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43 posts categorized "Islam"

28 February 2019

Primbon, Javanese compendia of religious knowledge

Primbon are Javanese manuscript notebooks which usually contain a personalised selection of texts relating to Islamic belief and practice, including prayers, selections from the Qur’an, instructions relating to ritual purity and performance of obligatory worship, texts on mysticism, formulae (rajah) or esoteric diagrams (da‘irah) focussed on Arabic letters or words, and notes on divination, as well as amulets for protection and other purposes. Popular texts included Kitab Sittin, the Javanese name for al-Sittūn mas’alah fī al-fiqh, ‘Sixty questions on jurisprudence’ by the Egyptian scholar Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Zahīd (d. 1416), and the catechism of al-Samarqandi, which has been translated into Malay as well as Javanese. Although some primbon may contain texts in Javanese script, most of the contents are in Arabic or in Javanese in Pegon (Arabic) script.

MSS Jav 42  fcc
Mystical diagram in a Javanese primbon. British Library, MSS Jav 42, ff. 87v-88r  noc

Among the 75 Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta now in the British Library, which were taken by British forces in 1812, are six volumes of primbon. Two (with Add. shelfmarks) were acquired by the British Museum from John Crawfurd, who served as Resident of Yogyakarta from 1811 to 1814. Those with MSS Jav shelfmarks came to the India Office Library from the estate of Col. Colin Mackenzie, who had been Chief  Engineer of the British army in Java, and comprise a large number of small separate manuscripts which were bound into larger volumes in Calcutta in around 1815. All these primbon volumes have now been digitised and are listed below; hyperlinks from the shelfmarks lead to the full record for each manuscript with further details on the contents from the catalogue by Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977), while hyperlinks from below the images link directly with the digitised manuscripts. It should be noted that due to the presence of different scripts and with some items bound in upside-down, many of the volumes have been foliated (page-numbered) erratically.

Add. 12311 is a manuscript entitled Primbon Palintangan Palindon Pakedutan containing texts on physiognomy and astrology, as well as other subjects. Shown below is a drawing of the rotating naga, commonly used for divinatory purposes throughout Southeast Asia, for example to determine the best time to travel, or the compatability of a couple (see Farouk 2016: 180).
Add 12311 f 101v naga
Drawing of the rotating naga in a primbon from Yogyakarta. British Library, Add 12311, f. 101v  noc

Add. 12315 is a primbon containing assorted texts on religious subjects, including legends of Muslim religious heroes and notes on physiognomy.
Add 12315  f. 208r
Javanese text in a primbon manuscript, with a mystical diagram above. British Library, Add. 12315, f. 208r  noc

MSS Jav 41 is a collection of six primbon bound together in a single volume.  Two of these bear Mackenzie's annotation, 'Manner of performing ablutions,' and contain a Javanese tract with Arabic texts of prayers and formulae to be recited in ṣalāt. Two others contain a copy of Ṣifat al-nabī, ‘The attributes of the Prophet’, in Arabic; one of them bears an ownership note on f. 46r of ‘Raden Temenggung’, but without naming the individual (punika kagungan primbon Raden Tumĕnggung). Another primbon in this collection contains a Javanese translation of Kitab Sittīn in Asmaradana metre.
MSS Jav 41  f. 150v-151r
Ṣifat al-nabī, in Javanese. British Library, MSS Jav 41, ff. 150v-151r  noc

MSS Jav 42 is a collection of eight primbon within one volume. A copyist’s name can be read: Kyahi Ngabehi Rĕsasĕntika of Yogyakarta. Contents include secret names of animals (aran ing macan, aran ing kidang) and the magic names of iron and steel The volume also includes a Malay fragment on prayer (sĕmbahyang) and fasting (puasa), and lists the types of actions which negate ritual purity. Shown below is the first part of a Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah - from Muhammad s.a.w. to Ali to Jainalabideen to Imam Jafar Sidiq (as read by Ronit Ricci) - in perpendicular Javanese script found at the end of one primbon.
MSS Jav 42  f. 69v
First part of a Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah in a primbon. British Library, MSS Jav 42, f. 69v noc

MSS Jav 43 contains six primbon in a single volume, containing various texts including Kitab Sittin in Arabic with a Javanese translation, and an incomplete copy of Samarqandi in Arabic with an interlinear Javanese translation. There are also certain sections of the Qur'an.
MSS Jav 43  f. 127bv-127cr
Mystical Javanese text on the shahadah. British Library, MSS Jav 43, ff. 127bv-127cr  noc

MSS Jav 84 is a primbon collection of various short religious texts concerning prescribed prayer and other matters.
MSS Jav 84  f. 55r
Number system linked to the Arabic alphabet, in a Javanese primbon from Yogyakarta. British Library, MSS Jav 84, f. 55r  noc

In addition to these six volumes of primbon, there are a number of other Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta which have been digitised with similar contents, all in Pegon script. MSS Jav 83 contains a number of tracts associated with the Shaṭṭārīyah Sufi brotherhood, including two silsilah, and other texts on prayer and dhikir. MSS Jav 85, which is called in a note at the beginning Layang sembayang lan tetamba, contains texts on prayer and healing. MSS Jav 87 has an ownership note of Kangjeng Pangeran Pakuningrat of Yogyakarta, and contains texts on religious subjects such as ngelmuIO Islamic 2617 contains an Arabic text on the qualities and use of stones and jewels, with an interlinear version in Javanese, as well as Javanese texts on ritual prayer, medicines and amulets, and two genealogies, one of which begins with Majapahit and ends with Kanjĕng [sic] Gusti Pangeran Dipati Yuja, probably the Crown Prince of Yogyakarta, later Sultan Hamĕngkubuwana II.

MSS Jav 87  f. 36v
Beginning of a text in dandanggula metre, in a manuscript from Yogyakarta. British Library, MSS Jav 87, f. 36v  noc

Farouk Yahya, Magic and divination in Malay illustrated manuscripts.  Leiden: Brill, 2016.
Ricklefs, M. C. and Voorhoeve, P., Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork


12 September 2018

A new display of Southeast Asian manuscripts from the Sloane collection

In 1753 the British Museum was founded through the bequest of the vast collections of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), including over four thousand manuscripts, which are now held in the British Library. Sloane's manuscripts originate from all over the world, and among them are 12 from Southeast Asia. Eight of these can now be seen in a new display in the exhibition case next to the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library at St. Pancras.


Bust of Hans Sloane by Michael Rysbrack (1693-1770), on display in the British Library

At first glance the eight exhibited manuscripts appear to be a rather random selection linked by nothing other than their Southeast Asian origin and their ownership by Sloane. But viewed through another lens, these eight manuscripts evoke vividly the two main preoccupations of the age in which they were collected: the global mercantile thrust which led to the founding of the English and Dutch East India Companies at the beginning of the 17th century, as reflected in trading permits and financial accounts, and religious zeal, manifest in an interest in the canonical and liturgical works of the major world religions which had taken root in Southeast Asia: Buddhism and Hinduism which had travelled from India, Islam from its birthplace in Arabia, and most recently Christianity by way of Europe.

Despite their small number and in some cases fragmentary state, the manuscripts on display also encompass an astonishing array of scripts: Balinese, Javanese, Lampung, Burmese, Khmer, Arabic in its original form as well as extended versions for writing Persian and Javanese, the Vietnamese Han Nom characters derived from Chinese, and Roman script. The languages found in these eight manuscripts range from indigenous languages of Southeast Asia, namely Malay, Javanese, Old Javanese, Burmese and Vietnamese, to the foreign languages which served the spread of both faith and trade in the region: Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Pali and Dutch. Four different calendrical systems are utilised – Burmese, Gregorian, the Javanese Saka era, and the Chinese zodiac calendar – and writing supports range from palm leaf and bamboo to Javanese beaten tree-bark paper (dluwang) as well as European and Chinese paper.

Sloane manuscripts from Southeast Asia on display outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room  noc

On the top shelf of the exhibition case are grouped manuscripts relating to faiths of Southeast Asia. The Hinduized court culture of early Java is represented by a fragment of the Arjunawijaya, a court poem (kakawin) composed by Mpu Tantular in the 14th century in the kingdom of Majapahit (Sloane 3480). The lines on this small fragment of palm leaf, representing part of the right-hand half of a single leaf, describe a confrontation between Śiva’s attendant Nandīśvara and the ten-faced demon Rāvaṇa. The manuscript is in Old Javanese – an early form of the Javanese language characterised by an exceptionally high proportion of Sanskrit words – written in Balinese script, and is undated.  Since its entry into the British Museum this Old Javanese fragment had remained unidentified until it was digitised and highlighted in a recent blog; within 24 hours the text had been read and identified by a group of scholars located in different parts of the globe, and their report can be read here.

Fragment of the Arjunawijaya in Old Javanese in Balinese script, on palm leaf. British Library, Sloane 3480  noc

Also written on palm leaf is a manuscript of the Pātimokkha, the Buddhist code of monastic discipline, dating to around 1700 or earlier (Sloane 4099(4)). The single folio on display contains three main lines of text from the Pātimokkha in Pali, the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism, written in Cambodian (Khmer) script, accompanied by interlinear explanations.

Section of one leaf of the Pātimokkha in Pali in Khmer script. British Library, Sloane 4099(4)

Islam is represented by an important Arabic text of the Shafi‘ī school of law, Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, ‘Questions for instruction’, by the 16th-century Yemeni scholar ‘Abd Allāh bin ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Bā Faḍl (Sloane 2645). This manuscript, copied by a scribe named ‘Abd al-Qadīm, has an interlinear translation in Javanese in Arabic (pegon) script, and is dated  1545 in the Javanese era, equivalent to 1623/4 AD. This complete copy. in excellent condition. is one of the earliest dated manuscripts written on dluwang, Javanese paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree.

Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, in Arabic with Javanese translation and notes, 1623. British Library, Sloane 2645, ff. 6v-7r  noc

The most recent world religion to arrive in Southeast Asia was Christianity, brought by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and on display is a Christian Psalter written in Malay in Roman script (Sloane 3115). The owner of this book was Cornelius van der Sluijs, a clergyman who served in the Moluccas and died in Batavia in 1715. This collection of hymns, psalms and Christian services in Malay was probably compiled in Ambon around 1678, following Van der Sluijs’s ordination as a full minister of the Dutch Calvinist church.

The first page of the Psalms of David in Malay, showing the distinctive octagonal British Museum stamp designed for use on Sloane's library. British Library, Sloane 3115, f. 2r  noc

On the bottom shelf are documents relating to trade. The largest and most impressive visually is a royal letter from the ruler of Tonkin in the form of an illuminated scroll written in the Vietnamese language in Chinese (Han Nom) characters, probably despatched in 1673 (Sloane 3460). In 1672 the first English East India Company ship arrived in Tonkin in north Vietnam, and in March 1673 the captain, William Gyfford, was permitted to meet the ruler Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682). While the Company sought the establishment of commercial relations with Tonkin, the Vietnamese were interested in accessing new technology, and in his letter, Trịnh Tac requests iron or bronze cast cannons.

Sloane_ms_3460_f001r Sloane
The complete illuminated Vietnamese letter with red ink seal of Lord Trịnh Tac, 1673, with a detail showing the fine silver illumination; only a small section of the scroll has been unrolled for display. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

The Chinese mercantile presence in Southeast Asia is reflected in a small piece of bamboo, with two lines of Javanese incised on one side with further annotations in Javanese and Lampung script, and on the other side a note written in black ink in Chinese (Sloane 1403E). The Chinese text appears to be a record of an account, and is dated in the Chinese zodiacal cycle with a date most likely equivalent to 1708.

Front and reverse of a financial account, with text in Javanese, Lampung and Chinese, [1708]. British Library, Sloane 1403E  noc

Of particular interest are two trading permits issued by King Chandrawizaya (r. 1710-1731) of the kingdom of Mrauk U in Arakan in Burma (Myanmar). The permit written in Burmese, dated 1728, is the longest and the earliest dated palm leaf manuscript from Burma (Myanmar) in the British Library (Sloane 4098). Also found in the Sloane collection is a Persian edict (farmān) from the ruler of Arakan, dated 14 Sha‘bān 1090 (Sloane 3259). In his catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the British Museum, Charles Rieu assumed that the year inscribed was in the Hijra era, and thus dated the letter to 1679. Fortunately, just as we were preparing this exhibition, Arash Khazeni was preparing an edition of the Persian farmān, and noticed that the year was given as sanat 1090 Magi, referring to the Burmese era. The date was thus equivalent to 1728, revealing that the Persian document was in fact a counterpart to the Burmese permit! Both documents are addressed to the Armenian merchant Khwajeh Georgin (George) in Chennaipattana (Madras) across the Bay of Bengal, giving him permission to trade. Both bear the king’s round seal, inscribed in Pali, ‘Supreme Lord, Master of the Golden Palace’, which is blind-stamped on the palm leaf permit, stamped in black ink on the Persian letter, and in red wax on its cloth envelope and paper wrapper.

The pointed end of the Burmese permit of the king of Arakan, with his round seal. Sloane 4098  noc

The seal and date at the start of the trading permit in Persian from the king of Arakan, 1728. British Library, Sloane 3259  noc

Further reading:

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Sir Hans Sloane's Old Javanese manuscript, Sloane 3480

Malay manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Arash Khazeni, ‘Merchants to the Golden City: the Persian Farmān of King Chandrawizaya Rājā and the elephant and ivory trade in the Indian Ocean, a view from 1728’, Iranian Studies, 2018, vol. 51.

From books to bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and his collections, ed. Alison Walker, Arthur MacGregor and Michael Hunter (London: The British Library, 2012)

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma & Sud Chonchirdsin, Southeast Asia section


12 June 2018

Thirty-leaved Qur’ans from India

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

The opening section (juz’) of a thirty-leaved Qur’an, copied on an unusually thick paper (BL IO Islamic 1267 ff.1v-2r)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A similarly scalloped heading is outlined above the two opening pages at the beginning of this Qur’an. Here the sūrah headings are marked inline in red and the juz’ indications are given in the margins (BL IO Islamic 3250, f. 1v)

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

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

Detail showing the final sūrahs and colophon (BL IO Islamic 3534, f. 30r)

Marginal decoration half-way through section two (BL IO Islamic 1267, f. 3r)

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

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

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

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

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

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
with thanks to Elaine Wright and my colleagues Colin Baker, Annabel Teh Gallop and Sâqib Bâburî


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

08 May 2018

Over 2,000 pages in gold: Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an now online

Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an is one of the most magnificent Qur’ans in the British Library. This seven-volume Qur’an produced in Cairo between 704-5 AH/1304-6 AD is the earliest dated Qur’an of the Mamluk period. 

The Sūrat al-Fātiḥah at the beginning of Sultan Baybars’ seven-volume Qurʼan (BL Add MS 22406, ff. 2v-3r)

In 2002 selected pages of this Qurʼan were made available online as a ‘virtual’ manuscript in our ‘Turning the Pages’ Project (Sultan Baybars’ Qurʼan). We have now had the opportunity to digitise all seven volumes cover-to-cover and present them in our new Universal Viewer (Add MS 22406; Add MS 22407; Add MS 22408; Add MS 22409; Add MS 22410; Add MS 22411; Add MS 22412). Well-known to art historians and exhibition visitors, these amazing volumes can now be appreciated by anyone, anywhere with an internet connection!

Digitisation in progress with Senior Imaging Technician Elizabeth Hunter

Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an was commissioned by Rukn al-Din Baybars al-Jashnagir, who at that time was a high-ranking official in the court of Nasir Muhammad. Only later, between 1309 and 1310, did he acquire the title al-Muzaffar Baybars, or Sultan Baybars II.

Colophon copy
Colophon page of volume seven with the date 705 AH/1305-6 AD in the last line (BL Add MS 22412, f. 166v)

Though the Arabic historical sources make reference to this Qur’an, the purpose of Sultan Baybarsʼ patronage is unclear. It is not known whether the Qur’an was intended either as a pious gift to the mosque of al-Hakim in Cairo (built 990-1013), for whose restoration he was responsible after it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1303, or as a donation to the building of a religious foundation. The subsequent history of the Qur’an is rather vague, but it was purchased by the British Museum from the antiquarian booksellers T & W Boone on 12 June 1858.

The beginning of  Sūrat Āl ʻImrān. Text page written in gold thuluth script outlined in black, with the chapter heading overlayed in red ink (BL Add MS 22406, ff. 86v-87r)

The physical size of this Qur’an, measuring 47.5 x 32 cm., enabled the calligrapher, Muhammad ibn al-Wahid, together with a team of three illuminators, Muhammad ibn Mubadir, Abu Bakr Sandal and Aydughdi ibn ‘Abdallah, to work not only with a large script and extensive decoration but also within a spacious page layout. Its 1,094 folios (2,188 pages) written in gold thuluth script spread over seven volumes give an indication of its monumental stature.

The calligrapher Muhammad ibn al-Wahid, mentioned in all the colophons, was born in Damascus in the mid-thirteenth century though he lived most of his life in Cairo. This Qur’an is the only known surviving example of his work.  His choice of thuluth is rather strange, for by the Mamluk period this cursive script was generally considered ornamental, being used primarily for chapter headings and not for the body of the text. The gold thuluth script is outlined in black, with vowels marked in red and other spelling signs in blue. The layout of the calligraphy is also of special interest. Unlike many Qur’ans which have an odd number of lines per page, each page of the Baybars Qur’an carries six lines of text. Of interest, too, is the fact that the text layout is continuous, without large illuminated panels to indicate the beginning of a chapter, as in many other Qur’ans of the period. In this Qur’an, chapter headings are merely indicated by a change of colour, with red ink overlaying the gold, with no additional spacing between the lines. Ornamentation in the margins include illuminated medallions to indicate the end of a tenth verse; pear-shaped medallions to mark the end of a fifth verse; and illuminated oval markers for the sajdah, instructing the reader when to prostrate during the recitation of the Qur’an.

Detail of an illuminated medallion containing the word  ‘ashr in gold kufic script  indicating the end of a tenth verse (BL Add MS 22409, f. 92r)

Detail of an illuminated pear-shaped medallion containing the word khams in gold kufic script indicating the end of a fifth verse (BL Add MS 22412, f. 156v)

Detail of an illuminated oval marker containing the word sajdah instructing the reader to prostrate at this point during the recitation of the Qur’an (BL Add MS 22412, f. 156r)

Each volume of Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an has a magnificent double frontispiece or carpet page indicating the volume number in its central design. The illuminators worked on specific volumes: the colophon of volume one is signed by Muhammad ibn Mubadir and volume three by Abu Bakr Sandal, the master illuminator in charge of the team.

Volume one signed by Muhammad ibn Mubadir in the marginal ornaments (BL Add Ms 22406, f. 155v

Volume three signed by Sandal in the ornamental semi-circles (BL Add MS 22408, f. 154v)

The style of ornamentation of volumes two, four, and six makes it more than likely that these volumes, though unsigned, were illuminated by Muhammad ibn Mubadir, and that volumes five and seven, also unsigned, were illuminated by Abu Bakr Sandal. Aydughdi ibn ‘Abdallah worked on all the volumes. According to the inscription in volume seven, his role was to paint-in “either the gold or polychrome areas”. This accords with David James’s interpretation of the Arabic verb zammaka in the inscription (James, Qur’ans of the Mamluks, p.67).

The inscriptions in the top and bottom panels describing the role carried out by Aydughdi ibn ‘Abdallah in all seven volumes (BL Add MS 22412, f. 2v)

Below the seven opening frontispieces are shown together for the first time:

Frontispiece to the first volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22406, ff. 1v-2r)

Frontispiece to the second volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22407, ff. 1v-2r)

Frontispiece to the third volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22408, ff. 1v-2r)

Frontispiece to the fourth volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22409, ff. 1v-2r)

Frontispiece to the fifth volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22410, ff. 1v-2r)

Frontispiece to the sixth volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22411, ff. 1v-2r)

Frontispiece to the seventh and final volume of Sultan Baybars' monumental Qurʼan. Cairo, 1304-6  (BL Add MS 22412, ff. 1v-2r)

Further reading
Baker, Colin F., Qur'an manuscripts: Calligraphy, Illumination, Design, London, 2007, pp.43-56.
James, David, Qur’ans of the Mamluks, London, 1980, pp. 34-75.

Colin F. Baker, Head of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Collections


12 February 2018

Shifting Landscapes: mapping the intellectual writing traditions of Islamic Southeast Asia

For the past century, studies of the languages, literatures, history, culture and writing traditions of the Malay world of maritime Southeast Asia – comprising present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines – have been fundamentally shaped by the collections of manuscripts held in European institutions, primarily those in the UK and the Netherlands, and those formed under colonial auspices, such as the National Library of Indonesia.  These collections themselves reflect the interests of their collectors, who were mainly European scholars and government officials from the early 19th century onwards, whose interests were focused on literary, historical and legal compositions in vernacular languages such as Malay and Javanese.  Relatively little attention was paid to works on Islam written in Arabic, or in Malay and Arabic, and hence such manuscripts are very poorly represented in institutions such as the British Library.

Map of the holy sites of Mecca, probably acquired in the Hijaz and brought back to Sumatra by a returning pilgrim, in the Mangku Suka Rame collection, Kerinci, Jambi. British Library EAP117/11/1, digitised in 2007 by Uli Kozok.

In 2004 the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), funded by Arcadia, was established at the British Library, for the preservation of cultural material in danger of destruction. The hundreds of manuscript collections worldwide which have been documented and digitised include 16 relating to Islamic Southeast Asia, located in areas ranging from Aceh to the Moluccas, and from Sri Lanka to Cambodia.  Even the most cursory survey reveals that the profile of manuscripts still held ‘in the field’, in private and mosque collections, differs radically from those held in Western libraries, primarily through the very high proportion of Islamic texts, which probably account for around 95% of the manuscripts digitised.

Custodians of Islamic Cham manuscripts from Vietnam digitised in 2012 by Hao Phan, British Library EAP531.

The British Library and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) are now pleased to invite applications for a three year PhD Studentship, tenable at SOAS available from 24 September 2018, funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under its Collaborative Doctoral Programme. The doctoral program Shifting Landscapes: Mapping the intellectual writing traditions of Islamic Southeast Asia aims to investigate these digitised collections of manuscripts from Islamic Southeast Asia, to trace how our understanding of the landscape and ecology of the intellectual writing traditions of the region needs to be radically redrawn in the light of these newly-accessible primary source materials. The successful candidate will therefore undertake a thesis that centres on analysing collections of manuscripts written in Arabic script from Southeast Asia that have been digitised through the EAP, with reference to other collections as necessary. The thesis will be jointly supervised by Dr Mulaika Hijjas of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at SOAS and by Dr Annabel Teh Gallop, head of the Southeast Asia section at the British Library. 

 EAP144_1_7_part_1-EAP144_DMMCS_BT_07_DMMCS_057_L  EAP144_5_21-EAP144_DMMCS_MALS_21_DMMCS_058_L
Two manuscripts from West Sumatra on the recitation of the Qur'an (tajwīd), with charts of makhārij al-ḥurūf, ‘the places of emission of the letters’, showing the physiognomic points of articulation of the phonemes of Arabic in relation to the lips, mouth, tongue and throat. On the left, MS from the Surau Baru Bintungan Tinggi collection, EAP144/1/7, and on the right, MS from the Surau-surau Malalo, EAP144/5/21, digitised in 2007 by Zuriati.

The main digital EAP collections relating to Islamic Southeast Asia are the following:
• EAP061 The MIPES Indonesia: digitising Islamic manuscript of Indonesian Pondok Pesantren
• EAP117 Digitising 'sacred heirloom' in private collections in Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia
• EAP144 The digitisation of Minangkabau's manuscript collections in Suraus
• EAP153 Riau manuscripts: the gateway to the Malay intellectual world
• EAP205 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods
• EAP211 Digitising Cirebon manuscripts
• EAP212 Locating, documenting and digitising: Preserving the endangered manuscripts of the Legacy of the Sultanate of Buton, South-Eastern Sulawesi Province, Indonesia
• EAP229 Acehnese manuscripts in danger of extinction: identifying and preserving the private collections located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies
• EAP276 Documentation and preservation of Ambon manuscripts
• EAP280 Retrieving heritage: rare old Javanese and old Sundanese manuscripts from West Java (stage one)
• EAP329 Digitising private collections of Acehnese manuscripts located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies
• EAP352 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra and the province of Jambi. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods - major project
• EAP365 Preservation of Makassarese lontara’ pilot project
• EAP450 Manuscripts of the Sri Lankan Malays
 EAP531 Preserving the endangered manuscripts of the Cham people in Vietnam
• EAP609 Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka
• EAP698 Digitisation of the endangered Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

As noted above, the majority of the manuscripts digitised are Islamic in content, with about half written in Arabic, and the others in Malay and Javanese. Texts include copies of the Qur’an and commentaries (tafsīr), ḥadīth collections of prophetic traditions, works on fiqh (observance of Islamic law) and on Sufism, prayers, sermons and Arabic grammars. In comparison, the historic British Library collection of approximately 250 manuscripts from Southeast Asia in Arabic script, written in Malay, Javanese and Bugis, consists of predominantly literary, historical and legal texts, with only about 30 theological works including only a few in Arabic.

EAP061_1_4-23b_L-crop   EAP061_2_15-084b_L-crop
Detail of the calligraphic opening lines of copies of the Arabic grammar al-Ajurumiyya from two East Javanese Islamic boarding schools, on the left from Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyya al-Talabah, Keranji, British Library EAP061/1/4, and on the right from Pondok Pesantren Langitan, Widang, Tuban, British Library EAP061/2/15, digitised in 2006 by Amiq Ahyad.

The successful applicant will be encouraged to take advantage of the unique research opportunities afforded by the EAP collections.  This may include investigating not individual texts, as has usually been the case with dissertations on Malay manuscripts, but groups of texts, whether demarcated by genre, place, social milieu, or material features such as binding, illumination or palaeography and calligraphy.  The study may also investigate the EAP collections as sets of texts—libraries, or remnants of libraries—from known geographical and social locations. That both the EAP collections and the Malay manuscript holdings of the British Library are digitised opens up a variety of digital humanities approaches.

Applicants should have, or be about to complete, a Master’s degree in a relevant discipline, and must have knowledge of Malay/Indonesian and/or Arabic, and ideally proficiency in reading Arabic script. Applicants are also required to meet the UK Research Councils’ standard UK residency criteria (please refer to p.17 of the RCUK website for further details). For details on how to apply, see here.

Further reading:

For an example of a study of a manuscript digitised through EAP, see:
Mulaika Hijjas, Marks of many hands: annotation in the Malay manuscript tradition and a Sufi compendium from West SumatraIndonesia and the Malay World, July 2017, 45  (132), pp. 226-249.

26 February 2014, Indonesian and Malay manuscripts in the Endangered Archives Programme
14 April 2014, Sermons in the Malay world

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

29 August 2017

A Hindu munshi’s ‘Chain of Yogis’: a Persian manuscript in the Mackenzie Collection

Reading about the recently opened exhibition ‘Collector Extraordinaire, Mackenzie Collection exhibition’ at Lews Castle, Stornoway, in the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides - see our recent post Colin Mackenzie, collector extraordinaire -, I was reminded that there was a small but significant number of Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Colin Mackenzie’s collection which is often overlooked. In this post I will feature one which is especially interesting, the Silsilah-i jogiyān (‘Chain of Yogis’) which played an important role in Western understanding of Indian religious groups.

Descriptions of the 12th, 13th and 14th groups of Shaiva ascetics: the Rukhara, the Ukhara  and the Aghori (BL IO Islamic 3087, ff. 24-25)
Descriptions of the 12th, 13th and 14th groups of Shaiva ascetics: the Rukhara, the Ukhara  and the Aghori (BL IO Islamic 3087, ff. 24-25)

Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis but spent most of his life from 1783 until his death 38 years later working for the East India Company. His most important work was as a military engineer and surveyor in Mysore (1800-1809), in Java (1811-1812/13) and from 1815 until his death in 1821 as the first Surveyor General of India. During his long career Mackenzie built up a unique collection consisting of 1,568 manuscripts, 2,070 ‘local tracts,’ 8,076 inscriptions, 2,159 translations in addition to 79 plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, 106 images and 40 antiquities (Wilson, vol 1, pp. 22-23). This collection today is divided between several different institutions in India and the UK including the British Library.

At the time of his death Mackenzie had been hoping to complete a catalogue of his manuscripts and books but this task was left to Horace Hayman Wilson to complete in 1828. Wilson gives details of 10 Arabic and 87 Persian mss (Wilson, vol. 2, pp. 117-144) which he rather dismissively described as (vol 1 p.lii) “of little consideration, but some of them are of local value”. In fact we have 94 Persian items in our collections at the British Library. These are mostly historical works, biographies, collections of letters in addition to a few volumes of poetry, tales, and philosophical and religious works.

H.H. Wilson’s 1828 catalogue of Mackenzie’s Persian manuscripts, including no 81, Silseleh Jogiyan

In 1828, in what was the first major work in English on the religions of India, Wilson published the first of two articles “A sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus”. The second, a continuation with the same title, was printed in 1832. Wilson’s account was based on two Persian works, both written by Hindu authors, one of which was Silsilah-i jogiyān (‘Chain of Yogis’) by Sītal Singh, Munshi to the Raja of Benares (Wilson, 1828, p.6). This was no 81 in Wilson's catalogue, now numbered IO Islamic 3087.

Sītal Singh (see Carl Ernst’s chapter on him, below) had been commissioned to write an account of the different religious groups in Benares in 1800 by a British magistrate John Deane. Also titled Fuqarā-yi Hind, it includes descriptions of 48 different types of ascetic groups divided into 5 chapters on Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Sikhs and Jains. The descriptions are followed by a short philosophical defence of the Vedanta and an early census of the different religious and professional groups to be found in Benares. In addition to this work, Sītal Singh wrote several other philosophical works and poetry under the name Bīkhwud.

IO Islamic 3087 includes 48 miniature portraits painted in the margins next to the relevant descriptions. Unlike the typically more sophisticated company paintings which occur in similar works, these are comparatively simplistic in style. Although the manuscript is not dated, the paper is watermarked J. Whatman 1816 so it must have been copied after that but before Mackenzie's death in 1821. Several of the paintings are dated between 13th and 27th January, but without any year. Perhaps these were the dates when the paintings were added in the margins.

The sects are arranged as below:

The sixteen Vaishnava sects
Gosain of Vindraban (f. 4v); Gosain of Gokul (f. 5v); Sakhibhava (f. 7r); Ramanandi (f. 8r); Vairagi (f. 8v); Virakta (f. 8v); Naga (f. 9r); Ramanuji (f10r); Kabirpanthi (f10v); Dadupanthi (f11r); Ravidaspanthi (f11v); Harichandi (f. 12r); Surnapanthi (f. 12v); Madhavi (f .13v); Sadhavi (f. 13v); Charandasi (f. 15r)

Gosain of Gokul (f. 5v)  centre: Sakhibhava (f. 7r) Kabirpanthi (f. 10v)
Left: Gosain of Gokul (f. 5v); centre: Sakhibhava (f. 7r); right: Kabirpanthi (f. 10v)

Madhavi (f. 13v) centre: Sadhavi (f. 13v)  Charandasi (f. 15r) (BL IO Islamic 3087)
Left: Madhavi (f. 13v); centre: Sadhavi (f. 13v); right: Charandasi (f. 15r)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The nineteen Shaiva sects
Dandi (f. 16r); Agnihotri (f. 17v); Yogi (f. 19r); Shankaracharya (f. 20r); Atit (f. 20v); Sanyogi (f. 22r); Naga (f. 22r); Avadhuta (f. 23r); Urdabahu (f. 23v); Akasmukhi (f. 24r); Karalingi (f. 24r); Rukhara (f. 24v); Ukhara (f. 24v); Aghori (f. 25r); Alakhnami (f. 25v); Jangama (f. 26r); Nakhuni (f. 26v); Chokri (f. 27r); Paramahansa (f. 28r)

  Dandi (f. 16r) Agnihotri (f. 17v) Atit (f. 20v) 
Left: Dandi (f. 16r); centre: Agnihotri (f. 17v); right: Atit (f. 20v)
IO Islamic 3087_f22r_b_1500  Urdabahu (f. 23v) Nakhuni (f. 26v) (BL IO Islamic 3087)
Left: Naga (f. 22r); centre: Urdabahu (f. 23v); right: Nakhuni (f. 26v)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The four kinds of Shaktas
Bhakta (f .29v); Vami (f. 31v); Kanchuliya (f. 36v); Karari (f. 38r)

IO Islamic 3087_f31v.JPG_1500 Left: Vami (f. 31v); centre: Kanchuliya (f. 36v); right: Karari (f. 38r) (BL IO Islamic 3087) Left: Vami (f. 31v); centre: Kanchuliya (f. 36v); right: Karari (f. 38r) (BL IO Islamic 3087)

Left: Vami (f. 31v); centre: Kanchuliya (f. 36v); right: Karari (f. 38r)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The seven kinds of Nanakshahis (Sikhs)
Udasi (f. 40r); Ganjbakhshi (f. 40v); Ramra’i (f. 41r); Suthrashahi (f. 41r); Govindsakhi (f. 42v); Nirmali (f.  46v); Naga (f. 47v)
Left: Ramra’i (f. 41r); centre: Govindsakhi (f. 42v); right: Naga (f. 47v) (BL IO Islamic 3087) Left: Ramra’i (f. 41r); centre: Govindsakhi (f. 42v); right: Naga (f. 47v) (BL IO Islamic 3087) Left: Ramra’i (f. 41r); centre: Govindsakhi (f. 42v); right: Naga (f. 47v) (BL IO Islamic 3087)
Left: Ramra’i (f. 41r); centre: Govindsakhi (f. 42v); right: Naga (f. 47v)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The two kinds of Sravakas (Jains)

Left: Sravaka (f. 47v); right: Jati (f. 48v) (BL IO Islamic 3087) Left: Sravaka (f. 47v); right: Jati (f. 48v) (BL IO Islamic 3087)
Left: Sravaka (f. 47v); right: Jati (f. 48v)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc 

Further reading
Blake, David M., “Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary”, in The British Library Journal, vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn 1991): pp. 128-150.
Wilson, Horace Hayman, The Mackenzie Collection. A descriptive catalogue of the oriental manuscripts, and other articles ... collected by Lieut. Col. Colin Mackenzie, etc. 2 vols. Calcutta: Printed at the Asiatic Press, 1828. vol. 1vol. 2
––– “Sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus”, Asiatic Researches, vol. 16 (1828): pp. 1-136  and vol. 17 (1832): pp.169-313.
Ernst, Carl W., “A Persian philosophical defense of Vedanta”, in Refractions of Islam in India: Situating Sufism and Yoga. India: Sage Publications, 2016, pp. 461-476.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian



17 August 2017

Illumination and decoration in Chinese Qur'ans

A seventeenth-century Qur’an from China in the British Library recently attracted much interest in a belated Eid show-and-tell arranged for the local community. This provides an ideal opportunity to go into more detail about the British Library’s collection of Chinese Qur’ans.

The opening leaves of a seventeenth-century Qur'an written in ṣīnī (‘Chinese’) script, part five of a set originally in thirty volumes (BL Or.15604, ff. 1v-2r)
The opening leaves of a seventeenth-century Qur'an written in ṣīnī (‘Chinese’) script, part five of a set originally in thirty volumes (BL Or.15604, ff. 1v-2r)

Visitors are always surprised when we show them a Chinese Qur’an, as they don’t automatically associate Islam with China. But in the eighth century, Muslim merchants were already trading in China and a community is known to have been established in Xi'an, where a mosque was built in 742. The impact of Islam in China was, however, not strongly felt until several centuries later during the Song and Yuan dynasties: the network of routes, known as the Silk Road, became the conduit for the spread of religious and cultural influences as well as for goods and merchandise.

Chinese Qur’ans were often produced in thirty-volume sets rather than in a single-volume codex, and many of our Chinese Qur’ans are sections (juz’) from a number of different thirty-volume sets. The script used was a variation of muḥaqqaq and penned in a way which suggests that the pen strokes were influenced by Chinese calligraphy. This is often referred to as ṣīnī (‘Chinese’) Arabic. A central panel is a prominent feature of Chinese Qur’ans on their decorated pages, which usually contain as few as three lines of text, with only a few words on each.
The beginning of a late seventeenth-century Qur'an written in ṣīnī script. This volume is the third of an original thirty-volume set (BL Or.15571, f. 1v)
The beginning of a late seventeenth-century Qur'an written in ṣīnī script. This volume is the third of an original thirty-volume set (BL Or.15571, f. 1v)

The assimilation of local traditions in Islamic manuscripts produced in areas not normally associated with the art of Islamic calligraphy and illumination is evident in Chinese Qur’ans. While the illumination and decoration have the same function in all Qur’ans, the influence of local style and culture is manifest, without infringing Islamic practice in sacred art. The adaptation of symbols common to Chinese art and culture is therefore felt very strongly. In the final opening of a seventeen-century Qur’an, a lantern motif has become the visual vehicle for the text in the diamond design in the centre of the lantern. The impression of a Chinese lantern is further reinforced by pendulous tassels attached to the hooks on the outer side of the structure.

The decorated final text opening with lantern motif from a seventeenth-century Qur'an (BL Or.15256/1, ff. 55v-56r)
The decorated final text opening with lantern motif from a seventeenth-century Qur'an (BL Or.15256/1, ff. 55v-56r)

In the same Qur’an a decorative leaf, exemplifying the use of local flora, functions as a section marker indicating the halfway point in part six of a thirty-volume set.

A decorative leaf serving as a section marker (BL Or.15256/1, f. 30v)
A decorative leaf serving as a section marker (BL Or.15256/1, f. 30v)

Chinese Qur’ans often incorporate vibrant colours and gold for typical motifs such as crescents and banners. The impression of petals in the shamsah (sunburst) illumination below is produced by the intricate design of overlapping circles.

A shamsah medallion placed before the beginning of the text (BL Or.15604, f. 1r)
A shamsah medallion placed before the beginning of the text (BL Or.15604, f. 1r)

Chinese influence is also visible in the swirling lettering of the basmalah inscription in this shamsah medallion occurring in an eighteenth-century Qur'an, Or.14758, part ten of a thirty-volume set.

The shamsah containing the basmalah the same design used as part of the design of the binding (BL Or.14758, f. 2r and front binding)
Left: The shamsah containing the basmalah, and right: the same design used as part of the design of the binding (BL Or.14758, f. 2r and front binding)

An  unusual Qur’an is a nineteenth-century volume of selections accompanied by a Chinese translation (IO Islamic 3440). The Chinese translations are placed sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end, sometimes in the middle of the lines and occasionally between them.

The beginning of Sūrah 36, Yasin from a nineteenth-century Qur'an with Chinese translation, formerly belonging to the presumably Muslim Admiral at Amoy (BL IO Islamic 3440, f. 13v-14r)
The beginning of Sūrah 36, Yasin from a nineteenth-century Qur'an with Chinese translation, formerly belonging to the presumably Muslim Admiral at Amoy (BL IO Islamic 3440, f. 13v-14r)

This Qur’an has an interesting history. It was presented to the India Office Library in 1883 by Hugh W. Gabbett, whose father Lt. (later Major General) William. M. Gabbett of the Madras Horse Artillery was Lord Gough’s aidedecamp when Amoy (Xiamen) was taken in 1841 during the First Opium War. A faded note in pencil on folio 1r by William Gabbett describes it as “A Koran found by me at Amoy found in the Admiral’s House. W. M. Gabbett” and “The most valuable Book yet found in China. W. M. G.”

Further reading
Colin F. Baker, Qur'an manuscripts: calligraphy, illumination, design. London: British Library, 2007.
Annabel Teh Gallop, “Was the mousedeer Peranakan?: In search of Chinese Islamic influences in Malay manuscript art”, in Jan van der Putten and Mary Kilcline Cody, Lost Times and Untold Tales of the Malay World. Singapore: NUS Press, 2009: pp. 319-339.

Colin F. Baker and Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections

19 April 2017

Calcutta to Bihar: an artist's journey

As part of the Visual Arts collections at the British Library, we hold an extensive collection of drawings, sketches and watercolours by amateur British and European artists who travelled through the Indian subcontinent. In 2015, we acquired a wonderful little sketchbook, measuring a mere 80 x 204 mm, by an unknown artist who documented his/her journey from Calcutta to Bihar in the winter of 1849. Unfortunately, none of the sketches are signed or offer any details regarding the artist’s identity. The sketchbook contains 12 double-sided pages, each filled with sketches in either pen-and-ink or done in watercolours. The subjects include topographical views, portraits studies of locals, as well as documentation of crafts and transportation methods. Each illustration is annotated by the artist providing details of the subjects and documenting the shades of colour – such as ‘very white’ or ‘yellowish’. It is most likely that this incomplete series of sketches were preparatory studies that could be worked up at a later stage.

View of Government House, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library WD 4593, f. 7
View of Government House, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library WD 4593, f. 7  noc

The illustrations in the album include studies of relatively well known buildings such as Government House and Fort William in Calcutta to lesser known spots along the Ganges and Hoogly Rivers. The artist’s impressions demonstrate a quick study and artistic impressions rather than providing an accurate visual record. One of the first views in the series is that of Government House (Raj Bhavan) that was designed by Captain Charles Wyatt and constructed from 1799-1802. The artist prepared the study from a position on Esplanade Row facing north. This neo-classical building, inspired by Robert Adam’s Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, was the official residence of the Governor-Generals and the Viceroys until 1911. Along the parapet of the central building, the artist sketched the East India Company’s coat of arms featuring lions. It is most curious that the artist featured the coat of arms on the south front of the building as they in fact are positioned along the parapet of the north face and main entrance to the building. A drawing by Lady Sarah Amherst, dated to 1824, shows the correct position.

View of Fort William, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD 4593, f. 9
View of Fort William, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD 4593, f. 9  noc

On another folio, the artist illustrated a distant view of Fort William. Designed by Captain John Brohier and built during the 1750s and 1760s, the octagonal fortification was built close to the banks of the Hoogly River, just south-west of Government House. On the left, the artist wrote ‘white dark pinnacle’ and ‘church’ which is likely to be a reference to St Peter’s Church that was built in 1826.

'Hindoo Temples of Tin & Coloured Paper, Coolies, and Ganges Pilots', anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f.14
'Hindoo Temples of Tin & Coloured Paper, Coolies, and Ganges Pilots', anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f.14  noc

Aside from architectural and topographical views, the artist also documented local inhabitants and customs. On folio 14, he wrote ‘Hindoo Temples of Tin and Coloured Paper’ and provided pen-and-ink sketches of what he assumed to be local and religious crafts. He meticulously documented the colour scheme of these objects. However, in finding comparative material in contemporary drawings and later photographs, it appears that the artist may have documented painted structures called ta'ziya, instead of ‘Hindoo temples’ that were created for the Muslim festival of Muharram. Examples of ta’ziya used in processions were recorded in paintings and photographs by local as well as British artists during the 18th and 19th centuries.

‘Native boats’, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f. 25.
‘Native boats’, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f. 25.  noc

The album contains several charming river scenes that document forms of river transportation, from small row boats to a steamer. From the sequence of illustrations and the inscriptions provided, it is possible to document the artist’s journey along the Hoogly and then the Ganges rivers from Calcutta to Bihar by way of the Rajmahal Hills, Monghyr, Patna, Dinapur and Ghazipur.


Further reading:

Archer, M. British Drawings in the India Office Library, Volume 1: Amateur Artists, London, 1969

Losty, J.P.,  'Charles D'Oyly's voyage to Patna', Asian and African Studies Blog, September 2014

Losty, J.P., ‘A Career in Art: Sir Charles D’Oyly’, in Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, ed. P. Rohatgi and P. Godrej, Bombay, 1995, pp. 81-106

Rohatgi, P., and P. Godrej, Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, Bombay, 1995


Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator  ccownwork


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