THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

19 December 2018

The Arrival of the Black Ships

2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, a pivotal event in Japanese history which heralded an era of dramatic political, social and cultural change as Japan emerged from centuries of self-imposed isolation and sought to take its place on the international stage.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Japan was transformed from a feudal society where power lay in the hands of the Tokugawa Shoguns and hundreds of local lords or Daimyo controlling a patchwork of fiefdoms, to a centralised, constitutional state under the nominal leadership of Emperor Mutsuhito (1852-1912). This transition was marked by the inauguration of the new reign name of Meiji or ‘Enlightened Rule’ on 23rd October 1868.

To commemorate this major anniversary the British Library has digitised a manuscript handscroll Or.16453 depicting the arrival in Japanese waters in July 1853 of the American Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) and his squadron of four warships. Perry’s arrival triggered a long chain of events that led ultimately to the revolution of 1868.

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Fig.1. One of Perry’s steam-driven Black Ships. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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In November 1852 Perry had been dispatched by US President Millard Fillmore to establish diplomatic relations and ensure the opening of Japan’s ports to trade. On 8th July 1853 the squadron of four ships –steam-driven paddlewheel frigates Susquehanna and Mississippi and sailing sloops Plymouth and Saratoga – appeared off Uraga heading towards the city of Edo, seat of the Shogun’s government. The sight of these smoke-belching, black-hulled vessels, which dwarfed any ship the Japanese had seen before, must have been awe-inspiring and they were quickly nicknamed the Kurofune or ‘Black Ships’. Following their arrival there was intense activity on shore as local officials sent desperate requests for help to the government in Edo. Over the next few days, in an attempt to stonewall Perry while they waited instructions, a succession of unfortunate junior officials were sent out to the Susquehanna, Perry’s flagship, in an attempt to persuade Perry and his fleet to leave for Nagasaki, the only port designated for foreign trade. The Americans refused and fired off blank shots from their cannon, supposedly to celebrate Independence Day but also as an unsubtle hint of their superior firepower.

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Fig.2. Perry and his crew march to the official reception at Kurihama. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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Eventually on 14th July Perry was allowed to land at Kurihama for a meeting with local dignitaries. He marched in considerable pomp with a large contingent of marines and sailors, accompanied by a military band playing ‘Hail Columbia’ while the Susquehanna fired a 13-gun salute. The scroll gives a vivid impression of the scene with the procession of Americans snaking into the distance[1]. They are preceded by the musicians and the US flag while in the centre walks Commodore Perry accompanied by two cabin boys bearing boxes, probably bearing official gifts or the President’s letter.

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Fig.3. Site of the official reception at Kurihama. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The official reception took place in a hastily constructed camp where Perry, accompanied by three of his commanders, presented the letter from President Fillmore to the two Bugyō (Magistrates) of Uraga, Toda Ujiyoshi 戸田氏栄 (1799-1858) and Ido Hiromichi 井戸弘道 (died 1855). With the first stage of their mission accomplished, Perry and his fleet sailed away on 17th July promising to return the following year. As the ships disappeared over the horizon, the watching officials no doubt breathed a sigh of relief but the respite was only temporary and Japan was already on the path to upheaval and civil war.

The British Library scroll Or.16453 is untitled, anonymous and undated but must have been produced shortly after the events it depicts, possibly as an official record. It measures 3.2 metres in length, composed of 8 sections, and the text consists of short captions accompanying the illustrations. A note at the beginning states that the American ships entered Edo Bay on the 3rd Day of the 6th Month of the 6th Year of the Kaei Era (8th July 1853) and they remained until the 14th Day of the 6th Month (19th July) [actually they left on the 17th July]. The first panel depicts some of the US crew - two slightly bored-looking marines resting on their rifles and two luxuriously whiskered officers brandishing swords. They are described as being from the American ship ‘Washington’, although no vessel by that name accompanied Perry.

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Fig.4. Crew of the Black Ships. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The artist may have been allowed on board one of the vessels or at least been an eye witness to events since the scroll depicts events and people in considerable detail. For example the second panel shows an array of headgear and musical instruments and the third has pictures of a rowing boat both empty and crewed by sailors and marines.

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Fig.5. Headgear, musical instruments and rowing boat. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The fourth section is a magnificent picture (Fig.1) of one of the steam warships with its massive paddlewheel on the side and a huge ‘Stars and Strips’ fluttering from a flagpole.

Next is the illustration of the American procession, followed by a detailed diagram representing the Japanese procession of over 1,000. Unlike the Americans, the members of the Japanese delegation are not shown in person but indicated by dots and banners with descriptions of who was who.

Or_16453_j_procession_2000
Fig.6. Diagram of the Japanese delegation’s procession. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The penultimate section shows the specially constructed camp at Kurihama (Fig.3), where the official meeting took place between the representatives of the two sides – the Magistrates Toda and Ido for the Japanese, and Perry and three of his commanders for the Americans. The route taken by the US contingent is carefully indicated by a line of dots leading up from the shore.

The scrolls ends with a view of Edo Bay with four enormous Black Ships, the two steamships flying oversized flags, moored ominously off Kurihama.

Or_16453_kurihama_2000
Fig.7. The Black Ships at anchor off Kurihama. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453 Noc

When the Black Ships departed, they left in their wake a nation in profound disagreement as it faced the challenge of dealing with the advent of the western powers and their demands the opening of Japanese ports to international trade. The existential threat posed by the Black Ships and the world they represented led to deep divisions with the Japanese ruling elite and the population at large. Traditionalists sought to maintain the status quo and keep the foreign ‘barbarians’ out at all costs while reformists believed that change was inevitable and that Japan could benefit from interaction with western nations. The ensuing 15 years of internal disagreement, political machination, diplomatic skulduggery, intimidation and violence on all sides ultimately led to the collapse of the Tokugawa regime and the emergence of a new political and social order.


Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian Collections

https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37f13ca200c-pi


[1] The procession numbered some 250 individuals but the scroll exaggerates this to 500.

12 December 2018

Bombay satire: Rudolf von Leyden's political cartoons in India in the 1930s and 40s

This guest blog post is by Mollie Arbuthnot, the Visual Arts section's doctoral placement. Her project focuses on political cartoons during the early 20th century.

 

It's not easy being a satirist. Rudolf von Leyden (1908-1983), a German-born cartoonist who lived most of his life in Bombay, is the main figure in this cartoon self-portrait.

IMG_1909
'Denley in search of happiness' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. British Library, P2349(146). Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 24 March 1946. 

Surrounded by discarded drafts and piles of newspapers with depressing and terrifying headlines, he desperately searches for inspiration. Meanwhile his editor pokes his head round the door demanding "something really funny this week."

This is just one of a collection of von Leyden's satirical cartoons at the British Library. They were made in the 1930s and 40s, and the library has both original drawings (WD4491) and a set of the cartoons (P2349) as they were published in Bombay newspapers at the time.

The cartoon series in The Illustrated Weekly of India ran from the mid-30s to the late 40s, a tumultuous time in Indian and world history. Both von Leyden's personal life and the cartoons themselves give a fascinating insight into this period.

Life and times of Rudolf von Leyden

It’s not entirely clear why von Leyden moved to India in 1933. He was born in 1908 in Berlin to a middle-class family, the younger of two sons, and lived in Germany throughout his youth. Of course, as a man of Jewish descent and with leftist political interests, it would have been dangerous for him to have stayed in the country for long after the rise of Nazism, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that that was his main motivation for choosing India, or that he was fleeing persecution at the time that he left.

Rudolf’s elder brother, Albrecht, had been living and working in Bombay since 1927. Rudolf had just finished his studies (he received his PhD in geology from the University of Göttingen in 1932) and was looking to embark on his own career. Perhaps it just seemed an opportune moment to start a new adventure. Whatever the reasons, Rudolf arrived in Bombay in 1933.

He swiftly left geology behind, and began working in publicity a textiles firm, but also soon showed his interest in visual art. He set up the Leyden Commercial Art Studio, produced watercolour scenes on his travels around India, and began working on his series of political cartoons.

He was a central figure in the art scene in Bombay, working as the main art critic of The Times of India, collecting Indian artworks from various periods, organising exhibitions, and actively promoting young, contemporary artists. He was a contributing editor of the leading art review MARG from 1946 and served as an adviser for the acquisitions and art commissions of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), which owned one of the most important collections of post-independence Indian art.[1]

He also became a collector of, and later an authority on, antique board games and Indian playing cards. It was, however, as an art critic that he was probably best known in his lifetime.

Von Leyden was clearly a man of great energy and full of enthusiasm for his new life in India. Krishen Khanna, one of the artists who had been supported by von Leyden as a young man, reminisced: ‘[His] wanderlust was something everybody knew about. [He] thought nothing of going to the most inaccessible of places to see an old sculpture or a disused and ruined temple. Sleeping under an open sky and eating what the local population would provide with relish. […] [He] seemed to take it all so blithely. “While Lolly and I were trekking in Kashmir, we spent a day climbing Hara Kukh” as if that was some little hillock on [their] way. So when I expressed my surprise at [his] prowess for climbing, [he] came out with a long list of places which [he] said [he] had to traverse as a part of [his] doctorate in geology. My goodness, I’d always thought [he] had a doctorate in art history.’[2]

Wartime tensions

The position of a German national in British India was somewhat precarious, even before the outbreak of the war. Many were arrested as enemy aliens from 1939. Von Leyden had managed to acquire a British passport by that time, and used his contacts to help other German-speaking emigres to navigate the British authorities.

One fellow cartoonist, Walter Langhammer, and his wife Käthe were rescued from exile and arrest when von Leyden sent Langhammer’s cartoons to several influential people in Bombay, to prove his political disposition and loyalty to the British government. It worked, and both Walter and Käthe were able to return to Bombay, where Käthe worked as a censor for the British Army for the remainder of the war.[3]

It seems that von Leyden himself may have been able to use his own cartoons and position at The Times of India to protect himself from suspicion in a similar way.

All of von Leyden’s own cartoons were signed with the pseudonym ‘Denley,’ and were vehemently anti-German during the war. The gallery owner Kekoo Gandhy, a personal friend of von Leyden’s, attributed his use of a pseudonym to modesty. [4] But, the specific choice of the very English-sounding Denley must have been partially motivated by the desire to fit in at the Times and to distance his cartoons from his German roots. (Denley is, of course, also an anagram of Leyden.)

This all goes to highlight von Leyden’s unusual position, straddling several worlds: he was a European in a colonial space, but nonetheless with an ambivalent relationship to British colonial powers due to his German roots; a political émigré, part of a small but significant community of European Jews in cosmopolitan Bombay during the war; and a man deeply interested and invested in Indian culture and especially the flowering of Indian contemporary art.

The cartoons

His cartoons are characteristic for their freshness and sense of urgency, which is especially evident in the artist proofs. You can imagine von Leyden finishing his latest effort and cycling pell-mell across Bombay (as he apparently often did to get his work to the newspaper office in time to go to press) with the ink still wet.

They all share a signature style, featuring a bold black outline, minimal colouration, and a gentle political wit that poked fun at local government as well as heads of state, military leaders, and the ‘resident foreigner’ in India, including himself.

During the war years, the cartoons were jingoistically anti-German, albeit with an irreverent eye on international affairs. One example is captioned ‘Moscow Ballet’ and features Anthony Eden, Viacheslav Molotov, and US Secretary of State Cordell Hull as three ballerinas performing for their allied leaders (you can make out Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt in the front row), while a disgruntled Hitler turns to Goebbels, saying: “I thought you told me they could not keep in step…?”

Leyden 2
'Moscow ballet' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1943. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 14 November 1943. British Library, P2349(37) 

This fragile corps de ballet didn’t last long, of course, and von Leyden’s post-war cartoons show the beginnings of Cold War tensions. One casts Stalin in the role of Zeus, depicted as a huge moustached bull, carrying Europa off eastwards on his back (to the despair of the other Grecian maidens, Truman, Atlee, and de Gaulle).

Another major theme from this period was Indian independence. Von Leyden was unsparing in his depictions of the divides in Indian society, with several images focussing on the conflicts and unwillingness to compromise between different groups.

A 1946 cartoon shows ‘The House of India’s Freedom’ precariously balanced on scaffolding as construction work grinds to a halt, the two builders, Hindu and Muslim, refusing to speak to one another, and the solid foundation stones of unity, compromise, and goodwill languishing unused. Another pokes fun at the state bureaucracy, depicting politicians feverishly drafting plans and proposals by candlelight, as a larger-than-life Clive of India muses: ‘Fancy having so much trouble giving it back…’

IMG_1912

'The freedom of India' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 2 June 1946. British Library, P2349(166) 

 In the family

In the late 30s, von Leyden’s parents also moved to Bombay to join their two sons, fleeing the worsening situation in Nazi Germany. It turns out that this was a whole family of amateur artists.

After the war, in 1948, the four of them held a joint charity exhibition. Their father exhibited his sculptures, their mother watercolours, Albrecht, who was apparently the best painter of the lot, showed oil paintings and Rudolf sent his cartoons.

The Times carried an exhibition review, which claimed:

‘All four of the Leydens are amateurs. In Bombay one has become so accustomed to seeing professionals putting on shows of amateurish merit that it is refreshing to come across a family of amateurs presenting an exhibition of professional standard’.[5]

On Rudolf’s cartoons, and making reference to his fame as an art critic, the reviewer wrote:

‘Of the many inherent injustices of life in our civilisation some of the most galling are that pupils cannot give marks to their teachers, that motorists cannot summon the traffic constable, and that artists do not get a chance to criticise the art critic. Once in a lifetime there comes this chance but – alas – paradoxically, the victim at hand is not the sort of fellow one would relish running down.

R.V. Leyden’s cartoons are outstanding for their political wit. In the execution of the actual drawings he works so hard to overcome his lack of training that, in the end, most of his cartoons are better drawn than the average “professionals”.’[6]

 

By Mollie Arbuthnot, doctoral candidate at University of Manchester, department of Russian and East European Studies. She is currently at the British Library as a doctoral placement in autumn 2018.

 

 

[1] Devika Singh, ‘German-speaking exiles and the writing of Indian art history’ in Journal of Art Historiography no.17 (December 2017), https://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/singh.pdf, accessed 5/11/2018, p.15.

[2] Krishen Khanna, ‘To Rudolf von Leyden: A Letter out of Season’ in Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt eds. Jewish Exile in India 1933-1945 (New Delhi: Max Mueller Bhavan, 1999), pp.186-189 (p.188).

[3] Margit Franz, ‘Transnationale & transkulturelle Ansätze in der Exilforschung am Beispiel der Erforschung einer kunstpolitischen Biographie von Walter Langhammer,’ in Margit Franz et al. Mapping Contemporary History: Zeitgeschichten im Diskurs (Vienna, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2008), p.251.

[4] Kekoo Gandhy, ‘Some Personal Reminiscences of Rudi von Leyden,’ in Rudolf von Leyden: Cartoons (exhibition catalogue), p.3.

[5] ‘Leyden Family’s Art Works: Bombay Exhibition’ in The Times of India, 22 May 1948, p.9.

[6] Ibid.

05 December 2018

Tales of cats and dogs

The new exhibition in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, Cats on the Page (until Sunday 17th March 2019), provides a fascinating glimpse of how cats come to life in books. One of several items from the Japanese collections in the exhibition is The Boy who drew cats, rendered into English by Lafcadio Hearn. This story was issued in the Japanese fairy tale series published by Hasegawa Takejirō from 1885, which also included another cat-related tale, Schippeitaro, by Mrs T.H. James, published in 1888. Although the cover illustration of Schippeitaro showing cats dancing in a circle is rather light-hearted, these cats are not simply cute creatures.

1
The cover of Schippeitaro, showing a dog in the basket and cats dancing around him in a circle. Mrs T.H. James, Schippeitaro. Tokyo: Kōbunsha, 1888. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

Interestingly, the preface of the tale has nothing to do with cats, but concerns a dog and his image on an Ofuda. Ofuda are paper or wooden amulets issued by Japanese religious institutions to protect their owners from various evils. This image is described as “The picture of the dog, a copy of one now issued from Mitsumine or Mitakesan to the faithful who reverence it as Okuchishinjin, the large mouthed god”.

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Close up of the first page of the tale, showing a fictional Ofuda of Shippeitarō Daimyōjin. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

'Okuchishinjin' must have been a mis-transliteration of the characters 大口真神, which should have been read either as Ōkuchi no magami or Ōguchimagami, a Japanese wolf who plays the role of a divine servant in Shintō belief. Traditionally people affectionately call him Oinu-sama (お犬様), meaning a holy dog. He is strongly associated with Yamato Takeru (日本武尊), a legendary prince of ancient Japan, who is believed to have established Mitsumine Shrine (三峰神社) on his way to the East Country, where the power of the emperor of Japan had yet not been accepted. There is a well-known story of the wolf who guided Yamato Takeru, when he lost his way in the deep mountains of Musashi province. Latterly Yamato Takeru entrusts the protection of the Musashi mountain area to the wolf, so this is why both Mitsumine Shrine and Musashi Mitake Shrine (武蔵御嶽神社) worship Oinu-sama, and his Ofuda is believed to ward off devils and thieves.

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This Ofuda (far right) is possibly from the Mitake Shrine. [The original place of worship in Musashi province was believed to have been founded in 91 BC. Later it joined the Grand Head temple of the Kinpusen Zaō Gongendō (金峰山寺蔵王権現堂) in Yoshino (吉野) and became well known as Mitake Zaō Gongen (御嶽蔵王権現). In the late 19th century, the Meiji government ordered religious institutions to follow the policy of the separation of Shinto from Buddhism, and the name was changed to Mitake Shrine (御嶽神社) in 1874.] The Ofuda shown is from a collection of c. 330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880s, mounted in 5 albums. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵. British Library, 16007.d.1(1) 60-63 

The legend of Yamato Takeru and the wolf may be an early example of a theme familiar in Japanese tales, of the hero’s journey with a faithful dog. However, in Schippeitaro (竹篦太郎) the true hero is probably not the warrior, but the eponymous dog of the story. A young travelling samurai warrior gets lost in a thick forest on a wild mountainside, with no human inhabitants in sight. Fortunately, he comes upon an empty and half-ruined temple, to serve as his shelter for the night. In the middle of the night, he hears a strange noise and witnesses an extraordinary scene, of a troop of cats dancing in a circle under a beautiful full moon, singing “Tell it not to Schippeitaro! Keep it close and dark!”

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All the cats are depicted standing on two legs, chanting and dancing under the moonlight, with one on the left page with a Tenugui, Japanese traditional towel, on his head. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

The mysterious night passes and by the time dawn arrives, the cats have gone and the samurai manages to discover a path to reach a village. The villagers are overcome by grief because they have to send a fine maiden to a mountain spirit as his sacrifice. The villagers have no choice but to put the victim into a bamboo trunk and leave her in the ruined temple where the samurai warrior had just spent the night. He wants to help the girl and the villagers, so he tells them what he saw the previous night, and asks who Schippeitaro is. He finds out that Schippeitaro is actually a strong and beautiful dog, belonging to the master of the area. The master agrees to send the brave Schippeitaro to the village, and it is Schippeitaro instead of the maiden who is put into the bamboo trunk, and then waits quietly in the ruined temple.


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Schippeitaro, the dog of whom the troop of cats are so afraid, in the bamboo trunk while on his mission to save the maiden and the village. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

At midnight, the troop of cats arrives, led by a huge black boss cat. The fearless Schippeitaro attacks the boss, seizes him with his teeth and holds him fast, so that the young samurai can finish the monster off with one stroke of his trusty sword. The village no longer has to provide a sacrifice and Schippeitaro returns to his master, showered with gratitude by all.


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The boss black cat approaching the sacrifice with his troop, while Schippeitaro patiently hides inside, waiting for the best moment to attack. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

Superstitious Japanese used to believe that if Japanese cats lived too long, they would turn into monster cats Nekomata (猫又) by practising a mysterious ceremony, dancing in a circle in the middle of the night, ideally covering their head with a Tenugui towel.

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Shown on the right is a Nekomata 猫又, cat monster, standing on two legs, wearing a Kimono and putting a Tenugui on her head. Hashimoto Sadahide 橋本 貞秀. Nekomata baba keshō yashiki 金花貓婆化生鋪. Edo : Tsuruya Kichiemon 江戸 : 鶴屋喜右衛門, 1893. Woodblock-printed book. National Diet Library

Although the mountain spirits are depicted as cats in this particular tale, they are usually baboons or monkeys in variations of the original Japanese legend. It was thought that when Mrs. T.H. (Kate) James was working on the English text of Schippeitaro, she probably replaced baboons, which were not familiar to 19th century English readers, with cats.

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Close up of a Nekomata pretending to be an ordinary cat, but her forked tail clearly indicates she is not just a cat. Hashimoto Sadahide 橋本 貞秀. Nekomata baba keshō yashiki 金花貓婆化生鋪. Edo : Tsuruya Kichiemon 江戸 : 鶴屋喜右衛門, 1893. Woodblock-printed book. National Diet Library

We don’t know the exact reason for Mrs James' choice of cats instead of the other options available to her; perhaps, she was inspired by the legend of the mysterious dancing cats. All we know is that the motif of the dancing cats added a somewhat more humorous flavour to the story than savage baboons would have done.

References:

The Boy who drew cats (Japanese fairy tale series,no.23). Tokyo, 1905. British Library, 11095.a.20.

ちりめん本『竹篦太郎』に表れる「踊る猫

Chichibu Mitsumine shrine (秩父三峰神社)
Murashi Mitake shrine (武蔵御嶽神社)

Blog post: Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 1) and (Part 2)

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

26 November 2018

Refashioning the Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow

This guest blog post is contributed by Professor Swati Chattopadhyay, an architectural historian specialising in modern architecture and urbanism, and the cultural landscape of British Colonialism. 

Edith E. Cuthell, author of My Garden in the City of Gardens (1905), described the Dilkusha Palace in Lucknow as the “most picturesquely situated of all the ‘lordly pleasure houses’ that successive Oudh sovereigns reared around their capital.” Cuthell, wife of Captain Thomas George Cuthell, lived in the Lucknow cantonment in the mid-late 1870s, and her memoirs of Lucknow are intimately woven with the sites of the Sepoy Revolt of 1857-59. Locating Dilkusha in the history of the revolt, she wrote:

The ruins of Heart's Delight have been tenderly gardened.[i] Gay creepers clothe the tower and the loopholed walls, but

"O'er the sloping mound where the roses bloom

Can it be an old forgotten tomb?"

For all the British graves which lie below are nameless, save those of Lieutenant W. Paul, 4th Punjaub Rifles, and Lieutenant Charles Keith Dashwood, of the 18th B.N.I. (Cuthell, 165-166).

Cuthell’s view of the Dilkusha as a picturesque ruin, dotted with forgotten unmarked tombs, raises a host of questions: When did Dilkusha become a ruin? What was its role in the post-Revolt landscape of the city? How did this role differ from the building’s original design and placement in the landscape?

Dilkusha underwent two major makeovers, one in the 1830s and then in the 1870s. Several visual documents at the British Library’s India Office Collection help us unpack this history of makeovers, and dispel the lingering assumption that the building was destroyed in the bombardment during the Sepoy Revolt (Das, 37).[ii]

 

Pre-Revolt Makeover

Built under the patronage of Nawab Sadat Ali Khan (r. 1798-1814) c1805, Dilkusha served as a country house/hunting lodge within a vast deer park on the outskirts of nawabi Lucknow. Sadat Ali Khan’s aide-de-camp Major Gore Ouseley designed the building based on the plan of Seton Delaval House in Northumberland, England.[iii] Yet the plan and use of Dilkusha were substantially different from that of Seton Delaval (Das, 37-39, 42-51). Following the Palladian pattern of country houses popular in England at that time, two detached service buildings housed the stables and kitchen. Also, the building’s orientation was changed to take advantage of the north view of the Gomti River. Staircase towers were inserted on the northeast and southwest, freeing up the protruding square bays for use as living space. In contrast to the other palaces of Awadh royalty, the Dilkusha stood as a discrete object on open park ground.

Artist Sita Ram who traveled with Governor General Lord Moira’s entourage during his tour of the Upper Provinces between 1814 and 1815 painted several buildings in and around Lucknow. In his watercolor rendition of the Dilkusha, “The Nawab Vizier’s Country Retreat at Dilkusha within a Deer Park”, the corner towers are two-storied and have flat roofs. That is, they do not have the third story nor the conical roofs that we see in later photographs of the building. Sita Ram’s rendition also shows a hipped roof and a pediment crowning the topmost part of the central bay, very much like Seton Delaval. This suggests that the conical roofs of the towers and the flat roof over the central bay were not part of Ouseley’s original design. If present these would certainly have been recorded by Sita Ram. Dilkusha’s altered roofline suggests that significant changes were made to the original building between the mid-1820s and 1850s. The Darshan Vilas Kothi built in the 1830s sports a façade similar to that of the redesigned Dilkusha, and we may surmise that the alteration of Dilkhusa’s design took place at about the same time, during the reign of Nasir-ud-din Haidar (r.1827-1837). The formal repetitions in Dilkusha and Darshan Vilas signalled a unified representation of the nawab’s palaces: now Dilkusha could be seen as properly terminating the Hazratgunj axis of palaces.[iv]

Add Or 4763
'The Nawab Vizier's country retreat at Dilkusha within a deer park' by Sita Ram, 1814. British Library, Add Or 4763  Noc

The 1830’s renovation raised the stair towers higher allowing a covered access to the flat roof on two sides of the central bay, and the other two towers were given the same treatment for the sake of symmetry. This rooftop terrace space compensated for the absence of a secluded courtyard, and would have been a boon for the women of the royal household who could use this open-to-sky space for recreation.

Post-Revolt Makeover

The uninterrupted view of the city and its surroundings from Dilkusha’s terrace perch would serve a different role during the revolt, as the building’s excellent location on high ground made it a strategic stronghold. General Colin Campbell’s forces captured Dilkusha from the rebels on Nov 14, 1857, and from there marched to relieve the besieged garrison at the Lucknow Residency. Surveillance of the enemy in the trenches along the neighbouring Martinière from the rooftop of Dilkusha went hand in hand with the pleasure of surveying a landscape: even amid the tumult of raining shots, Times correspondent William Russell found the panorama of the Lucknow skyline exceptionally charming (Russell, 253-54, 257). On 24 November 1857, General Henry Havelock died at Dilkusha, although he was buried in the quieter precincts of Alam Bagh. As both Edith Cuthell and Sidney Hay pointed out, there were only a few named graves at Dilkusha (Hay, 111).

Unlike the Residency at Lucknow which was severely damaged under fire from rebel forces during the prolonged siege, Dilkusha survived the conflict. And unlike the Residency which was kept in its damaged state as the most prominent memorial monument in Lucknow, Dilkusha Palace and grounds, along with adjacent Mohammad Bagh, were annexed to create the new military cantonment of Lucknow. Appropriation of land and repurposing of nawabi buildings in Lucknow by the victors were sanctioned by British colonial authorities (Oldenburg, 1984).[v] 

“For years,” Abbas Ali noted, Dilkusha served as the residence of the Division Commander, Lucknow Cantonment. Samuel Bourne’s c1864 photograph and photographs taken from the mid-late 1860s, such as Baker and Burke’s photograph in the Edward Molyneux Collection, show a well-kept ground and a building in use.

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Top: Lucknow. Dil Kooshah [Dilkusha] by Samuel Bourne, c. 1864. British Library, Photo 2/3(150) Noc
Bottom: Dilkoosha Palace, Lucknow by Baker and Burke, 1860s. British Library, Photo 938/3(5) Noc

Although Abbas Ali’s c1870 (or possibly late 1860s) photograph show some signs of disrepair, the building appears intact. Abbas Ali’s album was published in 1874 where he noted Dilkusha’s altered state: “it has lately been dismantled, and although it is built on an eminence, nothing can now be seen of the once noble edifice, but its bare massive walls and castellated stair-cases (Ali, 1874). Sidney Hay writing six decades later remarked that the building was “declared unsafe” and “partially demolished and lies almost derelict now” (Hay, 112).

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Dilkoosha [Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow] by Abbas Ali, c. 1874. British Library, Photo 988(5) Noc

The first photographs to show the ruined building are from the late 1870s. The photograph by John Edward Saché (below) depicts the ruined shell of the building: the roofs over the portico, the central bay and the towers are gone leaving the truncated free-standing columns. 

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Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow by John Edward Saché, 1870s. British Library, Photo 2/3(145) Noc

Two photographs from the early 1880s--Lala Deen Dayal’s view of Dilkusha and another from the Bellew Collection--show the building overgrown with vegetation.

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Top: The Palace of Dilkusha where Sir Colin Campbell advanced to the Relief of Lucknow, November 1857. Lala Deen Dayal. British Library, Photo 807/2(14) Noc
Bottom: Back view of the ruined Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow. Photographer unknown, c. 1880s. British Library, Photo 50/2(122) Noc

So why this belated partial destruction of Dilkusha? One photograph from the Bellew Collection from the 1880s helps us understand the new aesthetic role the edifice now played. The photograph shows a picturesque garden with roses and urns planted around the palace, and the ruined edifice turned into an uninhabitable landscape folly. The commemorative function of ruins that this landscaping was meant to invoke stirred Cuthell’s mutiny nostalgia: looking at the ruined central tower of the palace in the fading light of the evening she imagined “silhouetted … against the moon, ‘the banner of England blew’” (165).

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Dilkusha Palace. Photographer unknown, c. 1880s. British Library, Photo 50/2(123) Noc

At a larger scale, the dismantled Dilkusha satisfied the needs of a territorial aesthetic in excess of its role as a memorial. The newly designed Dilkusha grounds became an important landscape link between the cantonment gardens (former Muhammad Bagh) and the series of parks that were created after the revolt in a refashioned Lucknow: Government House Gardens, Wingfield Park, La Place, and the Horticulture Garden. The style of these parks was decidedly English colonial and their scale more lavish than the gardens of the nawabs.

Edith Cuthell’s recollection of Lucknow brings out the character of these connected landscapes that encircled the older native city on the right flank, mimicking the lines of British military advance on rebel Lucknow. She could ride uninterruptedly from the cantonment to the northern outskirts of the city, past this string of landscaped spaces, surveying the remains of the vanquished “splendours of Oudh sovereignty” (57). Cultivating such habits of seeing and moving through the landscape brought out “the sharp contrast between the present and the not-so-far past—the gay gardens round deserted palaces; the shot-riddled pleasure houses, with loop-holed walls; the laughing, chattering English men and women riding and driving about them just as before; the iron heel of the conqueror planted on the neck of the salaaming native.” Such contrast, however, only reinforced the in-between “interlude of massacre” (184).

 

[i] Cuthell used English translations of all the Urdu proper names of buildings and gardens of Lucknow.

[ii] In colonial documents the building is variously spelled as Dilkhusa, Dilkoosha, Dil-Koosha and Dil Koosha.

[iii] Seton Delaval was designed in 1718 by John Vanbrugh for Admiral George Delaval.

[iv] Since Ouseley left for England in 1823 he would not have been the architect of these transformations.

[v] Many of the other damaged nawabi buildings in the city became government offices and others such as the Chutter Munzil and Khurshid Munzil were restored were given over to private agencies. The Chutter Manzil housed the United Services Club, and the Khurshid Munzil became The Lucknow Girls’ School (later renamed La Martinière Girls’ School).

 

References

Abbas Ali, The Lucknow Album (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1874). British Library Printed Collections, 010056.i.4.

Edith E. Cuthell, My Garden in a City of Gardens (London: John Lane, 1905).

Neeta Das, Indian Architecture: Problems in the Interpretation of 18th and 19th Century Architecture—A Study of Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow (Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1998)
Sidney Hay, Historic Lucknow (Lucknow: Pioneer Press, 1939).

Veena Talwar Oldenburg, The Making of Colonial Lucknow, 1856-1877 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

William H. Russell, My Diary in India in the Year 1858-59 (London: Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1860).

 

By Professor Swati ChattopadhyayUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraCcownwork

21 November 2018

Beautiful Burmese Barges and Boats

A recently digitised Burmese manuscript in the British Library (Or. 14005) contains images of different types of royal barges and boats, illuminated in red and gold. The barges are carved and decorated elaborately with figures of mythical creatures such as the garuda (bird), naga (serpent), and manuk siha (half-lion half-man), and some bear structures resembling palaces or pavilions. The paintings of the vessels are as finely excecuted as those of scenes found in other Burmese folding books but, unusually, this book has no captions at all. Nonetheless, each boat is so stylistically and symbolically distinctive that it can easily be identified. 

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A Pyigyimon boat, which consists of two conjoined gilded boats, with a seven-tired roof (pyatthat). There are two separate dragon-headed hulls, while on the bow are figures of a garuda (mythical bird) and a naga (mythical dragon), with Sakka (a celestial king and the ruler of Tavatimsa heaven) standing between them. British Library, Or. 14005, f. 1  Noc

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Shown above are the golden state barges Nawayupa and Nagadeva, for carrying ministers and royal officers. The Nawayupa golden barge (top) has the mane of a karaweik (mythical bird), the hump of bull, the tail of a nga gyin fish, two elephant tusks, the trunk of a makara (sea creature), two horns of a toe naya (mythological creature), two wings of parakeet, and a front and hind leg of a horse. The Nagadeva barge (bottom) is adorned with the figure of the snake king. British Library, Or. 14005, f. 7  Noc

Other state barges used for royal river journeys depicted in the manuscript include the Pyinsayupa golden barge, used by the chief queens, which has the mane of karaweik bird, the tusk and trunk of an elephant, the hump of bull, the tail of a nga gyin fish, two horns of a toe naya and two ears. The Eni barge is adorned with the figure of a deer, while the Hintha barge, which was used by princes, is adorned with the figure of a hamsa (mythical bird). The Udaung boat, also used by princes, was adorned with the figure of peacock.

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Hlaw ka-daw (above) are the king’s dispatch boats. They are gilded all over, even including the paddles, and the stern rises high up in the air. These boats carried canons, drums and gongs. British Library, Or. 14005, f. 16 Noc

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Shown above are the Nawaraja and Manuk siha boast. The Nawaraja boat (top) has figures of five Brahmas in the prow and four in the stern, in memory of the nine Brahmas who appeared on earth in the beginning of the world. The Manuk sika boat (bottom) is adorned with the figure of a mythical creature with a human face and hands, and the body and legs of a lion. British Library, Or. 14005, f. 36  Noc

The other kings’s boats are Thone lu pu saw and Thone lu tot pa. The Thone lu pu saw boat has figures of the king of Brahmas, the king of devas (deities), and the king of men affixed on the bow, and three umbrellas hoisted on the stern. Thone lu pu saw means three sentient beings (Thone lu), namely humans, devas, and Brahmas, who all pay homage to the Buddha. This boat was stationed in front of the royal barge when the king travelled in state. The Thone lu tot pa boat has the figure of a deva on the bow and figures of a human, a deva and a brahma on the stern.

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Pyi kone (top) is the king’s boat, with figures of the moon and the sun adorning the bow and stern. Lokabihman boat (bottom) is also for the king's use and has two pavilions, one at the bow and one at the stern. Or. 14005, f. 37 Noc

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The boat at the top is adorned with the figure of a Kinnera, a mythical half bird-half woman, and the Thuwa hle (bottom) is a boat with the figure of parrot. British Library, Or. 14005, f. 44 Noc

Among the variety of boats many were named from the places whence their models were taken, such as the Zimme, In-ma, Tha-byu, etc. Other notable boats were the Thingan-net and the Lin-zin boat, with a low bow and lofty stern. The Azalon or Azalompani boat had the figure of a goat with an aubergine in its mouth and its forefeet resting on the prow of the boat, and its two hind legs and tail at the stern.

Among the many festivals held throughout the year in Burma (Myanmar) is the Regatta festival which is held Burmese month of Tawthalin (late September) due to the favourable weather conditions. According to the Burmese chronicles, royal regatta festivals were held by eleven monarchs beginning with King Anaukphetlun (r.1605-28), and ending with King Thibaw (r.1878-1885), the last King of Konbaung dynasty (1752-1885). During the regatta, the king surrounded by his entourage would watch the event from his royal barge, which often headed the procession down the river. The king and his nobles and courtiers often raced each other in their boats, accompanied by the songs of the rowers. The very oars of the royal boats were gilded, and as the boats circled the spray flew from their blades, and the sun blazed upon their magnificence. High officials supervised preparations for boat races along the shore of rivers throughout the country, and these races were also regarded as good tests for improving the skills of the royal navy.

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Racing boats in the river during the Regatta festival. In the foreground, the King and Queen watch from a grandstand on the bank. Or. 6779, ff. 9-12 Noc

Royal barge processions were held for the Coronation and other religious ceremonies on the Irrawaddy River or Ayeyarwady River. It is the main river of Burma, flowing from north to south through the centre of the country, and one of the great rivers of Asia. Burmese chronicles recorded that King Alaung Sithu (r.1112-1167) was a great traveller as he spent much of his time on water journeys.

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This illustration depicts a royal water procession. The barge is tugged by golden Letpyi boats paddled by a full complement of oarsmen in the Irrawaddy River. People are gathered on the banks of the river to watch the royal barge and boats. British Library, Or. 14031, ff. 9-13  Noc

From 1975 to the present day, the Karaweik golden barge - based on the design of the Pyigyimon royal barge - has floated on the Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon. This barge is adorned with the figure of a karaweik  bird, and has a covered area with a pyatthat tiered roof.

Further reading:
Zayyathinkhaya, Minister of King Bodawpaya (1782-1819). Shwe bhon nidan. Yangon, Hkit lu, 1957

San San May, Curator for Burmese Ccownwork

14 November 2018

Pawukon, Javanese calendrical manuscripts

Today’s guest blog on the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project is by Prof. Ann Kumar of the Australian National University

The highly complex Javanese calendar has evolved over many centuries. The year dating system used is the Indian Shaka era, which begins in 78 A.D., but in the 17th century the Islamic lunar months were substituted for the solar months of the Shaka era. This unorthodox and hard-to-operate hybrid was presumably due to the desire to observe the major events of the Muslim year, particularly the Hajj, at the same time as Muslims around the world.

However, apart from these external influences, there are distinctively Javanese systems of time-keeping, such as the use of cycles not tied to any year-date. The principal ones are a seven-year cycle, the eight-year windu cycle, and the one described in this article: the 30-week wuku cycle, which has been referenced in inscriptions dating from the 8th century (Damais 1955).

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Early wuku illustrations, found at the end of a manuscript volume containing Babad ing Sangkala, dated 1738. British Library, MSS Jav 36B, ff. 374v-375r Noc

A wuku week lasts for 7 days, and there are 30 named weeks in the wuku year of 210 days, as follows:

1. Sinta
2. Landep
3. Wukir
4. Kurantil Go
5. Tolu
6. Gumbreg
7. Wariga alit
8. Wariga gung
9. ]ulung Wangi
10. Sungsang
11. Galungan
12. Kuningan
13. Langkir
14. Manḍasiya
15. Julung Pujud
16. Pahang
17. Kuru welut
18. Mrakeh
19. Tambir
20. Menđangkungan
21. Maktal
22. Wuye
23. Manail
24. Prang bakat
25. Bala
26. Wugeo [or Wuku, Wugu]
27. Wayang
28. Kulawu
29. Dukut
30. Watu Gunung

Much like a horoscope, a specific wuku gives a picture of the character and circumstances of a person born in that wuku which will determine their fortunes. Each wuku is assigned a god and a tree. It may also be assigned a bird; an icon depicting water, ie. forecasting rain; a house in different positions, referring to economic matters; and a pennant (umbul-umbul), an insignia of rank. The 30 wuku are depicted in illustrated manuscripts known as pawukon. The three pawukon manuscripts from the British Library collection illustrated here have all been fully digitised.

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Wuku Wariga Alit, in a Pawukon from Yogyakarta, 1807. British Library, Add. 12338, ff. 90v-91r  Noc

Shown above is the seventh wuku, Wariga Alit, which has the following elements:
• The god is Yang Asmara, another name for Kama, the god of love (he holds an arrow à la Cupid). His name is written in Javanese characters on his left. This indicates that a child born in this wuku will be beautiful.
• The red-eyed bird is the solitary kapoḍang, or black-naped oriole, perching on a sulastri tree, well known for its fragrance.
• The structure in the left foreground is a canḍi, or funerary temple, indicating melancholy.
Interpreting these symbols, a child born in this wuku is beautiful, but fickle, and is solitary, shy, or melancholy. This wuku is also said to be bad for leaders of troops.

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The same wuku, Wariga Alit, depicted in Papakĕm Pawukon, with explanation in Javanese on the left hand page, and in Malay in roman script on the right hand page. The MS was acquired by Col. Colin Mackenzie from Kyai Suradimanggala, Bupati sĕpuh of Dĕmak, in ‘Bagor’ (Bogor) in [A.J.] 1742 [A.D. 1814-15].   British Library, Or 15932, ff. 17v-18r  Noc

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Unlike the stylized canḍi depicted in the Yogyakarta Pawukon of 1807, in Kyai Suradimanggala's Pawukon the canḍi recalls the profile of Borobudur, which in 1814 was only just being excavated. British Library, Or 15932, f. 17v (detail)  Noc

More elaborate versions of the wuku calendar are also known, where each wuku might have a particular danger inherent in it, such as being bitten by a snake or wounded with a weapon. Some wuku calendars also include information about the movements of a monster called Jabung Kala who watches over the wuku and rotates in a circle synchronically with the wuku weeks, changing position every seven days. His position is considered important for generals, who should orientate their battle lines so as not to get across him.

The American sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel describes the Javanese wuku calendar as the most remarkable and intricate week-calendar ever invented (1985: 68-9). Unrelated to the seasons and to solar and lunar phases, he points out it is a unique product of the rational human mind and of humans’ ability to live in accordance with entirely artificial rhythms which they create.

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On the left, the 9th wuku, Julung Wangi, and on the right, the 12th wuku, Kuningan, from a Pawukon from Yogyakarta, 1807. British Library, Add. 12338, f. 95r and f. 101r Noc

The wuku calendar is often said to be based on the Watu Gunung myth.In this, Watu Gunung is a powerful warrior who by defeating the incumbent king and his allies became ruler of Giling Wesi. He married two heavenly nymphs with whom he had thirteen sets of male twins, plus one single male birth. The parents and children gave their names to the thirty wuku, listed above. Watu Gunung was enterprising and undertook to build an iron city. A voice from heaven warned him to offer the proper prayers to Batara Guru, the supreme Hindu god, and to do asceticism, after which he built the iron city in less than seven years. He subsequently became more and more conceited and populated the city with 40 men resembling the gods and 40 maids like the Widadaris (heavenly nymphs), claiming that it was like the palace of Batara Guru, the chief god. This eventually led to war with the gods, in which Watu Gunung was killed. Thanks to his wives interceding with the gods he and all his family were admitted to heaven. However, it is difficult to see how the Watu Gunung myth, with its incredible story of thirteen sets of all-male twins plus a single son, could have been the founding myth on which the wuku calendar was subsequently based. It seems more likely that it was composed after the wuku calendar, to provide a mythic basis, or that a previous myth has been substantially modified. Thus the origin of the wuku remains unclear.

The thirty wuku are subdivided into five groups of six wuku each (wuku 1-6, 7-12, 13-18, 19-24, and 25-30); this system is called ringkel ing wuku. The ringkel ing wuku are classified as follows:
1. Humans (jalma: wuku 1, 7, 13, 19, 25)
2. Animals (sato: wuku 2, 8, 14, 20, 26)
3. Fish (iwak: wuku 3, 9, 15, 21, 27)
4. Birds (manuk, wuku 4, 10, 16, 22, 28)
5. Wuku (wuku 5, 11, 17, 23, 29)
6. Leaves (goḍong, wuku 6, 12, 18, 24, 30)

The wuku calendar is no longer used in Java, but its maximum complexity is fully preserved in Bali. In this, the 210 days of the wuku year are divided into weeks of differing lengths. They may be 10, 9, or 8 days long, or down to just one day long. Each week has a particular name and so does each day of each week, meaning that every day has a total of ten names! This is not just academic complexity, but has practical significance. For example, the three-day week determines the markets in Bali which shift from one village to another in a three-day cycle. The five-, six- and seven-day weeks are the most important, especially when they co-occur. Only once in 210 days does a day fall on all three cycles (5 x 6 x 7), and that day is Galungan, which is the main Balinese religious festival. Another important day, Kajeng-Keliwon, is when the third day of the three-day week, Kajeng, falls on the same day as the fifth day of the five-day week, Keliwon. This happens every 15 days, and many temple ceremonies are held on this day. Not surprisingly, to stay on top of all this a special calendar is needed, called a tika, of which there are some finely illustrated examples.

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Illustrations from a Balinese calendar on palm leaf, ca. 1981. British Library, Or 16911, f. 7r

References:

For a full listing of the 30 wuku and their associated characteristics, see:
Ann Kumar, Java and modern Europe: ambiguous encounters. Richmond: Curzon, 1996; chapter 3.

Louis-Charles Damais, 'Ếtudes d’Ếpigraphie Indonésiennes’, Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient XLVII, 1955, pp. 7-290.
Roelof Goris, ‘Holidays and holy days in Bali', Studies in life, thought and ritual: selected studies on Indonesia by Dutch scholars, vol.5, ed. W.F. Wertheim et al., The Hague and Bandung: W. van Hoeve, 1960, pp.113-29.
M.C. Ricklefs, Modern Javanese historical tradition: a study of an original Kartasura chronicle and related materials, London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1978.
Eviatar Zerubavel, The seven day cycle: the history and meaning of the week, New York: The Free Press, 1985.

Ann Kumar Ccownwork
Australian National University, Canberra

 

09 November 2018

Buddhism Illuminated through Southeast Asian Manuscript Art (2)

Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia is a lavishly-illustrated book published  earlier this year by the British Library in collaboration with Washington University Press. The book aims to share many years of research on the British Library’s unique collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts on Buddhism, which illustrate not only the life and teachings of the historical Buddha, but also everyday Buddhist practice, life within the monastic order, festivals, cosmology, and ethical principles and values.

Blog2 01
Extracts from the Tipitaka in Pali language, written in Khmer script. Folding book from Central Thailand, second half of the eighteenth century. British Library, Or 14027, f. 4 

The first two chapters, which introduce the outstanding art of Southeast Asian Buddhist manuscripts as well as the Life of the Buddha, were discussed in our previous blog. The third chapter of the book focuses on the teachings of the Buddha, or Dhamma, also known as the “righteous way”. Gotama Buddha spent more than half of his life walking around northern India over 2500 years ago, teaching his ever growing group of followers. Shortly after the Buddha’s parinibbana and physical death, the first Buddhist council was held at Rajagaha. Five hundred of the most senior Buddhist monks are said to have convened to recite and verify all the sermons they had heard during the Buddha’s forty-five years of teaching. They began to systematically arrange and compile the Buddha’s teachings called Tipitaka, or the 'Three Baskets', which include the Sutta Pitaka (the basket of discourses), the Vinaya Pitaka (the basket of discipline and monastic rules), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (the basket of higher teachings of the Buddha). Five more councils were held over the centuries, with the most recent one taking place in Rangoon at Kaba Aye Pagoda from May 1954 to May 1956 to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s parinibbana.

Blog2 02
This manuscript, written in Pali - the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism - in yellow Burmese square characters, is inscribed on 49 palm leaves coated with lacquer. It contains fragments of Atthakathas, or commentaries on the Tipitaka. The manuscript is bound up with a green velvet wrapper and a ribbon, or sazigyo. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 3672

Buddhist texts that were compiled in addition to the Tipitaka are commentaries by important Buddhist scholars like for example Buddhaghosa, a fifth-century scholar who played a defining role in the development of Theravada Buddhism. Commentaries as well as translations were crucial for the spread of Buddhism to mainland Southeast Asia, where it is widely practised up till today.

Chapter four of the book provides information about the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic community. Themes in this chapter include aspects of monastic ordination in Theravada Buddhism, how the Buddha founded the Sangha, and the rules of monastic discipline and interaction between the Sangha and the lay community. Soon after attaining enlightenment the Buddha founded the order of monks, or Bhikkhu-sangha, which was later extended to the order of nuns, or Bhikkhuni-sangha.

Blog2 03
This image shows the Buddha’s ordination of Yasa, who went to the deer park near Varanasi
to become a Bhikkhu. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 14553, f. 2

After listening to Buddha’s first sermon, his five closest followers joined the Buddha and became his disciples, forming the first Sangha. Yasa, the son of a wealthy man, left his home as he was dissatisfied with his life. After hearing the teachings of the Buddha, Yasa became the sixth disciple to achieve the first stage of perfection. Yasa’s 54 friends followed his example. Later on, three brothers of the Kassapa family asked to be ordained into the Sangha after the Buddha tamed a naga (serpent).

The book’s fifth chapter deals with Kamma, or the principle of cause and effect that tells us that every action produces an effect, and the effects of all our actions will return to us in the future. Our accumulated positive Kamma will come back to us in the form of blessings and the opportunity to lead a good future life or to experience a better rebirth, while negative Kamma will result in deterioration and lower forms of rebirth. Burmese and Thai artistic expressions of Kamma often include scenes of the Buddhist heavens and hells and the sixteen sacred lands of Buddhism.

Blog2 04
Paper folding book featuring extracts from the Tipitaka and Phra Malai, written in Khmer script, with illustrations of Mahabrahma bhum (the Brahma heaven) and Tavatimsa bhum (heaven of the Four Kings). Thailand, 1849. British Library, Or 14838, f. 1

The illustrations portray the god Brahma with his four-faced head and a red aura (left) and the god Indra, or Sakka, also with a red aura (right). Both are seated on a marble pedestal before a red background decorated with delicate flower ornaments. Brahma and Indra are considered to have converted to Buddhism, therefore they are depicted in a respectful pose facing the Pali text passages from the Tipitaka that lie between them.

Blog2 05
Illustration of Tiracchana loka, the world of animals. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 14004, f. 37

The idyllic scene above shows the legendary region of Himavanta. Located in the animal realm of Tiracchana loka, it is covered in forests with great lakes and mountain ranges. It is inhabited by wild animals such as tigers, monkeys, deer, bears, birds, rabbits, cockerels and buffaloes who live together peacefully. Groves of mangoes, bananas and bamboo are featured in this illustration; all play a critical role as the animals’ survival depends almost entirely on these plants.

The final chapter in the book provides details around “making merit” in every-day Buddhist life, which include activities that aim to support the Sangha, like the Kathina robe-offering ceremony, Uposatha or observance ceremony, and royal donations, but also rituals related to death and after-life, as well as communal festivals around the year which are open to everyone.

Blog2 06
Scenes from the Uposatha observance ceremony. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 16761, ff. 25–6

This painting depicts the Uposatha ceremony, held on new and full moon days of every month. Lay people bring food and other offerings to the Buddhist monastery and observe five or eight precepts on these days. Three Buddhist monks, shown seated in a pavilion with their large fans, administer eight precepts to the lay community. These precepts are: not to kill, steal, engage in sexual activity, lie, become intoxicated, eat after noon, adorn their bodies or sleep on luxurious beds. Uposatha days provide time for people to listen to the teachings of the Dhamma and the chanting of special Suttas, as well as to practise meditation.

Blog2 07
Scene from the Vessantara Jataka in a book containing drawings from the Ramayana and the Ten Birth Tales on European paper, with captions in Khmer script. Thailand or Cambodia, 1880. British Library, Or 14859, ff. 182–3

During the Bun Phawet festival in January the Vessantara Jataka is recited by monks or performed in puppet or shadow puppet theatres in the monasteries, mainly in Laos and northeast Thailand. In preparation for Bun Phawet lay people create long paper or cotton scrolls and banners decorated with paintings of scenes from the Vessantara Jataka. These scrolls, often tens of metres in length, are hung on the indoor walls of monasteries while recitations of the Vessantara Jataka are being performed. The illustration shown here depicts a scene from the Vessantara Jataka which typically features on scrolls made for the festival: the final grand scene in which Prince Vessantara and his wife Maddi are reunited with their children who had been taken away by the Brahmin Jujaka. This happy occasion is celebrated with music (right).

The book also contains a detailed bibliography, a glossary and three appendices providing a list of the 28 Buddhas of the past, explanations of symbols of the Buddha’s footprint, and an overview of the scriptures of the Tipitaka.

San San May and Jana Igunma, Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia, London: British Library, 2018. (ISBN 978 0 7123 5206 2)

The book is available from all major booksellers and online.

San San May, Curator for Burmese
Jana Igunma, Henry D. Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

05 November 2018

The Judeo-Persian manuscript collection in the British Library

The newly launched Judeo-Persian collection guide is an important and valuable addition to the British Library’s repertoire of Middle Eastern on-line resources, that have been made accessible to increasing numbers of researchers and users worldwide. Additionally, as part of our on-going Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, we have already digitised 34 Judeo-Persian manuscripts and will continue to do more in the months ahead.

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Judeo-Persian introduction to the commentary on Proverbs, 11th-2th century (BL Or 2459, f.64v)
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Introduction and brief historical note
Although quantitatively modest, the diversity and richness of its content, and the indisputable rarity and significance of some the items found in it, make the Judeo-Persian manuscript collection stand out. It moreover attests to the close, centuries-old cultural and historical ties that have existed between local Jewish and Persian communities.

These links can be traced back to pre-antiquity, more precisely to the period of the Babylonian captivity when, in 597 and 586 BCE, the entire Jewish population in the Kingdom of Judea was exiled by King Nabuchadnezzar II. In 539 BCE Babylon fell to the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great whose famous declaration, recounted in the Bible, and alluded to in the famous Cyrus Cylinder, allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland, rebuild their national life, and most importantly, the Jerusalem Temple which Nabuchadnezzar had sacked and raised to the ground.

Those exiles who decided to remain on Babylonian-Persian territory, formed the core of the permanent Jewish settlements, which little by little spread from the Babylonian centres, to the inner cities and regions of Persia. The tolerance showed by Persian rulers towards their Jewish subjects, especially during the early medieval period, enabled them to prosper and thrive. Biblical luminaries such as Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah for instance, emerged from the newly established colonies, and managed to play leading roles at the royal Persian court.

The history of Persian Jewry is an extensive and fascinating topic, which is far beyond the scope of this short blog. For a clear and concise historical account of the Jewish communities that lived in Persia, from antiquity to the modern era, I recommend Elias J. Bickerman and Walter Joseph Fischel's article "Persia" in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., 2007, vol.15, pp.782-792.

The Manuscripts
The star item in our Judeo-Persian manuscript collection is undoubtedly the eighth-century trade letter found in 1901 in a Buddhist monastery at Dandan-Uiliq, present-day Xinjiang, China (Or 8212/166). Information recently received from a reliable researcher, who has studied in-depth a number of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts, has revealed that the biblical commentaries in Or 2459 and Or 2460, are in fact datable to the 11th to 12th century, i.e. some 400 years earlier than George Margoliouth let us believe (G. Margoliouth’s Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan manuscripts in the British Museum, 1965, vol.1, pp.184-185). This discovery makes them the second earliest Judeo-Persian manuscripts in our keep.

The blog Important Judeo-Persian bibles in the British Library posted in 2014, provided descriptions of the rarest handwritten and printed Judeo-Persian biblical works the Library holds. These included the Pentateuch dated 6th March 1319 CE (Or 5446), regarded as the earliest dated Torah text in Judeo-Persian, and the beautifully crafted copy of Torat Adonai (God’s Law) issued in 1546 at Constantinople, by Eliezer ben Gershom Soncino. In this edition, the Judeo-Persian tafsir (translation) was printed alongside the original Hebrew text, the Aramaic translation, and the Judeo-Arabic rendition of the eminent rabbinic authority and scholar Sa’adia Gaon (882-942 CE). The Torat Adonai, moreover, was the first printed Persian text of any kind, and the first Judeo-Persian translation of the Pentateuch to become known in the Western world.

The number and quality of our illustrated Judeo-Persian manuscripts are comparatively few and unrefined, yet pleasing nevertheless. Apart from the better-known Or 13704, which was the subject of a special blog posted last year, A Judeo-Persian epic, the Fath Nama (Book of Conquest), there are two other specimens which exhibit stylistic traits common to both Persian and Judeo-Persian manuscript painting. Lack of a colophon (the inscription at the end of a manuscript providing details about its production), is an additional common characteristic defining the manuscripts discussed here. Consequently, data about the original commission, and most importantly the identities of the artists responsible for the illustrations, remain shrouded in mystery.

Or 4730 is an incomplete 18th-century paper manuscript of Nizami’s Persian medieval epic Haft Paykar (The Seven Beauties). The text has been copied in a neat Persian Hebrew semi-cursive script as can be seen here:

Or_4730_f049v Or_4730_f049v
Left (f.49v): a royal feast showing Bahram Gur in the upper register, offering a cup to the lady seated on his right. Below, musicians are seen playing on a lyre, flute and tambourine, while a female performer executes a balancing act with bottles; right (f.44v): an example of the neat Persian Hebrew script used throughout (BL Or 4730)
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Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) is acknowledged as the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, with the Haft Paykar perhaps regarded as his masterpiece. A polymath with a phenomenal intellect, Nizami was not only versed in Arabic and Persian literature, but was also intimately familiar with diverse fields of knowledge, ranging from astronomy, astrology, botany, mathematics, to medicine, Islamic law, history, philosophy and many other. In the Haft Paykar Nizami succeeded in illustrating masterfully the harmony of the universe, and the affinity between the sacred and the temporal. Nizami’s erudition and scholarship are perfectly reflected in his intensely lyrical and sensory poetical output, earning him the well-deserved appellation of Hakim (Sage).

Or_4730_f073r Or_4730_f128r
Left (f.73r): squatting on a decorated bench alongside one of the Seven Beauties, is Bahram Gur feasting in the Golden Pavilion; right (f.128r): Bahram Gur feasting in the White Pavilion. Two female musicians are seen playing the lyre and the tambourine (BL Or 4730)
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Completed in 1197, Haft Paykar was a romanticized biography of Bahram Gur (the Sassanian ruler Bahram V, ruled 420-438 CE). The Seven Beauties were princesses who became Bahram’s wives, and who received their own distinctly colored and themed pavilions in his palace. The princesses would entertain the king with compelling and captivating stories, whenever he visited them. In the story, Bahram’s royal prowess was tested, and he had to learn lessons on fairness, justice and responsibility. The 13 illustrations in our manuscript depict scenes closely related to the central narrative. Though crudely drafted, they are nonetheless likeable, owing chiefly to their colors, as attested by the examples included above.

Or_10194_f028v Or_10194_f028v Or_10194_f028v
Left (f.8v): a girl holding a bouquet of flowers; centre (f.28v): a warrior in Qajar attire carrying a sword and a bludgeon(?); right (f.46v): an old, bearded dervish carrying an axe and begging bowl (BL Or 10194)
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Written on thick paper between 1785 and 1825, the album Or 10194 is a poetical anthology by various poets. The poor calligraphy is mitigated by the five full-page vividly coloured paintings executed in opaque watercolors. These are effectively portraits of various characters, executed in traditional Qajar style.

The largest portion of our Judeo-Persian holdings, however, are unadorned textual manuscripts. Among them the following are worthy of attention:

  • Or 8659, contains a theological-apologetic section of Sefer ha-mitsvot (Book of Commandments). It largely consists of a religious discussion of various aspects of the commandment of circumcision. Despite its brevity (ten leaves only), the manuscript is significant as a very early specimen of Karaite apologetic literature written in Judeo-Persian.
  • Or 10576, is an important fragmentary example of a Sidur (Daily Prayer book) according to the Persian rite.
  • Or 4743, the only known complete manuscript of Daniyal Nameh (the story of biblical Daniel).
  • Or 2451, a Pentateuch copied at Qum, 1483-1484, that includes Josiah ben Mevorakh al-ʿAqūlī's calendar of the cycles with rules for fixing the Jewish festivals (ff. 363v-375v).
  • Or 10482, a miscellaneous compilation comprising ‘Amukot Shemu’el (Samuel’s depths), definitions of difficult words in the Book of Samuel, arranged in order of the biblical verses (ff.99r-114v). An early work of great lexical importance.

In this blog I have endeavored to discuss significant collection items written in Judeo-Persian, pinpointing at the same time some commonalities and differences between them and Persian manuscripts. Place of production, artistic and thematic elements, along with language and history, constitute principal areas of intersection, that offer ample scope for discovery, interpretation and research.

Watch out for my follow-up blog, when I will be focussing on the Judeo-Persian printed book collection the Library owns.

For a complete list of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts with brief metadata, and hyperlinks to those that are already online see our list of Digitised Judeo-Persian manuscripts.


Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew & Christian Orient Studies
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