A Mughal Shahnamah
In a recent post I wrote about some of our loans to the exhibition The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination in Delhi. These included our Mughal illustrated Shāhnāmah (Add.5600). A direct benefit of participating in exhibitions such as this is that we have now been able to digitise it and make it available on our website.
The heroes Gīv and Pīrān bring Kay Khusraw from Turan to Iran to be crowned king. Artist: Shamāl (British Library Add.5600. f. 139v)
This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.
Rustam, glass in hand, prepares to eat a wild ass alfresco while Bahman contemplates killing him with a giant boulder. Artist: Banvārī (British Library Add.5600, f. 320v)
In his Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: 263-73, John Seyller expands Jerry Losty's view (Art of the Book: 122-3) that the paintings were added for the great statesman and patron ʻAbd al-Raḥīm Khān Khānān (1556-1627). The artists Qāsim and Kamāl are known to have worked for him and one of the paintings, ascribed to the artist Shamāl (f. 274r), is dated 1025 (1616/17) which places the Shāhnāmah in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's studio at that time. The volume, Seyller suggests, was probably incomplete when ʻAbd al-Raḥīm acquired it. Thirty-five of the paintings were added directly to blank painting areas, leaving four completely empty (for example f. 446v). Some folios were replacements for missing ones. The remaining 55 original illustrations were covered with paper which was then painted over. Occasionally the original painting is visible from the other side, as in folio 338 illustrated below, or round the edges of the new paintings.
Right: folio 338v showing the dying Rustam, impaled in a pit of spears, shooting Shaghad through the tree trunk. Left: folio 338r, the other side of the same leaf showing visible traces of over-painted branches of a tree (British Library Add.5600, f. 338)
The artists of the Shāhnāmah
The 90 paintings are the work of seven named artists listed below. Follow the hyperlinks to go directly to the digital image. Details of the individual illustrations are available here.
An illustrious past
Lack of ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's name in Add.5600 means we can only deduce his connection from other evidence, but luckily we have a bit more concrete information about what happened after it left his studio. The details, however, are far from certain and allow plenty of scope for future research!
The first piece of tangible evidence occurs in inscription A below, which records that the manuscript was given in 1625 to Muʻtaqid Khān who had been awarded this title by Jahāngīr when he was made chief huntsman (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668-72). After Jahāngīr’s death in 1627, Muʻtaqid Khān was promoted to Ilāhvirdī Khān by Shāh Jahān as a reward for his loyalty at the time of succession. This explains inscription B written by Muʻtaqid, now Ilāhvirdī Khān (or Chelah as his name is in the inscription), which confirms that the Shāhnāmah had been a gift from Jahāngīr which he was now presenting to his brother Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd1. The inscription is dated on the first of the month of Āzar, regnal year 8. Both John Seyller (“Workshop and Patron”: 264) and Jerry Losty (Art of the Book: 122-3) have interpreted this date as referring to the eighth year of Jahāngīr’s reign (November 1613) which is problematic. If the manuscript was presented to Ilāhvirdī Khān in 1613, then how could it have been in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm’s studio when the artist Shamāl completed his painting in 1616? Bearing in mind that inscriptions A and B presumably refer to the same person, the later inscription B, written after Jahāngīr's death, is surely more likely to indicate a date in Shāh Jahān’s reign equivalent to November 16352 referring to the time when Ilāhvirdī presented the book to Muḥammad Rashīd.
Portrait of Ilāhvirdī Khān (d. 1659), identified in a Persian inscription, c. 1680 (Johnson Album 64, 2)
Inscription C is unfortunately undated but records that the manuscript passed from Muḥammad Rashīd, Ilāhvirdī's brother, to his son Muḥammad ʻĀrif. It is accompanied by his seal.
Several others are mentioned in later inscriptions and seals, but Khān Jahān Bahādur, mentioned in inscription D can perhaps be identified with Aurangzeb's military commander Khān Jahān Bahādur Ẓafar Jang Kokaltāsh who was awarded the title Khān Jahān Bahādur in regnal year 16 (1672/73). The seal associated with this inscription is dated 1101 (1689/90). Khān Jahān Bahādur became Governor of the Punjab in regnal year 34 (1690/91) and remained there until summoned to court three years later. He died in 1697 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 1: 783-91).
The octagonal seal E on folio 1v is dated 1142? (1729/30) and belongs to Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur who was perhaps Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur Khvīshagī (d. 1743), a learned scholar and collector who was given the title Mutahhavar Khān after Aurangzebʼs death in 1707 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 2: 333-43).
The most recent owner was Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), famous for his grammar of Bengali, his support of Warren Hastings and also his promotion of the self-proclaimed prophet Richard Brothers. Halhed acquired a fine collection of oriental manuscripts mainly in Calcutta between 1776 and 1789 and sold them to the British Museum in 1795 and 1796 (Add.5569-5661).
Seals and Inscriptions3
Left: Add.5600, folio 2r; right: Add.5600, folio 1v
A (in gold): Ba-tārīkh-i hashtum-i māh-i Amurdād [ilāhī] sanah 20 julūs-i mubārak [...] [ba-m]uʻtamad Muʻtaqid Khān ʻināyat k[ardah]
Translation: On the 8th of the month Amurdād ilāhī year 20 of the blessed accession [of Jahāngīr] (August 1625) [this book] was given to the trusted Muʻtaqid Khān
B (the left hand margin recopied at the time of repairs and added in [ ]): Īn Shāhnāmah rā ḥuz̤ūr-i ghufrān panāh Jahāngīr [pādshāh] bah kamtarīn-i ghulāmān Ilāhvirdī Chelah ʻināyat farm[ūdah būdand] bah tārīkh-i ghurrah-i māh Āzar ilāhī sanah 8 chūn mulk-i [bandah būd] [ba-]barādar-i ʻazīz Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd guzarānīd[ah shud]
Translation: The late Jahāngīr pādshāh had given this Shāhnāmah to the least of his slaves, Ilāhvirdī Chelah. On the first of the month of Āzar ilāhī year 8 (of Shāh Jahān = November 1635), since it was mine (lit. the property of this slave), it was presented to [my] dear brother, Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd
C: Min mutamallakāt al-muḥtāj ilá raḥmat Allāh al-Malik al-Ḥamīd, Muḥammad ʻĀrif ibn Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd…
Translation: From the possessions of one who needs the mercy of God the king the praised one, Muḥammad ʻĀrif son of Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd ...
This is followed by a seal (undated): Dīn-i ʻĀrif ibn Muḥammad Rashīd yāftah bar fayz̤-i ilāhī kilīd
D: Min mutamallakāt-i Muḥammad ʻĀdil ibn Muḥammad Saʻīd bin Muḥammad Ḥasan tamannā-yi4 Navvāb Khān Jahān Bahādur ba-qaymat-i haftṣad rūpiyah dar Lāhūr kharīd namūdah shud.
Translation: From the property of Muḥammad ʻĀdil son of Muḥammad Saʻīd son of Muḥammad Ḥasan, purchased for 700 rupees at Lahore at the desire of Nawab Khān Jahān Bahādur.
This is followed by a seal: ʻĀdil hast ibn Saʻīd Khān 1101? (1689/90)
E: Octagonal seal: Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur 1142? (1729/30)
John Seyller, “Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Rāmāyaṇa and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ʻAbd al-Raḥīm”, Artibus Asiæ. Supplementum, 42 (1999): 263-73, 378.
J.P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982: 122-3.
J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire: Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012.
 Ilāhvirdī Khān is known to have had one brother, Mukhliṣ Khān (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668), but he may well have had others whom we don’t know about!
 The ilāhī era was in use for the first 10 years of Shāh Jahānʼs reign until 1638 (Stephen Blake, Time in Early Modern Islam, CUP 2013, p.131).
 I am grateful to my colleague Saqib Baburi for his help and patience with these inscriptions!
 I am grateful to John Seyller for this suggestion.