THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

138 posts categorized "South Asia"

24 June 2019

Naskhi-divani: a little-recognized sultanate script

Add comment

Today's guest blog is by Vivek Gupta, a historian of Islamic and South Asian art who is completing his PhD thesis “Wonder Reoriented: Manuscripts and Experience in Islamicate Societies of South Asia (ca. 1450–1600),” at SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology. Vivek is currently based at the British Library for a research placement on illumination in Persian Manuscripts.

The art of the book in sultanate India, particularly of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is notable for its eclecticism. Because of the sultanates’ evolving political terrain, the search for a coherent narrative of manuscript patronage and production is a challenge. In comparison to painting, one relatively overlooked feature of sultanate books is calligraphy. Here, we examine a script found in sultanate manuscripts that scholars have started to call naskhī-dīvānī.

Fig 1_1500
Fig. 1. Qur’ān, Sūrat al-Falaq, India, ca. 1450-1500, 26.5 x 18.4 cm (BL Add. 5551, f. 189r). Public domain

Appearing in the late fourteenth century, two styles of writing seldom seen outside of India are bihārī and naskhī-dīvānī. Bihārī is characterized by thick horizontal strokes specifically in terminating letters and thin verticals; diacritical markers are horizontal, rather than at a slant. In the Indian Qur’an manuscript (ca. 1450-1500) shown in Fig. 1, bihārī is in black. Bihārī evidently associates the script with the northeastern Indian region of Bihar[1], but the name remains a mystery, especially as it appears far beyond Bihar in places such as Bengal and the Deccan; by early-modern times it also reached Ethiopia. The British Museum’s catalogue, published in 1879, describes the script in the example here as “large and angular Naskhi” and dates it to the fourteenth century[2]. The name for this script is also unresolved in the catalogue of Khuda Bakhsh Library, Patna. The first volume of 1918 describes the script of a bihārī Qur’an as thuluth-i kūfī. The third volume of 1965 calls the script baḥr, which means ‘sea,’ while the fourth volume of 1995 designates it as khaṭṭ-i bihār (bihārī calligraphy)[3].

Even less understood than bihārī is naskhī-dīvānī. Naskhī-dīvānī, as the name implies, is a combination of a standard naskh and a dīvānī script often used for chancellery documents. In her pioneering research coining naskhī-dīvānī as a calligraphic style, Éloïse Brac de la Perrière describes it as such:

The bar of the kāf often terminates with a small hook, as with the alif that features a lower tail curving left of its vertical line. Some letters like the kāf are almost angular, however the ḥā’ and khā’ in the initial position and the final ligature of the yā’ with letters preceding it have a rounded appearance with a loop; the dāl is large and open[4]

As seen here in red, naskhī-dīvānī is often used in interlinear Persian translations of Qur’ans in bihārī script. It often appears in marginal glosses of such Qur’ans as well. Since it is frequently diminutive or paratextual to the bihārī script, it has a special affinity with bihārī. In many cases, the scribes responsible for both the bihārī text and naskhī-dīvānī paratext would have been the same individual.

One manuscript copied in a naskh script closely resembling a naskhī-dīvānī is an anthology of Persian poetry (Or.4110) assembled during the reign of the Sharqi Sultan Mubarak Shah of Jaunpur (r. 1399-1402). The manuscript is datable to the beginning of the fifteenth century. In these diagrams for reading poetry the script possesses the angularity of the naskhī-dīvānī and distinctive terminating letters (fig. 2). In the spiraling diagrams shown on the right we see a thick black stroke akin to the bihārī script. The orange and red floral decoration and blue roundels also are typical of bihārī Qur’āns. The craftsmen responsible for this manuscript thus were certainly familiar with the calligraphy and decorative programme of a bihārī manuscript.

Fig 2b Fig 2b
Fig. 2. Anthology of Persian Poetry, Jaunpur, India, beginning of the fifteenth century, folio: 37 x 26 cm (BL Or. 4110, ff. 153v-154r). Public domain

Beyond Arabic and Persian manuscripts, naskhī-dīvānī was also the leading script for the earliest Hindavi vernacular premākhyān, or story of love, the Chāndāyan (1379) of Mullāh Dā’ūd. This was a story told in a highly Sanskritized idiom that borrowed from Persian poetics. Although there has been no critical analysis of the paleography of the Chāndāyan manuscripts to date, it is clear that the script of the majority of these manuscripts is a naskhī-dīvānī adapted for the vernacular (fig. 3). Further, the layout of these texts borrows directly from Persian poetry collections (dīvāns). That these manuscripts were produced in a number of regions (Gujarat, Malwa, Delhi-Agra) over the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries attests to the spread of this script. Here, it is worth questioning whether or not the scribes of these vernacular manuscripts were the scribes of bihārī Qur’ans. If this were the case, this offers evidence of a multilingual literate culture in which trained scribes could produce manuscripts in varying scripts.

Fig 3b Fig 3b
Fig. 3. “The Breaking of Chāndā’s Pearl Necklace,” Chāndāyan of Maulānā Dā’ūd, Malwa, India, ca. 1520-40, folio: 24.4 x 14. cm (John Rylands Library Hindustani 1, ff. 132v-133r). Copyright University of Manchester

In addition to manuscripts of deluxe quality, naskhī-dīvānī appears in unillustrated and unilluminated books from the sultanate world. For example, a copy of the Tarjumah-i kitāb-i Bārāhī, the fourteenth-century Persian translation of Varāhamihira’s sixth-century Sanskrit encyclopedia the Bṛhatsaṁhitā, is inscribed in naskhī-dīvānī (fig. 4)[5]. We know the manuscript passed through the Deccan sultanate of Golkonda because it bears a seal of Muhammad Qutb Shah (r.1612-26), so it must date from before the end of his reign.

IO Islamic 1262_f1v
Fig.4. Preface, Tarjumah-i kitāb-i Bārāhī of ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Shams-i Tahānisārī, 29.3 x 16.2 cm (BL IO Islamic 1262, f.1v). Public domain

With the substantial and intriguing evidence of naskhī-dīvānī in Qur’ans, Hindavi poetry, and secular works, this script was widespread in a number of languages and genres. This opens up possible lines of inquiry about the scribes’ level of literacy in these languages. For the moment such questions remain unanswered although while it is clear that there are very few cohesive threads in the manuscript culture of sultanate India, naskhī-dīvānī may well prove to be a primary one.

Further reading:
Brac de la Perrière, Éloïse. “Bihârî et naskhî-dîwânî: remarques sur deux calligraphies de l’Inde des sultanats.” In Ecriture, calligraphie et peinture, Studia Islamica, eds. A.L. Udovitch et H. Touati, Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2003, pp. 81-93.
— “Manuscripts in Bihari Calligraphy: Preliminary Remarks on a Little-Known Corpus.” Muqarnas 33 (2016): 63-90.
—, and Burési, Monique, eds. Le Coran de Gwalior: Polysémie d’un manuscrit à peintures. Paris: Éditions de Boccard, 2016.
Mirza, Sana. “The visual resonances of a Harari Qur’ān: An 18th century Ethiopian manuscript and its Indian connections.” Afriques 08 (2017): 1-25.
Siddiq, Mohammad Yusuf. “An Epigraphical Journey to an Eastern Land.” Muqarnas 7 (1990): 83-108.

With thanks to Emily Shovelton and Eleanor Sims

Vivek Gupta, SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology
 ccownwork


[1] Brac de la Perrière, “Manuscripts in Bihari Calligraphy,” p. 64.
[2] Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol. 1, p. 7.
[3] These catalogues were published from 1918-1995 and are collectively called Miftāḥ al-Kanūz al-Khafiyah.
[4] Brac de la Perrière, “Bihârî et naskhî-dîwânî,” 89. “La barre du kâf se termine souvent par un petit crochet, de même que l’alif est doté d’une queue inférieure placée à gauche du trait vertical de la lettre. Certaines lettres, comme le kâf sont presque anguleuses; a contrario, leâet le khâà l’intiale et la ligature du yâ final avec les lettres précédentes ont l’aspect arrondi d’une boucle; les dâl sont grands et ouverts.” I thank Hugo Partouche for checking my French translation.
[5] See Orthmann, "Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī (occult sciences),” for a description of this text.

20 June 2019

Islamic Painted Page: Growing a Database

Add comment

Today's post is by Stephen Serpell announcing the launch of the new version of his online database Islamic Painted Page, now hosted with the University of Hamburg. In a world where individual institutions still maintain their idiosyncratic approaches to locating and displaying digitised images, this resource is a major breakthrough.

Since its launch in 2013, Islamic Painted Page (IPP) has grown into a major online database of Islamicate arts of the book, with over 42,000 references to paintings, illuminations and bindings from over 270 collections around the globe – of which the British Library is one of the most important.

Headerimage

IPP is found at www.islamicpaintedpage.com and it does two things. First, it enables users to locate and compare works worldwide using a single database, displaying images wherever possible; and second, it signposts users onward to more authoritative sources, with hotlinks direct to the specific image pages of collection websites where available, and page-specific references for printed publications.

The website enables users to search by picture description, collection, accession number, date, place of origin, manuscript title or author, or publication – or any combination of these. So it is possible, for example, to find with a single search 77 different interpretations of the famous scene where Khusrau sees Shirin bathing, with IPP itself showing images of 36 of them.

4khusraus
4 out of 77: Five British Library versions of “Khusrau sees Shirin bathing” (BL Add. 6613, f.42r, IO Islamic 138, f.75r, Or. 2265, f.53v, Or. 2933, f.19v)

Or one could look into the development of non-figurative illumination and page decoration during the reign of Sultan Ḥusayn Bāyqarā in Herat, 1469-1506 (70 different results); or search under an accession number to locate reproductions of works not currently published online, such as the paintings from the Topkapi Royal Turkman Khamsah H762; or search by a particular classical author, for example to study the star charts in different manuscripts of the Ṣuwar al-kawākib of al-Ṣūfī. And one can even search the contents of a publication, perhaps to check if it contains relevant illustrations, or to cross-check for metadata that was left out of the printed text (IPP is good for filling in missing details).

IPP aims to help users find not just images of works, but also articles and commentaries about them; so its search results list all the publication references it holds on each item, with the collection website location topmost if one exists. This means that well-known works return multiple “hits” in a search; for example the Miʻraj painting in the British Library’s celebrated Khamsah of Shah Tahmasp (Or. 2265, f.195r) is one of the most-published of all Islamicate miniatures and comes up with 25 references. However very few works achieve such fame, and in fact the database currently holds about 42,500 references for its total of about 30,000 separate items - so on average, each item only appears in 1.4 publications.

2
Multiply published: “The Miʻraj of the Prophet” from the Khamsah of Shah Tahmasp (BL Or. 2265 f.195r). Public Domain

This illustrates a further use of the database; its very large size means that it could be used as a starting point for statistical analysis, for example to chart the production of particular illustrated works against place of production or by date, or how the popularity of certain scenes has varied over time.

Mainsearch1

Finding needles in haystacks: Islamic Painted Page, main search page

The database originated simply from one individual’s frustration over the difficulties of studying Islamicate miniature paintings and illuminations, since they are dispersed all over the planet and references to them are scattered throughout a daunting corpus of literature; and even though many are now published online, it can still be very laborious to find relevant links. This led to a personal database that soon grew to point where it seemed likely to be useful to others, if only it could be placed online. A grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation made the website possible in 2013 with an initial 12,300 entries. Subsequent support from the Islamic Manuscript Association in 2015 improved the website’s utility for manuscript studies, including proper attention to transliteration. By this time the database had already grown to 20,600 references and had built in item-specific links to VIAF, WORLDCAT and FIHRIST so that users can just click to find fuller, authoritative information on authors and works, print publications, and - for UK items - manuscript details. Needless to say, a private sideline had by then become a mega-hobby.

However the most exciting subsequent step has been adding actual images of the paintings, illuminations and bindings wherever possible. Copyright prevents the database from reproducing illustrations in printed works, but IPP also covers works published online; and in many cases this has enabled IPP to show images that have been published as Creative Commons or Public Domain, or where a collection has given special permission.


KSBsearchres-1
Example search results (from a global search for “Khusrau sees Shirin bathing”)


KSBsearchres-4
Flyout details for one result (from a global search for “Khusrau sees Shirin bathing”)

It was a particular pleasure in 2018 to receive permission to incorporate images for the British Library, since it houses one of the world’s most important collections of Islamicate manuscripts and has been digitizing many of its finest holdings. Together with coverage of 19 other collections, IPP is now able to display thumbnails and larger images for about 50% of its references so far; and it is the inclusion of images that transforms the usefulness of the site for most researchers. It should be stressed that every thumbnail and every flyout image in IPP acknowledges the collection source and provides a folio-specific weblink to the relevant collection webpage, together with a recommendation to proceed to the collection website for authoritative images and other details.

Along the way, IPP has had to confront some difficult issues. Users need to be able to search efficiently, especially if they are trying to find a painting of a particular scene; but this requires consistent descriptions, whereas different authorities give different titles to the same scene (eg Khusrau sees Shirin bathing; Khosrow spies Shirin bathing; Shirin bathes observed by Khusrau….). To help manage this, IPP uses just one consistent description for each scene, but also holds the corresponding alternative descriptions. This ensures that users who cannot find what they want among the “consistent descriptions” can still search among the “alternative descriptions” if necessary.

The price for this simple-sounding device is that IPP not only has to check for consistent titling across the entire database for every new entry, but also has to maintain entire sub-databases of descriptions listing every scene encountered in each of about 30 of the most popular painting cycles, such as those illustrating the Khamsah of Niẓāmī (where artists have represented over 300 different scenes), the Haft Awrang of Jāmī and the Shāhnāmah of Firdawsī (which extends to over 1,000 scenes and where the work of the Cambridge Shāhnāmah project must be fully acknowledged). Hobbyists, beware!

RAS239-7r RAS239-16v RAS239-32v RAS239-44r
Four scenes from the Shāhnāmah painting cycle (Royal Asiatic Society MS 239, ff. 7r, 16v, 32v, 44r)

Different authorities also ascribe different dates and places of origin to the same items. IPP respects this but it does result in inconsistent metadata between the relevant IPP references. And even authorities can make mistakes, or fail to provide essential details, and publications can suffer misprints; IPP has filled in a lot of missing accession numbers and corrected a lot of wrong ones.

IPP includes thousands of references to non-figurative illuminated pages and bindings, as well as covering figurative pictures; and an important upgrade is in hand to improve the detail of its 2,500 references to decorated Qurʼan pages.

4nonfig
Non-figurative examples – bindings, illuminations, decoration (BL Add. 16561, Add. 18579, IO Islamic 843 f.34v, Or. 12988 f.2r)

IPP is an academic resource and its future clearly needs to lie with an academic institution, not with an individual. For that reason, about a year ago IPP began a relationship with the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures that aims to enrich the database’s features and extend the coverage of works published online as well as in print. One of the first fruits of this collaboration has been the re-launch of the IPP website hosted and supported by the University of Hamburg, with a new look and a number of improvements to the user interface.

Meanwhile the database continues to grow and it is planned to include more images, enlarge its coverage of collections and secondary sources from the Muslim world, and extend its geographical scope. In this way, it is hoped that IPP can act as a multi-disciplinary resource and assist not only art historians and manuscript scholars, but also contribute to digital humanities and wider cultural studies.

The author would like to thank Dr. Barbara Brend, Professor Charles Melville and Dr. Teresa Fitzherbert, as well as his own wife Elizabeth, without whose support, encouragement and patience Islamic Painted Page would never have come into being.

Stephen Serpell, Islamic Painted Page
Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC), University of Hamburg
stephen.serpell@uni-hamburg.de
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4547af8200c-pi

10 June 2019

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

Add comment

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

Gen-head-bl-1003

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 June 2019: 13.45 – 14.45

Forgotten Masterpieces of Indian Art for East India Company

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

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

 

Sunday, 16 June 2019: 16.15 - 17.15

From Hieroglyphs to Emojis

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

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

Presented by Bagri Foundation.

 

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

 

22 May 2019

'South Asia Series' talks from June to October 2019

Add comment

‘South Asia Seriesʼ in Summer and Autumn 2019 is packed with exciting and diverse set of speakers and talks based on the British Library ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ Project and South Asia Collection. Subjects range from credit relationships in the South Asian countryside, archives and the circulation of circus histories and colonial animals, war-time experiences of workers at the Calcutta Port, Partition refugees and national development in India, women writers of the Progressive Movement in north India, Jagadish Bose and the politics of science in colonial India, letters and photographs from World War II, to screen-writing practices in the first Indian talkies and early modern masculine sexual health! The speakers include scholars and academics in the UK and elsewhere, who will share their original and cutting-edge research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Knowledge Centre at the British Library, between 6.15-7.30pm and will be free for all to attend.

1
Agricultural Banks for India by W Wedderburn (Bombay, 1880?) (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa Tr. 621(i))

On 10th June 2019 Meghna Chaudhuri from New York University (NYU) will talk about credit relationships between 1870 and 1905. The talk entitled Cultivating Value in the South Asian Countryside will discuss how the colonial construction of the irrational peasant extends to the image of the “traditional” peasant which continues in contemporary development discourse. It reveals the significance of experimental financial interventionism in India from the 1870s to the global emergence of a discourse on incomplete integration of agrarian hinterlands to the global economy.


Bhattacharyya
Fortified Land from 1793-1916 Report on the Hooghly River and its Head-waters: Vol 2 Maps and Plates. Calcutta, 1919, Map 17 (BL IOR/V/27/732/15)

On 17th June 2019, Debjani Bhattacharyya who teaches at Drexel University, Philadelphia will speak on the history of the growth and development of the city of Calcutta in the nineteenth century through the aspects of land-making and land-reclamation as urbanization. Taking the example of the growth and settlement of Calcutta in the swamps of Bengal, this talk will explore how we came to inhabit land-making and land-reclamation as urbanization through the nineteenth-century. In her talk  A History of Swamps, or How We Built Sinking Cities?, she will use a couple of case studies beginning from 1770s to argue that property and its many instantiations in law and economy became a tool for transforming the landscape and ecology of the delta in creating Calcutta.

3
Coolies loading coal at the Calcutta Port (BL Asia Pacific & Africa V 7883)

On 15th July 2019 we have Prerna Agarwal, a postdoctoral fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) speaking on The Political Potency of Wartime Experiences of Workers at the Calcutta Port. With the opening of China-Burma-India theatre of the World War II in the summer of 1942, Calcutta Port became one of the key ports for the Allies. This talk in focussing on the Port labour during the war will reflect on the everyday and momentous experiences of the labouring section of the population as they shaped labour politics in the crucial years before Indian independence.

4
Refugee Camp, New Delhi, 1947 (BL Document Supply m08/.29565)

Our first book salon within the South Asia series will bring together historian Uditi Sen (Nottingham University), Tanika Sarkar (JNU), Joya Chatterji (University of Cambridge) and others in a roundtable discussion entitled Partition Refugees and National Development in India on 29th July 2019. Uditi Sen’s recent book, Citizen Refugee, weaves together archival research and oral history to explore how the rehabilitation of Bengali refugees became the site of the evolution of a pan-Indian governmentality of rehabilitation. This roundtable discussion will explore the key insights and contributions of this study, ranging from the role played by caste and gender in moulding the experiences of refugees, to hitherto unexplored legacies of partition in patterns of governance, discourses of citizenship and in popular politics in India.

Shaukat
Shaukat Kaifi (1928-)
(BL Asia, Pacific & Africa YP.2006.a.7145)

On 5th August 2019 we have Farha Noor from University of Freiburg/University of Heidelberg speaking on women writers of the Progressive Movement in north India. The talk entitled Witnessing History, Writing Nostalgia: the Progressive Women will investigate the entanglements of genre and gender while rethinking Nostalgia and its relationship with forms of life-writing. Furthermore, editorial intervention like processes of selection, collection and translation will be considered to probe into the concept of Witness and tease out the politics of text as performance. Yaad ki Rehguzar by Shaukat Kaifi, Hum Sath The by Hamida Salim and Humsafar by Hameeda Akhtar are some of the works that will be discussed in this talk.

6
Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa V 21994)

Later in the month Christin Hoene, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Kent, will be speaking on the philosophy of science in colonized India. The talk entitled, Jagadish Chandra Bose and the Politics of Science in India on 12th August 2019 will focus on Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937), the Indian scientist and polymath, who first gained international reputation for his work as a physicist in the 1890s. Bose recalled in a speech at the University of Punjab in 1924, the prevailing prejudice in the west was that “no great contribution to exact knowledge could be made in India, since the Indian temperament was merely speculative and dominated by exuberant imagination”. He argued that imagination and science are not mutually exclusive, and criticised the strict disciplinary boundaries of western science and instead promoted a holistic philosophy of science, thus creating a philosophy of Indian science that was resolutely independent.

Soldiers
Sikh soldiers at practice on a defence range at Singapore (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa P/V 1099)

On 23rd September 2019 we have Diya Gupta from King’s College London speaking on World War II Letters and Photographs: Recovering Indian Experiences. Soldiers’ letters were written in Hindi, Gurmukhi, Urdu, Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil, and often dictated to scribes by Indian non-literate sepoys. They were then translated for the censor, who compiled quotations from the letters into a report testifying to the Indian soldiers’ ‘morale’. This talk will examine the relationship between censorship and the text, particularly as the latter shifts from the verbal to the transcribed, Indian vernaculars to the English language. It will explore how we receive insights into the emotional lives of colonial soldiers through the censored word.

Untitled
Silver Jubilee souvenir. (Indian talkie, 1931-56.) (BL General Reference Collection X.902/3119)

Rakesh Sengupta, a doctoral candidate at SOAS will be speaking on Screenwriting Practices during the First Indian Talkies on 21st October 2019. The widespread circulation of screenwriting manuals for amateurs constituted a pedagogical infrastructure separate from, but parallel to, the other infrastructural flow of ideas and professionals from the Parsi theatre into the Indian film industry. The autobiographical accounts of some of the first playwright-turned-screenwriters bear testimony to the spaces they negotiated for themselves in the talkies after a successful stint with the Parsi stage. The talk shall explore the practice and discourse of screenwriting during the first Indian talkies through a study of the margins of print, theatre and film history.

Untitled
‘Yogini in the Court’s Majalis’, from Laẕẕat al-nisā’ (BL Add.MS.17489)

We will end our talks for this year on 28th October 2019 with Sonia Wigh from the University of Exeter speaking on Hungry Stomach, Heated Body: Exploring Early Modern Masculine Sexual Health. This talk will discuss Persian textual sources produced between c.1650-1750, to argue that impotence or lack of/waning desire, was one of the major anxieties embedded in early modern constructions of South Asian masculinities. It will demonstrate how individual sexual medical health was intrinsically linked not only with Indo-Persian humoral theories but with the desire to increase sexual power and vigour (quwwat-i bāh). The talk will also comment on the gradience in the production and consumption of sexual medical knowledge in the eighteenth century.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. For further information, please contact Dr. Priyanka Basu, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’. Please do come along, listen and participate!

Priyanka Basu, Asian and African Collections ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’

26 April 2019

Vijayanagara Research Project at the British Library

Add comment

In January 2019 the British Library began a new research project with the Centre for Art and Archaeology (CA&A) at the American Institute of Indian Studies in New Delhi, focused on our Visual Arts collections. The project has been funded through a grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the project is part of  the Rutherford Fund – a major UK Government investment launched in 2017 to promote international research collaboration.

The Vijayanagara Research Project examines both the Visual Arts collection of material (prints, drawings and photographs) related to Hampi Vijayanagara, a UNESCO World Heritage site in south India, including a recently acquired collection of modern architectural and topographical plans of the site produced by Dr George Michell and Dr John Fritz over a 30 year period. Sagera Kazmi, the Rutherford Fellow hosted by the British Library is researching and editing the metadata for the collections that will be made available later this year through Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

IMG_4772
Sagera Kazmi with John Fritz (left) and George Michell (right) reviewing the original drawings in February 2019.

On 25th March, we hosted a a day long workshop to bring together colleagues and researchers from relevant institutions who work on Hindu temple architecture and sacred spaces in South Asia. Participants included Dr Purnima Mehta (Director General, AIIS), Dr Vandhana Sinha (Director, CA&A), Rizvi Syed (Librarian, CA&A), George Michell, John Fritz, Richard Blurton (British Museum), Nick Barnard (V&A), Crispin Branfoot (SOAS), as well as colleagues from the British Library. The aim of the workshop was to introduce the project and provide a forum to discuss how the VRP can have an impact on future academic research, digital humanities and cultural heritage management.

IMG_5404
Sagera Kazmi introducing her research at the British Library's workshop. Also pictured, Luisa Elena Mengoni (Head of Asian and African Collections, BL), Alan Sudlow (Head of Research, BL), Crispin Branfoot (SOAS), and Nick Barnard (V&A).

IMG_5420
John Falconer (British Library), Vandana Sinha (CA&A) and Purnima Mehta (AIIS) looking at photographic collections.

As part of the day, Sagera Kazmi, the Rutherford Fund Research Fellow who is currently being hosted by the British Library from the AIIS CA&A, presented material from the VRP collections, including some of those produced by Michell and Fritz. Work undertaken by Michell, Fritz and their teams since 1986, has resulted in over  pencil and ink drawings of the architectural features of numerous buildings and temples found at Hampi Vijayanagara which have recently been donated to the British Library. These important archaeological records provide a chronological continuation of the Library’s established historical collections related to this site and will act as an important resource for researchers in a variety of fields.

IMG_5482
Pencil drawing showing the north elevation of the Raja Mahal, Chandragiri, scale 1:100. 

Wider collection items were also displayed during the workshop, including a plan of the site produced between 1780 and 1820. This map, part of the MacKenzie collection, shows the topography and fortifications found at the site during Colin MacKenzie’s survey of the Ceded Districts in the early nineteenth century. Other collection items included watercolour paintings of some of the buildings at the site and also photographs from the Archaeological Survey of India photograph series.

WD 2646
Map of Vijayanagara from the Mackenzie Collection, c.1780-1820. British Library, WD 2646. Noc

 

Cam Sharp Jones, Sagera Kazmi and Malini Roy 

15 April 2019

The 'Gilbert artist': a possible pupil of Sita Ram

Add comment

When writing an essay recently on the artist Sita Ram for a forthcoming exhibition in the Wallace Collection in London of great artists of the ‘Company’ period, I started rethinking to what extent he influenced Kolkata artists and indeed artists of other Indian schools. There is of course his obvious influence on the beginnings of the ‘picturesque’ school in Delhi asociated with Ghulam ‘Ali Khan and his circle, but Sita Ram’s own picturesque style, the culmination of the Murshidabad style with its loose, expressive brushwork, seemed to have had no followers (for Sita Ram see Losty 2015); and Kolkata painting thereafter reverted to a harder style exemplified by Shaikh Muhammad Amir and his circle.  Yet there is one artist, little known, who perhaps did work with Sita Ram and followed in his footsteps in producing picturesque topographical drawings with occasional forays into portraiture and natural history painting. This was an as yet anonymous artist who worked for Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Raleigh Gilbert (1785-1853).

Add Or 4747 copy 2
Bridge of boats across the Ganga at Kanpur and Major Gilbert’s house. By Sita Ram, 1814-15.  BL Add.Or.4747 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

As Mildred Archer remarked in 1972, Gilbert and his wife Isabella belonged to a circle which was intensely interested in drawing and painting. Gilbert began his distinguished career in India with the 15th Bengal Native Infantry in 1801. From June 1812 to May 1813 he was A.D.C. to Sir George Nugent, the Commander-in-Chief, whose wife was an avid collector of paintings by Indian artists (see Add.Or.2593, Add.Or.2600, and the great volume of Agra architectural drawings, Stowe Or. 17).  On 1 June 1814 he married Isabella Ross, whose sister Eliza in the following year married Charles D’Oyly, the skilled amateur artist and later patron of Indian artists in Patna.  The sisters were cousins of Flora Hastings, wife of Lord Hastings, the Governor-General 1813-23, who were soon to embark on their long journey up-country, for which they employed Sita Ram to make a visual record of what they saw.  In 1814 Gilbert was barrack-master at Kanpur when Hastings and his party arrived in October. Indeed Sita Ram included, so the inscription tell us, a view of the Gilberts’ house above the River Ganga when depicting the newly erected bridge of boats to enable easier communication with the encampment of the new Nawab of Awadh, Ghazi al-Din Haidar, who had just arrived on the north bank of the river, which was part of Awadhi territory.

Gilbert and his wife then would certainly have been aware of Sita Ram and his place in the household of his wife’s cousin, and possibly even then they started commissioning their own paintings. Gilbert returned to Kolkata as Commandant of the Calcutta Native Militia, while Charles D’Oyly was the Collector there 1812-21. Besides owning a number of standard sets by Kolkata artists (still in private hands when examined by Mildred Archer), the Gilbert couple’s most interesting collection documented the next stage of their life when Gilbert was Commandant of the Ramgarh Battalion based on Hazaribagh (Jarkhand) from 1822 to 1828.  From 1825 to 1827, he was also Political Agent for the South West Frontier with head-quarters at Sambalpur (Odisha).  The BL has fifteen large drawings from this period, twelve acquired in the early 1960s (Add.Or.2514-25, see Archer 1972, no. 56), while three more were acquired privately by the Archers and entered the collection later (Add.Or.3949-3951). Seven other drawings from the set were acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (I.S. 10-1963 to I.S. 16-1963, see Archer 1992, no. 74).

The artist the Gilberts employed was trained in the Murshidabad style as practised at Kolkata, favouring the yellow and blue tonality often found in that style as opposed to the pink and brown favoured by Sita Ram. He must have been part of Sita Ram’s artistic circle in Kolkata and received the same sort of training in watercolour techniques.

Add Or 2517 copy
The Gilberts’ bungalow at Sambalpur on the bank of the Mahanadi. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2517 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

He had already mastered the picturesque style when he makes his first appearance and he uses the same techniques as Sita Ram, of soft, impressionistic brushwork and the tricks of aerial perspective. Unusually he sometimes employs a very low viewpoint showing off his grasp of recession, as in his view towards the Gilberts’ house in Sambalpur on the bank of the Mahanadi, and he uses the same viewpoint in his view of the fort at Sambalpur.

Add Or 2519
The fort at Sambalpur on the banks of the Mahanadi River. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2519 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Here the artist is demonstrating his grasp of aerial perspective.  Little now seems to remain of the fort or the palace within it. The Rajas of Sambalpur, Chauhan Rajputs, had been dispossessed by the Marathas in 1797, but the captive Raja Jait Singh was restored by the British in 1817 (see O’Malley 1909 for details of this period in Sambalpur).  His young son Maharaj Sai succeeded in 1820.  The last Raja died without an heir in 1849 and the state lapsed to the government.

Add Or 2521
The old palace in the fort at Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2521. https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Again in his view of the palace in the fort he uses a typical picturesque device, making use of a tree on the left as a repoussoir to throw the foreground into shadow.  Our artist also follows in Sita Ram’s footsteps in occasionally including his patron in his paintings.  Thus in his view of the palace above, we see Gilbert on a caparisoned elephant approaching the palace for an audience with the young raja and his advisers.

Add Or 2520
Temple of Maa Samaleswari in the fort, Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2520 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Sambalpur owes its name to Maa Samala or Samaleswari, a mother goddess of great sanctity in western Odisha and Chhatisgarh.   The temple has a square sanctum wherein the goddess resides and a vaulted arcade surrounding it for worshippers to perform pradakshina,features which are carefully depicted by our artist. Here he also includes features of village life – a cattle shelter, a little shrine with a worshipper, men working a well, and a sepoy of the Ramgarh Battalion standing guard outside a hut where other sepoys must have been stationed judging by the rifles stacked neatly outside.

Add.Or.2522
Gilbert and other British officers being entertained with a nautch by the Raja of Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2522 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

 Later in the series is a lively painting of Gilbert and his staff attending a nautch organised by the young Raja, who sits between his guests and his advisers all in European chairs. Our artist’s elongated figures like those of Sita Ram are derived of course from earlier Murshidabad painting, but in his familiarity with internal light sources in his paintings and in his treatment of the dark sky our artist comes close to Sita Ram’s work in his night scenes. 

Add Or 2525 copy
Landscape with huge banyan tree beside a river. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28. BL Add.Or.2525 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

He follows Sita Ram again in his penchant for making great trees the subject of his pictures. A great banyan tree beside a river with villagers bathing, unfortunately uninscribed, dominates another of our paintings.  It recalls in its massive and dominating bulk with small figures scurrying around beneath it Charles D’Oyly’s contemporary painting of the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya (Losty 1995, fig. 16) and its associated drawings done in 1824/25.  D’Oyly and his wife passed through Hazaribagh, Gilbert’s permanent station at this time, early in 1823 on their way overland to Patna (sketches in the D’Oyly album BL WD2060, Archer 1969, pp. 163-68) and must have stayed with Lady D’Oyly’s cousin Isabella, since D’Oyly drew her bungalow there. The D’Oylys would have been back again at Christmas 1824 when several drawings of the Bodh Gaya temple and its great tree were added to the album.  All in all it is very likely that our artist saw D’Oyly’s work in this field and was influenced by it.  A second great banyan tree near Surguja (Chhatisgarh) is the subject of another of his pictures (BL Add.Or.2523, Archer 1972, pl. 31), but this is more in Sita Ram’s manner and is less overwhelming. Surguja was another of the small tributary states on the borders of Orissa, Jarkhand and Chhatisgarh – the view of the palace there is in the V&A (I.S. 15-1963).

Add.Or.3949
Gilbert’s munshi and diwan working in Gilbert’s bungalow.  By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3949 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Occasional portraiture too comes within our artist’s purview, albeit less successfully, as in a double portrait of two men who appear to be his diwan and munshi, the men who looked after Gilbert’s official accounts and Persian language correspondence.  Another of his group portraits is of the Gilberts’ ayah and their table servants in red livery (BL Add.Or.2524, Archer 1972, pl. 31).

Add.Or.3950
Gilbert’s race-horse, ‘Beggar Girl’, standing on the race course at Hazaribagh. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3950 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

The natural world too could engage our artist’s attention, as in his depiction of Gilbert’s racehorse standing on the course at Hazaribagh. Like Sita Ram he is concerned with a naturalistic approach reproducing the animal’s volume and skin covering rather than anatomical details.  Gilbert was famous as a patron of the turf and could organise races anywhere he found himself posted.  It would seem certain that the walls of the Gilberts’ bungalows would have been covered with prints of famous racehorses posed against landscapes, by artists such as Stubbs and his successors, whose compositions Gilbert would have directed his artist to follow.  This is one of the earliest of the genre in Kolkata painting, and perhaps experimental, in that the right foreleg is wrongly positioned (the legs are often wrongly positioned in traditional Indian horse portraits too), a type that was later brought to perfection by Shaykh Muhammad Amir. 

Also in the BL collections are two other drawings of his racehorses which were given to James William Macnabb, son of another Ross cousin Jean Macnabb, when Gilbert was Military Member of the Supreme Council in Kolkata in 1852-53 (BL Add.Or.4305-06). On leaving Hazaribagh in 1828, he took a long leave until 1844.  When he returned to duty he was stationed in the north-west at Agra and Ferozepur and took part in both Sikh wars.  Since both these portraits of horses were done by a Kolkata artist but set against a slightly hilly landscape, he must have taken this artist up-country with him after his return to India.  He does not seem to have been based in Kolkata again until 1852.

Add.Or.3951
A pink lotus (Nelumbo nucifera/family Nelumbanaceae).  By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3951 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Our artist could also turn his hand to botanical drawings as in his pink lotus. He shows the full plant including stem and root, with close-ups of leaf, flower, fruit and seed of a particularly fine specimen, but like Sita Ram before him he was more interested in endowing the flower and leaf with shade than with the niceties of botanical requirements. His drawing of a maize plant somewhat similarly arranged, showing the full plant with details of leaf, flower and cob, is in the V&A (I.S. 16-1963).

As so often with Indian artists, whether working under Indian or British patronage, we have no documentation to help with the identification of Gilbert’s artist, and his name never appears on any of his works. It seems likely that he was a junior colleague of Sita Ram venturing down the same ‘picturesque’ path, but Sita Ram was a special case whose extraordinary talent accorded him special treatment and recognition; but we still do not know where he was trained before he appears with the Hastings in 1814 and what happened to him after they had both left India by 1823.  The ‘Gilbert artist’ is even more anonymous and we only know of his existence for a tantalisingly brief glimpse from 1822 to 1828.

 

J.P. Losty, Lead Curator, Visual Arts (Emeritus)  ccownwork

 

References

Archer, M., British Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1969

Archer, M., Company Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1972

Archer, M., Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1992

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

Losty, J.P., Sita Ram: Picturesque Views of India – Lord Hastings’s Journey from Kolkata to the Punjab, 1814-15, Roli Books, New Delhi, 2015

O’Malley, L.S.S., District Gazetteers of British India – Sambalpur, Calcutta, 1909

 

26 March 2019

Musicians and Dancers in the India Office Records

Add comment

This guest post by Katherine Butler Schofield houses the illustrations for the podcast “A Bloody Difficult Woman: Mayalee Dancing Girl vs. The East India Company” produced by Chris Elcombe. It was part of a series of presentations at the British Library in 2018 for Katherine’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship programme “Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India. Special thanks to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce the detail below from MS 380 of the courtesans’ kite dance.

01_SambharLoading1870_Photo_355:1(60)
Loading salt on the new British leases at Sambhar Lake, Jaipur state, 1870s (BL Photo 355/1(60)
 noc

I was going through the East India Company’s Foreign Department Proceedings Index, Volume 1840–49 K–Z, in the National Archives of India, when I first found her: “Pension to Meyalee[1], dancing-girl, from Jeypore share of Sambhur lake funds.” It was my first foray into the official records of British colonial rule in India, and I was there to see if I could find any trace of the Indian singers and dancers that we know, from paintings and travel writings of the time, filled the long nights and dreams of many an East India Company man in the early decades of the nineteenth century. So far I’d had little luck. And yet here she was—Mayalee Dancing Girl. But not just Mayalee: a whole set of musicians, dancers and other performers named as “pensioners” of the salt revenues of Sambhar lake in eastern Rajasthan.

02_PensionersMonetary_1500
“Statement of pensions and endowments paid from Sambhur Treasury on account of the Jyepoor State from 1 January to 30 June 1839.” Section 2: cash payments monthly and on account of festivals (IOR Board of Control General Records, India Political Department, October 1838–1840)
 noc

For a brief period between 1835 and 1842, the East India Company sequestered the revenue and salt factories of the Sambhar salt lake that rightfully belonged to the independent Rajput states of Jaipur and Jodhpur. In 1818, faced with the Company’s overwhelming military might, the major Rajput states signed a treaty in which the British offered them political and military “protection” in exchange for heavy cash tribute. By the early 1830s, Jaipur and Jodhpur were swimming in debt and refusing to cooperate with the British. So, from 1835 until 1842, the Company seized the lake at Sambhar, which is still one of India’s largest commercial sources of salt.

03_Timeline
  Timeline

04_SambharImpGazSm
Imperial Gazetteer of India
, 1909 ed., vol. 26, Atlas: detail of “Rajputana”, p. 34
 noc

The Sambhar lake accounts here in the British Library include long lists of institutions and individuals who had historical rights in the salt revenues of Sambhar, in salt as well as cash. And among the individual recipients of both cash and salt was a courtesan, or “dancing girl”, who was clearly more important than all the other performers at Sambhar. Her name was Mayalee.

What does Mayalee’s appearance in the Company’s official records tell us about interactions between the British colonial state and the Indians whose lives they were increasingly encroaching upon during the 1830s and 40s? In this blogpost, which accompanies my podcast on the Sambhar lake affair, I will look more generally at where musicians and dancers appear in the official records of the East India Company held in the India Office collections of the British Library, and in the National Archives of India.

Indian musicians and dancers appear in official colonial records only rarely, and when they do, what they have to tell us tends not to be about music. Instead, performers’ appearances in the official records open up unusual windows onto much wider concerns.

C A Bayly once wrote that, by the mid nineteenth century (Empire and Information (CUP, 1997), p. 55):

The British were able…to penetrate and control the upper level of networks of runners and newsletter writers with relative ease…yet they excluded themselves from affective and patrimonial knowledges …British understanding, revealingly, was weakest in regard to music and dance [etc.]…though such concerns are near the heart of any civilization.

Bayly’s statement is not necessarily true of individuals such as Sophia Plowden and her fellow-travellers. But it does seem to have been true of the official colonial state. In the 1830s and 40s, the cultural heartlands of North India’s elite musical traditions remained the Mughal court in Delhi and the autonomous princely states of Lucknow, Rajasthan, Gwalior, etc.—though we mustn’t forget there was thriving demand for these arts in the colonial port cities of Calcutta and Bombay, too. An overview of the indexes to the records of the Company’s dealings with the autonomous states c.1830–58 is telling[2]. It indicates that the colonial state was largely uninterested in performing artists; except when they were:

  • perpetrators or victims of crime or disorder, or otherwise involved in court cases;
  • scandalously mixed up in state politics;
  • included as a budget or expenditure line in the household accounts of deposed rulers who were now Company pensioners; or
  • beneficiaries of wills, pensions, land grants, or other forms of disbursements—such as salt in the case of Sambhar.

Criminal and civil cases in which performers faced Company judicial proceedings overwhelmingly seem to have concerned courtesans. This suggests just how wealthy and important courtesans like Mayalee were in the early nineteenth century, but also the general distrust with which they were viewed for their apparently mercenary motives, as well as their physical vulnerability. The British Library’s incomplete set of newsletters (akhbārāt) from Delhi c.1810–30 (Add. 24,038, Add. 23,148–9, Add. 22,624) tell us for example that, on 11 May 1830, the Resident of Delhi, Francis Hawkins (Pernau and Yunus Jaffrey, p.231):

went to the Shish Mahal [in the palace] and held the session of the appeal court. He heard the case of the Raja of Kishangarh and Rasiya, the tawai’f. [The Raja claimed Rs 18,000 from Rasiya and she refused to pay. He] said that he had given her Rs 1,000 and a shawl in advance and that she had no claim to further payment.

05_Lucknow_Courtesans_1500
Two courtesans perform the “kite” dance. Plowden Album. Lucknow, 1787–8
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380. All Rights Reserved

Numerous reports of highway robbery and even murder indicate how vulnerable tawā’ifs were to attack on the bandit-infested roads of Upper India. As itinerant professionals who moved from patron to patron carrying plentiful jewels and cash, they were clearly at risk even when they travelled together in large troupes[3].

Certain groups and individual performers became targets of Company suppression for their supposedly malignant interference in the political affairs of autonomous states. The Company’s most famous intervention was in Lucknow in 1848, when the Resident, Colonel Richmond, forced the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, to stop appointing “Singers and other improper persons” to government positions, and made him send his notorious favourite, the sitār-player Ghulam Raza, into exile because of his “evil” influence[4]. But of particular relevance to Jodhpur and Jaipur in the 1830s was the Company’s attempt to destroy the power of the Rajput rulers’ customary bards and praise singers, the Bhatts and Charans, whom the British saw as “rapacious” “extortionists” with far too much sway over Rajput politics (see BL MSS Eur D814. Ludlow papers, c.1855).

06_Bhattp129
Bhatt. From James Skinner's Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Delhi, 1825 (BL Add. 27,255, f. 129v)
 noc

In this case, the British intended to take down these ritual specialists. Elsewhere, the loss of musicians’ livelihoods was probably unintended, though still devastating. What happened to the Nawab Nazim of Murshidabad’s department of entertainment in 1773 is salutary. Music departments existed as bureaucratic units of most princely states long before the British, e.g. the gunijān-khāna or “house of virtuosos” in Jaipur, and the arbāb-i nishāt or “department of entertainment” in Mughal Delhi, Murshidabad, and Hyderabad. They sometimes also appear in Company records as lines in the household accounts of recently deposed rulers, including those for the Nazim of Murshidabad (deposed 1765), which remained a major centre of Mughal musical culture until the 1770s.

07_BesyaTashrihp137
Besya
. The accompanying description of the classes of courtesan includes the bhagtans of the Rajput courts (BL Add. 27,255, f. 137v)
 noc

In 1773, the British decided to slash the Nazim’s household expenditure. The young official placed in charge of this process sent a straitened budget back to Calcutta. All department budgets were slightly reduced—except one, which had a swingeing cut from 1393 rupees per annum to just 16: the budget of the “Arbab Neshat Musicians”[5]. With one pen stroke, a culturally illiterate accountant who considered music to be an unnecessary frippery for a deposed Nazim may have destroyed Murshidabad as a musical centre.

Musicians’ livelihoods were thus directly, and often harshly, affected by the Company’s interference, both intentional and unintentional, in older Indian modes of compensation for cultural labour. So what then of charitable grants and pensions: in cash, land, or things the British saw as valuable commodities, like salt? Company officials were clearly not at all averse to meddling in the customary and economic practices of autonomous states when they felt it was warranted, especially where their revenue maximisation was at stake. And as Roy Moxham has observed (The Great Hedge of India. Constable, 2001), where salt revenues were concerned, the Company was insatiably greedy.  But the appearance of Mayalee dancing girl and her colleagues within the salt-revenue records of the Sambhar lake affair—the subject of my next book—also reveals that the Company never had it all their own way.

Mayalee the dancing girl refused point blank to obey the British instruction to accept cash in lieu of the salt stipend that was her traditional due. And Jaipur and Jodhpur defied the Company in order to pay her in salt. To find out why—and what all this meant for Sambhar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and the Company—you will have to listen to the podcast!

The images in this blogpost accompany the podcast and will help guide your imagination as I explore what the Company records inadvertently reveal about the lives and customs of all those who worked and ate the salt of Jaipur and Jodhpur, through the jarring misunderstandings and unintended consequences of East India Company interference in the operations of Sambhar salt lake.

08_JagatSingh_AddOr5132_2000
Portrait of Jagat Singh II. Jaipur, 1810–15 (BL Add. Or. 5132)
 noc

09_RamSingh1870_Photo_127:(8)
Photograph of Ram Singh II. Jaipur, 1870s (BL Photo 127/(8))

10_HindolAddOr2856_1500
Rag Hindol; Krishna surrounded by female musicians. Jaipur, c.1850 (BL Add. Or. 2856)
 noc

11_Ludlow_P1538_1500
Engraving of Lieut. Col. John Ludlow, 6th Bengal Native Infantry (BL P1538)
 noc

12_SambharPans1870_Photo_355:1(58)
Collecting salt at Sambhar Lake, Jaipur state, 1870s (BL Photo 355/1(58))
 noc


With full credits and thanks on the podcast website

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London
 ccownwork


[1] Her name is variously spelled Meyalee, Myalee and Mayalee in the accounts.
[2] The records of the East India Company’s dealings with the autonomous states are found in the Foreign Consultations and Proceedings in the National Archives of India, and the General Correspondence [E] and Board of Control General Records [F] files of the India Office records at the British Library.
[3] Tr. Margrit Pernau and Yunus Jaffrey, Information and the Public Sphere (OUP, 2009), pp. 69, 165, 231, 253–4.
[4] National Archives of India, Foreign Political Consultations (NAI FCP) 8 Jul 1848.
[5] NAI FCP 25 Jan 1773.

23 January 2019

Researching the Asian and African Collections at the British Library

Add comment

The Asian and African department at the British Library began 2019 with one of the most important annual events in our calendar: a training day for students beginning their doctoral dissertations. Approximately fifty students from across the UK were introduced to the collections and the best ways to research them.

It was a ‘really fantastic’ experience, according to one participant, who explained that ‘the collections of the BL can be wonderful but overwhelming so it was incredibly helpful being introduced to what there is and how to use them’.

Show and tell 1
Items on display at the ‘Meet the Curators session’

So, what were the top tips from the day? Where should researchers begin when confronted with the enormous collections at the British Library? If you haven’t used our collections yet – or if you have, but aren’t too sure how it all works – then this blog will get you started.


Where to start

The first place to look is our subject hub pages. (You can also get there from the front page of our website by going to the ‘Catalogues and Collections’ menu, then selecting ‘Overview of the Collections’.)

These pages give you a quick overview of what’s in the BL’s collections, how you can access it, and what you can get elsewhere. It’s an essential place to start, so that you know the sort of things you can search for in our catalogues and what we’re likely to have (as well as what we don’t have).
Subject hub imageRelevant subject hubs for Asian and African Studies via https://www.bl.uk/subjects


Understanding our collections

The British Library’s collections are huge. They are:

  • from all over the world
  • in all major world languages, and many others
  • in all disciplines, and
  • historical and contemporary.

We hold material in a very wide range of formats. If, so far, you’ve only thought about using books and manuscripts or archives, it could be worth asking how other items (perhaps sound recordings, or maps) could bring new dimensions to your research.

Collection formats
Different collection formats in the British Library


Searching the collections

There are two main catalogues:

Explore the British Library, for (mainly) published material:

  • Books and serials
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Audio-visual material
  • Doctoral theses
  • E-resources
  • Archived websites
  • Printed music

Explore Archives and Manuscripts, for (mainly) unpublished material:

  • Archives
  • Manuscripts
  • Visual collections

Both catalogues indicate hard-copy and digital material.

Additional catalogues are also available via our website, and these may give more detail on particular collections. For example, the Sound and Moving Image catalogue is recommended for audio-visual collections.

Show and tell 2
Hebrew and Christian Orient curator Ilana Tahan showing some BL collection items at the doctoral training day


Using the collections: in the Reading Rooms

For physical/hard-copy items, you’ll need to come into our Reading Rooms (having first obtained a Reader Pass). Our full collections are available for research at our main building in St Pancras, London. You can also see many items (but not everything) in our Reading Room at Boston Spa, Wetherby, Yorkshire.

For licensing reasons, some electronic material is only available on-site in our Reading Rooms. The most important thing to be aware of in this respect is our collection of subscription e-resources. These are electronic packages which the British Library buys and/or subscribes to. They include:

  • bibliographies and other reference tools
  • journals and e-books, and
  • collections of primary sources.

University libraries also offer these packages, but we have many things which individual libraries may not hold, so it’s always worth checking. The best way to find out what we have is to go to our electronic resources page.

Remote access to a few of these resources is available to Reader Pass holders, and may increase in future. Where this service is offered, it’s indicated on the electronic resources page.

E-resources Japan sample search
Sample search for electronic resources on Japan

The British Library is given one free copy of every book published or distributed in the UK. This is called legal deposit, and these days about half of this material come to us as e-books. These electronic publications are also only available in the Reading Rooms. These can be identified through Explore the British Library and read on the Reading Room computers.


Using the collections: online

We are digitising more and more of our collections, which means that some of the material you’ll find in our catalogues is available free online.

Manuscripts from our collections are available through the Digitised Manuscripts portal, which includes (but is not limited to) Ethiopic, Hebrew, Malay, Persian and Thai manuscripts. See the Asian and African Studies blog for more on these digitised manuscripts.

  • The Endangered Archives Programme offers large collections of archives and manuscripts from many African and Asian countries online. (The originals remain in the country of origin.)

Doctoral theses (dissertations) from most UK universities can be downloaded or requested via our EThOS service. In many cases, it’s free.

  • The Qatar Digital Library has digitised many India Office Records and Arabic manuscripts held by the British Library. These are of particular relevance to the history of the Middle East, but also relate to East Africa and the Horn, as well as other regions.

Many older books in our collections have been digitised and are available through Explore the British Library. When you find records for these items, you can click through to the full text, which is also available in Google Books.

E-book picture
Catalogue record and digitised full text of a work by the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop on the Niger

For more information on what’s available online, see our Digital Collections page as well as the subject hub pages for your area.

And finally…talk to us!

We know that the BL is complicated and staff in Asian and African Collections are happy to point you in the right direction. You can reach us online, or by talking to the staff on the enquiry desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Enquiries are handled by a specialist reference team, and referred to curators if necessary.

And don’t forget our blog, a mine of information on our collections.

Show and tell 3
Discussions at the doctoral training day


Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, Africa
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi