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179 posts categorized "South Asia"

30 October 2023

Joseph Gaye (1852-1926) photographic views of the Kathmandu Valley and India donated to the British Library

This blog post is written by Susan Harris, our Cataloguer of Photographs, working on the British Library’s Unlocking Hidden Collections project. This initiative aims to process, research and catalogue the Library’s hidden collections, making them more accessible to researchers and the public.

In May 2023, the descendants of amateur photographer Joseph Gaye (1852-1926) donated a collection of photographic material of his views of the Kathmandu Valley and India taken between 1888 and 1899 to the British Library. Joseph's descendant Mary-Margaret Gaye and her husband Doug Halverson spent many years researching Joseph's career in South Asia and identification of his views. We are most grateful to Mary-Margaret and Doug for making this collection available for researchers documenting the transformation of Kathmandu before the earthquake of 1934. Their publication is listed in the bibliography below.

Joseph Gaye was born in Northfleet, Kent, in 1852. At 18, he enlisted with the 4th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and went to India as a rifleman in 1873. Gaye left the army after completing his 12-year enlistment term in 1882 to lead several Indian military bands. In 1888, he, with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Short, moved to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he served as bandmaster to the Royal Nepalese Army under Maharaja Bir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. In 1892, he became a bandmaster in turn to three viceroys of India (Marquess of Lansdowne, Earl of Elgin, and Lord Curzon of Kedleston) before returning to England in 1899. In 1905, Gaye and his four sons moved to Canada, where he died in 1926 in Lemberg, Canada. From 1888 to 1899, he produced photographs of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, Burma and India; these were among his possessions, along with a large studio camera, at the time of his death.

The Joseph Gaye collection is an exciting addition to the British Library, containing 91 glass negatives, five cellulose negatives and 32 albumen prints, primarily of the Kathmandu Valley, with a few from India. The subjects vary from architecture and landscapes to street scenes and people, including portraits of his family. Gaye’s photographs provided a unique insight at a time when few foreigners were allowed into Nepal.

Here are a few highlights from the collection of Nepal’s architectural monuments, some that remain today and others that have disappeared due to natural disasters or urban development:

A crowd of curious onlookers gathered before a building on the southwest corner of the Hanuman Dhoka Darbar complex in Kathmandu Durbar Square (fig.1). The building, from 1847, was the original Gaddhi Baithak, a palace used for coronations and for meeting foreign heads of state. It was in the Newar style with influences from the Mughal architecture of northern India. A western façade, as seen in the photograph, was probably added later. Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana (1863-1929) of Nepal,  replaced it in 1908 with the neo-classical building that exists today.

A crowd in front of the western facade of the original Gaddhi Baithak
Fig.1. A crowd in front of the western facade of the original Gaddhi Baithak, Basantapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. Taken by Joseph Gaye, 1888-1892. Albumen Print, 155 x 105 mm. British Library, Photo 1424/3(17).

Patan Durbar Square, in the city of Lalitpur, is one of the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley; it has been through two significant earthquakes in 1934 and 2015. Gaye capture the square before these earthquakes, looking south, towards a crowd of observers and a line of temples and statues (fig.2). John Alexander Dunn, an Officer of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), also took a photograph (fig.3) of the square, looking north, after the 1934 earthquake. The only recognizable landmarks still standing are the statue of Garuda, the Krishna Mandir and the Vishwanath Temple with the elephants in front.

View of the Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur, looking south
Fig.2. View of the Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur, looking south. From the left: Krisnhna Mandir Temple (Chayasim Deval), the Taleju Bell, the Harishankar Temple, King Yoga Narendra Malla’s Column, Narasimha Temple, Vishnu Temple, Char Narayan Temple, Garuda statue, the Krishna Mandir and the Vishvanath Temple. Taken by Joseph Gaye, 1888-1892. Albumen Print, 155 x 105 mm. British Library, Photo 1424/3(8).

Darbar Square, Patan, Nepal [after the 1934 earthquake].
Fig.3. Darbar Square, Patan, Nepal [after the 1934 earthquake]. Taken by J.A. Dunn, January 1934. Albumen Print, 83 x 111 mm. British Library, Photo 899/2(4).

Gaye captured a winding pathway on the eastern flank, leading up to Swayambhu, an ancient religious site of temples and shrines at the top of a hill in the Kathmandu Valley (fig.4). The photograph shows a pair of Buddha statues marking the beginning of the path, with small chaityas, or shrines, dotted along the route. A photograph (EAP838/1/1/5/154) taken approximately 30 years later from the Chitrakar collection by Dirgha Man and Ganesh Man Chitraker shows a stairway with refurbished Buddhas and chaityas at the entrance that has replaced the pathway. 

Steps up to Temples [Swayambhu Stupa, Kathmandu Valley]
Fig.4. Steps up to Temples [Swayambhu Stupa, Kathmandu Valley]. Taken by Joseph Gaye, 1888-1892. Dry Plate Negative. British Library, Photo 1424/1(67).

 

Further reading:

British Library’s The Endangered Archives Programme

Gaye, Mary Margaret and Halverson, Doug, The Photography of Joseph Gaye: Nepal, India and Burma 1888-1899, (privately printed) Canada: Mary Margaret Gaye and Doug Halverson, 2023

Onta, Pratyoush. ‘A Suggestive History of the First Century of Photographic Consumption in Kathmandu’, Studies in Nepali History and Society, Vol. 3, No. 1 (June 1998), pp.181-212

Slusser, Mary Shepherd, Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, Volume 1 Text, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982

Weise, Kai, ‘An outlook of Gaddhi Baithak’, The Himalayan Times, 2 April 2016 

 

By Susan M. Harris CCBY Image

24 July 2023

Babur the Naturalist

One of the library's most treasured manuscripts on display in our current exhibition Animals: Art, Science and Sound is a late 16th century copy of the Mughal emperor Babur's autobiographical memoirs, Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī, more often referred to as his Bāburnāmah (Book of Babur).

Or 3714  f.504v. Babur crossing the Jumna seated on an ornate dais on a boat accompanied by other boats carrying musicians and horses (Khem)
Babur crosses the Jumna threatened by an aquatic monster while entertained by musicians. Artist Khem. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or. 3714, f.504v)
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The emperor Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530) is most famous as the founder of the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent which he conquered and ruled from 1526. Driven from Central Asia while still a youth, he took Kabul in 1504 and made it the centre of his kingdom before moving east and defeating Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan of Delhi, at Panipat in 1526 and Rana Sanga of Mewar at Khanwa in 1527.

In between intense military activities, Babur somehow managed to find time to write his memoirs (Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī). In these Babur records his ruthless victories, but at the same time writes unpretentiously of his personal feelings, revealing himself to be a scholar, a poet and a keen naturalist. Histories were already an established literary genre by this time as were encyclopedias which recorded the wonders of the universe. However this autobiographical record of Babur’s is unique with observations based largely on his own experiences.

Originally written in Chaghatai Turki, his memoirs are arranged chronologically by year and were translated several times into Persian but most famously in 1589 at the request of his grandson Akbar (r. 1556–1605) by Akbar's chief minister ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan-i khanan. The British Library is fortunate in possessing one of four known imperial copies of ʻAbd al-Rahim’s translation which were all made at the end of the 16th century and were illustrated by the most famous artists of the time. Our copy is datable to the early 1590s on stylistic grounds and presently has 143 paintings out of an original 183. Since it was possible to display only one opening in our exhibition, I have taken this opportunity to write further about Babur's section on the animals, birds and plants of Hindustan.

Or 3714  f 378r elephants
Elephants. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or. 3714, f.378r)
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The elephant, Babur tells us, is native to the borders of the Kalpi country (present day Uttar Pradesh) and further east. It is a noble creature and understands what people say to it and obeys their commands. The bigger it is, the more valuable. Babur adds here that in some islands elephants are reputed to measure more than 10 gaz (‘yard’) high, but he has never seen them larger than 4 or 5. Elephants can carry immense loads, three or four can pull carts that would take four or five hundred men to pull. However, they eat a lot! One elephant eats as much as two strings of camels.

Or 3714  f 379r Rhinoceros
The Rhinoceros. Artist, Makar. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or. 3714, f.379r)
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The rhinoceros (karg) is also a large animal equivalent in size to three buffaloes, but the story that it can lift an elephant on its horn is false. It has one horn on its nose and its hide is very thick. It is ferocious and unlike the elephant cannot be tamed.

Or 3714  f 382v Monkeys
Monkeys. Artist, Shyam. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or. 3714, f. 382v)
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Babur mentions several different kinds of monkeys (maymūn  “called bāndar in Hindustani”): one which is yellow with a white face and short tail, which is exported and taught to do tricks, another, (langūr) is larger with white hair, a black face. and long tail. Another comes from the islands which is coloured not exactly blue nor yellow but strangely, he writes, has a permanently erect penis which never becomes limp.

Or 3714  f 384v Parrots
Parrots. Artist, Kesu Gujarati. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or. 3714, f. 384v)
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Babur describes many kinds of parrots. Of one particular kind he recounts that he had formerly believed parrots could only repeat what they had been taught, but that recently one of his close attendants, Abu 'l-Qasim Jalayir, had told him that when he had covered his parrot’s cage, the parrot said “Uncover me. I can’t breathe.”

Or 3714. f 389v Adjutant crane
Adjutant stork. Artist, Dhanu. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or 3714, f. 389v)
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One of the birds that lives in water and on the banks of rivers, the adjutant stork (ding) had the wingspan of about the size of a man and no feathers on its head or neck. Its back and breast were white. Babur had been familiar with a tamed adjutant in Kabul which would catch meat when it was thrown at it. Once it swallowed a six layered shoe, and another time a whole chicken complete with wings and feathers.

Or 3714  f 392. The large bat
The great bat (chamgadar), is as large as an owl with a head like a puppy which hangs upside down on the branch of a tree at night. Artist, Shankar Gujarati. Northern India, 1590-93 (Or. 3714, f. 392v)
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And finally, of alligators and crocodiles:

Or 3714  f 393v. The alligator
An alligator (literally ‘water-lion’). Artist, Dhanu. Northern India, 1590–3 (Or 3714, f. 393v)
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Babur writes: “one of the aquatic creatures is the alligator (shir-i ābī ‘water-lion’) which lives in the ‘black’ waters and resembles a lizard.” In our manuscript, the artist Dhanu, who had possibly never seen an alligator or was at least unfamiliar with the Persian word for it, interprets the word literally and paints a lion attacking a bull, a familiar motif in Persian art. He was obviously puzzled, so to clarify that it was a water-lion, he added a ship in the top left corner. Babur also described dolphins, crocodiles and an especially large crocodile, the gharial, which seized three or four soldiers between Ghazipur and Benares.

Or 3714  f 394v gharial
The gharial. Artist, Sarwan. Northern India, 1590–3 (Or. 3714, f. 394r)
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Animals: Art, Science and Sound is open at the British Libray until August 28th, with reduced ticketa available on Mondays to Wednesdays. The exhibition is also accompanied by a catalogue by curators Malini Roy, Cam Sharp Jones, and Cheryl Tipp.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian, Asian and African Collections
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Further reading

An online presentation of selected pages of the Vāqiʻāt-i BāburīTurning the Pages” Or.3714.
For a digital version of the whole manuscript see Or.3714.
Beveridge, Annette, trans. The Babur-nama in English (Memoirs of Babur); translated from the original Turki text. vols. 1 and 2. London: Luzac & Co, 1922.
Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press in association with the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1996. Reprinted: Random House Publishing Group, 2007.
J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, London: British Library, 2012:  pp. 39-45.
Smart, Ellen, “Paintings from the Baburnama: A Study of Sixteenth-Century Mughal Historical Manuscript Illustrations.” Ph.D. diss. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1977.

 

08 May 2023

Drawings of a gharial, llama and tiger for Lady Hasting

The British Library’s current exhibition Animals: Art, Science and Sound, features more than 120 objects that explores the different ways in which animals have been written about, visualised and recorded over the last two thousand years. The exhibition brings together both geographically and chronologically diverse collections together for the first time.

With the Library holding more than 5000 natural history drawings produced in South Asia, South East Asia, and East Asia, only a selection could be featured in the exhibition. One particular album, excluded from the exhibition due to its sheer size, features the work of the South Asian artist Sita Ram and his wider network. The album includes watercolour drawings of big cats, aquatic animals and birds and is demonstrative of the extensive interest in documenting regional flora and fauna in Bengal during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

Album opening with painting of a tiger
A watercolour of a tiger painted in Bengal by a Calcutta artist, c. 1820. The watercolour measures 375 x 540mm. This album is representative of the large scale size of natural history watercolour drawings produced in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. British Library, Add Or 4960. 

Sita Ram was retained as the official artist by Francis Rawdon (1754-1826), the Marquess of Hastings, and his wife Lady Flora, to document their journey from Calcutta to the Punjab in 1814-15. Within a short period, Sita Ram beautifully executed more than 200 paintings in watercolour of topographical views, political encampments, palaces they visited, alongside the extravagant receptions laid out by local nobility in northern India. Additionally, two of the albums includes zoological drawings that are attributed to Sita Ram as well as unnamed Indian, British and Chinese artists. Sita Ram’s distinctive painterly approach in which he adapted the western picturesque idiom for his drawings of natural history specimens are immediately recognisable in these albums.

Sita Ram was a trained artist who was trained in Murshidabad in eastern India. His artistic style differentiates from the traditional regional painting style as he was highly influenced by the picturesque idiom that was introduced to the region through the works of British and European artists who travelled through the region including Anglo-British artist Sir Charles D’Oyly, whose own work features heavily in the Hastings albums. Sita Ram preferred a more painterly approach and ensured specimens were illustrated within a landscape setting. Sita Ram’s natural history paintings were apparently assembled into two albums by Lady Hastings by 1820. His approach is visibly distinctive for its impressionistic brushwork and lifelikeness as visible in his watercolour of a gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), a critically endangered aquatic crocodilian that is native to South Asia.

A painting of a gharial
A gharial or Gangetic crocodile face to face with a grass-hopper. Sita Ram, 1820. British Library, Add Or 5008.

While Sita Ram painted examples of local wildlife, he also included illustrations of a cassowary, an ostrich, a platypus and a llama which were not native species. However, it is quite likely that he was drawing from live specimens. Exotic animals including the cassowary were known to be brought to regional courts as part of cultural diplomacy. Of the few illustrations of these unique animals, the illustration of the llama and pair of monkey is quite curious, as one questions how a South American specimen was brought to South Asia and if this is indeed drawn from life or derivative from another unidentified source. Given Sita Ram’s connection to the Hastings, it is most probable that he spent time at Barrackpore Menagerie, near the Governor-General’s country home Barrackpore House which was outside of Calcutta.

Illustration of monkeys and ilama
A llama and a pair of monkeys in the Barrackpore Menagerie. Sita Ram or one of his followers, c. 1820. British Library, Add Or 5002.

Sita Ram’s paintings are part of the wider series of albums compiled and arranged for the Earl of Moira (afterwards Marquess of Hastings) and his wife when Hastings was Governor-General of Bengal 1813-23. The Hastings collection was purchased by the British Library from the descendants in 1995 with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund.

 

Further reading:

J.P. Losty, The rediscovery of an unknown Indian artist: Sita Ram's work for the Marquess of Hastings, Asian and African Studies Blog, 4 January 2016.

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

M. Roy, C. Sharp Jones and C. Tipp, Animals: Art, Science and Sound (London: British Library, 2023)

 

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24 April 2023

Animals: Art, Science and Sound

Animals amaze, fascinate and delight us!

In the British Library's new exhibition Animals: Art, Science and Sound (21 April - 29 August 2023)  you can see how documenting the animals world has resulted in some of humankind's most awe-inspiring art, science and sound recordings. It can take years of research to unlock the secrets of a single species. Did you know that the first photograph of a live giant squid was published in 2005? That bats were first described as birds, and sharks referred to as dogs.

From an Ancient Greek papyrus detailing the mating habits of dogs to the earliest photographs of Antarctic animals and the mournful song of the last living Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, recorded in 1983 and declared extinct in 2000, this is the first major exhibition to explore the different ways in which animals have been written about, visualised and recorded.

The exhibition is arranged into four distinctive environments and visitors will journey through darkness, water, land and air - to encounter striking artworks, handwritten manuscripts, sound recording and printed publications that speak to contemporary debates around discovery, knowledge, conservation, climate change and extinction. Each zone also includes a bespoke, atmospheric soundscape created using recordings from the Library's sound archive.

Some of the highlights includes: 
Painting of a bat
An illustration of a fruit bat, painted at Barrackpore, India. 1804-7, British Library, NHD3/517.

Pierre Belon De aquatilibus Of aquatic species Paris 1553 446a6
An image of a 'monkfish' from Pierre Belon's De aquatilibus (Of aquatic species), Paris, 1553. British Library, 446.a.6. 

Ab Muammad Amad ibn Atq alAzd Kitb albayarah Book on veterinary medicine 1223 Or 1523 ff 62v63r
Illustration of the defects of a horse from Kitab al-baytarah (Book on Veterinary Medicine) by Abu Muhammad Ahmad ibn Atiq al-Azdi, 13th century. British Library, Or 1523, ff. 62v-63r.

105cm record of The Hippopotamus by Talking Book Corporation
An education record for children: The Hip-po-pot-a-mus. Talking Book Corporation, 1918-29. British Library, 9CS0029512.

Animals  Art Science and Sound at the British Library 7
A section of the Chuju zui (Illustrations of Animals and Insects) showing dragonflies and moths, Japan, 1851. British Library, Or 1312. 

There is a season of in-person and online events inspired by the exhibition, such asa Late at the Library with musician, composer and producer Cosmo Sheldrake hosted by musician, author and broadcaster Cerys Matthews and Animal Magic: A Night of Wild Enchantment where five speakers, including wildlife cameraman, ornithologist and Strictly Come Dancing winner Hamza Yassin and birder, environmentalist and diversity activist, Mya-Rose Craig, each have 15 minutes to tell a story. A selection of these works are included in an outdoor exhibitionaround Kings Cross.

A richly illustrated publication written by exhibition curators Malini Roy, Cam Sharp Jones and Cheryl Tipp can be purchased through the British Library's shop. The publication is supplemented with interactive QR technology allows readers to listen to sound recordings.

The exhibition is made possible with support from Getty through The Paper Project initiative and PONANT. With thanks to The American Trust for the British Library and The B.H. Breslauer Fund of the American Trust for the British Library. Audio soundscapes created by Greg Green with support from the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Scientific advice provided by ZSL (the Zoological Society of London). 

28 February 2023

A Panegyric from the Deccan’s Golden Age

This week’s post is by guest writer Namrata B. Kanchan, PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation examines the courtly Dakhni literary and manuscript culture between 1500 and 1700 CE.

One of the gems to emerge from the early modern Deccan manuscript corpus is a sumptuously illuminated Dakhni language qasida or panegyric poem (Or. 13533). Composed by Bijapur’s poet laureate Mullah Nusrati who was associated with the court of ‘Ali Adil Shah II’s (r. 1656-1672 CE), this work is dedicated to the Golconda Qutb Shahi, Sultan ‘Abdullah Qutb Shah (r. 1626-1672).

Qasidah opening f4r Qasidah opening f3v
The opening lines of Nusrati’s qasida, Bijapur ca. 1630s? (British Library Or. 13533 ff. 3v. and 4r).
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Although the text does not provide the reason for this poem’s creation, scholars surmise that it was a royal gift bestowed to the Golconda Sultan on the occasion of his sister Sultana Khadija’s wedding to Bijapur’s Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah (r. 1626-1656) in 1633 (Ahmad, pp. 133-142). Continuing this Dakhni cultural legacy, the Sultana is one of the first known female patrons to commission the monumental illustrated Dakhni Khavarnamah (IO Islamic 834) completed in 1649.

Jamshid Shah with his consort and followers  IO Islamic 834  f. 70v
Jamshid Shah with his consort and followers, Khavarnamah, Bijapur, ca. 1649, (British Library IO Islamic 834, f. 70v)
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One of the premier genres of the Persianate literary cosmos (to which Bijapur and Golconda belonged), a qasida is, in essence, an encomium. Originating in Arabic literature, it was first cultivated in Persian by patrons under the Samanids (819-999) who were keen promoters of this new literary language. The genre soon became de rigeur in courts and flourished under the Ghaznavids (977-1186) during the eleventh century. One reason for its popularity in these two courts was that the poem was a paean to its patrons, predominantly newly minted rulers or nobles, who were eager to display their power and status. Additionally, this genre gained acclaim because it was beneficial for both the poet and the patron. A successful qasida sealed the poet’s relationship with a ruler and was important for social and financial success at the royal court. Furthermore, by extolling the virtues of an idealized ruler, the poem possessed a dual function. It sought to bestow immortality upon the patron and served a didactic role by guiding and encouraging the ruler to match the qualities expressed by the poet.

Apart from adulating patrons, poets composed these poems to memorialise marriages, victories, hunts, or annual feasts. The celebratory nature of the qasida meant that it was designed for performance and therefore recited in formal courtly gatherings. Not limited to Persian, this genre soon emerged in new languages across the Persianate sphere, which ultimately resulted in Nusrati’s composition of the Dakhni qasida.

In general, a single metre runs through a qasida and each hemistich terminates with the same rhyme. Yet rules for this genre, as opposed to the masnavi or the highly codified ghazal, were often not followed. In the Dakhni qasida,  Nusrati changes the rhyme scheme after a sequence of four to five couplets. 

A closer look at the manuscript reveals that no expense was spared in its creation. The gifted wordsmith Nusrati, who was a budding poet in the Bijapur court in the 1630s, was commissioned to compose the qasida. Similarly, the manuscript’s calligrapher ‘Ali ibn Naqi al-Husayni Damghani penned the encomium in elegant naskh. A Bijapuri native, ‘Ali Damghani emerged from a lineage of renowned calligraphers. His father Naqi al-Husayni was chief scribe of the calligraphic programme at Ibrahim Adil Shah II’s tomb, the Ibrahim Rauza, in Bijapur (Haider and Sarkar, p. 143).

Qasida f29r Qasida f.28v
The conclusion of Nusrati’s qasida, Bijapur ca. 1630s?  (British Library Or. 13533 f. 2v. and 3r)
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This beautifully crafted manuscript commences with two dazzling shamsas or sun-shaped designs radiating from the centre of the folio. A large number of Persianate manuscripts produced for royalty opened with a shamsa, which symbolized divine light. Resembling a circular garden brimming with multi-hued floral patterns against a cream-coloured background, the identically shaped Bijapur shamsas, with slightly different colour compositions, emanate golden rays to mimic brilliant noon-day suns. The second shamsa folio also possesses some discreet writing on the top left corner signaling that this manuscript is composed of 24 folios. A blotted stain above the shamsa on folio 3r is perhaps evidence of a royal seal.

Qasidah r 3r Qasidah f 2v
Shamsas
at the beginning of Nusrati’s qasida, Bijapur ca. 1630s?  (British Library Or. 13533 f. 2v. and 3r)
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Each subsequent folio (so delicate that they are currently preserved individually in glass-frames), painted in gold paint, possesses a border of vivid floral prints. Hemmed within is a rectangular box for the poetry. Although floral borders adorned deluxe Persian manuscripts, this is the first known Dakhni work where the borders of each open folio and its partner folio contain individual designs that resemble a series of golden flower strewn gardens punctuated with neat lines of exquisite calligraphy in a midnight black ink.

Qasidah f 6r Qasidah f 5v
Nusrati’s qasidah, Bijapur ca. 1630s? (British Library Or. 13533 f. 5v. and 6r)
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In many ways, this exquisitely illuminated manuscript signals the apogee of book arts and Dakhni literature in seventeenth-century Bijapur. Any reputed poet could have composed the qasida in Persian but the use of this local vernacular and the commissioning of Nusrati, a poet known for his mastery over Dakhni poetry, demonstrates the popularity of and pride in the indigenous language. Although slim in volume, the manuscript exudes grandeur in every bejeweled folio replete with beautiful poetry and refined penmanship. If indeed this manuscript was a wedding gift from the house of Bijapur to Golconda, it gestures towards the significance of these marital alliances. Weddings were not simply the union of couples or occasions to display a kingdom’s wealth and status. In the Deccan, such partnerships were crucial for political survival, especially in the face of looming Mughal annexation.

 

Namrata B. Kanchan,  University of Texas at Austin
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Further Reading

Ahmad, Nizamuddin. Hadiqat al-Salatin. Edited by Syed Ali Asgar Bilgrami. Hyderabad: Idarah-e Adabiyat-e Urdu, 1961.
Haidar, Navina Najat and Marika Sardar. Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015.
Husain, Ali Akbar. Scent in the Islamic Garden: A Study of Deccani Urdu Literary Sources. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Shackle, Christopher. “Settings of Panegyric: The Secular Qasida in Mughal and British India,” in Christopher Shackle and Stefan Sperl ed., Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa, vol. 1 Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1996.

19 February 2023

Akbar and Alexander the Great

With the British Library exhibition Alexander the Great: The making of a Myth drawing to a close, I would like to highlight one of my special favourites: the Emperor Akbar’s personal copy of Nizami’s Khamsah (Quintet) of which the fifth poem, the Iskandarnamah, is a two part account of the life of Alexander the Great or Iskandar as he is called in Persian.

Iskandar and the priestess. Or.2208 f.318rIskandar and the priestess. Or.2208 f.317v
The priestess pleads with Iskandar to spare the sanctuary idol from destruction. Artists La'l and Mukund. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, ff.317v-318r)
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Commissioned by Akbar (r.1556–1605) in Lahore between 1593 and 1595, this manuscript represents what was without doubt an intensely personal project and combines the work of the best artists at his court. With 37 highly original paintings, luxurious illumination, marginal decorations and binding, this Khamsah  was one of a small group of deluxe Persian manuscripts which also include Jami’s  Baharistan (Bodleian MS. Elliott 254) and the Khamsah  of Amir Khusraw (Walters Ms. W. 624), all produced around the same time in Lahore. In his monumental survey of 1912, the collector and art historian F.R. Martin wrote of it: “Without exception it is the most wonderful Indian manuscript in Europe.” Originally the manuscript contained 44 illustrations, but at some point 39 folios including five illustrated leaves, were extracted and are now in the Walters Art Museum Baltimore Walters Ms. W.613. Two of the original paintings are now lost and an additional portrait of the calligrapher ʻAbd al-Raḥīm ʻAnbarīn Qalam and the artist Dawlat were added at the end in 1610 by order of Jahangir.

With 16 of the 44 illustrations devoted to the Iskandarnamah, it is easy to see Akbar's special affinity with Alexander the Great. Nizami in the early 12th century was the first to qualify Iskandar (Iqbalnamah 29:4) with the adjective Sahib-qiran (Lord of the Conjunction)[1]. Several rulers styled themselves this way, most notably Akbar’s honoured ancestor Timur, founder of the Timurid dynasty in 1370[2]. Like Alexander, Akbar was a successful conqueror, but more particularly Nizami’s portrayal of Alexander as a philosopher-king would have appealed to Akbar who promoted himself as a just and tolerant ruler.

In the opening we used for the exhibition (see above) the double-page illustration has a special significance. Here we see Iskandar at a Buddhist sanctuary at Kandahar receiving an impassioned plea from the priestess who asks for the golden statue, with precious jewels as its eyes, to be left unharmed. Iskandar had ordered it to be dismantled but moved by her passion and beauty, he agreed to spare it. Placed right at at the end of the Khamsah, this painting has a special significance, as pointed out by Barbara Brend (Akbar's Khamsa, p. 61). Iskandar is compared by implication with the Mughal emperor Akbar who had taken Kandahar from the Safavids of Iran without bloodshed in April 1595, while this manuscript was still in the process of completion. Akbar’s interest in other religions apart from Islam, exemplified by the establishment of his own syncretic faith, the Din-i ilahi (Divine Faith) in 1582, parallels here Iskandar’s own role as a tolerant philosopher-king.

Sadly, in the exhibition we could only display one opening from each manuscript, so to give a flavour of the whole volume, I have described some further examples here.

Iskandar and Nushabah  Or 12208  f.244b
Iskandar with Nushabah, queen of the women-only city of Barda, in today’s Azerbaijan. Iskandar had visited the queen in disguise, but she immediately exposed him as an imposter by presenting him with his own portrait which she had had painted earlier. Reprimanding him, she nevertheless forgave him and they feasted together before he went on his way.
Artist, Bhura. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f. 244v)
 noc

Iskandar receives the envoy of Kaid of Hind  Or.12208  f.254r
Not wishing to engage in war, King Kayd of Hind offered Iskandar four gifts as tribute: his daughter in marriage, his all-knowing philosopher, his personal physician and his never-emptying goblet. This scene shows his envoy's reception at Iskandar's camp. Iskandar accepted Kayd's gifts and so bloodshed was avoided.
Artist, Dharamdas. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f. 254r)
 noc

Mani paints a dead dog. Or.12208  f. 262v
The story of Mani the 3rd-century founder of Manichaeism who was also famous as an artist, is told as an interlude in a contest between the artists of Chin and Rum. Hearing that the prophet Mani was on his way to China, the Chinese, to discourage him, created a false reservoir out of crystal. When the thirsty Mani placed his earthenware drinking vessel on it, it broke. To prevent others from doing the same, Mani, pictured here with his tools, painted the decaying corpse of a dead dog on the surface. Through this action and his wisdom, Nizami tells us, Mani made many converts.
Artist, Sur Gujarati. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f.262v)
 noc

Khizr washes his horse in the Water of Life. Or.12208  f.281r
As Iskandar’s power and dominions increased, so too did his preoccupation with dying. Searching for immortality, his journey led him into the Land of Darkness in an unsuccessful search for the Water of Life. Nizami gives three different accounts of the search for the Water of Life, which he refers to as Zoroastrian, Byzantine, and Arab versions. Pictured here is the so-called Zoroastrian version in which Iskandar gave the prophet Khizr his grey horse – a gift from the ruler of Chin – and sent him into the Darkness with a special stone which would light up and reveal the fountain. Khizr located it, drank and washed himself and his horse, but when they had finished, the fountain disappeared.
Artist, Kanak Singh Chela. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f.281r)
 noc

Aflatun charms the wild animals to sleep with his music. Or.12208  f.298r
This illustration comes in the Iqbalnamah, the second of the two books of the Iskandarnamah, which describes Iskandar's prophetic mission. In this episode, after solitary reflection in a barrel (echoes of Diogenes), Aflatun (Plato) obtained full comprehension of the music of the spheres and created an instrument whereby he could make all animals sleep and then rouse them again to consciousness. The scene itself is reminiscent of hunting scenes in which Akbar surveys his catch, as for example on the doublure of the binding of this same volume.
Artist, Madhu. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f.298r)
 noc

Iskandar and the 7 philosophers
Here Alexander is depicted as a philosopher-king and questions the origin of the universe from his seven philosophers: Valens, Apollonius, Socrates, Porphyry, Hermes and Plato. Having listened to each in turn, he declared that, in view of their contradictory opinions, the only certainty could be that there was no creation without a creator. By resorting to enlightenment rather than reason, Iskandar was acknowledged as supremely wise and thereby achieved prophethood.
Artist, Nanha. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f.305r)
 noc

Iskandar rides through the desert of death. Or.12208  f. 312v
Despatched on a prophetic mission by the angel Srosh, Iskandar explored the Western regions and at the edge of the world encountered a shore where there were many coloured stones, blue, red, yellow and black, each weighing about five to ten pounds. If a person looked at one of these stones, he laughed so much that he died. Iskandar ordered the rocks to be covered with cloth and loaded onto 100 camels. Hastening along the shore he used them to build a fortress without doors and covered the exterior with clay to protect passers by. But whoever climbed over to see the interior, would be exposed to the bare rocks and die.
Artist, Bhem Gujarati. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f.312v)
 noc

We are indebted to the Kusuma Trust, the Patricia G. and Jonathan S. England – British Library Innovation Fund and Ubisoft for their support towards the exhibition, as well as other trusts and private donors.

Ursula Sims-Wiliams, Lead Curator Persian, British Library
 CC BY-NO

 

Other illustrations in Akbar's Iskandarnamah

  • The invention of the mirror in the presence of Alexander the Great. Artists, Nanha and Shivdas (Walters Ms. W.613, f.16b and f.17a)
  • The death of Darius. Artist, Dharamdas (Walters Ms. W613, f.26b)
  • Alexander the Great enthroned at Persepolis. Artist, Bem Gujarati (Walters Ms. W613, f.34a)
  • The women of Qipchak are persuaded to veil themselves on seeing a veiled talisman. Artist, Mukund (Or.12208, f.266v)
  • The Russian champion who tore off an elephant's trunk. Artist, Farrukh Chela (Or.12208, f.273r)
  • Maria, the Copt trained in the art of alchemy consulted by other alchemists. Artist, Sanwala. Lahore, 1593-5 (Or.12208, f.294r)

Further reading

Barbara Brend, The Emperor Akbar’s Khamsa of Niẓāmī. London: British Library, 1995.
J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. London: The British Library, 1912, pp. 48-55.
Haila Manteghi, Alexander the Great in the Persian Tradition: History, Myth and Legend in Medieval Iran. London: I.B. Tauris, 2018.

Related posts

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[1] Owen Cornwall, Alexander and the Persian Cosmopolis, 1000-1500, PhD thesis Columbia Unversity, 2016, pp. 91-9.
[2] Naindeep Singh Chann, “Lord of the Auspicious Conjunction: Origins of the Ṣāḥib-QirānIran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 93-110

19 December 2022

A Baniya Letter from Surat

Today's blog post looks at a mischaracterized letter shedding light on the relationships between South Asian merchants and European powers in the 17th century.

Text in Arabic script written in black ink on a sheet of dark beige paper with repeated patterns of small and large green plants with three fronds
A full view of the petition included in Thomas Hyde's letters. (Allah-o-Akbar, India, January 1655. Royal MS 16.B.XII)
CC Public Domain Image

The letter forms a part of the papers of the celebrated Thomas Hyde (1636-1703), Professor of Arabic and Hebrew at Oxford, and eastern interpreter at the court. Hyde misstates in his covering note that it is “A Persian Petition to the King of Cambaia”. It is in reality a petition (‘arzdasht) written by three baniya merchants of Surat to the rulers of England in January 1655.

A text in black ink in Latin script written on the top two-thirds of a blue sheet of paper
The contents of Royal MS 16 B, indicating the fifth item as "A Persian Petition to the King of Cambaia". (Royal MS 16.B.XXI)
CC Public Domain Image

The petition is headed Allah-o-Akbar, which is somewhat unusual. It is written on behalf of Cauth, Tulsidas and Benidas, humble merchants of Surat, to the Padshah and other high authorities at the Foot of the Caliphate (pa-yi khilafat) in England. They state that the Padshah must be aware that for some years now, the humble petitioners have been living under the protection of the Company, as this is a fact well-known to everyone. The Padshah of Hindustan (as they term the Mughal emperor) too knows that they are the servants of the English (naukaran-i angrez).

There is a short section referring to some past disputes between the Dutch and the English, in which some people had been killed. There were negotiations, in which it was demanded that several brokers (dallals) be handed over. After much argument, it was agreed that some guarantees (qauls) should be produced by the two brokers, and that normal trading affairs (sauda) should be resumed. In the context of this agreement, the Dutch commander had given over a written document, which was to be transmitted to the Padshah in England.

Text in Arabic script written in black ink on a sheet of dark beige paper with repeated patterns of small and large green plants with three fronds
A detail of the text of the petition. (Allah-o-Akbar, India, January 1655. Royal MS 16.B.XII)
CC Public Domain Image

This brings us to the main question addressed in the petition. An English ship (jahaz-i angrez) had been seized by the Dutch, and they had taken an amount of Rs 115,549 in cash and goods (naqd-o-jins) from it, some of which belonged to Surat merchants including the petitioners. But the Dutch and their commander in Surat were refusing to answer for their role in this. It was pointed out to them that the custom in Hindustan was that looted goods were returned to traders who were third parties in the conflict. But the Dutch were refusing to listen to reason. The Dutch commander had even told the Surat petitioners who had suffered losses that since they were clients of the English, they should weep and wail with their masters in England.

The petitioners had then taken the matter to the local authorities (mutasaddis) of Surat. But they too had refused to intervene in the matter and said that the matter should be taken to the English Padshah. On account of all this, the present ‘arzdasht is being sent, in the hope that the matter will be properly resolved. It is known that the English Padshah is just, and those unfortunate people who appeal to him will find favor.

The document ends with wishes for peace.

A text in both Latin and Gujarati scripts written in black ink on a dark beige piece of paper. The pattern of alternating green large and small plants found on the reverse of the sheet is partially visible.
Detail from the reverse of the petition. (Allah-o-Akbar, India, January 1655. Royal MS 16.B.XII)
CC Public Domain Image

On the reverse, we find three Gujarati signatures with their rough English equivalents:

Thus: Coth Thakur [Gujarati] – Chout Tauker

Thus: Tulsidas Parekh [Gujarati] – Tulcidas Parrack

Thus: Venidas Visangji [Gujarati] – Benidas Bissuingee

Signed by them on Swally Marine

January 26th, 1655.

image from collections.rmg.co.uk
A portrait of a heavily-armed East India vessel painted by Isaac Sailmaker around 1685. (Royal Museums Greenwich BHC1676)
CC-BY-NC-ND provided graciously by the Royal Museums Greenwich.

This document refers to fallout of the Anglo-Dutch conflict in the Persian Gulf in the first half of 1653, in the course of which the Dutch seized several English ships off Bandar ‘Abbas (or Kamaran). References can be found to this episode in both the English and Dutch factory records. The Surat-based ship in question that was seized was the Supply, which the Dutch renamed Cabo de Jask. Unlike the Blessing from Coromandel, the Supply did not offer resistance and negotiated its surrender. Its goods, like those of the other seized ships, were rapidly sold by the Dutch on the Persian Gulf markets and amounted according to the Dutch records to 140,336 florins. The earlier episode of violence referred to may be one of several involving the Dutch at Surat in the late 1640s. The Dutch commander who dismissed the pleas of the Surat merchants was Gerard Pelgrom. All three merchants are known to us from references in the English factory records, which also contain at least one other letter (in English, with a Gujarati signature) written by Tulsidas to the Company. In the published edition of the factory records, the name of the third merchant is usually rendered as Chot or Chota, when it is clearly written as “Cauth” (in Persian) and “Coth” (in Gujarati). Finally, it may be noted that the Surat merchants were possibly unaware that there was no longer a king (or Padshah) in England at the time of the Commonwealth and Cromwell's regime.
 
Dr. Muzaffar Alam (University of Chicago) and Dr. Sanjay Subrahmanyam (UCLA)
CCBY Image

12 December 2022

Hampi: Photography and Archaeology of southern India

Currently on display at the British Library is the display Hampi: Photography and Archaeology in southern India. This exhibition features some of the earliest photographs of the site taken by W. H. Pigou in the 1850, modern photographs of the site by South Asian pre-eminent photographer Raghu Rai, alongside architectural drawings produced by the Vijayanagara Research Project under the guidance of John Fritz and George Michell between 1980-2001.

Hampi front entrance
Visitors at the British Library's Hampi display located in the Front Entrance Hall, October 2022. Photographed by Malini Roy.

The Hindu kingdom Vijayanagara (meaning ‘City of Victory’) established its capital at Hampi in southern India in about 1336. Located along the banks of the Tungabhadra River, temple complexes, palaces and administrative buildings were built amongst the rugged landscape of granite boulders. After flourishing for over 200 years, in 1565, Vijayanagara fell to a rival kingdom and Hampi was abandoned. Hampi’s ongoing religious significance and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 mean it continues to attract worshipers and tourists to this day. These photographs, taken between 1857 and 1970, capture the archaeological site of Hampi. The British Library’s archives provide a lens on the archaeological legacy and the research activities that have played a role in preserving the city’s cultural heritage.

The exhibition features a select number of photographs, that documents the extensive complex's architectural heritage. 

Virupakshah temple
Gopura of the Virupaksha temple, Vijayanagara. Photographed by William H. Pigou, 1857. British Library, Photo 1000/10(1096).

William H. Pigou (1818-56) was an amateur photographer appointed as the Government Photographer for the Bombay Presidency from 1856 to 1857. He was one of the earliest photographers to visit Vijayanagara and document the Virupaksha temple that is situated on the banks of the river.

With the arrival of photography by early the 1850s, Pigou relied on calotypes, a new printing process, to make multiple prints from a single waxed paper negative. He photographed the Virupaksha temple from various angles to document the entrance tower (gopura) and the high exterior walls. None of his photographs captured the entire length of the rectangular temple complex. 

Pigou's photograph of Narasimha
Photograph of Narasimha, by William H. Pigou in 1857. Modern digital image from the original waxed paper negative, 2022. British Library, Neg 1000/9(1005)

One of the more complicated sculptures to photograph at the site is that of Narasimha, the man-lion avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu This colossal sculpture was commissioned in 1528, by King Krishnadevaraya (ruled 1510-29).  Carved out of a single granite boulder, it measures 6.7 metres in height. Historic photographs including those by Pigou document the damage sustained to the sculpture when the kingdom fell in 1556. In the 1980s, the Archaeological Survey of India restored the figure by rebuilding Narasimha’s legs in the meditative lotus position. 

Neill_Lotus Mahal
Vijayanagara pavilion in the palace. Photographed by Andrew Charles Brisbane Neill, 1857. British Library, Photo 965/1(85)

The exhibition also features photographs by other early photographers to the site including Edmund David Lyon and Andrew Neill.  The site, which is over 25 square kilometers, consists of countless temples, shrines, pavilions and administrative buildings that was used and built by the Vijayanagara kings. The Lotus Mahal, a two storied pavilion, is part of the royal centre of Vijayanagara and is one of the best preserved buildings to date. The Lotus Mahal is a two-storied pavilion with large cusped archways; the architectural design allows air to flow and to regulate temperature. Vijayanara's royal centre also includes elephant stables, granaries and temples for the use of the royal family. Andrew Neill was a photographer and part of the Royal Artillery. He visited the site in 1856.

In the exhibition, historic 19th century photographs are featured alongside the modern works by Raghu Rai from the 1970s. Raghu (which are in copyright and can be viewed here). These include his iconic views of The way to Virupaksha temple through the Hampi bazaarBadavalinga - a monolithic linga, and Excavations and conservation being done by the Archaeological Survey of India

  VRP_drawing
Sculptural mouldings at the Raghunatha temple complex. Pen-and-ink on acetate, after Helen Wilson, 1984. Copyright held by the Vijayanagara Research Project. British Library, VRP 001/54/32/1.

Additionally, the exhibition draws from the Library's extensive archive of the Vijayanagara Research Project. Two architectural drawings supplement the photographic records, as these pen-and-ink drawings document the extensive research and dedicated work of architectural historians to systematically document every building or sculptural fragment. One example is this pen-and-ink drawing after the original pencil drawing by Helen Wilson, one of the many students working on the site during the 1980s. This work features the sculptural mouldings at the Raghunatha temple complex. This temple is associated with the Sanskrit epic Ramayana and features sculptural reliefs throughout showing Rama and Sita. The temple complex is located on Malyavanta Hill. The drawing demonstrates how architectural historians were in situ and illustrated the sculptural mouldings on the lower plinth of the south entrance gopura (tower gateway). Visible is an image of Rama holding a bow carved into a pillar.

For more on the exhibition and opening times, please consult: Hampi: Photography and Archaeology in southern India - The British Library (bl.uk)

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