THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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215 posts categorized "South East Asia"

11 February 2020

Bugis flower power: a compendium of floral designs

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The collection of Bugis and Makassar manuscripts in the British Library, which has now been fully digitised, covers a wide range of genres from court diaries to literature, treatises on a range of sciences, and religious works on Islamic law and Sufism.  Most of the manuscripts are sober textual documents, carefully and neatly written in Bugis/Makassar (lontaraq) or Arabic script, but - save for one compendium of poems - with few formal decorative elements.  On the other hand, many manuscripts also contain notes, calligraphic pen trials and doodles, which often include sketches, primarily of a floral nature.  This text-light but picture-heavy blog post has brought together all the floral drawings discovered in these manuscripts from south Sulawesi, presented here as a sourcebook for Bugis floral designs in the late 18th century.  In each case, the manuscript shelfmarks are hyperlinked to the full digitised manuscript page, so that the sketches can be seen in context; all the manuscripts originate from the royal library of Bone and were captured by the British in 1814.

Floral sketch in a Bugis court diary from Bone Add_ms_12373_f076v-crop
Floral sketch in a Bugis court diary from Bone, on an empty page prepared for September 1798. British Library, Add. 12373, f. 76v  noc

The one decorated manuscript in the collection is a collection of poems. The largest part of the manuscript comprises a series of fourteen short Bugis poems in tolo' style, concerning heroic episodes in the past: one poem tells of the death of the mid-sixteenth century king of Gowa, Tu-nibatta, whose head was cut off in battle. The volume also contains one Makassar poem (sinrili'), by Arung Palakka on his divorce from Arung Kaju, and it ends with a Bugis war-song (elong-oseng) by Daeng Manrupai.  The manuscript is neatly written and opens with a finely double frame drawn in black ink with faint red highlights, shown below.

Add_ms_12346_f002v-3r
Opening pages of a collection of Bugis poems, late 18th century. British Library, Add. 12346, ff. 2v-3r   noc
 
Within the volume new poems are heralded with a horizontal floral panel, all of which are presented below, together with hyperlinks to the folio of the manuscript on which they are found.

horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f007r-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 7r  noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f012r-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 12r   noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f019v-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 19v  noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f026r-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 26r  noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f030r-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 30r  noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f046v-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 46v  noc
Add_ms_12346_f050r-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 50r  noc
Add_ms_12346_f052r-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 52r  noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f056v-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 56v  noc
horizontal floral panel Add_ms_12346_f061v-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 61v  noc
Floral panel - Add_ms_12346_f064v-dec
British Library, Add. 12346, f. 64v  noc

At the start of the first six poems, a single flower is inserted at the end of the first line of text:

Flower-Add_ms_12346_f046v-flower  Add_ms_12346_f012r-flower  Add_ms_12346_f019v-flower  Add_ms_12346_f026r-flower  Add_ms_12346_f030r-flower  Add_ms_12346_f046v-flower
British Library, Add. 12346, ff. 7r, 12r, 19v, 26r, 30r, 46v  noc

The only other polished examples of artwork found in a few manuscripts in this collection are of divination diagrams (kutika) based on the compass rose, which were used to establish propitious days or times for certain actions. Some of these diagrams have at their heart an elaborate floral composition.

Floral pattern at the centre of a divinatory diagram in a collection of Bugis treatises on medicine and other matters Add_ms_12360_f062r-flower  Floral pattern at the centre of a divinatory diagram in a collection of Bugis treatises on medicine and other matters Add_ms_12372_f066r
(Left) Floral pattern at the centre of a divinatory diagram in a collection of Bugis treatises on medicine and other matters, British Library, Add. 12360, f. 62r; (right) a similar floral pattern on a divinatory diagram from a similar compendium on diseases and medicines, British Library, Add. 12372, f. 66r.  noc

 The other drawings presented below are all essentially doodles: sketches drawn in blank pages or spaces on a page at the beginning or end of a text. But all are remarkable for the skill and artistry of the artist’s pen, in black ink, sketching intricate floral and foliate compositions.

Doodle of flower with heart-shaped petals Add_ms_12346_back cover
Doodle of flower with heart-shaped petals, found on the inside back cover of the volume of poetry presented above. British Library, Add. 12346, inside back cover  noc

Floral sketches in a collection of Bugis poems Add_ms_12361_f017r-floral
Floral sketches in a collection of Bugis poems. British Library, Add. 12361, f. 17r  noc

Sketches in a collection of Bugis poems Add_ms_12361_f018r-floral
Floral sketches in a collection of Bugis poems. British Library, Add. 12361, f. 18r  noc

Floral sketches in a volume of Bugis treatises on diseases and medicines
Floral sketches in a volume of Bugis treatises on diseases and medicines. British Library, Add. 12372, f. 1v   noc

Floral sketches in a volume of Bugis treatises on diseases and medicines Add_ms_12372_f049r-crop
Floral sketches in a volume of Bugis treatises on diseases and medicines. British Library, Add. 12372, f. 49r  noc

Floral sketches in a volume of Bugis treatises on diseases and medicines Add_ms_12372_f073v
Floral sketches in a volume of Bugis treatises on diseases and medicines. British Library, Add. 12372, f. 73v  noc

floral scrolls in a Bugis court diary from Bone  Add_ms_12373_f002r-flower

floral scrolls in a Bugis court diary from Bone  Add_ms_12373_f002r-flowers
Two floral scrolls in a Bugis court diary from Bone for the years 1793-1799. British Library, Add. 12373, f. 2r  noc

Related blog posts:

The Royal Library of Bone: Bugis and Makassar manuscripts in the British Library

Digital access to Bugis and Makassar manuscripts

Bugis manuscript art

Annabel Teh Gallop, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork

15 January 2020

The Vessantara Jataka on the move

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This is the ninth of a series of blog posts accompanying the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 – 23 Feb 2020.

Stories about the Buddha and Buddhism are depicted not only in illustrated manuscripts, but also in other media such as wall paintings, vertical hangings and thousands of long, painted, narrative scrolls that are part of the Lao and Thai-Lao tradition. These scrolls, found in Laos and Northeast Thailand, usually depict the story of Prince Vessantara, the penultimate incarnation of Prince Siddhartha. Prince Vessantara’s life was dedicated to donating whatever was requested of him, most notably the gift to beseeching Brahmins of the white elephant that ensured the prosperity of his own kingdom. Later, while Vessantara was in exile due to this gift, the Brahmin Chuchok, who lived as a beggar, asked for his children, while the god Indra, disguised as Chuchok, asked for his wife.

01 Gift of white elephant Kalasin 2518
Vessantara’s gift of the white elephant, illustrated on a scroll from Kalasin, Thailand, 1975. At the lower left, Prince Vessantara pours water onto the eight Brahmins, sealing the gift of the white elephant. On the upper right, the eight Brahmins ride the elephant out of the city’s gate, threatened by a soldier disputing the gift’s authenticity. Photograph by Leedom Lefferts, courtesy of Ajaan Somroay Yencheuy.

02 OR_16552_f012v
Scene of Vessantara sealing the gift of the white elephant by pouring water onto the hands of the recipients. Illustrated in a Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka and the Mahabuddhaguna. Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16552, f. 24 Noc

Dr. Sandra Cate and I have termed these long painted scrolls – which are about a meter wide and can extend from 15 to 45 and more meters in length – “murals on the move”, because they translate the Vessantara story painted on the walls of Buddhist temples (wat) into a portable version, and parade it through the community to display it. We can also see these scrolls as “manuscripts on the move”, not only because most have captions and other details written on them to explain the story, but also because the painting itself allows people to “read” the story in its narrative totality.

03 scroll and mural Buriram 2016
A painted scroll of the Vessantara Jataka is shown hung below a mural painting of the Last Ten Jatakas. Photographed at a temple in Buriram, Thailand, 2016, by Leedom Lefferts

Illustrated manuscripts are rare outside major cities, and the usual medium for Buddhist sacred texts is narrow palm leaf manuscripts which are usually not illustrated. Older Northeast Thai-Lao and Lao wat were almost entirely constructed of easily available wood which is not amenable to murals. The oldest illustrated materials now found in Northeast Thai and Lao wat are colored lithographs produced by the S. Thammapakdi company, dating to the early 1900’s, and sets of these prints depicting the lives of the Buddha and of Prince Vessantara are often found mounted on the walls of wooden preaching halls. But the tradition of long portable painted scrolls is arguably earlier, and may have been brought to the Lao through long-standing connections with India.

04 OR_16101_f045r
Illustration of a monk giving a sermon in a Thai manuscript containing extracts from the Tipitaka, the legend of Phra Malai and illustrations of the Last Ten Birth Tales. Thailand, 1894. British Library, Or. 16101, f. 89 Noc

05 Khok Sanghaa 2005 tayok wat
Bundled palm leaf manuscripts kept in a wooden box are distributed to monks to recite their section. Roi-et, Thailand, 2005. Photograph by Leedom Lefferts.

The ingenuity of the Lao is that they have taken these scrolls, best seen “in motion”, and incorporated them into a two-day merit-making festival, the Bun Phra Wet (the Merit-making Festival for Prince Vessantara, Phra Wet). The first day, muu hom (Lao; Thai, wan ruam), the day of coming together, includes visits by friends and relatives from more distant villages to the celebrating community. More importantly, it culminates in welcoming the return to the community of Prince Vessantara and his family, the Prince embodied in the scroll which the people in procession carry aloft. In this way, the people re-enact the beginning of the story’s climax, when they recognize their belief in the justice of Prince Vessantara’s actions and invite him to return home.

06 OR_15925_f022r
Scene of Chuchok leading Vessantara’s children away through the forest. Illustration in a folding book containing the Mahabuddhaguna, Thailand, 1841. British Library, Or. 15925, f. 43 Noc

07 Chuchok procession 2008
Chuchok leading the children of Vessantara away, performed by lay people during a procession in Khon Kaen, Thailand, 2008. Photograph by Leedom Lefferts.

In the cooler late afternoon of muu hom the rolled-up long scroll is taken from its storage place in the wat to a nearby water source outside the village, monks are invited to attend, and villagers gather, sitting on the ground on mats. The water source replicates the surroundings of Vessantara and his family’s hermitage in their place of exile, on Mazeway Mountain. The villagers then begin the story’s celebratory end. The Prince’s children have returned to the palace, ransomed by their grandparents; Vessantara sits in meditation, accompanied by his wife, Matsi. An elderly man initiates the invocation to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha and the receipt of the five precepts, and then recites a special request, asking Phra Wet to return home. The elder’s recitation apologizes on behalf of the citizens who asked Vessantara’s father, the King, to exile his son. Sometimes a monk acting as Phra Wet, rejects the invitation two times, finally accepting it, reluctantly; sometimes a layman accepts it. A dish holding candles, incense, and leaves and flowers, meant as a token of the city, is offered. Phra Wet is reluctant to accept because he has found success and peace at the hermitage in this wild place “hidden in the mountains”; he finally agrees because it has been foretold that it is his duty to become king.

08 OR_16552_f038v
Vessantara is asked to return home and the family is reunited. Illustrated in a Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka and the Mahabuddhaguna. Thailand, 19th century. Or. 16552, f. 78 Noc

09 V to come home KK 2014
Lay people and monks re-enact the scene in which Vessantara is asked to return to the Kingdom. Photograph taken in Khon Kaen, Thailand, 2014, by Leedom Lefferts.

At this point, the village’s celebration echoes the story. In the Jataka tale, the celebratory procession wends its way city-ward for thirty days. The village procession mimics this, walking from the water source outside the village with the long scroll unfurled and held high on sticks or by its upper edge, as participants proceed with laughter and jollity. Villagers say Phra Wet is in the scroll; “Vessantara comes home”, as the day’s name signifies. As the procession enters the community, more and more people join it, holding the scroll while dancing, singing, and generally exclaiming, bringing branches and flowers from the forest to the wat. The festive congregation enters the temple grounds and circles the preaching hall three times, placing the branches and flowers in baskets under waving flags. They carry scroll into the preaching hall and fasten it to pillars so that it surrounds the preaching and audience area, converting it into a transformative space.

10 procession NBLP 2011 Sandra Cate
Vessantara scroll procession, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Thailand, 2011. Photograph by Sandra Cate.  To download a short video of a scroll procession in Khon Kaen province, filmed by Leedom Lefferts in 2009, please click here.

That evening, the Phra Malai legend is read to the audience, ensuring that they know the importance of listening to the complete Vessantara Jataka. Phra Malai, a monk who had accumulated much merit, travels to the various Buddhist hells and to Tavatimsa heaven to worship the Culamani Cetiya, in which is enshrined the hair of Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be, which he had cut off when he entered his seven years of exile. There Phra Malai meets Indra, King of the Gods, and Maitreya, the incarnation who will follow the Buddha of the present era. Maitreya enjoins Phra Malai to return to the human world and inform its citizens that, in order to be reborn when Maitreya comes, they must listen to the complete recitation of the Vessantara Jataka.

11 recitation KK 2006
Audience listening to the Phra Malai story, burning candles and incense over water in the transformative space created by the scroll and other meaningful objects. The sacralized water will be taken home to infuse bath water for children and older adults. Photograph taken by Leedom Lefferts, Khon Kaen Province, Thailand, 2006.

The next day, muu thet, the day of the sermon, monks recite the complete story from palm leaf manuscripts. This takes place in the transformative space created by the hanging scroll. Indeed, since he is present in the scroll, people say that Prince Vessantara hears the recitation of the story of his own life.

After the day-long recitation, villagers clean the preaching hall, and the scroll is taken down and rolled and stored for the ceremony the following year. A scroll endures considerable wear and tear in the course of the procession and while hanging. Most new scrolls are produced in just two villages in Northeast Thailand, but the fluorescence of scroll production by local artists appears to have occurred in the period following World War II to the mid-1980’s. The Buddhist year 2500 (1957CE) seems to have resulted in a peak of production, as Buddhists realized that the 2,500 years to follow have been predicted to witness a decline in the following of the Dharma. The continuing popularity of annual Bun Phra Wet festivals in the thousands of Northeast Thai and Lowland Lao temples indicates the vibrancy of this religious practice among these people.

12 Ban Khok Sanghaa 2005
An elderly monk reading from a palm leaf manuscript. Photograph taken in Roi-et Province, Thailand, 2005, by Leedom Lefferts.

References and further reading
Brereton, Bonnie Pacala, and Somroay Yencheuy, Buddhist Murals of Northeast Thailand: Reflections of the Isan Heartland. Chiang Mai: Mekong Press, 2010

Kaiser, Thomas, with Leedom Lefferts and Martina Wernsdörfer, Devotion: Image, Recitation, and Celebration of the Vessantara Epic in Northeast Thailand. Zurich: Ethnographic Museum, University of Zurich and Arnoldsche Art Publishers. 2017

Lefferts, Leedom, and Sandra Cate, Buddhist Storytelling in Thailand and Laos: The Vessantara Scroll at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, 2012.

Leedom Lefferts Ccownwork

Leedom Lefferts is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, and Visiting Scholar at the Carolina Asia Center, The University of North Carolina. His studies have focused on Northeast Thai Lao and Southeast Asian material culture, including indigenous pottery production, the Vessantara epic and its scrolls, and issues of rural development and political inclusion.

 

06 January 2020

The Royal Library of Bone: Bugis and Makassar manuscripts in the British Library

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In March 2019, the digitisation was completed of 75 Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta now held in the British Library, which had been captured from the Kraton or Palace of Yogyakarta in June 1812 following a British assault.  What is much less widely known is that the British Library also holds the core of another royal library from Indonesia, also taken in armed conflict during the brief period of British administration in Java from 1811 to 1816 under the command of Thomas Stamford Raffles. All  the 34 manuscripts from south Sulawesi in the British Library can be identified as originating from the palace of the Sultan of Bone, and were seized in a British attack in June 1814.

Add_ms_12373_f007v
Bugis diary of a senior court official of Bone, for May 1793. British Library, Add 12373, f. 7v   noc

At the time the ruler of Bone was Sultan Muhammad Ismail Muhtajuddin (r. 1812-1823), also known as La Mappatunruq and posthumously as Matinroe ri Lalebbata; he was the son of the redoubtable Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin (r. 1775-1812) who had died just two years previously. Following disagreements between the Sultan and the British Resident of Makassar, an expedition was despatched from Java under the command of General Sir Miles Nightingale. On 8 June 1814, troops led by by Lt. Col. McLeod attacked and overran the palace of the Sultan of Bone at Bontoala outside Makassar, with a considerable loss of life on the Bugis side. Five cannon and a large quantity of armaments were captured - and also, evidently, many manuscripts from the royal library - after which the palace was set on fire by the British (Thorn 1815: 341).

An account by Captain David Macdonald ([1840?]: 222) confirms that present on the Makassar expedition in 1814 was the Resident of Semarang, John Crawfurd. In 1842 Crawfurd's collection of 136 Indonesian manuscripts was acquired by the British Museum, including thirty manuscripts in Bugis and Makassarese, all of which can now be identified as coming from the court of Bone.  The British Library also holds four further Bugis manuscripts which appear to originate from the same source. These include two royal Bone diaries from the India Office Library (MSS Bugis 1 and 2) which bear Raffles's bookplate, and were presumably presented to him after the military expedition.  Another court diary -  of the Maqdanrang, one of the most senior officials of Bone - was presented to the British Museum in 1916 by a Miss E. G. Wren (it is now shelved as Or. 8154, alongside a volume comprising letters and fragments of documents found within the diary shelved as Or. 8154*). It is possible that certain Bugis manuscripts held in other British institutions may also have been taken on this expedition, including a Bugis diary from Bone presented to the Royal Asiatic Society by a Professor Lee in 1828 (RAS Bugis 1) and Bugis manuscripts now at SOAS from the collection of William Marsden, including a court diary from Bone (SOAS MS 11398) and a volume received from a Captain Owen RN (SOAS MS 12159).

Add_ms_12346_f002v-3r
Collection of fourteen short Bugis poems in tolo' style. British Library, Add 12346, ff. 2v-3r   noc

The 34 manuscripts now in the British Library are mainly in Bugis, with two volumes in Makassarese, and the contents were described in detail by the Dutch scholar A.A. Cense for the catalogue by Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977, reissued in 2014). The manuscripts are primarily concerned with historical, literary and chancery matters, as well as some religious topics. There are 11 volumes of diaries or daily registers from the court, and 3 volumes of documents. Four volumes contain literary works translated from Malay, including the tales of the great Islamic heroes Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah in Bugis and Hikayat Amir Hamzah in Makassar, as well as Bugis versions of the ethical court romance Hikayat Isma Yatim and Hikayat Cekel Wanengpati, a Malay version of adventures of the Javanese hero Prince Panji.  There are five volumes of Bugis and Makassar poems, including two volumes which contain parts of the Bugis La Galigo, probably the longest epic poem in the world.  A further five volumes concern practical knowledge, with treatises on gunnery, medical, agricultural and astronomical matters.  These include Bugis translations of Makassarese translations made originally in the 17th century of Portuguese works on gunnery and armaments; these are the only known examples of scientific works translated from European languages into Southeast Asian vernaculars. The remaining five volumes deal with religious matters, including a manuscript in the original Arabic of the handbook on Islamic law, Minhaj al-Talibin, by al-Nawawi, with Bugis notes, as well as Bugis translations of Malay works including the Akhbar al-Arifin composed in Aceh in the 17th century by Nuruddin al-Raniri, and Bugis tracts on Sufism and mystical practices.

Add_ms_12365_f008v-9r
Treatise on gunnery in Bugis by  Fahalajun Ahmad and Ance' Lati'. Add 12365, ff. 8v-9r   noc

To what extent does this collection of manuscripts now in the British Library represent the contents of the royal library of Bone? The answer is probably: only partially.  From a comparison of Crawfurd’s collection of Javanese manuscripts taken from the court of Yogyakarta with those of Colin Mackenzie, it can be seen that Crawfurd focussed particularly on historical and literary works and chancery documents, and showed little interest in texts on dramatic performances (wayang), Islamic practice and divination (primbon), or works in Arabic.  Thus one notable absence in the British Library collection is al-Nur al-hadi, the mystical work composed by Sultan Ahmad al-Salih in 1787, and one of the few Southeast Asian compositions cited in Brocklemann's survey of Arabic literature. Futhermore, when the royal Bone library at Watampane was ransacked by the Dutch in 1905, the 33 manuscripts taken to Batavia, and now held in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta, included a diary for the period 1795-1807 (Tol 1993: 617), indicating that at least part of the library had survived the British onslaught at Bontoala in 1814.

With generous support from William and Judith Bollinger, the complete collection of 34 Bugis and Makassar manuscripts in the British Library has now been digitised, in collaboration with the National Library of Singapore. Singapore is home to a substantial community of Bugis descent, as reflected in a recent exhibition in 2018 at the Malay Heritage Centre, Sirri na pesse. The full list of digitised Bugis and Makassar manuscripts from the British Library can be accessed here.

Add_ms_12363_f063v-64r
Collection of Sufi tracts, including notes on the five daily prayer times. British Library, Add 12363, ff. 63v-64r   noc

Public awareness of the fate of the Kraton library of Yogyakarta, and the identification of the individual volumes held in different British public collections, owes much to plentiful contemporary accounts and the work of historians such as Peter Carey and Merle Ricklefs, while in Java the memory of the Geger Sepehi, the 'Sepoy Calamity' (so-named for the Indian troops under British command in the attack on the palace), was kept alive at the court of Yogyakarta, the only traditional monarchy to retain a political role in the Republic of Indonesia. Fewer published reports of the Bone expedition, and a circumscribed public space for the descendants of the Bone kings, mean that there is far less known today about the royal library of Bone. It is hoped that the digitisation of these manuscripts will lead to many more studies, and a better appreciation of the writing traditions at the Muslim courts of south Sulawesi.

Further reading:

Brief accounts of the British expedition to Makassar in 1814 are found in:
William Thorn, Memoir of the conquest of Java, with the subsequent operations of the British forces in the Oriental Archipelago. London, 1815 (pp. 340-1).
David Macdonald, A narrative of the early Life and Services of Captⁿ D. Macdonald ... embracing an unbroken period of twenty-two years, extracted from his journal, and other official documents. 3rd ed. Weymouth, [1840?] (pp. 213, 222).

On Bugis manuscripts:
Roger Tol, A royal collection of Bugis manuscripts.  Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1993, 149 (3): 612-29.
Roger Tol, A separate empire: writings of south Sulawesi.  Illuminations: writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. Ann Kumar & John H. McGlynn; pp. 213-230.  Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. [With descriptions of Bugis and Makassar manuscripts by A.A. Cense.]

Postscript, 23 January 2020

After the publication of this blog post on 6 January 2020, I was very grateful to receive a communication from Dr Campbell Macknight, of Australian National University, which succeeded in clearing up a matter which had puzzled me: how did the British troops which had landed in Makassar succeed in reaching the palace of Bone - located at Watampone over 130 km away on the other side of south Sulawesi - by the following morning? From the account of Captain Macdonald, Dr Macknight explained that the dwelling of the Sultan of Bone which was attacked was not in Watampone, but at Bontoala, just outside the fort of Makassar (see the map below). Thus the Bugis and Makassar manuscripts captured constitute not the sole royal library of Bone, but the library held at the palace of Bontoala. The blog post has now been edited to correct these points.

Sulawesi-Bone-Makassar
Map of Sulawesi, showing Makassar and Bontoala on the west coast of south Sulawesi (circled in green), and Watampone in Bone on the east coast (circled in red).

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section   ccownwork

12 December 2019

Three fish with one head (2): from the Buddha’s footprints to Beat poetry

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The first part of this blog post explored diagrams of three fish with one head in manuscripts association with the Shattariyah Sufi order in Java. In this second part the motif is traced through nearly four thousand years, from ancient Egypt to contemporary Buddhist Japan via the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

The earliest known manifestation of the three-fish-one-head symbol is in ancient Egypt, where it was a familar motif on ceramic dishes from the New Kingdom period between the 16th to 11th centuries BC. Representing the tilapia fish and found together with depictions of the lotus, it is associated with the Goddess Hathor.  

Gallop-Fig.23
Three fish with one head, on an Egyptian bowl, New Kingdom, 16th-11th centuries BC (Image source: G. Maspero, L'archeologie egyptienne. Paris: Maison Quantin, 1887; p. 255, fig. 228).

Two millenia later the motif appears well entrenched in Christian contexts in Europe: it is clearly portrayed in the famous album of Villard de Honnecourt, a French architect active between 1225 and 1250 who worked for the Cistercian Order of monks, and who left a sketchbook full of architectural drawings and geometrical diagrams now held in the. Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, MS 19093. In Christian circles the fish is a symbol of Christ, and the three fish were believed to represent the Trinity.

F.19v
Three fish with one head, together with other geometrical patterns in the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, ca. 1240.  Bibliotheque nationale, MS 19093, f. 19v

Around the same period the motif was also known in Yuan China, as attested by a brown-glazed stoneware jar excavated at Hancheng City, and now on display at the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an.

Hancheng-city-brown-glazed-jar-three-fish-yuan
Jar with motif of three fish, Yuan dynasty, on display in Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an, 2011, photograph by John Hill.

Intriguingly, what may be an early Buddhist use of this motif seems to have been brought to attention by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), who adopted it as his logo.  According to Ginsberg, he first saw this symbol in 1962, engraved on a stone sculpture of the footprint of the Buddha at Bodh Gaya in India.  He describes the incident in a letter published in the Catholic Worker in May 1967, along with his sketch: ‘I saw the three fish one head, carved on insole of naked Buddha Footprint stone at Bodh-Gaya under the Bo-tree. Large – 6 or 10 foot size – feet or soles made of stone are a traditional form of votive marker. Mythologically the 32 signs – stigmata, like – of the Buddha include chakaras (magic wheels symbolic of energy) on hands and feet. This is a sort of a fish chakra.’ In 1982, Ginsberg’s sketch was reworked by Harry Smith and in this form appeared on the front cover of his books. [Source of quote and images below: The Allen Ginsburg Project: Buddha's Footprint, 1 April 2010).

Buddha27sFootprint    Footprint harry smith
(Left) Allen Ginsberg’s sketch of three fish with one head, from in his Indian Journals (1982).  Reproduced by permission of the Ginsberg Estate.
(Right) Harry Smith’s design of three fish with one head, based on Ginsberg’s sketch, published on the front cover of Allen Ginsberg, Collected poems (1985). Reproduced by permission of the Ginsberg Estate.

In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in Buddhist circles in Japan in this particular manifestation of the Buddha’s footprint at Bodh Gaya – said to be dated to the 5th century AD – and some replicas have been created; one such Buddhapada was erected in 2010 at Nanshoin temple at Kasaoka City in Okayama Prefecture.

DPP_0021 (683x1024)
Representation of the Buddha’s footprint (Buddhapada) with symbol of three fish with one head, 2010, Nanshoin temple, Japan. Photograph Midori Kawashima, October 2013.

There are many unanswered questions though, for while the fish by itself or in pairs is commonly encountered in Buddhist iconography, the three fish with one head is not a standard Buddhist symbol, and the footprint at Bodh Gaya does not appear to be firmly established in the scholarly literature. Nor is the ‘three fish’ symbol mentioned in a study of footprints of the Buddha by Anna Quagliotti, who found no early stone footprints of the Buddha in Indonesia. 

In fact, a different origin altogether for Allen Ginsberg’s logo is asserted by Malay Roy Chaudhury (b. 1939), one of the Bengali ‘Hungryalist’ poets of the 1960s who influenced Ginsberg during his Indian travels.  According to Roy Choudhury, it was he who pointed out to Ginsberg the design of three fishes with one head on the floor of the tomb of the Mughal emperor Akbar, and they later saw the same design in Patna Khudabaksh Library on the leather cover of a Persian book on Akbar's 'composite' faith, Din-i Ilahi, combining the major tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam (Tridib & Alo Mitra, Hungryalist influence on Allen Ginsberg, 9 May 2008). However, these references to the motif on the floor of Akbar's mausoleum and on the book binding appear just as elusive as the Buddha footprint at Bodh Gaya, for no corroborative documentation can be found. 

The symbol of three fish with one head does, however, appear occasionally in a variety of later non-Buddhist contexts in India, notably in the southern region of Karnataka.  It is found on the 13th-century Hindu Harihareshwara temple in Harihar and in a flat schematic depiction on the wall of the  Bangalore Fort - fortified between the 16th and 18th centuries, latterly by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan - as well as in a few other visible architectural contexts linked to the Muslim ascendency in the south.

Three Fish
Three fish with one head, low relief on the wall of Bangalore Fort.  Photograph of 2012, reproduced courtesy of Siddeshwar Prasad, from his evocative blog, ‘Journeys across Karnataka’

In two examples from Hindu contexts - carved in stone, in the Hanuman temple in Munvalli Fort, and in a 19th-century drawing from Oudh (Awadh) of Krishna with two Gopis, standing on a lotus - the fish are depicted with wavy tails, unlike all the other straight-tailed examples shown.

BostonMFA-Krishna
Krishna with two Gopis, standing on a lotus, with a design of three fish on a triangle, watercolour on paper, Oudh, 19th century. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Ross-Coomaraswamy Collection, 17.2680

Returning to Southeast Asia, the question remains about how and when this motif of three fish with one head reached Sufi circles in Java.  If it was indeed familiar as an early Buddhist or Hindu symbol, we would expect to find manifestations in pre-Islamic antiquities from Java, but none are known so far.  Perhaps the image was introduced from southern India through mystical networks, but it is also equally possible that a chance encounter with this motif resonated so deeply with one individual in the Shaṭṭārīyah chain of transmission in Southeast Asia that it was incorporated into the guidance texts. Indeed, citing the 16th-century Malay mystical poet Hamzah Fansuri, the scholar Karel Steenbrink noted the profound attachment to fish imagery in the region: ‘The fishes, of course, remind us of the frequent use of the symbolism of the ocean, the waves and the fishes in the mystical poetry of the Southeast Asian divines. […] This is imagery far away from the sand of the Arabian Desert: it developed when the Indian Ocean became an Islamic Mediterranean and the Indonesian archipelago the most populous Islamic civilisation’ (Steenbrink 2009: 70).

MSS Jav 50  f.6v
Three fish with one head, in a Javanese manuscript containing a spiritual genealogy of the Shattariya Sufi order from Batavia, Java, ca. late 18th c.  British Library, MSS Jav 50, f. 6v  noc

In short, just like the equally enigmatic 'three hares', the motif of ‘three fish with one head’, which may have originated in ancient Egypt, appears to have so been universally appreciated as such a perfect graphical manifestation of threefold unity that at certain times and in certain places it has been appropriated by almost every great world religion – Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam – yet without ever having evolved into a recognized essential component of the respective religious iconography.

Further reading:

This study of the motif of ‘three fish with one head’ was initiated as part of a research project on Mindanao manuscripts coordinated by Prof. Midori Kawashim, which resulted in the publication: A.T.Gallop, Cultural interactions in Islamic manuscript art: a scholar's library from MindanaoThe library of an Islamic scholar of Mindanao: the collection of Sheik Muhammad Said bin Imam sa Bayang at the Al-Imam As-Sadiq (A.S.) Library, Marawi City, Philippines:  an annotated catalogue with essays, edited by Oman Fathurahman, Kawashima Midori and Labi Sarip Riwarung.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Sophia University; pp. 205-248.

Karel Steenbrink, Circling around an unknowable truth: on the flexibility of Islamic art.  Visual arts and religion, eds Hans Alma, Marcel Barnard & Volker Küster; pp. 65-78.  Berlin: LIT, 2009.

5 December 2019, Three fish with one head (1): Sufi sources from Southeast Asia

Following the publication of Part 1 of this blog post, through Twitter I was alerted to the images of the Yuan jar and the drawing of Krishna shown above, for which I would like to thank Alfan Firman @alfanfirmanto and Sanjeev Khandekaar @Chemburstudio.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork

05 December 2019

Three fish with one head: (1) Sufi sources from Southeast Asia

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This two-part blog post will examine a striking motif of three interlocking fish with one head, which is found in widely varied locations all over the world. This first post looks at examples in Javanese mystical manuscripts; in the second post, the motif will be traced from ancient Egypt through medieval France to modern Japan.

The motif of three fish with one head is familiar from manuscripts on mystical practices from Java, where it is referred to in Javanese as iwak telu sirah sanunggal, ‘three fish with a single head’.  All known examples occur in texts relating to the Shaṭṭārīyah brotherhood, a Sufi order founded in Persia by Shaykh Sirajuddin Abdullah Shattar (d. 1406) and which spread to Southeast Asia through disciples of the eminent Meccan teacher Shaykh Ahmad al-Qushāshī (d. 1660).  Presented here are a number of examples from Javanese manuscripts in the British Library and also from manuscripts still held in Java digitised through the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

The earliest dateable examples of this motif from Java are in two manuscripts from the collection of Col. Colin Mackenzie, who served in the British administration of Java from 1811 to 1813. Both manuscripts containing Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah or spiritual genealogies, one of which is dated 1790, originate from Mataraman in Batavia, present-day Jakarta, situated on the north-west coast of Java. 

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Three fish with one head, in a Javanese manuscript from Mataraman, Batavia, containing mystical texts, dated AH 1205 (AD 1790/1).  British Library, MSS Jav 77, f. 16v   noc

Two later manuscripts containing this motif are from Lamongan on the north coast of East Java, both of which have been digitised through the Endangered Archives programme.  The manuscripts are held in the Islamic boarding school Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah at Kranji, near the tomb of Sunan Drajat, one of the nine wali credited with bringing Islam to Java.  In both the Batavia and Lamongan manuscripts the diagram is used to illustrate the Oneness (tawhid) of God, by visualising graphically the unity of the first three stages of the ‘seven grades of being’ (martabat tujuh), and making this reference explicit through accompanying captions:  aḥadīyah - Allāh / waḥdah - Muḥammad / wāḥidīyah - Adam

EAP061_2_50-033b_L-34a
Three fish with one head, shown on the left-hand page, in a manuscript  (EAP061/2/44-52) containing texts of Sufism, dated in the Javanese era 5 wulan Sawal tahun jawi 1854 (10 May 1924). Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah, Kranji, Lamongan, East Java, EAP061/2/50, f. 34a

The second manuscript from Lamongan (EAP061/2/55-61), which is undated but probably also dates from around the late 19th or early 20th century, has a very finely executed drawing of the three fish with one head.  In contrast to nearly all known diagrams of this motif where the three fish are depicted identically, in the undated Lamongan manuscript, while the two fish labelled Muhammad and Adam are decorated with delicate scales, the fish labelled Allah is left plain and unadorned, most likely to reflect the 'emptiness' associated with the first of the seven grades of being, aḥadīyah.

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Three fish with one head in a manuscript containing Sufi texts, ca. late 19th c.; this is the only known example where the three fish are differentiated from one another visually. Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah, Kranji, Lamongan, East Java, EAP061/2/59, f.29b   [This page has been rotated through 180 degrees to allow the reading of the Javanese text.]

According to Mahrus eL-Mahwa, who has carried out a study of this motif in the Cirebon region of north Java, there are three late-19th century manuscripts which are all copies of a text of the Shaṭṭārīyah wa-Muḥammadīyah Sufi order closely linked to the Kaprabonan court (one of the three princely houses of Cirebon which emerged from the sultanate in 1677 following a succession dispute).  In all three Cirebon manuscripts, each fish is labelled with a different descriptor of the stage represented: zat ‘ibarat Allāh - ṣifat ‘ibarat rūḥ/Muḥammad - af‘āl ‘ibarat jasad/Adam (Essence symbolising God / attributes symbolising the soul/Muḥammad / Deeds symbolising the body/Adam).  It was thus probably one such Cirebon manuscript which was cited by the scholar Karel Steenbrink in his discussion of how simple figures and diagrams were used in the Malay world to elucidate ideas about the mystical reality: ‘A quite peculiar example of this style of summarising the totality of being is that of the three fishes, as found in a 19th century Malay tract on the unity of being, according to the Shattariyah brotherhood, composed in Java. The three fishes were given the names of Essence of Allah, Deeds (af’āl) and Attributes (sifāt). The drawing symbolises the unity of the original essence and the first emanations within the divine being … When looked upon from the tails, the figures seem to be different, but in their heads, they are identical. Difference and change have disappeared as so often in the neo-Platonic reasoning that has since long dominated Islamic mystical thinking about God’ (Steenbrink 2009: 69-79).

Mahrus eL-Mawa has suggested that the iwak telu sirah sanunggal diagram has a particular association with the Shaṭṭārīyah order in Cirebon, where it functioned as a suluk or an aid to mystical practice.  There may be a particular association with court culture in Cirebon: the motif of three fish with one head is currently the symbol of the Kacirebonan, the fourth and youngest princely house of Cirebon, which was founded in 1808, while Mahrus’s research also reveals that the past five heads of the Kaprabonan court have all been initiated into the Shaṭṭārīyah wa-Muḥammadīyah order. 

 HUT Kacirebonan lambang
Three fish with one head as the symbol of the Kacirebonan court, Cirebon, founded in 1808. Source: Cirebon Insight, 3 June 2011

The motif does appear to be particularly strongly associated with Cirebon: in addition to its appearance in manuscripts it also occurs on batik, wood carvings  and glass paintings.  The ‘three fish with one head’ also appears frolicking alongside ‘ordinary’ fish in two separate scenes in a delightful illustrated late 18th-century Javanese manuscript of the Serat Damar Wulan probably from Cirebon; this is the only known appearance of the motif in a non-mystical manuscript, and may reflect a deep entrenchment in the repertoire of local artists . 

MSS Jav 89  f.41r-det
The ‘three-in-one’ fish depicted with soldiers crossing a river, in a Javanese manuscript of the Serat Damar Wulan,  late 18th century. The manuscript was given to the India Office Library in 1815 by Lt. Col. Raban, who had been Resident of Cirebon from 1812 to 1814.  British Library, MSS Jav 89, f. 41r  noc

Yet the origin and meaning of this motif remains obscure. Even within Cirebon the diagram of three fish with one head is not found in all Shaṭṭārīyah manuscripts, while outside Java, apart from one manuscript in Malay from the Lanao area of Mindanao, the diagram is not encountered in any Shaṭṭārīyah manuscripts from other parts of the Malay world, for example from Aceh or west Sumatra, or in mystical manuscripts in Arabic, Turkish or Persian from the broader Islamic world.   The reason may lie in differing lines of transmission of Shaṭṭārīyah teachings, as traced through the spiritual genealogies (silsilah) contained in manuscripts.  A recent detailed philological study of Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah in Aceh, Java and Mindanao by Oman Fathurahman (2016) reveals four main lines of descent from Aḥmad Qushāshī, most notably demonstrating that not all adherents traced their spiritual genealogy from the famous Acehnese scholar and Sufi Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ra’ūf of Singkil (d. 1661), who is usually associated with the introduction of the Shaṭṭārīyah to the Malay world. 

The proposition that the diagram of ‘three fish with one head’ used to illustrate the Unity of God is linked with one particular descent line of the Shaṭṭārīyah would explain why this motif is only found in a small number of manuscripts found along the north coast of Java, particularly centred on Cirebon.  Nonetheless it remains puzzling that the motif of three fish with one head is unknown in either manuscript or other material cultural manifestations in other parts of the archipelago and even in mainland Southeast Asia, when, as will be shown in the second part of this blog post, it has in fact an exceptionally long history in many far-flung parts of the world, dating back thousands of years. 

MSS Jav 89  f.3v det
The ‘three fish with one head' depicted clustered around the anchor of a ship, at the start of a Javanese manuscript of the Serat Damar Wulan, probably from Cirebon, late 18th century.  British Library, MSS Jav 89, f. 3v  noc

Further reading:

This study of the motif of ‘three fish with one head’ was initiated as part of a research project on Mindanao manuscripts coordinated by Prof. Midori Kawashima, which resulted in the publication: A.T.Gallop, Cultural interactions in Islamic manuscript art: a scholar's library from MindanaoThe library of an Islamic scholar of Mindanao: the collection of Sheik Muhammad Said bin Imam sa Bayang at the Al-Imam As-Sadiq (A.S.) Library, Marawi City, Philippines:  an annotated catalogue with essays, edited by Oman Fathurahman, Kawashima Midori and Labi Sarip Riwarung.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Sophia University; pp. 205-248.

Karel Steenbrink, Circling around an unknowable truth: on the flexibility of Islamic art.  Visual arts and religion, eds Hans Alma, Marcel Barnard & Volker Küster; pp. 65-78.  Berlin: LIT, 2009.
Mahrus eL-Mawa, Suluk iwak telu sirah sanunggal: dalam naskah 'Syatariyah wa Muhammadiyah' di Cirebon. [Paper presented at: Simposium Internasional ke-16 Pernaskahan Manassa, Perpustakaan Nasional RI, 26-28 September 2016].  Jakarta.
Oman Fathurahman, Shattariyah silsilah in Aceh, Java, and the Lanao area of Mindanao.  Tokyo: Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 2016.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork

27 November 2019

The Ring of Solomon in Southeast Asia

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Batak manuscript books from north Sumatra, written on tree-bark and then folded accordion-style, are known as pustaha. These generally contain texts on divination and spells, and were compiled by a shaman known in Batak as a datu.  Many pustaha contains magical diagrams in red and black ink, and a symbol that frequently appears in these Batak books is a design of two overlapping squares, the smaller one rotated by 45 degrees and set within the other, with eight looped corners.  The upright square is called bindu matoga, and the diagonal one bindu matogu.  In some pustaha this symbol is shown enclosing a turtle, and is itself surrounded by a snake.

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A small diagram of two overlapping squares, bindu matoga and bindu matogu, can be seen on the open page at the right, alongside a representation of a labyrinth, in a Batak pustaha, containing a text on divination. British Library, Add. 19381

This design of two overlapping squares with eight looped corners is extremely old: the earliest example known is engraved on an amulet from Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus valley, and thus probably dates from not later than ca. 1300 BC, and slightly variant forms are found as threshold designs in India and Sri Lanka.  The symbol was the subject of a very detailed study by Carl Schuster (1975), who showed convincingly that this composition can be linked to the Indian myth of creation, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, when the snake Vasuki was used as a rope to turn the churning pole on the back of a cosmic turtle.  Consistent with this cosmic interpretation is the suggestion by the renowned scholar of Batak manuscripts, Petrus Voorhoeve, that the two bindu represented the four cardinal and four intermediate points, and were therefore a symbol of the earth. 

In mainland Southeast Asia, the design is widely found in esoteric contexts in Thai and Khmer manuscripts, particularly associated with yantras or magical symbols that were often used as tattooes or drawn on amuletic clothing.  Numerous variants of this symbol can be seen in a 19th century manuscript held in the British Library of yantras in Thai in Khom (a variant of Khmer) script, Or. 15568.

Yantras
Several examples of a yantra of two overlapping squares can be seen in a 19th century manuscript in Thai in Khom script, British Library, Or. 15568, f. 6v (detail)

More unusually,the symbol is also seen depicted in a Buddhist text.  In a Thai illustrated manuscript of the Bhuridatta Jataka, one of the Birth Tales of the Buddha, an evil-minded Brahman and snake charmer captures Bhuridatta (the Buddha in one of his former existences as a serpent) using magic spells (mantra). In the picture shown below, the magic symbol (yantra) on the fan and the tattoo on his leg are both accompanied by letters in the sacred Khmer Khom script (with thanks to Jana Igunma for this explanation).

2008 July 124
A scene from the Bhuridatta Jataka, one of the Birth Tales of the Buddha, where the two overlapping squares with eight looped corners can be seen on the fan held by the evil Brahman. British Library, Or. 16710, f. 6.

The overlapping squares also appear frequently in Islamic texts from all over the Malay archipelago. The name of this amulet, and a concise explication of its power, is given in a mystical notebook from west Sumatra said to have belonged to the Padri leader Tuanku Imam Bonjol (1796-1864), now held in Leiden University Library (Cod. Or. 1751).  Shown below is a coloured diagram with the two overlapping squares, containing the word Allāh written twice, and with a pentagram in each of the five compartments, while around it is written the shahādah, the Muslim confession of faith.  Alongside reads the following caption in Malay: Inilah syarh cincin Sulaiman ‘alayhi al-salām, barangsiapa memakai dia rezekinya pun tiada berkurang, tamat, ‘This is an explanation of the ring of Solomon, peace be upon him: whoever wears it will never lack for fortune, the end’.

LUB Or.1751 (9)
‘The ring of Solomon’, from the notebook of Tuanku Imam Bonjol, west Sumatra. Leiden University Library, Cod. Or. 1751, p. 121.

The name ‘Sulaiman’ refers to the Islamic prophet Sulaymān bin Dāwūd, known from earlier Christian and Jewish tradition and sacred texts as King Solomon, son of King David.  Sulaymān is frequently mentioned in the Qur’an, with many descriptions of his esoteric knowledge granted by God: he could understand the speech of birds and animals (Q. 27:16, 19), and he was able to command legions of jinn (Q. 21:82, 34: 12).  His magic power was believed to be effected by the means of a talismanic ring engraved with ‘the most great name’ of God, which in Arabic magical texts and on amulets is represented by seven symbols, ‘the seven seals of Solomon’.  One of the symbols which makes up the ‘seven seals of Solomon’ is a five or six-pointed star.   The star alone, whether a pentagram or hexagram, is a very common amulet encountered in Islamic magic which is itself called ‘the seal of Solomon', khātam Sulaymān.  Very occasionally, the star is eight-pointed, and this may have been a crucial link with the eight-looped symbol, which has become known in Malay as ‘the ring of Solomon', cincin Sulaiman.

Seven seals of Solomon
The 'Seven Seals of Solomon', from an Arabic MS dated 1508 (after H. A. Winkler, Siegel und charaktere in der Muhammedanischen Zauberei.  Berlin und Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1930, p. 115)

#860   #2172
The 'Seven Seals of Solomon' are found on two Malay seals: left, along the bottom of the seal of Sultan Abdul Kadir II of Tallo' in Sulawesi (cat. 1752 #860); right, in the top left border of the seal of Syahbandar Ismail of Pulau Penyengat, Riau, ca. 1870 (cat. 965 #2712)

Although the 'Seven Seals of Solomon' are occasionally found in Malay manuscripts and seals, as shown above, the name of Solomon or Sulaiman is much more closely linked with the 8-looped ‘ring of Solomon’ amulet. This occurs all over Southeast Asia, but it seems to have a particularly strong association with the cultural zone stretching through the islands of Maluku up to the southern Philippines.  In Maranao communities in Mindanao, this symbol is called sising Raja Solaiman, ‘King Solomon’s ring’, and is very commonly used in amulets for driving away evil spirits, for palimonan charms to make the wearer vanish from sight, and for kebel (invulnerability) charms, to protect against other amulets or other sources of danger.  It has also been noted as a marginal design in a Qur’an manuscript from Taraka, Mindanao, and inscribed on a small piece of paper containing a prayer, found inside another Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao.

UVL MSS 13296  (50)
The 'ring of Solomon', inscribed with other symbols above a prayer, found inside a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao. University of Virginia Library, MSS 13296

#362  #363

The 'ring of Solomon' on two seals of Sultan Mandar Syah of Ternate (r.1648-1675), that on the left inscribed Sultan Mandar Syah (cat. 1838 #362), and that on the right inscribed Sultan Mandar Syah ‘Adil (cat. 1839 #363).  Leiden University Library, K. Acad. 98 (14 & 15).

Thus the label of a powerful Islamic talisman, the 'Seven Seals of Solomon', and of the pentagram known as the ‘Seal of Solomon’, was in the Malay Muslim world applied to an design of two overlapping 8-looped squares, an amulet already deeply embedded throughout the archipelagic world of Southeast Asia, which became known as the 'Ring of Solomon'.

Further reading:

This study of the 'Ring of Solomon' was initiated as part of a research project on Mindanao manuscripts coordinated by Prof. Midori Kawashim, which resulted in the publication: A.T.Gallop, Cultural interactions in Islamic manuscript art: a scholar's library from MindanaoThe library of an Islamic scholar of Mindanao: the collection of Sheik Muhammad Said bin Imam sa Bayang at the Al-Imam As-Sadiq (A.S.) Library, Marawi City, Philippines:  an annotated catalogue with essays, edited by Oman Fathurahman, Kawashima Midori and Labi Sarip Riwarung.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Sophia University; pp. 205-248.

The cat. numbers of the Malay seals reproduced above refer to: A.T. Gallop, Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia: content, form, context, catalogue. Singapore: NUS Press in association with the British Library, 2019.

Carl Schuster, Comparative observations on some typical designs in Batak manuscripts. Catalogue of Indonesian manuscripts. Part 1. Batak manuscripts, by P.Voorhoeve; pp.52-85. Copenhagen: The Royal Library, 1975.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section

07 November 2019

British Library receives gift of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka

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On the occasion of the opening of the Buddhism exhibition, the British Library received a gift from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation, Thailand, of the Buddhist canon in the Pāḷi language. The recently published threefold edition consists of 120 volumes altogether. The official handover ceremony on 24 October 2019 was attended by representatives from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation, the Royal Thai Embassy in London and members of the Library’s senior leadership team who expressed their gratitude for this generous donation. All 120 volumes are currently on display in the Buddhism exhibition and will be added to the Library’s Buddhist collections after the exhibition closes on 23 February 2020.

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Representatives from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation, the Royal Thai Embassy in London and British Library staff at the handover ceremony of the threefold edition of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka on 24 October 2019, led by Thanpuying Varaporn Pramoj, President of the World Tipiṭaka Foundation (centre).

The Buddha’s word was initially transmitted orally. After the Buddha’s physical passing and attainment of parinirvana, his disciples and later followers gathered in several councils to recite and preserve the Buddha’s teachings. It is thought that in the first century BCE, during the fourth Buddhist council held in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, an early version of the Buddhist canon was written down in the Pāḷi language. The Pāḷi canon, or Tipiṭaka, is regarded as the corpus of Buddhist scriptures closest to the original words of the Buddha. It consists of “three baskets” of teachings: the Sutta Piṭaka (discourses of the Buddha), the Vinaya Piṭaka (monastic discipline) and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka (further teachings). Each of the major Buddhist traditions has their own body of scriptures that may differ from others in contents, number and order of texts. In Sanskrit, the corpus of canonical scriptures is known as Tripiṭaka. A complete set of scriptures of the Buddhist canon can include from around 40 volumes in the Theravada tradition to 108 in the Vajrayana tradition and over 200 volumes in the Mahayana tradition. Maunggan gold plates
Text fragments from the Tipiṭaka in Pāḷi , written in Pyu script, on gold plates which were excavated at Maunggan, Burma. Pyu kingdoms, 5th century. British Library, Or.5340/A–B Noc

The oldest extant text fragments of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka in form of Pyu inscriptions on gold plates date back to around the 5th century CE. They were excavated at Maunggan, Burma, in 1897. The Pāḷi Tipiṭaka was transcribed into Sinhalese, Burmese, Khmer, Thai and Northern Thai, Lao, Shan and other scripts of Southeast Asia. In the nineteenth century Western scholars together with monks from Sri Lanka began to Romanise and to translate scriptures of the Tipiṭaka into English and other European languages. The first Romanised publication of the Jātaka tales from the Sutta Piṭaka by V. Fausbøll and R. C. Childers appeared in six volumes between 1875-1896.

Jatakas
Title page of the first volume of a Romanised version of the Jātaka tales published in London in 1875. British Library, 14098.d.23

The world's first printed set of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka was the 39-volume Chulachomklao of Siam Pāḷi Tipiṭaka Edition which was commissioned by King Chulalongkorn Chulachomklao of Siam (Rama V) in B.E.2463 (1893). After six years of preparation under the leadership of the Buddhist monk and scholar Vajirañāna-varorasa, the king presented 1000 sets of this historic edition to Buddhist monasteries all over the kingdom of Siam (now Thailand). More sets were presented later as royal gifts to 260 leading institutions all over the world. These royal gifts of Tipiṭaka in Pāḷi language printed in Syām script are now still held at libraries in 30 countries.

1893 edition
Front cover of a volume of the 1893 Chulachomklao of Siam Pāḷi Tipiṭaka Edition with the royal coat of arms of Siam used by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) embossed in gold. Photo courtesy of the World Tipiṭaka Foundation

In 1956 an international Buddhist Council held in Burma brought 2500 erudite monks of the Theravada tradition together and resulted in the publication of the Chaṭṭhasaṅgīti Council Edition containing the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka in Burmese script. Based on this edition, a Romanised version was edited on the initiative of the Supreme Patriarch of the Sangha of Thailand, Venerable Vajirañānasaṁvara, who himself had attended the Buddhist Council in 1956. The work was published in 2002 by the M. L. Manīratana Bunnag Dhamma Society Fund in Thailand, or present-day, World Tipiṭaka Foundation, comprising of forty volumes with the title Mahāsaṅgīti Tipiṭaka Buddhavasse 2500 (The Great International Tipiṭaka Council Buddhist Era 2500).

Pali notation
Front cover of a volume of the 2016 Queen Sirikit’s Sajjhāya Pāḷi Notation edition with the emblem of Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother of Thailand. Photograph courtesy of the World Tipiṭaka  Foundation

Based on the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka edition in Roman script that was completed in 2002, the World Tipiṭaka  Foundation published two further 40-volume sets of the Tipiṭaka specifically for the correct pronunciation and recitation of the Pāḷi text. The King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Sajjhāya Pāḷi Phonetic and the Queen Sirikit’s Sajjhāya Pāḷi Notation editions, published in 2016, are the culmination of half a century of international efforts to preserve the words of the Buddha. The use of sound technology made it possible to record the recitation of the Pāḷi texts, amounting to 3,052 hours. A special feature of the digital Sajjhāya recitation is the sound technology reference, which electronically refers to any one of over nine million Pāḷi syllables in the Tipiṭaka to the Kaccāyana Pāḷi grammar, the oldest grammar used in ancient Pāḷi literature. Digital recitation samples are available online at www.sajjhaya.org/node/26.

The presentation of the Romanised version of the Tipiṭaka together with the Sajjhāya Pāḷi Phonetic and the Sajjhāya Pāḷi Notation editions to the British Library as a Dhamma gift from the World Tipiṭaka Foundation heralds a new era of sharing ancient Buddhist wisdom and making the Pāḷi Buddhist canon available to a wider audience in the UK.

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Display of the threefold edition of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka in the Buddhism exhibition, with (from left to right) Mrs Thipayasuda Suvanajata, Dr Lalivan Karnchanachari, Mr Phornsake Karnchanachari (Patron of the World Tipiṭaka Foundation) and H.E. Mr Pisanu Suvanajata (Ambassador of Thailand in the UK). Photograph courtesy of D. Meng.

Jana Igunma, Lead Curator, Buddhism exhibition Ccownwork

04 November 2019

Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia

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The Malay world of maritime Southeast Asia has long been connected by political, economic, and cultural networks, the lingua franca of the Malay language, and the faith of Islam.  Malay seals – defined as seals from Southeast Asia or used by Southeast Asians, with  inscriptions in Arabic script –  constitute a treasure trove of data that can throw light on myriad aspects of the history of the Malay world, ranging from the nature of kingship to the form of Islamic thought embraced. As small but highly visible and symbolic emblems of their users, Malay seals were designed to portray the image of the self that the seal holder wished to project, but they were also no less strongly shaped by the prevailing cultural, religious, and artistic norms of their time. It is these multiple layers of identity, both consciously and subconsciously revealed in seals, that are recorded, explored, and interpreted in a new catalogue of Malay seals.

Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia  (Singapore:  NUS Press, in association with the British Library, 2019)
Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia  (Singapore:  NUS Press, in association with the British Library, 2019)

Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia, published in Singapore by NUS Press in association with the British Library, and in Indonesia by the Lontar Foundation, comprises a catalogue of 2,168 seals sourced from more than 70 public institutions and 60 private collections worldwide. The seals are primarily recorded from impressions stamped in lampblack, ink or wax on manuscript letters, treaties and other documents, but around 300 seal matrices made of silver, brass or stone are also documented. These Malay seals originate from the present-day territories of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, and date from the second half of the 16th century to the early twentieth century.

the large silver seal of Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor
A rare surviving example of a royal Malay seal matrix: the large silver seal of Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor (r. 1857-1898). 98 mm in diameter, this is both the largest Malay seal known, and the only Malay seal matrix with the names of the seal makers engraved on the underside: Tukang Selat dengan Tukang Ma' Asan ('Craftsman Selat with Craftsman Ma' Asan). Galeri Diraja Sultan Abdul Aziz, Kelang, reproduced courtesy of HH Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor. (Gallop 2019: 440, cat. 1293).

In the catalogue, elegantly designed by Paul Luna - Emeritus Professor of Typography at Reading University, and an expert in the design of ‘complex text’ – each seal is illustrated and the inscription presented in transcription, transliteration and English translation.  Also noted is biographical information on the seal holder (when available); the size, shape and medium of the seal; information on the manuscript on which the seal was found; and the locations of all other known impressions. A statistical overview hints at both the wealth of data encountered and the fragility of survival: over 10,000 impressions of Malay seals have been documented, but more than half the seals in the catalogue are only known from a single impression.

The catalogue began life two decades ago as a handlist of Malay seals in the British Library, and then evolved to include seals from other collections, mainly impressed on letters, treaties, edicts, and legal and commercial documents. In the Malay world, seals were a royal prerogative, their use restricted to the ruler and court officials, and most Malay seals known today are found on correspondence with European officials. In the British Library, the main sources of original Malay seals are letters from the collection of Thomas Stamford Raffles, and documents relating to the East India Company held in the India Office Records. The Endangered Archives Programme has also provided digital access to seal on manuscripts held in Indonesian collections.  Shown below are a few examples of manuscripts bearing Malay seals in the British Library, accompanied by the catalogue entry.

Aceh
Document recording the gift of a slave from Sultan Johar al-Alam Syah of Aceh to Captain Baumgarten, 30 Syawal 1225 (28 November 1810).  Melaka Records, British Library IOR R/9/22/45, f. 50r
Document recording the gift of a slave from Sultan Johar al-Alam Syah of Aceh to Captain Baumgarten, 30 Syawal 1225 (28 November 1810).  Melaka Records, British Library IOR R/9/22/45, f. 50r.  Like most Malay seals, the seal was stamped in lampblack, which has smudged when the paper was folded.  noc
Seal of Sultan Johar al-Alam Syah of Aceh

Kedah
Letter from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Kedah (r. 1778-1797) to Francis Light, Governor of Penang, 2 Syawal 1206 (24 May 1792).
Letter from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Kedah (r. 1778-1797) to Francis Light, Governor of Penang, 2 Syawal 1206 (24 May 1792). British Library, Add. 45271, f. 11; this volume of letters is from the Raffles collection.  noc Due to Siamese influence, Kedah seals were generally stamped in red ink and not the lampblack favoured in most Malay states. The seal on this letter is the sultan's small private seal, rather than his official seal of state. 150 examples of this seal have been documented, mostly from Sultan Abdullah's correspondence with Light, as noted in the catalogue entry below.
Seal of Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Ke

Johor
Illuminated letter from Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja of Johor to Emperor Napoleon III of France, 17 Syaaban 1273 (12 April 1857).
Illuminated letter from Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja of Johor to Emperor Napoleon III of France, 17 Syaaban 1273 (12 April 1857). British Library, Or. 16126.  noc It is often assumed that the most important Malay letters were illuminated, but in fact only a small number of courts ever produced illuminated letters, including Aceh, Johor, Pontianak, and Palembang. This finely decorated letter from Johor is the only Malay letter known written in gold ink. The seal, stamped in black ink, is catalogued below.
Seal of Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja of Johor

Jambi
Edict (surat piagam) from Pangiran Dipati Anum of Jambi, Sumatra, to Dipati Terbumi
Edict (surat piagam) from Pangiran Dipati Anum of Jambi, Sumatra, to Dipati Terbumi, dated Thursday in Jumadilakhir 10--.  This letter may date from the 17th century: although the date is incomplete as the paper is torn down the left side after the word seribu (one thousand), the next word appears to start with alif, and hence is most likely empat (four) or enam (six), and not seratus or dua ratus (one or two hundreds), giving a date in the first century of the second Hijrah millennium.  British Library, EAP117/51/1/10, Collection of Depati Atur Bumi, Hiang Tinggi, Kerinci, Jambi. The seal is catalogued below. Seal jambi

The majority of the over 2,000 seals in the new catalogue have been sourced from documents similar to those shown about.  Unlike in many other parts of the Islamic world, Malay seals are rarely encountered in manuscript books. However, perhaps two of the most unusual seals in the catalogue are those of Princess Ambung of Riau, attesting her ownership of prized items of silverware.

10-sided betel box (tepak sirih) with an inset tray lid, chased silver and partly gilded, Riau islands, 19th century.V&A IS.268&A-1950

10-sided betel box (tepak sirih) with an inset tray lid, chased silver and partly gilded, Riau islands, 19th century. Stamped on the base with the ownership seal of Tengku Ambung. V&A I.S. 268-1950.A.  One of Tengku Ambung's two seals is catalogued below:
seal of Tengku Ambung

The picture that emerges from a consideration of this wealth of data is of a Malay sealing tradition, involving the regular chancery use of locally manufactured seals with inscriptions in Arabic script, which probably evolved only in the 16th and early 17th centuries in the Muslim courts of the archipelago. Although seals had certainly been present in maritime Southeast Asia over the preceding millennium – the signet ring of the king of Srivijaya was reported in Song records of the 11th century, and Ibn Battuta noted the use of seals in Pasai during his visit in the 13th century – there does not appear to have been a consistent and coherent usage of seals in any part of the Malay world before the 17th century, except in Java. A possible impetus for the increasing use of Malay seals may have been the arrival on the scene of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) around 1600, and the emphasis the Dutch placed on the use of seals in treaties, in a way that the earlier wave of Portuguese and Spanish emissaries did not.  The well-established sealing culture in Islamic lands to the west provided the Malay world with the means of response to this sigillographic challenge, but Malay seals were nonetheless designed primarily to strike a chord within the region itself, while still clearly identifying their owners as full members of the international Islamic community.

Malay seals from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia, by Annabel Teh Gallop. 
Singapore: NUS Press in association with the British Library, 2019.
852 pp.  ISBN: 978-981-3250-86-4
Distributed in North and South America by Chicago University Press
Distributed in the UK by Bernard Quaritch Ltd

The catalogue is published in Indonesia by the Lontar Foundation, with a jacket design based on the illuminated Johor letter shown above.
 Lontar front cover

Annabel Teh Gallop, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork