THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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3 posts from March 2019

26 March 2019

Musicians and Dancers in the India Office Records

This guest post by Katherine Butler Schofield houses the illustrations for the podcast “A Bloody Difficult Woman: Mayalee Dancing Girl vs. The East India Company” produced by Chris Elcombe. It was 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 to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce the detail below from MS 380 of the courtesans’ kite dance.

Loading salt on the new British leases at Sambhar Lake, Jaipur state, 1870s (BL Photo 355/1(60)
Loading salt on the new British leases at Sambhar Lake, Jaipur state, 1870s (BL Photo 355/1(60)
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I was going through the East India Company’s Foreign Department Proceedings Index, Volume 1840–49 K–Z, in the National Archives of India, when I first found her: “Pension to Meyalee[1], dancing-girl, from Jeypore share of Sambhur lake funds.” It was my first foray into the official records of British colonial rule in India, and I was there to see if I could find any trace of the Indian singers and dancers that we know, from paintings and travel writings of the time, filled the long nights and dreams of many an East India Company man in the early decades of the nineteenth century. So far I’d had little luck. And yet here she was—Mayalee Dancing Girl. But not just Mayalee: a whole set of musicians, dancers and other performers named as “pensioners” of the salt revenues of Sambhar lake in eastern Rajasthan.

“Statement of pensions and endowments paid from Sambhur Treasury on account of the Jyepoor State from 1 January to 30 June 1839.”
“Statement of pensions and endowments paid from Sambhur Treasury on account of the Jyepoor State from 1 January to 30 June 1839.” Section 2: cash payments monthly and on account of festivals (IOR Board of Control General Records, India Political Department, October 1838–1840)
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For a brief period between 1835 and 1842, the East India Company sequestered the revenue and salt factories of the Sambhar salt lake that rightfully belonged to the independent Rajput states of Jaipur and Jodhpur. In 1818, faced with the Company’s overwhelming military might, the major Rajput states signed a treaty in which the British offered them political and military “protection” in exchange for heavy cash tribute. By the early 1830s, Jaipur and Jodhpur were swimming in debt and refusing to cooperate with the British. So, from 1835 until 1842, the Company seized the lake at Sambhar, which is still one of India’s largest commercial sources of salt.

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  Timeline

Imperial Gazetteer of India , 1909 ed., vol. 26, Atlas: detail of “Rajputana”, p. 34
Imperial Gazetteer of India
, 1909 ed., vol. 26, Atlas: detail of “Rajputana”, p. 34
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The Sambhar lake accounts here in the British Library include long lists of institutions and individuals who had historical rights in the salt revenues of Sambhar, in salt as well as cash. And among the individual recipients of both cash and salt was a courtesan, or “dancing girl”, who was clearly more important than all the other performers at Sambhar. Her name was Mayalee.

What does Mayalee’s appearance in the Company’s official records tell us about interactions between the British colonial state and the Indians whose lives they were increasingly encroaching upon during the 1830s and 40s? In this blogpost, which accompanies my podcast on the Sambhar lake affair, I will look more generally at where musicians and dancers appear in the official records of the East India Company held in the India Office collections of the British Library, and in the National Archives of India.

Indian musicians and dancers appear in official colonial records only rarely, and when they do, what they have to tell us tends not to be about music. Instead, performers’ appearances in the official records open up unusual windows onto much wider concerns.

C A Bayly once wrote that, by the mid nineteenth century (Empire and Information (CUP, 1997), p. 55):

The British were able…to penetrate and control the upper level of networks of runners and newsletter writers with relative ease…yet they excluded themselves from affective and patrimonial knowledges …British understanding, revealingly, was weakest in regard to music and dance [etc.]…though such concerns are near the heart of any civilization.

Bayly’s statement is not necessarily true of individuals such as Sophia Plowden and her fellow-travellers. But it does seem to have been true of the official colonial state. In the 1830s and 40s, the cultural heartlands of North India’s elite musical traditions remained the Mughal court in Delhi and the autonomous princely states of Lucknow, Rajasthan, Gwalior, etc.—though we mustn’t forget there was thriving demand for these arts in the colonial port cities of Calcutta and Bombay, too. An overview of the indexes to the records of the Company’s dealings with the autonomous states c.1830–58 is telling[2]. It indicates that the colonial state was largely uninterested in performing artists; except when they were:

  • perpetrators or victims of crime or disorder, or otherwise involved in court cases;
  • scandalously mixed up in state politics;
  • included as a budget or expenditure line in the household accounts of deposed rulers who were now Company pensioners; or
  • beneficiaries of wills, pensions, land grants, or other forms of disbursements—such as salt in the case of Sambhar.

Criminal and civil cases in which performers faced Company judicial proceedings overwhelmingly seem to have concerned courtesans. This suggests just how wealthy and important courtesans like Mayalee were in the early nineteenth century, but also the general distrust with which they were viewed for their apparently mercenary motives, as well as their physical vulnerability. The British Library’s incomplete set of newsletters (akhbārāt) from Delhi c.1810–30 (Add. 24,038, Add. 23,148–9, Add. 22,624) tell us for example that, on 11 May 1830, the Resident of Delhi, Francis Hawkins (Pernau and Yunus Jaffrey, p.231):

went to the Shish Mahal [in the palace] and held the session of the appeal court. He heard the case of the Raja of Kishangarh and Rasiya, the tawai’f. [The Raja claimed Rs 18,000 from Rasiya and she refused to pay. He] said that he had given her Rs 1,000 and a shawl in advance and that she had no claim to further payment.

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Two courtesans perform the “kite” dance. Plowden Album. Lucknow, 1787–8
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380. All Rights Reserved

Numerous reports of highway robbery and even murder indicate how vulnerable tawā’ifs were to attack on the bandit-infested roads of Upper India. As itinerant professionals who moved from patron to patron carrying plentiful jewels and cash, they were clearly at risk even when they travelled together in large troupes[3].

Certain groups and individual performers became targets of Company suppression for their supposedly malignant interference in the political affairs of autonomous states. The Company’s most famous intervention was in Lucknow in 1848, when the Resident, Colonel Richmond, forced the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, to stop appointing “Singers and other improper persons” to government positions, and made him send his notorious favourite, the sitār-player Ghulam Raza, into exile because of his “evil” influence[4]. But of particular relevance to Jodhpur and Jaipur in the 1830s was the Company’s attempt to destroy the power of the Rajput rulers’ customary bards and praise singers, the Bhatts and Charans, whom the British saw as “rapacious” “extortionists” with far too much sway over Rajput politics (see BL MSS Eur D814. Ludlow papers, c.1855).

Bhatt. From James Skinner's Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Delhi, 1825 (BL Add. 27,255, f. 129v)
Bhatt. From James Skinner's Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Delhi, 1825 (BL Add. 27,255, f. 129v)
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In this case, the British intended to take down these ritual specialists. Elsewhere, the loss of musicians’ livelihoods was probably unintended, though still devastating. What happened to the Nawab Nazim of Murshidabad’s department of entertainment in 1773 is salutary. Music departments existed as bureaucratic units of most princely states long before the British, e.g. the gunijān-khāna or “house of virtuosos” in Jaipur, and the arbāb-i nishāt or “department of entertainment” in Mughal Delhi, Murshidabad, and Hyderabad. They sometimes also appear in Company records as lines in the household accounts of recently deposed rulers, including those for the Nazim of Murshidabad (deposed 1765), which remained a major centre of Mughal musical culture until the 1770s.

Besya. The accompanying description of the classes of courtesan includes the bhagtans of the Rajput courts (BL Add. 27,255, f. 137v)
Besya
. The accompanying description of the classes of courtesan includes the bhagtans of the Rajput courts (BL Add. 27,255, f. 137v)
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In 1773, the British decided to slash the Nazim’s household expenditure. The young official placed in charge of this process sent a straitened budget back to Calcutta. All department budgets were slightly reduced—except one, which had a swingeing cut from 1393 rupees per annum to just 16: the budget of the “Arbab Neshat Musicians”[5]. With one pen stroke, a culturally illiterate accountant who considered music to be an unnecessary frippery for a deposed Nazim may have destroyed Murshidabad as a musical centre.

Musicians’ livelihoods were thus directly, and often harshly, affected by the Company’s interference, both intentional and unintentional, in older Indian modes of compensation for cultural labour. So what then of charitable grants and pensions: in cash, land, or things the British saw as valuable commodities, like salt? Company officials were clearly not at all averse to meddling in the customary and economic practices of autonomous states when they felt it was warranted, especially where their revenue maximisation was at stake. And as Roy Moxham has observed (The Great Hedge of India. Constable, 2001), where salt revenues were concerned, the Company was insatiably greedy.  But the appearance of Mayalee dancing girl and her colleagues within the salt-revenue records of the Sambhar lake affair—the subject of my next book—also reveals that the Company never had it all their own way.

Mayalee the dancing girl refused point blank to obey the British instruction to accept cash in lieu of the salt stipend that was her traditional due. And Jaipur and Jodhpur defied the Company in order to pay her in salt. To find out why—and what all this meant for Sambhar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and the Company—you will have to listen to the podcast!

The images in this blogpost accompany the podcast and will help guide your imagination as I explore what the Company records inadvertently reveal about the lives and customs of all those who worked and ate the salt of Jaipur and Jodhpur, through the jarring misunderstandings and unintended consequences of East India Company interference in the operations of Sambhar salt lake.

Portrait of Jagat Singh II. Jaipur, 1810–15 (BL Add. Or. 5132)
Portrait of Jagat Singh II. Jaipur, 1810–15 (BL Add. Or. 5132)
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Photograph of Ram Singh II. Jaipur, 1870s (BL Photo 127/(8))
Photograph of Ram Singh II. Jaipur, 1870s (BL Photo 127/(8))

Rag Hindol; Krishna surrounded by female musicians. Jaipur, c.1850 (BL Add. Or. 2856)
Rag Hindol; Krishna surrounded by female musicians. Jaipur, c.1850 (BL Add. Or. 2856)
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Engraving of Lieut. Col. John Ludlow, 6th Bengal Native Infantry (BL P1538)
Engraving of Lieut. Col. John Ludlow, 6th Bengal Native Infantry (BL P1538)
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Collecting salt at Sambhar Lake, Jaipur state, 1870s (BL Photo 355/1(58))
Collecting salt at Sambhar Lake, Jaipur state, 1870s (BL Photo 355/1(58))
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With full credits and thanks on the podcast website

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London
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[1] Her name is variously spelled Meyalee, Myalee and Mayalee in the accounts.
[2] The records of the East India Company’s dealings with the autonomous states are found in the Foreign Consultations and Proceedings in the National Archives of India, and the General Correspondence [E] and Board of Control General Records [F] files of the India Office records at the British Library.
[3] Tr. Margrit Pernau and Yunus Jaffrey, Information and the Public Sphere (OUP, 2009), pp. 69, 165, 231, 253–4.
[4] National Archives of India, Foreign Political Consultations (NAI FCP) 8 Jul 1848.
[5] NAI FCP 25 Jan 1773.

18 March 2019

Vietnamese collection milestone: retroconversion of card catalogue completed

In 2015 Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, launched Living Knowledge,  a vision for the future of the British Library, aiming to make our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Living Knowledge also sets out to make the British Library the most open, creative and innovative institution of its kind in the world. In order to achieve these targets, the Library announced a series of new values to guide its staff in this direction, one of the most important being ‘putting users at the heart of everything we do’.

Curators for different collection areas, along with all other members of staff, have taken this new mission seriously. We are aware that the extensive and rich source materials in our collections are of no use unless our users can access them, or at least become aware of their existence. In the Asian and African Collections, curators have been encouraged to clear backlogs and to make source material in their collections searchable online.

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Drawer of Vietnamese catalogue cards, filed by name of author, in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library at St Pancras in London

The Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC), the first online library catalogue, was launched at Ohio University in August 1971. Although this seminal event occurred almost half a century ago, it was a long time before online cataloguing was adopted by institutions worldwide. Even into the 1980s and 1990s, some collections were still being catalogued manually, often due to issues relating to the transliteration of non-Roman scripts and the use of diacritics. The cataloguing of the Vietnamese collection at the British Library fits into this category perfectly, due to problems with inputting the double diacritics needed for Vietnamese. When I took up my post as curator for Vietnamese at the British Library in 2005, most of the printed materials in our collection were still catalogued using old-fashioned catalogue cards, and hardly anything was searchable online. One of my major tasks has been to retroconvert the Vietnamese card catalogue onto the British Library’s online catalogue, and that task is now virtually complete.

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Vietnamese book, previously only catalogued on cards (top right), which has now been recatalogued online (bottom right).

This mammoth project was conducted in two phases. Phase one started in around 2007, two years after I took up my post. I called up almost every single Vietnamese printed book to physically check that it was the correct one before I created an online record. This process was slow but was more likely to lead to fewer mistakes, such as mismatches between shelfmarks and items, or duplications of records. It took me a long while, until in October 2014, I was able report with some satisfaction that the retroconversion of the Vietnamese printed collection had been completed. However, the satisfaction of this achievement turned out to be rather short-lived as, not long afterwards, in June 2016, during office relocation moves one of my colleagues found four cardboard boxes brim-full of Vietnamese catalogue card in her area. When I randomly checked some cards to see whether they had been retro-converted in the first phase, none of them came up on an search on the British Library’s online catalogue Explore, meaning that all these cards also had to be recatalogued online.

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One of the boxes of Vietnamese catalogue cards discovered in 2016

Hence my second phase of retroconversion began in August 2016. Judging from the amount of cards in those four boxes, which seemed to number well over 10,000, I couldn’t afford to use the same very thorough method for cataloguing as I had done in the previous phase. I therefore decided to rely on the bibliographic record appearing on each card as the major source for recataloguing, and only if there were serious doubts or queries would I call up the physical item in question to check. This method helped to speed up the cataloguing process. Fortunately, a large proportion of cards turned out to be duplicates and could be discarded; in the end, only just over 2,400 catalogue cards had to be retroconverted.  During this second phase of retroconversion, I found that issues certainly arose from not having physically seen all the items before creating new online records. There were sometimes mismatches between shelfmarks and items, or different items shared the same shelfmarks. These problems had to be resolved, for otherwise they would have caused confusion and frustration for users when calling up items for consultation.

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An example of a cataloguing problem: the online catalogue gives a different title with the same shelfmark

Finally, I can now at last report that all our old Vietnamese catalogue cards, except for just a few problematic ones, have been retroconverted and are searchable online through Explore. Together with new acquisitions, there are now more than 10,900 titles in the Vietnamese collection ready for our readers.  I very much hope that the completion of this project will enable our readers to access more readily source material in Vietnamese in the British Library, either for research or enjoyment, as set in our Living Knowledge mission statement.

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Dr Sud Chonchirdsin at work cataloguing Vietnamese printed books

Further reading:

Vietnam - British Library collection guide

Sud Chonchirdsin
Curator for Vietnamese

06 March 2019

The largest Javanese manuscript in the world? Menak Amir Hamza

The final manuscript to go online from the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta digitisation project is probably the largest Javanese manuscript in the world, in terms of the number of folios in a single volume. This manuscript, Add. 12309, is a copy of the Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese tale about the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. Written in Arabic (pegon) script in black ink on Javanese paper (dluwang), the book contains 1,520 folios within its original brown leather binding. The front and end binding boards are stamped with frame bands and ornamental corner pieces and a central medallion, and the binding would originally have had an Islamic-style envelope flap. The 3-D image below gives an impression of the physical size of this book.

Menak Amir Hamza is an epic cycle of tales centred on Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, and recounts his numerous warlike and amourous adventures. Based on an Arabic-Persian original, the Javanese version has been developed and localised, with further invented and appended tales concerning Amir Hamza’s sons and grandsons. This manuscript originated from the court of Yogyakarta, and was written for Ratu Ageng (ca. 1730-1803), a wife of the first sultan of Yogaykarta, Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, and mother of Sultan Hamengku Buwono II.  In the introduction she is called prabu wanodeya / kang jumeneng Ratu Agung / kang ngedhaton Tegalreja, 'the female monarch / who reigns as Ratu Agung / and has her palace in Tegalreja'. Ratu Ageng was a daughter of an Islamic scholar and was known as a devout Muslim.  The manuscript was copied some time after 1792 (and before 1812, when it was taken by British forces from the palace of Yogyakarta), but it is not known how long was needed for this enormous task.

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Menak Amir Hamza,  British Library, Add. 12309, ff. 335v-336r   noc

Javanese paper, dluwang, is made from the beaten bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera).  This gives a highly polished surface, with paper of variable thickness, with the fibres of the wood still very evident on many pages. As shown above on the right-hand page, the scribe has made some corrections by applying a chalky white paint to cover up mistakes, which can then be written over if necessary. Javanese literary works are written in verse, and were composed in a sequence of cantos or sections, each to be sung according to a prescribed metre (pupuh). The coloured ornament on the left hand page is a pepadan, indicating the start of a new canto.

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Another canto marker from Menak Amir Hamza. British Library, Add. 12309, f. 1494r  noc

Versions of Menak Amir Hamza can reach great lengths, especially when the long dialogue associated with night-long shadow-puppet performances is elaborated in full. A manuscript in Leiden University Library (Cod. Or. 1797) of the version composed by the Surakarta court scribe Raden Ngabehi Yasadipura (1729-1803) fills 12 volumes and nearly 5,200 pages. However, Add. 12309 remains probably the most voluminous single-volume Javanese manuscript known. There are two other copies of Menak Amir Hamza in the British Library, MSS Jav 45 and MSS Jav 72, both of which have also been digitised.

Photographing this enormous book proved a real challenge for British Library photographer Carl Norman, who had to plan and build a suitable support for the binding. Each page had to be made to lie as flat as possible, whilst ensuring that the spine of the open book was fully supported, through the use of firm back straps and foam supports.  It was only while Carl was photographing every page that he discovered that the 19th-century curator in the British Museum charged with numbering the folios made a mistake – the numbering jumps from 449 to 500 – hardly surprising in view of this enormous task. Moreover, although the final numbered folio is 1564, the numerals are written so faintly that this number was misread in the catalogue by Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977: 48) as 1504. Only after digitising the whole volume can we now confirm that there are 1520 folios of paper, hence 3040 pages, in this book.

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British Library photographer Carl Norman photographing Add. 12309, Menak Amir Hamza.

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Headband of binding of Menak Amir Hamza, sewn with red and white threads. British Library, Add. 12309, head.  noc

In the recent British Library exhibition on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (19 Oct. 2018-19 Feb. 2019), amongst the very many superlative items on display, for many visitors the star of the show was the giant Codex Amiatinus. The oldest complete Latin Bible in the world, written at Jarrow in Northumbria in the early 8th century and taken to Italy in 716, this exceptional manuscript travelled back to Britain for the first time in over 1,300 years for the exhibition. While the Menak Amir Hamza cannot compete with Codex Amiatinus for physical size, great age, and beautiful illumination, it does contain many more folios!

Codex-amiatinus-biblioteca-medicea-laurenziana-64506a4 IMG_0093
(Left) Codex Amiatinus, 1030 folios of parchment, measuring 505 x 340 mm
(Right) Menak Amir Hamza, 1520 folios of Javanese paper, measuring 287 x 217 mm

Further reading:

Blog post: Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese version of the Hamzanama

A.T. Gallop and B.Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia.  Surat emas: budaya tulis di Indonesia.  London: British Library, 1991; p. 101.
Theodore G. Th.Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols. Volume 1, pp. 212-215.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
A. Sudewa, ‘Menak’. Sastra Jawa: suatu tinjauan umum, ed. Edi Sedyawati … [et al]. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 2001; pp. 317-323.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork