Asian and African studies blog

8 posts from February 2015

26 February 2015

The truth about the Japanese doll festival

Looking back to the late 90s, “Girl Power” created a great sensation in the UK pop music industry. These pop idols are grown up now and no longer proudly shout their catchphrase “Girl Power”. Their time in the 90s has become a rather nostalgic topic to reminisce about. On the other hand, there is a long surviving tradition in Japan for girls to celebrate being girls. Nowadays, 3 March is a day to celebrate a girl’s well-being and happiness by setting out a special dolls display with peach blossoms. This festival is called the Hina festival (雛祭りHina matsuri).

Image1Example of a modern Hina-doll display. Photo by © Y.Ohtsuka

Women, both young and old, enjoy everything related to the celebration of the Hina festival, from opening boxes, unpacking the dolls and placing them in position to offering them peach blossoms. They also prepare treats such as dainty sweets and special drinks, and hold parties while taking pleasure in viewing the dolls. Basically it is a relaxing “Girly” day.

Sakura mochi (桜餅), a modern example of seasonal sweets for Hinamatsuri. Ashinari Photo Material

Hina (literally ʻprettyʼ or ʻlittleʼ) dolls are dressed like courtiers of the Heian period (794-1185). They are treated with great respect and are dearly loved throughout their graceful existence by all generations of women. In the display the top level is reserved for the master (男雛 Obina) and his mistress (女雛 Mebina). The next level below that is for their servants such as the Three Ladies-in-waiting (三人宮女 Sannin kannyo), the Five musicians (五人囃子Gonin bayashi), the Two ministers (随身 Zuijin), the Three guards (衛士 Eji), and beneath the mistress’s trousseau is also on display.

Image3Yōshu Nobuchika 楊洲周延 (1838-1912). ‘Hina-doll viewing’ (雛拝見 Hina haiken), which is a part of ‘The Great Interior of the Chiyoda Castle’ (千代田の大奥 Chiyoda no Ōoku), Tokyo : Fukuda Hatsujirō, 1896. Nishikie (錦絵) wood block print. Photo National Diet Library

The custom of displaying the Hina-dolls on different levels, looking as if they were placed on a kind of stand, became popular in the Edo period (1600-1867). This display format still lives on today. A number of educational books were published throughout the Edo period, which targeted girls for the purpose of teaching women’s morals, appropriate manners and accomplishments. It wasn't however, until the later Edo period that publications dealt with the etiquette of the Hina festival on the third day of the third lunar month which we consider to be the foundation of the modern version of Hina matsuri.

An example of early Edo era educational text books for girls with a page showing the 3rd day of the third lunar month on the right.  Based on a publication by Namura Jōhaku (苗村常伯 1674-1748), edited and revised by Takai Ranzan (高井蘭山 1838-1912). ‘A record of collected treasures for woman’ (女重寶記 Onna chōhōki), 1847. Woodblock printed (British Library 16124.d.23)

In the early Edo era, instead of celebrating with Hina-dolls, ceremonial poetry competitions were held on the date of Jōshi (上巳), which falls on the third day of the third lunar month. This traces its origins back to the Heian period when one of the absolutely essential skills for courtiers was the ability to compose elegant poetry spontaneously. There were many opportunities for poets to compete against each other. Perhaps the most challenging was the highly refined event held by the bank of a meandering river. The contestants sat along the river bank and had to complete their compositions before the cup, which was floating downstream, passed them by. This was called the river bank poetry competition (曲水の宴Kyokusui no en).

Image5Some abstract  illustrations of Heian courtiers. The figures on the left page are represented as if they were sitting along the meandering river. ‘Practical design book’ (応用漫画 Ōyō manga), illustrated by Ogino Issui (荻野一水), 1903  (British Library ORB.30/6167)

Hina-dolls certainly existed in the Heian period, but not as display objects. In fact, they were children’s toys for playing with. In chapter 5 of  The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari), the hero, Prince Genji, discovers a young girl who reminds him of Lady Fujitsubo, whom he has been secretly admiring as his true love. He is eager to approach the girl, who does not have enough family members to support her upbringing, by offering his noble guardianship. However, her ill grandmother politely rejects his offer saying her granddaughter is just a child happily playing with her Hina-dolls, therefore not of suitable age to accept his overtures.

Chapter 5 of 'The Tale of the Genji' (源氏物語繪詞, Genji monogatari ekotoba), Naraehon manuscript, mid-17th century (British Library, Or.1278, f.18)

There are no episodes describing the river bank poetry competition in the Tale of the Genji, but in chapter 12, Genji undergoes  a purification ceremony on the third day of the third lunar month (上巳の祓え Jōshi no harae). The dolls had a key role during the ceremony since they absorbed the supplicants’ bad fortune. Then the supplicants threw the dolls into water in order to remove all of the negative energy from their lives. Both events were rooted in trusting in the natural power of flowing water, which was able to carry things away.

Chapter 12 of 'The Tale of the Genji' (源氏物語繪詞, Genji monogatari ekotoba), Naraehon manuscript, mid-17th century (British Library, Or.1278, f.18)

The third day of the third lunar month was also the time of peach blossom. In fact, peaches were believed to have divine power to protect people from evil. Most famously in Japanese legend, the god Izanagi, who formed the landmass of Japan with his partner, defeated demons by throwing peaches on his way back to earth from hell. Peaches might be part of the reason why the purification ceremony was carried out on Jōshi. People could expect extra protection from peach blossom as good spirits.

Peach blossom.  Ashinari Photo Material

Peach blossom is still one of key elements in the modern day celebration of the Hina dolls Festival. In fact the day is also known as the Peach festival (桃の節句 Momo no sekku). It is not only pretty, but also quietly ensure a safe and successful happy “Girly” day.

Further reading

Takeda, Kyoko  武田京子. Hinamatsuri in home education 家庭教育からみた雛祭.  Iwate Daigaku Kyōiku gakubu nenpō 岩手大学教育学部研究年報 [The annual report of the Faculty of Education, University of Iwate] 54.2 (1994): 79-87. (in Japanese)


With special thanks to Alessandro Bianchi, Asian and African Studies and PhD student, University of Cambridge

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator Japanese 



24 February 2015

Lao collection at the British Library now fully catalogued

The British Library holds a small but significant collection of Lao material, consisting of manuscripts, rare printed books, periodicals and post cards, mainly acquired after 1973. However, the oldest items in Lao language date back to the 19th century. The earliest book about Laos is in Italian and was published in 1663.

P.277 Siam and Laos as seen by our american missionaries
Cloister at Vat Sisaket, Vientiane. From Siam and Laos as seen by our American missionaries (Philadelphia: 1884), p. 277. British Library,  noc

Printed material
The collection of printed material in Lao language contains over 300 monographs, most of them dating from 1950 onwards. The highlights of the collection, however, are three of the first books printed in the Lao language: John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in Tham (Dhamma) script, printed in 1896 by the Chiang Mai Presbyterian Mission Press (ORB.30/5145); the Évangile selon Saint Jean en laocien (Khampasœ̄t tām lư̄ang hǣng Yōhan) in Lāo buhān script, printed in Paris in 1906 (11103.b.19); and the Évangile de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ selon Matthieu en laotien (Nangsư̄ khlittikhun pasœ̄t khǭng phra Yēsū Khlit tām thān Matthāi) in Lāo buhān script, printed in Song Khône, Laos, in 1916 (Siam.251). The latter appears to be the first book printed in Lao language in Laos. Book printing was introduced in Laos – at the time part of the Indochinese Union – through the efforts of missionaries with the Swiss Mission Evangélique in Song Khône, southern Laos. Together with a Buddhist monk Gabriel Contesse translated parts of the New Testament into Lao, of which the first part was printed in Lāo buhān script at a printing house in Paris in 1906. The second part was printed only after Contesse’s death in 1909 at the same printer. Finally, a press started printing material in Lāo buhān typeface at the mission in Song Khône thanks to the efforts of missionaries Fritz Audétat and Fritz Widmer.  

First page of the Lao translation of the Gospel of John, printed in 1906. British Library, 11103.b.19  noc

The heart of the Lao book collection is formed by publications of Maha Sila Viravong’s transliterations of literary, linguistic, Buddhist and historical texts from palm leaf manuscripts, for example rare first editions of Nangsư̄ thēt rư̄ang Vētsandon Sādok (Vessantara Jātaka, 1961, YP.2006.b.518), Phongsāwadān Lāo (Lao chronicles, 1957, YP.2005.a.6082), and Nithān Nāng Tantai (Lao version of the Panchatantra, 1957-66, 14304.b.23).
Other rare printed works include original issues as well as microfilmed copies of historical Lao newspapers and journals, like for example Pituphūm (O.P.984, holdings 1969-71), Sīang pasāson (Or.Mic.7339, holdings 1975), Khāophāp pacham sapdā (ORB.40/986, holdings 1968), Sāt Lāo (Or.Mic.11526, holdings 1971-75), and Vannakhadisān (ORB.30/6967, holdings 1953-58).

Lao newspapers
The only two issues of Khāophāp pacham sapdā, dated 12 and 26 Feburary 1968, held at the British Library. ORB.40/986

The Library also holds approximately 2000 books about Laos and Lao culture in Western languages, as well as in Thai and Vietnamese languages. These include some rare first editions, like for example de Gerini’s original description of Laos and other parts of mainland Southeast Asia Delle missioni dei' padri della Compagnia di Gesù nella Provincia del Giappone, e particolarmente di quella di Tumkino (printed in 1663 in Rome, V 5052), Vremde geschiedenissen in de koninckrijcken Cambodia en Louwen-Lant, in Oost-Indien zedert den Iare 1635 tot den Iare 1644 aldaer voor-gevallen. Mitsgaders de Reyse der Nederlanders van Cambodia de Louse Revier op, na Wincjan  (printed in Haarlem in 1669, 566.f.20.(6.)), Henri Mouhot’s Travels in the central parts of Indo-China, Cambodia, and Laos, during the years 1858, 1859, and 1860 (published in London in 1864, 010056.f.8), and Siam and Laos as seen by our American Missionaries (published in Philadelphia in 1884, Lao printed books and periodicals have now been fully catalogued and are searchable in the Library’s online catalogue.

Map p.1 Siam and Laos as seen by our missionaries 1884
Map of mainland Southeast Asia, from Siam and Laos as seen by our American Missionaries (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1884). British Library,  noc

In addition to printed material, the Library holds 85 manuscripts which are either in Lao language or in Pali, but written in Tham script or in Lāo buhān script. The collection comprises literary, historical and Buddhist texts, most of them written on palm leaves. A small number, however, are in form of folding books made from khoi paper or from lacquered cotton. Among the highlights are a rare Lao dictionary, which is a folding book in three volumes acquired in 1839 (Add.11624), Henri Mouhot's Alphabets and inscriptions (Or.4736), and a Kammavāca manuscript in Tham (Dhamma) script dated 1805 AD (Or.11797).

Lao KammavacaOr11797
Kammavāca palm leaf manuscript from Laos. It has wooden covers which are decorated with lacquer, gilt and mirror glass inlay. British Library, Or.11797  noc

Included in the manuscripts collection are also some wooden manuscript boxes decorated with lacquer and gold, as well as a few hand-woven manuscript wrappers made from silk or cotton. Other minor languages covered in the Lao manuscripts collection include some Tai Lue and Tai Khoen manuscripts. All items in the Library’s Lao manuscripts collection have been catalogued in the online catalogue, Search our Catalogue of Archives and Manuscripts, SoCAM.

Moving image and sound recordings
In addition to printed material and manuscripts, a collection of moving image and sound recordings from Laos is available in the Library’s Sound Archive. These include recordings of traditional Lao music, natural sound recordings, as well as a small number of documentaries and feature films. Among these are numerous unpublished recordings of remote populations of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand by Tom Vater. Access to the Sound Archive is through the online catalogue Cadensa.

Endangered Archives
The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme supports the preservation and digitisation of archival and manuscript collections in their country of origin. The Archive of Buddhist Photographs from Luang Prabang has been digitised in full through this Programme and is available here.

Lao ORB.30-6309p.6
Postcard of a cattle caravan in Laos, printed around 1910. From an Album of postcards from Siam, Burma, Indochina. British Library, ORB.30/6309  noc

Jana Igunma
Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian   ccownwork

20 February 2015

Malay legal texts

Codes of law (undang-undang) and legal digests (risalah) are amongst our most valuable indigenous historical sources on the Malay world, for the rules designed to regulate life provide us with a wealth of information on the societies in which the texts were composed: expected standards of behaviour, and – as well illustrated by the list of transgressions to be legislated against – what commonly went wrong. 

A Dutch judge and six Javanese officials witnessing the execution and mutilation of four criminals, Java, 1807. Two of the prisoners, dressed in white, are tied to posts while the executioners make ready to despatch them with a keris (dagger). On the left one criminal lies dead, while in the centre foreground another Javanese offender is being trussed up and apparently made ready to have his limbs cut off, a punishment commonly inflicted on counterfeiters. Raffles collection, WD 2977.  noc

The oldest surviving Malay manuscript, written in the Malay language in Indic 'Kawi' script on tree-bark paper which has been carbon-dated to the 14th century, is a pre-Islamic code of laws from the kingdom of Darmasraya in Kerinci, in the highlands of central Sumatra (Kozok 2006). With the arrival of Islam changes were swiftly effected to legal structures in the newly Muslim states of the archipelago. The most famous set of laws in Malay, the Undang-undang Melaka, was codified in the kingdom of Melaka during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Syah (r.1424-44) and completed under Sultan Muzaffar Syah (r.1445-58) (Liaw 1976: 38). Manuscripts of the Undang-undang Melaka are often hybrid compilations containing a number of different parts, most commonly the Undang-undang Melaka proper, relating to the law of the land, and the Undang-undang laut, on maritime law. Over fifty manuscripts are known, many containing local variants of the code from Aceh, Kedah, Patani and Johor.

Undang-undang Melaka, the code of laws of the Malay kingdom of Melaka, an early 19th century manuscript containing the Acehnese variant of the text. British Library, Add. 12395, ff. 2v-3r.  noc

The first foreign scholar to pay serious attention to Malay legal texts was Thomas Stamford Raffles. Soon after his arrival in Penang in 1805 he began to collect copies of Malay laws, and an English version of the Undang-undang laut was included in his paper ‘On the Malayu Nation, with a Translation of its Maritime Institutions’ read to the Royal Asiatic Society in Bengal, and later published in Asiatic Researches (Vol.12, 1818, pp. 102-159). The Undang-undang Melaka was the subject of a doctoral dissertation by Liaw Yock Fang (1976), and was re-published in his updated study following the discovery of a 17th-century manuscript in the Vatican Library, which turned out to be the earliest and most important representative of the text (Liaw 2003).

Among the Malay manuscripts in the British Library which have been digitised are five legal texts, including two copies of the Undang-undang Melaka, both from the collection of John Crawfurd.  Add. 12395 (source ‘F’ in the study by Liaw 1976), contains a copy of the Acehnese version of the Undang-undang Melaka and the Undang-undang laut. The second manuscript, Add. 12397 (Liaw’s source ‘G’), contains core versions of both the Undang-undang Melaka and the Undang-undang laut, and was copied in Singapore. This manuscript is very precisely dated: it was commenced on 14 Jumadilawal 1236 (17 February 1821) (f.1v) and completed on 10 Syawal 1236 (Wednesday 11 July 1821) (f.92v), a span of nearly four months. A third manuscript of the Undang-undang Melaka, from the India Office collection (MSS Malay D.10), only contains headings of the pasals or articles.

Undang-undang Melaka, called here al-risālah hukum al-qānūn fī balad al-Malāka, copied in Singapore in 1821. British Library, Add. 12397, f. 1v.  noc

Undang-undang Melaka, containing titles of sections only; that shown above is on the wages payable for carrying and felling wood (pasal pada menyatakan hukum upahan naik kayu dan menebang kayu). This page appears to be in the hand of Raffles's scribe Ibrahim, and may therefore have been written in Penang in early 19th century. British Library, MSS Malay D.10, f. 2r.  noc

Another recently digitised manuscript (MSS Malay D.12) contains a copy of the Undang-undang Aceh, a code of laws from Aceh, said to have been composed in the reign of Sultan Jamalul Alam of Aceh (r.1703-26), on 1 Muharam 1120  (23 March 1708). The badly-damaged and now heavily-restored manuscript itself was copied by Haji Muhammad bin Abdullah in 1873.

Opening pages of the Undang-undang Aceh. Begins (after blessings): maka adalah Haji Muhammad anak Bintan  (or Banten? b.n.t.n) menurunkan undang negeri Aceh masa itu Raja Syah Sultan Jamalul Alam kepada hijrat nabi sanat 1120 tahun kepada tahun Muharam [sic] sehari bulan Muharam bahwa dewasa ini adapun ini surat namanya undang2 Aceh diturunkan oleh Tuan Haji Muhammad. The date is written as ‘1160’ but it is not uncommon in Arabic-script manuscripts for numerals occasionally to be written in reversed form, and in this case the ‘6’ should be read 'in negative' as ‘2’. British Library, MSS Malay D.12, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

Colophon to the Undang-undang Aceh, dated 5 Rabiulawal 1290 (3 May 1873): Tamatlah undang2 Aceh kepada hijrat nabi sanat 1290 tahun kepada lima hari bulan Rabiulawal kepada hari yaum ... yang empunya surat ini tuan Haji Muhammad ibn Abdullah tamat al-kalam wal-salam bi-al-khayr wa-al-salam. Sekarang suda lamanya tengah tiga ratus tahun. British Library, MSS Malay D.12, f. 18v (detail).  noc

Finally, one of the oldest Malay manuscripts in the British Library, from the collections of Sir Hans Sloane and thus present at the founding of the British Museum in 1753, is an Undang-undang manuscript (Sloane 2393) containing a code of Muslim criminal law (Mohd. Jajuli 1986).

Opening pages of the Undang-undang, an early Malay legal text, probably 18th century. The unusual horizonal format suggests that this undated MS was written at a time when the standard writing material was just changing from palm leaf to paper. British Library, Sloane 2393, ff. 19v-20r.  noc

Further reading:

Uli Kozok, Kitab undang-undang Tanjung Tanah: naskah Melayu yang tertua.  Alih aksara Hassan Djafar, Ninie Susanti Y, dan Waruno Mahdi; alih bahasa Achadiati Ikram ... [et al].  Jakarta: Yayasan Naskah Nusantara, 2006.

Liaw Yock Fang, Undang-undang Melaka: the Laws of Melaka.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976. (Bibliotheca Indonesica; 13).

Liaw Yock Fang. Undang-undang Melaka dan Undang-undang laut.  Kuala Lumpur: Yayasan Karyawan, 2003.

Mohamad Jajuli Rahman, The Undang-undang: a mid-eighteenth century Malay law text (BL Sloane MS 2393): transcription and translation. Canterbury: University of Kent, Centre of South-east Asian studies, 1986.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


16 February 2015

Happy Chinese New Year! The Year of the Goat

This year the Chinese New Year will be celebrated on the night between the 18th and the 19th of February, when the year of the Horse will end and a new year of the Goat will begin.

The celebrations for the Chinese New Year (年节nian jie), also called Spring Festival (春节 chun jie), mark the beginning of a new year in the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Even though the traditional calendar is now not officially used in China, it is still essential to determine the Chinese festivities. The Chinese New Year Festival is the most important event of the year for the Chinese communities and its occurrence determines also the date of other important events related to the lunisolar calendar, such as the Lantern Festival (元宵节 yuan xiao jie), the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duan wu jie) or the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节zhong qiu jie). Furthermore, the traditional calendar is widely used to determine the best date for some special occasions in people’s life, such as marriages. The traditional Chinese calendar is called农历 nong li (in traditional characters 農曆, which can be translated as “rural calendar” as nong means agriculture) or 阴历 yin li (in traditional characters 陰曆, where yin represents the moon, as opposed to the official solar calendar which is called 阳历 yang li).

Detail from a printed almanac from Dunhuang dating from AD 877. From right to left, the figures of a snake, a horse, a goat, a monkey and a cock are visible (BL Stein Collection Or.8210/P.6) International Dunhuang Project website

Every year of the lunisolar calendar is traditionally associated with one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, which are called 生肖 (sheng xiao). These animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Each of them is associated to a natural element (Wood, Fire, Metal or Water) and, as in Western astrology, it is believed that people born under a different zodiac sign have different personality characteristics. The year when a person is born is called in Chinese their 本命年 (ben ming nian), meaning “the year of destiny’s roots”. People born during the year of the Goat (so, for example, in 1955, 1967, 1979 and 1991) are said to be peaceful, polite, helpful and trustworthy.

Zodiac animals_1500Five of a set of the twelve zodiac animals dating from the Tang dynasty (618–907), depicting (left to right) dragon, snake, horse, goat, and monkey. Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an © U. Sims-Williams

Illustration from the album “Coloured Drawings of Chinese Flora and Fauna”, 18th century, China (BL Sloane collection Add. 15503, f.10)

The Chinese New Year is celebrated not only in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but in other countries where the Chinese population is significant, such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and the Chinatowns across the world. Furthermore, the traditional Chinese calendar and the related zodiac animals can be found in literature and art productions of countries which have been influenced by the Chinese traditional culture, such as Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Thailand.

In Mongolia, for example, the 12 animals of the zodiac are called Арван хоёр жил which means “12 years”. The Mongolian calendar is slightly different from the Chinese one and therefore sometimes New Year's day falls on a different date.

Mongolian diagram showing the twelve animals of the zodiac. From B. Batzhargal, Ėrtniĭ Mongolyn Matematik (Эртний Монголын Матэматик, “Early Mongolian Mathematics”. Ulaanbaatar, 1976, p. 171 (British Library MON 596) ⓒ


In Japan, the Chinese calendar was introduced in the 6th century and it was officially used in some variations until 1873, when the Gregorian solar calendar was formally adopted. In the Japanese collections at the British Library, we find a variety of representations of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, sometimes depicted in form of Gods, warriors or spiritual entities. The first woodblock-printed item below, for example, shows the Twelve Heavenly Generals of the Buddhist tradition (called十二神将, pronounced Jūni Shinshō in Japanese and Shi er shen jiang in Chinese). Each of them is associated with one of the twelve animals of the zodiac.

4-1 5
Left: “Great miscellany of calendrical and practical knowledge” (Eitai daizassho banreki taisei  永代大雑書萬暦大成), 1856 reprint. Woodblock printed. Right: the same image has been modified to highlight the position of every animal (BL 16000.a.8)

6 7
Some illustrations (left) and cover page (right) of a practical design book (Ōyō manga 応用漫画), illustrated by Ogino, 1903. The goat’s stylised shape is visible on the bottom of the left page (BL ORB.30/6167)

Detail from Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi 一勇斎国芳 (1798-1861) “The comic transformation of actors into the twelve animals of the zodiac” (Dōke miburi jūnishi 道外見富利十二志).  Single sheet woodblock colour-printed [c.1844-1855] (BL ORB.99/102)


The British Library holds a magnificent manuscript from Thailand dated 1885 (Or.13650). It contains a series of drawings based on the Chinese Zodiac and its animals. A male or female avatar, a plant and a number are associated to every zodiacal sign. This manuscript has been fully digitised and can be seen here.

Horoscope for the year of the goat. The four goats on the left represent four three-month periods within the year. On the right there is the female avatar for the year of the goat (BL Or.13650, f.8v)

10 Illustrations of omens for events that could happen on a certain date within the year of the goat. In the upper left corner the female avatar for the year is riding a goat. Only a ritual specialist (หมอดู) would have been able to interpret these omens and to give advice on how to avoid unfortunate or dangerous events (BL Or.13650, f.20v)

Central Asia

A unique 9th century document from Khotan, (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) written in the middle-Iranian language Khotanese,  is called “The twelve year leaders and their influences”, and lists the animals in the 12 year cycle with predictions for people born in that year. A man born in the year of the Sheep (or Goat) “will be blessed, meritorious. He will be blessed in everything, in crop and money”. However, it is not all good news! The description continues: “He will be sickly and short-lived. There will be bad illnesses upon him. And a lot of itching will arise for him as well as a wound. If his wives [become] pregnant, they will die. And whatever sons they bear will be short-lived”[1].

Predictions in Khotanese for the man born in the year of the Goat, dating from the early 9th century. Document from Khotan (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) (BL Or.11252/1, lines 38-41)  International Dunhuang Project website

It is worth mentioning that the character 羊 (yang) in Chinese is associated with various animals which belong to the Bovidae family and it therefore can be translated as goat, but also as sheep or even antelope. This is why in English, when referring to the Chinese zodiac sign 羊, “goat” and “sheep” are both widely used as translations.

We hope that the images in this article will be inspiring and auspicious to all our blog readers and we wish you a wonderful New Year of the  !

 新年快乐! 新年快樂!

Curators of the East Asia, South East Asia and Middle East collections


[1] P.O. Skjærvø, Khotanese manuscripts from Chinese Turkestan in the British Library. London, 2002, p. 84

13 February 2015

Southeast Asian manuscripts digitised through the Ginsburg Legacy

The world of scholarship has been revolutionised by numerous digitisation programmes undertaken in libraries throughout the world. Now, instead of having to travel thousands of miles for expensive and extensive visits to cities where unique historical sources are housed, it is ever more possible to make a detailed study of a manuscript from one’s own home, in any country, via the internet. Digitisation programmes are usually shaped both by the interests of patrons and the strengths of an institution’s collections, and among the exciting projects to digitise material from the Asian and African collections of the British Library are those of Malay manuscripts in collaboration with the National Library of Singapore supported by William and Judith Bollinger, Thai manuscripts funded by the Royal Thai government, Persian manuscripts in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation, and Hebrew manuscripts with the Polonsky Foundation. However, with the emphasis on large projects, it is not always easy to prioritise the digitisation of other important manuscripts from smaller language groups, or from regions for which funding proves difficult to source.

Note in the Bugis language and script, from the diary of the king of Bone, south Sulawesi, 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 2r (detail).

The Southeast Asia section of the British Library is fortunate in that a legacy from the estate of the late Henry D. Ginsburg (1940-2007), who was for over thirty years the Library’s curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections, has enabled the digitisation of a small number of significant manuscripts, some representing writing traditions rarely accessible on the internet. In 2013, seven of the most important illuminated and illustrated manuscripts in Vietnamese, Burmese and Javanese were digitised. In 2014 we completed the digitisation of a further 15 manuscripts from Southeast Asia, in Vietnamese, Burmese, Shan, Khamti, Lao, Thai, Bugis, Javanese and Arabic, which this month have been made accessible through the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Artistically, the highlights are probably six Burmese folding book (parabaik) manuscripts, all lavishly and exquisitely illustrated. Three of the manuscripts depict scenes from the Life of the Buddha (Or. 4762, Or. 5757 and Or. 14197) while the other three contain Jataka stories (Or. 13538, Or. 4542A and Or. 4542B, and MSS Burmese 202).

The Jātaka stories about the previous lives of the Gautama Buddha are preserved in all branches of Buddhism. These stories show how he gradually acquired greater strength and moral stature as his soul passed from one incarnation to the other. Shown above is a scene from the Latukika Jataka. The Bodhisatta, the leader of the elephants (gilded) protects the offspring of a quail who had laid her eggs in the feeding ground of the elephants. British Library, Or. 13538, ff. 20-22.

Also in folding book format is a lavishly decorated Buddhist manuscript, Buddhānussati, in Shan language (Or. 12040), a copy of Tamrā phichai songkhrām in Thai language (Or. 15760), and a rare Lao dictionary in three volumes from the 19th century (Add. 11624).

This Shan folding book (pap tup), dated 1885, with the title Buddhānussati contains a text on recollections of the Buddha, explaining mindfulness with the Buddha’s virtues as objects. The embossed gilded covers are studded with multi-coloured mirror glass for ornate floral decoration. British Library, Or.12040, front cover.

Folio 16 of the Tamrā phichai songkhrām, explaining various appearances of sun and how to interpret them. This Thai divination manual for the prediction of wars, conflicts and natural disasters also contains explanations of the shapes of clouds, the moon and planets. British Library, Or.15760, folio 16.

Another rarity that has been digitised in this project is a bound and scrolled paper book (pap kin) in Khamti Shan script, Kuasala Ainmakan (Or. 3494). The book, dated 1860, is sewn in a blue cotton wrapper with a white and pink braided cotton string. It contains the Mahāsupina Jātaka about the dreams of King Pasenadi, the King of Kosala.  

From the Vietnamese collection was selected ‘The Northwards Embassy by land and water’, a rare pictorial manuscript map, Bắc Sứ Thủy Lục Địa Đô (Or. 14907), illustrating the journey from Hanoi to Beijing in 1880. This manuscript is currently on display in the exhibition ‘Geo/Graphic: celebrating maps and their stories’, at the National Library of Singapore (16 January – 19 July 2015).

Tai Ping City , located by Gu Fang Mountain. The city was well fortified with a fortress and could be dated back to the Ming dynasty.British Library, Or. 14907, f. 11r.

Two very different Javanese manuscripts were digitised. The first, Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24), contains ethical teachings of the royal house of Yogyakarta, with many fine examples of illumination. The other manuscript (Sloane 2645) is a work on Islamic law, Mukhtasar Ba Fadl or Muqaddimat al-Hadrami, here going under the title Masa'il al-ta'lim, written in Arabic with interlinear translation and marginal commentary in Javanese in Arabic (Pegon) script. The manuscript, which is dated 1623, is from the founding collections of Sir Hans Sloane, and may be one of the earliest dated examples of a Javanese manuscript in Pegon script, and written on Javanese paper dluwang) made from the bark of the mulberry tree.

Illuminated architectural section heading from a Javanese manuscript, Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, Yoygyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav. 24, f. 22v.

Start of a new chapter (bab) in Masa'il al-ta'lim, in Arabic with interlinear translation in Javanese, 1623. British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 34r (detail).

The final manuscript, also from Indonesia, is in the Bugis language and script (Add. 12354). This is the personal diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone, in south Sulawesi, covering the years 1775-1795, and written in his own hand. The diary contains a wealth of detail on the social, political, economic and cultural life of Sulawesi in the late 18th century.

Entries for the first few days of August 1781, in the Bugis diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 52r (detail).

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma, Sud Chonchirdsin

Southeast Asia section curators

10 February 2015

The wily Malay mousedeer

Many cultures celebrate an animal who, while not the largest or strongest, outwits all around him. In Europe this is Reynard the fox; in the Malay world of Southeast Asia it is Sang Kancil the mousedeer (pelanduk). Malay folklore is full of accounts of how the mousedeer gets the better of the other animals by his intellect and trickery. But in addition to oral tales and childens’ stories there is also a written epic in Malay, the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka or 'Tale of the Wily Mousedeer', probably dating from the 15th or 16th century, which is a highly sophisticated literary composition.   

Sumatran mousedeer. Drawing by a Chinese artist in Bengkulu, between 1784 and 1808, reproduced in William Marsden, A history of Sumatra, 3rd edition (London, 1811). British Library, NHD 1/8.  noc

In the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, the mousedeer tricks the other animals into thinking that he has magic powers, and holds court from an ant-hill. He uses these 'powers' to make peace between the goats and the tigers and to gain their allegiance, and then by his cunning gets the better of the lion, elephant and crocodile. Finally the mousedeer sees off his enemies the monkeys, and becomes the ruler of the jungle. This satire on power has been characterised by Ian Proudfoot: ‘It is subversive; it is cynical. It attacks authority rather than bolstering it … Its premise is that royal power rests on false consciousness. It demonstrates how a gullible public can be made to think they need an authority figure through a combination of religious fraud and false security fears’ (Proudfoot 2001: 70-71).

There are three Malay manuscripts of the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka in the British Library which have now been digitised, all originating from Penang or Kedah around 1805. MSS Malay B.2, from the collection of John Leyden, is dated 1219 AH (1804/5 AD), and was published by Klinkert in 1893. The second copy (MSS Malay D.5) is undated, but comprises the second work in a volume containing four different tales, and is in the same hand as the first item, Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, which was copied by Mahmud ibn Husain on 14 Syaaban 1220 (7 November 1805). 

Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka
, dated 1219 AH (1804/5 AD). British Library, MSS Malay B.2, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

Colophon of Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, undated but in a volume together with copies of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah and Hikayat Syahi Mardan, both of which are in the same hand and dated 1220 (1805/6). British Library, MSS Malay D.5, f. 169v.  noc

The third copy of Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka is again in a composite volume (MSS Malay B.10), and was copied in 1805 by a scribe who describes himself as seorang fakir Ahmad Keling, ‘a humble mendicant, Ahmad, of south Indian origin’. By means of a particular decorative flourish on the initial word, al-kisah, the writer can be identified as Ahmad Rijaluddin bin Hakim Long Fakir Kandu, author of the Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala (Add. 12386), and brother of Ibrahim, Raffles’s chief scribe, from a prominent Chulia (south Indian) family in Penang.

First page of Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, 'This is a tale from olden days': Al-kisah ini hikayat daripada orang dahulu kala. MSS Malay B.10, f. 2r.  noc

Colophon of Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, copied by Ahmad Keling on 22 Rejab 1220 (16 October 1805): diperbuat surat ini pada dua likur hari bulan Rejab hari Arba' pada sanat 1220 tahun, tahun wau, wa-katibuhu seorang fakir Ahmad Keling tamat. MSS Malay B.10, f.38r (detail).  noc

The final letter of the word al-kisah is the Arabic letter tā’ marbūṭa, which in Malay manuscripts is often adorned with a decorative knot. Significantly, the Malay name of this letter is either ta marbuta or ta bersimpul, ‘knotted ta’. Artistic variations can include multiple-looped knots, double-headed loops, and concave or convex headed loops to these knots. Knotted ta marbuta is found in manuscripts from all over the archipelago, with some of the most complex versions found in the surah headings in Qur’an manuscripts from Java (Gallop 2005: 203-9). And yet however elaborate the embellishments of the knot, they are generally conducted along a horizontal plane. In the manuscript of Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, however, the 5-looped double-headed ta marbuta is extended vertically. This form of the letter has only ever been seen in one other Malay manuscript: the Hikayat Perintah negeri Benggala; moreover, both texts are set in double-ruled frames in a slightly acidic brown-black ink which has begun to eat into the paper. All these factors leave little doubt that ‘Ahmad Keling’ is indeed Ahmad Rijaluddin.

Add.12386, f.2v-kisah  MSS Malay.B.10, f.2r-det-kisah
Vertically extended knotted ta marbuta of al-kisah in (left) Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala (Add. 12386, f.2v) and (right) Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka (MSS Malay B.10, f.2r).   noc

The heading for the penultimate chapter in a Qur'an manuscript from Java, Sūrat al-Falaq, with examples of knotted ta marbuta on the words Sūrat and Makiyyah, and on final ta of ayat. The final example has six loops, double headed on the bottom and concave headed at the top. British Library, Add. 12343, f.189r.

Further reading:

A.T. Gallop, Beautifying Jawi: between calligraphy and palaeographyMalay images, ed. Asmah Haji Omar.  Tanjung Malim: Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, 2005; pp.194-233.

Ian Proudfoot, A 'Chinese' mousedeer goes to Paris. Archipel, 2001, 61:69-97.

R.O. Winstedt, A history of classical Malay literature.  Revised, edited and introduced by Y.A.Talib.  Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1991; ‘Beast fables’, pp.7-13.

 Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


06 February 2015

The beauty of palm leaf manuscripts (3): storage and preservation

In my two previous posts on this topic, I looked at palm leaf manuscripts from central Thailand and the northern Thai regions. In this final post on the beauty of palm leaf manuscripts in Tai manuscript cultures, I will take a closer look at traditional retrieval aids, and storage and preservation methods. Some temple libraries held large numbers of manuscripts which were stored in specially made furniture. Due to the fact that many manuscripts were wrapped in a piece of cloth, and the title or contents were rarely mentioned on the front leaf or front cover of a manuscript, quick retrieval of a particular manuscript was only possible if certain finding aids and methods were in place. For example, the manuscripts could be arranged in a systematic order within one cabinet, and several cabinets could be placed in a systematic order in the library building. One important finding aid was the title indicator. A title indicator, which could constitute a beautiful little work of art itself, was attached to a rope, and the rope was wound around the manuscript.     

Wooden title indicator covered with black lacquer, and text incised in Tham script on gold background. Lanna, 19th century. British Library, Or.16555. Acquired from Dr Henry Ginsburg’s bequest, in memory of Dr Henry Ginsburg.  noc

Title indicators made from wood or bamboo were important means of identifying manuscripts when these were stored together in large numbers in wooden cabinets. The length of a title indicator could range from 100 to 400 mm. Bamboo and wooden indicators were often simple strips with the title and list of contents of the manuscript incised or written on, but sometimes wooden and ivory indicators could be carved with beautiful floral ornaments. Often they were lacquered red or black and decorated with gold leaf before the text was incised.     

Indicators Or14528-9
Two wooden title indicators covered with red lacquer, with text incised in Tham script on a gold background. Lanna, 19th century. British Library, Or.14528-9.  noc

Manuscript racks were used to hold manuscripts that had been selected to be worked with, for example to be read or discussed during Buddhist ceremonies and other events, or to be studied by an individual monk, or a monk with novices. These wooden stands can be decorated with intricate carvings, lacquer and/or gold leaf.

A wooden manuscript rack with carved decorations found in Pakse, Champassak Province, Laos. On the rack are four wooden manuscript boxes. Photograph by Harald Hundius. Courtesy of Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Programme (PLMP), © National Library of Laos.

Wooden manuscript cases that were custom-made for a particular palm leaf manuscript were often decorated in the same technique and design as the manuscript covers. These decorations included floral designs, animals or mythological figures, or lattice patterns. Gold leaf on black or red lacquer was one popular technique in the Northern Thai/Lanna, Lao and Shan traditions.

Backman Lao Or16893
Wooden case with Kammavācā palm leaf manuscript in Tham script inside. The decoration of the manuscript covers is repeated on the case. Lanna or Laos, 19th century. British Library, Or.16893. Photograph courtesy of Michael Backman. © Michael Backmann Ltd.

However, most palm leaf manuscripts were not equipped with their own case but were stored in a larger casket, either a chest with a lid or a cabinet with lockable doors. Thick layers of lacquer helped to prevent damage to the chests and cabinets by the humid climate and insects. Long legs on the cabinets, and pedestals to stand the chests on, served to protect the manuscripts from flooding.  
Ms chest BL F1060
Wooden manuscript chest from Lanna or Shan State decorated with red lacquer, raised gilt lacquer as well as carved and gilt wooden applications, 19th century. British Library, F1060. Bequest from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection.  noc

Whereas in southern Laos the lai rot nam technique enjoyed great popularity, in northern Laos and Lanna the gold-on-lacquer stencil painting technique was more widespread. This technique, which was also used by the Shan, Tai Khoen and and Tai Lue, involved creating designs on paper which were cut into stencils afterwards. The paper stencil was then placed over a pre-lacquered surface and gold leaf was applied. The gold leaf easily adhered to the pre-lacquered surface (Warren 2004, p. 109). However, both techniques could be combined.

Large chests and cabinets were produced for the storage of manuscripts in Buddhist temple libraries (hǭ tai) or in royal and local palaces. The largest cabinets could be over 2 metres high and were designed to house an extensive collection of manuscripts belonging to the Tipitaka. Accordingly they were called tū traipitok. They were often lavishly decorated with scenes from the Jātakas, mythological animals in the Himavanta heaven, and floral designs (Kō̜ngkǣo 1980-88).

Regular communal ceremonies called bun bai lān were - and still are - organised to preserve the palm leaf manuscripts that are stored at Buddhist libraries, which are valuable treasures of the local communities (see DLLM). At such ceremonies, which can take place annually or once every several years, the palm leaf manuscripts are removed from the storage furniture, cleaned from dust, dead insects and dry mould by wiping them with a clean, soft piece of cotton or a brush made from soft animal hair on a bamboo stick. The furniture is cleaned as well on this occasion. The cleaning tasks are carried out by lay volunteers and novice monks.

Bun bai lan
Procession on occasion of a Bun bai lān ceremony. Atsaphon District, Savannakhet Province, Laos, 2002. Courtesy of Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Programme (PLMP), © National Library of Laos.

Damaged manuscripts can be repaired or copied onto new palm leaves by trained monks and novices, and broken covers, title indicators or torn wrappers can be replaced with new ones. At the end of this work which may be carried out over several days, monks would usually bless the manuscripts and thank the members of the community in a ceremony. Afterwards, the members of the community, novices and monks help to carry the manuscripts back to the temple library in a colourful procession.

Ho tai Laos
A traditional wooden manuscript repository (hǭ tai). Vat Canthasalo in Ban Nong Lam Can, Camphon District, Savannakhet Province, 1994. Courtesy of Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Programme (PLMP), © National Library of Laos.

Traditional manuscript repositories (hǭ tai) could be found in Buddhist temples, where special buildings were erected on high base walls, stilts or pillars in order to keep the manuscripts safe from leaf-eating animals and floods.   


DLLM (Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts) (retrieved 05.12.2014)

Kō̜ngkǣo Wīrapračhak and Niyadā Thāsukhon. Tū lāi thǭng = Thai lacquer and gilt bookcases. 3 vols. Bangkok, 1980-88

Tingley, Nancy. Doris Duke. The Southeast Asian Art Collection. New York: The Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and culture, 2003

Warren, William. Lanna style. Art and design of Northern Thailand. 3rd ed. Bangkok: Asia Books, 2004

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian


03 February 2015

A Mamluk Manuscript on Horsemanship

During the rule of the Mamluks who ruled in Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, the presence of Crusaders coming from Europe seems to have stimulated a great interest in the military arts, weaponry and cavalry training among rulers in the Near and Middle East. The cavalry training was designed to improve the skills of soldiers who practised jousting exercises and equestrian games to prepare them not only for battle against the Crusaders but also for entertaining large crowds of spectators in specially-built stadia or hippodromes.

Add 18866_f113r
A horseman impales a bear, from Book three of Nihāyat al-su’l which gives instructions on using lances. Dated 773/1371 (Add. MS. 18866, f. 113r)

A fourteenth-century Mamluk manual on horsemanship, military arts and technology from the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts (Add. MS 18866) has just been uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. Its author, Muḥammad ibn ‘Īsá ibn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥanafī al-Aqṣarā’ī, died in Damascus in 1348. The colophon states that this near contemporary copy of the manual was completed on 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371) by the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad al-Miṣrī, but it is not certain whether in Egypt or Syria. The manuscript came into the Library of the British Museum (now British Library) in 1852, having been purchased at the auction of the estate of Sir Thomas Reade, one time jailer of Napoleon Bonaparte (for more on the manuscript’s provenance see our earlier post 'Sir Thomas Read: knight 'nincumpoop' and collector of antiquities'). A very similar illustrated copy of the same work, dated 788/1366, is preserved at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (CBL Ar 5655).

Add 18866_f292r
The colophon giving the name of the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad the Egyptian (al-Miṣrī) and the date of completion as 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371). Although the scribe was Egyptian, it is not certain whether the manuscript was copied in Egypt or Syria (Add. MS 18866, f. 292r)

The title-page names the work Nihāyat al-su’l wa-al-umnīyah fī ta‘allum a‘māl al-furūsīyah (‘An End of Questioning and Desiring [Further Knowledge] concerning Learning of the Different Exercises of Horsemanship’) which is an example of furūsīyah, a popular genre of mediaeval Arabic literature embracing all aspects of horsemanship and chivalry. The manuscript itself deals with the care and training of horses; the weapons which horsemen carry such as the bow, the sword and the lance; the assembling of troops and the formation of battle lines.

Add 18866_ff93-4
Diagram of a parade ground (Add. MS 18866, ff. 93v-94r)

This early dated manuscript from the Mamluk period is a veritable treasure in itself containing some of the most magnificent examples of Mamluk manuscript painting. It includes eighteen colour paintings depicting horses, riding equipment, body armour and weapons and twenty-five instructive diagrams on the layout of a parade ground, dressage and various military insignia. Beyond the military and equestrian arts, the paintings in this manuscript are full of details relating to contemporary costume and decorative style. It is one of the highlights of the British Library’s illustrated Arabic manuscripts and is notable also for its beautiful calligraphy and tooled leather Islamic binding that is likely to be contemporary with the manuscript.

Add 18866_bindingBrown goat-skin binding with envelope flap decorated with blind-tooled circular designs on both covers and flap; probably 8th/14th century with signs of later repair (Add. MS 18866, binding)

Below is a list of the manuscript’s eighteen paintings. For most of them the author provided his own captions which are given below. Please click on the hyperlinks to see the full images:

Add 18866_0201
(f. 97r) ‘Illustration of two horsemen whose lance-heads are between each other's shoulder-blades’.

(f. 99r) ‘Illustration of a number of horsemen taking part in a contest, their lances on their shoulders’.

(f. 101r) ‘Illustration of a horseman taking part in a game with a lance, the lance-head being in his hand and its shaft to his rear’.

(f. 109r) Without caption; a horseman carrying two horizontal lances.

(f. 113r) Without caption; a horseman impales a bear with his lance.

(f. 121r) ‘Illustration of a horseman performing a sword exercise’.

(f. 122v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand and his sleeve wound over his hand as he rises out of his saddle and strikes with the sword’.

(f. 125r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand with which he strikes from the horse's ear as far back as its right croup'.

(f. 127v) 'Illustration of a horseman with the edge of the sword under his right armpit, the hilt in his left with the reins'.

(f. 129v) 'Illustration of a horseman with a small shield around his neck and a sword in his hand which he brandishes to left and right'.

(f. 130r) 'Illustration of a horseman with a hide shield over his face, the sword edge under his right armpit and the hilt on his left'.

(f. 131v) 'Illustration of a horseman with an iron helmet on his head, with a sword. A fire is lit on the helmet, the sword blade and in the middle of the shield'.

(f.132v) 'Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his right hand, its blade on his left shoulder and a sword in his left hand whose blade is under his right armpit'.

(f. 134r) 'Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his left hand and its tip under his left arm pit'.

Add 18866_f135r
(f. 135r
) 'Illustration of two horsemen wheeling around, with a sword in each one's hand on the horse's back'.

(f. 136r) 'Illustration of a horseman with two swords and two small hide shields, on up at his face and the other in his hand with the sword'.

(f. 138v) 'Illustration of a horseman with a lance in his hand which he is dragging behind him, and a shield in his other hand'.

Add 18866_f140r
(f. 140r) 'Illustration of four horsemen, each one with a sword and a hide shield, and each one carrying his shield on his horse's croup'.

Further reading

G.Rex Smith, Medieval Muslim Horsemanship: A Fourteenth-Century Arabic Cavalry Manual, London, The British Library, 1979.

Abul Lais Syed Muhammad  Lutful-Huq, A critical edition of Nihayat al-sul wa'l-umniyah fi ta'lim a'mal al-furusiyah of Muhammad b. 'Isa b. Isma'il al-Hanafi, Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1955. Download free from British Library Electronic Theses Online Services (ETHoS).

L. Mercier, tr. and ed., La parure des cavaliers et l’insigne des preux, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1924.

D. Haldane,  Mamluk Painting, Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1978.

E. Atıl, Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press 1981.

Article on furūsīyah and the farasnāmah in Persian: Iraj Afshar, Faras-nāma, in Encyclopaedia Iranica Online.



Colin F. Baker, Lead Curator, Middle Eastern Studies


Note from editor:

Thanks to the efforts of our colleagues Daniel Lowe and Annabel Gallop, we have identified the seal on folio 292r as that of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II (reigned 1481-1512), providing another missing link in the history of this remarkable manuscript. 

A useful explanation of the components of Bayazid's tughra (and other Ottoman Sultans) can be found here.