THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

9 posts from June 2018

28 June 2018

Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and Hindustani airs

This guest post by Katherine Butler Schofield introduces her recent talk at the British Library on Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and 'Hindustani airs', now available as a podcast “The Courtesan and the Memsahib: Khanum Jan meets Sophia Plowden at the Court of Lucknow”, and accompanied here by a collection of images forming a visual record. The podcast, produced by Chris Elcombe with music by harpsichordist Jane Chapman, is part of a series of presentations at the British Library in 2018 for Katherine’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship programme “Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India”.  Special thanks are due to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce the images below from MS 380, Mrs Plowden’s beautiful collection of North Indian song lyrics and tunes.

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Mrs Sophia Elizabeth Plowden in middle age (BL MSS Eur F127/100)  noc

Among the British Library’s extraordinary collection of materials relating to the history of Indian music in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries lie dozens of European accounts of the nautch—intimate musical parties at which troupes of high-status North Indian courtesans would sing, dance, recite poetry, and match wits with the assembled company, often to mark special occasions like marriages or festivals. In the late Mughal and early colonial period, nautch troupes were employed as enthusiastically by Europeans as by Indian gentlemen. This famous painting from the Library’s collections below shows a man who is almost certainly Sir David Ochterlony, early nineteenth-century British Resident to the Mughal emperor, being entertained by his own personal nautch troupe at his home in Delhi.

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David Ochterlony (1758–1825) watching a nautch. Delhi, 1820 (BL Add.Or.2)  noc

Published European travel writings from this period, by men and women, nearly all feature noteworthy encounters with North India’s famous “dancing girls”. But some of the most important materials on the nautch and its performers are to be found in the private papers of Europeans resident in India preserved in the collections of the India Office.

Of these, one set in particular stands out as unusual: the diary, letters, and other papers of an eighteenth-century Englishwoman—the memsahib of my title—Sophia Elizabeth Plowden. Sophia and her husband, the East India Company officer Richard Chicheley Plowden, were resident 1777–90 in Calcutta and the independent princely state of Lucknow under its ruler the Nawab Asafuddaula (r. 1775–97). The portrait of her in her papers, above, shows her as a respectable middle-aged matron of ten children, having returned to London and a genteel life in Harley Street. But in her younger days in India, in between having several babies Sophia spent a great deal of her time collecting and performing the Persian and Hindustani songs of nautch performers at the Lucknow court. One in particular captured her fascination—the celebrated Kashmiri courtesan Khanum Jan. Sophia wrote down Khanum’s songs and those of her companions in European notation; they were then turned into harmonised arrangements for the harpsichord, and published to great acclaim by William Hamilton Bird in Calcutta in 1789. For a while, these European-style salon pieces known as “Hindustani Airs” were all the rage in drawing rooms across the British Empire from Inverness to Singapore.

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The frontispiece and Air no. IV, “Sakia! fuſul beharuſt, by Chanam”, from William Hamilton Bird’s Oriental Miscellany. Published Calcutta, 1789 (BL RM.16.c.5)  noc

The European side of this story has been told before: it was in fact the British Library’s Ursula Sims-Williams who wrote the first lengthy piece on the Hindustani Airs phenomenon in 1981 for the India Office Library and Records Newsletter. Those who are interested can explore this angle further in books by Ian Woodfield, Music of the Raj, and Gerry Farrell, Indian Music and the West. Plowden’s harpsichord transcriptions and Bird’s arrangments squeezed the Indian originals firmly into European corsets, rendering Khanum’s songs ultimately impossible to recover. This has led to the obvious interpretation that they were instances of colonial violence to Indian culture. But recently I have been investigating a number of sources from the Indian side for this and similar musical engagements with Europeans in the late eighteenth century. These suggest that the episode was more complex, mutually enjoyable, and less morally certain.

At a time of heightened debate over the ethics of empire, it is important to keep in mind that sharing a moment of musical harmony was not why Plowden and her compatriots were in Lucknow. The British were there to pursue a colonial project designed to benefit themselves; and less than seventy years later in 1856, the East India Company would use the last Nawab of Lucknow’s attentions to exactly the same kind of music as their primary excuse to depose him—a major grievance that fed into the horrendous tragedy of the 1857 Indian Uprising. At the same time, viewing Plowden’s efforts from the perspective of the Indian musicians who engaged with her and others like her in the 1780s reveals the Hindustani Airs episode to have been a two-way affair of mutual curiosity and delight in musical minutiae— an open exploration of affinities and possibilities through trained bodily proficiencies, rather than a closing of ears to offensive differences. The wider historical ramifications of the mutually pleasurable liminal space of the nautch are thus ambiguous and unsettled.

The most important of the Indian sources for the Hindustani Airs are the loose-leaf folios of poetry in Persian, Urdu (then called rekhta), Punjabi, and other Indian languages that Sophia Plowden brought back with her from India alongide the tunes she wrote down from live nautch performances. These are held together as MS 380 in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and are an invaluable counterpart to her other papers in the British Library. Until recently, because of the exquisite illustrations garnishing each one, the loose-leaf folios were mischaracterised as a set of miniature paintings. But through painstaking detective work, I have identified them instead as the lyrics that go with the tunes. I have also managed to put about a quarter of them back together for the first time in over 200 years.

The question then is—is it possible to bring them back to life?
Sauda
Above: Urdu mukhammasKya kam kya dil ne” by Sauda (1713–81). Plowden Album f. 12.
Below: Tunebook f. 21v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

3B KyaKamMusic

Join me and harpsichordist Jane Chapman as we retell the story of the entangled lives of these two extraordinary women musicians, Khanum Jan and Sophia Plowden, in the “Courtesan and the Memsahib” podcast —of a world in which an Indian courtesan could be treated like a celebrity London opera singer and an Englishwoman made a Mughal Begum by none other than the Emperor Shah ‘Alam II himself. Throughout, we explore the question—philosophically and practically through our own musical experiments—of whether it is possible to reconstruct the songs of the Lucknow court as both Sophia and Khanum may have performed them in the 1780s.

The images in this blogpost accompany the podcast, and will help guide you in your journey with us to the underworld of the Indian musical past, as we seek to discover whether or not it is ever possible for Orpheus to bring Eurydice back from the dead. A larger version of the images is available by clicking on each individually.

4A LucknowCourtesan 4A LucknowCourtesan
Left: the dress of a Lucknow courtesan. Plowden Album f. 25, detail. Lucknow, 1787–8. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum
Right: Sophia’s letter to her sister Lucy describing in detail the dress made for her to appear as a courtesan in a Calcutta masquerade. Calcutta, 4th April 1783 (BL MSS Eur B 187)  noc

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Detail of the royal farman (order) from Emperor Shah ‘Alam II making Mrs Plowden a Begum (BL IO Islamic 4439)  noc

Saqi’a
Above: anonymous Persian rubaʻiSaqi’a fasl-i bahar ast: mubarak bashad” (see also above: Air no. IV, “Sakia! fuſul beharuſt, by Chanum”). Plowden Album f. 8 and below: Tunebook f. 14v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

13B Crotch

khayal
Above: anonymous Urdu khayal “of the snake charmers” “Sun re ma‘shuqa be-wafa”. Plowden Album f. 8, and below: Tunebook f. 14v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum
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Asafuddaula is entertained by musicians at court. Lucknow, c.1812. (BL Add.Or.2600)  noc

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Entry in Sophia’s diary for 23rd December 1787: her first encounter with Khanum Jan (BL Mss Eur F127/94)  noc

Skinner
Painting of Colonel James Skinner’s nautch troupe, given as a souvenir to a European visitor. Delhi, c. 1838 (BL Add.Or.2598)  noc

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Colonel William Blair and his family in India with his daughter Jane at the pianoforte.  Johan Zoffany, 1786 (Tate Britain, T12610)  ccownwork

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An upright piano in the ghusal-khana (hammam) in the Red Fort, Delhi, by a late Mughal artist c. 1830–40. Traditionally, the ghusal-khana was where the Mughal emperors held their most intimate musical gatherings. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis E and Theresa S Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art, 1994 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1994. 71)  noc

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Illustration for James Skinner’s entry on the “bazigar” or conjurors. Tashrih al-Aqwam. Delhi, 1825 (BL Add.27255)  noc

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Crotch’s specimen no. 336, “the song with which the natives charm the snakes.” London, 1807. (BL Music Collections h.344)  noc


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Above: Persian ghazal by Hafiz (1310–79) “Mutrib-i khush-nava be-go: taza ba taza no ba no” Plowden Album f. 1 and below: Tunebook f. 12r. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

air

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Mutru bekhoosh nuwa begofurther transformed into Air IV from Biggs & Opie A second set of Hindoo airs (BL P/W 98)  noc

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“A dancing woman of Lucknow, exhibiting before an European family,” by Charles D’Oyly. Plate from Thomas Williamson, The costume and customs of modern India. London, c.1824 (BL X 380)  noc

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Lucknow artist Mihr Chand’s painting of a fantasy courtesan, modelled on a European nude. Awadh, c. 1765–70 (BL J. 66,2)  noc

Surwi ruwani kisti
Above: Persian ghazal by or in homage to Khaqani (1122–90) “Surwi ruwani kisti”. Plowden Album f. 11 and below: Tunebook f. 19r. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

Surwi ruwani kisti

“The Courtesan and the Memsahib” was written and performed by Katherine Butler Schofield with harpsichordist Jane Chapman. Additional voices were: Georgie Pope, Kanav Gupta, Priyanka Basu, and Michael Bywater. Recordings of vocalists Kesarbai Kerkar and Gangubai Hangal, and sarangi player Hamid Hussain, are courtesy of the Archive of Indian Music and Vikram Sampath; selections from Jane Chapman’s studio recording “The Oriental Miscellany” are found on Signum Classics.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London
email: katherine.schofield@kcl.ac.uk
 ccownwork

22 June 2018

The Bugis diary of the Maqdanrang of Bone

The most well-known Bugis manuscript in the British Library is the diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone (r. 1775-1812), covering the two decades from the start of his reign in 1775 to 1795. This treasury of information on daily life at the court of Bone in south Sulawesi was made accessible through the doctoral study by Rahilah Omar (2003), and the full diary, Add. 12354, is accessible online.

Now a second Bugis court diary from Bone, Or. 8154, covering the years 1790 to 1800, has also been digitised. A. A. Cense identified the diarist as the Maqdanrang, one of the highest Bone officials: “it was he who dealt with all kinds of state affairs and through whose hands all important letters passed. The notes for the years 1795-8 give much information on the struggle between Bone and Sidenreng, the attitude of the other south Sulawesi states, and Dutch efforts to maintain peace. Some notes refer to battles, the erection of strongholds, and chiefs who died in action. For the rest the diary contains notes on legal questions, especially on matrimonial law and property. Events in the royal family and the ruling classes receive great attention” (Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 34). Rahilah (2003: 58) has named the Maqdanrang as Muhammad Ramallang (the Bugis form of the Arabic Ramaḍān), Arung (Lord) Ponre, father-in-law and maternal uncle of the ruler, Sultan Ahmad al-Salih. An entry in the Sultan's diary for 7 July 1775 announces the appointment of Muhammad Ramallang as Maqdanrang or private secretary to the ruler, one of the three most senior officials in the Bone administration, along with the Tomarilalang, head of the advisory council, and the Maqkedangngetana, 'Spokesman of the Land' (Rahilah 2003: 196).

Or_8154_f077r   Add_ms_12354_f143v
The diary of the Maqdanrang is much more sparsely filled, with an average of 5 entries per month, than that of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih, which has around 22 entries per month (Rahilah 2003: 34),  as shown above in a comparison of the same month. Left, diary of the Maqdanrang for March 1794. British Library, Or. 8154, f. 77r . Right, diary of the Sultan of Bone for March 1794. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 143v  noc

As was usual for Bugis court diaries, the pages were prepared in advance, with one month per page according to the Gregorian (AD) calendar, with one line allocated for each day of the month, and Fridays (Jumaat) highlighted in red. If the events of the day took up more than one line, the scribe would write in a rectangular labyrinthine pattern, as shown above. In between each year, a few pages were always originally left blank, and these could be filled with miscellaneous jottings and copies of important documents. Found in the Maqdanrang's diary are notes on a wide variety of subjects, including on alliances and war activities, correspondence with the Dutch, and on the astronomical, meteorological, and agricultural calendar.

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On the left-hand page are notes on names of days and their auspicious or inauspicious natures, and on the right-hand page are rules for people who pay homage to the Arumpone (the sultan), as well as calligraphic sketches of letter headings. British Library, Or. 8154, ff. 7v-8r  noc

Stored alongside this diary is a second volume, Or. 8154*, which contains 103 letters, fragments of letters, and scraps of paper in Bugis, Makasarese, Malay and Arabic, said to have been found inside the binding of Or. 8154, presumably when the volume was rebound in the British Museum bindery in the early 20th century. Both volumes were presented to the British Museum in 1916 by a Miss E. G. Wren. It is probable that these two volumes - like the other Bugis manuscripts in the British Library from the collection of John Crawfurd - were acquired during the British military campaign against Bone in 1814.

Among the miscellaneous notes found in the diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih are sketches for his seal, and a similar feature is encountered in the Maqdanrang's diary. As can be seen on the left-hand page above, nestled amongst notes is a circular sketch of a seal, inscribed in Arabic al-wāthiq billāh Muhammad Ramadan ibn al-Sultan Jalaluddin, ‘He who trusts in God, Muhammad Ramadan, son of the Sultan Jalaluddin’, referring to his father Sultan Abdul Razak Jalaluddin of Bone (r. 1748-1775). This inscription can be linked with a 12-petalled seal of which numerous faint  impressions are found in Or. 8154*, while a much clearer impression can be seen on a contract between Bone and the Dutch of 27 December 1794, signed and sealed by the Sultan, Maqdanrang and Tomarilalang of Bone. The original silver seal matrix is held today in the Museum Lapawawoi in Watampone, Bone. 

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Sketch for a seal in the name of Muhammad Ramadan in the diary of the Maqdanrang of Bone. Or. 8154, f. 8r   noc

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Left: lampblack impression of Muhammad Ramadan's seal, on a renewal agreement with the Dutch of 27 December 1794, annotated Het zegel van der Madanrang, 'the seal of the Madanrang'. National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia, Makassar 375/45.
Right: original silver seal matrix of Muhammad Ramadan. Museum La Pawawoi, Watampone, Sulawesi Selatan; photograph courtesy of Mukrimin, October 2017.

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Faint impressions of the seal of Muhammad Ramadan on a document. British Library, Or. 8154*, f. 40v   noc

Further reading:
Rahilah Omar, The history of Bone AD 1775-1795: the diary of Sultan Ahmad as-Salleh Syamsuddin. [Ph.D. thesis]. University of Hull, 2003.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Southeast Asia collections in the British Library

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

20 June 2018

Sir Hans Sloane’s Old Javanese manuscript, Sloane 3480

Today’s post, by Ida Bagus Komang Sudarma in Bali, Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan in Sydney, and Arlo Griffiths in Paris, was written following yesterday’s post on the Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection. The speed of this response, identifying and transliterating for the first time this manuscript fragment in Old Javanese, illustrates well how collaborative scholarship across oceans is enabled by digitisation.

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Detail of line v2, showing the characters // bhraṣṭaṅkaḍa, with an elegantly knotted tail of the subscript (gantungan) grapheme . British Library, Sloane 3480, f. 1v  noc

Sloane 3480 is a manuscript fragment which represents less than half of the right side of a single palm leaf (lontar), and would originally have had a string hole in its middle, as it still does in its right margin. In its original condition, the leaf would have had four lines of writing on each side.

The text, incised into the palm leaf in Balinese characters, is written in Old Javanese language. The fragment contains parts of stanzas 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 (but not of stanza 13) from canto 10 of the Arjunavijaya, a court poem (kakavin) authored by Mpu Tantular in the second half of the 14th century, describing a scene of confrontation between Śiva’s attendant Nandīśvara and the demon Rāvaṇa. The fact that it was collected during the lifetime of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) means that the manuscript must be older than 1753, which makes this one of the oldest known witnesses for this important classic of Old Javanese literature (cf. Arps & van der Molen 1994). A critical edition of the text and English translation was published by Supomo (1977).

In our diplomatic edition below, we transliterate according to the system proposed by Acri & Griffiths (2014), which is based on the ISO standard 15919. The original is written in scriptio continua. We apply word breaks generally in conformity with the edition by Supomo, but with some adaptations in the light of our different understanding of how word boundaries in Old Javanese are to be represented in transliterated text. In the lines r2 and v3, where the top/bottom parts of all akṣaras (syllabic characters) are lost, we act as though a given grapheme is present unless no trace of the expected grapheme remains at all; in the latter case, we indicate the restored grapheme(s) in square brackets. Such restorations are uncertain at all the edges of the fragments, where parts of akṣaras are missing and it is often difficult to be sure whether this witness agreed with the critical edition or had a variant reading. In the parts that are well preserved, this witness does show several variant readings vis-à-vis Supomo’s critical edition. The sign # represents the breaks in the text on the right end of each line as they exist today.

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British Library, Sloane 3480, f. 1r  noc

(r1) lost
(r2) # nr[i] °l̥ṅk[ā] / mva[ṁ van]duva[rg]gamu kabeḥ[n]ya mah[ə]ntya [d]e[n]ya / n[ā liṁn]ya / [h]e[t]u[ni h]uyu[ṁ] daśavaktrar[ā]ja
(r3) #-ānaṁ tapodhara haneṅ giriparśva māvr̥g· / mvaṅ siṅha bharvaṅ alayū sahananya meṅas· / yatnā bha
(r4) #ri taṅannira lvat· / krodheya makrak ikanaṁ daśavaktrarāja // humyaṅ kabeḥ haliliṅi

Sloane_ms_3480_f001v
British Library, Sloane 3480, f. 1v  noc

(v1) # sira harṣacitta / yekan vinehnira vənaṁ munuseṁ taṅanya / hyunhyun sire vuvus ikan varara
(v2) # len taṁ pravīrabala rakṣasasaṅghya mahyaṁ // bhraṣṭaṅ kaḍatvan ika siṅ kaparaḥ ya curṇna / gəmpu
(v3) # hat i patapan s[u]ramya / ramyaṅ [k]ap[u]ṇ[ḍu]ṅ ika d[u]ryan ike j[u]raṁnya / maṅ[gu]ṣ[ṭa] la[s]b ika poḥ paṇaśāg[ṅ] aby[u]
(v4) lost

Supomo’s translation (1977, II: 203–4) of the relevant stanzas – depicting the confrontation between Nandīśvara and the demon Rāvaṇa (here designated several times by his epithet ‘the Ten-faced one’, Daśāsya or Daśavaktra) – was as follows:

12 ‘Hey, Daśāsya, you [have committed the sin] of despising others by laughing at my appearance. Therefore, in time to come, monkeys will destroy your kingdom of Ləṅkā and exterminate all your kinsfolk as well.’ Thus he spoke; and Daśavaktra was now furious.
13 Ferociously clenching his teeth, he put his hands under the base of Mount Girīndra, and took it in his arms, intending to destroy it completely. The Lord, who had just finished making love, was startled, and Pārvatī, who was exhausted, had not even put on her kain.
14 The hermits living on the slopes of the mountain were agitated and distressed, the lions and bears fled in opposite directions. Knowing the reason for what was happening, the Lord carefully pressed down the peak of the mountain with the big toe of his left foot.
15 In short, Daśāsya’s arms were trapped under the mountain, and he was not able to move them. Now he was all the more determined to pull them out, but he could not move them; furiously he cursed, and screamed aloud.
16 The three worlds were stunned by his great voice; the gods and others were astounded, and their shouts could be heard even from the world of Śiva, for his voice was most terrible, booming like turbulent sea, in truth like the sound of a hundred thousand thunderbolts clashing at the same time.
17 The god Jagatguru grinned with delight, and then allowed him to pull his arms free; the God was pleased at the sound of his excellent screams, and so the Lord called him Rāvaṇa.
18 Then Daśāsya departed from Mount Girīndra, after making obeisance to the Lord and asking his pardon. Riding his chariot, he now ranged around the world at great speed, accompanied by all the roaring demon officers and soldiers.
19 All the palaces he attacked were shattered and reduced to dust; the kings and their armies were all exterminated, and all ring-communities, cloister-halls and temple-complexes he seized by force as he swept along boldly throughout the three worlds.
20 Soon king Daśāsya came to Mount Himavan, and was delighted at the sight of beautiful hermitages. The slopes were beautiful with kapuṇḍuṅ, durian, mangosteen, laṅsəb, mango and jackfruit tree, laden with great fruits; …

References
Acri, Andrea, and Arlo Griffiths. 2014. “The Romanisation of Indic Script Used in Ancient Indonesia.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 170 (2/3): 365–78.
Arps, Bernard, and Willem van der Molen (eds.). 1994. Serat Lokapala kawi: an eighteenth-century manuscript of the Old Javanese Arjunawijaya by Mpu Tantular. A facsimile edition of manuscript Cod. Or. 2048 in the Library of Leiden University. Leiden: Indonesian Linguistics Development Project (ILDEP) in co-operation with Legatum Warnerianum in the Library of Leiden University. (Manuscripta Indonesica, 3.)
Supomo, S. 1977. Arjunawijaya: A Kakawin of Mpu Tantular. 2 vols. (Bibliotheca Indonesica 14.) The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Ida Bagus Komang Sudarma, Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan and Arlo Griffiths  ccownwork

19 June 2018

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

The British Museum was founded through the generosity, intellectual curiosity, and vision of the physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). On his death in 1753, Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed to the nation his vast collections of natural history specimens, coins, medals and curiosities, as well as 50,000 books, prints and manuscripts, on condition that they be housed in a new and publicly accessible museum. In 1972 the books and manuscripts held in the British Museum, including the Sloane collection, were transferred to the British Library.

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Sir Hans Sloane. Stipple engraving by T. Prescott. Wellcome Library, ICV No 5682L. Courtesy Wellcome Images.

The extraordinarily eclectic nature of Sloane's manuscript collection has been described with some understatement as ‘very heterogenous’ (Arnold 2012: 190), and this evaluation could in turn be applied to the selection of his manuscripts from island Southeast Asia. In addition to two manuscripts in Malay, Sloane owned five items from Java, which though fragmentary in nature encompass a wide variety of languages and scripts (Javanese, Old Javanese, Lampung and Chinese) and writing materials (palm leaf, bamboo and paper), and range from commercial documents to a primer of religious law. Sloane's Javanese manuscripts, which are of interest not only for their diversity but also for their relatively early date, have now all been digitised and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts website. For each manuscript, the first hyperlink below leads to the catalogue entry, and the second directly to the digitised image.

Sloane_ms_3480_f001r
The broken piece of palm leaf shown above, Sloane 3480, contains an unidentified text written in Old Javanese, an early form of the Javanese language marked by a very high proportion of words derived from Sanskrit. Old Javanese was in use from around the 8th to the 13th centuries in Java, but manuscripts in Old Javanese continued to be found in scholarly circles in Bali until recent times. British Library, Sloane 3480  noc

Sloane_ms_1035_f001r
This palm leaf document inscribed in Javanese, Sloane 1035, is a record of a debt between a Chinese, Si Cina Kamasan, and Ratu Kilen. The piece of palm leaf is folded down the middle, with the spine evident along the top. British Library, Sloane 1035  noc

Sloane_ms_1403a_f001r
Sloane 1403A is a single piece of palm-leaf is inscribed with Javanese text on one side and Chinese on the reverse. The Chinese text  is a record of the purchase of four cows, and is dated in the Chinese cycle perhaps equivalent to 1715. According to Dick van der Meij, the form of the Javanese characters on this leaf suggests an origin from Bali. British Library, Sloane 1403A  noc

Sloane_ms_1403e_f001r
Sloane 1403E is a document written on a piece of bamboo, with two lines of Javanese text and annotations in Javanese and Lampung script on one side, and Chinese on the reverse. The Chinese text is probably a record of an account, dated in the Chinese cycle perhaps equivalent to 1708.  British Library, Sloane 1403E   noc

Sloane_ms_1403a_f001v   Sloane_ms_1403e_f001v
Left: Sloane 1403A, palm leaf, the uninked Chinese inscription on the reverse reads: 乙未年正月初五日買牛四隻艮□廿九文
Right: Sloane 1403E, bamboo, with Chinese text in black ink on the reverse: □甲螺打甲之厘勿殺 〇之厘勿殺同□□再借去鉛子四仟/戊子年四月十四日借去鉛子拾伍仟議还米每文六于冬算〇係去覽榜限至三箇月

The final manuscript, Sloane 2645, is a volume in Arabic with interlinear commentary in Javanese in Arabic (pegon) script, containing the Mukhtaṣar, ‘Commentary’, by the 16th-century scholar from the Hadramaut, ‘Abd Allāh bin ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Bā Faḍl. This work, the Muqaddima al-ḥaḍramiyya, 'Hadrami Introduction', also entitled Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, 'Questions for instruction', is an important text of the Shafi‘ī school of law, which was widely used throughout the Indian Ocean littoral spreading out from Yemen to East Africa and Southeast Asia. This well-preserved manuscript, copied in 1623, is one of the earliest dated manuscripts written on dluwang, Javanese paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree.

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Opening pages of Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, with the first word of the title highlighted in gold, and rubrication on the first two pages. British Library, Sloane 2645, ff. 5v-6r  noc

Sloane_ms_2645_f116r-crop
The colophon of Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, giving the name of the scribe as Abdul Qadim, and the date of copying in the Javanese era: hādhā ashkāla (i.e. sengkala) al-jāwī min farāghihi 1545, ‘this is the Jawi (i.e. Southeast Asian Muslim) chronogram of the affluent 1545' (AD 1623/4). British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 116r  noc

The writing of the date 1545 (AD 1623/4) in numerals is of some interest. It shows very clearly the standard Indian form of the numeral 5, like a reversed B, used throughout Southeast Asia until the late 19th century, but barely recognized any longer, having long been displaced by the standard Middle Eastern form of the numeral 5, ۵.  More intriguing is the use of a system of dots indicating the unit place: the 1 is followed by three dots indicating thousands, 5 is followed by two dots indicating hundreds, 4 is followed by one dot indicating tens, and finally 5 is in the unit of ones. Exactly the same protocol is utilised in a decorative roundel found at the start of the manuscript, reproduced below.

Sloane_ms_2645_f005r-crop
Decorative medallion containing the date at the start of the manuscript, 1545 in the Javanese era (AH), equivalent to AD 1623/4. British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 5r  noc

Further reading:
Arnold Hunt, ‘Sloane as a collector of manuscripts’, in From books to bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and his collections, ed. Alison Walker, Arthur MacGregor and Michael Hunter (London: The British Library, 2012).
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 45.
A.T. Gallop with B. Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia (London: British Library; Jakarta: Lontar, 1991), p.100.

With thanks to Dick van der Meij for advice on the Javanese, and Emma Goodliffe for reading the Chinese inscriptions.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

 

15 June 2018

Two Makasar manuscripts now digitised

The Makasar people originate from south Sulawesi, the bottom left arm of the orchid-shaped island of Sulawesi. In the 17th century the port-city of Makasar (alternatively spelled Makassar or Macassar), comprising the twin kingdoms of Gowa and Tallo’, was one of the greatest and most cosmopolitan ports in Southeast Asia. A gateway to the spice trade of the Moluccas, and an important source of rice, Makasar had particularly benefitted from an influx of Malay and other Muslim merchants following the fall of Melaka to the Portuguese in 1511. Makasar embraced Islam relatively late, with the conversion of the sultan of Gowa in 1605, but Islam rapidly became firmly entrenched in south Sulawesi society.

Celebes
Map of Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes, from a 17th-century Dutch portolano. Makasar is located in the bottom left corner. British Library, Add. 34184, f.62  noc

Writing traditions in the Makasar language (also referred to as Makasarese, Makassar or Makassarese) date back at least to the 17th century, and may be encountered in four different scripts. Old Makasar script is of Indic origin, and is written from left to right. It is mainly associated with manuscripts in the 17th and 18th century and appears to have become obsolete in the course of the 19th century, since when the Bugis/Makasar script has been used. However, the Bugis/Makasar script (often called simply Bugis script) coexisted with Old Makasar script from the 17th century onwards, and both probably developed from an earlier prototype similar to Kawi or Old Javanese script. Makasar can also be written in  Arabic script (known locally as serang), which was frequently used in religious contexts, and texts in Roman script are also found (Tol 1996: 214).

The British Library holds only two manuscripts in Makasar, one written in Old Makasar script and one in Bugis/Makasar script. Both have now been digitised, and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts website and by following the hyperlinks below. Like the larger number of Bugis manuscripts in the British Library, these two Makasar manuscripts derive from the collection of John Crawfurd, who served with the British administration in Java from 1811 to 1815. In 1814 Crawfurd led a punitive British expedition to south Sulawesi, and the two Makasar manuscripts were most likely acquired on this occasion. Crawfurd’s manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1842.

Add_ms_12351_f012v-13r
Copies of treaties between Goa and Tallo' in the 16th century, in Makasarese in Old Makasar script. British Library, Add. 12351, ff. 12v-13r.  [NB these pages have been bound upside down in the manuscript.]  noc

The manuscript in Old Makasar script, Add. 12351, contains copies of documents on a variety of historical, diplomatic and legal topics, which were identified by Dr A. A. Cense for the catalogue of Indonesian mansucripts in British collections (Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977: 99).  Contents include the sayings of former princes, declarations of war, and notes on right behaviour and customary law.  There are also texts on the status of the countries of the island of Sumbawa which were subdued by Tumenanga riAgamana, king of Tallo’ and co-ruler of Goa in the beginning of the 17th century, as well as copies of treaties between Goa and Bone, and between Goa and Tallo’ in the 16th century.  Other texts concern the history of various polities in south Sulawesi covering periods up to the mid-17th century, including Goa, up to and including the reign of Tu-menanga riPapambatuna (1649-53); Tallo’, up to and including the reign of Tu-mammalianga riTimoro' (1636-41); Sanrabone, Maros and Bangkala’, as well as notes on the ancestors of Karaeng Cenrana and of Tu-menanga riLakiung (lived 1652-1709).  Parts of this manuscript (from ff. 12v-35v) have been bound upside down.

Add_ms_12347_f011v-12r
Hikayat Amir Hamzah, written in Makasarese in Bugis/Makasar script, with names of the characters written in Arabic script in black ink, and chapter headings and 'paragraph words' in Malay written in red in Arabic (Jawi) script. Add. 12347, ff. 11v-12r.  noc

The second Makasar manuscript, Add. 12347, is a fragment of a Makasar version of the Malay Hikayat Amir Hamzah, itself derived from the Persian Hamzanama, recounting the adventures of the uncle of the prophet Muhammad. The manuscript is written in Makasar script (which reads from left to right), with insertions in Malay in Jawi script (which reads from right to left) marking the start of new chapters and sections in the text. Reflecting the confusion of a 19th-century custodian, the folios in the manuscript have been numbered ‘backwards’. The volume therefore begins on f. 37r with the 59th chapter (with a heading in Malay in Jawi script: ceritera yang keanam puluh sembilan), dealing with Amir Hamza's fight against Sudad and his grief at the death of his wife Mihrananigara. The manuscript ends abruptly in the 68th chapter, in which Hamza's voyage to the country of Ḥuṭānah is described, where he finds Raja Nasarwan (Nasruwan), on the way encountering a group of fire-worshippers.

Although these are the only two full manuscript volumes in Makasar in the British Library, there are also a number of documents and fragmentary texts in Makasar contained in mainly Bugis manuscripts. For example, Or 8154*, a volume consisting of scraps of texts found within the binding of the Bugis diary of a prince of Bone for the years 1790-1800, contains a few Makasar documents including a fragment of a page from a diary written in Old Makasar script for 1733 shown below.

Or_8154~_f100r-crop
Fragment of a diary in Old Makasar script, for 1733. British Library, Or. 8154*, f. 100  noc

Through the Endangered Archives Programme, the British Library also holds digital copies of a few Makasar manuscripts, documented during a pilot project in Makassar.

EAP365-2-2
Local history of Galesong, Makassar, copied ca. 1975 from a lontara' belonging to Karaeng Galesong, now held by Daeng Jarung, Desa Boddia, Galesong. British Library, EAP365/2/2

Further reading:

Roger Tol, A separate empire: writings of south Sulawesi.  Illuminations: writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. Ann Kumar & John H. McGlynn; pp. 213-230.  Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

12 June 2018

Thirty-leaved Qur’ans from India

Manuscripts of the Qur’an exist in many different sizes and forms: in single volumes and also in multi-volume sets ranging from two to seven, ten, thirty or sixty volumes. However it was not until recently, while working on Qur’ans in the Tipu Sultan collection, that I became aware of the popularity of thirty-leaved Qur’ans, described as ‘si-varqī’ which were popular in South Asia from the seventeenth century onwards. These copies are based on the thirty equal sections juz’ (pl. ajzā’), designed to be read over a single thirty-day month, notably the fasting month of Ramadan, with one juz’ spread over two facing pages.

1267opening_2000
The opening section (juz’) of a thirty-leaved Qur’an, copied on an unusually thick paper (BL IO Islamic 1267 ff.1v-2r)
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The earliest reference to this format that I have come across is in the Tazkirah-ʼi khvushnivīsān, a biographical dictionary of calligraphers by the late eighteenth-century calligrapher Ghulam Muhammad Raqim Haft-qalami (Haft-qalami, pp 125-6, quoted by Bayani, pp.172-3). Haft-qalami writes that in the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) a scribe called ʻAbd Allah, better known as ʻAbd al-Baqi Haddad, a particularly famous naskh calligrapher, came to India from Iran and presented prince Awrangzeb with a thirty-leaved Qur’an and other manuscripts for which he was awarded the title Yāqūt-raqam before returning home again.

The earliest thirty-leaved Qur’an that I have detailed information about is CBL Is 1562[1], in the Chester Beatty Library, which dates from before 1083 (1672/73) – the date of an inscription following the colophon. The illuminated opening contains the Sūrat al-Fātiḥah spread over two pages, while throughout the manuscript margins, delineated by ruled borders, are filled with stemmed flowering plants in gold (similar to those found in the margins of many seventeenth-century imperial Mughal albums) and simple gold medallions marking divisions of the text. The British Library has altogether four thirty-leaved Qur’ans, three of which belonged formerly to Tipu Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-99). Although undated, one, IO Islamic 1267, is stamped with the octagonal seal of a previous owner Zu’l-Fiqar ʻAli Khan 1141 (1728/29). The other two, IO Islamic 1376 and IO Islamic 3250 are probably more recent, but Tipu Sultan’s death in 1799 places them in the eighteenth century or earlier. A fourth Qur’an, IO Islamic 3534, dated 1266 (1849/50), is much later and includes a Persian commentary in the margins.

3534opening
Unlike the Tipu Qur’ans, this copy dated 1266 (1849/50) by the scribe Vali, includes a half-page ornamental heading (sarlawḥ). The margins contain an as yet unidentified Persian commentary. The text block is divided by three lines of larger calligraphic script on a gold ground (BL IO Islamic 3534, ff.1v-2r)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

These Qur’ans share many features typical of Indian Qur’ans such as the division of the text into quarters or eighths of a juzʼ[2] and the use of interlinear rulings between each line of text. However one especially striking feature is the use of the letter alif at the beginning of each line, which occurs in two of our four copies. Such Qur’ans are today much prized and termed ‘alifi’. A search on the web reveals any number of deluxe printed editions. However ‘alifi’ manuscript Qur’ans seem to be comparatively little known, or at least they have not been the subject of written research.

1376f1v1376f2v
Details showing (above) an initial alif in red ink at the beginning of each line of the main text. In the lower image, which occurs at the beginning of the second juz’, the alifs were never inserted, leaving an empty space. The fact that the first two lines begin with a black alif, suggest that perhaps the scribe ran out of red ink and then forgot to finish off the copy later. Also visible in the margins is the juz’ eighth marker (thumn al-rubʻ) and medallions which in this Qur’an serve a purely decorative purpose (BL IO Islamic 1376, ff. 1v and 2v)
http:/.blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

1376opening
The double page opening of an undated thirty-leaved Qur’an from Tipu Sultan’s library. The initial alifs, the use of gold, the marginal devices and the calligraphic panels at the top, middle and bottom of each page, suggest that this was a particularly valuable Qurʼan (IO Islamic 1376, ff. 1v-2r)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

The largest of our four thirty-leaved Qur’ans, IO Islamic 1376 (pictured above), is 43 x 23.2 cms, so from a practical point of view it would be quite easy to hold. The limitations of the thirty-leaved format, however, required that the text be proportionally small making it therefore correspondingly difficult to read. Our copies were written in a small naskh hand although in IO Islamic 1376 and IO Islamic 3534 the top, middle and bottom line of each page has been copied in a larger script. This tri-partite division is particularly noteworthy, shared, for example, by only one of the thirteen thirty-leaved Qurʼans in the Salar Jung collection[3]. To save space the headings in three of the four are also quite minimal, placed in the upper margin above the text block so as not to interfere with the basic design of one juz’ per opening.

1267heading
Illuminated heading placed in the upper margin above the text block. The sūrah headings and the juzʼ indications are written inline in red ink and each line is separated by a double interlinear ruling (BL IO Islamic 1267, f. 1v)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

1376heading
Here a scalloped triangle forms the basis of the heading which is repeated on the facing page. The sūrah heading, in gold, and the first verse are in a larger calligraphic script. Note also the raised gold verse markers and the interlinear rulings (BL IO Islamic 1376, f. 1v)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

3250heading
A similarly scalloped heading is outlined above the two opening pages at the beginning of this Qur’an. Here the sūrah headings are marked inline in red and the juz’ indications are given in the margins (BL IO Islamic 3250, f. 1v)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

3534heading
The half-page sarlawḥ of a thirty-leaved Qur’an dated 1266 (1849/50). The dimensions of the heading have had the effect of displacing the division of the sections (juz’) which begin mid-page rather than at the top right of each opening (BL IO Islamic 3534, f. 1v)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

In terms of marginal decorations, only IO Islamic 1376 has the typical medallion-shaped devices which are a regular feature of Qur’anic illumination. The margins of IO Islamic 1267 are decorated with gilt floral arabesques on a blue ground in the opening and on a clear ground in the subsequent pages. The margins of IO Islamic 3534 contain a Persian commentary enclosed within gilt leaf-inspired edges, with occasional flowers and leaves interspersed.

3534f30
Detail showing the final sūrahs and colophon (BL IO Islamic 3534, f. 30r)
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1267f3r
Marginal decoration half-way through section two (BL IO Islamic 1267, f. 3r)
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4cb8200d-pi

Thirty-leaved Qur’ans were clearly a popular format. Although only four are preserved at the British Library, Charles Stewart's 1809 Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore mentions six (out of a total of seventy-nine Qurʼans or parts of the Qur'an in Tipu Sultan's collection). There are descriptions of a further five in the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, Patna, one of which (no. 1171) was copied in Muharram 1112 (1700) by the same calligrapher ʻAbd al-Baqi Haddad mentioned in the Tazkirah-ʼi khvushnivīsān referred to above. Muhammad Ashraf, in his catalogue of the Salar Jung Qur'ans, describes thirteen copies which include one (Ms 202, no 108), an alifi Qur’an dated 1109 (1697/98), copied by Muhammad Baqi in the island of Socotra. Four of the Salar Jung copies date from the seventeenth century, eight from the eighteenth and one from the nineteenth. Three of these are alifi Qur’ans.

For those interested in Qur’anic illumination and decoration in general there is an extensive literature available and Qur’ans have been the subject of several recent exhibitions including Sacred at the British Library and The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts at the Freer Sackler. However the study of Indian Qur’ans has been much neglected with even less written on manuscripts from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries apart from Manijeh Bayani and Tim Stanley’s work on the Khalili Collection (see below: The decorated word). There is a vast amount of material available, however, leaving plenty of scope for future research by enterprising scholars.


Further reading
Bayani, Manijeh, Anna Contadini, and Tim Stanley. The decorated word: Qurʼans of the 17th to 19th centuries, part 1 (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art. 4). London: The Nour Foundation in association with Azimuth editions and Oxford University Press, 1999.

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

Salar Jung Museum and Library. A catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the Salar Jung Museum and Library; v. 2: The glorious Qurʾan, its parts and fragments, by Muhammad Ashraf. Hyderabad: Salar Jung Museum & Library, 1962.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
with thanks to Elaine Wright and my colleagues Colin Baker, Annabel Teh Gallop and Sâqib Bâburî
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0224e03f4d7c200d-pi


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[1] I thank Elaine Wright for sending me details of this Qur’an.
[2] Many of these features are also shared with Qur’ans from Southeast Asia as described in Annabel Teh Gallop’s “The Boné Qur’an from South Sulawesi” (see above).
[3] Ms 175, no. 213 in Salar Jung, catalogue (see above).

11 June 2018

Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship at the British Library

The British Library announces the call for applications to the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship 2018-19. Awarded by the Charles Wallace India Trust (CWIT), the fellowship will be offered to an early to mid-career India-based scholar to work at the British Library. This Fellowship opportunity will involve working with the British Library’s collections from and relating to South Asia. A team of specialist curators work on this internationally-important collection of South Asian books, manuscripts, archives, and visual arts. The Fellowship offers an opportunity to be based with the curators to learn more about the work of the British Library. It also provides the chance for hands-on experience with the collection, to develop curatorial skills.

This year we are inviting applicants who are in the early stages of their career or who have recently completed their postgraduate studies. There are five possible themes, outlined below. The best applicant will be selected from across all of them. Whichever their preferred project, the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow will get a real sense of the work of the British Library, and their contribution will make a difference to the delivery of the Library’s plans for engagement with South Asian collections and audiences.

The Fellowship will be for a period of three months, to be completed on or before 30 April 2019. Funding from the Charles Wallace India Trust will consist of a contribution of £600 towards international fares and a monthly living grant of £1500 for accommodation and living costs in London.

Fellowship themes and activities for 2018-19

Bengali Books
The Library’s South Asian language collections hold a large number of 19th-century printed Bengali books in a wide range of genres, attesting both to the intellectual history of Bengal and to book history and the history of printing in the region. The Fellow will undertake research on the printed Bengali book collections, producing a series of short articles that will be made available on the British Library’s website, in order to contextualise and highlight the Bengali book collections and make them more accessible to both an academic and general audience.

Proscribed Publications
The Library holds an important collection of publications proscribed by the British government in India during the crucial four decades leading up to Independence. The collection includes pamphlets, periodicals, handbills and posters, written in a wide range of Indian languages, as well as some European. It constitutes an invaluable source for the study of the Indian freedom struggle. The Fellow will produce a detailed overview of the collection for BL online publication, based on existing catalogues and original research, to improve the collection’s visibility and access.

Coins, medals and associated objects
The Library’s Visual Arts section holds a broad collection of coins, medals, banknotes, and bond plates assembled by the India Office. The Fellow will research one or more of these areas, with the aims of publishing new collection guides on the Library’s website and, if time permits, of improving the metadata of existing catalogue records. There is also the potential to write a blog post or prepare an article for publication.

Weapons
The Library’s Visual Arts section holds a collection of weapons, such as muskets and carbines, commissioned by the East India Company. The Fellow will research the collection with the aims of publishing a collection guide on the Library’s website and, if time permits, of improving the metadata of existing catalogue records. There is also the potential to write a blog post or prepare an article for publication.

South Asian Popular Paintings
The Library’s Visual Arts section holds a collection of 19th and 20th century South Asian popular paintings, including Jadupatua and Madhubhani paintings from Bihar, Kalighat, and woodcut prints from Calcutta, as well as works by Orissa artists. The Fellow will have the opportunity to explore and undertake research stemming from Mildred Archer’s formative publication on the subject and to improve the metadata of existing catalogue records. There is potential to prepare individual collection guides on the subjects with updated bibliographic records, to write a blog post or prepare an article for publication.

 

Candidate requirements

The Fellowship is open to Indian nationals, resident in India and with: 

  • Degree or equivalent in a subject relevant to one of the specified areas of interest (for example, literature, book history, modern history of India, history of art, etc.)
  • Excellent written and spoken English
  • Experience of, or demonstrable interest in, curatorial work with library and archive collections
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Strong computer skills, with experience working with databases (experience of working with catalogue records would be an advantage)

How to apply

  • Email your updated CV along with an academic or professional reference from someone who knows you and your work.
  • Write a covering statement (no more than 400 words) explaining why you are interested in the Fellowship opportunity and how it will contribute to your professional development.
  • Describe (no more than 400 words) the extent of your knowledge of your preferred theme relevant to the Fellowship.

 

The closing date for applications is 13th July.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed via Skype.

Please email your documents to Azadeh.shokouhi@bl.uk

More information is listed on the Charles Wallace website.

 

 

08 June 2018

Buddhism Illuminated through Southeast Asian Manuscript Art (1)

Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia is a lavishly-illustrated book which has just been published by the British Library, in collaboration with Washington University Press. The book, by two curators in the British Library's Southeast Asia section, is dedicated to the memory of the Library’s former Curator of Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections, Dr Henry D. Ginsburg (1940-2007), who was a leading expert and one of the pioneers of research on Buddhist manuscript art in Southeast Asia. The purpose of this book is to share many years of research on the British Library’s unique collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts on Buddhism, which illustrate not only the life and teachings of the historical Buddha, but also everyday Buddhist practice, life within the monastic order, festivals, cosmology, and ethical principles and values.

Blog01 front cover full
Front cover of Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia, London: British Library 2018.

The book contains six chapters and over 200 high-quality coloured photographs of manuscripts which have mostly been digitised with generous funding from Henry Ginsburg’s Legacy. The illustrations are mainly from eighteenth and nineteenth century Burmese and Thai manuscripts, and the book provides detailed background information on Theravada Buddhism in general and Buddhist art in mainland Southeast Asia in particular.

The first chapter is an introduction to Buddhist manuscripts in Southeast Asia and gives an overview of the British Library’s Burmese, Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections. It discusses not only the production and contents of Buddhist manuscripts in the region, but also all aspects of manuscript culture, including storage chests and cabinets, and manuscript wrappers and binding ribbons (sazigyo).

Blog02
A palm leaf manuscript of the Malalankara (the Burmese version of the Life of Gotama Buddha) from Burma, dated 1883. British Library, Or 16673 Noc

The palm leaf manuscript shown above has five bundles and is a fine example of Burmese craftsmanship and artistry. The leaves with gilded and lacquered edges are bound between a pair of red lacquered binding boards, together with a hand-woven sazigyo featuring Burmese script. The manuscript is wrapped in a cotton cloth with butterfly and flower patterns on a red coloured background. The text on the sazigyo states ‘May the merit of writing the scripture of the Buddha’s 45 years of glorious teachings help me to attain nibbana.’

The Library’s collections are particularly rich in illustrated folding books and palm leaf manuscripts featuring scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Jataka stories or Birth Tales, Buddhist cosmology, as well as festivals and rituals.

Blog03
A Thai paper folding book (samut khoi) from the eighteenth century containing extracts from the Tipitaka with illustrations from the Ten Birth Tales (or the last Ten Jatakas). British Library, Or. 14068, f. 4 Noc

Each of the last Ten Birth Tales illustrates one of the Buddha’s great qualities, mahabuddhaguna. Illustrated in the Thai folding book above is the Nimi Jataka, illustrating the quality of resolution through the story of Prince Nimi who, thanks to his great merits, was invited to visit the Buddhist heavens. On his journey there, the charioteer stopped briefly at one hell where Nimi learned of the torments and sufferings in the Buddhist hells. This is one of a small number of surviving eighteenth-century manuscripts from central Thailand with illustrations of outstanding quality.

The second chapter,  “Buddha – The Enlightened One,” introduces the concept of Buddhahood and shows how the historical Gotama Buddha, who lived and taught in northeast India over 2,500 years ago, is depicted in manuscript illustrations. An overview is given of the 28 Buddhas of the past, as well as examples of Jatakas, stories of previous lives of the historical Buddha. Also presented in this chapter are important episodes from the life of the historical Buddha such as his birth as Prince Siddhattha, his famous renunciation of worldly life, the miracles of the Enlightened One, the Buddha’s visit to Tavatimsa heaven, his passing into parinibbana and the coming of the future Buddha Metteyya.

Blog04
Folding book with scenes from the life of Gotama Buddha. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 14297, f. 6 Noc

The birth of the Buddha-to-be (Prince Siddhattha Gotama) illustrated in the rare Burmese manuscript shown above depicts the procession of Queen Maha Maya through Lumbini Garden on her way to Devadaha, depicted at the bottom of the page. Above left we see Queen Maha Maya holding with her right hand a branch of the Sal tree for support and ease of pain while giving birth, with her left hand draped around the shoulder of Pajapati Gotami, the queen’s sister. The scene in the top right corner depicts the Brahmas receiving the new-born prince into the world. This is a fine example of Burmese artistic interpretations of scenes from the Life of Gotama Buddha.

After his enlightenment, the Buddha told his disciples and followers of his experiences in his previous existences, before he was born as Prince Siddhattha. The Buddha’s previous lives are the subject of a large collection of stories commonly known as Jatakas, or Birth Tales. The Jatakas show how he gradually acquired greater moral stature in passing from one incarnation to another. These stories are well-known in all Buddhist cultures of mainland Southeast Asia. The Buddha is thought to have narrated them during his ministry to his followers, using each Jataka to teach certain ethical principles and values.

Blog05
Illustration of the Dipankara Jataka from Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Mss Burmese 202, f.1 Noc

The Dipankara Jataka, the story of Dipankara Buddha, is special in the way that it tells of how the historical Buddha in one of his earlier incarnations met one of the 28 Buddhas of the past. The illustration above shows how the Buddha-to-be Sumedha receives his niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood) from Dipankara Buddha, who had reached enlightenment aeons before Gotama Buddha. When he arrived at a place called Ramma, to honour him, local people cleaned the road for him to walk upon, and Sumedha took responsibility for one stretch of the muddy road. The Buddha Dipankara addressed the hermit Sumedha and foretells that in due time he will himself attain enlightenment and become a Buddha.

As well as the Buddhas of the past, the Buddha of the future, Metteyya, is also depicted in illustrated manuscripts. He is often portrayed in Thai manuscripts telling the legend of the monk Phra Malai, who, during his journey to the Buddhist heavens, learns about the coming of the future Buddha.

Blog06
Folding book containing the story of the monk Phra Malai. Central Thailand, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 6630, f. 42 Noc

These two generously gilded illustrations in the Thai painting style of the nineteenth century are set in two of the Buddhist heavens, Tavatimsa (left) and Tusita (right). On the left, the monk Phra Malai is shown seated, in orange robes, in front of the heavenly Culamani Ceti. This stupa houses the hair collected by the god Sakka when Prince Siddhattha cut his topknot on adopting the ascetic life. Phra Malai converses with Sakka (shown here as a green figure) and a deva attendant. On the right the Bodhisatta Natha, the future Buddha Metteyya residing in Tusita heaven, is depicted with a group of female attendant deities, all wearing glamorous outfits. Tusita heaven is thought to be the residence of divine beings (devata). The appearance of the future Buddha Metteyya forecasts a blissful future for those humans who follow the Dhamma, or Buddha’s teachings.

Although the life of Gotama Buddha, and those of the Buddhas of the past and the future Buddha, are often at the center of Buddhist manuscript art, there is much more to learn from Southeast Asian manuscript art about Buddha’s teachings, life in the monastic order and everyday Buddhist practice. All the details can be found in the newly published book, and a few more will be revealed in part two of this blog which will follow soon.

San San May and Jana Igunma, Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia, London: British Library 2018. (ISBN 978 0 7123 5206 2)

The book is available from all major booksellers and online.

San San May, Curator for Burmese
Jana Igunma, Henry D. Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

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