Asian and African studies blog

8 posts from June 2015

29 June 2015

Panji stories in Malay

Stories of the Javanese culture hero Prince Panji probably date from around the 13th century, and mark the development of a truly Javanese literature no longer overshadowed by the great Indian epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Set around the Javanese kingdoms of Kuripan and Daha, the stories tell of Panji’s search for his beloved, Princess Candra Kirana, and his many adventures, undertaken in various disguises and with a range of different names, before the lovers are reunited. During the Majapahit empire from the 14th to 15th centuries the Panji stories became extremely popular, and the figure of Panji is found engraved on temple reliefs (always wearing a distinctive cap on his head), while the Panji tales came to constitute the repertoire of wayang gedog theatrical performances. The British Library holds eight Javanese manuscripts containing Panji stories including Panji Kuda Waneng Pati (Add. 12319), Serat Panji Kuda Narawongsa (Add.12333), Serat Panji Murdaningkung (Add. 12345), Panji Angreni (MSS Jav 17) and the beautifully illustrated Panji Jaya Kusuma (MSS Jav 68), all described in the catalogue by Ricklefs & Voorhoeve.

Prince Panji (on the right) hands a letter to his clown-retainers (panakawan) Bancak and Dhoyok, in a Javanese Panji romance, 19th century. British Library, Or. 15026, f.85r (det.)
Prince Panji (on the right) hands a letter to his clown-retainers (panakawan) Bancak and Dhoyok, in a Javanese Panji romance, 19th century. British Library, Or. 15026, f.85r (det.)  noc

Panji tales are found not only in the Javanese literary tradition but also in Balinese and Malay, and on the Southeast Asian mainland in Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese versions, where the hero-prince is known as Inao (after his main Javanese name, Raden Inu Kartapati). The Panji stories appear to have been translated into Malay at an early date, perhaps in the cosmpolitan port city of Melaka in the 15th century, and influences can be discerned in the Malay texts Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah. Over a hundred different Panji stories in Malay are known, in numerous manuscripts, many originating from the northern peninsular states of Kelantan and Kedah where wayang (shadow puppet) stories were most popular.

Sketch of Panji, wearing his distinctive rounded cap, found in a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Dewa Mandu, copied in Semarang, 1785. British Library, Add. 12376, f. 219r (det.).

Sketch of Panji, wearing his distinctive rounded cap, found in a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Dewa Mandu, copied in Semarang, 1785. British Library, Add. 12376, f. 219r (det.).

The British Library holds ten Malay manuscripts containing Panji stories or related tales, all of which have now been fully digitised:
MSS Malay C 1, Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati. Under the name Cekel Waneng Pati, Panji undergoes innumerable trials to regain his love Raden Galuh Candra Kirana: he captures the deer with golden antlers, solves riddles, cures Candra Kirana of illness, defeats a black-bearded villain, himself falls ill but is cured by his son Mesa Tandraman who obtains a heavenly flower of blood from a nymph’s bosom, and wins yet more battles before all can finally live happily ever after.
MSS Malay C 2, another copy of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, dated 1787.
Or. 11365, possibly another copy of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, written on Javanese paper, acquired from Kelantan.
MSS Malay C 3, Hikayat Mesa Tandraman, about the son of Panji, copied in Penang by Ibrahim for Raffles in 1806.
Add. 12380, Syair Mesa Gumitar, about a king of Kuripan, apparently related to the Panji stories.
Add. 12383, Hikayat Carang Kulina.
Add. 12387, Hikayat Mesa Taman Sira Panji Jayeng Pati, written on Javanese paper.
Add. 12391, Hikayat Naya Kusuma, where the hero is named Mesa Susupan Sira Panji Kelana Asmara Pati.
Or. 16446, an unidentified Panji tale, starting with the Maharaja of Jenggala, written on Javanese paper in romanized Malay.
Or. 16447, ff. 89v-91r, a fragment of the Syair Ken Tambuhan, copied in Taiping in 1888.

Opening pages of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati. British Library, MSS Malay C 1, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

Opening pages of the Syair Mesa Gumitar. British Library, Add. 12380, ff. 3v-4r.
Opening pages of the Syair Mesa Gumitar. British Library, Add. 12380, ff. 3v-4r.  noc

The seduction scene from Syair Ken Tambuhan, whose name, in this manuscript, is always spelt Ken Tabuhan (Ken Tabuhan terlalai dalam seketika / kainnya terlingsir lalu terbuka / pinggangnya bagai taruk angsuka / Inu mencium melakukan suka). British Library, Or. 16447, f. 89v (det.)
The seduction scene from Syair Ken Tambuhan, whose name, in this manuscript, is always spelt Ken Tabuhan (Ken Tabuhan terlalai dalam seketika / kainnya terlingsir lalu terbuka / pinggangnya bagai taruk angsuka / Inu mencium melakukan suka). British Library, Or. 16447, f. 89v (det.)  noc

The large number of manuscripts still found today testify to the enduring popularity of Panji stories in the Malay world, but the continuing enjoyment of literature rooted in the pre-Islamic era was never uncontroversial, as graphically demonstrated by the earliest of the Malay Panji manuscripts in the British Library. This is a copy of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati written by a scribe named Da'ut, possibly in the environs of Kedah, and dated 10 Zulhijah 1201 (23 September 1787). Above the text frames on the opening page on the right is an exhortation to readers not to believe the contents of this story, with a similar comment on the left-hand page addressed to listeners (reflecting the fact that traditional Malay tales were not designed to be read silently by an individual, but were recited aloud to an audience). On a later page the threat posed by this ancient Javanese fantasy tale to Muslim faith is made explicit, and thereafter, the top of every single right-hand page of this manuscript of 151 folios bears the warning: ‘don’t believe this!’ (jangan beriman akan). 

In early 17th-century Aceh, the stern theologian Nuruddin al-Raniri decreed that copies of the Hindu-infused romance Hikayat Inderaputera should be banished for use in the lavatory, and, judging the writings of Shaykh Shamsuddin al-Sumatrani heretical, consigned his books to the flames.  The late 18th-century Malay scribe Da'ut has taken a different and very pragmatic approach, of boldly and visibly plastering his book with spiritual health warnings while leaving the text itself intact, so that those prepared to brave the morally hazardous terrain filled with deities, ogres, cross-dressing princesses and magic potions might venture forth at their own risk.

Opening pages of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati. British Library, MSS Malay C 2, ff. 1v-2r.
Opening pages of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, prefaced at the top with a strict message to readers and listeners: 'Will all readers please make sure not to take this book to heart because it's really just a pack of lies, and will you also please stress to your listeners on each page that they should not believe it' (Maka hendaklah tuan yang membaca surat ini jangan menaruh iman di dalam hati karena semata sekaliannya itu dusta belaka dan lagi / tuan2 kata akan pada sekalian orang yang menengar surat ini pada tiap2 halai tekan pada mereka itu, jangan beriman akan). British Library, MSS Malay C 2, ff. 1v-2r noc

One full page of the manuscript of Hikayat Cekel Waneng PatiBritish Library, MSS Malay C 2, f. 5r (det.)
One full page of the manuscript of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati is dedicated to a warning about its potential impact on faith: 'Never fail to keep in mind Allah and His Prophet when you read this book; these Javanese stories are a tissue of fantasies, composed simply for amusement by writers whose skills were different from those of people now, and so these tales of olden times just read like nonsense today' (Jangan sekali-sekali lupa akan Allah dan rasulNya pada tatkala membaca surat ini perkataan surat Jawa ini terlalu amat dusta sekali oleh dicandakan orang yang menyurat yang bijaksana orang tetapi bukannya orang pada masa ini dahulu punya perbuatan ini maka orang sekarang ini sedikit2 dicandanya pulak jadilah perpanjanglah kata). British Library, MSS Malay C 2, f. 5r (det.)   noc

At the top of every single right-hand page, there is an appeal to readers not to believe the contents: jangan beriman akan. British Library, MSS Malay C 2, f. 8v (det.)
At the top of every single right-hand page, there is an appeal to readers not to believe the contents: jangan beriman akan. British Library, MSS Malay C 2, f. 8v (det.)   noc

Further reading:
V.I. Braginsky, The heritage of traditional Malay literature: a historical survey of genres, writings and literary views.  Leiden: KITLV, 2004, pp. 156-175.
Lydia Kieven, Following the Cap-figure in Majapahit temple reliefs: a new look at the religious function of East Javanese temples, 14th and 15th centuries. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.
R.O. Winstedt, A history of classical Malay literature.  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1977; summary of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati on pp. 2231-250.

Pameran naskah cerita Panji: Exhibition of Panji manuscripts in Javanese, Balinese and Malay at the National Library of Indonesia, October 2014

Related blog posts: Soother of sorrows or seducer of morals? The Malay Hikayat Inderaputera

With thanks to Lydia Kieven for advice, and for identifying the sketch of Panji above.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia   ccownwork

24 June 2015

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma

Unknown Photographer, Portrait of Major-General Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902), Madras Army, (?)1880s, British Library, Photo 612(1).
Unknown Photographer, Portrait of Major-General Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902), Madras Army, (?)1880s, British Library, Photo 612(1).  noc

Once heard, the exotically-named Linnaeus Tripe is difficult to forget. Yet even in his own lifetime and certainly in the century and more since his death in 1902, appreciation of one of the most accomplished photographers in 19th-century India has been restricted to a limited circle of photographic and architectural historians. A comprehensive survey exhibition of his work, to which the British Library was a major lender, has been on show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over the past nine months. The third venue of this exhibition, opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 24 June, will give British audiences the opportunity to see some 70 examples of his work from Burma and South India.

Tripe entered the Madras Army in 1839, and probably learned photography during his first furlough to England in 1851–53. A small number of photographs taken in England during this period survive and in early 1853 he also became one of the founding members of the Photographic Society of London. But it was his return to India that saw the creation of his first extensive body of work. In late 1854 he travelled across country from Bangalore in the company of another early amateur photographer Dr Andrew Neill to make a detailed photographic survey of the extravagantly sculptured Hoysala temples at Halebid and Belur. These photographs received glowing reviews when they were exhibited in Madras in 1855 and paved the way for a major photographic commission from the authorities in Calcutta.

In the course of three wars of encroachment between 1824 and 1885, the expanding imperial domain of British India swallowed up the Burmese empire. After the conclusion of the second of these conflicts in 1853, it was decided that a mission should be sent to the Burmese capital, high up the Irrawaddy at Amarapura, to attempt to persuade the new Burmese king Mindon Min to ratify a treaty transferring the conquered territory of Pegu to British rule. While no great hopes were entertained for the success of this objective, it was seen as a rare opportunity to gather information about a country hitherto largely closed to western penetration. The Governor-General Lord Dalhousie considered that a visual record of the journey ‘would convey to the Government a better idea of the natural features of the neighbouring Kingdom of Burmah than any written report’ and that ‘sketches of the people and of cities and palaces … would give a life and interest to the future report of the Mission.’ To this end the artist Colesworthy Grant was chosen to accompany the mission (the resulting watercolours are held in the Library’s collections, shelfmark WD540). Photography had also recently begun to be encouraged and sponsored by the East India Company for the documentation of Indian architecture and Tripe, considered ‘very highly qualified in his field’, was also selected for the mission.

The party with its military escort steamed upriver on the Irrawaddy in August 1855, bearing as well as personnel and supplies, 59 crates of gifts designed to impress and gratify an eastern potentate. These included textiles, jewels, candelabra and swords, as well as more diverting amusements such as musical birds, a pianola and a polyrama (a popular optical toy presenting, in this case, dissolving views of Paris by day and night). Scientific instruments, including telescopes and sextants, were selected with the queen in mind, since she was known to be of a ‘scientific turn’ with a particular interest in astronomy. News of photography had by this time also reached the Burmese court and to satisfy the king’s interest in ‘sun pictures’ a complete set of daguerreotype equipment was also to be presented to him. Whether this last give was ever used seems doubtful, however, since Tripe’s attempts at teaching photography to one of the king’s servants were abandoned through lack of time and the man’s ‘desultory’ attendance at the lessons.

In the course of the mission’s journey, and over the six weeks it remained in residence at the capital, Tripe produced over 200 paper negatives of Burmese scenes, which represent photography’s first extensive encounter with Burma. While senior officials negotiated politely but ineffectively with their Burmese counterparts, Tripe produced around 50 photographs of the Burmese capital and the surrounding country. Within a few years Amarapura was to be abandoned in favour of a new capital a few miles upriver at Mandalay and Tripe’s prints constitute a unique documentation of the city and its environs before nature reclaimed its stupas, walls and palaces.

Linnaeus Tripe, Colossal statue of Gautama close to the north end of the wooden bridge, Amarapura, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(46).
Linnaeus Tripe, Colossal statue of Gautama close to the north end of the wooden bridge, Amarapura, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(46).  noc

Tripe also explored as far upriver as Mingun, photographing King Bodawpaya’s grandiose and crumbling stupa (never completed and severely damaged by the earthquake of 1839). On both the outward and return journey the mission also stopped to survey the great plain of temples at Bagan—monuments of a previous ruling dynasty—and here Tripe made the first photographs of the principal landmarks of the site. As the mission’s secretary Henry Yule later wrote: ‘Pagan surprised us all. None of the previous travellers to Ava had prepared us for remains of such importance and interest.’ Their hurried tour also found time to note the elaborately carved wooden architecture of the monasteries, ‘rich and effective beyond description; photography only could do it justice.’

Linnaeus Tripe, Carved wooden doorway in the courtyard of the Zhwe Zigong Pagoda, Bagan, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(25).
Linnaeus Tripe, Carved wooden doorway in the courtyard of the Zhwe Zigong Pagoda, Bagan, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(25).  noc

On the mission’s return to India, Tripe set about printing 50 sets of a portfolio of 120 selected Burmese views, a massive labour that was not to be completed until early 1857. Each paper negative had to be individually exposed in a frame in sunlight before developing, fixing and mounting the resulting print on card. To add to his labours, Tripe (or his Indian assistants) meticulously retouched many of the images, improving the appearance of foliage and the skies. The photographic chemistry of the period—predominantly sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum—tended to produce over-exposed and starkly blank skies. To remedy this, Tripe skilfully added skies and clouds by painting directly onto the surface of the negative, a remarkably effective technique that adds character and interest to these subtly toned studies of Burmese architecture. The demands of such work—involving the manual production of more than 6,500 mounted prints—are a striking demonstration of Tripe’s adherence to an aesthetic vision far beyond the requirements of pure documentation.

Linnaeus Tripe, Jambukeshvara Temple, Srirangam, 1858. British Library, Photo 950(8).
Linnaeus Tripe, Jambukeshvara Temple, Srirangam, 1858. British Library, Photo 950(8).  noc

In March 1857 Tripe’s dedication was rewarded by his appointment as Government Photographer of Madras, his principal task being to service the growing demand for reliable visual evidence of India’s architectural heritage—in his own words, to ‘secure before they disappear the objects in the Presidency that are interesting to the Antiquary, Sculptor, Mythologist, and historian.’ In succeeding decades photography was to become a standard tool of record for the work of the Archaeological Survey of India, but Tripe was to be the most distinguished of a small band of photographers who spearheaded these first—often faltering—initiatives.

Linnaeus Tripe, Entrance to the hill fort at Ryakotta, 1857-58. British Library, Photo 951(3).
Linnaeus Tripe, Entrance to the hill fort at Ryakotta, 1857-58. British Library, Photo 951(3).  noc

In mid-December 1857 Tripe left Bangalore with four bullock-loads of supplies and equipment on a demanding four-and-a-half month tour through rough country that would take him as far south as the great temple city of Madurai, before heading north-east to reach Madras at the end of April 1858. During this great loop through the modern state of Tamil Nadu, he visited and photographed major temple sites (among them Srirangam and Thanjavur), as well as hill forts, palaces and the occasional striking landscape. Among the most remarkable of the 290 negatives from this journey—not least in terms of technical ingenuity—is the 19-foot long panorama, composed from 21 joined prints, recording the inscription running around the base of the Brihadeshvara Temple at Thanjavur.

By August 1858 he was once more at Bangalore, setting up his establishment to print up the results of his travels. With the government’s agreement and subsidy, these were made available in a published series of nine slime folio volumes devoted to specific locations, the pasted-in prints accompanied by descriptive letterpress by several different authors.

Tripe had envisaged a wider and more ambitious photographic project, which as well as architecture would encompass ‘customs, dress, occupations … arms, implements, and musical instruments’ and, where appropriate, ‘picturesque’ subjects. But his employment as Presidency Photographer coincided with the economies imposed in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857–58. In mid-1859 Sir Charles Trevelyan, recently appointed Governor of Madras, shocked by the expense of such large-scale photographic production, ordered an immediate end to Tripe’s activities, declaring them ‘an article of high luxury which is unsuited to the present state of our finances.’ By the spring of his 1860 his establishment had been wound up and his staff and equipment dispersed.

Linnaeus Tripe, Trimul Naik’s Choultry, side verandah from the west, Madurai, 1858. British Library, Photo 953/2(2).
Linnaeus Tripe, Trimul Naik’s Choultry, side verandah from the west, Madurai, 1858. British Library, Photo 953/2(2).  noc

The abrupt termination of his appointment, coming at a moment he considered merely the start of his photographic ambitions in India, must have been a bitter blow to Tripe. In response he appears to have abandoned photography entirely, apart from a minor series of views taken in Burma in the early 1870s. But in a photographic career effectively lasting little more than five years, Tripe had created a body of photographs that is now recognised as among the finest architectural work produced in the course of the 19th century. His interpretation of architectural form, revealed in a characteristic use of long receding perspectives and a sometimes near-abstract balancing of light and shade, was accompanied by a rare mastery of the paper negative process. His care in printing has meant that many of his images survive in near pristine condition and allow the modern viewer to appreciate the full beauty of 19th-century photography. Tripe’s original negatives also survive at the National Media Museum in Bradford (two examples are shown in the present exhibition) and detailed accounts of Tripe’s activities in India can be found in the Madras Proceedings of the India Office Records at the British Library. All these sources have been assiduously mined in the production of the exhibition and in Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot’s handsomely printed catalogue, which together give full if belated recognition to the sophisticated artistry of a major figure in photographic history.


Further Reading

Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot, Captain Linnaeus Tripe. Photographer of India and Burma, 1852–1860 (Washington: 2014)

Henry Yule, A narrative of the mission sent by the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855; with notices of the country, government and people (London: 1858)

Janet Dewan, The photographs of Linnaeus Tripe : a catalogue raisonné (Toronto: 2003)

John Falconer, India: pioneering photographers 1850–1900 (London: 2001)

The majority of Colesworthy Grant’s watercolours of Burma and Tripe’s photographs of Burma and India can be seen online at

John Falconer, Lead Curator, Visual Arts  ccownwork


19 June 2015

28 Buddhas

In Theravada Buddhism, 'Buddha' refers to one who has become enlightened through their own efforts and insight. A Buddha is someone who has realized the enlightenment that ends the cycle of birth and death and which brings liberation from suffering. In the Pali canon, it is stated that Buddhas have appeared in the past and will also appear in the future. There were also numerous enlightened Buddhas who arose in earlier world-cycles and who preached the very same Dhamma that gives deliverance from suffering and death to all mature beings. The names of these 28 Buddhas are religiously preserved by Buddhists, together with their age, their stature, the names of the trees under which they obtained Enlightenment, their country, and the names of their father and mother. They all have two chief disciples to assist them in their mission. Every Buddha has always obtained the supreme intelligence under the shadow of a certain tree.

These 28 Buddhas are: Taṇhaṅkara Buddha, Medhaṅkara Buddha, Saraṇkara Buddha, Dīpankara Buddha, Koṇdañña Buddha, Maṅgala Buddha, Sumana Buddha, Revata Buddha, Sobhita Buddha, Anomadassi Buddha, Paduma Buddha, Nārada Buddha, Padumuttara Buddha, Sumedha Buddha, Sujāta Buddha, Piyadassi Buddha, Atthadassi Buddha, Dhammadassī Buddha, Siddhattha Buddha, Tissa Buddha, Phussa Buddha, Vipassī Buddha, Sikhī Buddha, Vessabhū Buddha, Kakusandha Buddha, Koṇāgamana Buddha, Kassapa Buddha, ending with Gautama Buddha. Presented below are illustrations of some of these 28 Buddhas from Burmese manuscripts.

Taṇhaṅkara Buddha attained Enlightenment under a Rukkaththana tree. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 1.  noc

The Buddha lineage begins with a Buddha called Taṇhaṅkara. Taṇhaṅkara Buddha was born as a son of King Sunandha and Queen Sunandha in the city of Puppavadī. He attained Enlightenment under a Rukkaththana tree. Taṇhaṅkara Buddha, Medhaṅkara Buddha, Saraṇkara Buddha and Dīpankara Buddha were born in the same aeon (kalpa).

Dīpaṅkara Buddha attained Enlightenment under a Pipphali tree. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 4.
Dīpaṅkara Buddha attained Enlightenment under a Pipphali tree. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 4.  noc

Dīpaṅkara Buddha was born as a son of King Sudeva and Queen Sumedhā in the city of Rāmāvatī. Prince Dīpaṅkara married princess Paduma and had a son named Usabhakkhandā. He attained Enlightenment under a Pipphali tree. He preached his first sermon at Nandarāma at Sirighara. Sumaṅgala and Tissa were his chief disciples. He gave niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood) to the Ascetic Sumedha.  

Sumedha receiving  niyatha vivarana from the Dipankara Buddha, British Library, Mss Burmese 202, f.1
Sumedha receiving  niyatha vivarana from the Dipankara Buddha, British Library, Mss Burmese 202, f.1.  noc

Bodhisitta Sumedha was born as a son to a Brahmin family in the city of Amaravati. After the death of his parents he thought about how his parents were not able to take their wealth with them beyond death. Therefore Sumedha gave away his wealth in alms in order to obtain the merit of the deeds, which could follow him after death. Then he went to the forest to become a hermit to seek merit. When Dipankara Buddha (a Buddha who had reached enlightenment aeons before Gautama, the historical Buddha) followed by His disciples came to the city of Ramma, people were cleaning the road on which he would walk. Sumeda took responsibility for one part of the muddy road, but he was unable to finish the work by the time the Buddha arrived, and the road was still full of mud. He therefore laid himself down on the road for the Buddha to walk upon. Dīpankara Buddha foretold that Sumedha would become a Buddha named Gautama in the ages of the future.  

After Dīpankara, Koṇdañña was born. The kalpas (aeons) that passed between the time of Dīpankara and Koṇdañña were countless. Buddhas Maṅgala, Sumana, Revata and Sobhita were  born in the same kalpa.  Anomadassi, Paduma, Nārada were born in the same kalpa. The kalpas which passed between Nārada and Padumuttara were also countless. Sumedha, Sujāta, Piyadassi, Atthadassi and Dhammadassī were born in the same kalpa. After Dhammadassī, Siddhattha, Tissa, Phussa,Vipassī, Sikhī and Vessabhū were born.

Gautama Buddha’s predecessors in the present world-cycle were Kakusandha, Koṇāgamana and Kassapa. These four Buddhas have already performed their great task. According to Buddhist scripture, Metteyya will be a successor of Gautama who will appear on Earth, attain enlightenment, and teach Dhamma.

Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment under a Peepal Bodhi tree, British Library, Or. 14823, f. 26.
Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment under a Peepal Bodhi tree, British Library, Or. 14823, f. 26.  noc

Gautama Buddha is the fourth and current Buddha of the present kalpa. He was born as a son of King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya in the city of Kapilavatthu. Prince Siddhatta Gautama married princess Yasodhayā and had a son named Rāhula. Prince Siddhatta finally arose fully enlightened as Gautama Buddha under the shade of the Peepal Bodhi tree which grew up spontaneously at the very moment he was born. Kolita and Upatissa were his chief disciples to assist him in his mission. He delivered his first sermon Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta in a deer park at Benares. The Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching Dhamma (the path of righteousness). His teaching was quite practical, as he never taught what he himself had not seen and known. In his eightieth year when he was in Kusinara, he had a severe attack of dysentery. Buddha consoled Ananda who was weeping, and then called his disciples together and addressed them to work on their salvation with diligence. Then he entered Parinirvana, from which there is no return.

All these 28 Buddhas were born into royal families or rich Brahmin families. When they had seen the four signs - an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic - they renounced worldly life and left home. They engaged in meditation on mindfulness until they attained Enlightenment. At the request of God Brahma, they preached their first sermon to those who followed them.

The auspicious ceremony of Buddha Puja is held to pay homage to the 28 Buddhas who were enlightened and who taught Dhamma in different times. This practice is to remind Buddhists to strengthen their devotion, and many Buddhists also pay homage to the future Buddha, Metteyya.

Further reading:
The minor anthologies of the Pali Canon: Buddhavamsa and Cariyā-Piṭaka, translated by Bimala Churn Law. London: Oxford University Press, 1938.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  ccownwork

16 June 2015

The archaeology of a manuscript: the Khamsah of Khvaju Kirmani

For an art historian, one of the most exciting things in working with manuscripts is having the opportunity to examine a masterpiece firsthand. High-quality digital reproduction tells us much, and it is to the credit of the BL that they have digitized so many of their masterpieces, including one that I have been working on: ms. Add. 18113, a copy of three poems by Khvaju Kirmani penned by Mir Ali b. Ilyas in 796/1396. (See Ursula Sims-William’s post of 1 August 2013 “An illustrated 14th century Khamsah by Khvaju Kirmani")

But examining the physical manuscript can tell us more. For that reason I was especially grateful that Ursula Sims-Williams, Curator of Iranian Collections, arranged for three of us—my husband Jonathan Bloom, a specialist in Islamic paper; Cheryl Porter, a conservator specializing in pigments; and me—to examine the manuscript firsthand in the conservation laboratory.

01 BL viewing
Fig. 1. Cheryl Porter, Sheila Blair and Ursula Sims-Williams examining the Khvaju Kirmani manuscript in the British Library. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

More than 600 years old, the manuscript still holds many secrets. The mystery I wanted to investigate was how the paintings were combined with the text. I hoped to confirm some hypotheses I had broached in my recent book, Text and Image in Medieval Persian Art (Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

All of the folios in the manuscript are composite, that is, they are assembled with two different sheets of paper: a thinner white paper in the center and a heavier buff paper for the frame. This is clear even when looking at the manuscript on-line (Add.18113). But looking at the folios through transmitted light shows that these pages were assembled in two different ways. The simplest method, used for all text folios, was simply to insert the rectangular block with the four columns of text into the frame like a window. Hence, I called them framed folios.

02 folio 49
Fig.2. Folio 49 seen through transmitted light: a framed folio with the colophon to
Humay and Humayun on the front side and a blank back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

This straightforward method was also used for to assemble one illustrated folio: folio 64, with the painting of ʿAli slaying the infidel on the back.

03 folio 64
Fig. 3. Folio 64 seen through transmitted light: a framed folio with text on the front and
ʿAli slays the infidel on the back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

The painting occupied the same space as the columns of text, so it was easy just to use the same method of inserting a rectangular block into the frame. 

But the other eight illustrations in the manuscript are different. They are much bigger, spreading well beyond the written surface on the other side. So it was impossible just to assemble them by inserting them like a window into a frame. How were they combined with the border? The reason it was important to know is that it has been suggested that the paintings, or at least some of them, had been made for a different manuscript and were pasted into the text. 

I disagree. I think that the text and the paintings are integral in this manuscript, and our recent investigations confirmed what I had originally suggested: that the paintings were executed directly onto the same white paper used for copying the text and that at a later date—when someone decided to reframe the manuscript within heavier buff borders—the illustrated folios were simply pasted onto (not inserted into) the borders. I called these laminated folios.

I had made this suggestion following my earlier examination of the manuscript in 2011 with BL conservator David Jacobs. Looking at the illustrated folios such as folio 45 with the painting of the Celebrations for the consummation of Humay’s marriage to Humayun under strong transmitted light showed three areas of different opacity: a lighter area in the center, the buff frame visible at the outermost edge, and a third even darker area between the two.

04 folio 45
Fig. 4. Folio 45 seen through transmitted light: a laminated folio with text on the front and Celebrations for the consummation of Humay’s marriage to Humayun on the back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

I suggested that the third area was darker because it was thicker, as it was a laminate of the original white paper and the buff frame.

David Jacobs suggested that I might be able to confirm my suggestion by measuring the folios with a micrometer, and that is exactly what Ursula Sims-Williams arranged for us to do. We measured several different folios in several different places and found three different thicknesses on illustrated folios that had the paintings laminated to the frame.

The white paper in the center was the thinnest. Regular text folios averaged 0.12 mm, although individual measurements varied from 0.11 to 0.16 mm, undoubtedly due to variations in the handmade paper and the difficulties in measuring a folio that was still in a bound manuscript. 

The white paper in the illustrated folios was a little thicker because one side also had paint, not just inked text.  For example, we measured folio 23 with Humay and Humayun in combat in several places in the center of the painting where there was text on the other side: under the trees, beneath the horses, and between the horses.

05 folio 23 (1)
Fig. 5. Folio 23 seen through transmitted light, with
Humay and Humayun in combat on the front and text on the back. Photograph © Jonathan Bloom

The average thickness of the white paper was 0.145 mm, although the three measurements varied from 0.135 to 0.15 mm.  On average, then, the paint added 0.25 mm to the thickness of the paper.

The buff paper used for the frame was thicker. On both text and illustrated folios, it averaged 0.18 mm, with individual measurements ranging between 0.15 and 0.22 mm. 

But the thickest of all was the third zone where the white sheet with the illustration had been laminated onto the buff frame.  Again we measured folio 23 with Humay and Humayun in combat in three places: at the top, middle, and bottom. The average thickness in this third zone was 0.23 mm, with individual measurements ranging from 0.22 to 0.24 mm. The margin with the gold leaf was even thicker: 0.26 mm, with individual measurements ranging from 0.25 to 0.27 mm.

Measuring with a micrometer thus confirmed my hypothesis that the paintings were integral with the original manuscript and that the large ones on the original white paper had later been laminated onto a heavier buff frame. 

Such a hypothesis about the origin of the illustrations can also be confirmed by looking at the layout of the paintings on the laminated folios through transmitted light, for the composition is directly related to the columnar rulings set out for the text on the other side. This is especially true of the architectural scenes. For example, looking at folio 45 through transmitted light (fig. 4) shows that the architecture corresponds exactly to the text columns. Humayun’s palace with its curtained canopy occupies three columns; the doorway with the servant occupies the fourth; and Humay’s palace lies beyond the written area. The dimensions correspond horizontally as well. The valance above the curtain in Humayun’s palace marks the top of the written area on the front. The carpet below the enthroned princess marks the bottom of the written area. Paintings like this one must have been composed directly on the surface of the ruled folio, because the painter, in this case Junayd who signed his work in the stucco grille just above the valance, laid out his composition directly in accordance with the ruled text.

There is no question, therefore, that close first-hand examination of the manuscript shows that the text and paintings in this superb copy of Khvaju Kirmani’s poems dated 796/1396 are contemporary and that the illustrations were painted onto folios that had already had the text transcribed onto them. I thank the staff of the British Library for making it possible for me to confirm my hypothesis.

Sheila S. Blair, Norma Jean Calderwood University Professor of Islamic and Asian Art, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA



11 June 2015

Tipu Sultan’s dream book (IO Islamic 3563)

One of the most intriguing items in the British Library Persian manuscripts collection is a small unexceptional looking volume which contains a personal record, written in his own hand, of 37 dreams of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799).

Portrait of Tipu Sultan, 1792, by an unnamed south Indian artist (British Library F28)

The manuscript was presented to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in 1800 by Alexander Beatson on behalf of the Governor-General, Marquess Wellesley, after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799. The story of its discovery is recorded in Beatson’s signed and dated note at the end of the volume:

This register of the Sultaun’s dreams was discovered by Colonel William Kirkpatrick, amongst other papers of a secret nature in an escritoire found in the Palace of Seringapatam. Hubbeeb Oollah, one of the most confidential of the Sultaun’s servants, was present at the time it was discovered. He knew that there was such a book of the Sultaun’s composition; but had never seen it, as the Sultaun always manifested peculiar anxiety to conceal it from the view of any who happened to approach while he was either reading or writing in it.

Beatsons note
“Tippoo Sultaun’s Dreams in his own handwriting, presented in the name of The Marquis Wellesley to Hugh Inglis Esqr. Chairman of the Court of Directors, by Major Alexander Beatson, late aid de camp to the Governor General” (British Library IO Islamic 3563, f. 29v)

The journal contains altogether 37 dreams dating from between April 1786 and January 1799, just a few months before Tipu Sultan's death.  They occupy the first 16 leaves of the volume and are followed by 166 blank folios, with the final part of the volume taken up with related memoranda. The dreams were written perhaps hurriedly in what H. Ethé (no 3001 in his printed catalogue) describes as “a fearful Shikasta”, and contain numerous spelling errors, confusing, for example, the letters  ذ  with ز ,  and س  with ص etc. Only a few of the dreams are described as having been written down on waking. Most were recorded afterwards and they are not all in chronological order. This arrangement suggests that the notebook was intended as an ongoing project containing a selection of Tipu’s most significant dreams, starting, perhaps, around 1795 (Brittlebank 2011, p 167). The dreams are dated according to Tipu’s own lunisolar calendrical system which used new month and year names based first on abjad and then on abtath values. The era, termed mawludi, was calculated from a date which was presumed to be the date of the Prophet's spiritual birth, 13 years earlier than the hijra. Another innovation was to write the numbers from right to left -  logical, however, in a script which reads the same way!

The dreams cover a wide variety of topics but the majority reflect Tipu’s preoccupations with his enemies. Some are seen as indicating success and victory. Others relay encounters with the Prophet, his son-in-law ʻAli and important religious and literary figures such as Saʻdi and Jami whose presence may be seen as a legitimising force.

Considering the importance of divination and predicting the future in pre-modern Islam, the existence of this journal is entirely consistent with Tipu’s particular interest in the interpretation of dreams and bibliomancy. It has sometimes been regarded as something of an esoteric oddity but should be viewed, rather, as a serious attempt to make sense of events in a historical context.

A selection of Tipu’s dreams follows:

Dream 12: The message
This dream dates from 1786 during the Maratha-Mysore war (1785-1787) when the Marathas, who had established a military alliance with the Nizam of Hyderabad, sought to recover territories they had lost in previous conflicts.

F6v_dream 12
Dream 12: A message from the Prophet via Hazrat ʻAli (British Library IO Islamic 3563, f. 6v)

Translation (Husain, pp. 61-2)

On the 21st of the month Haidari [month 6], of the year Busd in accordance with the Zar evaluation [ie. the new abtath system], the fortieth year of the cycle [ie. September. 1786[1]], at the place where I had halted, on the farther side of the Tungabhadra, I had this dream: It appeared to me as if it was the Day of Judgement when no one would be interested in anyone else. At that time a stranger of great strength and commanding stature with a bright face and red beard and moustaches came to me and taking my hand in his, said to me : “Do you know who I am?” I told him I did not. He then said to me, “I am Murtaza Ali and the Messenger of God has said and is still repeating it that he would not set his foot in paradise without you and would wait for you and enter the paradise with you.” I felt so happy and woke up. God is all powerful, and the Messenger is the intercessor. This suffices.

Dream 13: A woman in man’s dress
Tipu had crossed the Tungabhadra river in August 1786, and on October 1st made a surprise attack with only 300 men on the Maratha camp under general Haripant Phadke. The next day the Marathas were forced to retreat (Muhibbul Hasan, pp. 112-5).

F7r_dream 13
Dream 13: A woman in mans’ clothes (British Library IO Islamic 3563, f. 7r)

Translation (Husain, pp. 63-4)

Prior to the night attack upon the Marhattas at Shahnur by the side of Devgiri, on the 6th of the month Khusrawi [7th month], of the year Busd [yr. 40, i.e. October 1786], I had a dream: It seemed to me as if a handsome young man, a stranger, came and sat down near me. I passed certain remarks in the manner in which one might, in a playful mood, talk to a woman. I then said to myself: “It is not my custom to enter into playful discourse with anyone.” Shortly thereafter, the youth rose, and walking a few paces, returned to loosen his hair from beneath his turban, and opening the fastenings of his robe, displayed his bosom, and I saw it was a woman. I immediately called and seated her and said to her: “Whereas formerly I had only guessed you were a woman, and I had cut jokes with you, it is now definite that you are a woman in the dress of a man. My conjecture has come true.” In the midst of this conversation the morning dawned, and I woke up. I conveyed the contents of the dream to other people and interpreted it thus: That please God those Marhattas have put on the clothes of men, but in fact will prove to be women. By the favour of God and the aid of His Messenger, on the 8th of the month and the year above mentioned, on the morning of Saturday, I made a surprise attack upon the army of the unbelievers. Advancing with two or three hundred men, I myself penetrated the camp of the unbelievers, crushing them as I went, as far as the tent of Hari Pant Pharkiah, and they all fled like women.

Dream 26: The expulsion of the English
The Third Anglo–Mysore War ended in 1792 with the Treaty of Seringapatam, and left Tipu Sultan attempting to rebuild his empire. Although they had not been much help to him, Tipu continued to look on the French as allies and was no doubt encouraged by their increasingly hostile anti-British and pro-invasion policies from 1796 onwards.

Dream 26: The expulsion of the English (British Library IO Islamic 3563, f. 12r)

Translation (Husain, p. 84)

On the 3rd of the month Razi [month 11], corresponding to the 1st of the month of Shaʻban, 1224 [January 1797], from the birth of Muhammad, on Monday, the night of Tuesday, at the metropolis, in the early hours of the morning, I had a dream: Raghunath Rao, the Marhatta agent, who had been to me before, appeared before me and said, “The English have suffered a crushing defeat in Europe and are now on the verge of leaving Bengal voluntarily.” On hearing his statement, I said, “That is fine, I will despatch troops as well as money; if God wills, the Nazarenes shall be expelled from India.”

Further reading

Mahmud Husain, The Dreams of Tipu Sultan: translated from the original Persian with an introduction and notes. Karachi, [1957].
Beatson, A., A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under command of Lieutenant-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam. London, 1800
Mohibbul Hasan Khan, History of Tipu Sultan. Delhi, 1951
Kirkpatrick, W., Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Public Functionaries ... London, 1811, especially his notes on the calendar and Mauludi era, pp.xxvi-xxxvii
Brittlebank, Kate, “Among the Unbelievers: Non-Muslim Elements in Tipu Sultan's Dreams”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 33:1 (2010), pp 75-86.
–––   “Accessing the Unseen Realm: The Historical and Textual Contexts of Tipu Sultan's Dream Register”,  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 21:2 (2011), pp 159-75.
Hossein Ziai, “Dreams and dream interpretation: ii. In the Persian tradition”, in Encyclopædia Iranica online.
Nidhin George Olikara, “Dawn of a new Era: Tipu Sultan and his Mauludi Calendar”, in his blog The Seringapatam Times.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies

[1] Kate Brittlebank (Brittlebank 2011, p. 168) dates this dream to 18 November 1786, after dream 12, presumably because Haidari was originally the 8th month in the year. However according to Tipu's new evaluation (zar) based on abtath numerals, Haidari became the 6th month, so this dream, dated in the 6th month (Haidari) of the 40th year (Busd), would have taken place in September 1786.

08 June 2015

Introducing LibCrowds: a crowdsourcing platform aimed at enhancing access to British Library collections

Today we launch LibCrowds, a platform dedicated to the hosting of experimental crowdsourcing projects aimed at enhancing access to British Library collections.

The home page of LibCrowds

Our first project series, Convert-a-Card, is dedicated to the retro-conversion of printed card catalogues into electronic records, in order to make them available to a worldwide audience via our ExploreBL catalogue, which already includes nearly 57 million records.

The initial focus of Convert-a-Card is the Asian and African collections, and the catalogues involved are from the Chinese and the Indonesian collections.

The Chinese collections at the British Library contain more than 100,000 printed books and 2,500 periodical titles, some dating back to the founding of the British Museum in 1753. The Indonesian card catalogue documents nearly 4,000 printed books published before 1982, ranging from rare missionary works printed in Bengkulu, Ambon and Batavia in the early 19th century, to first editions of some of the most important works of modern Indonesian literature.

A catalogue drawer in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room (photo ©Jon Ellis)


Example of a Chinese card catalogue, with Chinese characters and pinyin transliteration.

Records matched, located, transcribed or translated as part of Convert-a-Card will be uploaded to the British Library's Explore catalogue for anyone to search online. The platform has been developed in association with BL Labs, an initiative that invites researchers and developers experiment with the British Library’s physical and digital collections. All datasets generated via projects hosted on the platform, as well as the image sets used within projects, will be available for download via LibCrowds.

Click here for our video guide to Convert-a-Card.

Get started here!

For more information, visit the LibCrowds Community, or email



Sara Chiesura, Annabel Gallop, Alex Mendes, Nora Mc Gregor


05 June 2015

British Library loans to Sultans of Deccan exhibition in New York

A superlative exhibition Sultans of Deccan India opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in April with an important accompanying catalogue (Haidar and Sardar 2015).  The arts of the Deccan (upland peninsular India) are among the rarest survivals from Muslim India and the exhibition concentrated on its greatest period, namely 1500-1700, so that the quality of the exhibits was uniformly high.  The three major sultanates emerged from the earlier Bahmanid kingdom around 1490 and survived until conquered by the Mughals in the 17th century, when most of their paintings and manuscripts seem to have perished. The British Library has an outstanding collection of this rare material and several of the key pieces from it were lent to the exhibition.

Chief among them perhaps is that rarest of all survivals, an illustrated Deccani manuscript from the 16th century (Add. 16880).  This is the Pem-nem, a Sufi romance in Dakhni Urdu written by Hasan Manju Khalji under the pen name of Hans, and dedicated to that great patron of the arts, Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II of Bijapur (r. 1580-1627) in 999/1590-91 (an unfortunate typo in the New York catalogue (no. 29) gives the date as 990/1590-91).   This seems to be both the autograph and the only known copy of the text.   Three campaigns of illustration can be discerned in the manuscript in three varying styles over perhaps a period of 20 years.

Shahji wanders in search of his beloved Mahji, whose image is ingrained on his heart.  Hand A, Bijapur 1591.  British Library, Add. 16880, f.49v.
Shahji wanders in search of his beloved Mahji, whose image is ingrained on his heart.  Hand A, Bijapur 1591.  British Library, Add. 16880, f.49v.  noc

The story concerns Prince Shahji of Kuldip and his love for Mahji, a princess from Sangaldip, a love so ingrained in the prince that in a striking visual metaphor the beloved’s portrait is always present painted on his heart.

Shahji weeps streams of tears on realising that Mahji is only a reflection of the image in his heart. Hand B, Bijapur c. 1610.  British Library, Add. 16880, f.90v.
Shahji weeps streams of tears on realising that Mahji is only a reflection of the image in his heart. Hand B, Bijapur c. 1610.  British Library, Add. 16880, f.90v.  noc

Having found his beloved, he believes that she is only a reflection of the ideal image that he has borne on his heart and he rejects her.

Flames of unrequited passion arise from Mahji  as she mourns for her lost beloved.  Hand C, Bijapur c. 1600.   British Library, Add. 16880, f.138.
Flames of unrequited passion arise from Mahji  as she mourns for her lost beloved.  Hand C, Bijapur c. 1600.   British Library, Add. 16880, f.138.  noc

They separate each to a year of mourning and reflection, but eventually Shahji comes to realise that she is the true beloved not an idealised image and the two are reunited in wedlock.

Shahi lifts Mahji into the bridal palanquin.  Hand A, Bijapur 1591.   British Library, Add. 16880, f.213v.
Shahi lifts Mahji into the bridal palanquin.  Hand A, Bijapur 1591.   British Library, Add. 16880, f.213v.  noc

A full account of the story and its meaning along with illustrations of all the miniatures is given in a paper by Deborah Hutton (2011).  The tale is typical of the Prem kahani variety of Indian Sufi literature in being a metaphorical account of the search of the adept for God and in this instance not realising it when he has found it.

A royal picnic possibly of Burhan II Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar (r. 1591-95).  Ahmadnagar, 1590-95.  British Library, Add.Or.3004
A royal picnic possibly of Burhan II Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar (r. 1591-95).  Ahmadnagar, 1590-95.  British Library, Add.Or.3004  noc

Among the greatest rarities of Deccani art are drawings or paintings from the third of the successor states to the Bahmanid kingdom, that of Ahmadnagar.  The British Library is fortunate in possessing a masterful drawing of an enthroned ruler in a garden enjoying an al fresco picnic (Add.Or.3004, Haidar and Sarkar no. 17).  The sultan is gazing fixedly at the musicians to his right, while abstractedly accepting pan from one of his pages.  Others listen to the music or supervise the preparation of food and wine.  The hawk and the bow seem more pictorial accessories than employed on a hunting expedition, suggesting perhaps the drawing is a study of different groupings rather than a finished composition.  The central grouping of the ruler and the page is closely linked to the great contemporary painting in the Bibliothèque Nationale showing an Ahmadnagar ruler again possibly Burhan II being offered pan by a page (ibid., no. 14).  This artist’s technique is wonderfully fluent in his calligraphic, expressive lines and his use of stippling and shading.  Influence from Mughal art has been suggested as a key element in his style, perhaps when Burhan was a refugee at the Mughal court from 1585.   The influence however comes from the early Akbari style of the early portraits and the Hamzanama (in train 1564-77).  More remarkable still are the pronounced Hindu elements of the style such as the vestiges of the projecting further eye of mediaeval Indian painting, the eyelashes protruding into space, the continued use of the Hindu full-profile portraiture tradition and the totally Hindu pose of the Sultan whose legs are arranged on his throne in the classic padmasana posture.   All of this suggests an artist tradition plucked from Vijayanagar after the fall of that Hindu empire to the combined Deccan sultans in 1564.
A Mullah.  Bijapur, c. 1610.  British Library, J.25, 14.
A Mullah.  Bijapur, c. 1610.  British Library, J.25, 14.  noc

More paintings survive from Bijapur at this time than from Ahmadnagar and Golconda, all commissioned under the cultured rule of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah.  One of his major artists, his name unknown, was a superlative portraitist.  He was responsible for another of the Library’s loans to New York, a portrait of a mullah wearing a distinctive turban wrapped round a red cap and an undyed shawl over this shoulders (ibid., no. 41).  The mullah’s upright bearing, staff and book seem the very embodiments of rigid orthodoxy but his keen and engaged gaze suggests an intelligent and enquiring mind.   He would have needed it in Ibrahim’s court, as the Sultan’s writings and images indicate an open mind towards Hinduism being devoted to Sarasvati, the goddess of music and learning.   The sternness of the portrait is relieved by the delightful touches of magical, all blue irises rising near his feet and two partridges busy hunting for food.

The colophon pages of a Qasida written by Mullah Nusrati in praise of ‘Abdallah Qutb Shah of Golconda (r. 1626-72).  Calligraphy by the son of Naqi al-Din Husaini.  Bijapur,  mid-17th century.  British Library, Or. 13533, ff. 28v, 29
The colophon pages of a Qasida written by Mullah Nusrati in praise of ‘Abdallah Qutb Shah of Golconda (r. 1626-72).  Calligraphy by the son of Naqi al-Din Husaini.  Bijapur,  mid-17th century.  British Library, Or. 13533, ff. 28v, 29  noc

Finally also lent to New York were four folios of a spectacularly illuminated manuscript (Or. 13533, ibid., no. 61) of a qasida or panaegyric by Mullah Nusrati, the court poet of Bijapur under Sultan ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah II (r. 1656-72).  The qasida is in praise of Sultan ‘Abdallah Qutb Shah of Golconda (r. 1626-72).  Although Bijapur and Golconda were often inimically disposed towards each other, amity descended for a while after the marriage in 1633 of the Golconda Sultan’s sister, Khadija Sultana, to Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur (r. 1627-56), and this apparently early work of Nusrati may reflect this state of affairs.  Every page is elegantly calligraphed by ‘Ali ibn Naqi al-Din Husaini against a gold ground and illuminated with cartouches, lozenges or boldly drawn flowers in brilliant colours in the typically Deccani palette of chocolate, lilac, pink and green.   Naqi al-Din was the famous calligrapher whose name is signed several times on the Ibrahim Rauza, the exquisite tomb of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah built ca. 1627-35.

Further reading:
Haidar, N., and Sardar, M., Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700s: Opulence and Fantasy, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2015

Hutton, D., ‘The Pem-Nem:  a Sixteenth-Century Illustrated Romance from Bijapur’ in Haidar, N., and Sardar, M., eds., Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts, 1323-1687, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2011, pp. 44-63

Additional blogs of interest:
Rare portrait of Iklas Khan, the African Prime Minister of Bijapur, acquired by the British Library

An Album of Maratha and Deccani Paintings


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

01 June 2015

Japan Times Archives Online – free trial

The British Library has arranged a free trial of the online version of the JapanTimes Archives covering the years 1897-2013 .  The trial, which runs until 11 July 2015, allows users onsite in British Library reading rooms at St Pancras and Boston Spa to search the database from BL computer terminals.

Founded in 1897 The Japan Times is Japan’s oldest extant English-language newspaper.  It was launched on 22 March of that year by Zumoto Motosada 頭本 元貞 (1862−1943) and Yamada Sueji 山田季治 (1848−1916) with the backing of the leading politician Itō Hirobumi 伊藤博文 and the support of educator Fukuzawa Yukichi 福沢諭吉.  The intention was to provide the Japanese public with news and discussion in English, with the aim of encouraging greater awareness of international affairs and also to explain Japan's position on global issues.  Several English newspapers had been published in Japan since the 1860s, including a previous Japan Times (1865-1870) but they had all been founded and run by Westerners and were aimed primarily at overseas residents in Japan.

The Japan Times has changed its name a number of times over the years and was successively renamed The Japan Times and Mail (1918–1940) following its merger with The Japan Mail, The Japan Times and Advertiser (1940–1943) following its merger with The Japan Advertiser, and Nippon Times (1943–1956) owing to anti-English language sentiment during World War II, before reverting to the Japan Times in 1956.

The Japan Times Archives allows full-text searching of issues from March 1897 to December 2013 giving access to a information on a wide variety of topics and will be of use to researchers in a broad range of disciplines.

The free trial also covers access to the online version of the Japan Times covering the period from 1999 to the most current issue.

Untitled copy

User feedback is welcomed and will be used to determine the business case for taking out a subscription to this electronic resource. Please contact me by email ( with your views.

Link to online version (onsite access  only)


Hamish Todd, East Asian Collections