Asian and African studies blog

10 posts from January 2015

06 January 2015

Sources for the study of Muhammad Vajid 'Ali Shah

The last king of the independent state of Avadh (Oudh), Muḥammad Vājid ʿAlī Shāh (1822-87, r. 1847-56), poetically known as Akhtar, regarded the arts of poetry and formal prose as an integral part of his self-expression and prerogative as a trendsetting, enlightened ruler and patron. Although Vājid ʿAlī Shāh's literary compositions are numerous, the British Library’s Persian and Urdu collections presently hold only a small number of these works, some of which are unique and are illustrated below:

'Vājid ʿAlī Shāh enthroned with attending maidservants,' a painted lithograph included in the heavily embellished Tāʾrīkh-i Mumtāz or ‘the choicest of histories,’ comprising the dethroned king’s Persian and Urdu letters and poems addressed to his consort Mumtāz Jahān the Iklīl Maḥall Ṣāḥibah (BL Or. 5288, f. 12v)
'Vājid ʿAlī Shāh enthroned with attending maidservants,' a painted lithograph included in the heavily embellished Tāʾrīkh-i Mumtāz or ‘the choicest of histories,’ comprising the dethroned king’s Persian and Urdu letters and poems addressed to his consort Mumtāz Jahān the Iklīl Maḥall Ṣāḥibah (BL Or. 5288, f. 12v)
 noc

Preface (right) and painted frontispiece of 'Vājid ʿAlī Shāh seated with attendants' (left) pasted over the lithograph's original title page, from the Baḥr-i Ulfat or ‘the ocean of love’, an Urdu romantic mas̲navī  in the dāstān tradition  (BL Or.70.c.3, frontispiece)
Preface (right) and painted frontispiece of 'Vājid ʿAlī Shāh seated with attendants' (left) pasted over the lithograph's original title page, from the Baḥr-i Ulfat or ‘the ocean of love’, an Urdu romantic mas̲navī  in the dāstān tradition  (BL Or.70.c.3, frontispiece)
 noc

Painted frontispiece of  'Vājid ʿAlī Shāh seated with attendants' (right) followed by the lithographed text's embellished title page (left), from the Daryā-yi Taʿashshuq or ‘the impassioned sea’, another Urdu romantic mas̲navī in the dāstān tradition (BL Or.70.c.5, frontispiece)
Painted frontispiece of  'Vājid ʿAlī Shāh seated with attendants' (right) followed by the lithographed text's embellished title page (left), from the Daryā-yi Taʿashshuq or ‘the impassioned sea’, another Urdu romantic mas̲navī in the dāstān tradition (BL Or.70.c.5, frontispiece)
 noc

Opening from the Ṣawt al-Mubārak or ‘the auspicious voice,’ an important Persian prose treatise on the South Asian musical tradition and its relationship with literary tropes (BL 14835.e.1, p.2)
Opening from the Ṣawt al-Mubārak or ‘the auspicious voice,’ an important Persian prose treatise on the South Asian musical tradition and its relationship with literary tropes (BL 14835.e.1, p.2)
 noc

Beginning of the Urdu prose preface from the Dīvān-i Parīshān or ‘the dishevelled collection [of verse]’, a small Persian and Urdu dīvān notable for its idiosyncratic calligraphy, possibly by the king himself (BL Or.8648, ff. 1v-2r)
Beginning of the Urdu prose preface from the Dīvān-i Parīshān or ‘the dishevelled collection [of verse]’, a small Persian and Urdu dīvān notable for its idiosyncratic calligraphy, possibly by the king himself (BL Or.8648, ff. 1v-2r)
 noc

Two new sources
The British Library additionally possesses two contemporary Persian histories recording events from Vājid ʿAlī Shāh’s brief reign which deserve renewed attention having come to light as a result of our work on Charles Storey's unpublished catalogue descriptions (see our earlier blog A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts). The first of these is the history Sulṭān al-Ḥikāyāt or  ‘the ruler of stories,’ composed by Lāl-jī of Karrā in 1853 (BL IO Islamic 3902).

Page from the Sulṭān al-Ḥikāyāt showing the beginning of the first discourse, copied in 1893 by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz of Ghāzīpūr from a manuscript in the library of the deceased Mawlavī Sayyid Imdād ʿAlī Khān and then dispatched to Britain for the collector, Orientalist scholar, and retired civil servant of British India, William Irvine (BL IO Islamic 3902, f. 6r)
Page from the Sulṭān al-Ḥikāyāt showing the beginning of the first discourse, copied in 1893 by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz of Ghāzīpūr from a manuscript in the library of the deceased Mawlavī Sayyid Imdād ʿAlī Khān and then dispatched to Britain for the collector, Orientalist scholar, and retired civil servant of British India, William Irvine (BL IO Islamic 3902, f. 6r)
 noc

Commencing with a brief introduction, Lāl-jī records his reaction to reading a contemporary history, the Mirʾāt al-Ishtibāh of Mawlavī Fakhr al-Dīn Ḥusayn Dihlavī commissioned by the last Timurid or Mughal Emperor, Bahādur Shāh II (d. 1862), styled in simple prose with a straightforward chronological structure. Noting the narrative complexity and difficult prose of Avadh’s official courtly histories, Lāl-jī determined to recast them with a similar emphasis on factual data, brevity, and dates according to the lunar Hijrī calendar with conversions to the Gregorian equivalent. Beginning with the history of Avadh from the origins and ascendance of Vājid ʿAlī Shāh’s ancestors, the narrative continues at a rapid pace until the period of the king’s reign; closing with the arrival in Lucknow of William H. Sleeman for his tour of Avadh.

The second of these works is the Ījāz al-Siyar or  ‘the epitome of biographies’ (BL IO Islamic 3886), by the little-known author, Pūran Chand. Described as a “history of Oudh,” the work is in reality much harder to categorise. It may be a unique work, and its condition indicates that it had not progressed much beyond the stage of a brouillon. Its folios are filled with corrections and marginal additions by several hands ranging in quality, from bold scribal nastaʿlīq to a more practiced shikastah hand.

Beginning of the Ījāz al-Siyar showing the opening preface with copious marginal additions. The work was written for Vājid ʻAlī Shāh and copied ca. 1851 (BL IO Islamic 3886, f.1r)
Beginning of the Ījāz al-Siyar showing the opening preface with copious marginal additions. The work was written for Vājid ʻAlī Shāh and copied ca. 1851 (BL IO Islamic 3886, f.1r)
 noc

Pūran Chand’s preface describes the Ījāz al-Siyar as the abridgement of an as yet undiscovered, prolix chronicle, entitled the Sulṭān al-Siyar or  ‘the ruler of biographies’), commissioned officially and supervised personally by Vājid ʿAlī Shāh. However, the Ījāz al-Siyar is itself most unlike an annalist chronicle. Firstly, there is little coherence within and between its numerous sections or bāb. Secondly, its sections are not in any particular chronological order. Thirdly, its sections alternate irregularly between unrelated accounts in prose and lengthy citations of chronogrammatic poems or tāʾrīkh.

Rather than a chronicle per se, the distinctly encyclopaedic Ījāz al-Siyar lends itself to being interpreted as an anthology of supplementary abstracts and assembly of discrete compositions for the greater, narrative chronicle, the Sulṭān al-Siyar. Reinterpreted this way, the work functions in much the same way as the Āʾīn-i Akbarī complements and supplements the famous Mughal chronicle, the Akbarnāmah of Shaykh Abū al-Fazl. Taking into account the sheer length of the Ījāz al-Siyar, comprised of over 300 densely-written folios, one can only image the length and scope of the official regnal chronicle that it supplements.

For scholars of Persian literature and South Asian history, both the Sulṭān al-Ḥikāyāt and Ījāz al-Siyar deserve to be studied in detail as works that, in their own different ways, present much valuable information on an important period of history and literary efflorescence.

 
Further reading

Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, The last king in India: Wajid 'Ali Shah, 1822-1887. London: Hurst & Company, 2014

Sâqib Bâburî, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork


01 January 2015

The Bugis diary of the Sultan of Boné

The official diaries maintained in the Bugis and Makassarese courts of south Sulawesi constitute a uniquely rich source of data for the history of Indonesia, for no other Muslim kingdoms in Southeast Asia are known to have instituted such a meticulous practice of record keeping. The diary tradition appears to have begun in the early seventeenth century, coinciding with the Islamisation of the states, but was also strongly influenced by intellectual contact with Europeans, principally the Portuguese, for the diaries are predominantly ordered by the Christian calendar.

Bugis diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih of Bone, showing the entries for January and February 1789. British Library, Add. 12354, ff. 105v-106r.
Bugis diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih of Bone, showing the entries for January and February 1789. British Library, Add. 12354, ff. 105v-106r.  noc

The British Library holds eleven volumes of court diaries in Bugis, all from the kingdom of Bone (see Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977: 27-35).  The earliest (MSS Bugis 1), covering the dates 1660 to 1696, is that of Arung Palakka, the 16th ruler who engineered the spectacular rise of Bone in the 17th century by allying himself with the Dutch to defeat the kingdom of Makassar in 1669.  Other diaries, some kept by senior court officials, cover the periods 1714 through to 1809, albeit with some gaps.  One of the most important Bugis diaries in the British Library, Add. 12354, has just been digitised. This is the diary of Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin, who ruled as the 22nd sultan of Bone from 1775 until his death in July 1812. An adherent of the Khalwatiyya Sufi brotherhood, Ahmad al-Salih was renowned for his religious learning, and was the patron of an exceptionally fine illuminated Qur’an manuscript (Gallop 2010). He began writing the diary in his own hand on 1 January 1775, and continued until the end of 1795. His diary was recently the subject of a doctoral dissertation by Rahilah Omar (2003), and the comments below are largely based on Rahilah’s pioneering study.

Detail from an ornamental calligraphic design, found on a spare page at the end of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih’s diary. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 201v (detail).
Detail from an ornamental calligraphic design, found on a spare page at the end of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih’s diary. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 201v (detail).

Sultan Ahmad al-Salih’s diary was prepared according to the standard format for official Bugis diaries. Large folio-sized sheets of high-quality European, usually Dutch, paper were bound in volumes, with one page allocated to each calendar month of the year. At the top of the page was written in red ink on the right the year in the Christian era in ‘European’ numerals, and on the left the Portuguese name of the month in the adapted form of the Arabic script called Jawi. In the middle, in black ink, was inscribed the equivalent month, not according to the Hijrah era as might be expected, but according to the Ottoman ‘Rumi’ solar calendar.  Each Friday (Jumaat) is highlighted in red, with an elaborate knotted final letter, ta marbuta. One line was allocated for each day of the month, also written in European numerals. Following the end of one year, and the start of a new one, two pages were left blank. These pages could be filled with notes or copies of letters or other important documents, or sometimes doodles and interesting examples of designs.

The first entry in Sultan Ahmad al-Salih's diary: on 1 January 1775 he wrote, in Bugis and Arabic, ‘I started writing this diary. God's blessing. There is no god but God, Muhammad is His Messenger.’  At top left in red is the month Janir (from the Portuguese Janeiro); in the middle is the Ottoman month Kānūn al-thānī; on on the right is the year in the Christian Gregorian era, hir 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 6v (detail).
The first entry in Sultan Ahmad al-Salih's diary: on 1 January 1775 he wrote, in Bugis and Arabic, ‘I started writing this diary. God's blessing. There is no god but God, Muhammad is His Messenger.’  At top left in red is the month Janir (from the Portuguese Janeiro); in the middle is the Ottoman month Kānūn al-thānī; on on the right is the year in the Christian Gregorian era, hir 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 6v (detail).

Daily entries in the diary are written in the Bugis language, and in the Bugis script of Indic origin, but with occasional conventional pious phrases in Arabic, such as baraka Allah, ‘God’s blessing’. As Bugis script is written from left to right while Arabic is written from right to left, a certain amount of planning was needed on the part of the writer to estimate exactly how much room to leave in order to fit in a phrase in Arabic.  Some pages have lines left blank on days when no entry was made. On particularly busy days, entries could easily stretch to more than a line, and extra text was fitted in by making judicious right-angled turns wherever spaced allowed, resulting in labyrinthine patterns across the page.

Sultan Ahmad al-Salih noted on a spare page in his diary the milestones of his personal life: at the top, his marriage to I Tenripada on 3 November 1774, followed by the dates of the births of six of his children, starting with Siti Fatimah at 7 a.m. on Monday 27 Syaaban 1189, equivalent to 23 October 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 184v (detail).
Sultan Ahmad al-Salih noted on a spare page in his diary the milestones of his personal life: at the top, his marriage to I Tenripada on 3 November 1774, followed by the dates of the births of six of his children, starting with Siti Fatimah at 7 a.m. on Monday 27 Syaaban 1189, equivalent to 23 October 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 184v (detail).

Apart from major political events, in his diary Ahmad al-Salih also comments on the wide range of economic activities in Bone, from wet-rice cultivation to fish-farming, with information on taxes levied on land and river tolls, and the role of slavery. Hobbies and pastimes such as horse riding, sailing on the river, cock fighting and literary pursuits are all noted. Religious festivals are described, and a steady stream of people come to request permission from the sultan to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca (and in 2013 Ahmad al-Salih's diary was selected for display in the British Museum exhibition, Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam). There is information on an exceptionally varied number of subjects, from bride prices to infant mortality. Over the twenty years covered in the diary Ahmad al-Salih documents 89 births in court circles, including 11 deaths and the reasons for these, whether premature delivery or stillbirth (Rahilah 2003: 206). Rahilah has commented that the sultan's remarks are generally factual and he rarely makes personal comments. Nonetheless, amongst the births he describes, only in the case of his own wife does he depict the agony of a woman in labour, noting on 16 December 1794, 'Puang Batara Tungkeq screamed as she suffers [a terrible] stomach pain'. Luckily, the delivery of the baby went well, and the sultan expressed his gratitude and fondness with a gift: 'After 2.00 [p.m.] Puang Batara Tungkeq gave birth to a baby boy ... I gave her two jemma [court maids] as a sign of good wishes for her health' (Rahilah 2003: 205). This is just one of the wealth  of details contained in Sultan Ahmad al-Salih's diary on all aspects of life – political, diplomatic, religious, economic, social and cultural – in Bone in the late 18th century, as uncovered in Rahilah Omar's study.

Further reading

Rahilah Omar, The history of Bone AD 1775-1795: the diary of Sultan Ahmad as-Salleh Syamsuddin. [Ph.D. thesis].  University of Hull, 2003. [Available for download from the British Library ETHOS site.]

M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Annabel Teh Gallop, The Boné Qur’an from South SulawesiTreasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the book and calligraphy, ed. Margaret S. Graves and Benoît Junod.  Istanbul: Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sakip Sabanci University & Museum, 2010, pp.162-173.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

 ccownwork