THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

5 posts from November 2019

27 November 2019

The Ring of Solomon in Southeast Asia

Batak manuscript books from north Sumatra, written on tree-bark and then folded accordion-style, are known as pustaha. These generally contain texts on divination and spells, and were compiled by a shaman known in Batak as a datu.  Many pustaha contains magical diagrams in red and black ink, and a symbol that frequently appears in these Batak books is a design of two overlapping squares, the smaller one rotated by 45 degrees and set within the other, with eight looped corners.  The upright square is called bindu matoga, and the diagonal one bindu matogu.  In some pustaha this symbol is shown enclosing a turtle, and is itself surrounded by a snake.

Add 19381 (5)
A small diagram of two overlapping squares, bindu matoga and bindu matogu, can be seen on the open page at the right, alongside a representation of a labyrinth, in a Batak pustaha, containing a text on divination. British Library, Add. 19381

This design of two overlapping squares with eight looped corners is extremely old: the earliest example known is engraved on an amulet from Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus valley, and thus probably dates from not later than ca. 1300 BC, and slightly variant forms are found as threshold designs in India and Sri Lanka.  The symbol was the subject of a very detailed study by Carl Schuster (1975), who showed convincingly that this composition can be linked to the Indian myth of creation, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, when the snake Vasuki was used as a rope to turn the churning pole on the back of a cosmic turtle.  Consistent with this cosmic interpretation is the suggestion by the renowned scholar of Batak manuscripts, Petrus Voorhoeve, that the two bindu represented the four cardinal and four intermediate points, and were therefore a symbol of the earth. 

In mainland Southeast Asia, the design is widely found in esoteric contexts in Thai and Khmer manuscripts, particularly associated with yantras or magical symbols that were often used as tattooes or drawn on amuletic clothing.  Numerous variants of this symbol can be seen in a 19th century manuscript held in the British Library of yantras in Thai in Khom (a variant of Khmer) script, Or. 15568.

Yantras
Several examples of a yantra of two overlapping squares can be seen in a 19th century manuscript in Thai in Khom script, British Library, Or. 15568, f. 6v (detail)

More unusually,the symbol is also seen depicted in a Buddhist text.  In a Thai illustrated manuscript of the Bhuridatta Jataka, one of the Birth Tales of the Buddha, an evil-minded Brahman and snake charmer captures Bhuridatta (the Buddha in one of his former existences as a serpent) using magic spells (mantra). In the picture shown below, the magic symbol (yantra) on the fan and the tattoo on his leg are both accompanied by letters in the sacred Khmer Khom script (with thanks to Jana Igunma for this explanation).

2008 July 124
A scene from the Bhuridatta Jataka, one of the Birth Tales of the Buddha, where the two overlapping squares with eight looped corners can be seen on the fan held by the evil Brahman. British Library, Or. 16710, f. 6.

The overlapping squares also appear frequently in Islamic texts from all over the Malay archipelago. The name of this amulet, and a concise explication of its power, is given in a mystical notebook from west Sumatra said to have belonged to the Padri leader Tuanku Imam Bonjol (1796-1864), now held in Leiden University Library (Cod. Or. 1751).  Shown below is a coloured diagram with the two overlapping squares, containing the word Allāh written twice, and with a pentagram in each of the five compartments, while around it is written the shahādah, the Muslim confession of faith.  Alongside reads the following caption in Malay: Inilah syarh cincin Sulaiman ‘alayhi al-salām, barangsiapa memakai dia rezekinya pun tiada berkurang, tamat, ‘This is an explanation of the ring of Solomon, peace be upon him: whoever wears it will never lack for fortune, the end’.

LUB Or.1751 (9)
‘The ring of Solomon’, from the notebook of Tuanku Imam Bonjol, west Sumatra. Leiden University Library, Cod. Or. 1751, p. 121.

The name ‘Sulaiman’ refers to the Islamic prophet Sulaymān bin Dāwūd, known from earlier Christian and Jewish tradition and sacred texts as King Solomon, son of King David.  Sulaymān is frequently mentioned in the Qur’an, with many descriptions of his esoteric knowledge granted by God: he could understand the speech of birds and animals (Q. 27:16, 19), and he was able to command legions of jinn (Q. 21:82, 34: 12).  His magic power was believed to be effected by the means of a talismanic ring engraved with ‘the most great name’ of God, which in Arabic magical texts and on amulets is represented by seven symbols, ‘the seven seals of Solomon’.  One of the symbols which makes up the ‘seven seals of Solomon’ is a five or six-pointed star.   The star alone, whether a pentagram or hexagram, is a very common amulet encountered in Islamic magic which is itself called ‘the seal of Solomon', khātam Sulaymān.  Very occasionally, the star is eight-pointed, and this may have been a crucial link with the eight-looped symbol, which has become known in Malay as ‘the ring of Solomon', cincin Sulaiman.

Seven seals of Solomon
The 'Seven Seals of Solomon', from an Arabic MS dated 1508 (after H. A. Winkler, Siegel und charaktere in der Muhammedanischen Zauberei.  Berlin und Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1930, p. 115)

#860   #2172
The 'Seven Seals of Solomon' are found on two Malay seals: left, along the bottom of the seal of Sultan Abdul Kadir II of Tallo' in Sulawesi (cat. 1752 #860); right, in the top left border of the seal of Syahbandar Ismail of Pulau Penyengat, Riau, ca. 1870 (cat. 965 #2712)

Although the 'Seven Seals of Solomon' are occasionally found in Malay manuscripts and seals, as shown above, the name of Solomon or Sulaiman is much more closely linked with the 8-looped ‘ring of Solomon’ amulet. This occurs all over Southeast Asia, but it seems to have a particularly strong association with the cultural zone stretching through the islands of Maluku up to the southern Philippines.  In Maranao communities in Mindanao, this symbol is called sising Raja Solaiman, ‘King Solomon’s ring’, and is very commonly used in amulets for driving away evil spirits, for palimonan charms to make the wearer vanish from sight, and for kebel (invulnerability) charms, to protect against other amulets or other sources of danger.  It has also been noted as a marginal design in a Qur’an manuscript from Taraka, Mindanao, and inscribed on a small piece of paper containing a prayer, found inside another Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao.

UVL MSS 13296  (50)
The 'ring of Solomon', inscribed with other symbols above a prayer, found inside a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao. University of Virginia Library, MSS 13296

#362  #363

The 'ring of Solomon' on two seals of Sultan Mandar Syah of Ternate (r.1648-1675), that on the left inscribed Sultan Mandar Syah (cat. 1838 #362), and that on the right inscribed Sultan Mandar Syah ‘Adil (cat. 1839 #363).  Leiden University Library, K. Acad. 98 (14 & 15).

Thus the label of a powerful Islamic talisman, the 'Seven Seals of Solomon', and of the pentagram known as the ‘Seal of Solomon’, was in the Malay Muslim world applied to an design of two overlapping 8-looped squares, an amulet already deeply embedded throughout the archipelagic world of Southeast Asia, which became known as the 'Ring of Solomon'.

Further reading:

This study of the 'Ring of Solomon' was initiated as part of a research project on Mindanao manuscripts coordinated by Prof. Midori Kawashim, which resulted in the publication: A.T.Gallop, Cultural interactions in Islamic manuscript art: a scholar's library from MindanaoThe library of an Islamic scholar of Mindanao: the collection of Sheik Muhammad Said bin Imam sa Bayang at the Al-Imam As-Sadiq (A.S.) Library, Marawi City, Philippines:  an annotated catalogue with essays, edited by Oman Fathurahman, Kawashima Midori and Labi Sarip Riwarung.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Sophia University; pp. 205-248.

The cat. numbers of the Malay seals reproduced above refer to: A.T. Gallop, Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia: content, form, context, catalogue. Singapore: NUS Press in association with the British Library, 2019.

Carl Schuster, Comparative observations on some typical designs in Batak manuscripts. Catalogue of Indonesian manuscripts. Part 1. Batak manuscripts, by P.Voorhoeve; pp.52-85. Copenhagen: The Royal Library, 1975.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section

21 November 2019

Buddha From Kashgar to Istanbul

This is the eighth of a series of blog posts accompanying the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 – 23 Feb 2020.

In 1911-12, Ahmet Refik (Altınay) published the Büyük Tarih-i Umumî, a compendious history of the world. Much of the material was far from ground-breaking. Similar to broader Ottoman historiography of this period, the sections on the ancient Mediterranean and the cultures and civilizations of Europe were taken, largely unchallenged, from French, English and German sources. What is noteworthy, however, is the self-assured manner in which the ancient history of the Turks as a nation is outlined in the Tarih. This was a continuation of a new trend in history-writing stemming from the mid-19th century. As Büşra Behar Ersanlı explains, it was based upon Western European sources – especially the work of Léon Cahun – but it was clearly repurposed for the growth in national consciousness among Turkic intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire.

Among these new perspectives was a fresh look at religion. Islam was a key component of Ottoman statehood, especially since Sultan Murad I declared himself Caliph in 1517. Ahmet Refik, however, problematized these links, highlighting the fact that, despite a clear overlap between Turkicness and Islamic identity, the two were far from identical. In addition to Islam, different Turkic peoples had embraced Animism (sometimes in the form of Tengrism), Zoroastrianism, Manichæism, various forms of Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism over the course of their recorded history. Indeed, Ahmet Refik remarks that:

“The Turks and the Mongols are not a religious people. The religious imagination, zeal and abundant inquiry that was so strong among the Arabs, Iranians and Slavs was unable to have an important influence on the thoughts of the Turks, Mongols or Manchus. The religion that was most appropriate to the nature of the Turks was the faith of the Buddha. In nature, thought and temperament, the Turks were Buddhist. The one encompassing [space] that would have kept the Turks living in complete comfort would have been the faith of the Buddha.” (Ahmet Refik, Büyük Tarih-i Umumi: IV Cilt, 277)

Contemporary understandings of the history of the Turkic peoples, and of religion across Eurasia, assign much of Ahmet Refik’s supposition and the assumptions upon which it is based to the realm of untruth. Nonetheless, it does highlight a fact that cannot be ignored: for a millennium and a half, Buddhism has and continues to be a core component of many Turkic communities across the Central Asia and Siberia.

Cover page of the Büyük tarih-i umumi, Ottoman history of the world. Passage on Buddhism the Büyük tarih-i umumi, Ottoman history of the world.
An early 20th-century view of Buddhism’s impact on the Turkic peoples, from an Ottoman perspective. (Ahmet Refik, Büyük Tarih-i Umumi: IV Cilt (Istanbul: Kitabhane-yi İslam ve Askeri, İbrahim Hilmi, 1328 [1912]), p. 277. ORB.30/8834) CC Public Domain Image

The Turkic peoples had likely encountered Buddhists and Buddhism by the middle of the first millennium CE. Chinese accounts from as early as the 6 th century speak of the translation of Buddhist texts into a language used by the Turks (although this was likely Sogdian). At least one inscription, as well as the construction of temples and statuary, testify to Buddhism’s importance during the Second Kök Turkic Khaganate (678-747 CE). It likely coexisted with Tengrism, the Turkic animistic belief system, during the early period, and later competed with Manicheanism for followers among the Uyghurs, Qarluqs and other Turkic peoples. It was eventually Buddhism that won out as the primarily religion of the Uyghurs in the 10th century, motivating the creation of numerous Buddhist religious manuscripts, some of which survive into the present.

The Uyghurs came to prominence after overthrowing the Qarluq and other Turkic polities in the 8th century CE and entering into an alliance with the Chinese monarchy. The earliest probable Turkic Buddhist texts, which come from Uyghur settlements in present-day Mongolia, made use of an archaic Turkic dialect also seen in the Runic texts of the Orkhon inscriptions . Such examples are exceptionally rare, leading some scholars to suppose that Buddhist production in Turkic languages during this period was minimal. This contrasts with later items from the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang – including those found in the British Library’s collections – which demonstrate a much more contemporary dialect. This dialect is not directly related to today’s Uyghur language, part of the Karluk sub-family of languages. Rather, it is likely an earlier form of Western Yugur , a small language belonging to the Siberian sub-family, spoken today in Gansu Province, China. As can be seen from the images below, the British Library texts are far too fragmentary to provide a clear picture of Buddhist practice in Uyghur, but they do establish that it existed.

Turkic Buddhist fragment in Uyghur script. Turkic Buddhist fragment in Uyghur script.
Fragments of 9th-century Buddhist texts in Uyghur (Or. 13085A and Or. 13085C). CC Public Domain Image

The letters of the Uyghur alphabet with pronunciation.
A guide to the Uyghur script, used in many Turkic Buddhist texts. (Khoja Abduqayyam, Qădimqi Uyghur yazma yadikarliqliridin tallanma (Urumchi: Shinjang Khălq Năshriyati, 1983), p. 125). ITA.1990.a.20). CC Public Domain Image

In the late 10th and early 11th centuries CE, the Qarakhanids, a Turkic community to the west of the Uyghur state, converted to Islam. This placed them in opposition with the primarily Buddhist Uyghurs, adding a religious element to socio-political and economic conflict in Central Asia. The Qocho Kingdom – a successor state of the Uyghur Khanate – continued to be a stronghold of Buddhist practice even after the conversion of the Qarakhanids and the invasion of the Mongols – themselves Buddhists – in the 13th century. The ultimate blow was dealt by the Chagatai Khanate in the late 13 th and early 14th centuries. A successor state of the Golden Horde, the Chagatai state was a fierce defender of the Chinggisid legacy. Nonetheless, the ascension of Muslim Khan Tughluq Timur to the throne in the second half of the 14th century spelled the beginning of the end for widespread Buddhist practice among the region’s Turkic peoples. It also saw a linguistic shift in which the Siberian Turkic language of the original Uyghur populations was gradually supplanted by a Karluk one closely linked to Chagatai, the literary language of Turkic Central Asia .

A painting of Chagatai Khan seated with his counsellors.
Chagatai Khan, seated amongst counsellors, from the 16 th-century manuscript called the Nusratname, also known as the Qissa-yi Chingiz Khan (Or. 3222). CC Public Domain Image

The collapse of the Qocho Kingdom did not mean the end of Turkic peoples’ relationship to Buddhism. For one, the Western Yugurs, linguistic if not ethnic descendants of the first Uyghurs, continue to practice the faith. But they are not the most numerous Turkic-speaking adherents. Buddhism also thrives among the Tuvans, a Turkic people whose titular homeland – the Tyva Republic – is nestled between Russia, China and Mongolia. Approximately 62% of the population of Tyva Republic identifies as Buddhist, with the most widespread practice a form of Buddhism similar to the one found in Tibet. As ethnic Tuvans make up 82% of the Republic’s population, the proportion of Buddhists among the Tuvans is likely far higher than the percentage of the entire Republic’s population. Buddhism co-exists with Tengrism and other forms of animistic belief, highlighting the blending of religious traditions among the region’s Turkic inhabitants. Materials within the British Library’s Turkic collections point to the revival and flourishing of various aspects of these belief systems following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Appreciation of the art, poetry and philosophy of Tuvan Buddhism shows up in both popular publications and in scholarly ones, as seen below.

A painting of the Balden Lhama by a Tuvan artist.
A painting of the Balden or Palden Lhama by a Tuvan artist. ( Shagaanyn︠g︡ dȯzu̇ bolgash ëzu-chan︠g︡chyldary : Shagaa baĭyrlalynga turaskaatkan Tȯgerik shirėėnin︠g︡ materialdary; Kyzyl, khooraĭ 2015 ch. (Kyzyl: Tuvinskiĭ institut gumanitarnykh i prikladnykh sot︠s︡ialʹno-ėkonomicheskikh issledovaniĭ, 2015). YP.2019.a.4289). CC Public Domain Image

Cover page of conference materials dedicated to Tuvan Buddhism.
Materials from a conference on Buddhist and other indigenous faith practices in Kyzyl, Tyva ( Tȯȯgu̇ge Dai︠a︡myshaan - Kelir U̇ezhe : Bėėzi kozhuunun︠g︡ 260 bolgash Khemchik kozhuunnun︠g︡ 250 oi︠u︡ncha turaskaatkan ėrtem-praktiktik konferent︠s︡ii︠a︡lardary. 2014 chyldyn︠g︡ okti︠a︡brʹ 24, 2015 chyldyn︠g︡ aprelʹ 29. Chadaana khooraĭ (Kyzyl: OAO Tyvapoligraf, 2015). YP.2019.b.473). CC Public Domain Image

The Tuvans, together with the Western Yugurs, as the two majority-Buddhist communities in the Turkic World. There is, however, another part to the story regarding the interaction between the Turkic peoples and the Buddhist faith. In the 17th century, a Buddhist Mongolic-speaking group known as the Oirots migrated from present-day eastern Kazakhstan to the Volga Region, where they established the Kalmyk Khanate. In doing so, they entered into an alliance with Russia, and pushed out Muslim Turkic communities, particularly the Nogais and the Karakalpaks. They battled the Kazakhs and Bashkirs and assisted in Russian campaigns against the Safavids and Ottomans, but under Catherine the Great their autonomy was eventually abolished and their Khanate absorbed into the Russian Empire. The great 17 th-century Ottoman chronicler Evliya Çelebi provided Ottomans with considerable information about the Kalmyks in the seventh volume of his Seyahatname, but nowhere does he mention that they were Buddhist. He frequently refers to them as küffar, or infidels, pointing out both their animistic beliefs and another belief system, which he equates with the “hulûlî” heterodoxy, combining a belief that God is inside the individual with reincarnation. He also gives a fairly comprehensive description of a pilgrimage site linked to Kalmyk ancestor worship. It houses the statue of an “angel without wings” and is topped by a bronze dome. Neither the Buddha, nor connections between this system of religious belief and those found further east, are ever mentioned. Nevertheless, it does appear that 17th century Ottomans were still introduced to the particularities of Kalmyk Buddhist practice thanks to the writings of this intrepid traveler.

Today, Kalmykia, found just south of Volgograd, is Europe’s only Buddhist-plurality territory. Nearly 48% of Kalmykia’s population identifies as Buddhist. Kalmykia’s capital, Elista, provides a centre for the practice of Tibetan-derived Buddhism as well as the publication of a plethora of Buddhist material. Examples in the British Library collections point to the increased importance afforded the documentation of these traditions, and of the role that Buddhism plays in the expression and development of contemporary Kalmyk cultural and spiritual life.

Images of Kalmyk Buddhist practitioners and stupas. Images of Kalmyk Buddhist practitioner and scholar.
Portraits of Kalmyk practitioners of Buddhism, along with descriptions of local interpretations and practices of the faith. ("Khranitel'nit︠s︡a vechnosti - Bochkaeva Nogan Kornusovna", (Elitsa?: [publisher not identified], [2016?]). YP.2019.a.1453) CC Public Domain Image

Ahmet Refik might have waxed lyrical about the similarities between Buddhist and traditional Turkic worldviews, but he clearly failed to grasp the living, dynamic nature of that linkage. Buddhism has impressed its stamp on the social, linguistic, political, economic and cultural development of the Turkic peoples. The British Library’s collections related to such topics, in turn, demonstrate that this is an ongoing relationship, one that is certain to continue motivating cultural production across Eurasia.

Dr. Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Collections Curator, British Library
CCBY Image

Further Reading:

Johan Elverskog, Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2010). YC.2015.a.4835
Johan Elverskog, Uygur Buddhist Literature, Silk Road Studies: I (Turnhout: BREPOLS, 1997). ORW.1998.a.251
Juten Oda, A Study of the Buddhist Sūtra called Säkiz Yükmäk Yaruq or Säkiz Törlügin Yarumïš Yaltrïmïš in Old Turkic, Berliner Turfantexte: XXXIII (Turnhout: BREPOLS, 2015). YD.2017.b.44
Margit Kőves, Buddhism Among the Turks of Central Asia (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aitya Prakashan, 2009). YP.2010.b.482
Xavier Tremblay, “The Spread of Buddhism in Serindia – Buddhism among Iranians, Tocharians and Turks before the 13th century,” in ed. Ann Heirmann & Stephan Peter Bumbacher, The Spread of Buddhism (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 75-130.

12 November 2019

A testament to diversity: Kurdish manuscript collections at the British Library

In the exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark, we explored the connections between power and the written word. The use of writing can be an exceptionally efficient means of expanding a state's sovereignty far beyond the reach of its armies. Similarly, when a particular community or government chooses to use a particular script or language, it bestows upon that means of expression a sheen of officialdom and prestige synonymous with state sponsorship.

Or 11996 ff1v-2r Mam u Zin
The opening pages of Mam û Zîn by Ehmed Xani, copied in 1221 AH/1806-7 CE (Or. 11996, ff. 1v-2r)
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What does this have to do with the British Library's holdings of Kurdish manuscripts? For starters, it helps us to understand the context within which they were created. Unlike Ottoman Turkish, Arabic or Persian, Kurdish was not the language of a widespread, long-lasting Imperial power. As a result, prior to the end of the 20th century, it was not employed over long periods of time as a vehicle for the creation of state documents, or a state-sponsored literary corpus. Moreover, Kurdish was not the liturgical language of a large religious community with a long tradition of written cultural production. Hebrew might not have been a state language for thousands of years before the creation of the State of Israel, but its use as a liturgical language by Jews around the world helped ensure the creation of a hefty corpus of both religious and secular material in it. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, for Syriac. Kurdish was thus doubly disadvantaged in finding patronage for the creation of a large written canon prior to the 20th century, and as a result, we are left with relatively fewer manuscripts in it than compared to Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Armenian, Hebrew or Syriac.

Or 6444 f11r Gorani Anthology_1500 Or 6444 f55r Gorani Anthology_1500
Two pages of poetry in Gorani from the Gorani anthology in safina format. Copy dated 1197 AH/ 1782-4 CE (Or. 6444, f. 11r and f. 55r)
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Indeed, the British Library holds a total of 8 manuscript texts in Kurdish, compared to the estimated 4000 items in Turkic languages. Of these, only 6 are volumes composed entirely, or nearly entirely, of poetry written in Kurdish. The best known of these is Or. 6444, a codex of Gorani poetry, which was transliterated and translated by Mr. Anwar Soltani, and eventually published as a bilingual edition entitled Anthology of Gorani Kurdish Poetry (YC.1999.b.8850). Some of the poetry included in the volume was composed by well-known Kurdish authors. None of them, however, is as famous as Ehmed Xanî, the author of the Kurdish epic Mam û Zîn, which the Library holds in manuscript form under the shelfmark Or. 11996. This work is a meditation on forbidden love, but it also encapsulates some of the core themes of a nascent Kurdish national identity. Mam û Zîn has been copied and published numerous times, especially since the creation of a de-facto Kurdish entity in Northern Iraq following the first Gulf War, when the Kurdish publishing industry blossomed. Nonetheless, this manuscript recension brings to life a historical dimension of the development of Kurdish literacy in the Middle East, while also acting as a window onto Xanî's poetical genius.

Or 8208 Seyfu-l-mulûk f45v-46r
Two better-preserved pages of the Seyfu'l-mulûk showing a fully-vocalized rendering of the Kurmanji text. Copy dated 1286 AH / 1869-70 CE (Or. 8208, ff. 45v-46r)
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Among the other Kurmanji Kurdish manuscipts is Or. 8208, a poem known as Seyfu'l-Mulûk, or The Sword of Kings. The Library's copy is badly damaged, and although the text is largely legible, many of the pages have lost their edges, in some cases depriving readers of complete words of phrases. This story is set in Egypt, where the action revolves around the adventures of a particular prince, but the origins of the tale are Persian. Versions of the Seyfu'l-Mulûk can be found across the Islamic world, and this Kurdish version attests to the manner in which such texts were accepted and assimilated into broader Kurdish creative culture.

Add MS 7829 ff91v-92r. Gorani Poem
A section of the Gorani translation of Khvurshīd-i Khāvar, early 19th century (Add MS 7829, ff. 91v-92r)
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Add MS 23554 f37r Bahram u Gulandam
A folio of Bahrām va Gulandām translated into Gorani showing a later addition to the text, early 19th century (Add MS 23554, f. 37r)
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Other items within the Kurdish collections are translations of well-known Persian works into the Gorani dialect. Add MS 7829 presents us with two stories: that of Leyla and Mecnun; and another of Khvurshīd-i Khāvar. Add MS 7826, in contrast, is a Gorani translation of Khusraw va Shīrīn. Finally, Add MS 23554 is the story of Bahrām va Gulandām, yet another Persian epic of reasonable fame amongst Middle Eastern communities. The simple production of all three manuscripts, as well as the lack of information about the copyist or where they were created, lead us to believe that they were part of a broader reading culture among Kurdish speakers. They might not be remarkable items of art and luxury, but their construction and formatting provide us with valuable information about the manner in which Kurds read and shared literature in their native tongue, all while remaining part of a broader West Asian cultural space.

Or 5932 14v
The start of the earliest Kurdish-Arabic dictionary in verse, the Nûbihara Biçûkan, composed by Ehmed Xanî. 18th century (Or. 5932, f. 9v)
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Or. 5932 9r: The opening part of the Edîqeya Îmanî, a didactic poem composed by Ehmed Xanî
The opening part of the Edîqeya Îmanî, a didactic poem composed by Ehmed Xanî. 18th century (Or. 5932, f. 14v)
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The last item in the collections containing Kurdish poetry is Or. 5932. It contains two Kurmanji Kurdish poems among various other works in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Persian. The first Kurmanji Kurdish work is the Nûbihara Biçûkan, composed by Ehmed Xanî as a means of teaching the Arabic language to Kurdish students at madrasas. The second is known as the Edîqeya Îmanî, another didactic work originally composed by Ehmed Xanî. The Edîqeya was also traditionally used as a starter text by Kurdish students at madrasas. The inclusion of these two particular poems in the codex is apt, given that the final text is an Arabic didactic poem aimed at helping Persian-speaking students learn the Arabic language; a mandatory subject for anyone studying the Qur'an.

One of the most challenging aspects of creating a cohesive and cogent collection of Kurdish works is the dialectical differences that exist between Kurdish speech communities. Today, there are two main dialects, or languages (the distinction is far from hard and fast), spoken and written across the Middle East. Kurmanji is the dominant Kurdish language in North and West Kurdistan, primarily spoken by Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Armenia, as well as parts of northern Iraq and north-eastern Iran. Sorani, by contrast, is used primarily in Central and East Kurdistan, covering northern Iraq and western Iran. Today, Kurmanji in Turkey and Armenia is written in Latin script, while Sorani in Iraq and Iran is written in Arabic script (as is Kurmanji in Syria). Cyrillic script was used in Armenia prior to 1991, but Armenian Kurds and Yezidis have since switched to the Latin standard. Add to this a plethora of local dialects that differ, in various degrees, from the commonly used lects of Amed (Diyarbakır), Slêmanî and Hêwler, and the related but distinct Zazaki and Gorani languages, and you get the totality of the Kurdophone sphere. All of this leads to a situation of remarkable diversity within the written corpus, one not usually seen in that of a state language. All texts in the British Library's Kurdish manuscript collections are written in Arabic script, which bedevils the task of the cataloguer. They are faced with the exceptionally difficult task of properly identifying the dialect of the text, in addition to the other pertinent information relating to the manuscripts, without the handy tool of state-sponsored standardization usually employed when cataloguing published works.

Add MS 26319 ff2v-3r Laki
A page of the Persian-Laki dictionary featuring terms in both languages written in neat nasta'liq. Dated 1811 CE (Add MS 26319, ff. 2v-3r)
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Add MS 26319 ff9v-10r English Kurdish
A page of the English-Kurdish wordlist featuring terms of common usage. Early 19th century (Add MS 26319, ff. 9v-10r)
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Linguistic diversity, far from being a hindrance, enriches our collections. In addition to the variety of dialects reflected in the poetic works, the British Library also holds a number of handwritten wordlists of Kurdish dialects in Iraq and Iran. The first of these, found under the shelf mark Add MS 26319, round out the collections and help to bolster our corpus of scholarly material relating to the Kurdish linguistic space. The codex is one that was created by the last owner of the manuscripts - C. J. Erskine - prior to its purchase by the British Museum in 1865. It holds an English-Kurdish glossary, as well as Persian-Laki Kurdish and Persian-Ardalani Kurdish (possibly a reference to Gorani) wordlists. While far from serious linguistic treatises on Kurdish dialectology or grammar, they do nonetheless provide a look at some of the pre-standardization aspects of Kurdish speech communities. They point to the ways in which linguistic diversity among the Kurds was conceived, sometimes by Western Orientalists, and sometimes by Kurds themselves. Such glossaries were a common phenomenon among British military and colonial officials, and more official versions were often published by governmental agencies. One need only look at IOR/L/MIL/17/15/52, a mass-produced multilingual volume entitled "Vocabularies: English, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish, Syriac" (digitised as part of the Qatar Digital Library), to see their importance within the context of the late British Empire.

Together, this motley collection of holdings produced by Kurds and colonial administrators provides a unique entry point to pre-20th century Kurdish cultural life. A lack of state sponsorship deprived Kurdish communities of some of the resources needed to create a written canon on the scale of the Persian, Arabic or Ottoman Turkish ones. It did not, however, stops the Kurds from seeking to write down, share and disseminate texts, and to preserve their cultural production for future generations. The British Library is lucky to be custodian of a small snapshot of such dynamics, which it aims to make available to all those seeking to understand better the history of Kurdish cultural expression.

The author would like to thank Mr. Yakup Aykaç of Artuklu Mardin Üniversitesi for his great help in the identification and description of Kurmanji Kurdish works within the British Library's collections.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Collections Curator, British Library
Ccownwork

07 November 2019

British Library receives gift of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka

On the occasion of the opening of the Buddhism exhibition, the British Library received a gift from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation, Thailand, of the Buddhist canon in the Pāḷi language. The recently published threefold edition consists of 120 volumes altogether. The official handover ceremony on 24 October 2019 was attended by representatives from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation, the Royal Thai Embassy in London and members of the Library’s senior leadership team who expressed their gratitude for this generous donation. All 120 volumes are currently on display in the Buddhism exhibition and will be added to the Library’s Buddhist collections after the exhibition closes on 23 February 2020.

RTE06311
Representatives from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation, the Royal Thai Embassy in London and British Library staff at the handover ceremony of the threefold edition of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka on 24 October 2019, led by Thanpuying Varaporn Pramoj, President of the World Tipiṭaka Foundation (centre).

The Buddha’s word was initially transmitted orally. After the Buddha’s physical passing and attainment of parinirvana, his disciples and later followers gathered in several councils to recite and preserve the Buddha’s teachings. It is thought that in the first century BCE, during the fourth Buddhist council held in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, an early version of the Buddhist canon was written down in the Pāḷi language. The Pāḷi canon, or Tipiṭaka, is regarded as the corpus of Buddhist scriptures closest to the original words of the Buddha. It consists of “three baskets” of teachings: the Sutta Piṭaka (discourses of the Buddha), the Vinaya Piṭaka (monastic discipline) and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka (further teachings). Each of the major Buddhist traditions has their own body of scriptures that may differ from others in contents, number and order of texts. In Sanskrit, the corpus of canonical scriptures is known as Tripiṭaka. A complete set of scriptures of the Buddhist canon can include from around 40 volumes in the Theravada tradition to 108 in the Vajrayana tradition and over 200 volumes in the Mahayana tradition. Maunggan gold plates
Text fragments from the Tipiṭaka in Pāḷi , written in Pyu script, on gold plates which were excavated at Maunggan, Burma. Pyu kingdoms, 5th century. British Library, Or.5340/A–B Noc

The oldest extant text fragments of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka in form of Pyu inscriptions on gold plates date back to around the 5th century CE. They were excavated at Maunggan, Burma, in 1897. The Pāḷi Tipiṭaka was transcribed into Sinhalese, Burmese, Khmer, Thai and Northern Thai, Lao, Shan and other scripts of Southeast Asia. In the nineteenth century Western scholars together with monks from Sri Lanka began to Romanise and to translate scriptures of the Tipiṭaka into English and other European languages. The first Romanised publication of the Jātaka tales from the Sutta Piṭaka by V. Fausbøll and R. C. Childers appeared in six volumes between 1875-1896.

Jatakas
Title page of the first volume of a Romanised version of the Jātaka tales published in London in 1875. British Library, 14098.d.23

The world's first printed set of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka was the 39-volume Chulachomklao of Siam Pāḷi Tipiṭaka Edition which was commissioned by King Chulalongkorn Chulachomklao of Siam (Rama V) in B.E.2463 (1893). After six years of preparation under the leadership of the Buddhist monk and scholar Vajirañāna-varorasa, the king presented 1000 sets of this historic edition to Buddhist monasteries all over the kingdom of Siam (now Thailand). More sets were presented later as royal gifts to 260 leading institutions all over the world. These royal gifts of Tipiṭaka in Pāḷi language printed in Syām script are now still held at libraries in 30 countries.

1893 edition
Front cover of a volume of the 1893 Chulachomklao of Siam Pāḷi Tipiṭaka Edition with the royal coat of arms of Siam used by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) embossed in gold. Photo courtesy of the World Tipiṭaka Foundation

In 1956 an international Buddhist Council held in Burma brought 2500 erudite monks of the Theravada tradition together and resulted in the publication of the Chaṭṭhasaṅgīti Council Edition containing the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka in Burmese script. Based on this edition, a Romanised version was edited on the initiative of the Supreme Patriarch of the Sangha of Thailand, Venerable Vajirañānasaṁvara, who himself had attended the Buddhist Council in 1956. The work was published in 2002 by the M. L. Manīratana Bunnag Dhamma Society Fund in Thailand, or present-day, World Tipiṭaka Foundation, comprising of forty volumes with the title Mahāsaṅgīti Tipiṭaka Buddhavasse 2500 (The Great International Tipiṭaka Council Buddhist Era 2500).

Pali notation
Front cover of a volume of the 2016 Queen Sirikit’s Sajjhāya Pāḷi Notation edition with the emblem of Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother of Thailand. Photograph courtesy of the World Tipiṭaka  Foundation

Based on the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka edition in Roman script that was completed in 2002, the World Tipiṭaka  Foundation published two further 40-volume sets of the Tipiṭaka specifically for the correct pronunciation and recitation of the Pāḷi text. The King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Sajjhāya Pāḷi Phonetic and the Queen Sirikit’s Sajjhāya Pāḷi Notation editions, published in 2016, are the culmination of half a century of international efforts to preserve the words of the Buddha. The use of sound technology made it possible to record the recitation of the Pāḷi texts, amounting to 3,052 hours. A special feature of the digital Sajjhāya recitation is the sound technology reference, which electronically refers to any one of over nine million Pāḷi syllables in the Tipiṭaka to the Kaccāyana Pāḷi grammar, the oldest grammar used in ancient Pāḷi literature. Digital recitation samples are available online at www.sajjhaya.org/node/26.

The presentation of the Romanised version of the Tipiṭaka together with the Sajjhāya Pāḷi Phonetic and the Sajjhāya Pāḷi Notation editions to the British Library as a Dhamma gift from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation heralds a new era of sharing ancient Buddhist wisdom and making the Pāḷi Buddhist canon available to a wider audience in the UK.

DSCF6589 (photo credit@D_Meng)
Display of the threefold edition of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka in the Buddhism exhibition, with (from left to right) Mrs Thipayasuda Suvanajata, Dr Lalivan Karnchanachari, Mr Phornsake Karnchanachari (Patron of the World Tipiṭaka Foundation) and H.E. Mr Pisanu Suvanajata (Ambassador of Thailand in the UK). Photograph courtesy of D. Meng.

Jana Igunma, Lead Curator, Buddhism exhibition Ccownwork

04 November 2019

Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia

The Malay world of maritime Southeast Asia has long been connected by political, economic, and cultural networks, the lingua franca of the Malay language, and the faith of Islam.  Malay seals – defined as seals from Southeast Asia or used by Southeast Asians, with  inscriptions in Arabic script –  constitute a treasure trove of data that can throw light on myriad aspects of the history of the Malay world, ranging from the nature of kingship to the form of Islamic thought embraced. As small but highly visible and symbolic emblems of their users, Malay seals were designed to portray the image of the self that the seal holder wished to project, but they were also no less strongly shaped by the prevailing cultural, religious, and artistic norms of their time. It is these multiple layers of identity, both consciously and subconsciously revealed in seals, that are recorded, explored, and interpreted in a new catalogue of Malay seals.

Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia  (Singapore:  NUS Press, in association with the British Library, 2019)
Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia  (Singapore:  NUS Press, in association with the British Library, 2019)

Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia, published in Singapore by NUS Press in association with the British Library, and in Indonesia by the Lontar Foundation, comprises a catalogue of 2,168 seals sourced from more than 70 public institutions and 60 private collections worldwide. The seals are primarily recorded from impressions stamped in lampblack, ink or wax on manuscript letters, treaties and other documents, but around 300 seal matrices made of silver, brass or stone are also documented. These Malay seals originate from the present-day territories of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, and date from the second half of the 16th century to the early twentieth century.

the large silver seal of Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor
A rare surviving example of a royal Malay seal matrix: the large silver seal of Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor (r. 1857-1898). 98 mm in diameter, this is both the largest Malay seal known, and the only Malay seal matrix with the names of the seal makers engraved on the underside: Tukang Selat dengan Tukang Ma' Asan ('Craftsman Selat with Craftsman Ma' Asan). Galeri Diraja Sultan Abdul Aziz, Kelang, reproduced courtesy of HH Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor. (Gallop 2019: 440, cat. 1293).

In the catalogue, elegantly designed by Paul Luna - Emeritus Professor of Typography at Reading University, and an expert in the design of ‘complex text’ – each seal is illustrated and the inscription presented in transcription, transliteration and English translation.  Also noted is biographical information on the seal holder (when available); the size, shape and medium of the seal; information on the manuscript on which the seal was found; and the locations of all other known impressions. A statistical overview hints at both the wealth of data encountered and the fragility of survival: over 10,000 impressions of Malay seals have been documented, but more than half the seals in the catalogue are only known from a single impression.

The catalogue began life two decades ago as a handlist of Malay seals in the British Library, and then evolved to include seals from other collections, mainly impressed on letters, treaties, edicts, and legal and commercial documents. In the Malay world, seals were a royal prerogative, their use restricted to the ruler and court officials, and most Malay seals known today are found on correspondence with European officials. In the British Library, the main sources of original Malay seals are letters from the collection of Thomas Stamford Raffles, and documents relating to the East India Company held in the India Office Records. The Endangered Archives Programme has also provided digital access to seal on manuscripts held in Indonesian collections.  Shown below are a few examples of manuscripts bearing Malay seals in the British Library, accompanied by the catalogue entry.

Aceh
Document recording the gift of a slave from Sultan Johar al-Alam Syah of Aceh to Captain Baumgarten, 30 Syawal 1225 (28 November 1810).  Melaka Records, British Library IOR R/9/22/45, f. 50r
Document recording the gift of a slave from Sultan Johar al-Alam Syah of Aceh to Captain Baumgarten, 30 Syawal 1225 (28 November 1810).  Melaka Records, British Library IOR R/9/22/45, f. 50r.  Like most Malay seals, the seal was stamped in lampblack, which has smudged when the paper was folded.  noc
Seal of Sultan Johar al-Alam Syah of Aceh

Kedah
Letter from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Kedah (r. 1778-1797) to Francis Light, Governor of Penang, 2 Syawal 1206 (24 May 1792).
Letter from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Kedah (r. 1778-1797) to Francis Light, Governor of Penang, 2 Syawal 1206 (24 May 1792). British Library, Add. 45271, f. 11; this volume of letters is from the Raffles collection.  noc Due to Siamese influence, Kedah seals were generally stamped in red ink and not the lampblack favoured in most Malay states. The seal on this letter is the sultan's small private seal, rather than his official seal of state. 150 examples of this seal have been documented, mostly from Sultan Abdullah's correspondence with Light, as noted in the catalogue entry below.
Seal of Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Ke

Johor
Illuminated letter from Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja of Johor to Emperor Napoleon III of France, 17 Syaaban 1273 (12 April 1857).
Illuminated letter from Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja of Johor to Emperor Napoleon III of France, 17 Syaaban 1273 (12 April 1857). British Library, Or. 16126.  noc It is often assumed that the most important Malay letters were illuminated, but in fact only a small number of courts ever produced illuminated letters, including Aceh, Johor, Pontianak, and Palembang. This finely decorated letter from Johor is the only Malay letter known written in gold ink. The seal, stamped in black ink, is catalogued below.
Seal of Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja of Johor

Jambi
Edict (surat piagam) from Pangiran Dipati Anum of Jambi, Sumatra, to Dipati Terbumi
Edict (surat piagam) from Pangiran Dipati Anum of Jambi, Sumatra, to Dipati Terbumi, dated Thursday in Jumadilakhir 10--.  This letter may date from the 17th century: although the date is incomplete as the paper is torn down the left side after the word seribu (one thousand), the next word appears to start with alif, and hence is most likely empat (four) or enam (six), and not seratus or dua ratus (one or two hundreds), giving a date in the first century of the second Hijrah millennium.  British Library, EAP117/51/1/10, Collection of Depati Atur Bumi, Hiang Tinggi, Kerinci, Jambi. The seal is catalogued below. Seal jambi

The majority of the over 2,000 seals in the new catalogue have been sourced from documents similar to those shown about.  Unlike in many other parts of the Islamic world, Malay seals are rarely encountered in manuscript books. However, perhaps two of the most unusual seals in the catalogue are those of Princess Ambung of Riau, attesting her ownership of prized items of silverware.

10-sided betel box (tepak sirih) with an inset tray lid, chased silver and partly gilded, Riau islands, 19th century.V&A IS.268&A-1950

10-sided betel box (tepak sirih) with an inset tray lid, chased silver and partly gilded, Riau islands, 19th century. Stamped on the base with the ownership seal of Tengku Ambung. V&A I.S. 268-1950.A.  One of Tengku Ambung's two seals is catalogued below:
seal of Tengku Ambung

The picture that emerges from a consideration of this wealth of data is of a Malay sealing tradition, involving the regular chancery use of locally manufactured seals with inscriptions in Arabic script, which probably evolved only in the 16th and early 17th centuries in the Muslim courts of the archipelago. Although seals had certainly been present in maritime Southeast Asia over the preceding millennium – the signet ring of the king of Srivijaya was reported in Song records of the 11th century, and Ibn Battuta noted the use of seals in Pasai during his visit in the 13th century – there does not appear to have been a consistent and coherent usage of seals in any part of the Malay world before the 17th century, except in Java. A possible impetus for the increasing use of Malay seals may have been the arrival on the scene of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) around 1600, and the emphasis the Dutch placed on the use of seals in treaties, in a way that the earlier wave of Portuguese and Spanish emissaries did not.  The well-established sealing culture in Islamic lands to the west provided the Malay world with the means of response to this sigillographic challenge, but Malay seals were nonetheless designed primarily to strike a chord within the region itself, while still clearly identifying their owners as full members of the international Islamic community.

Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia, by Annabel Teh Gallop. 
Singapore: NUS Press in association with the British Library, 2019.
852 pp.  ISBN: 978-981-3250-86-4
Distributed in North and South America by Chicago University Press
Distributed in the UK by Bernard Quaritch Ltd

The catalogue is published in Indonesia by the Lontar Foundation, with a jacket design based on the illuminated Johor letter shown above.
 Lontar front cover

Annabel Teh Gallop, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork