Asian and African studies blog

29 posts categorized "Science"

23 October 2013

Review of the 9th Annual Conference of the Islamic Manuscript Association


The Islamic Manuscript Association
is an organisation that promotes the cataloguing, digitisation, preservation, and research of Islamic manuscripts throughout the world.  This year’s conference focused on manuscripts of the Mamluk Empire and its contemporaries.  From September 2nd to the 4th, researchers, conservators, curators and librarians from across the world gathered to share their knowledge on this topic at Magdalene College, Cambridge.  The conference’s programme included 25 papers, of which I will discuss a selection in this blog.

Highlights included the presentation of Prof. Frédéric Bauden (Sorbonne – Paris IV), whose talk, “Manuscript Paper Formats of the Mamluk Period: The Contribution of Mamluk Chancery Paper,” identified the author of a unique manuscript on Mamluk-era chancery practice, al-Thaghr al-Bāsim fī Ṣina’at al-Kātib was al-Kātim , as al-Saḥmawī (d. 868/1464).  Using al-Qalqashandī’s well-known chancery manual, Ṣubḥ al-‘Āsha’ in conjunction with al-Saḥmawī’s work, Dr. Bauden established that certain of  J. von Karabaček’s calculations in his 1887 Das Arabische Papier were mistaken and are in need of revision. Throughout his paper, Dr. Bauden demonstrated the importance of chancery paper measurements for the study of Mamluk-era manuscripts.

Dr. Élise Franssen’s (University of Liège) paper, “Al-Ṣafadī: His Personality, Methodology, and Literary Tastes Approached Through His Tadhkira,”  received a very positive response from the audience and elicited much praise from those present.  Dr. Franssen focused on an autograph volume of Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Khalīl Aybāk al-Ṣafadī’s (1297-1363) Tadhkira  that she described aptly as the author’s commonplace book, in which al-Ṣafadī recorded texts he found interesting, appreciated on an aesthetic level, or wanted to incorporate into his own work.   In her paper, Dr. Franssen demonstrated how the study of this autograph lends insight into a Mamluk scholar’s method of dealing with texts.

Dr. Muhammad Issa al-Sharafeen’s (Al-Bayt University, Jordan) paper, “The Copyist in the Mamluk Period,” examined the role of copyists – in contrast to calligraphers – in the production of manuscripts.  Dr. Sharafeen discussed many aspects of the manuscript production process that will interest codicologists, for instance the number of manuscripts that particular Mamluk-era scribes produced, the length of time it took for certain scribes to copy texts, and also the importance of accuracy in the professional practices of copyists and the mechanisms for correcting errors.  Dr. Sharafeen also established the identity of a scribe counterfeiting the famous calligrapher Ibn Bawwāb’s hand, casting light on an interesting example of historical forgery.  

Mr. Christopher Braun (Warburg Institute), currently pursuing a PhD, presented a paper entitled, “In Seach of Buried Riches: Arabic Manuscripts on Treasure Hunting in Medieval Islamic Egypt.”  While the extant manuscripts on treasure hunting date from the 18th and 19th century, the texts they contain are often much earlier, from the Mamluk and perhaps the Fatimid era.  These texts often included, in addition to instructions on where to locate the treasure, various incantations and techniques of divination in order to open the tombs in which the treasures were supposedly held.  His paper explored how these treatises may have been employed and some of the possible reasons for their creation, such as profiting from those gullible enough to purchase such manuscripts.

Dr. Osamu Otsuka’s (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) presentation, “A Forgotten Ilkhanid Historical Work: Abū al-Qāsim Kāshānī’s Zubdat al-Tawārīkh,” challenged the current understanding of Ilkhanid historiography by examining a neglected author, Abū al-Qāsim Kāshānī (d. 1335 AD) and his comprehensive history, the Zubdat al-Tawārīkh, written for the seventh Ilkhanid ruler, Ghāzān Khān (r. 1294-1304 AD) .   Dr. Otsuka compared this work with the well-studied Jāmi’ al-Tawārīkh of Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318 AD) and argued that through a process of textual borrowing (what we today would call plagiarism but was common practice in the writing of historical chronicles in the premodern world), Rashīd al-Dīn adapted large parts of Kāshānī’s more comprehensive Zubdat al-Tawārīkh into his Jāmi’ al-Tawārīkh.  Because of the similarity between the two works, scholars have often deduced that the opposite was the case, that Kāshānī’s work was the less original of the two, and Rashīd al-Dīn was the great chronicler; however, Dr. Otsuka sought to establish Kāshānī’s rightful place in Ilkhanid historiography.

While the above brief description of a selection of papers from the conference does not give justice to the breadth and depth of scholarship presented in Magdalene College, it should give the reader an idea of the variety of topics that were addressed over the three days.  A suggestion to TIMA would be to publish the conference proceedings, as many of the papers are very useful manuscript curators and researchers.

Further events included a speech by Dr. Iman Ezz el-Din Ismail (General Director of the Egyptian National Library, Bāb al-Khalq) on the receipt of UNESCO protected heritage status for her institution’s collection of Mamluk Qur’ans.  Workshops were also offered on digitistion and on how to contribute to a new world-wide union catalogue of Islamic manuscripts.

 Next year’s conference will be held again at Madgalene College from August 31st to September 2nd, 2014, and the topic will be Manuscripts and Conflict.

TIMA poster_Arabic

Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/08/index.html#sthash.CHUMO96m.dpuf
Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/08/index.html#sthash.CHUMO96m.dpuf

08 August 2013

Natural History Drawings from South Asia

In the late 18th century British and Scottish botanists and surgeons led a movement to document the natural history of the subcontinent. The East India Company, initially established as the British trading company and eventually a major governing power over parts of the subcontinent, recognised the need for this scientific research. Its practice was therefore adopted as official policy and resulted in the collection of rare species of flora and fauna. The specimens were preserved in the newly established Royal Botanic Garden in Calcutta and the Barrackpore Menagerie.

As part of the documentation process, Indian artists were hired to illustrate the scientific specimens. Sets of the watercolours and drawings remained in archives in India, while duplicates were sent to the East India Company’s Library in London. Natural history enthusiasts including Marquis Wellesley, Governor-General of Bengal (1798-1805) and Lord Clive, Governor of Madras (1798-1803) also amassed personal collections of such works.

A selection of watercolours and drawings are currently on display in the British Library's Treasure's Gallery.  Every few months, the display will be rotated.  A few that are currently on view include:

Himalayan porcupine Unknown Indian artist Calcutta, c. 1798-1805 Watercolour on paper British Library, NHD 32/37

Himalayan porcupine  noc
Unknown Indian artist
Calcutta, c. 1798-1805
Watercolour on paper
British Library, NHD 32/37

This species of porcupine (Hystrix brachyura hodgsoni) is also known as Hodgson’s short tailed porcupine. These mammals live in forests and grasslands of northeastern India, eastern Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Porcupine can grow up to 90 cm in length, they are predominantly nocturnal and survive on fruit and grains. This drawing is part of a series assembled by Marquis Wellesley, Governor-General of Bengal (1798-1805).

 

Indian flapshell turtle. Unknown Chinese artist, c. 1798-1803 Watercolour on paper British Library, NHD 44/15
Indian flapshell turtle  noc 
Unknown Chinese artist, c. 1798-1803
Watercolour on paper
British Library, NHD 44/15

This species of turtle (Lissemys punctata) is indigenous to the North Indian River Plain and parts of Burma and Thailand. They can be found in shallow and stagnant bodies of water, surviving on a diet of frogs, aquatic snails and fishes. The domed shell of the turtle can measure up to 37 cm. This drawing is by a Chinese painter working for the British in Malaysia and acquired by Lord Clive, later 1st Earl of Powis.

 

Rhododendron. Unknown Indian artist Calcutta, c. 1798 – 1805 British Library, NHD 16/24
Rhododendron  noc
Unknown Indian artist
Calcutta, c. 1798 – 1805
British Library, NHD 16/24

This woody tree (Rhododendron arboreum) is indigenous to north-central India and can grow up to 25 m in height. In full bloom, the scarlet flowers are a spectacular sight. This drawing was copied from an original in the collection of Major-General Thomas Hardwicke, who served in the Bengal Artillery and was a great collector of natural history drawings. Hardwicke’s discovery of this species in 1796 is the basis for the earliest description and identification of this species.

Several items from Hardwicke’s collection, including this drawing, were acquired by Marquis Wellesley, Governor-General of Bengal (1798-1805). The correct identification of this rhododendron was provided by Dr. Henry Noltie of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh.

 

Further reading:

Mildred Archer, Natural History Drawings in the India Office Library, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1962

H.J. Noltie, Indian Botanical Drawings, 1793-1868, from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 1999

H.J. Noltie, Raffles' Ark Redrawn: Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. London & Edinburgh: The British Library & Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in association with Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 1999.

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator Creative Commons License

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator Creative Commons License - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/07/book-of-affairs-of-love.html#sthash.VnZbEnLH.dpuf

19 June 2013

Burmese Horoscopes (Myanmar Zata)

Burmese astrology is as old as the ancient civilization of Burma (Myanmar). It is based on the seven days of the week. Most Burmese believe in astrology and often consult with fortune tellers and astrologers for their future. Burmese parents usually record carefully the exact moment at which a child is born and engage an astrologer or a Buddhist monk to create a horoscope (zata) for their child soon after birth. The zata is inscribed with a metal stylus on both sides of a folded piece of corypha palm leaf which has been sewn tightly together to make a thick surface. The zata is incised on one side with astrological diagrams, calculations and zodiac signs, a complicated array of figures that depict the position of various planets at the time of birth and date, and the day of the week is represented by numbers. The day and time of birth and the zata name — given by the astrologer — are neatly inscribed on the other side. Usually the zata is about 21 x 6 cm long, half the length of palm leaf. Some of them are very beautifully engraved and ornamented. 

Front of the zata of Ma Hnin, dated 1840 (Or.12469a)
Front and back of the zata of Ma Hnin, dated 1840 (Or.12469a)
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Zata are always kept carefully in a secure place by the parents, sometimes in a special religious room, until the children are old enough to take care of them themselves. Parents take their children’s zatas to the fortune tellers or astrologers to find out about their children’s health, wealth and even their future. The astrologers calculate and predict according to the time and circumstances of a person’s birth and then give detailed interpretations of their readings. People also consult with astrologers over matters such as marriage, illness or jobs.

The earliest of the five horoscopes in the British Library Burmese collection is the zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C). The Burmese inscription on one side shows that this person was born in the year 1143 BE, in the month of Thidingyut (October), on the fifth day of the waxing moon, and the first day of the week, Taninganwei (Sunday), in the evening. On the reverse a roundel and a square table with the numbers is surrounded by an ornamental border of numbers. 
              
The Zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C)
The Zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C)
The Zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C)
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The zata of Ma Hnin (Or.12469a) is dated 1840, the zata of Ma Thaing (Or.4789) is dated 1842, the zata of Shin Hkaing (Or.4790) is dated 1852, and the zata of U Thuwunna (Or.12469b) is dated 1875. Each of them consists of a single palm leaf stitched to another to make a thick surface. All are very neatly executed and the general construction is the same.

This kind of Burmese art and this form of astrology still remain popular in Burma, with some ordinary people as well as astrologers being able to interpret the signs.    

San San May, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

 

23 May 2013

A Mughal Flower Show

Since the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is taking place this week, I thought it would be appropriate to post a colourful display of flowers from one of our most significant treasures, Prince Dara Shikoh’s album, exhibited recently in ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’. My hope is that, despite the current weather, it will remind readers that summer is really on its way! 

A blue iris and a butterfly (Add.Or.3129, f 41v).
A blue iris and a butterfly (Add.Or.3129, f 41v). Images online
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This album was compiled by Dara Shikoh (1615-1659), the eldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1658). More inclined to philosophy than statecraft, the author and connoisseur Dara Shikoh was eventually executed for heresy by his younger brother Awrangzeb. He presented this album in AH 1051 (AD 1641/42) to his wife Nadira Banu Begam, his cousin, whom he had married in 1633. It contains altogether 68 miniature paintings which are interspersed with examples of calligraphy. Two portraits of Jahanara and Nadira Banu can be seen in some of our earlier blogs.

Dara Shikoh’s personal dedication to Nadira Banu is dated 1056 (1646-7): ‘This precious album was given to his special companion, intimate and confidante Nadira Banu Begum by Muhammad Dara Shikoh, son of the conquering Emperor Shah Jahan’ (Add.Or.3129, f 2r).
Dara Shikoh’s personal dedication to Nadira Banu is dated 1056 (1646-7): ‘This precious album was given to his special companion, intimate and confidante Nadira Banu Begum by Muhammad Dara Shikoh, son of the conquering Emperor Shah Jahan’ (Add.Or.3129, f 2r). Images online
 noc

Besides containing exquisite portraits, the album also includes fine examples of the flower studies and floral arrangements of which the Mughals were so fond, inspired by nature and also by European originals.

This floral study includes a marigold, an iris, a chrysanthemum, a pimpernel, a rose, and possibly a specimen of Jacob’s ladder (Add.Or.3129, f 67v).
This floral study includes a marigold, an iris, a chrysanthemum, a pimpernel, a rose, and possibly a specimen of Jacob’s ladder (Add.Or.3129, f 67v). Images online
 noc

Paired with the page above, this painting shows different varieties of roses and lilies (Add.Or.3129, f.68r).
Paired with the page above, this painting shows different varieties of roses and lilies (Add.Or.3129, f.68r). Images online
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More exotic flowers with insects alighting on them (Add.Or.3129, f 49v).
More exotic flowers with insects alighting on them (Add.Or.3129, f 49v). Images online
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Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

Follow us on Twitter: @BLAsia_Africa


Further reading

J.P. Losty and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. London: British Library, 2012, pp.124-137

20 May 2013

'The Mughals: Art, Culture and Empire' in Kabul

Queen's Palace, Babur Gardens, Kabul
12 May - 25 June 2013

The hugely successful Mughals exhibition at the British Library has now been made accessible to an Afghan audience in the form of high-quality digital facsimiles of the majority of the items seen in the original exhibition. The venue of the present exhibition, which opened in the Queen’s Palace in the Babur Gardens in Kabul, is particularly appropriate, situated as it is only a stone’s throw from the tomb of Babur, the first Mughal emperor.

Babur's Tomb in Babur's Garden, Kabul. Photograph by John Falconer.
Babur's Tomb in Babur's Garden, Kabul  
  ccownwork John Falconer

The exhibition forms part of an ongoing collaborative partnership between the British Library and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, supported by the Norwegian Government through the Afghan Cultural Initiative.

The exhibition was opened on Sunday 12 May at an event attended by representatives from the diplomatic community, Afghan cultural institutions and the Afghan Government. Opening addresses were given by Ajmal Maiwandi (CEO Aga Khan Trust for Culture), Sayed Musadiq Khalili (Deputy Minister of Information and Culture), H.E. Nurjehan Mawani (Diplomatic Representative, Aga Khan Development Network), H.E. Nils Hangstveit (Norwegian Ambassador to Afghanistan) and John Falconer (British Library).

The exhibition will be on view in Kabul until 25 June. It is hoped that the exhibition will also tour within Afghanistan, to Herat and/or Balkh.

The mounting of a facsimile version of the Mughals exhibition in Kabul is the second collaboration between the British Library and Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and follows an exhibition of prints, drawings and photographs of Afghanistan from the British Library collections, which was seen in the same location in 2010.

Photograph albums of the installation, exhibition and opening event can be viewed at http://bit.ly/14IB6pM

A few photographs from the exhibition follow.
Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Babur's Gardens, Kabul. Photograph by John FalconerMughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Babur's Gardens, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

 

Installing Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul. Photograph by John Falconer.
Installing Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul
 ccownwork John Falconer

 

Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul. Photograph by John Falconer.
Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

For more images of the installation, exhibition and opening event, see the Flickr album: http://bit.ly/14IB6pM

To read more about the British Library's exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, please see our blog post 'A farewell to the Mughals'.

 

John Falconer
Lead Curator, Visual Arts

01 May 2013

A 16th century Ottoman polymath: Matrakçı Nasuh

Matrakçı Nasuh’s Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb (Or. 7988) and Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh (Add. 23586)

New information about manuscripts in our collections is often made known through the work of dedicated experts who study specific items in the course of their research.  One such case was brought to light through the work of Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın, who successfully identified the author of one of the British Library’s Turkish manuscripts which had previously been described as anonymous (Yurdaydın, 144).  The manuscript in question is Add. 23586, a work written in Ottoman Turkish.  In the British Museum’s late 19th-century catalogue, Charles Rieu describes this work in a fair amount of detail, even identifying it as a ‘portion of the history of the dynasty,’ referring to the Ottomans (Rieu, 46).  However, the work was not definitively identified as part of the historical chronicle written by Matrakçı Nasuh, the famous 16th-century Ottoman polymath, until Dr. Yurdaydın’s work on the manuscript.  Add. 23586 contains the section of Nasuh’s Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh dealing with the reigns of Beyazid II (1447-1512) and Selim I (1512-1520).

The section on Selim I, in which the Ottoman sultan sends an emissary with a letter of warning to the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Tumanbay (Add. 23586, f 156r)
The section on Selim I, in which the Ottoman sultan sends an emissary with a letter of warning to the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Tumanbay (Add. 23586, f 156r)  noc


The author of this manuscript, Matrakçı Nasuh, was an Ottoman Renaissance man. He excelled in martial arts, mathematics, science, painting and literature, among other fields. Matrakçı Nasuh’s name, in fact, comes from the word for ‘cudgel’ or ‘mace’ in Ottoman Turkish, matrāḳ, as he was famous for his virtuosity in employing this weapon and creating games and military training involving the mace, as well as other weapons, even writing a work on the art of swordsmanship, Tuḥfat ül-Ghuzāt (Yurdaydın, 143-144). In addition to the art of chivalry, Matrakçı Nasuh’s contributions to Ottoman court life are numerous. His talents first came to attention of Sultan Süleyman (ruled 1520-1566) as a young officer in the Janissary corps. In 1530, Nasuh translated Ṭabarī’s renowned historical chronicle, Tarīkh al-Rusūl wa al-Mulūk (History of the Prophets and Kings, better known in English as the Annals) from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish and adapted it to include information from Ptolemy and al-Bīrūnī (Ebel, 4). 

This translation/adaptation, which Nasuh called the Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh, came to the attention of the new sultan in 1534 (Yurdaydın, 144). Perhaps in an effort to establish his status as a patron of the arts, as well as a universal monarch drawing his legitimacy from previous Islamic and pre-Islamic rulers, Süleyman commissioned Nasuh to continue his historical chronicle to include the Ottoman dynasty.  It is a copy of this work that is contained in part in the BL’s Turkish manuscript collection in MS. Add. 23586. Our copy of this work is dated AH 960 or AD 1553, making it contemporary with the life of Matrakçı Nasuh, who died in AD 1564.

The colophon of Cami’ üt-Tevarih recording the scribe as Ṣāliḥ ibn-i Ḥasan el-Ḳonyavī (Add. 23586)
The colophon of Cami’ üt-Tevarih recording the scribe as Ṣāliḥ ibn-i Ḥasan el-Ḳonyavī (Add. 23586)  noc

In addition to his contribution to the writing of history and the creation of games with cudgels, Matrakçı Nasuh was also famous as a technician. The most well-known episode of his engineering talent occurred during the circumcision ceremonies of Süleyman’s sons, Mehmed and Selim, when he famously constructed two moving citadels out of paper from which soldiers emerged and staged a battle, as part of the public spectacle and celebration in the Istanbul hippodrome (Yurdaydın, 144). He was also a talented painter and created a new form of art that depicted the topography of cities of the Ottoman Empire with great precision and detail (Ebel, 2-3). 

Beyan-i Menazil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan Suleyman, written circa 1537. (Istanbul University Library 5967)   Wikimedia Commons
Beyan-i Menazil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan Suleyman, written circa 1537. (Istanbul University Library 5967)   Wikimedia Commons  noc

In addition to Matrakçı Nasuh’s work on historiography, the British Library also holds one of his manuscripts on mathematics, his famous treatise, Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb Or. 7988. 

Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb. From the chapter on fractions, in which the division of inheritance is explained (Or. 7988 f. 16r)
Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb. From the chapter on fractions, in which the division of inheritance is explained (Or. 7988 f. 16r)  noc


However, the canonical work on the history of Ottoman mathematical literature, aptly titled Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, lists thirteen extant copies of Matrakçı’s mathematical treatises in manuscript libraries in Turkey and one manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge but does not mention the BL copy (İhsanoğlu, 72-73), meaning that this manuscript will have escaped the attention of many researchers.  It is hoped that by drawing attention to the existence of these manuscripts through our blog that we can create connections between scholars abroad and here in the UK in order to facilitate research on our manuscript collections and to make our collections more accessible.

 

Nur Sobers-Khan,  Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

Follow us on Twitter: @BLAsia_Africa

 

Further reading

Kathryn A. Ebel. ‘Representations of the Frontier in Ottoman Town Views of the Sixteenth Century,’ Imago Mundi 60/1 (2008): 1-22.

Sencer Çorlu, et al. ‘The Ottoman Palace School Enderun and the Man with Multiple Talents, Matrakçı Nasuh,’ Journal of the Korea Society of Mathematical Education Series D: Research in Mathematical Education 14/1 (2010): 19–31

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, (ed). ‘Nāṣūḥ al-Maṭrākī,’ Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, Vol. 1.  Istanbul, 1999.


Charles Rieu.  Catalogue of Turkish Manuscripts in the British Museum.  London, 1888: 45-46.

Nasuhü’s-Silahi Matrakçı. Tarih-i feth-i Şikloş  ve Estergon ve Estolnibelgrad, tarih-i Sultan Bayezid: History of the conquest of Sıklös and Esztérgom and Székesfehérvar, the history of Sultan Bayezid. Ankara, 2001.


Dominique Halbout du Tanney. Istanbul vu par Matrakçı et les miniaturistes du XVIe siècle. İstanbul, 1993.

Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın. ‘Matrakçı Nasuh,’ İslam Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 28, Ankara, 2003: 143-145

29 April 2013

A farewell to the Mughals

British Library's exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire closed on 2 April 2013. The last few days of the exhibition saw a record number of visitors!

Since opening in November 2012, we have been surprised by the overwhelming response from the press and social media. We never anticipated being interviewed by Mark Lawson on Radio 4's Front Row, Sean Rafferty on Radio 3's In Tune, or even GQ India in their November 2012 issue. Other media highlights include the BBC History slide show and video coverage of the Delhi panorama in the Telegraph.

If you missed the exhibition, here are a few photographs of the show

Entrance to the exhibition, by John Falconer Entrance to the exhibition
 ccownwork
John Falconer

The beautiful geometric designs for the jali screens were designed by our exhibition design team - Plaid designs and Bibliotheque Designs.

Introducing the Mughal Empire, by John FalconerIntroducing the Mughal Empire
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John Falconer

The introduction to the exhibition featured an animated map - which documented the geographic expansion and contraction of the empire from 1526-1858.

Ruler's Gallery, by John FalconerRuler's Gallery
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John Falconer

The Ruler's Gallery showcased 15 major Mughal emperors, starting with the founder of the empire Babur (ruled 1530-30) and ending with the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II (ruled 1837-58). In the centre, is the fantastic jade terrapin, which was on loan from the British Museum.

Life in Mughal India, by John Falconer Life in Mughal India
 ccownwork
John Falconer

This section introduced the empire and its administration, foreign and international relations, as well as court life. Highlights in this section included the 17th-century Mughal cavalryman (on loan from the Royal Armouries in Leeds), the journal of Sir Thomas Roe, as well as an instructional poem for pigeon fanciers.

Art of Painting, by John FalconerThe Art of Painting
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John Falconer

A chronological overview of the Mughal tradition of painting, starting with the establishment of the Mughal artistic studio charged with producing illustrated manuscripts and paintings. Highlights of the section include an imperial copy of the Khamsa of Nizami produced for the Emperor Akbar in 1595-96, a copy of the Divan of Hafiz belonging to Emperor Jahangir, as well portraits of princes and princesses and other notable officials. 

Literature, by John FalconerLiterature
 ccownwork
John Falconer

Persian was the main language of culture and administration. Persian literature so flourished in the subcontinent that at times more literary works were produced there than in Iran. This section of the exhibition was devoted to exploring the diversity of languages used at the court as well as introducing notable poets and authors who wrote in Hindi, Urdu and Persian. Here we featured calligraphy by the Mughal emperor Bahahdur Shah 'Zafar' who was an influential poet and calligrapher. 

Science and Medicine, by John FalconerScience and Medicine
 ccownwork
John Falconer

Under Mughal patronage the sciences were actively cultivated and in many fields a fusion of Indian and Islamic scientific traditions yielded significant advances. In researching scientific manuscripts of the period, we discovered the transfer of knowledge from East to West.

Decline of the Empire, by John FalconerDecline of the Empire
 ccownwork
John Falconer

By 1805, the empire had drastically reduced in size. Brutal wars of succession, compounded with the sacking of Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739, were contributing factors. In the last decades of Mughal rule, the political authority of the emperor was restricted; the British controlled the surrounding territories. In 1858, after the failed Uprising against the East India Company, the Mughal dynasty finally came to an end. In this photograph, you can see the 5-metre long panorama of Delhi, painted by the artist Mazhar Ali Khan in 1846.

Lead Curator - Malini Roy - in the gallery after all the exhibits were removed and the towers came down! By Janet Benoy 
Lead Curator - Malini Roy - in the gallery after all the exhibits were removed and the towers came down! 
 ccownwork
Janet Benoy 

The British Library’s Mughal India exhibition was the first to document the entire period, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, through more than 200 exquisite objects. The majority of the exhibits were drawn from the British Library's own collection. For further information, please see:

Accompanying publication: by J.P. Losty and Malini Roy Over 150 colour illustrations | 256 pages | Paperback £19.95 | Hardback £30.00

British Library's Facebook albums (you do not need a Facebook account to see them).

http://tiny.cc/bl-fb-mughals-1
http://tiny.cc/bl-fb-mughals-2
http://tiny.cc/bl-fb-mughals-3
http://tiny.cc/bl-fb-mughals-4
http://tiny.cc/bl-fb-mughals-5
http://tiny.cc/bl-fb-mughals-6

Malini Roy, Lead Curator - Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

 

07 April 2013

Jai Singh’s Observatories

In the preface to his Zīj-i jadīd-i Muḥammad Shāhī (‘Muhammad Shah's new tables’), which I mentioned in my previous post, Maharaja Jai Singh (1688-1743) explained that the contemporary astronomical tables, based on the Zīj-i Ulugh Beg, the Zīj-i Khāqānī, the explanations written by Mulla Chand in Akbar's reign, and by Mulla Farid in the reign of Shahjahan, were none of them completely accurate. As a result he was commissioned by Muhammad Shah to collect new and more correct data. To achieve this, he wrote, he had astronomical instruments made at Delhi, at first similar to those in Samarkand and subsequently others, larger, which he designed himself. Altogether he built observatories in Delhi, Jaipur, Mathura, Benares, and Ujjain.

Jai Singh’s observatory at Delhi, built in 1724. Pencil drawing from a sketch dated 1826 by a British artist in Delhi (British Library WD 3537)
Jai Singh’s observatory at Delhi, built in 1724. Pencil drawing from a sketch dated 1826 by a British artist in Delhi (British Library WD 3537)

 

The observatories in Delhi and Jaipur consist of a number of masonry instruments grouped together in enclosures, usually referred to as Jantar Mantar. These were to some extent inspired by instruments developed in Samarkand by Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), and doubtless Jai Singh hoped to see continued there further work of that kind. By far the most interesting of them is the large sextant enclosed in a chamber in which the sun’s light is admitted through small holes in a brass sheet. At noon the disk of the sun is projected, as in a pinhole camera, onto the scale of the sextant. Since a scale was inscribed on the sextant it was possible not only to examine the disk of the sun, but to determine in this way the true altitude of the sun on any day.

When I was in Jaipur in 1985 I photographed the image of the sun as it was projected on the sextant.

Photo_1
Photo_1


In Photo 1, which shows the largest item there, I have added a label to show two small apertures which allow pinhole images of the sun. The photograph shows a pillar on one side holding up one end of the giant curved sundial; there is another on the opposite side.

Photo_2
Photo_2

Photo 2 is of a model which shows the two apertures clearly; two small dots in the middle of the picture, immediately above the opened doorway.

Photo_3
Photo_3

Photo 3 shows the interior of the large chamber, where one can see the two apertures made in metal plates.

Photo_4
Photo_4

Photo 4 looks in the opposite direction inside the chamber. The large calibrated sextant scale is visible behind the man; there is another on the opposite wall.

Photo_5
Photo_5

Photo 5 shows a close up of the scale. This is not the original calibration, since at some point it was cleaned up by an English engineer.

Photo_6
Photo_6

Photo 6  shows the image of the sun on the scale at noon exactly; the calibration is just visible. This shows how it is possible to get a clear picture of the sun without looking at it directly, which can easily be studied. One can measure the diameter of the disk and fix its altitude over the horizon. This technique goes back to earlier Arabic astronomy, and was of course not original with Jai Singh. I have not myself seen any records of observations made with this instrument except for those made by the Jesuit Father Boudier in Delhi in 1734 (see Mercier, pp. 164-7).


Raymond Mercier, University of Cambridge 

 ccownwork

 

Further reading

R. Mercier, “The astronomical tables of Rajah Jai Singh Sawai”, Indian Journal of History of Science 19 (1984), pp. 143-71




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