Asian and African studies blog

9 posts from March 2015

31 March 2015

What to give the English king who has everything?

Today's post is by one of our readers, Dr. Shamma Boyarin, Assistant Teaching Professor in Religious Studies, Medieval Studies, and English at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He specializes in medieval Hebrew and Arabic literatures, with focus on philosophical and astronomical texts and cross-cultural influences between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.

Last summer I had the chance to work with some Hebrew manuscripts at the British Library. While I had a few specific items I wanted to examine, I also took the opportunity to look at a variety of books beyond my specific expertise (medieval Hebrew romances and philosophical and astronomical texts). I wanted both to acquire broader exposure to Hebrew scripts of various centuries, regions, and manuscript types, and to see what I might discover by accident as it were. It is one of these “extra” manuscripts I will discuss here: MS Royal 16 A II, a Hebrew book made for King Henry VIII.

One might imagine a book for a king to be big, or lavishly ornamented with many illustrations, or to feature use of gold leaf and other expensive pigments, perhaps to include a depiction of the king’s arms or other decorative elements tying the codex to its royal owner. But this is not at all the case with Royal 16 A II, which is comparatively small (102mm x 66mm, with only 49 paper folios) and contains no images or adornment. It appears to be a rather humble gift for a king.

Spine Binding
Spine and eighteenth century binding with British Museum stamp (Museum Britannicum) of MS Royal 16 A II

Two things make this little book very special, however. The first is a long Latin encomium of its recipient King Henry VIII (running from folio 2r-22r), and the second is the book’s gift to the king: Hebrew translations of two short books of the New Testament, the Epistle of St James (running from folio 23r-43v) and the Epistle of St Jude (folios 44r-49v).


“The Epistle of James [Yaakov] the Apostle” (f. 23r) and “The Epistle of Jude [Yehudah] the Apostle” (f. 44r)

The codex, which reads right to left, begins with a Latin dedication page (folio 1v), which translated reads:

To the most invincible King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, Defender of the Catholic Faith, and in Earth Supreme Head, Henry, eighth of his name, John Shepreve wishes lasting happiness.

Dedication to Henry VIII (f. 1v)

Henry was given the title fidei defensor by Pope Leo X in 1521, after his composition Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (“Declaration of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther”), and it was officially removed by Pope Paul III in 1535, after Henry broke with the Catholic Church. Although later, in 1544, Parliament restored the title as an expression of the king’s role in the Church of England, this was after John Schepreve (our author and translator) died. We also know that the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England” was used commonly only after the 1534 Act of Supremacy, and that the Latin in terra supremum caput Anglicanae ecclesiae does not seem to appear in the style of the sovereign until 1534. (See J. Frank Henderson’s “Sovereign and Pope in English Bidding Prayers,” especially the “Appendix: Titles of Henry VIII,” collated from David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, vol. 3, London, 1737). The presence of the fidei defensor title, the odd use of the in terra supremum caput title without the Anglicanae ecclesiae qualification, and what we know of the author and translator’s biography, suggests a date for this manuscript, then, very close to 1534.

As the dedication indicates, the man who wrote the Latin encomium and translated the New Testament epistles into Hebrew was Johannes Scheprevus, that is, John Shepreve. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Shepreve was Professor of Hebrew at Corpus Christi College, Oxford by 1538. He also had an authoritative command of Greek (having read in Greek at Corpus Christi from 1528), and of course Latin. J. Andreas Löwe’s assessment in the DNB is that, while Shepreve had deep ties to the Roman Catholic Church (his nephew William Shepreve was a Roman Catholic priest), and later in his life  “described pre-Reformation religious practice with … affection” and doubtless remained religiously “conservative,” he nevertheless “probably subscribed to the royal supremacy.” Shepreve died in July 1542.

Shepreve’s Hebrew script in Royal 16 A II is very clear and easily readable, and he vowels words for pronunciation throughout. He does have one interesting characteristic that I have not seen before (perhaps common amongst Christian Hebraists of the time?): he adopts a final form of the letter ל, which traditionally does not have a distinct final form. See here:

Regular ל   Untitled  and “final”  ל   Untitled.

While most of the time Shepreve’s translation is understandable, sometimes it is not, or seems awkward, mainly due to incorrect (though never random) usage. So, for example he uses the word  23v  (f. 23v, in James 1:3-4), tikvah, which means “hope,” where the Douay-Rheims has “patience” (Vulgate patientia) and, likewise, a modern Hebrew translation has “סַבְלָנוּת” (savlanut, straightforwardly meaning “patience”). This suggests, perhaps, that Shepreve is working exclusively from the Greek, where the equivalent (hupomonē), as I understand it, connotes hopefulness as well as patience.

In one case, Shepreve seemingly misses an obvious biblical reference in translating a quotation from Leviticus 19:18 (“love thy neighbor as thyself” in James 2:8) semantically correctly (leaving out “as thyself”), but failing to use the actual corresponding phrase found in the  Hebrew Bible וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵֶעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (this even though later on the same page he correctly identifies the references to the Ten Commandments in James 2:11):

29v “love thy neighbour” (29v).

However, occasionally he manages a poetic turn in Hebrew that is quite beautiful, such as, on f. 24r:

That is, “A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways” (James 1:8). Shepreve’s Hebrew version rhymes the two clauses of the sentence, and his formulation of nod yanud, literally “wanders,” has a peculiarly biblical lilt (though this specific formulation does not actually appear in the Hebrew Bible). A more contemporary Hebrew translation reads:  בִּהְיוֹתוֹ אִישׁ הַפּוֹסֵחַ עַל שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים הֲפַכְפַּךְ בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו (the modern Hebrew translation I am using for comparison can be found here).

Occasionally Shepreve’s translations make sense, but only if you know the original (presumably the Greek) source, for example (f. 47r):

This word, ahavoteychem, means “your loves” or “your beloved things,” from Jude 1:12, and is rendered as “your feasts of charity” in the King James Version. It is, for Shepreve and for the King James translators, from Gk. agapē, which can mean “love” or “charity” but in this context “love-feasts.” Needless to say, the Hebrew word Shepreve chooses does not elsewhere denote feasting or fellowship.

Shepreve has a habit of writing to the end of the line, regardless of space available, but he will start a word over on the next line if he cannot fit it in. These incomplete words are never voweled, as illustrated, for example, by the unvowelled letters at the end of lines on folio 47r:

Unvowelled letters at the end (on the left) of lines on folio 47r

But Shepreve is clearly very careful about his work: on occasion, he skips a word and goes back to add it upon realizing the omission or checking his work, as here (f. 44v):

It seems likely that further examination of this little codex will prove fruitful to both scholars of Henry VIII and scholars of Christian Hebraism in the sixteenth century, a time when Jewish scholars (still under the 1290 edict of expulsion) were almost certainly absent from England. What exactly was Shepreve translating from? Are the idiosyncrasies of his script and translation common among Christian Hebraicists of the era, or are they particular to English practice? Would Henry VIII have requested Hebrew translation of New Testament books? Why these two epistles, and could the king have used this book, or might he have wanted to learn, to pronounce Hebrew himself? Henry VIII established the Regius Professorship of Hebrew at Oxford in 1546 (four years after Shepreve’s death), so it is not impossible that the he held a longstanding intellectual and religious interest in the language. Perhaps John Shepreve and his book had a part in shaping that interest.

Because of current academic disciplinary divides and archival practices (for example, the separation of reading rooms for western manuscripts and manuscripts in “Asian and African” languages), experts on Henry VIII and the Reformation may not easily share or glean knowledge from experts in Hebrew (or Greek) manuscripts or scripts. Exploration of books like this, however, reminds me that pooling our expertise is often necessary in manuscript studies—and such scholarly collaboration will no doubt yield dividends for understanding this fascinating little gift, fit for an English king.

A fully digitized copy of MS Royal 16 A II can be explored here.

Those interested in Christian Hebraism might also like to peruse Sloane MS 237, a seventeenth-century translation into Hebrew of a small portion of the Book of Revelation; Harley MS 5239, a seventeenth-century Hebrew Book of Genesis with interlinear French translation; or Add MS 11659, an early-nineteenth-century translation of the gospels into Hebrew.


Shamma Boyarin,  University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada

My thanks to Adrienne Williams Boyarin and Justine Semmens Ash for their help with Latin and with dating issues. 

27 March 2015

Britain’s ‘Interest’ in Bahrain

In 1783, the Al Khalifa family – originally from the Nejd region of what is now Saudi Arabia – captured the islands of Bahrain from Shaikh Nasr Al Madhkur, who had ruled them on behalf of the Qajar dynasty of Persia. In 1926, over one hundred and fifty years later, the status of Bahrain’s sovereignty remained a contentious issue. In December of that year, G. R. Warner, a British diplomat in London, wrote to a colleague in India stating that ‘on political grounds it is of great importance to avoid any action which would result in the re-awakening of the controversy as to the sovereignty of Bahrein’.

Although Bahrain was nominally independent at this time, it was a British-protected state and Britain had controlled its foreign relations since the nineteenth century. The cause of Warner’s concern was the fact that the Persian Government refused to recognise Bahrain’s independence and instead claimed it as a province of Persia. The manner in which British officials in the region responded to this tension provides a revealing insight into the character of Britain’s role in Bahrain at this time.

'Mohammerah' [‎20-b] (1/1), present-day Khorramshahr, photographed in May 1917 by the Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6/40) in Qatar Digital Library

Avoiding Re-Awakening the Controversy
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bahraini nationals resident in the city of Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) in Persia were subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authorities. Many of these Bahrainis – the majority of whom were Baharna (the indigenous Shia Arab community of Bahrain) – were being forced to adopt Persian nationality. If they did not comply, the Baharna faced arrest, expulsion from the country and, in some cases, serious violence and even death. In response, the community appealed for help to the ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and to the various British officials who served as Political Agent in Bahrain during this era. The British – wary of increasing tensions with Persia over Bahrain – were hesitant in their response to the Persian Government’s actions.

Image 1 IOR_R_15_1_321_0207
First page of a letter to the India Office from G. R. Warner at the Foreign Office, 31 December 1926 (IOR/R/15/1/321, f. 97)

‘Alleviating the lot of the Baharnah’
Despite their repeated petitions calling for assistance, the harassment of Bahraini nationals in Persia continued and Britain’s inability or unwillingness to offer more substantial help to citizens of a country ostensibly under its protection began to cause some consternation amongst the Baharna.

In 1923, the British had forced Bahrain’s ruler, Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, to abdicate and replaced him with his son, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Following this, the Political Agent in Bahrain, Clive Kirkpatrick Daly, enacted a series of wide-reaching reforms in the country. In this context, Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, made a frank observation in a letter to the British Legation in Tehran in August 1929:

[I]t strikes the residents of Bahrain as remarkable that while Britain’s protection of their island runs to dethroning their ruler, carrying out a series of reforms and arranging to establish flying boat and aeroplane bases for herself, it is not of the least value in alleviating the lot of the Baharnah in Persia.

Image 2 IOR_R_15_1_321_0538
Letter from Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, to the British Legation in Tehran, 21 August 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/216/321, f. 259)

Legal Fiction
In September 1929, Charles Geoffrey Prior, Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain elaborated on this contradiction. In an extraordinarily frank passage in a letter to Barrett, his superior based in Bushire, Prior described the notion that Bahrain was an independent state as a ‘legal fiction’ and stated that he did not believe that ‘any Arab is deceived for a minute by a policy which, while manipulating the resources of Bahrain in our interests, declines to protect its subjects, to allow them to protect themselves or to ally themselves with other states who might do so’.

Prior suggested that if the British had intervened in any Indian state over the previous decade to the extent they had done so in Bahrain, it would have caused a ‘storm of protest’, observing that:

[W]e have deposed the Ruler, deported his relations, fixed the customs tariff to suit our interests, forced the state against its will to grant a customs rebate to our ally Bin Saud […] deprived the Ruler of jurisdiction over all foreigners, and decided what Europeans he may or may not employ.

Prior went on to state that ‘we have refused the state a free hand with their mineral resources, and have been guided in the matter almost entirely by our own interests’ and pointed out that the ruler of Bahrain was forbidden to correspond with the oil company working on his concession except through the intermediary of the Political Agent.

Image 3 IOR_R_15_1_322_0105
Second page of a letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, to Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 27 September 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/322, f. 47)

Prior also made the astonishing admission that aside from a small contribution to charity, ‘which has political value’, the British Government had incurred no expenditure in Bahrain whatsoever.

Duty to Grant Protection
In this damning assessment of British policy in Bahrain, Prior asserted his belief that Britain should be fulfilling its obligations by doing more to assist the Baharna. Prior argued that ‘in no sense’ was Bahrain an independent state, and for the sake of Britain’s reputation for ‘fair dealing’ it should not default in its liabilities to its inhabitants. This argument was reiterated by Prior in a letter two years later in 1931.

In this letter, Prior outlined the extent of Britain’s involvement and explained how the British manipulated an oil company to suit their ‘Imperial interests’. He argued that since ‘we have interfered in the affairs of Bahrain to an extent unparalleled in British India [then] we should grant these people the same support and protection that we extend to inhabitants of British Indian States’.

Three years later however, the harassment of Bahrainis in Persia had not abated. In 1934, Charles Belgrave, Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, wrote that ‘the Persians destroy their [Bahraini] nationality papers, make them sign Persian papers yet the Baharna would rather die than become Persian subjects’.

Image 4 IOR_R_15_1_323_0250
Extract of letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, 10 December 1931 (IOR/R/15/1/323, f. 115)

Imperial Context
Prior’s remarkable candour when assessing the British Government’s activities in Bahrain starkly demonstrates the nature of its role in the country, a role that, according to his own account, was motivated by the logic of empire and – in his own words – Britain’s self-interest. The welfare of the country’s citizens was a concern of secondary importance, at best.

Curzon (2)
'His Excellency The Right Honourable George Nathaniel Baron Curzon, P. C., G. M. S. I., G. M. I. E. Viceroy and Governor-General of India.' Photographer: Bourne and Shepherd [‎10r] (1/1) (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 430/78/3) in Qatar Digital Library

In 1898, George Curzon, then the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, infamously wrote:

Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia – to many these names breathe only a sense of utter remoteness or a memory of strange vicissitudes and or moribund romance. To me, I confess, they are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world.

Regardless of Prior’s own personal misgivings, Bahrain was no exception to Curzon’s imperial worldview, it was merely another piece on the ‘chessboard’, a means to safeguard Britain’s position in India and further the interests of its global empire.

Primary sources:
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 IV (C 28) Shaikh's Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/321
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 V (C 32) Bahrain Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/322
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 VI (C 45) Bahrain Relations with Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/323
London, British Library, ‘File 12/2 Treatment of Bahraini subjects in Persia’ IOR/R/15/2/486

Secondary sources:
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892)

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


24 March 2015

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia

The British Academy-funded research project Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean, which ran from 2009 to 2012 adminstered by ASEASUK (Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK) and the BIAA (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara), set out to investigate all aspects of links between the greatest Middle Eastern power – the Ottoman empire – and the Muslim lands of the Malay archipelago in Southeast Asia over the past five centuries. The project culminated in a conference held in Banda Aceh in 2012, as well as a travelling photographic exhibition produced by the British Library which toured the UK, with a Turkish version which travelled to Istanbul and Ankara, while Indonesian versions were displayed in various venues in Aceh and in Jakarta at the Bayt al-Qur'an & Museum Istiqlal. Now one of two books arising from the project has just been published – From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop – as the auspiciously-numbered 200th volume in the series 'Proceedings of the British Academy', published by Oxford University Press.

TJ-15076_From Anatolia to Aceh copy

The first direct political contact between Anatolia and the Malay world took place in the 16th century, when Ottoman records confirm that gunners and gunsmiths were sent to Aceh in Sumatra to help fight against Portuguese domination of the pepper trade across the Indian Ocean. In later years the main conduit for contact was the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and many Malay pilgrims from Southeast Asia spent long periods of study in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were under Ottoman control from 1517 until the early 20th century. During the era of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, once again Malay states turned to Istanbul for help. It now appears that these demands for intervention from Southeast Asia may even have played an important role in the development of the Ottoman policy of Pan-Islamism, positioning the Ottoman emperor as Caliph and leader of Muslims worldwide and promoting Muslim solidarity.

The 14 papers in this volume represent the first attempt to bring together research on all aspects of the relationship between the Ottoman world and Southeast Asia, much of it based on documents newly discovered in archives in Istanbul. The book is presented in three sections, covering the political and economic relationship, interactions in the colonial era, and cultural and intellectual influences, with an introduction by the editors and a historiographical survey by Anthony Reid, whose seminal 1969 article, ‘Sixteenth century Turkish influence in western Indonesia’ (Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10 (3): 395-414), could be seen as the starting point for modern research on this topic. A full list of the contents of the volume can be found here: Download 00_Anatolia to Aceh_i-xvi.

2014-5-14 (17)
Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

The beautiful manuscript which adorns the front cover of the volume exemplifies well the myriad interactions documented in the volume: it was copied in Mecca by a Malay calligrapher from the 'Jawi' community of Southeast Asians resident in the Hijaz, and adorned with late Ottoman-style illumination. It is a copy of the Mawlid sharaf al-anam, ‘The birth of the noblest of mankind’, an anonymous compilation of devotional prayers on the Prophet, and the Arabic text is accompanied by a small interlinear translation in Malay. The scribe is named as Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wudd al-Jawi al-Sambawi, his nisba indicating his origins on the island of Sumbawa in eastern Indonesia.

2014-5-14 (19)
Final pages of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

Although the colophon gives the date (in thinly-inked numerals) of 1042 AH (1632/3 AD), this is most likely erroneous and numerous factors indicate that the manuscript was probably copied in the mid-19th century. By coincidence, among the documents in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives ((Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, BOA) in Istanbul relating to Southeast Asia discovered in the course of the research project was an Arabic letter of 1849/50 to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, thanking him for facilitating the Hajj pilgrimage, signed by ten Malay and Yemeni scholars (‘ulama) resident in Mecca. Among the signatories to this letter is one ‘Ibrahim bin Wudd al-Jawi’, whose seal impression reads Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wuddin. Comparing the name ‘Ibrahim’ in the manuscript and the letter leaves little doubt that they were written by the same person.

İ_DH_211_12286 (7a)-ed
Letter in Arabic from Southeast Asian religious scholars in Mecca to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, 1849/50, with Ibrahim's signature and seal fourth from the left. BOA İ.DH 211/12286.

Ibrahim  P1030709-det
Detail of the signature of Ibrahim (left) in the letter of 1849/50, and (right) in the colophon of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, with the same concave-convex shape of ba-ra, and the letter alif bisecting the ha-ya ligature in both examples.

Further evidence locating this ‘Ibrahim’ as a master Malay calligrapher in the Hijaz in the mid 19th century is found in a letter in Malay and Arabic written in Mecca in 1866 by Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad Saman of Kelantan to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo (Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680). In the letter, Abdul Rahman states that he had come to Mecca to study the ‘Istanbul style’ of writing (menyurat Istanbul), and that he is currently being considered the successor to his ‘late teacher Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi’ in teaching ‘Istanbul writing’ (patik ini … sudah dilatih? orang besar2 di Mekah akan bahwa patik inilah jadi ganti … al-marhum guru patik tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur itu … pada pihak tolong mengajarkan segala muslimin menyurat Istanbulnya). Together, these sources suggest that Ibrahim al-Khulusi died in Mecca probably sometime in the early 1860s.

1998-1-3680 (1)-det-name

Detail from a letter written by Abdul Rahman of Kelantan in Mecca in 1866 giving the name of 'my late teacher the great Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi' (al-marhum guru patik Tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur). Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680.

Ironically, the Ottoman-Malay mawlid manuscript of Ibrahim al-Khulusi only came to light in 2014, well after the completion of the research project, and so is not discussed in the book itself.  (The manuscript is currently held in the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and we are most grateful to the IAMM and its Director, Mr Syed Mohamad Albukhary, for permission to reproduce the manuscript on the front cover of the book).  But it is just such a discovery as this which raises hopes that, from time to time, yet more new evidence will emerge of the connections between the Ottoman empire and Southeast Asia, across the Indian Ocean from Anatolia to Aceh.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia, British Library & Co-Director, 'Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean'

With thanks to Tim Stanley for comments on the illumination.

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
Edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop
OUP/British Academy | Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 200
300 pages | 22 illustrations | 234x156mm
978-0-19-726581-9 | Hardback | 05 February 2015
Price:  £70.00
Available from Oxford University Press

20 March 2015

A new manuscript of 'Inayatallah's Bahar-i Danish

Shaikh ‘Inayatallah Kanbu of Delhi finished his romantic tale the Bahar-i Danish (‘The Springtime of Knowledge’) in 1651, a collection of Indian tales held together by the frame story of the romance of Jahandar Sultan and Bahravar Banu.  No early illustrated copy seems to have survived.   A previously unknown manuscript of the text illustrated with 118 miniatures appeared recently at auction from the collection of the Duke of Northumberland (Sotheby’s, London, 8 October 2014, lot 275).  Although undated, this manuscript goes some way to fill the gap in Mughal manuscript illustration between the end of the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) and the revival of the imperial Mughal studio in the 18th century.  The present writer was able to study it closely and concluded that the text was copied around 1700, that there were three illustrative campaigns, the first two of which were contemporary with the writing, but that the third campaign was undertaken later, almost certainly in the 1720s in the imperial studio of Muhammad Shah (r. 1719-48).  The illustrations in this third campaign seem preparatory to the paintings by Govardhan II in the Karnama-i ‘Ishq, the finest known imperial manuscript from the 18th century (BL J. 38, see Losty and Roy 2012, figs. 138-45).

There are very few good quality Mughal manuscripts from the latter half of the 17th century with which this manuscript could be compared.  Shah Jahan was interested in manuscript illustration only for inclusion in his chronicles, while under the puritanical Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) painting was discouraged along with all the other arts of the court.  Artists must have sought other employment in this period whether with princes and noblemen or else in a more commercial environment.   In searching for other illustrated manuscripts of this text, an unexpected find was a hitherto ignored but important Mughal illustrated manuscript with 126 miniatures in the India Office collections in the British Library (numbered IO Islamic 1408, Ethé 1903, no. 806), the subject of the present note.  Although inscribed as a Johnson manuscript and hence collected by Richard Johnson in India before his return to England in 1790, it is not certain that the inscription is correct.  However, a note in an old hand mentions Alexander Dow’s partial translation (published 1768) but not Jonathan Scott’s complete one of 1799, suggesting that the manuscript was already in a contemporary collection.  Even more interesting was the discovery that it is another version of the Northumberland manuscript.  Its miniatures are also divided into three distinct campaigns to be discussed below and have the same compositions and colouring, except that the third campaign in the ‘Johnson’ manuscript is a continuation of the style of the first campaign.

As two of the earliest if not the earliest illustrated versions of this text, these manuscripts, by far the finest known illustrated versions, assume a particular importance. Their style is derived from the 17th century Mughal style, as they are copying the Shahjahani style albeit in a simplified manner.  This comes through particularly in the costume details in the three illustrative campaigns, which all show the jama (gown) at mid-calf length in vogue in the mid-17th century.  Both of the manuscripts must be based on a no longer known exemplar from the 17th century, perhaps the first illustrated version done under the author’s supervision.  Indeed the Northumberland manuscript refers to a lacuna in its exemplar (f. 101) which in the Johnson manuscript is filled with a painting, so that there can be no question of one being copied from the other.  In the third campaign in the ‘Johnson’ manuscript there are several preliminary drawings and unfinished paintings, suggesting that the different paths taken in the third campaigns are because the original exemplar was unfinished.

  The Emperor of Hindustan supplicating the pure-minded for a son, which bore fruit eventually in Jahandar Sultan.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 10
The Emperor of Hindustan supplicating the pure-minded for a son, which bore fruit eventually in Jahandar Sultan.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 10  noc

The ‘Johnson’ manuscript’s illustrations were begun around 1700 perhaps in the studio of an unnamed Mughal prince or nobleman but more likely, since we are dealing with two manuscripts fundamentally the same, in a commercial manuscript studio in Delhi.  Several artists were involved in each of the three campaigns.  All share certain traits common to later 17th century Mughal painting, including the treatment of the sky with coloured horizontal streaks (cf. Losty and Roy 2012, figs. 99, 100), while some of the paintings show the rolling coloured clouds more common at the beginning of the 18th century (ibid., fig. 123)  There is a certain naiveté and stiffness about the paintings of the initial campaign, which continues until f. 104v.  Figures are generally neat and on the small side; there is minimal amount of landscape and architecture, just enough to place the figures. As often happens with illustrated manuscripts, the opening miniatures done by the studio master (as here) are somewhat more elaborate and better finished than those later on in this same first campaign where more of the other artists’ work becomes apparent.

Another campaign carried on the illustrations in a different and more lightly coloured style that in some of the paintings favours a great deal of impressionistic brushwork.  The figures are larger and more detailed.  This section is in many ways the most interesting of the three campaigns.

The merchant’s daughter, previously marooned on a deserted island in a vast lake, sits on the tail of a water-dragon to be conveyed to shore.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 112v
The merchant’s daughter, previously marooned on a deserted island in a vast lake, sits on the tail of a water-dragon to be conveyed to shore.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 112v  noc

The merchant’s daughter after further misadventures lands up on a desert shore, where the only inhabitants spend their lives in contemplation of God.  Through their kindness she is instantly transmitted back to her father’s house.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 120v, 121
The merchant’s daughter after further misadventures lands up on a desert shore, where the only inhabitants spend their lives in contemplation of God.  Through their kindness she is instantly transmitted back to her father’s house.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 120v, 121  noc

Assuming these are versions of original 17th century manuscript illustrations, that artist must have been exposed to the work of such artists as Payag and Govardhan with their on occasion experimental techniques.

A servant girl has fallen asleep while massaging the feet of a sleeping king, whereupon a thief carries on the massage until the king turns over and the thief can steal the jewel-encrusted fish from beneath his pillow.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 136
A servant girl has fallen asleep while massaging the feet of a sleeping king, whereupon a thief carries on the massage until the king turns over and the thief can steal the jewel-encrusted fish from beneath his pillow.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 136  noc

The delicate handling of the paint and the rather beautiful modelling here show the artist to be influenced by his model in more than just the composition.

The wandering prince Farrukh Fal slashes at the cobra that is climbing the tree to attack the simurgh’s young, watched by his friend the vizier’s son, while after their encounter with the cobra, they are thanked by the simurgh for saving her young.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 257v, 258.
The wandering prince Farrukh Fal slashes at the cobra that is climbing the tree to attack the simurgh’s young, watched by his friend the vizier’s son, while after their encounter with the cobra, they are thanked by the simurgh for saving her young.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 257v, 258.  noc

The soft green landscapes studded with little trees and occasionally hillocks and rocky ridges derive from Shahjahani landscapes (cf. Losty and Roy 2012, fig.63, also the seated prince) but are akin to the sort of landscapes that are found in Mughal imperial painting in the reigns of Bahadur Shah (1705-12) and Farrukhsiyyar (1713-19).  This second campaign continues until f. 216.

The third campaign is in many ways a continuation of the first campaign, but there are several gaps in the sequence of paintings, where the scribe and marginator have allowed panels for paintings but these have been left blank, while in other instances there are just outline drawings or colours only partially applied.  Given that the Northumberland manuscript for this campaign has a sequence of later images from the 1720s, it would seem that here the original exemplar was left unfinished in part and the artists of our manuscript were left to their own devices.  Many of the paintings in this sequence are in consequence nicely finished but rather dull and repetitive.  But as in the case of the Northumberland manuscript, when the text has finished with the various tales and returned to the frame story of Jahandar Sultan and Bahravar Banu, there were some finished paintings in the exemplar to draw upon.

  Prince Jahandar and Princess Bahravar Banu seated on a throne with a mirror as they are married, while dancers celebrate the happy occasion.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 333v, 334
Prince Jahandar and Princess Bahravar Banu seated on a throne with a mirror as they are married, while dancers celebrate the happy occasion.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 333v, 334  noc

When Jahandar Shah and his beloved queen die, they are carried on biers to their final resting place, but the text mentions only the one son. The final double-page painting shows an obvious debt to Shahjahani painting in having three sons riding in procession surrounded by their noblemen. 

The sons of Jahandar Shah and Bahravar Banu follow their biers in a funeral procession.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Isl 1408, f. 371v, f. 372.
The sons of Jahandar Shah and Bahravar Banu follow their biers in a funeral procession.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Isl 1408, f. 371v, f. 372. noc

Here the original 17th century artist is paying homage to the paintings by Murar of Dara Shikoh and two of his brothers riding in Dara Shikoh’s wedding procession in the Padshahnama (Beach, Koch and Thackston 1997, pl. 27) and by Balchand of the three younger sons on horseback facing their father and elder brother in the Minto Album (Stronge 2002, pl. 117).

So it is still possible to find unknown artistic treasures in even the most well-known and open collections.  Who knows what other finds may still be made?


Further Reading:

Beach, M. C., Koch, E., and Thackston, W., King of the World, the Padshahnama, Azimuth, London, 1997

Ethé, Hermann, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the India Office Library, Oxford, 1903

‘Inayatallah, Shaykh, Bahar-Danush; or Garden Of Knowledge: an Oriental Romance translated from the Persian of Einaiut Oollah. By Jonathan Scott, Shrewsbury, 1799

Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, British Library, London, 2012

Stronge, S., Painting for the Mughal Emperor:  the Art of the Book 1560-1660, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2002


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



16 March 2015

An alternative Cinderella: The girl with a kneading bowl (not a pearl earring)

Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel Girl with a pearl earring was inspired by the magnificent painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. Griet, the heroine of the Chevalier novel, always wore a distinctive white cap. Chevalier explained that behind Griet’s symbolic cap was an idea originally from the Bible, which considered women’s hair to be seductive and therefore subversive. Chevalier built upon that idea, as if Griet's cap served to shield the wilder and more sensual side of her persona that she did not want to reveal to others.

In Japanese folklore, more specifically the stories known as Otogizōshi 御伽草子,  we find another girl who always wore an impressive object on her head. This extremely odd piece of headgear led her to be known as “the girl with a kneading bowl” (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき).

'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12897.  noc

Otogizōshi is an umbrella term used to identify a miscellaneous body of Japanese short narratives, covering a wide range of subjects such as fairy tales, war epics, stories from Shinto myths, Buddhist legends, and so forth. These texts were produced from about the late Kamakura period (1185−1333) until the Muromachi period (1333−1568), but their popularity continued into the Edo period (1603-1868). Otogizōshi circulated in both manuscript form and printed versions. Between the late Muromachi and mid Edo periods they were often reproduced as fine manuscripts, called Naraehon 奈良絵本, which were enriched with colourful hand-painted illustrations elegantly illuminated with gold and silver foil. From the Edo period onwards, these stories also began to be circulated in various printed versions, most notably Otogi bunko 御伽文庫, a collection of 23 otogizōshi published in Ōsaka by Shibukawa Seiemon 渋川清右衛門 in the early 18th century. The British Library Japanese collection holds several Naraehon manuscripts and printed versions of otogizōshi, including various editions of the Tale of Hachikazuki.

'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early to mid Edo period (ca. 17th-18th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12885, f. 24.  noc

The same Hachikazuki story in a woodblock printed version, Otogizōshi ( お伽草子), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). British Library, Or.75.g.15.  noc

It is possible to identify the basic storyline of Hachikazuki as a subspecies of the classic story of Cinderella. Hachikazuki loses her mother, suffers from the maltreatment of her wicked stepmother, and eventually meets a handsome young man with prospects who has all of the essential features of the ideal husband of her time.

In actual fact, the prototype of the Cinderella story originated in China. It is believed that this was first recognised by a renowned Japanese scholar of the 19th century. Minakata Kumagusu (南方熊楠 1867-1941) was a multi-talented researcher with many interests; amongst other things he was a naturalist, biologist and folklorist. In an article of 1911 (details below), Minakata compared European and Oriental folk stories in order to identify significant similarities in the story patterns. He was interested in  prior research by Pedroso on Portuguese folk-tales which had already categorised some stories of the Cinderella type, but which had overlooked the Chinese version.

The study by Pedroso mentioned by Minakata in his 1911 article: Portuguese folk-tales collected by Consiglieri Pedroso, and translated from the original ms. by H. Monteiro.  ([S.l.] : Folklore Society, 1882.) British Library, 7062.900000

In the year 853, during the Tang dynasty, the scholar Duan Chengshi (段成式) wrote a series of stories, some of them taken from legends and folk tales, collected together under the name of Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang (Youyang za zu 酉阳杂俎). It is in this work that the story of a girl called Ye Xian (葉限), set during the 3rd century BC, appears for the first time.

First page from an 1849 copy of the Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, in the version called重刊酉陽 雜俎正續 (Zhong kan Youyang za zu zheng xu), by Duan Chengshi, published by小嫏嬛山館 (Xiao lang huan shan guan). British Library, 15297.b.14.  noc

The list of similarities between Cinderella and Ye Xian is quite extensive:
1) Both lost their own mother
2) Both were mistreated by their stepmothers
3) Both obtained or were given magical treasures to enable them to surmount obstacles   
4) Both met ideal husband figures
5) Both their future husbands found the girls by means of the right-sized shoe

The Story of Ye Xian, which Minakata highlighted, has been widely accepted as an early version of Cinderella. In contrast to the tale of Ye Xian, the tale of Hachikazuki is not always categorised as a Cinderella-type story because of two significant differences:
1) The method of obtaining her magical treasures
2) The method of proving she was the one her future husband was destined to marry

Hachikazuki obtained her magical treasures from her kneading bowl, which no one (including herself) had previously managed to remove from her head. It was her mother who had put the kneading bowl on to her daughter’s head just before she passed away. All she wanted to do was ensure the happiness of her daughter who she was leaving behind, and so she prayed to the Avalokiteśvara, and then acted in accordance with a revelation from the Avalokiteśvara. Hachikazuki had to endure wearing the kneading bowl on her head until the right moment eventually came. Although she found love with a gentle young man, she had to pass a test. This test was not fitting her foot into the right-sized shoe like Cinderella and Ye Xian. Instead, Hachikazuki had to convince her future husband’s family that she was a truly suitable bride for him. Miraculously, at this moment, the bowl fell off from her head, and she discovered that she possessed all the highly sophisticated acoutrements and attributes of a refined beauty.

Hachikazuki and her trousseau emerging from her kneading bowl. From 'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12897.  noc

The same scene in a different naraehon manuscript. 'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early to mid Edo period (ca. 17th-18th  century). British Library, Or.12885, f. 36.  noc

The same scene in a woodblock printed edition of Otogizōshi (お伽草子), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). British Library, Or.75.g.15.  noc

Regardless of the differences and similarities between the stories of Hachikazuki and Cinderella, in both we can enjoy a traditional well-loved folk tale with a happy ending.


Tracey Chevalier. Girl with a pearl earring (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999). For a description of Griet's cap, see p.11; see also 'Tracy Chevalier Q&A', Mail Online (July 5th 2002).

Minakata’s 1911 article: 南方熊楠「西暦九世紀の支那書に載せたるシンダレラ物語」『東京人類学会雑誌』26巻300号 (1911) is available online as a part of Minakaga zuihitsu (南方随筆) at Kindai Digital Library service, the National Diet Library.

With special thanks to:
Alessandro Bianchi, Asian and African Studies and PhD student, University of Cambridge
Sara Chiesura, Curator for Chinese

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator for Japanese


13 March 2015

The Jatakas: Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta

The Buddha’s previous lives are the subject of the collection of stories commonly known as the Jatakas, which show how he gradually acquired greater strength and moral stature as his soul passed from one incarnation to the other. These well-known stories were narrated by Gautama Buddha himself during his ministry. There are actually 547 stories but the number is often rounded up to 550. Some of the stories are quite brief while others are of considerable length. The ten major stories are Temiya, Mahajanaka, Suvanna Sama, Nemi, Mahosadha, Bhuridatta, Canda Kumara, Narada, Vidhura, and Vessantara. Named for their principal characters, they describe the perfection of ten important virtues: Temiya, renunciation; Mahajanaka, courage; Suvanna Sama, devotion; Nimi, resolution; Mahosadha, wisdom; Bhuridatta, perseverance; Canda Kumāra, forbearance; Narada, equanimity; Vidhura, truthfulness; and Vessantara, charity. A Burmese acronym for these ten stories, “Te-Ja-Su-Ne-Ma-Bhu-Can-Na-Vi-Ve”, is familiar to all Burmese Buddhists. Shown here are three illustrated Burmese folding book manuscripts containing Jataka stories (Or 4542A & Or 4542B, Or 13538Mss Burmese 202), which have just been digitised.

Mahasudassana Jataka, British Library, Or.4542A, ff. 47-52.  noc
The scene is from the Mahasudassana Jataka which tells of the death of a great king, Sudassana, ruler of Kusinara, who is shown here lying on a royal couch in a palm grove.  He preaches to his grieving queen and courtiers on Sankhara (the impermanence of everything). He advises them to follow the practice of Dāna (generosity) and to observe Sila (morality).  The Buddha is identified in this Jataka as Sudassana, and his disciples are then his courtiers.  The Mahasudassana Jataka is linked to the Buddha’s discourse, the Mahasudassana Sutta, delivered to his disciple, Ananda, on his final journey to Kusinara.   

Anusasika Jataka, British Library, Or4542A, ff. 145-148.  noc
In this Jataka, the Bodhisatta was king of the birds, who lived with his followers in a forest. One of the birds tried to keep other birds from the road where she had found fine food which was dropped by passing carts and carriages. She told them to keep away from that dangerous area, as the carts and carriages were drawn by fierce oxen and horses. All birds took heed of her warning, and avoided going to that area. But one day when she heard the sound of a carriage coming along the road and went there to fetch food, the greedy bird was herself killed by the carriages.

Maṇikaṇḍa Jataka, British Library, Or.4542B, ff. 13-18.  noc
The Bodhisatta and his younger brother became ascetics when they struggled to cope with the unbearable pain of losing their parents. The elder lived on the Upper Ganges and the younger lived by the lower river. Maṇikaṇḍa, a Serpent King in the guise of a man, came to the younger ascetic’s hut and became his good friend. When Maṇikaṇḍa finally put off his disguise, the ascetic was so afraid of him that he grew thin and pale. The elder ascetic suggested to the younger ascetic that he should ask the serpent for the beautiful jewel which hewore around his throat. After the younger ascetic made this request several times, the serpent went away and never came back again.

Tiriṭa-vaccha Jataka, British Library, Or.4542B, ff.69-74.  noc
Tirita-vaccha Jataka tells of a story of when the Bodhisatta was an ascetic living in the forest and a king who had been defeated in a battle came through on his elephant.  The king got stuck in a well while he was looking for water.  The monk rescued him from the well, and he was rewarded with great honours and a place at the king’s palace.  

Suvannamiga Jataka, British Library, Or.13538, ff. 26-27.  noc
This is a scene is from the Suvannamiga Jataka in which the Bodhisatta was born as a golden stag and lived contentedly in the forest with his mate and other deer.  One day, a hunter set a cruel snare in which the stag was trapped. The rest of the herd of deer fled, but his mate approached the hunter and offered her life in place of the stag’s, the king of the herd. Impressed by such love and bravery, the hunter spared both creatures and was rewarded by the stag with a magic jewel.  This enabled the hunter to give up taking creatures’ lives and to set up a household, and practise alms giving and other good deeds.   

Nigrodhamiga Jataka, British Library, Mss Burmese 202, f.12r.  noc
The Bodhisatta here takes the form of a deer called Nigrodha, who lived in a forest where he was attended by five hundred deer. Another deer called Sakha, who also had five hundred attendant deer, lived nearby. There was an agreement between these two leaders that, on alternate days, a deer from their herd should offer itself to be killed by the king of Varanasi who was fond of hunting.  One day come the turn of a pregnant hind of Sakha’s herd.  She went to Sakha and asked to be allowed to wait until she has given birth but Sakha refused and asked her to take her turn.  However, when the pregnant hind appealed to him, Nigrodha took her turn himself.  The king was greatly moved when he heard the story and he granted both Nigrodha and the pregnant hind immunity. Nigrodha was not satisfied and asked the king to grant immunity to all living beings. And the king granted his wishes.

Mss Burmese 202.Maluta
Maluta Jataka, British Library, Mss Burmese 202, f.17r.  noc
Two friends, a lion and a tiger, lived together in a cave at the foot of a hill. One evening they got into argument about the cold.  The lion said it was cold in the waning of the moon, while the tiger said it was cold in the waxing of the moon.  They went to Boddhisatta who was also living at the foot of the same hill as a hermit to resolve their different beliefs.  The hermit told them that they were both right: it was cold in the waning of the moon and in the waxing of the moon.  The cold was caused by wind.  Their argument was resolved and peace reigned between them.
The Jataka stories have been illustrated in sculptures and paintings throughout the Buddhist world.  Burmese temple walls have wonderful paintings of the Jataka stories. These stories are meant to teach the values of self-sacrifice, mercy, honesty and morality.     

San San May, Curator for Burmese


10 March 2015

Soother of sorrows or seducer of morals? The Malay Hikayat Inderaputera

Hikayat Inderaputera, ‘The tale of Inderaputera’, is a Malay romance about the fantastical adventures of Prince Inderaputera, son of the king of Semantapura. At the age of seven he is abducted by a golden peacock and falls into the garden of an old flower-seller, who brings him up as her grandson. Inderaputera’s fine looks, intelligence and manners lead him into service with King Syahsian, and he is sent off on a quest for a cure for the king’s childlessness. Among his many encounters is with the 'swan-maiden' found in folklore the world over: spying the princess of the fairies and her maidens bathing in a lake, Inderaputera steals their clothes,without which they cannot fly away, and only gives them back in return for a magical talisman. At last he succeeds in obtaining the flower of the white lotus that gives King Syahsian a daughter, Mengindra Seri Bunga. When she comes of age Inderaputera wins the princess’s hand, and he is then reunited with his parents and ascends the throne in his own country.  

Opening pages of the Hikayat Inderaputera, with the double decorated frames digitally reunited (as the MS is currently misbound). British Library, MSS Malay B.14, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

Probably composed in the late 16th century, Hikayat Inderaputera was one of the most widespread and popular Malay tales, and is known from over thirty manuscripts dating from the late 17th century onwards. The story is found from Sumatra to Cambodia and the Philippines, not only in Malay but also in Acehnese, Bugis, Makasarese, Sasak, Cham, Maranao and Maguindanao versions (Braginsky 2009). At its core is probably a Persian mathnawi based, in turn, on the Hindi poem Madhumalati written around 1550 (Braginsky 2004: 388), but it also drew on Malay Islamic epics such as Hikayat Amir Hamzah and Javanese Panji stories. With its depictions of other-worldly palaces, battles with ferocious monsters, and poignant love scenes, Hikayat Inderaputera offered something for everyone, and could be read not just as an adventure romance but also as a Sufi allegory of the spiritual journey of the soul.  

The Hikayat Inderaputera can be characterised as a Malay penglipur lara tale, a ‘soother of sorrows’, recited to ease the cares of the listeners, by enrapturing them and transporting them to a different world. An illustration of its potency occurs in another Malay tale, the Hikayat Isma Yatim, when a lady of the court, dreaming of the king’s caresses, began to read Hikayat Inderaputera to dispel her angst (Braginsky 2004: 386). Outraged by the popularity of this seemingly frivolous escapism, the story earned the ire of the stern Gujerati theologian Nuruddin al-Raniri, the senior religious official at the court of Aceh, and in his historical compendium Bustan al-salatin he called Hikayat Inderaputera 'a pack of lies' (nyata dustanya). In 1634 Nuruddin starting composing the Sirat al-mustakim, an immensely influential guide in Malay on correct observance of religious law, in which he condemned the Hikayat Inderaputera, together with the Hikayat Seri Rama and other tales ‘of no religious value’ for use in the lavatory unless the pieces of paper happened to include the name ‘Allah’.  

Or 15979
Sirat al-mustakim
, composed by Nuruddin al-Raniri between 1634 and 1644, a copy from Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or 15979, ff. 2v-3r.  noc

Nuruddin al-Raniri's decree in Sirat al-mustakim banishing Hikayat Inderaputera to the lavatory as long as it does not contain the name of God (dan demikian lagi harus instinja dengan kitab yang tiada berguna pada syarak seperti Hikayat Seri Rama dan Inderaputera dan barang sebagainya jika tiada dalamnya nama Allah). British Library, Or 15979, f.15v (detail).  noc

The British Library holds one manuscript of the Hikayat Inderaputera, MSS Malay B.14, shown at the top of this page, which is incomplete and undated, and of unknown provenance. The manuscript is written in a very distinctive neat hand, which Sri Rujiati Mulyadi (1983: 17) noted was very similar to that of another Malay manuscript held in the Library of SOAS (MS 174239) containing two texts, Hikayat Cerita Raden Mantri dated 1820, and Hikayat si Miskin dated 1821, both copied in Padang in west Sumatra. A Minangkabau provenance would be entirely consistent with the style of illuminated frames of MSS Malay B.14, with the palette of red and black, and the semi-circular arches on the vertical sides.  

The manuscript of Hikayat Inderaputera is written in a distinctive neat small hand, with two styles of the letter kaf. In the middle in red is the word al-kisah, with a decoratively knotted final letter, ta marbuta, signifiying the start the episode of Inderaputera's abduction by the golden peacock: Al-kisah peri mengatakan tatkala Inderaputera diterbangkan merak emas. British Library, MSS Malay B.14, f. 5r (detail).  noc

In her doctoral study of Hikayat Inderaputera, Mulyadi (1983: 41-43) also turned her attention to another Malay manuscript in the British Library, Hikayat Putera Jaya Pati (MSS Malay B.5), because this tale had earlier been described as a shorter version of Hikayat Inderaputera. In fact, despite some similarity of motifs – the seven-year old Prince Putera Jaya Pati is lured away into the forest by a golden horse, is brought up by a wise old man, and has many adventures before marrying a princess and returning to rule in his own country – the two stories are quite different.

Colophon of Hikayat Putera Jaya Pati, dated 1221 (1806/7). This MS appears to be in the same hand as the MS of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Mahmud bin Husain in 1220 (1805), probably in Penang or Kedah.  British Library, MSS Malay B.5, f. 74r.  noc

All the Malay manuscripts shown here have been fully digitised and can be accessed on the Digitised Manuscripts site.

Further reading:

Vladimir Braginsky, The heritage of traditional Malay literature: a historical survey of genres, writings and literary views.  Leiden: KITLV, 2004; pp. 385-400.

Vladimir Braginsky, ‘Dua pengembaraan Hikayat Inderaputera’, in Sadur: sejarah terjemahan di Indonesia dan Malaysia, ed. Henri Chambert-Loir.  Jakarta: KPG, 2009; pp.975-1000.

S.W.R. Mulyadi, Hikayat Indraputra: a Malay romance.  Dordrecht: Foris, 1983. (Bibliotheca Indonesica; 23).

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


06 March 2015

Japan’s first 'curry rice' recipe?

Although it may not rank in gastronomic terms with such delicacies as sushi, sashimi or Kobe beef, “curry rice” (karē raisu カレーライス) is one of Japan’s most popular dishes and favourite comfort foods. Arguably it has more in common with the 19th-century versions of curry served on Royal Navy ships than with original Indian cuisine, and the sauce has a thick, viscous consistency.1  Initially a foreign import, it has become an integral part of Japanese food culture and been adapted and developed in a typical example of Wayō setchū 和洋折衷 – the blending of Japanese and Western influences. Curry rice can be eaten in a wide variety of forms, among the most popular being katsu karē (curry with a breaded pork cutlet on top) and karē don  (thickened curry sauce served on top of a bowl of rice). Nowadays in Japan, curry restaurants are found everywhere and a bewildering array of curry sauce mixes and pre-packed curries fill supermarket shelves.

Curry rice
Japanese curry rice. Photo by (c)Tomo.Yun

However, curry rice was not always so popular. The British Library’s East Asian Section has recently acquired a copy of Seiyō ryōritsū 西洋料理通  (The Expert on Western Cookery), written by Kanagaki Robun 仮名垣魯文 and published in two volumes by Mankyūkaku 萬笈閣 of Tokyo in 1872.  It is one of the first books on European cooking to be published in Japan and is a milestone in the history of karē raisu.2

Seiyo ryoritsu title page
Title page of Seiyō ryōritsū. British Library, ORB.30/7689.   noc

In the years following the arrival of the American Commodore Perry and his squadron of “Black Ships” in 1853, the Japanese government gradually opened the country’s ports to foreign trade, turning its back on its isolationist past and embarking on a systematic introduction of Western culture and thought in a programme of modernisation known as “civilisation and enlightenment” (Bunmei kaika 文明開化). Part of this transformation was a belief that the adoption of Western food – and in particular the consumption of beef – would have a beneficial effect on the health and nutritional standards of the Japanese population. As both Japan’s major religions, Buddhism and Shinto, banned eating the flesh of four-legged animals, the campaign to encourage the eating of beef was controversial – at once a symbol of modernity and an attack on traditional culture. In the words of one writer on the subject, “many Japanese considered beefeaters to be both society's most exemplary members and its most ignoble and degenerate”.3

Seiyo ryoritsu market
“Foreigners buying vegetables in the morning market inYokohama” from Seiyō ryōritsū. British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.2 f.12r.  noc
Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894), real name Nozaki Bunzō 野崎文蔵, was an author and journalist whose work often satirised the peculiarities of Japanese society in a time of great change. One of his best-known novels Aguranabe 安愚楽鍋 (Sitting Cross-Legged at the Beef Pot), was set in a Tokyo beef restaurant (gyūnabeya) which specialised in serving gyūnabe  牛鍋, the forerunner of the modern sukiyaki. Aguranabe was published in five volumes in 1871-1872 and consists of a series of vignettes which poke fun at the various customers and their blind admiration of all things Western.4

Seiyo ryoritsu dinner party
Chinese servant waiting at table. By Kawanabe Kyōsai. From Seiyō ryōritsū.  British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.1 intro f.1v-2r.  noc

Yet while he was quick to make fun of the foibles of these beefeaters, Robun also subscribed to the idea that Western cuisine might have benefits and wrote Seiyō ryōritsū, as he recorded in the introduction, “to teach our countrymen the cooking of other countries and so aid social intercourse”.  Robun explained that his book was based on a translation of two notebooks written by an English resident of the foreign settlement in Yokohama to show his Japanese servants how to cook Western meals. He lists 70 recipes in four categories: “soups”, “fish”, “sauces”  and “boiling and baking”.5 For each recipe there is a Japanese description with the original English name more or less accurately rendered in Japanese katakana script, followed by the list of ingredients and instructions on preparation.

Recipe 53 is for “curried beef or mutton” while recipe 62 is for “curried veal or fowl” - both involve adding curry powder to a meat stew.  Recipe 62 also describes serving the meal with rice – perhaps the first true “curry rice” recipe ?

Seiyo ryoritsu curry
Recipe for “curried veal or fowl” from Seiyō ryōritsū.  British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.2 f.24v.  noc

Seiyō ryōritsū contains nine illustrations by Kawanabe Kyōsai (or Gyōsai) 河鍋 暁斎 (1831-1889), an artist renowned for his skill as a painter and caricaturist as well as for his hard-drinking and eccentric behaviour. Kyōsai brings his whimsical approach to the potentially unpromising subject matter of a cookery book, providing humorous depictions of formal meals where foreigners entertain slightly uncomfortable-looking Japanese guests, of masters supervising their cooks, and of foreigners getting drunk.

Seiyo ryoritsu entertaining Japanese
“A Westerner offering a meat dish to a Japanese guest” from Seiyō ryōritsū. British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.2 f.24r.  noc

Seiyo ryoritsu timing
“Using a watch to time the cooking” from Seiyō ryōritsū. British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.2 f.29v. noc

Seiyo ryoritsu drinking
“Foreigners eating and drinking in a tavern”, from Seiyō ryōritsū. British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.2 f.18v.  noc

He also thoughtfully provides a series of pictures of cooking and dining utensils, including what may have been to many contemporary Japanese such unfamiliar objects as tables, chairs, ovens, roasting-spits, cutlery and sugar tongs.

Seiyo ryoritsu utensils

Seiyo ryoritsu furniture
Cooking and eating utensils from Seiyō ryōritsū.  British Library, ORB.30/7689, vol.1 intro f.2v-4r.  noc


1.  The Imperial Japanese Navy adopted curry from the Royal Navy in the 1860s and even today the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force serves curry on Fridays.
2.  Another cookery book Seiyō ryōri shinan  西洋料理指南 (Guide to Western Cooking) by the pseudonymous author Keigakudō Shujin敬学堂主人, published in the same year as Seiyō ryōritsū, also includes a curry recipe.
3.  See Lola Milholland, Food is Emptiness.
4.  For a partial English translation of Aguranabe see Keene, Donald (ed.), Modern Japanese Literature, New York, 1956.
5.  A supplementary volume published in the same year 1872 included a further 40 recipes.


Clark, Timothy, Demon of painting: the art of Kawanabe Kyōsai, London: British Museum Press, 1993
Kanagaki Robun, "Gyūten zatsudan aguranabe 牛店雜談安愚樂鍋," in Kanagaki Robun 仮名垣魯文, Meiji no Bungaku 明治の文学. v.1, Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 2002.
Kanagaki Robun, "The Beefeater," in Modern Japanese Literature, ed. Donald Keene, New York: Grove Press, 1956.
Mertz, John Pierre, Novel Japan: Spaces of Nationhood in Early Meiji Narrative, 1870-88, Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2003.
Milholland, Lola, Food is Emptiness.
Yokohama Archives of History, Kaikō no hiroba, no. 116 (2012).

Hamish Todd, Lead Curator, East Asian Studies
With thanks to C. von der Burg