Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

18 September 2023

The Romantic Sufi: an early copy of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi copied by Jaʿfar Tabrizi

The British Library exceptionally holds four significant 15th-century manuscripts in the hand of the prominent Persian calligrapher, Jaʻfar Tabrizi (Baysunghuri), copied between 1420 and 1435.

Originally from Tabriz, Jaʻfar was trained by the canoniser of nastaʻliq script, Mir ʻAli b. Hasan Tabrizi or his son, to became one of the most influential figures in the development of the script. He was already a skillful scribe when around 1420 he was appointed as head of the celebrated atelier of the bibliophile Prince Baysunghur (1397–1433) in Herat.

The British Library manuscripts penned by Jaʻfar are the complete Khamsa of Nizami (Or. 12087), dated 1420; Tarikh of Hamza Isfahani (Or. 2773), dated 1431; Makhzan al-Asrar of Nizami (Or. 11919), dated 1435; and an undated Divan of Kamal Khujandi (Or. 15395). None of these four manuscripts have received the attention they deserve in the West nor in Iran, except for a few succinct mentions in scholarly publications[1].  This is a brief introduction to the little-studied Divan of Kamal Khujandi.

1. Opening illumination of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi
Fig. 1. Opening illumination of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi, copied by Ja‘far Baysunghuri, undated (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 3r). Public domain

Kamal al-Din Masʻud Khujandi

Born in Khujand in Greater Iran (today’s Tajikistan) around 1320, Kamal al-Din Masʻud Khujandi was a renowned Persian poet, whose poems are remarkable for his delicate imagination, subtle similes, and his style in lyrical poems. He was contemporary with several significant Persian poets, who were famous for their innovative verses in the ghazal genre (lyric poetry) in the 14th century; namely, Khvaju Kirmani (1290–1349), ʻImad al-Din Faqih Kirmani (d. 1371), Salman Savaji (1309–1376) and above all Hafiz Shirazi (1315–1390). Prince Baysunghur commissioned poems of all those poets to be edited and copied for his library[2].

In his Tazkira al-Shu‘ara’ (Biographies of the Poets), Daulatshah Samarqandi describes Kamal’s poetry as mystical and passionate. He was indeed a mystical figure and unlike other poets of his time such as Khvaju Kirmani, who in pursuit of patrons praised every courtly and Sufi authority in his poems, Kamal exceptionally composed almost no panegyrical verses in his life[3]. Although the Jalayirid Sultan Husayn (r. 1374–82) patronised him by ordering a khanqah (Sufi lodge) be erected for him, the poet never joined the Sultan’s court and resided in his lodge in Tabriz until the end of his life.

The earliest copy of his poetry is dated 1398, which is preserved in the Astan Qods Library (MS. 4739)[4].  The British Library copy (Or. 15395) is unfortunately undated, but was certainly produced in the first half of the 15th century. Despite being an early copy, it has never been used in any of the numerous editions of Kamal’s Divan published since 1958. The reason for this manuscript remaining neglected is probably because it had been misidentified as the Divan of Kamal al-Din Isma‘il (1173–1237), who was also a distinguished poet, but lived over a century prior to Kamal Khujandi.

The British Library Manuscript

Prince Baysunghur’s copy of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi is bound in an early 19th-century binding of dark brown leather. It is decorated with a cusped oval centrepiece and two small pendants, stamped on leather of lighter colour, with the doublures of plain red leather. Its handmade, burnished paper is of light chickpea colour, medium thickness, flexible and soft. The text is arranged in two columns and 17 lines to a page, with rulings in gold and lapis blue, as found in majority of Baysunghuri manuscripts. The initial 13 folios have been repaired and remounted on thick handmade sheets, which is slightly darker and thicker than the original paper. The book title, written in a later hand on f. 1v and dated 1806, incorrectly states Divan-i Kamal Isma‘il al-shahir bih Khallaq al-Ma‘ani (The Divan of Kamal Isma‘il known as The Creator of Meaning). The second folio bears memoranda on birth dates of a 19th-century family.

The opening (f. 3r, fig. 1) presents an oval shamsa with pointed ends, beautifully illuminated with palmette and arabesque motifs in gold, dark red and black on a ground that was once lapis blue, but is washed out now. The central ground is black with washed out red arabesque vines, on which there is a cartouche and two large pendants in gold. The inscriptions on them are almost illegible, except for the traces on the upper pendant, which reads Divan-i Kamal.

2. Opening illumination of the Shahnama and Khamsa  copied by Muhammad b. Mutahhar
Fig. 2: Opening illumination of the Shahnama and Khamsa, copied by Muhammad b. Mutahhar, 833/1430 (Malek Library, MS 6031).  By permission of the Malek National Library and Museum

We know of more than 30 manuscripts produced for Baysunghur in Herat, among which only one other manuscript bears a pointed oval ex libris: a dual-text manuscript at the Malek Library (MS no. 6031), containing the Shahnama of Firdausi and the Khamsa of Nizami, dated 1430 (fig. 2)[5].  The illuminated heading (fig. 3) of our Divan is similarly damaged with damp, where the blue is washed out and only the black and gold have survived. The colophon is signed by Jaʿfar Tabrizi (f. 182v, fig. 4) with his sobriquet Baysunghuri: علی ید العبد الضعیف جعفر البایسنغری (In the hand of the slave, the weak, Jaʻfar al-Baysunghuri)

3. Illuminated heading  Or.15395  f. 3v
Fig. 3. The illuminated heading of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi, copied by Ja‘far Baysunghuri, undated (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 3v). Public domain

4. Colophon of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi  with the scribe's signature Ja‘far Baysunghuri  Or.15395  f. 182v
Fig. 4. Ja‘far Baysunghuri's signature in the colophon of the Divan of Kamal Khujandi, undated (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 182v). Public domain

There is not much known about the peregrination of this manuscript, but the two seal impressions on the opening (3r) and colophon page (182v) reveal that the manuscript belonged to Mahdi al-Musavi al-Safavi [Kashmiri] around 1884 (مهدی الموسوی الصفوی ۱۳۰۲). He was the author of several books of religious studies in Persian and Arabic and died in April 1892. After him, the manuscript was in the possession of Nasir al-Mulk in 1911 (هوالله ناصرالملک نایب‌ السلطنه ۱۳۲۹). Abu’l-Qasim Nasir al-Mulk Shirazi (1856–1927) was a member of Nasir al-Din Shah’s consultative council and the regent of Ahmad Shah Qajar. Nasir al-Mulk was the first Iranian to study at Oxford University (1879, Balliol College), where he perfected his Latin and Greek. He translated The Merchant of Venice and Othello into Persian for the first time. Still in Iran around 1911, the manuscript was purchased at Bonhams sale by the British Library in 1997. 

5. COlophon and seals
Fig. 5. Seals of Mahdi al-Musavi al-Safavi and Nasir al-Mulk (British Library, Or. 15395, f. 182v). Public domain

Dating the Manuscript

There is no information on the place and date of completion, but a comparison of the shamsa might help dating the BL copy. The aforementioned Malek Library manuscript (MS no. 6031) with the pointed oval ex libris was initiated soon after the Preface to the Baysunghur’s Shahnama was composed by the Timurid court historiographer Hafiz Abru in 1426. The preface starts with two couplets from the Divan of Kamal Khujandi.

On the other hand, the illuminated heading of the Divan of Kamal (f. 1v. fig. 3) closely resembles an illuminated heading in Baysunghur’s Divan of Khvaju Kirmani, copied in 1426 (Malek Library, MS. 5963), with the same colour palette: red, black, gold and (washed out) lapis blue, which was not a common colour palette in other codices in Prince’s corpus. Furthermore, the decoration of the central cartouche and two pendants within the pointed oval medallion of the Divan of Kamal suggests that it was done no later than 1426, as it was not a favoured design after that date when the atelier created a different emblematic ex libris for its use. Examples of similar central pieces in Baysunghuri manuscripts are found as early as 1420 in the Khamsa of Nizami (Or. 12087, fig.6) and as late as 1425 in a dual-text codex containing the Zafarnama of Shami and Zayl-i Zafarnama of Hafiz Abru (Suleymaniye Library, Nuruosmaniye 3267)[6].  It is almost certain that the British Library manuscript was produced sometime between 1420 and 1426. Following the scribe’s active years helps narrow this spectrum further down.

6. Opening shamsa of the Khamsa of Nizami
Fig. 6. Opening shamsa of the Khamsa of Nizami, 823/1420 (British Library, Or. 12087, f. 1r). Public domain

Jaʿfar was occupied with the Khamsa of Nizami in 1420, the Khusrau u Shirin of Nizami in 1421 (St Petersburg Institute of Oriental Studies, B-132), the Divan of Hasan Dihlavi in 1422 (Majles Library, MS no. 4017), the undated Divan of Hafiz around 1425 (TIEM, MS no. 1923), the Sirr al-asrar in 1426 (Chester Beatty, Ar. 4183), the Gulistan of Saʿdi in 1427 (Chester Beatty, Per. 119). He then began the three-year great project of copying the famous Baysunghur’s Shahnama (Golestan Palace, MS. 716) in 1427, while also working on the Nuzhat al-Arvah (current location unknown). Given his responsibilities as the head of the library-atelier and the supervisor of artistic and architectural projects at the court, Jaʿfar might have copied it around 1423 and 1424, the years from which we have no manuscript penned by him. At any case, the British Library Divan of Kamal Khujandi is a valuable source not only for its artistic traits of calligraphy and illumination, but also as an early witness to the text.

Dr Shiva Mihan, Washington University in St. Louis


Bibliographical Notes

[1] I have discussed the Khamsa, Tarikh-i Isfahani and Divan of Kamal Khujandi in my PhD dissertation (Cambridge University, 2018), along with some mentions of the posthumously-completed Makhzan al-Asrar. The Tarikh-i Iṣfahani, Or. 2773, has been discussed briefly by Tom Lentz, Painting at Herat under Baysunghur ibn Shah Rukh (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1985): 128. Alison Ohta has discussed its binding in her PhD thesis: Covering the Book: Bindings of the Mamluk period, 1250–1516 CE (S.O.A.S., University of London, 2012). It has also been mentioned briefly in Roxburgh, D.J. The Persian Album, 1400–1600: from dispersal to collection (New Haven, 2005): 336, n. 68; Thackston, W.M. Album Prefaces and Other Documents on the History of Calligraphers and Painters (Leiden, Boston, Cologne, 2001): 45, n. 22; and Lentz & Lowry Lentz, T.W. & G.D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision: Persian art and culture in the fifteenth century (Los Angeles, 1989): 369.

[2] Baysunghur’s copies of the mentioned poets are: Kulliyyat of Khvaju Kirmani (Malek Library, MS no. 5963), Kulliyyat of ‘Imad al-Din Faqih Kirmani (Bodleian Library, Elliott 210), selected poems of Salman Savaji (Astan Qods, MS no. 10399) and Divan of Ḥafiẓ (TIEM, MS no. 1923).

[3] For Khujandi’s relationship with Ḥafiẓ, see Losensky, P.E. “Kamal Ḵojandi” (2010), Iranicaonline. Also see Daulatshah Samarqandi, Taẕkirat al-shuʻarāʾ, ed. E.G. Browne (Tehran, 1382/2004): 325–31. For more details of Khujandi’s life, see Lewisohn, L. “The life and times of Kamal Khujandi”, ed. M.E. Subtelny, Journal of Turkish Studies, 18 (1994): 163–77. On his accusation of stealing Hasan Dihlavi’s style and poems, ssee Ṣafā, Ẕ. Tārīkh-i adabīyyāt dar Īrān, 4 vols (Tehran, 1369/1990): 1134.

[4] Other early copies include MS. 339/1, Majles Library and MS. 266, Sepahsalar Library both dated 1418; MS. 9475, the Majles Library, dated 1421, and a copy in Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, dated 1422, Shiraz; Supplément Persan 742, BNF, dated 1424; and MS. 362, Golestan Palace Library, dated 1432. The British Library holds yet another early copy of the same work (Or. 8193), which is dated 1436.

[5] A study of the Malek manuscript is found in Mihan, S. “The Baysunghuri manuscript in the Malek Library”, Shahnama Studies III: The reception of the Shahnama, ed. C.P. Melville & G. Van den Berg (Leiden, Boston, 2018): 373–419.

[6] For the Khamsa of Niẓami (Or. 12087), see Brend, Barbara, Perspectives on Persian Painting: Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsah: 56–57, and De Blois, Francois, Persian Literature - A Bio-Bibliographical Survey: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period, (2004): 484–85.