THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

11 posts categorized "Literature"

13 June 2019

Same-Sex Relations in an 18th century Ottoman Manuscript

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            June is Pride Month, which means we celebrate the histories and experiences of LGBTQQ2SA+[1] people. A common complaint that we hear during the month is that the acronyms attached to it are unwieldy and incomprehensible; a criticism that’s easily dispelled through a quick explanation of each letter or symbol. But this discussion obscures a far more complex, and trickier, question: what does it mean to be gay (or, for that matter, lesbian, trans, queer or two-spirit)? Is it just a matter of who you fancy, or is it much deeper, a nexus of desire, outlook, self-image and social relations? Answers aren’t always easy to give for those of us who live in the post-Stonewall era, and they’re even thornier when we try to apply contemporary terms to historical content.

 Or 13882 Binding_small Or 13882 Unvan
Stamped and gilded binding of the Hamse-i Atā’ī (Or. 13882), alongside f. 1v with one of its magnificent ‘unvāns.  noc

            That is, in essence, one of the most perplexing issues in dealing with Or. 13882, an 18th-century Ottoman recension of the Hamse-yi ‘Atā’ī, ‘Atā’ī’s four extant mesnevis. The work is a beautiful specimen of the Ottoman arts of the book, featuring four illuminated ‘unvāns, thirty miniatures, marbled end-papers and black and maroon morocco binding that has been stamped with gilded cartouches and rope patterns. The presence of two seals and three inscriptions attest to the circulation and desirability of this particular volume; hardly surprising, given its beauty and the slightly scandalous nature of the content. The poetry itself is an oblique response to the earlier Khamsah of Nizami, but takes up local themes. Wine and music in the Imperial court; moral and ethical issues; and social mores and values such as heroism are treated in the first three mesnevis, the ‘Alemnüma, the Nefhatül’Ezhar and the Sohbet-ül-Ebkar. While these topics were often raised in mesnevis for the purpose of Sufi education and instruction, it does not appear that this was always the case in ‘Atā’ī’s work. The fourth mesnevi, Heft Han, is perhaps the most interesting for our purposes. Gibb, in the third volume of his A History of Ottoman Poetry, described it as follows: “The Heft Khwán or Seven Courses is more purely mystical in tone… I have never seen this poem, but Von Hammer describes it as a most unhappy work, consisting simply of a series of trivial stories and trite moralities.”[2] As Andrews and Kalpaklı explain in The Age of Beloveds, it contains seven accounts, the first six of which are moralistic tales, while the seventh relates the story of two male lovers. This final installment tells of the two young men’s “frolics” in Istanbul, of their eventual capture and enslavement by Europeans during a pilgrimage by sea to Egypt, and of the two European men who in turn fall in love with them.[3] This is a fairly original text, an example of ‘Atā’ī’s creativity and imagination.[4]

Or 13882 Bosphorus Or 13882 Minbar
Examples of the colourful, dynamic illustrations of the Bosphorus (left) and of a a group of men in a mosque, gathering around the minbar.  noc

That, however, is the beginning, rather than the end, of this queer tale. The British Library’s acquisition record for the item reads: “Some [miniatures] illustrate historical events and scenes, others various anecdotes. Those on folios 103r, 108v, 158r and v, 161r, 166r and v are of a pornographic nature. The double miniature depicting the Bosporus, ff. 68v-69r, is of fine quality.” Given that the manuscript was purchased in 1979, this mention of “pornographic” material likely relies on an understanding of the term closer to our own usage, rather than that of the Victorian age. Of course, the line between pornography and art is a blurry one. In 1964, it caused US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to explain that a precise definition of the boundary was unnecessary, as “I know it when I see it.” The American philosopher and writer Susan Sontag was perhaps more helpful when, writing about morality and artistic expression, she argued that art appealed to contemplation, while pornography, in turn, sought to excite.[5]

        Whether according to Stewart’s guidelines, or those of Sontag, a quick view of some of the illustrations included in the Hamse make it clear that these images would likely be kept behind the 18+ bar of any corner store’s magazine rack. Those highlighted in the acquisition slip contain graphic depictions of female and male genitalia; masturbation and vaginal and anal penetration; and sex between couples and in groups. Of importance for this article, a number of the illustrations narrate encounters between men; some bearded, others not. The pictures themselves often tell a story. One pair shows five men seated to eat together, after which three of them are engaged in a menage-à-trois. Another depicts two men having sex while a large group of onlookers spy on the lovers, ultimately exposing them to the authorities. Given what we know of the plot, these images are doubly queered: first, because they involve sex between men; and secondly, because everyone in them is in Ottoman costume, despite the setting of the tale in Europe. Boone interprets the Heft Han as, partly, an allegorical tale about morality and policing of sexuality in the Ottoman Empire (rather than Europe), and this geographical displacement might be the most visual evidence yet supporting his claim.[6]  

Or 13882 Horsemen Or 13882 Dinner Scene
Two horsemen, part of one of the other tales in the Hamse, along with the first part of the infamous dinner scene from the Heft Han.  noc

            Moreover, the images raise important questions about sexuality and identity in 17th- and 18th- century Ottoman circles. Were the characters depicted in these stories gay? Were their sex acts deemed to be indicative of their identities and self-perceptions? What of the male readers: can we infer anything about their desires? Did a female audience enjoy these stories too, and how does that inform our understanding of their sexuality? Such questions are hard to answer without the input of the individual readers themselves, highlighting the intensely personal and subjective nature of identity in the first place. What’s more, as Serkan Delice has shown in his work “‘When female friends increase, lovers decrease’: Gender, Sexism and Historiography in the Ottoman Era”, such questions can easily become fodder for those with political agendas about contemporary citizens.[7]  

            The act of asking such questions isn’t without its pitfalls. To start with, 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century European observers were apt to insist upon a widespread Ottoman practice of pederasty, despite a lack of firm evidence to suggest that it was any more common than in Western Europe.[8] This Islamophobic trope has survived in contemporary discourse, but it was tempered in 19th- and 20th-century scholarship by another trend: that of erasing sexual non-conformity. Translators and commentators have played down the presence of same-sex desire in Ottoman poetry. They instrumentalize authors’ predilection for allusion and allegory, as well as Turkish’s lack of gendered pronouns, to gradually nudge English versions of classical Ottoman poems into the realm of heterosexual love.[9] Similar dynamics are just as visible in 20th-century Turkish scholarship.[10] To paraphrase Shakira, however, these pics don’t lie. Both figurative and literal imagery pointing to same-sex desire and intercourse motivated scholars in the latter part of the 20th century to begin discussing more openly homosexual themes within the Ottoman canon. This is no niche field: a whole genre of Ottoman poetry, the şehrengîz, contains plenty of examples of the male poet’s love or lust for another man. It was interwoven into broader Sufi schools of expression and enunciation, a genre that is not as easily tied to specific segments of the population or identities as would be contemporary LGBT fiction.[11]

Or 13882 Ship

Or 13882 Colophon
An unlucky ship on the rolling waters of the Mediterranean, alongside the manuscript’s colophon, including date it was copied: 10 Rebiülahir 1151 AH / 28 July 1738 CE). noc

            This leads us back to our original question: is it gay? Who knows if a definitive answer that satisfies everyone will ever be formulated. In some ways, even posing the question says more about us than it does about 17th- or 18th-century Ottomans. Identity is something intensely personal, and the categories that we choose or that we have chosen for us never manage to capture in full the reality of our existence. What is clear, though, is that sexual diversity is not something new; nor is it something that has been enjoyed only in recent years. As the miniatures of this version of the Hamse-i ‘Atā’ī demonstrate, desire has long come in many shapes and forms. As long as we avoid any ill-fated journeys by sea, it’s up to us to describe and celebrate it in any way we choose. 

 

Dr. Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections, @BLTurkKoleksyon

 

[1] LGBTQQ2SA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirit, Allies and Others.

[2] E. J. W. Gibb. A History of Ottoman Poetry by the Late E.J.W. Gibb: Volume III. Ed. Edward G. Browne (London: Luzac & Co., 1904), p. 234.

[3] Joseph Allen Boone. The Homoerotics of Orientalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), pp. 10-16.

[4] Rukiye Aslıhan Aksoy Sheridan. “Anlatıcının Rekabet Taktikleri: Nev’i-zade Atâyî’nin Heft-Hân Mesnevisine Anlatıbilimsel Bir Bakış,” in Prof. Dr. Mine Mengi Adına Türkoloji Sempozyumu (20–22 Ekim 2011) Bildirileri (Adana: Çukurova Üniversitesi, 2004), pp. 3-13).

[5] Susan Sontag. “On style” in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2009), pp. 26-27.

[6] Boone, The Homoerotics of Orientalism, pp. 10-16

[7] Serkan Delice. “‘Zen-Dostlar Çoğalıp Mahbûblar Azaldı’: Osmanlı’da Toplumsal Cinsiyet, Cinsellik ve Tarihyazımı” in ed. Cüneyt Cakırlar and Serkan Delice, Cinsellik Muamması: Türkiye’de Queer Kültür ve Muhalefet (Istanbul: Metis Yayınları, 2012), pp. 329-363.

[8] Stephen O. Murray. “Homosexuality in the Ottoman Empire,” in Historical Reflections, vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 103-105.

[9] Stephen O. Murray. “Homosexuality in the Ottoman Empire,” in Historical Reflections, vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 2007), p. 106.

[10] Tunca Kortantamer. Nev’î-zâde Atâyî ve Hamse’si (Izmir: Bornova, 1997).

[11] İrvin Cemil Schick. “Representation of Gender and Sexuality in Ottoman and Turkish Erotic Literature,” in The Turkish Studies Association Journal, vol. 28, no. 1/2 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), pp. 88-90.

10 June 2019

Zee JLF at the British Library, 14-16th June 2019

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ZEE JLF at The British Library returns to London for its sixth consecutive year from 14th-16th June, 2019, to celebrate books, creativity and dialogue, creative diversity and varied intellectual discourse.

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The five-day ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, held annually in the Pink City of Jaipur, is a riot of colour, energy, ideas, and music against a backdrop of readings, dynamic discussions and debates.

This June, the spirit of the festival with its pervasive sense of inclusiveness and infectious camaraderie, will once again be at the heart of London as a caravan of writers and thinkers, poets, balladeers and raconteurs bring alive South Asia’s unique multilingual literary heritage at the British Library. You can book tickets through the British Library's box office.

Asian and African Studies Curators Malini Roy and Michael Erdman will be speaking in two of the panels:

Saturday, 15 June 2019: 13.45 – 14.45

Forgotten Masterpieces of Indian Art for East India Company

Malini Roy, Yuthika Sharma, Katherine Butler Schofield and Rosie Llewellyn-Jones in conversation with William Dalrymple

Reflecting both the beauty of the natural world and the social reality of the time, the Indian artworks commissioned by the East India Company’s officials in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries offer a rare glimpse of the cultural fusion between British and Indian artistic styles. South Asian art expert and British Library curator Malini Roy, historian of South Asian art Yuthika Sharma, music historian and author Katherine Butler Schofield, historian on South Asian Art and British scholar and author Rosie Llewellyn Jones discuss this forgotten moment in Anglo-Indian history, with author and historian William Dalrymple.

 

Sunday, 16 June 2019: 16.15 - 17.15

From Hieroglyphs to Emojis

Irving Finkel, David Levy and Michael Erdman in conversation with Pragya Tiwari, introduced by Namita Gokhale

From carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works to beautiful calligraphy, iconic fonts and emojis, the written word has evolved in innumerable ways over the centuries. British Museum curator Irving Finkel, alongside technologist and calligrapher David Levy and scholar of Turkish historiography and one of the curators of the British Library’s exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark Michael Erdman deconstruct the act of writing and consider its future in the digital age, in conversation with journalist and editor Pragya Tiwari. Introduced by Namita Gokhale.

Presented by Bagri Foundation.

 

The full schedule is now available online: http://jlflitfest.org/zee-jlf-at-british-library/schedule.

 

03 May 2019

Jesuit Mission Press ‘Feiqe monogatari’ now online

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One of the most important items in the British Library’s Japanese collections is a small, rather ordinary-looking, leather-bound volume, generally known as Feiqe monogatari (BL shelfmark Or.59.aa.1). Despite its appearance, it is, in fact, a remarkable work in a number of ways. Firstly, it was one of the earliest books printed in Japan using movable type rather than the traditional woodblocks, secondly, it is the first non-religious text printed in colloquial Japanese transcribed into the Roman alphabet, offering valuable insights into the phonology of the Japanese language in the 16th century, and thirdly, it is the world’s only extant copy.

Now, thanks to a collaborative project between the British Library and the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL), Tokyo, a fully digitised version of this unique work is available online along with transcriptions, as part of NINJAL’s  Corpus of Historical Japanese, Muromachi Period Series II : Christian Materials.  In addition to a full set of images, NINJAL has also provided transcriptions of the Romanised text and in mixed Japanese kanji/kana script.

The book contains three different texts bound together: Feiqe monogatari a version of the Heike monogatari 平家物語 or Tale of the Heike, a famous medieval epic about the rivalry between the Taira and Minamoto clans, Esopo no fabulas the first Japanese translation of Aesop's Fables, and an anthology of maxims, drawn from Chinese classics, called the Qincvxv (Kinkūshū 金句集).

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First page of Feiqe monogatari (Or 59.aa.1, p.3)Noc

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First page of Esopo no fabulas (Or 59.aa.1, p.408d)Noc

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First page of Qinquxu (Or 59.aa.1, p.507) Noc

All three were printed on the Japanese island of Amakusa by Jesuit missionaries using a movable-type printing press in late 1592/early 1593. Feiqe monogatari has a preface dated 10 December 1592, the title page of Esopo no fabulas is dated 1593 and a general preface added at the front of  the volume was completed on 23 February 1593.

The three texts are accompanied by a printed glossary of ‘words difficult to determine’ (funbetsv xinicuqi cotoba) found in Feiqe monogatari and Esopo no fabulas.  At the end of the book is a handwritten Japanese-Portuguese vocabulary.

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Handwritten Japanese-Portuguese dictionary (Or.59.aa.1, p.597) Noc

From the preface of Feiqe monogatari we know that it was the work of the Christian convert - and later apostate - Fabian Fucan (Fukansai 不干斎, c. 1565–1621). Fabian was baptised in 1583 and joined the Jesuits in 1586, teaching Japanese to missionaries in the Jesuit College in Amakusa. He later rejected Christianity and in 1620 published the anti-Christian tract Deus Destroyed (Ha-Daiusu 破提宇子).

When the first Christian missionaries arrived in Japan in the 1540s they immediately set themselves to learning the Japanese language. Their aim, of course, was to convert the population to Christianity and to do this they needed to be able to communicate its teachings in the local language. They made rapid progress and with the help of Japanese converts, soon began translating Christian texts into Japanese. To assist with their work, Alessandro Valignano, head of the Jesuit Mission in East Asia, had a movable-type printing press brought from Portugal. It reached Japan via Goa in July 1590 and was set up at the Jesuit College in Kazusa 加津佐, on the Shimabara Peninsula, where the first work, a life of the apostles and saints entitled Sanctos no gosagyveono vchi nvqigaqi (Sanctos no go-sagyō no unchi nukigaki サントスの御作業の内抜書), was printed in 1591. Shortly afterwards, in the face of official persecution, the College and press were moved to the more remote and safer location of Amakusa 天草 where printing resumed in 1592. The College on Amakusa was suppressed by the Japanese authorities in 1597 so the Jesuits moved again, this time to Nagasaki, taking the press with them and books continued to be printed there from 1598 to 1611.

The books produced by the Jesuit Mission Press in Japan between 1591 and 1611, almost exclusively religious in content, are known collectively in Japanese as Kirishitan-ban or “Christian publications”. The majority were translations of Christian texts widely read in Europe such as Doctrina Christaã, Guía de pecadores and parts of Introducción del símbolo de la fe, in some cases adapted to the Japanese context with additional explanations or omission of doctrines which might have provoked controversy.

The Japanese authorities increasingly came to regard Christianity as subversive and, following a series of repressive measures, it was eventually suppressed and all remaining missionaries expelled from Japan in 1639.

The precise number of Kirishitan-ban titles printed in Japan is not certain.  With the suppression of Christianity and the destruction of images and artefacts connected with it, most of the Jesuit printings were lost.  In his pioneering work The Jesuit Mission Press in Japan, 1591–1610 published in 1888, Sir Ernest Satow identified 14 titles. Kirishitan Bunko: A Manual of Books and Documents on the Early Christian Mission in Japan (1940) by Johannes Laures, identifies 30 books published by the Jesuit Mission Press but this includes 5 printed in Macao, Goa or Manila. A more recent publication, Kirishitan to Shuppan (2013), lists a total of 41 Kirishitan-ban (including 5 fragmentary texts) with 92 extant copies identified worldwide, 7 of them in the British Library.  For the 35 works published in Japan, it lists a total of 72 known copies.

Besides its rarity, Feiqe monogatari is important in that it is a literary rather than a religious text..  It was not intended for the education of Japanese Christians but for the missionaries themselves as an aid to learning the language and to understanding the history and values of the Japanese for whom the warrior code (bushidō), reflected in Heike monogatari, and the Chinese classics represented by Kinkūshū had great significance.

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First page of preface to Feiqe monogatari ((Or 59.aa.1, ftpr) Noc

The spelling conventions of Portuguese, together with differences in pronunciation of the time, mean that the Romanised texts appear unfamiliar to those used to Hepburn, Kunrei-shiki and other later systems. For example, comparing spellings to the Modified Hepburn transliteration system most widely used today: ‘c’ and ‘q’ are used instead of ‘k’ depending on the following vowel (‘c’ before ‘a,’ ‘o’ or ‘u’, ‘q’ before ‘e’ and ‘i’), while ‘x’ represents ‘sh’ before ‘’i’ and, unlike modern standard Japanese, also before ‘e’. The letter ‘v’ can represent either the vowel ‘u’ or the semivowel ‘w’. The bilabial fricative sound now Romanised as ‘h’ (or ‘f’ before a ‘u’) is written as ’f’ in all positions, presumably reflecting the pronunciation of the time. ‘tçu’ is the equivalent of ‘ts’. As in Portuguese spelling, ‘u’ is inserted after ‘g’ to maintain a hard sound before ‘e’ or ‘i’.

The opening sentence on the first page reads: Nifon no cotoba to historia uo narai xiran to fossvrv fito to tameni xeva ni yavaragvetarv Feiqe no monogatari [The Tale of the Heike made easy to help those wishing to learn the language and history of Japan] which would be written in Modified Hepburn as Nihon no kotoba to historia o naraishiran to hossuru hito no tame ni sewa ni yawaragetaru Heike no monogari, or in Japanese script as 日本の言葉とhistoria [歴史]を習い知らんと欲する人の為に世話に和らげたる 平家の 物語.

Another interesting aspect of Feiqe monogatari is that while not the oldest, it was the first book in the British Museum/British Library’s Japanese collections. The preliminary pages of the volume bear a succession of shelfmarks and annotations from which it appears that the book was acquired by the eminent collector Sir Hans Sloane (1662-1753) in the first years of the 18th century. The earliest number is R3594, one of many sequences used by Sloane. Research published by Amy Blakeway in The Library Catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane: Their Authors, Organization, and Functions (http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2011articles/pdf/ebljarticle162011.pdf), suggests that the R-sequence was used for a rather random can be dated to between 1712 and 1723.  Sloane has also added the erroneous description in his own hand “Fables in the Language of Tonquin” (i.e. Vietnam). After Sloane’s death his vast collections became the foundation of the British Museum and its library and were installed in Montagu House. The number on the titlepage (3Ib) is a Montagu House location, showing that the book was stored in room 3, press I, and on shelf b with other works on Mythology. The book was given the general shelfmark 1075.e. but was later considered to be important/valuable enough to be moved to a case pressmark C.24.e.4.  A subsequent reorganisation of the British Museum Library saw it being transferred to the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (OMPB) where shelfmarks beginning “Or.” were assigned - Or.59.d.6 and, later, its current number Or.59.aa.1.  As part of OMPB Feiqe monogatari passed to the custodianship of the British Library in 1973.

Its role as a teaching tool for non-Japanese missionaries gives Feiqe monogatari is greatest significance today - that it is written in colloquial, rather than literary Japanese and is printed in the Latin alphabet, not in Japanese script.  The Japanese written language was, and is, extremely complicated combining many thousands of Chinese characters and two different syllabaries.  Using the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet made the task of writing and printing much simpler and meant that the text was easier for the Jesuits to read.  Since at that time there was no standard way of transcribing Japanese, the missionaries simply wrote down what they heard often using the spelling conventions of their native Portuguese.  For the study of Japanese historical linguistics, therefore, Feiqe monogatari is a very valuable source of information for how the language was actually spoken and pronounced in the late 16th century.

In a way that will be familiar to all who have ever tried to learn a foreign language, whenever they were unable to find the correct Japanese translation of a word the missionaries and their Japanese helpers seem to have simply used the Portuguese word instead. So "Aesop's Fables" becomes "Esopo no fabulas” and “history” is “historia” rather than the expected Japanese words gūwa 寓話 and rekishi 歴史respectively.

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Successive shelfmarks used for Feiqe monogatari (Or.59.aa.1, preliminary pages) Noc

Sadly, no record has been found of how Sloane acquired the book or from whom. Between 1723 and 1725, Sloane purchased a substantial collection of Japanese books, manuscripts, natural history specimens and other material from the family of the German physician Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) who had lived in Japan from 1690-92 as physician in the Dutch East India Company’s trading base in Nagasaki. However, as noted above, a study of the shelfmarks and other annotations suggest that Feiqe monogatari was acquired by Sloane before the Kaempfer collection. It is known that the Jesuits sent some of their publications back to Europe – either to Rome or to their influential benefactors. Recent research by Peter Kornicki has shown that Japanese books reached England during the 1620s, sent to wealthy patrons by the East India Company through its trading factory in Hirado. Dutch traders also continued a supply of books back to Europe, some of which would have circulated among collectors like Sloane.

One final mystery is the illustration on the front page of the volume which depicts a crowned classical figure in a chariot pulled by lions. Neither the image nor the Latin inscription have no obvious connection to the content of any of the contained works. Perhaps this was an etching or woodcut that had been used in another work and was simply inserted here as decoration. If any readers of this blog recognise it, I would be delighted to hear from them.

 

Hamish Todd,

Head of East Asian Collections

With thanks to Dr Karen Limper-Herz, Lead Curator for Incunabula and 16th Century Books, British Library.

 

References

Blakeway, Amy, “The library catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane: their authors, organization, and functions”. eBLJ (2011). http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2011articles/pdf/ebljarticle162011.pdf

Elison, George, Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan, Harvard University Press, 1973.

Kornicki, Peter, Umi o watatta Nihon shoseki : Yōroppa e, soshite Bakumatsu, Meiji no Rondon de 海を渡った日本書籍 : ヨーロッパへ、そして幕末・明治のロンドンで. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2018.

Laures, Johannes, Kirishitan Bunko: A manual of books and documents on the early Christian mission in Japan. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1940.

Orii, Yoshimi, “The dispersion of Jesuit books printed in Japan: Trends in bibliographical research and in intellectual history”. Journal of Jesuit Studies 2 ; 2 (2015).  https://brill.com/view/journals/jjs/2/2/article-p189_2.xml?lang=en

Satow, Ernest., The Jesuit Mission Press in Japan, Privately printed, 1888.

Toyoshima, Masayuki 豊島正之 (ed.), Kirishitan to Shuppan キリシタンと出版. Tokyo: Yagi Shoten,

 

19 September 2018

‘South Asia Series’, Autumn/Winter 2018

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Asia and African Collections at the British Library (BL) are pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in their new 'South Asia Series', October-December 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects from 'Theosophy and Bengali spirituality' to 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the last Mughal emperors'! This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s project ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ and its South Asian collections. The speakers include scholars and academics from the UK and elsewhere who will share their original research followed by an open discussion. The presentations will take place on Mondays at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

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The Bhagavad Gita translated by Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1887) (BL 14065.e.25)
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On 1st October 2018, Mriganka Mukhpadhyay from the University of Amsterdam will talk on theosophy and Bengali spirituality, focusing on the works of Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1858-1936), a member of the Bengal Theosophical Society (from 1882) and a significant member of the Theosophical Movement. His talk 'Theosophy and Bengali Spirituality: Mohini Mohun Chatterji’s Works' will discuss how Chatterji’s translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts, original essays and his public lectures shaped the Western world’s understanding of oriental spirituality. More importantly, as a Bengali theosophist and philosopher, he became a major figure in the history of transcultural spirituality in the modern world. This talk will discuss how Chatterji’s publications created a distinctive identity for modern Hindu spirituality in the Western intellectual world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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Indian Music and Rabindranath Tagore by Arnold Bake (1932?) (BL P/V 2339)
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Moushumi Bhowmik, a singer, writer and music researcher based in Kolkata who works in India, Bangladesh and the UK, will talk about the Bake-in-Bengal archives. In her talk 'The Bake-in-Bengal Archives, and Beyond' on 8th October 2018 she will focus on the works of Arnold Bake both in the British Library Sound archives as well as from her fieldwork experiences in Bengal in collaboration with audiographer Sukanta Majumdar. In this presentation Moushumi will talk about the fascinating sonic maps of Bengal, their process of map-making, tracing contour lines from listening and recording, to listening to recordings, and to recording the act of listening. The talk addresses several questions including what was at the source of the motion: the Bake-in Bengal archives scattered in many places, or what lies beyond?

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A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony, British Resident to the Mughal court 1803–06 and 1818–25, watching a nautch in his house in Delhi (c. 1820) (BL Add. Or. 2)
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On 22nd October 2018, Katherine Butler Schofield, a historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the colonial Indian Ocean based in King’s College London will take us through the financial accounts of the East India Company that are alive with details of music and dance in Jaipur state in nineteenth century India.  Her talk 'Mayalee Dancing Girl versus the East India Company' will focus on a particular musician who stands out in these accounts as an exceptional, Mayalee “dancing girl”, an important courtesan. Little exculpatory notes in the margins of successive accounts reveal that Mayalee successfully resisted the Company’s attempt to force her to give up her salt stipend in exchange for cash. This talk looks at what official British records yield about Indian musicians and especially courtesans.

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I Spy with My Little Eye by Humphry House, Calcutta 1937 (BL P/T 2530)

On 5th November 2018 we have Supriya Chaudhuri, Professor Emerita, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, who will talk about a modernist community in 1930s Calcutta formed around the literary journal Parichay. The Parichay group included not only writers and artists, but also scientists, historians, politicians, philosophers, and spies. Its contacts extended to a number of disaffected colonialists in Calcutta: the geologist John Bicknell Auden, brother of the poet Wystan, the Dickens and Hopkins scholar Humphry House, the colonial official Michael Carritt, ICS, and Michael Scott, Chaplain to the Bishop of Calcutta, the last two being spies for the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this talk entitled 'Modernist Communities in 1930s Calcutta: Print, Politics and Surveillance', she will trace the network of connections through the Parichay archives, through other digitized records held at Jadavpur University, and through British Library holdings (for example Michael Carritt’s papers).

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(Secret) Government of Bengal: Home Department Political: District Officer’s Chronicle of Events of Disturbances, August 1942-March 1943 (BL IOR/R/3/1/358: 1943)
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Anwesha Roy, Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of History, King’s College London will focus on the years 1940-1942 before the Quit India Movement in Bengal in her talk 'Prelude to Quit India in Bengal: War Rumours and Revolutionary Parties, 1940-42' on 12th November 2018. She will discuss how war-time colonial state policies created annoying disruptions and intrusions in various ways in the day-to-day lives of the people of Bengal, building up mass discontent up to the edge, which, coupled with war rumours, reconfigured the image of the colonial state in Bengal. This talk taps into the psyche of the colonised mind, which was increasingly and collectively coming to see the hoax of British invincibility in the face of serious reverses in the Eastern Front and Japanese victories.

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Bodhan by Kazi Nazrul Islam in the periodical Moslem Bharat (1920) (BL 14133.k.2)
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On 20th November 2018, Ahona Panda, doctoral candidate, University of Chicago, will focus on the National Poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam in her talk 'Kazi Nazrul Islam and the Partition of Bengal: A Language of Unity, a Language of Loss'. This talk will explore how Nazrul tried to create a new Bengali language single-handedly. Using a large number of periodicals from the British Library’s collection, and drawing from extensive research in Bangladesh, this talk reconstructs Nazrul’s early years in journalism in which as writer and editor, he forged a new literary register for the Bengali Muslim community and crafted a political language that was anti-separatist, socialist whilw referring to a philological landscape including centuries of Islamic and Hindu literary traditions. The talk will conclude with how Nazrul found new life in the language movement in East Pakistan in the 1950s, in the years leading up to the Liberation War of 1971.

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Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant, chief hereditary musician to the last of the Mughal emperors Akbar Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar. From James Skinner’s Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Hansi (near Delhi) (1825) (BL Add. 27,255, f. 134v)
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We end our autumn/winter talks for 2018 with Katherine Butler Schofield from King’s College London talking about musicians in the Mughal court in her talk 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the Last Mughal Emperors' on 3rd December 2018. This talk focusses on contemporary Indian writings on and a portrait of Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1845), chief hereditary musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r. 1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–58). In this talk she will also make sense of the divergence of these competing lineages of musical knowledge in Persian, Urdu and English c. 1780–1850, by considering them side by side. It will show how viewing proto-ethnographic paintings and writings against a remarkable new wave of music treatises c. 1793–1853 reveal an incipient indigenous modernity running in parallel with colonial knowledge in the most authoritative centres of Hindustani music production, Delhi and Lucknow.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate!

Priyanka Basu, Project Cataloguer of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad35bc1f1200c-pi

 

14 August 2017

Shubbak Literature Festival 2017: Catch-up Audio

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The weekend of July 15-16 saw the return of the Shubbak Literature Festival to the British Library with seven vibrant and engaging panel discussions, interspersed with readings and performances in both Arabic and English. The sessions were recorded and will be preserved for researchers to access through the British Library’s Sound Archive. As with the 2015 Shubbak Literature Festival, we are also making these recordings freely available online through the British Library’s Soundcloud.

Writing Against the Grain
What do we mean by Arabic writing against the grain in 2017? What are the inspirations, and the challenges, for engaged Arab writers today? How do the wider global context, regional events, national regimes, personal stories, and the myriad of other artistic influences shape their work? And what does it mean to be a literary activist? Robin Yassin-Kassab hosts a lively conversation exploring all this and more with three very different writers from across the region: Mona Kareem, Ali Bader and Ghazi Gheblawi.

 

Rasha Abbas: The Seven of Cups
Syrian journalist and author Rasha Abbas has undertaken a month-long creative residency commissioned by Shubbak and the British Library, where she focused on the period of the Arab Union, as part of the research for a planned historical novel. This short-lived union between Syria and Egypt from 1958 to 1961 had a major influence on the subsequent political scene in both countries as well as the wider region. The culmination of her research is presented in a narrative framed by specific tarot cards. The highly delineated lens of each card – Free Will, Forced Fate, Justice, and so on – will provide an idiosyncratic approach to the historical material in question.

Keepers of the Flame: Contemporary Arab Poetry
Celebrated British poet and multi-disciplinary artist Malika Booker returns to Shubbak to welcome four mesmerising poets for bilingual performances of their work: Iraqi-American Dunya Mikhail; Syrian Kurdish poet and translator Golan Haji; New York-based poet-writer-translator Mona Kareem; and Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi.

The Waking Nightmare: Post-revolutionary Egyptian Dystopias
Six years after the revolution and in the current climate of suppressed dreams, a new wave of Egyptian writers and artists are blending horror, realism and black humour to reflect on this painful phase of their nation’s history. Hosted by celebrated literary translator Elisabeth Jaquette, three Egyptians – Basma Abdel Aziz, Mohammad Rabie and Ganzeer - working in the continuum from nightmare present realism to dystopian futurism read from and discuss their brave work and its troubling context.

Under the Radar: Women writing from outside the Arab literary mainstream
In a global literary market where even the major writers from the best known Arab literary countries – Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon – are not very widely read and translated, how does it feel to be a woman author from Yemen, or Libya? What is it like to write fiction from countries outside of the main literary geographies, whilst also being a woman in a patriarchal world? What are the pressures and the inspirations, the challenges and the opportunities of these multiple levels of marginalisation? Writers Najwa Benshatwan and Nadia Alkokabany were invited to participate in a conversation with Bidisha. However, both authors were denied visas. Instead, they addressed the audience by video and read from their novels. Bidisha was joined in conversation by poet and translator Mona Kareem who spoke about both novelists’ work.

Susan Abulhawa in conversation with Gillian Slovo
Palestinian-American novelist Susan Abulhawa is one of the most commercially successful Arab authors of all time. Her 2010 debut novel Mornings in Jenin, a multigenerational family epic spanning five countries and more than sixty years, looks unflinchingly at the Palestinian question – and became an international bestseller translated into thirty-two languages. In 2015 The Blue Between Sky and Water, a novel of family, love and loss centred on Gaza, also met a vast global readership and huge critical acclaim from across both the mainstream and literary media. Her powerful, political and romantic fiction is written in English, yet it is deeply rooted in the land and language of her ancestors. In this special appearance, Susan Abulhawa is hosted by South Africa born British novelist, playwright and memoirist Gillian Slovo, recipient of the 2013 Golden Pen Award for a lifetime’s distinguished service to literature.

Daniel Lowe, Curator of Arabic Collections
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31 July 2017

A unique Judaeo-Urdu manuscript, Or.13287

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Postscript, 15 March 2018: This manuscript has now been digitised and is on line here. The images below have been updated with hyperlinks.

Editor

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The British Library’s sole Judaeo-Urdu manuscript is a copy in Hebrew script of the well-known Urdu theatrical work, the Indar Sabha, written by Agha Sayyid Hasan ‘Amanat,’ a poet at the court of Vajid Ali Shah of Awadh.

1 Judaeo Urdu Opening Pages
Opening folio of the Indar Sabha (Or.13287, f. 7r)
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Our manuscript bears a colophon dating its creation to 1887, perhaps by a member of the Baghdadi Jewish community of India. Originating in the Arabic-speaking regions of the Ottoman Empire, the Baghdadi Jewish community settled in India from the late 18th into the 19thcentury and was primarily centred in two major urban centres of India, Calcutta and Bombay. A printing industry in Judaeo-Arabic grew in both locations to cater to the religious needs of the community as well as its appetite for news and entertainment, producing devotional treatises, gazettes, and also the occasional historical novel, murder mystery and romance (Musleah, On the Banks of the Ganga, p. 522-531). The British Library’s collections are a rich resource for these publications and for the history of the Baghdadi Jewish community in India, and our Hebrew curator has previously written about a Judaeo-Arabic serial issued in Bombay for our blog.

2 Emerald Fairy at Heavenly Court
The Emerald Fairy (Sabz Pari) at the heavenly court of Indar (Or.13287, f. 17r)
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As for the contents of the manuscript, while many elements of the play itself are reminiscent of fabulous Urdu dastaans or legends, such as the Sihr al-Bayan by Mir Hasan (1727-86), the plot itself is relatively simple, avoiding the complex story-within-a-story structure of its predecessors. The play opens with a sensuous depiction of the court of the king of the gods, Indar, populated by fairies bearing the names of jewels (Emerald, Topaz, Sapphire and Ruby).

3 Emerald Fairy and Kala Dev 4 Emerald Fairy and Earthly Lover
Left (f. 18r): the Sabz Pari (Emerald fairy) and the Kala Dev; right (f. 19v): the Sabz Pari and her earthly lover, prince Gulfam (Or.13287)
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As with many dastaans, a story of forbidden love ensues when the Emerald fairy (Sabz Pari) falls in love with a mortal prince, Gulfam, and conspires with the help of the Black Demon (Kala Dev), to sneak her beloved into Indar’s heavenly court. When this transgression is discovered, the Emerald fairy’s wings are clipped, and she is ejected from the paradise of Indar’s court and falls to earth, while her lover is imprisoned in a well (Hansen, ‘Indar Sabha Phenomenon,’ p. 83).

5 Emerald Fairy shorn of wings 6 Earthly Prince punished in well
Left (f. 22r): the Sabz Pari, having been shorn of her wings; right (f. 26r): Gulfam is punished in a well for his transgression of entering the heavenly court of Indar (Or.13287)
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In addition to the echoes of Urdu dastaans, the multi-coloured fairies bring to mind the Haft Paykar of Nizami, in particular, the images of the main character’s fantastical adventures , and the Hasht Bihisht of Amir Khusraw, of which an example can be viewed online, while the unlucky prince hidden in a well as a result of his trangressive love is reminiscent of the story of Bizhan and Manizheh from the Shahnamah, creating a further layer of intertextuality and adaptation of visual motifs from the Persian epics from which the Urdu poetry of the 19th century clearly drew much of its inspiration. However, the story takes a more Indic turn when the Emerald fairy, ejected from heaven, wanders as a yogini or female ascetic, playing music that tells of her love and charms her way back into Indar’s court, wins his favour and secures her lover’s release.

7 Emerald Fairy wanders as ascetic
The Sabz Pari wanders on earth as a female ascetic or yogini, charming the wild animals with her beautiful music (Or.13287, f. 26v)
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Establishing a direct link between the Baghdadi Jewish community and theatrical production of the Indar Sabha has proven elusive. According to the gazette of the Baghdadi Jewish community from the early twentieth century, social clubs in both Bombay and Calcutta staged events, such as films, plays and musical performances, and hosted amateur dramatic clubs from within the Jewish community (The Jewish Advocate, 1932, p. 425; 1933, p. 9). It also seems that Baghdadi Jewish female actresses took part in early productions of the play and other Urdu-language theatrical productions, establishing a possible connection between the Indar Sabha and the Jewish community. While such a conclusion is purely speculative at this point, it might be the case that this Judaeo-Urdu manuscript was created for (or by) one of the actors or theatre producers of the Baghdadi Jewish community.

Fortunately, due to the generosity of the Hebrew Manuscripts project, this unique Judaeo-Urdu manuscript will be digitised and made freely available online, which we hope will encourage further research into the language, cultural context, and history of this fascinating manuscript.

Bibliography and Further Reading
Kathryn Hansen, ‘The Indar Sabha Phenomenon: Public Theatre and Consumption in India (1853-1956)’ in Pleasure and the Nation: The History, Politics and Consumption of Public Culture in India, edited by Rachel Dwyer and Christopher Pinney (Oxford, 2001): 76-114.
Rabbi Ezekiel Musleah, On the Banks of the Ganga: The Sojourn of the Jews in Calcutta (North Quincy, Massachusetts: Christopher Publishing House, 1975).
Aaron D. Rubin, A Unique Hebrew Glossary from India: An Analysis of Judaeo-Urdu (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2016).

Nur Sobers-Khan, Lead Curator for South Asia
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12 June 2017

Portraits of Dara Shikoh in the Treasures Gallery

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Visitors to the Treasures Gallery at the British Library may notice that the display of Dara Shikoh album pages have changed. On exhibition are eight folios from the Dara Shikoh Album (Add.Or.3129), one of the great treasures of the Asian and African department. The album was compiled by Prince Dara Shikoh (1615–59), the eldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and presented as a gift to his wife Nadira Banu Begum in 1646-47, whom he married in 1633. A new selection went into the gallery at the end of May in time for the Jaipur Literature Festival. You can find these in the Arts of the Book section near the entrance to the Magna Carta. For information on the previous display, please read our blog post on 'New Display of Dara Shikoh Album'.

The album contains seventy-four folios with sixty-eight paintings interspersed with calligraphy and gilt tooled leather covers.  Inside the album, paintings are arranged in facing pairs alternating with facing pages of calligraphy. The album features eighteen portraits of Dara Shikoh, portraits of princes and notable women of the court, holy men, and studies of natural history subjects. 

In this new display, visitors can view a set of facing portraits of Dara Shikoh as a teenager, approximately 15-18 years of age. This complementary set  features the prince standing against blossoming shrubs. He is dressed in fine white muslin garment worn over vivid coloured trousers. In both studies, he is adorned in necklaces composed of enormous pearls, jewelled bracelets and earrings. On the portrait to the right, he holds a gold tray containing two loose pearls and a red spinel.

Add Or 3129 f36 Add Or 3129 f35v
Portraits of Prince Dara Shikoh, unknown artists, Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1630-33. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.36 and f.35v.

The second pair of portraits features women at the Mughal court. This includes an unidentified beauty of the court and a  portrait of Dara Shikoh’s elder sister Jahanara who was an influential political figure and profoundly spiritual. She wrote ‘The Confidant of Spirits’, a biography of the Sufi saint Mu’in al-Din Chishti in 1640.

Add Or 3129 f14  Add Or 3129 f 13v

[Left] A lady of the court, by an unknown artist from Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1630-33. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.14. [Right] Princess Jahanara aged 18, attributed to Lalchand, Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1632. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.13v. 

The remaining four works on display were not intended as pairs, but are representative works from the album. This includes a study of two pigeons perched beside a portable dovecote, a pink crown imperial lily (one of eighteen floral studies in the album), a calligraphic exercise by Muhammad Husain al-Kashmiri who was one of the most eminent calligraphers during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1555-1605), and an engraving of the Virgin and Child by either a Dutch or Italian artist from the 16th or 17th century.

Add Or 3129 f31v  Add Or 3129 f62 Add Or 3129 f40v
[Left] Two pigeons. [Right] A pink lily, artists unknown, Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1630-33. Calligraphic exercise by Muhammad Husain al-Kashmiri, northern India, c. 1590; flowers added, c. 1630. British Library, Add Or 3129, f. 31v, f.62, and f.40v.

For our audience and readers unfamiliar with the history of Mughal art, the European engraving pasted onto a Mughal album page may appear to be unconventional or even eccentric. In this album, the facing page too features western prints picturing St. Catherine of Sienna by Antonia Caranzano and a print of St. Margaret pasted into a Mughal album page.  Artists at the Mughal court were in fact exposed to European engravings, specifically Christian iconography, through Jesuit missionaries who visited the court of Emperor Akbar from 1580 onwards. Mughal artists were commissioned by Akbar and his son Jahangir to illustrate scenes on the life of Christ. While Mughal interpretations of Christian themes and studies of foreign visitors appear in albums, the original prints that inspired such works are more uncommon.

Add Or 3129 f42v
Engraving of the Virgin and Child by a Dutch or Italian artist, 16th or 17th century, British Library, Add Or 3129, f.42v


Further reading:

Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981
Inayat Khan, The Shah Jahan Nama of ‘Inayat Khan, trans. A.R. Fuller, ed. W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1990  
Losty, J.P., ‘Dating the Dara Shikoh Album: the Floral Evidence’, in Ebba Koch and Ali Anooshahr, eds., The Mughal Empire under Shah Jahan (1628-58) – New trends of research, forthcoming
Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012
Losty, J.P., 'Mughal flower studies and their European inspiration', Asian and African Studies Blog, 14 March 2014.
Sims-Williams, Ursula, 'Princess Jahanara's biography of a Sufi saint', Asian and African Studies Blog, 01 February 2013.

 

07 June 2017

Pem nem: a 16th-century Urdu romance goes on-line

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One of the treasures of the Urdu manuscript collection at the British Library has been digitised and made available online. The Pem Nem (Add.16880) is one of the finest examples of manuscript illustration from the court of Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II, who ruled the kingdom of Bijapur from 1580 to 1627. Containing 34 miniature paintings illustrating the Sufi love story of prince Shah Ji and princess Mah Ji, the manuscript was written by an author by the name of Hasan Manju Khalji, bearing the pen name of Hans.

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Left: The hero, Shah Ji, faints at his first sight of his beloved, Mah Ji (BL Add.16680, f. 82v)
Right: The hero, Shah Ji is enflamed with passion (BL Add.16680, f. 87r)
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While the author claims in the introduction that the manuscript was written in the year 999 AH (1590/91 CE), scholars doubt that this claim is more than an attempt to harmonise the year of the manuscript's production with Ibrahim Adil Shah II's fixation with the nauras, the nine rasas or essences/flavours art. The introduction tells us that the body of the poem contains 199 rhyming couplets (dohas, two lines of seven syllables) and 999 quatrains (caupais, four lines with the rhyme ABCB), and praises the 99 names of God, suggesting that the text is indeed structured around the ruler's fixation with the number nine. Although the dating of the text to the exact year of 999 AH may be no more than poetic license, the art historian and expert on the Bijapur court, Deborah Hutton, has identified stylistic and textual details that allow the creation of the manuscript to be safely dated to the period 1591-1604 (Hutton, 'The Pem Nem', p. 45).

Originally mis-identified in Blumhardt's Catalogue of Hindi, Panjabi and Hindustani Manuscripts (1899) as a variation on the Padmavat of Jayyasi, the text of the manuscript was later studied by the eminent Urdu scholar, David Matthews, who describes the spiritual love story of the two main protagonists that differs from the Padmavat and is a unique work, although it shares the central feature of narrating a spiritual quest through the trope of a love story.

Add_ms_16880_f090v_2000   Add_ms_16880_f135r_2000
Left: Convinced that Mah Ji is only a reflection of the image in his heart, he weeps a stream a tears (BL Add.16680, f. 90v)
Right: Mah Ji passing time with her companions during her period of separation and longing, playing board games and tending to pet birds (BL Add.16680, f. 135r)
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Not unlike other Persianate tales of spiritual awakening and the search for truth, the story begins with the hero, Shah Ji, encountering an image of his as-yet-unseen beloved, Mah Ji, brought to him by a tortoise, while Mah Ji receives a similar portrait-via-tortoise delivery. The two main characters fall deeply in love (Matthews, 'Pem Nem', p. 174). This curious scene, quite unfortunately, is not pictured among the illustrations of the manuscript. The hero's love for the heroine is uniquely depicted through the innovative visual metaphor of the princess' image appearing on his breast throughout the illustrations.   After falling in love, Shah Ji embarks on a journey to find his beloved, which takes him to an island where his paternal uncle rules as king, and where his daughter, Shah Ji's beloved, resides.   Upon finding his beloved, Shah Ji faints, and then later refuses to believe that Mah Ji is anything more than a pale reflection of the image on his chest, who he mistakes for the real beloved. In a case of mistaking the real for the reflection, Shah Ji abandons Mah Ji. At this point, the text integrates the Indic baramasa genre, which depicts the emotions of the different seasons as the twelve months of the year pass, into the Persian masnavi tradition, or Sufi love story of spiritual awakening written in narrative verse.   During her period of abandonment, Mah Ji is depicted as aflame with longing - quite literally on fire - for her absent lover, just as the same striking visual metaphor was used to paint Shah Ji's desire for his beloved before he encountered her.   Mah Ji is painted in scenes of amusement with her companions in the garden of the palace, although she maintains an isolated and melancholy air, such as in the images of celebrations for Holi, in which she broods while a maid fans her, presumably to cool her passions.

Add_ms_16880_f138r_2000   Add_ms_16880_f147r_2000
Left: The heroine is aflame with passion and longing for her absent beloved (BL Add.16680, f. 138r)
Right: While Mah Ji’s companions prepare fireworks and celebrate, Mah Ji sits alone and is fanned by an attendant (BL Add.16680, f. 147r)
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After much solitary meditation, the hero of the story, Shah Ji, realised the spiritual error of mistaking the real beloved, the actual Mah Ji before him, for the reflection of Mah Ji in his heart, and returns to the palace to much rejoicing. The largest number of illustrations, twelve of the thirty four, in the manuscript represent the celebrations and rituals surrounding their union in marriage. As in other tales of the same genre, the union of the lover and beloved is a metaphor for the union of the soul with God after mistaking the image, the majaz or symbol (here the image of Mah Ji on the hero's chest) for the haqiqa, or truth.

Add_ms_16880_f166r_2000   Add_ms_16880_f232r_2000
Left: Realising that Mah Ji is the real beloved and not an illusion, Shah Ji returns, and then faints (BL Add.16680, f. 166r)
Right: The lovers are now united in marriage, and Mah Ji offers Shah Ji paan (BL Add.16680, f. 232r)
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While the images of the manuscript have been studied by art historians, much research remains to be done on the text and its languages. David Matthews has commented that, "One of the most striking features of the work is its language. The gist of the text can be understood with a little patience; the grammar, syntax and meaning of many verses defy interpretation," and he has also identified the use of many words borrowed from Marathi and Telegu into the Dakani Urdu verse of the manuscript (Matthews, 'Eighty Years', p. 96), suggesting that a team of specialist scholars would have to examine the text of the manuscript together in order to make full sense of it. While the images have been studied, published and displayed, Marika Sardar in her description of the manuscript for the Sultans of the Deccan India exhibition, has observed that some of the paintings, undertaken by three separate artists, seem to date from a later period and serve the purpose of expanding the illustrative narrative without adding content. She also comments that the manuscript seems to have been dis-bound and re-bound slightly out of order, so much work remains to be done on both the text and the study of the images. While the gist of the story and the dating of the images have been established, further study of the linguistic and art historical intricacies are still needed, which should be helped by the availability of the digitised manuscript on the British Library's website. Regardless of the mysteries surrounding certain aspects of the manuscript, the artists have given us the striking visual metaphor of the hero carrying an image of the heroine in his heart throughout the course of his spiritual quest, and also the flames of passion quite literally springing from the two main protagonists as they long to be together.


Bibliography and Further Reading
Along with other manuscripts from the courts of the Deccan Sultanates, the Pem Nem travelled to New York as a loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art for the 2015 exhibition, Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700, Opulence and Fantasy, for which Jeremiah Losty wrote a blog (British Library loans to Sultans of Deccan exhibition in New York).

See also:
Deborah Hutton, "The Pem Nem: A Sixteenth-Century Illustrated romance from Bijapur" in Sultans of the South: Arts of India's Deccan Courts, 1323-1687, edited by Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar (Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2011): 44-63.
D.J. Matthews, "Eighty Years of Dakani Scholarship", The Annual of Urdu Studies, No. 8 (1993): 91-108.
David Matthews, "Pem Nem: A 16th Century Dakani Manuscript" in From Cairo to Kabul: Afghan and Islamic Studies presented to Ralph Pinder-Wilson, edited by Warwick Ball and Leonard Harrow (London: Melisende, 2002): 170-175.
Marika Sardar, "The Manuscript of the Pem Nem (The Laws of Love)" in Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700, Opulence and Fantasy, by Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015): 97-98.
Mark Zebrowski, Deccan Painting (Sotheby Publications, University of California Press, 1983): 67-121.

 

Nur Sobers-Khan, Lead Curator for South Asia
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