Asian and African studies blog

4 posts from December 2021

29 December 2021

Situations of Delicacy and Embarrassment: Ill-considered Favours in 1830s Persia

If you have ever started a new job, you may have found it difficult to catch up with the incomplete affairs in which your predecessor had been involved. You may be able to empathise then with James Morison, who took over as Resident in the Persian Gulf in September 1835. On Morison’s first inspection of the Residency treasury, he was taken aback by the large amount of money and valuable objects contained therein. Furthermore, Morison was alarmed that many of the items apparently belonged to individuals with no political or official connection to the East India Company; as a public office, the Residency treasury should normally only have been used to hold public money and valuables. Moreover, Morison was conscious that Bushehr, where the Residency was based, was in an unsettled and vulnerable state. If violence erupted in the area, the treasury would be an enticing and obvious target for thieves taking advantage of any disruption. Such was Morison’s unease about the contents of the treasury that he wrote to the Government of Bombay on 6 November 1835, seeking advice.

'Entrance to Bushire Residency', c 1870, author unknown
Photograph captioned 'Entrance to Bushire Residency', c 1870, author unknown. Photo 355/1/34.  Public Domain

In his letter, Morison highlighted the most conspicuous items that he had discovered during his inspection: three packages, sealed with the mark of Rizā Qulī Mīrzā Nā'ib al-Īyālah, a member of the Persian [Iranian] ruling family and former Governor of Bushehr. As well as having a royal owner, these packages were notable for three reasons. Firstly, they were by far the most valuable articles in the treasury. Morison’s research lead him to believe that the packages were valued at 5-13,000 Persian tomans or 30-60,000 Bombay rupees – which translates to hundreds of thousands of pounds in today’s money. Secondly, the packages bore an inscription which stated that they should only be handed over either to Rizā Qulī, or someone who possessed a document signed by Lieutenant Samuel Hennell, Morison’s predecessor, permitting their release. This confirmed that the articles had been placed in the treasury with the knowledge of the previous Resident, although the question of this being a public or private transaction remained. Thirdly – and most worryingly – tumultuous events arising from the death of Fatḥ ‘Alī Shāh, Shāh of Persia, meant that the discovery of these articles within the Residency treasury could potentially be damaging to British-Persian relations.

diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
Extract of the list of contents of Rizā Qulī’s treasure, including weapons and jewellery set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. IOR/F/4/1596/64626, f. 534r. Crown copyright, used under terms of Open Government License

Rizā Qulī was the son of the late Ḥusayn ‘Alī Mīrzā Farmānfarmā, Prince Governor of Fars, who had died in captivity following his failed attempt to claim the throne of Persia from his nephew, Muḥammad. When Ḥusayn ‘Alī had been captured, Rizā Qulī and two of his brothers had fled Shiraz. As Morison emphasised in his letter to Bombay, there was currently an extensive search being carried out by Manūchihr Khān Gurjī, the new Governor of Fars, to obtain the missing treasure and property of the late Ḥusayn ‘Alī. If reports were true, Morison was sure that Manūchihr Khān would already be aware of the extent and location of the packages currently held in the treasury. The situation, Morison feared, might lead to much misunderstanding and could place himself and the Ambassador at Tehran in a situation ‘of some delicacy and embarrassment’.

Ḥusayn ‘Alī Mīrzā Farmānfarmā, attributed to Mihr ‘Alī in the early 19th century
Ḥusayn ‘Alī Mīrzā Farmānfarmā, attributed to Mihr ‘Alī in the early 19th century. Wikimedia Commons

In response to Morison’s letter, the Government of Bombay instructed him to send the packages on board one of the East India Company’s ships of war for safekeeping until a decision could be made. They wrote to Hennell, the Acting Resident when the articles had been deposited in the treasury and who had been in Bombay on sick leave since July 1835. He replied to the Government on 11 February 1836, admitting that he had reluctantly agreed to hold Rizā Qulī’s private property in the treasury towards the end of 1834. He had felt obliged to do so due to the ‘intimate footing’ between Rizā Qulī and the British authorities in the Gulf, as well as the former’s kind treatment of all Residency members. With Rizā Qulī now on the run, it was unclear if or when he would return to Bushehr, and so Hennell suggested that the packages be sent to Basra and held securely on board a ship of war there, until Rizā Qulī could send an agent to collect them.

As for the diplomatic sensitivities, Hennell clarified that an agent of Manūchihr Khān had already made enquiries about missing treasure in July 1835. Hennell had been transparent with the agent, who seemed satisfied by Hennell's responses and made no further enquiries. The Government of Bombay criticised Hennell’s poor judgement in accepting Rizā Qulī’s private property, but focused on returning the packages to the fugitive prince as quickly as possible.

Morison's problem was solved. However, the incident perhaps served as an appropriate introduction to the role of Resident and the balancing act he would be required to perform when dealing with ruling families in the Gulf. Whilst beneficial to cultivate relationships with powerful elites, this could lead to difficulties when their power diminished and other individuals emerged as frontrunners to the throne. The favourable treatment shown to the British by Rizā Qulī had resulted in Hennell feeling somewhat obliged to agree to Rizā Qulī’s request, and to consequently bend the rules with regard to appropriate use of the Residency’s treasury.

Curstaidh Reid, Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading

London, British Library, ‘Vol: 1. Affairs of the Persian Gulf’, IOR/F/4/1596/64625
London, British Library, ‘Vol: 2. Affairs of the Persian Gulf’, IOR/F/4/1596/64626
Gavin R G Hambly, ‘Farmanfarma, Hosayn Ali Mirza’, Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 1999
The Political Residency, Bushire’, Qatar Digital Library

22 December 2021

A farewell to Jerry! J. P. Losty (1945-2021).

One of our most active contributors and colleague, J.P. Losty (1945-2021), passed away on the 29th of September. We are heartbroken by the news and will miss Jerry for his unfaltering generosity, sense of humour and his exceptional knowledge on the collections. Our thoughts are with his wife Kate and daughters Cat and Ellie.

Jerry started his career at the British Museum in 1971, joining as the Assistant Keeper of Sanskrit in the Department of Oriental Manuscripts. From 1986, Jerry worked in the Print, Drawings and Photographs section of The British Library; first as Curator and retiring as Head of Prints, Drawings and Photographs in 2005. His exhibition Art of the Book in India (1986) brought together an encyclopedic collection of South Asian manuscripts from across the world and the accompanying catalogue is still a valuable resource for researchers.

Jerry has left us an incredible legacy at the British Library, from shaping the collection with his ambitious programme of acquisitions over a 34-year career, arranging our internal storage of the paintings in such a detailed fashion (by style and then in chronological order), and also leaving copious details in the catalogue records and articles on the breadth of the collection. Since retirement, Jerry’s impressive range of publications – more than 26 books – has opened our eyes to fresh approaches to Indian painting. His ability to write accessible articles, whether for the British Library’s Asia and Africa Blog, or his countless monographs, really demonstrates his dedication to the field and ensures that his information is as helpful to the academic scholar as for a general audience. 

As Jerry's extensive career can be better outlined by one of his many peers, this blog post looks at Jerry's contributions post-retirement. On retiring in May 2005, Jerry spent the initial months devoting time to his other interests such as music, travelling and spending time with his family. This respite was short lived as Jerry was invited back to the Library to guest curate The Ramayana: Love and Valour in India's Great Epic and wrote the accompanying publication which launched in 2008. 

Jerry looking at decorative objects to be displayed at the Ramayana exhibition in 2008. Photo credit: Janet Benoy.
Jerry looking at decorative objects to be displayed at the Ramayana exhibition in 2008. Photo credit: Janet Benoy.

After wrapping up the Ramayana project, Jerry started to focus on his research on later Mughal paintings. From 2008 through 2012, Jerry was exceptionally busy working on a range of projects. He completed his research on Mazhar Ali Khan's Panorama of Delhi and published a monograph titled Delhi 360 (Roli Books, 2012). This detailed publication cross-checked the illustrated monuments with extant buildings that were drawn in 1846 by the artist Mazhar Ali Khan from the viewpoint of the Lahore Gate at the Red Fort. Jerry also supported my first major British Library exhibition, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, giving me guidance on early Mughal manuscripts and graciously co-authored the book in a record 4 month window. Jerry also supported the South Asia section curators Marina Chellini and Leena Mitford with the ambitious Digital Re-unification of the Mewar Ramayana in 2014. In acknowledgement of his lifetime work on Indian art, Jerry was awarded the Colonel James Tod award at the Maharana of Mewar Annual Function in Udaipur in March 2016.

Jerry and Maharana of Mewar
Maharana Arvind Singh of Mewar and J.P. Losty, March 2016. Photo credit: Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation.

In terms of publications, between 2010-2021, Jerry was regularly invited to contribute to a range of exhibition catalogues including The Indian Portrait (National Portrait Gallery, 2010), Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi (Yale University Press, 2012), Masters of Indian Painting (Artibus Asiae, 2015), and Forgotten Masters (Wallace Collection, 2019). Aside from his many articles, Jerry also published the following books:

  • Sita Ram's Painted Views of India: Lord Hastings's Journey from Calcutta to the Punjab, 1814 - 15 (Roli Books, 2015)
  • Indian Paintings of the British Period in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Collection (Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad, 2016)
  • Mystical Realm of Love: Pahari Paintings from the Eva & Konrad Seitz Collection  (Francesca Galloway, 2017)
  • Indian life and people in the 19th century: Company paintings in the Tapi Collection (Roli Books, 2019)
  • Court and Courtship: Indian Miniatures in the Tapi Collection (Niyogi Books, 2020)

For the followers and readers of the Asian and African Studies Blog, Jerry was one of our key supporters from the launch of the Blog in 2012. Jerry immediately joined in and offered to contribute short articles on parts of the collection that he had continued to research during his retirement. As a fitting tribute, here is a roll call of his contributions since 2012. 

Image: Nawab ‘Abd al-Rahman of Jhajjar in his court in cool weather with his two young sons and various courtiers and attendants. By Ghulam ‘Ali Khan, dated January-February 1852. British Library, Add.Or.4681. The Search for Alexander Hadarli.
The first blog post Jerry authored was on his research on Alexander Hadarli, a European at the court of the Nawab of Jhajjar who featured in this durbar scene in 1852. Jerry's chance discovery of archival information helped him realise that this this figure was in fact the noted Urdu poet Azad who flourished in Delhi during the mid-19th century.
Image: Robert Smith, Aurangzeb’s Mosque at Varanasi, 1814.  Watercolour on paper, 19 by 35 cm.  WD2089 Disentangling the Robert Smiths
Jerry was keen to explore and understand the careers and artistic styles of the two Robert Smiths that flourished in the 19th century. This blog post looks at the works of Colonel Robert Smith (1787-1873), of the Bengal Engineers, who was the controversial architect who repaired the Qutb Minar between 1825-30 after previous damage caused by an earthquake.
Portrait of Raja Shamsher Sen of Mandi Pahari Paintings at The British Library
While the strength of the British Library's South Asian paintings collections are without doubt Mughal paintings and manuscripts, Jerry highlighted the small collection of Pahari paintings that had been acquired by the Library since the early 19th century through the present day.
Portrait of Gervase Pennington by Jivan Ram

A new portrait miniature by Jivan Ram acquired
Jerry was interested to learn more about the artist Raja Jivan Ram that the art historian and British Library (India Office) Curator Mildred Archer had documented in one of her publications. On acquiring a new portrait by Jivan Ram of the British officer Gervase Pennington in 2013, Jerry started to piece together Jivan Ram's career and stylistic use of oil on board and watercolour on ivory for both a short blog post and an article in the eBLJ: Raja Jivan Ram: A Professional Indian Portrait Painter of the Early Nineteenth Century (bl.uk)

Detail of a Mughal painting of flower studies, c. 1635
Mughal flower studies and their European inspiration
Possibly one of Jerry's most popular blog posts; this post looked at the influences for Mughal flower studies produced for Prince Dara Shikoh during the middle of the 17th century and discussed connection to Adriaen Collaert, Florilegium. 
Hanuman is brought bound before Ravana and his tail set on fire.  Ramayana, Sundara Kanda.  Mewar-Deccani style, Udaipur, c. 1650.  British Library, IO San 3621, f.9r Curator's perspective: accessing the Mewar Ramayana
Jerry wrote a candid article on working on the Mewar Ramayana, a 17th century manuscript that consisted of 8 volumes, 6 of which are held by the British Library. The blog post was to complement the Digital Re-unification of the Sanskrit epic with CSMVS in Mumbai.
Nayaka ko prakasa biyoga sringara, Krishna’s ‘open’ love in separation (Rasikapriya 1, 27-28).  301 x 217 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.4

For a particular album of Martha and Deccani paintings, Jerry wrote two blog posts:

 

The Takht Sri Harmandir Patna Sahib.  Inscribed: ‘N2 Gunga Govind Sing’s Temple at the confluence of the Baugrutty and Jalangi Rivers.  Augt 1820.’  WD4404, f.2.  noc Charles D'Oyly's voyage to Patna
Jerry often researched and wrote about amateur artists that worked for the East India Company, such as Charles D'Oyly who was employed by the Bengal Civil Service and was influenced by the English artist George Chinnery.
A model of a lion.   By Gangaram, 1790.  Wax, possibly dhuna, the aromatic gum of the shal tree (Shorea robusta), painted; size of wooden base: 20.5 x 9.75 x 2cm; animal 12.5cm at highest point of mane.  F872  noc

'A very ingenious person': The Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat
On joining as Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Library in 1986, Jerry started to work on the artist Gangaram who was employed by Sir Charles Warre Malet of the Bombay Civil Service, including his detailed illustrations of rare animals in Pune. 


A lady meant to be Shaukat Begum, perhaps the great-granddaughter of Akbar II.  By Muhammad ‘Azim, Delhi, c. 1840-50.  Watercolour on ivory.  106 x 85 mm.  British Library, Add.Or.5719

Artistic Visions of the Delhi Zenana
Jerry researched the rise of portrait miniatures on ivory in 19th century Delhi. The acquisition of a set of watercolour paintings on ivory gave him the opportunity to explore a few lesser known Delhi artists and their portraits of women of the Mughal household.

A Khawtee Ghiljie in his Summer dress. By a Delhi artist, 1808-10.  Watercolour; 20.5 by 15.25 cm.  Elphinstone’s Caubul, pl.  IX, opposite p. 443. Add.Or.4675

New evidence for the style of the "Fraser artist" in Delhi: Portraits of Afghans 1808-10
Jerry avidly wrote about 19th century Delhi and the so-called Fraser artist in Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire (British Library, 2012).  

Two oxen fighting.  Deccan, probably Bijapur, early 17th century.  Marbled paper, wash and gold.  100 by 130 mm (page 190 x 295 mm).  British Library J.53, 3 (detail)

Jerry wrote several blog posts on Deccani paintings including:

Detail of the Taj Mahal from Or 16805

The 'Agra Scroll': Agra in the early 19th century
After the British Library acquired s seven-metre long panoramic view of the Agra riverfront, Jerry and the eminent art historian Dr. Ebba Koch (Vienna) started their in-depth research to document the architectural views. Jerry and Ebba's full article can be read via the eBLJ: The Riverside Mansions and Tombs of Agra: New Evidence from a
Panoramic Scroll Recently Acquired by The British Library

 

Bridge of boats across the Ganga at Kanpur and Major Gilbert’s house. By Sita Ram, 1814-15.  BL Add.Or.4747


The Gilbert Artist: A Possible Pupil of Sita Ram
Jerry's last contribution for the Blog in 2019 by no means was his last article or monograph. Continuing on from his extensive research on the artist Sita Ram, Jerry wanted to delve deeper into the collection to document the connections between Sita Ram's picturesque painting style to others in the collection.

Jerry's full list of publications can be found via the British Library's Research Repository or Academia.edu. 

 

Malini Roy, Head of Visual Arts

13 December 2021

Khmer manuscripts at the British Library (Part 2)

The previous blog post on Khmer manuscripts at the British Library focused on traditional Khmer manuscripts - palm leaves (sleuk rith) and folding books (kraing). In addition to these, the British Library holds documents containing text in Khmer script that were made by foreigners who travelled or lived for some time in Cambodia and Thailand, or who exchanged written correspondences with Cambodia.

Of special interest is a small collection of epigraphic notes by Henri Mouhot, dated 1860-61, together with Mouhot’s visas issued by the Siamese authorities that permitted him to travel in the country. These documents were initially given to the British Museum in 1894 by Mrs Mouhot, over 30 years after her husband’s death, and were transferred to the British Library after 1973 (Or 4736). They contain a “sacred Khmer alphabet” for Pali texts together with a short text sample, an “ordinary Khmer alphabet” with two text samples, copies of ancient Khmer stone inscriptions, together with Lao alphabets and text samples.

The copies of Khmer inscriptions that Mouhot produced are particularly interesting as some of the original stones may not exist anymore. They include copies of inscriptions at Angkor Wat, at Phanom Wan near Korat, at a temple ruin near Phimai, at Khamphaeng Phet, Battambang, Chaiyaphum, and Angkor Thom.

Henri Mouhot’s copy of a stone inscription found on an unspecified terrace at Angkor Thom
Henri Mouhot’s copy of a stone inscription found on an unspecified terrace at Angkor Thom. From the collection of epigraphic notes of Henri Mouhot; date of the copy 1860-61. British Library, Or 4736, f. 14 Noc

Another interesting manuscript is a European-style bound book with the title “Dictionary of the Kameh language with the English translation to every word”. It contains thirty folios of handwritten Khmer text with English translations, and it is not actually a dictionary, but a glossary. The Khmer text is written below the line, following South and Southeast Asian writing traditions, whereas the English translations were added above the Khmer text. An introductory note says that “This dictionary wants the insertion of about 4000 words and a fuller explanation in English, which will be done, if the work is to be printed.” However, it does not seem as if the work was ever completed or printed since the last nine folios were left blank. Nonetheless, this is an outstanding work which was compiled in 1830 by two persons: a learned Khmer speaker known as Chaou Bun, resident in Siam, and the German missionary Karl Gützlaff who lived in Bangkok from 1828-31. Gützlaff’s first wife, Maria Newell Gützlaff, an English missionary, teacher and translator of Chinese, may have assisted in some way with this collaborative work after she joined her husband in Bangkok in 1830. Together, they were also working on Bible translations into Thai, Khmer and Lao languages. The sudden death of Maria following the birth of twins and Gützlaff’s departure to Macau in 1831 was probably the reason why the glossary was never finished.

Page from the “Dictionary of the Kameh language with the English translation to every word” by Chaou Bun (Khmer text) and Karl Gützlaff (English translations), 1830
Page from the “Dictionary of the Kameh language with the English translation to every word” by Chaou Bun (Khmer text) and Karl Gützlaff (English translations), 1830. British Library, Or 13577, f. 14 Noc

The most remarkable manuscript containing Khmer text is a nearly 15 m long paper scroll from Japan. It contains a mid-19th century copy of a transcript made in 1818 of ten official documents and trade letters written in Japanese from the Gaiban Shokan (Foreign Correspondence) between the Japanese government (shogunate) and various foreign rulers or officials between the years 1604 and 1675. Among Dutch, Italian and Luzon letters are six Cambodian documents with translations dated to 1605-6. Whereas the Sino-Japanese script is immaculate, the translations of the six letters in Khmer script are almost illegible and are thought to have been copied by a Japanese scribe who was not familiar with Khmer.

19th-century copy of a letter in Khmer language dating back to 1605, in a Japanese scroll containing trade documents from 1604-75
19th-century copy of a letter in Khmer language dating back to 1605, in a Japanese scroll containing trade documents from 1604-75. British Library, Or 12979 Noc

Thanks to the digitisation of several Khmer manuscripts with funding from the Legacy of Henry Ginsburg, it was possible to work with scholars across the globe to identify the age and texts contained in some of these manuscripts. The scroll from Japan (above) is one such example: Mr Bora Touch kindly provided a transcript of nine lines of almost illegible text in Khmer language, dated 1605, seen in the image above:
[1] សារ នោ ឧកញា ឝ្រីអគ្គរាជ នុឧកញា ធម្មតេជោយេងខ្ញុមទាង២ ថ្វាយបំគម្ម មោកស្តេចញីបុ៎ន កុ
[2] កជូ ឫ យេងនោស្រុកកុម្វុជ្ជាធិបតី បានយលស្តេចញីបុ៎នសាបុរ្សប្រសេថ្ឋពៀកទេព
[3] ឲយតេងសំពោវខ្មេរ១ឲយចោ សពោវឈ្មោះស្សយីមុនកានោក
[4] ទោះស្តេចយីបុ៎នកុកចូ ស្រលេងយេងខ្ញុំទាង២ពិតឲយស្តេចកុកចូវ
[5] ឲយទំនេរចោសំពោវចេញទោវឆាបកុំប្បីឲយនោវអាយលេយ ឥតអិយៗនុថ្វាយ
[6]មោកស្តេចលេយ សោមមោកថ្វាយចៀម៥ ក្រមួនហាប១ ខាន់សាកករ ហា
[7] ប១ សាកកសរ ហាប១ កន្ទុុយកងោក១០ ស្បេកខលាតម្បោង
[8] ៥ថ្វាយមោកស្តេចចងទេងព្រហ្បនគំមោកឯក្រោយម្តងទៀតទេពតេំងត្រា
[9] ផ្កាមកថ្វាយ..
Mr Bora Touch and another Cambodian scholar, Mr Suon Sopheaktra, helped to identify a French translation of the letter (no. 2, p. 130), saying it was sent to the emperor of Japan by two Cambodian envoys, Okna Srei Akkarac and Okna Thommadecho. It documents the gift of textiles, beeswax, candy sugar, white sugar, peacock tail feathers and leopard skins to the emperor of Japan. The letter was sealed with a red lotus flower seal.

This kind of information is not only extremely useful for the description of the manuscript in the Library’s online catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts, but also for historians, archaeologists, palaeographers and linguists who rely on these rare primary sources for their research.

It is hoped that through digitisation more facts about Khmer manuscripts will come to light, for example about a rather mysterious book bound in European style. It contains 203 drawings of scenes mainly from the Ramayana and the Vessantara Jataka. Short Khmer captions written on each folio with pencil accompany the drawings. 157 pages are illustrated with scenes from the Ramayana in black ink and grey water-colour shades; pages 158-203 contain coloured drawings of scenes from the Vessantara Jataka and other Jatakas. The illustrations are in the style of the Thai Rattanakosin period and resemble reliefs of the Ramakien (Thai version of the Ramayana) at Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho) in Bangkok which were created during the reign of King Rama III (r. 1824-51). However, similar scenes from the Reamker (the Khmer Ramayana) can be found in murals at Vat Po in Siem Reap as well as on 12th-century bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. Unusual for both Thai and Khmer painting styles is the sketching of the drawings with pencil before they were drawn with ink, as well as the shading of the black ink drawings with grey water colour. On the inside of the first unfoliated page, the word "Couronne" is written in pencil, which may be a French name. Judging from the acidity of the paper the creation period of the drawings is estimated to around 1880 to 1900. The glossy endpapers were decorated with a design called “Spanish wave” made in marbling technique which became increasingly popular in Europe in the second half of the 19th century. Unfortunately, nothing else about the book is known, except that it was acquired from Sam Fogg, London, in 1994.

Rama reveals himself as an incarnation of Narayana. Illustration of a scene from the Ramayana in black ink and grey water colour on European paper, ca. 1880-1900
Rama reveals himself as an incarnation of Narayana. Illustration of a scene from the Ramayana in black ink and grey water colour on European paper, ca. 1880-1900. British Library, Or 14859, ff. 54-5 Noc

Endpaper with “Spanish wave” design in a book containing drawings of scenes from the Ramayana and the Vessantara Jataka, ca. 1880-1900
Endpaper with “Spanish wave” design in a book containing drawings of scenes from the Ramayana and the Vessantara Jataka, ca. 1880-1900. British Library, Or 14859 Noc

All Khmer manuscripts at the British Library have now been catalogued and can be searched in the Library’s online catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts  which also links to manuscripts that have been digitised.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

Further reading
Current status of manuscript collections in Cambodia’s monasteries. Fonds pour l'Édition des Manuscrits du Cambodge, École française d'Extrême-Orient (retrieved 16/10/2021)
Mouhot, Henri. Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China (Siam), Cambodia, and Laos during the Years 1858, 1859, and 1860 (Vol. 1 of 2). London, 1864.
Niyada Laosunthon. Silā čhamlak rư̄ang Rāmmakīan : Wat Phrachēttuphonwimonmangkhalārām. Bangkok, 1996
Péri, N. Essai sur les relations du Japon et de l'Indochine aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles. Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. 1923, 23, pp. 1-136
Roveda, Vittorio: Wat Bo: Conclusion. (2017)

06 December 2021

Two Centuries of Indian Print: South Asia Seminar Series at the British Library 2016-2021

The ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ Project has successfully digitised rare and unique books from the British Library’s South Asian collections dating from 1713-1914. Launched in late 2015, the project was funded by the AHRC Newton-Bhabha Fund and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. During Phase 1 of the project, over 1000 unique and rare Bengali books were digitised, and a further 600 books printed in Assamese, Sylheti and Urdu languages were made available online in Phase 2.

A range of highlights that have been digitised through this project can be seen here: https://www.bl.uk/early-indian-printed-books

The project has promoted Digital Humanities research in addition to generating new perspectives on the British Library’s extensive South Asia collections through a network of international collaborations, including our project partners Jadavpur University and the Shristi Institute.

Learn more about the project here.

To complement the Two Centuries of Indian Print Project, a series of South Asian seminars were hosted by the Library, whereby academics and researchers from the UK and abroad shared their research and knowledge, including discussions chaired by curators and specialists in the field. The talks were inspired by the Two Centuries of Indian Print project and often referenced the British Library collections, covering topics relating to South Asian history.

The first series took place in November 2016 and continued every month throughout 2017 and 2018. In 2019 the series took place in the Knowledge Centre, running from June to October. As a result of the pandemic the series was paused in 2020 and the seminars resumed online in 2021.

The South Asia Series talks from 2016-2019 are available to listen to through SoundCloud.

Recordings from seminars that took place in 2021 are available on YouTube.

Highlights from South Asia Seminar Series 2016

The first talk of the series was presented by Dr Richard David Williams, formerly a cultural historian of South Asia and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. Dr Williams is now a Senior Lecturer in Music and South Asian Studies at SOAS. The title of this talk was ‘Forgotten Music and Muted Women: gender, performance and print in the British Library’ . Dr Williams examined Mughal and colonial era sources in a variety of languages to draw particular focus to female musicians, dancers, poets, and patrons, and demonstrated how women were deeply involved in pre-modern musical culture.

You can listen to this talk here.

Lithographed black and white page with five scenes inside octagonal frames, two at the top, two at the bottom, and one in the middle of the page. The scenes show two woman seated; three women standing together; one woman playing an instrument among four peacocks and a snake; one woman in profile seated beneath a tree; and one woman seating facing the viewer among plants. The frames are surrounded by floral illumination.
An illustrated page from the Sarmayah i 'ishrat , an Urdu musciological treatise, by Sadiq Ali Khan Dihlavi (1875). (British Library, VT 638)
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In November 2017, Dr Priyanka Basu, former Project Curator of Two Centuries of Indian Print Project and currently Lecturer in Performing Arts at Kings College London, presented a talk titled ‘The ‘High' and ‘Low’ of the Farce in Colonial Bengal: Bat-tala, Proscenium and Beyond’. The second half of the nineteenth century in Bengal saw a number of new and recurring themes in dramatic/literary productions. Social themes were best represented through the genre of farce. Bat-tala or the veritable Grub Street of Calcutta, was prolific in the production of ‘low-life print’. Dr Basu looked at the texts from the two divisions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ tastes in order to understand the marginal and subversive nature of the Bat-tala farces in comparison to the colonial Bengali dramatic canon, and more broadly the cultural and literary politics surrounding the farce in colonial Bengal.

This talk can be heard here.

 

Highlights from South Asia Seminar Series 2017:

In May 2017, Dr Christopher Bahl, a former PhD student at SOAS, and currently Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Durham University, examined Arabic manuscripts from the Royal Library of Bijapur in his talk. Cultural Entrepôts and Histories of Circulation: The Arabic Manuscripts of the Royal Library of Bijapur’ examined the historical circulation of Arabic manuscripts, which linked South Asia with other regions of the western Indian Ocean world, including Egypt, the Hijaz, Yemen, and Iran during the early modern period. In particular, Dr Bahl looked at the historical development of the Royal Library of Bijapur in the Deccan, today among the India Office Library collections in the British Library, and how its collection of Arabic manuscripts provided crucial insights into the courtly circulation, social use and cultural significance of these texts in a local Indo-Persian environment.

Listen to this talk here.

A page with highly cursive Arabic script in various positions and angles along with four black ink seals in Arabic script.
Arabic Manuscript from Bijapur Library. (1617, British Library, Bijapur 7)
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In August 2017, Lubaaba Al-Azami, an AHRC funded doctoral candidate from the University of Liverpool presented her talk: ‘Writing Empire: The Memoirs of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, Founder of Mughal India’. The founder of the Mughal Empire, Zahirunddin Muhammad Babur was an accomplished poet and writer as well as fulfilling his role as a prince and military commander. Among his writings are his renowned memoirs, the Baburnama, rare manuscripts which can be found in the British Library collection. This talk focused on Babur’s use of Chagatai Turkic in writing the memoirs, arguing that this choice of language is a marker of the Mughal Empire’s celebration of matrilineal imperial heritage.

Listen to this talk here.

A full page painting of a court scene involving Babur seated on his throne meeting a crowd of courtier, most of whom are standing, and some of whom are active in speaking or gesticulating. At the bottom of the painting is a a collection of men on horseback in front of the court building, as well as men standing around them, and the background outside the building's walls shows a landscape scene with a building in the distance that contains two men conversing. The image is surrounded by a gilt floral border.
Babur greets courtiers at the Id Festival (1595, British Library, Johnson 2, 12)
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Highlights from South Asia Seminar Series 2018:

The 2018 South Asia Series included a fascinating talk given by Dr Katherine Butler Schofield, Senior Lecturer in South Asian Music and History at Kings College London. ‘The Maestro: Remembering Khushhal Khan “Gunasamudra” in Eighteenth-Century Delhi’, examined the life of the court musician Khushal Khan (great grandson of the most famous Mughal musician Tansen). He was chief musician to the Emperor Shah Jahan (r.1627-58) and was written about extensively in his lifetime as a virtuoso classical singer of exceptional merit and serious character. In this talk Katherine retells the story of Khushal Khan from the vantage point of the 1750’s, looking back over the canonical Mughal writings on music of Shah Jahan’s and Aurangzeb’s reigns. In doing so, she considers what they tell us about the role and power of music at the Mughal court at the empire’s height, before everything began to unravel. This talk was also part of a series conducted by Katherine called Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing about Music in Late Mughal India 1757-1858.

Listen to this talk here.

Double-page spread of a manuscript text in Arabic script with an elaborate illuminated header in blue, gold and red inks, and a thick border including similar illumination. The lines of text are separated by gilt cloudbands.
Opening pages of Sahasras, the 1000 dhrupad songs of Nayak Bakhshu. (British Library, IO Islamic 1116)
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In May 2018, Dr Saqib Baburi, a former member of the African and Asian Studies project 'Digital access to Persian Manuscripts' delivered a talk titled ‘Sufism and Persian Manuscripts from the Delhi Collection, British Library’ . The British East India Company’s victories in 1858 ending the Indian Mutiny also signified the end of the Great Mughals. With their demise, the new Government of India acquired the famed Mughal Imperial Library along with other manuscript collections from Delhi, the former imperial capital. Transferred to the India Office Library, the ‘Delhi Collection' was inherited by the British Library. In this talk Saqib Baburi focusses on his recent study of works specifically dealing with Sufism, mysticism and metaphysics in the Delhi Persian collection. This illustrated paper presented new findings, and examined ways in which extant manuscripts helped to illustrate Delhi’s diverse spiritual traditions.

Listen here.

A page of a manuscript text with writing in Arabic script in red ink arranged in two columns.
List of contents from the opening of a late-sixteenth-century collection of letters teaching mystical principles. (British Library, Delhi Persian 1129B)
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Highlights from South Asia Seminar Series 2019:

In August 2019, Farha Noor, research fellow and PhD student at the University of Heidelberg, presented on the Progressive Movement of female writers in North India. In her talk ‘Witnessing History, Writing Nostalgia: the Progressive Women’ , Farha explored literary revolutionaries such as Rashid Jahan and Ismat Chughtai and how they broke new ground, inspiring many women to write within the Progressive milieu. Within this talk, Farha investigated the entanglements of genre and gender while rethinking ‘Nostalgia’ and its relationship with forms of life writing. Works by writers such as Shaukat Kaifi and Hamida Salim were also considered.

Listen to this talk here.

A black and white photograph of a woman in profile, with much of her back in shadow, showing her from the waist up
A potrait of Shaukat Kaifi (1928- ). (Kaifī, Shaukat, Yād kī rahguzar, Naʾi Dihlī : Sṭar Pablīkeshanz, 2006. YP.2006.a.7145) (Not for reuse)

In August 2019, Christin Hoene, formerly a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of English Literature at the University of Kent and currently Assistant Professor in Literary Studies at Maastricht University, gave a talk titled ‘Jagadish Chandra Bose and the Politics of Science in India’. Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) was an Indian scientist and polymath who first gained an international reputation for his work as a physicist in the 1890s. Throughout his scientific career, which spanned four decades, Bose had to fight prejudices amongst his colleagues in the west concerning his skills and credibility as a scientist. Moreover, western scientists were suspicious in regard to Bose’s interdisciplinary approach to science. Christin Hoene examined how Bose attacked these prejudices repeatedly in his writings, and particularly in his numerous public speeches.

Listen to this talk here.

A black and white photograph containing a portrait of a man from the chest up. The man is in a black jacket and vest with a white collar, is facing the camera, and has spectacles.
A portrait of Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937). (British Library, V 21994) (Not for reuse)

 

Highlights from South Asia Seminar Series 2021:

In February 2021, Kanupriya Dhingra, research scholar at the Centre for Cultural, Literary, and Postcolonial Studies, at SOAS, University of London, presented a talk with the title ‘Locating Daryaganj Sunday Book Market’. This talk engaged with the spatiality of Daryaganj Sunday Patri Kitab Bazar (or, Daryaganj Sunday Footpath Book Market). This local weekly market for used, rare, and pirated books has been operating in Old Delhi, every Sunday, for the past fifty years. Kanupriya discussed its stop-go history and traced the bazar’s location on the streets over the years, whilst examining its recent relocation to a rented, gated complex run by the civic authorities, in September 2019.

You can watch a recording of this online talk here.

A black and white photograph of a street scene with an Indian building in the background, low-rise shops with awnings on the left and right, and scant pedestrians on the street in the middle.
'Street behind the Jama Musjid, Delhi, 1880s'. (S C Sen, 'Earl of Jersey Collection'. Photo 807/2(20))
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In February 2021, Vebhuti Duggal Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi, delivered the talk ‘Becoming a Listener in Mid-Twentieth Century North India’. Here Professor Duggal unpacked the idea of becoming a listener as it emerged in narratives of ‘Main shrota kaise bana/ bani (How did I become a listener)’ that peppered Hindi-language magazines. These magazines, referred to as shrota sangh patrikayen (listeners’ club magazines) were produced, circulated and consumed largely in the ‘Hindi heartland’ of North India during the mid-twentieth century.

Watch a recording of this talk here.

 

The South Asia Seminar Series has been an important forum for presenting research, facilitating discussions and engaging audiences with the British Library’s South Asian collections whilst promoting the Two Centuries of Indian Print Project. By making these seminars accessible online it is hoped that global audiences can gain new insights on South Asian history and develop their understanding of the British Library collections. The Two Centuries of Indian Print: South Asia Seminars have paved a valuable path for similar events in the future.

Paramdip Khera, Project Manager, Two Centuries of Indian Print
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