Guguk, Merangin, Jambi. Photo: Kumiadi / KKI Warsi, 2006.

And so on a recent visit to Indonesia, I was delighted to be invited by the journal of Jambi studies, Seloko, to deliver a workshop on manuscripts, to be co-hosted by KKI Warsi.  The workshop was held in Jambi from 15-16 September and was attended by about 15 participants from KKI Warsi and educational establishments in Jambi. While covering the basics of philology (the study of the content of manuscripts) and codicology (the study of their outer form), and the 'social lives' of manuscripts, we focussed on royal edicts from Jambi, and in particular, the perceptible increase in importance of boundary lists in these piagam over time.

At the manuscripts workshop held on 15-16 September 2014, Mrs Zarfina Yenty, a lecturer at IAIN Sultan Thaha Saifuddin Jambi, brought in a Qur'an manuscript inherited from her grandfather in Kerinci.  Copied on European paper and probably dating from the late 18th or early 19th century, despite lacking beginning and end, it is a fine example of penmanship.

Further reading:

Tambo Kerintji: disalin dari toelisan Djawa Koeno, toelisan rentjong dan toelisan Melajoe jang terdapat pada tandoek kerbau, daoen lontar, boeloeh dan kertas dan koelit kajoe, poesaka simpanan orang Kerintji.  P.Voorhoeve, dengan pertolongan R.Ng.Dr. Poerbatjaraka, toean H.Veldkamp, controleur B.B., njonja M.C.J. Voorhoeve Bernelot Moens, goeroe A.Hamid.  1941.  [Typescript, reproduced by C.W.Watson in 1973].
Tambo Kerinci, with updated spelling, uploaded to the internet by Uli Kozok in 2006:

P. Voorhoeve, ‘Kerintji documents’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1970, 126 (4): 369-99. [Before the re-discovery of the 'Tambo Kerintji' in 1973, Voorhoeve published an article drawing on his memory and surviving notes to reconstruct his expedition to Kerinci in 1941.]

A.T.Gallop, ‘Piagam Serampas: Malay documents from highland Jambi’, From distant tales: archaeology and ethnohistory in the highlands of Sumatra, ed. Dominik Bonatz, John Miksic, J. David Neidel, Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz.  Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009, pp. 272-322.

A.T. Gallop, ‘Piagam Muara Mendras: more Malay documents from highland Jambi’, Seloko, 2013, 2 (1): 1-50.

Uli Kozok, Kitab undang-undang Tanjung Tanah: naskah Melayu yang tertua. Jakarta: Yayasan Naskah Nusantara, 2006.

C.W.Watson, ‘Tambo Kerinci’, From distant tales: archaeology and ethnohistory in the highlands of Sumatra, ed. Dominik Bonatz, John Miksic, J. David Neidel, Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz.  Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009, pp. 253-271.

Indonesian media coverage of the Manuscripts Workshop, 15-16 September 2014, Jambi.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia