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189 posts categorized "South East Asia"

14 November 2018

Pawukon, Javanese calendrical manuscripts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

Ann Kumar Ccownwork
Australian National University, Canberra

 

09 November 2018

Buddhism Illuminated through Southeast Asian Manuscript Art (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book is available from all major booksellers and online.

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

02 November 2018

The Javanese 'Chronicle of the Kingdoms': Babad Kraton

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Today’s guest blog for the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogykarta Digitisation Project is by Prof. Merle Ricklefs of the Australian National University

Despite the simple opening frames, devoid of colours and gold, this Javanese manuscript of Babad Kraton, ‘Chronicle of the Kingdoms’ (British Library, Add 12320), is one of the most important documents shedding light on the intellectual and cultural framework of the court of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in the later 18th century. The work has received considerable attention: I’ve discussed it particularly in my books Jogjakarta under Sultan Mangkubumi 1749-1792 (1974), War, culture and economy in Java 1677-1726 (1993) and The seen and unseen worlds in Java 1726-1749 (1998), and the text has been published in transcription by I. W. Pantja Sunjata, Ignatius Supriyanto and J.J. Ras (eds and translits), Babad Kraton: Sejarah keraton Jawa sejak Nabi Adam sampai runtuhnya Mataram, menurut naskah tulisan tangan The British Library, London, Add 12320, 2 vols (1992).

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Opening pages of Babad Kraton, Yogyakarta, 1777-8. British Library, Add 12320, ff. 1v.-2r.  Noc

Babad Kraton was written in the court of Yogyakarta in 1777-8. The writer was a son-in-law of Sultan Hamengkubuwana I (r. 1749-92) named Jayengrat. The work begins with Adam, as do many Javanese chronicles (babad) aspiring to a sort of universal history, and continues to historical times. The writer seems essentially to have copied out – perhaps altering to some degree as he did so – pre-existing manuscript copies of such babads to make his new compilation. There are, however, some oddities in this manuscript, the most important of which relates to the date when it was ended. To understand the significance of this, we have to turn to Javanese ideas about cycles of dynastic change.

Javanese sources make clear that there was thought to be a regular cycle of dynastic succession. At each ’00 year of a century, a court (kraton) would fall, and its successor would be established in the ’03 year of the new century. In Java’s poorly institutionalised and frequently unstable states, the widespread expectation that events would unfold in such a sequence made it more likely that they would. If everyone expected a kraton to fall, why bother to defend it when enemies appeared at its walls?

The most prominent example – and the one most relevant to our discussion of Babad Kraton – was the fall of the court of Plered, capital of the Javanese kingdom of Mataram, to a rebel army in the Javanese (AJ) year 1600 (CE 1677). After a period of division and conflict, the new court of Kartasura was founded in the month Ruwah of AJ 1603 (September CE 1680). In this example, the theory and the events were at one.

The next major kraton to fall was Kartasura, but it fell to rebels in June 1742, equivalent to Mulud AJ 1667, 33 years before it should have fallen in AJ 1700, according to the dynastic theory. The successor court of Surakarta was occupied in February 1746, equivalent to Sura AJ 1671. Surakarta was clearly the successor to Kartasura but, as far as the century cycle of kratons was concerned, as Hamlet famously lamented, the times were ‘out of joint’. Who, in 18th-century Java, was going ‘to set it right’?

Chart b
Detail from a dynastic tree-diagram of the rulers of Java compiled in 1814, starting from Adam, showing the leaves numbered 53-4 and mentioning the rulers: (53) Amangkurat I (Tegalwangi), whose court fell to rebels in AJ  1600/1677 CE (he was buried at Tegalwangi); (53A) Amangkurat II (Kartasura), who founded the court of Kartasura in AJ 1603/1680 CE; (53B) Amangkurat III (Selong), who was exiled to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in 1708; and (54) Pakubuwana I (r. 1704-19). British Library, Or 15932, f. 72r. Noc

When Jayengrat sat down to write out Babad Kraton, the Javanese courts were facing another turn of the dynastic cycle. The Sultanate of Yogyakarta might have felt the more threatened by the supposed supernatural forces that drove this cycle. Surakarta had clear precedents going back to previous kratons, but Yogyakarta was where the rebel prince Mangkubumi was declared king in 1749 and his permanent court was established after the end of warfare in 1755. What were its immediate predecessors? How could the supernatural forces surrounding the century cycle be managed when there were two rival courts in existence? Would one fall in AJ 1700 (March 1774-March 1775 CE)? Would a new court arise in AJ 1703 (February 1777-January 1778)?

Several measures were taken by the two courts in the years leading up to AJ 1700 to stabilise the politics of Central Java. Land agreements and legal codes removed potential sources of conflict. Then, at least in Yogyakarta, it seems that supernatural forces were mobilised through literature to protect the court in the challenging period AJ 1700-03.

In the month Muharram, the first month, of AJ 1700 the Yogyakarta Crown Prince (later Sultan Hamengkubuwana II) composed a vast (and beautifully illuminated) pseudo-history and prophecy entitled Surya Raja. It was about a court – which clearly represented Yogyakarta – and how it would triumph in unifying a divided kingdom. In the end, this court would also oversee the conversion to Islam of infidel intruders – clearly representing the Dutch – and their reconciliation with the ruler of pseudo-Yogyakarta. How – or indeed whether – Yogyakarta court dignitaries actually expected this to happen in the world of Realpolitik is unclear. But it is reasonable to accept that this book (which is now regarded as one of the sacred, supernaturally powerful regalia of the Sultanate) was a step to neutralise the threat posed by the arrival of the year AJ 1700.

AJ 1700 passed without a new war breaking out or a court falling. Nevertheless, there was still the question of how to understand AJ 1703 when it arrived. Would a new court be founded?

This is where Babad Kraton appears to have played a role. Jayengrat began his writing in Ruwah AJ 1703 (September CE 1777) – the centenary of the founding of the court of Kartasura. The century cycle is part of the history retold in the pages of Babad Kraton and surely must have been in Jayengrat’s mind (and that of the rest of the Yogyakarta kraton elite) when he began to write his chronicle at this time.

In February 1778, Jayengrat brought his chronicle to an end – for the first time for, as we shall see, there was a second ending. He first drew the chronicle to a close just after the founding of Kartasura in Ruwah AJ 1603 (September CE 1680), which is described on f. 395r. On f. 398r. (transcribed in Pantja Sunjata et al., vol. ii, p. 52), he wrote a concluding passage, saying that the writing came to an end on 19 Muharram AJ 1704 (17 February CE 1778) and particularly admonishing readers and listeners to ponder that date. Ff. 398v. and 399r. are without text (except for the last words of a blessing which the writer invoked), but they have borders marked which are identical to the beginning and the end of the MS. This was clearly where this babad was supposed to end. F. 399v. is blank.

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Decorative frames marking the originally planned ending of Jayengrat's Babad Kraton. British Library, Add 12320, ff. 398v.-399r. Noc

We may deduce that this babad – written on the centenary of the founding of Kartasura and ending with the account of Kartasura’s foundation in AJ 1603/CE 1680 – probably was intended to say that the century cycle was intact and, crucially, that a divided kingdom was part of the cycle. In AJ 1704/CE 1778, just as a century before, the kingdom was divided between two courts. In the earlier century, one monarch was in Kartasura while his brother occupied the previous court in Mataram (where Yogyakarta was located). This was a historically correct depiction.

But someone – Jayengrat, the Sultan, whoever – must have quickly realised that the precedent for division in AJ 1704/CE 1778 was inauspicious. That division in AJ 1603/CE 1680 had ended in the victory of Kartasura over the rebel brother holding out in Mataram. It was, that is to say, a precedent for Surakarta (as Kartasura’s successor) to be victorious over Yogyakarta (Mataram’s successor).

So Jayengrat took up his pen again. On f. 400r., he began writing the text exactly as it was written on f. 398r. (Pantja Sunjata et al., omit the repetition). But this time around, the date of completion was omitted; instead, the text carries on with more cantos. If ff. 398r. to 399v. had been removed from the MS, the text would have carried on seamlessly without the ending originally written there, and there would have been no sign that an earlier ending had been planned but then abandoned. Fortunately for us, whoever was responsible for the final polishing of the MS, including removing ff. 398r. to 399v., failed to do her or his job. So we are left with evidence supporting our deductions about the ideas of court circles.

Jayengrat wrote on for another three months. He made a mistake in this part of his babad. Was he getting tired of the whole enterprise and becoming careless? At the end of each canto in Javanese verse texts, there is commonly word-play signalling what metre would be used in the following canto. This was to assist people performing the text orally, to know which of the fixed poetic metres to use when beginning to sing the next canto. On f. 631r., Jayengrat ended Canto 150 with a signal that the next canto would be in Asmaradana metre. And so it is. But he must have put down the exemplar he was working with and when he picked it up again, or when he picked up another to copy from, he started with an Asmaradana canto from a much later period. He thereby managed to omit events over the years 1719-41 CE.

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Jayengrat's missing years: note the change of handwriting style after the canto marker. British Library, Add 12320, f. 631r. Noc

Probably unaware of this error, Jayengrat wrote until May 1778. He again brought his copying to an end, but this time the last significant event was the fall – not the foundation – of Kartasura in Rabingulakir AJ 1667/CE 1742 (we ignore a scribal error in this date). This is described on ff. 714v.-715r. (trancribed in Pantja Sunjata et al., vol. ii, p. 430).

Given the clear evidence that trouble was being taken to get dates and precedents right, we may reasonably conclude the following from this new ending. Courtiers who knew of this account could accept – we may say, they could pretend – that the century cycle was working. Kartasura had been the last kraton to fall, as it should have been, having been founded in AJ 1603/CE 1680. By omitting all the history since that date, Babad Kraton seems to have implied that Yogyakarta could regard itself as the new court for the new century. That is not the way history had worked out – and all those Javanese aristocrats knew this was so – but in the world of literature and literary magic, it could be made to seem so.

The looming threats of the ’00-’03 cycle had been surmounted. Literature provided a transition which history had stubbornly refused to do. Yogyakarta could be considered as a legitimate court in the new century, representing no violation to the chronological cycle of kratons.

When the British sacked the court of Yogyakarta in 1812 and carried off the Babad Kraton manuscript (along with many others), they brought us this fascinating object for our literary detective work.

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Closing pages of Babad Kraton. British Library, Add 12320, ff. 715v.-716r. Noc

M. C. Ricklefs  Ccownwork
Melbourne, October 2018

15 October 2018

A Vietnamese Lord’s letter to the East India Company

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During the Later Lê dynasty (1428-1788), Vietnam was effectively divided into two parts. For over two centuries – from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 18th centuries – the Trịnh Lords ruled the northern part (referred to in Vietnamese history as Đàng Ngoài) and the Nguyễn Lords had power over the southern part (Đàng Trong) of Vietnam, while the Lê emperors had no real political power at all.

The oldest manuscript in the Vietnamese collection at the British Library, from the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane of 1753, was probably written by the Trịnh ruler of Tonkin in the late 17th century (Sloane 3460). It is a long scroll of yellow paper, beautifully illuminated in silver, written in the Vietnamese language in Han Nom (adapted Chinese) characters, and bearing a large square red ink seal. Unfortunately, the first part of the scroll is missing, and some of the characters in the remaining part are illegible, and it is therefore impossible to establish the precise date of this manuscript.

Sloane 3460
Vietnamese letter, probably from Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682) of Tonkin to the East India Company, ca. 1673. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

At my request, Dr Li Tana, of the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, kindly examined images of the manuscript in April 2018. She has transcribed and translated its contents, and is of the opinion that it was probably written under the command of Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682) and was sent to the English East India Company (EIC) some time in 1673, following the arrival in Tonkin in 1672 of the first EIC ship. Foreign traders always sought assistance from local powers to facilitate their commercial missions, and in return the local lords also tried to benefit from these foreign visitors, especially their technical know-how on modern technology, as the content of the Trinh lord’s letter clearly demonstrates:

…[overseas merchants visiting us] have been many but only Holland has come … (three characters not legible). It has acted in both friendship and righteousness. [They] sometimes offer pearls and beautiful presents and sometimes send craftsmen who are specialised in cannon casting. This kindness is above all rulers.  Although your country has only just begun interactions with us, we treat all countries equally with compassion and good will. Recently your head trader brought one iron cannon and two bronze cannons. The bronze ones broke as soon as they were tested. [They] were definitely not of solid and excellent quality. [We therefore] have returned them to the ship captain but he has not yet taken them back. If you are arranging for ship[s] to come next year, [please] bring amber either in pieces or stringed together with real pearls for us. We will pay [you] accordingly right away. [This] will be of benefit to both sides. [Please] also send cannon casting craftsmen so that the craftsmen from Holland cannot monopolise this skill. This way our friendship will last forever. [We are sending] 560 catties of raw silk for the two iron cannons which we received last year. Please buy for us 50 hoc (= 50 kilogrammes) big sized amber, plus 5000 pieces of stringed amber. Written in the mid-winter.
(Translated by Dr Li Tana, edited by Dr Geoffrey Wade, April 2018)

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Detail of the text of the letter, with silver illumination on a yellow ground. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

By the early 17th century, commercial competition among European mercantile states had expanded to Asia, and Southeast Asia was targeted for its rich resources. Vietnam was located in a commercially strategic maritime location and many European traders started to visit the kingdom to seek commercial opportunities. The East India Company (EIC) sent its first delegation from its Japanese base of Hirado to Vietnam in as early as 1613 (Le Thanh Thuy 2014: 62) amid vigorous competition with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and other western European nations. Hirado had been an important port of call for ships between Japan and the Asian mainland since the Nara period, and both the EIC and the VOC had ‘factories’ (trading posts) there. 

In 1672, the East India Company sought to establish a factory in Tonkin, as a liaison base for the export and import of British traders’ goods to China, Japan and maritime Southeast Asia (Thuy 2014: 63). On 25th June 1672, the EIC ship The Zant was sent from Bantam, in Java, to Tonkin, with William Gyfford and five other EIC employees, to seek the establishment of commercial relations with Tonkin. However, it was not until 14th March 1673 that Gyfford had an opportunity to meet Trịnh Tac. After receiving the gifts and letter of the Bantam Council, the Trinh lord only allowed the EIC to set up their factory at Phô Hiến, but not at the capital of Tonkin as the EIC mission had hoped (Thuy 2014: 64).

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Seal on the Vietnamese letter to the East India Company, ca. 1673. Sloane 3460  noc

Even though we can’t be certain that this manuscript letter was sent by Trịnh Tac, it is still an important piece of historical evidence, as it reflects the fluidity and versatility of commercial and political affairs in the changing world of the mercantilism of the 17th century, and the arrival of colonialism in Asia.

The letter, Sloane 3460, has been fully digitised, and is currently on display in the Southeast Asia case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library, alongside other Southeast Asian manuscripts from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane.

With thanks to Li Tana and Geoffrey Wade.

Further reading:

Le Thanh Thuy. “Trade Relations between the United Kingdom and Vietnam in the 17th -19th Centuries,” in Vietnam Social Sciences, No. 3 (161), 2014, pp. 59-73.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese  ccownwork

28 September 2018

Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese version of the Hamzanama

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Two copies of Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese story of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, are now available online through the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project.

The story of the warlike and amorous exploits of Amir Hamza, as he and his companions fight against the enemies of Islam, was popular throughout the Muslim world. Many fine illuminated copies of the Persian version, Hamzanama, are known, and shown below is a detail from a large multi-volume copy commissioned in 1562 by the great Mughal emperor Akbar, a task which took 15 years to complete.

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In this illustration, Hamza is deep in coversation with a demon called Hura, unaware that a dragon is approaching from behind rocks to the right. Hamza's close companion, 'Umar Umayya, gesticulates wildly to warn Hamza. Victoria & Albert Museum, IS. 1505-1883

The Hamzanama probably spread throughout Southeast Asia initially in a Malay garb before being translated into other regional languages, including Javanese, Bugis and Makasar. A famous episode in the Malay chronicle of the kingdom of Melaka, the Sulalat al-Salatin or Sejarah Melayu, recounts how the night before Melaka was attacked by the Portuguese in 1511, the nobles ask the Sultan Mahmud Shah for the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah - the bloodthirsty tale of the many battles of Muhammad Hanafiah, a half-brother of the Prophet's grandsons Hasan and Husayn, set in the early days of Islam - to be recited to give them courage. The sultan tested their resolve by suggesting that they did not merit the tale of this great warrior, and offered them instead the Hikayat Amir Hamza as a more appropriate measure of their courage. But the Malay nobles protested and persisted, and finally Sultan Mahmud Shah granted their request for the recital of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah.

While the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah may have been associated with a higher level of valour in Malay tradition, it is the story of Amir Hamza that is far more popular in Javanese literature. In Java, the hero Amir Hamza was granted the ancient Javanese title Menak, and this title is now applied to the whole cycle of Islamic epic tales, which were soon localised according to Javanese literary conventions. Thus in the Menak cycle Amir Hamza is accorded two panakawan companions, Marmaya (based on Amir Hamza's lifelong friend 'Umar Umayya in the Hamzanama) and Marmadi, who are mentors and cunning servants of the hero such as are always found in wayang shadow puppet dramas.

The two Javanese manuscripts which have just been digitised both tell the story of Menak Amir Hamza in the Javanese language, but in two different scripts. MSS Jav 45 is written in Javanese script, derived from an Indian (late southern Brahmi) prototype, and is read from left to right. This manuscript was copied by Mas Ajĕng Wongsaleksana of Jipang, and is dated 9 Rabingulakir, with chronogram panca tri pandita jalma giving the year  in the Javanese era as 1735, equivalent to 4 June A.D. 1808. The text is written in verse and comprises 85 cantos.

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Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese language and script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library, MSS Jav 45, ff. 3v-4r   noc

The second manuscript of Menak Amir Hamza, MSS Jav 72, is written in pegon script, namely Arabic script with the addition of seven letters representing consonantal sounds needed for Javanese but not found in Arabic, and is thus read from right to left. The first two pages are set in decorative frames ruled in black ink, with a diamond superimposed on a rectangle. This is a quintessential Javanese preferred form for double frames, comprising an elegant assemblage of ruled vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. Very similar frames are found in a Javanese Qur’an manuscript also held in the British Library, Add 12343.

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Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese in Arabic script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library, MSS Jav 72, ff. 4v-5r  noc

A third copy of the Menak Amir Hamza from Yogyakarta in the British Library collection, Add. 12309, is also being digitised as part of the current project. From the introduction it is clear that this book was written for Ratu Ageng (c. 1730-1803), a wife of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I and the mother of Hamengku Buwana II, some time after 1792. As this manuscript is perhaps the largest single volume Javanese manuscript known, consisting of over 3000 pages written in pegon script, there are some technical challenges to be overcome before this copy can be made available online, but we hope to publish it soon. Watch this space!

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Menak Amir Hamza with 1520 folios, copied between 1792 and 1812. British Library, Add. 12309

Further reading:

Theodore G. Th.Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols. Volume 1, pp. 212-215.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

21 September 2018

Panji in Javanese manuscripts

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

The legend of the Javanese culture hero Panji has endured longer, spread more widely, and been represented in more genres than any other in Southeast Asia. From its origins in Java it spread across Indonesia to the Malay peninsula, and to mainland Southeast Asia (and, it has been argued, even to Japan). One has to look a long way west for a comparable phenomenon, the closest being the Arthurian legends. The popularity of these two legends from top to bottom of society, over such a large geographical area and over the better part of a millennium, is probably due to two main factors: the idealized picture they present of royal courts, and their focus on heroic battles and romance. As to whether Panji (or Arthur) was actually a historical figure we can only speculate.

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Serat Panji Angronagung Pakualaman, dated 1813. British Library, Add. 12281, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Illustrated in this blog are four Javanese manuscripts containing a range of Panji stories which are being digitised (hyperlinks will go live as each manuscript becomes accessible online). Panji stories have a daunting complexity, with many sub-plots, disguises, and deceptions. The Javanese scholar Poerbatjaraka analysed a large number of Panji texts, classifying them into seven main types, but despite this variety, there is a common structure of master narrative in most of them.

The story of Panji is set in the period following King Airlangga’s 1045 division of the east Javanese realm into two halves, Jenggala (also called Panjalu, with its capital Kuripan) and Kediri (also called Daha). A marriage is envisaged between Panji, Crown Prince of Jenggala, and his peerlessly beautiful and admirable beloved, Candrakirana (‘moonlight’), the daughter of the ruler of Kediri. Complications intervene: rival suitors, enemy attacks, and/or the disappearance of the princess. Panji, in disguise, solves the problem and then reveals himself. Like Panji, the princess too is often disguised, generally as a man. Eventually she reappears as her beautiful self, and she and Panji marry, returning peace and prosperity to the world. Other dramatis personae include the Klana, a ferocious barbarian from overseas who desires Candrakirana; Gunung Sari, Candrakirana’s brother; Ragil Kuning, Panji’s sister who marries Gunung Sari; and Wirun, Kertala and Andaga, young relatives of Panji. There are also panakawan (retainers) and servants.

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The story of Panji Kuda Waneng Pati, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, Add. 12319, ff. 3v-4r  noc

Panji stories written at the Javanese courts display a high level of poetic language. One of the oldest that has survived is the Middle Javanese Wangbang Wideya, where Panji amply lives up to his cognomina jayeng rana, ‘victorious on the battlefield’ and jayeng tilem, ‘victorious in the bedchamber’. But apart from his famous martial and amorous prowess, he also displays a surprising number of other qualities.

The poet depicts him dressed for audience in a cloth (kain) of light red ochre in a South Indian (keling) pattern, with a black pointed tumpal motif, indicating royalty, and wearing a green sash of gilded cloth. His dagger (kris) is inlaid with a design of maids and lovers on a green ground and set with gold and gems, and he wears ear-studs of ivory painted green and decorated in gold, and a red and yellow flower (puspanidra) behind his ear. He is perfumed with fragrant musk and wearing a scented salve.

Panji is not just a dandy – he has many accomplishments. He is depicted painting a picture from a wayang play on a kain for his beloved to embroider; she has never seen such fine workmanship, more like the work of a god than of a mortal. He is also depicted writing a poem, and carving an armband.
He is a skilled gamelan player, and a skilled puppet master or dalang who performs the story of Supraba duta, using the Sanskrit words faultlessly. He is an expert in the sacred books, reflecting the high level of Indian influence in the courts of the period.

Nor is Panji just a handsome, glamorous, accomplished aristocrat – he is also a person of virtues. He is discerning, knowledgeable in letters, unselfish in thought and policy, skilled in considering the innermost feelings of others, generous to the poor, giving shade to those affected by heat, earning the devotion of the leading brahmans. He is unassuming, and gentle. Candrakirana too is beautiful, virtuous and accomplished, and at the beginning of the story has disappeared, in order to practice asceticism in a secluded place. Even allowing for poetic hyperbole, all this suggests a society whose élite were expected to be not just warriors but people of virtue, and accomplished in various arts – not universally the case in the 14th century.

For most Javanese, the Panji stories were known from performances, rather than written texts. Apart from the Indic repertoire which has been most extensively described by Western scholars, there is a second subdivision of wayang kulit  or shadow puppet theatre dedicated to the Panji stories, called wayang gedog. Wayang gedog performances in mid-nineteenth century Gresik were noted by a visitor, Cornets de Groot, who lists a dozen Panji stories (‘Dandang Welis, Kudanarawangsa, angrene, angron akoong, magat-koong, prijembada, prowelas maroe, moerdaningkoong, Djaja koesoema, kalmendang dadang dewa and wahoe djaja’).

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Wayang gedog text, probably from Yogyakarta, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, MSS Jav 34, ff. 5v-6r  noc

In former times, there was also a type of wayang called wayang beber that used cambric scrolls, painted with illustrations of the characters and scenes of the story to be told. The scroll was stretched between two columns, and its story told by a dalang. In Bali, Gambuh - the oldest dance drama developed in 15th century Gelgel - is almost entirely based on Panji stories. The audience of a Panji dance or drama performance would recognize the different characters from the particular mask - called topeng in Javanese and malat in Balinese - worn portraying them.

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Mask (topeng) of Raden Panji, acquired in Java by T.S. Raffles, before 1817. British Museum, As1859,1228.282

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Volume of fragments of Panji texts, inscribed on the frontispiece by Colin Mackenzie: Cheritra Toppeng, The History of Pandjee of Cooripan, containing an account of the civil wars & of the wars with the Rajahs of Tana Sabrang. British Library, MSS Jav 60, pp. 4-5  noc

Panji and his consort were present in society not only in theatrical performance. At all levels of Javanese society, major milestones in life are marked by prescribed ceremonies. In the ceremony for pregnant women, a ritual object is traditionally inscribed on one side with a drawing of Panji, and on the other one of Candrakirana, expressing the wish that a son might resemble the first, and a daughter the other. And finally, as if these myriad qualities were not enough, in addition to all his other feats and accomplishments Panji was traditionally believed to have invented Javanese theatre, the gamelan and the kris!

Ann Kumar  ccownwork
JAVA WARRIOR WOMAN

Further reading:

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

Lydia Kieven, Following the cap-figure in Majapahit temple reliefs: a new look at the religious function of East Javanese temples, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
Lydia Kieven, Getting closer to the primordial Panji? Panji stories carved in stone at ancient Javanese Majapahit temples – and their impact as cultural heritage today. SPAFA Journal, 2017, Vol. 1.
S.O. Robson, Wangbang Wideya: a Javanese Panji romance. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1971.

On Malay manuscripts containing Panji tales, see: Panji stories in Malay

 On 21 September 2018, a Symposium on Panji Stories in Manuscripts and Performance was held at Leiden University Library in the Netherlands.

17 September 2018

15,000 images of Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta now online

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The Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, generously supported by Mr S P Lohia, aims to digitise 75 manuscripts from Yogyakarta now held in the British Library, and provide free online access through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Full sets of the digital images will also be presented to the Archives and Libraries Board of Yogyakarta (Badan Arsip dan Perpustakaan DIY) and to the National Library of Indonesia (Perpusnas) in Jakarta. Six months after the official launch of the project at the British Library on 20 March 2018 by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, over 15,000 images from 35 manuscripts are now accessible digitally, with all 75 manuscripts scheduled for full online publication by March 2019.

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Opening pages of Bratayuda kawi miring, copied by Wongsadirana of Tanggung, probably before 1797. British Library, MSS Jav 4, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Shown above is one of the newly-digitised manuscripts, a copy of Bratayuda kawi miring (MSS Jav 4), the 18th-century retelling in modern Javanese of the Bratayuda, the Old Javanese version of the Mahabharata composed in the 11th century. Other manuscripts now accessible online, pictured below, are historical works such as Serat Sakondar (Add 12289) recounting the coming of the Dutch to Java; Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang (Add 12310), containing ethical and mystical instruction interwoven with the story of the wanderings of Prince Jayalengkara; and a primbon, a personal compilation of texts on religious matters, often of an esoteric nature (Add 12311). The 75 manuscripts to be digitised were identified by Prof. Merle Ricklefs as originating from Yogyakarta, and include 61 manuscripts believed to have been taken from the library of the Kraton of Yogyakarta by the British in 1812. For a full list of the manuscripts to be digitised, click here.

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Serat Sakondar. British Library, Add 12289, ff. 2v-3r Noc

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Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang. British Library, Add 12310, ff. 5v-6r Noc

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Punika sĕrat Primbon Palintangan Palindon Pakĕdutan. British Library, Add 12311, ff. 139v-140r Noc

Over the past few months, conservators, photographers, curators and digital technicians have been hard at work on the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project. Conservator Jessica Pollard has checked every single manuscript, ensuring the volumes can be opened for photography without causing any damage. Creased pages have been flattened, tears repaired and bindings secured, to enable the manuscript to be digitised safely. 

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Left: Jessica Pollard at work in the British Library Conservation Centre; Right: repairing a tear across a drawing of a wayang figure.

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Top image: severe insect damage in a manuscript of Javanese wayang texts; bottom image: the same manuscript, after repair by Jessica. British Library, MSS Jav 20

From the Conservation Centre the manuscripts go on to Carl Norman in the Imaging Studios for photography. Each page is arranged to lie as flat as possible, with the rest of the book secured by velcro-bands, and with the spine supported adequately. Due to the complications of mounting the manuscript, Carl first photographs all the left-hand pages, and then turns the volume round and photographs all the right-hand pages. When the whole volume has been photographed, the images are interfiled, so the pages can be read in sequence.

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Carl checking the focus on the camera, with a Javanese manuscript set up for photography.

Many Javanese manuscripts have scribal or editorial corrections or amendments, which are sometimes written on separate pieces of paper which are then sewn onto the page at the intended point of insertion. Such pages present a real challenge for Carl: in order to photograph the manuscript so that all the text is legible, the page has to be photographed several times, with the sewn-on inserts folded in different directions to reveal the lines underneath.

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Bratayuda kawi miring, 1797: f. 266v has an insert sewn onto the left hand page, and Carl has had to photograph this page three times in total, in order to show all the text. British Library, MSS Jav 4, f. 266v Noc

The images are then passed on to Project Assistant Kate Thomas for quality assurance. Kate checks each digital image, looking at consistency of colour and ensuring that the sequence of images displays correctly. Occasionally she may find that one page has been missed out, or a stray hair might have fallen across the page during photography, and so the manuscript will need to be retrieved and sent back to Carl for the required pages to be re-photographed. Finally, the images are linked up with the catalogue entry, and the manuscript is ‘published’ to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website, where it can be read in full, online, all over the world.

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Kate Thomas checking the quality of all the images of each Javanese manuscript, before publishing the manuscript online.

Once the manuscript is live, the project page is updated, and the news disseminated through social media, including the British Library Asian and African Studies Blog, Facebook (Annabel Gallop) and Twitter @BLMalay. So do subscribe to our blog, and follow us for the latest updates!

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

  Ccownwork

12 September 2018

A new display of Southeast Asian manuscripts from the Sloane collection

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In 1753 the British Museum was founded through the bequest of the vast collections of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), including over four thousand manuscripts, which are now held in the British Library. Sloane's manuscripts originate from all over the world, and among them are 12 from Southeast Asia. Eight of these can now be seen in a new display in the exhibition case next to the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library at St. Pancras.

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Bust of Hans Sloane by Michael Rysbrack (1693-1770), on display in the British Library

At first glance the eight exhibited manuscripts appear to be a rather random selection linked by nothing other than their Southeast Asian origin and their ownership by Sloane. But viewed through another lens, these eight manuscripts evoke vividly the two main preoccupations of the age in which they were collected: the global mercantile thrust which led to the founding of the English and Dutch East India Companies at the beginning of the 17th century, as reflected in trading permits and financial accounts, and religious zeal, manifest in an interest in the canonical and liturgical works of the major world religions which had taken root in Southeast Asia: Buddhism and Hinduism which had travelled from India, Islam from its birthplace in Arabia, and most recently Christianity by way of Europe.

Despite their small number and in some cases fragmentary state, the manuscripts on display also encompass an astonishing array of scripts: Balinese, Javanese, Lampung, Burmese, Khmer, Arabic in its original form as well as extended versions for writing Persian and Javanese, the Vietnamese Han Nom characters derived from Chinese, and Roman script. The languages found in these eight manuscripts range from indigenous languages of Southeast Asia, namely Malay, Javanese, Old Javanese, Burmese and Vietnamese, to the foreign languages which served the spread of both faith and trade in the region: Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Pali and Dutch. Four different calendrical systems are utilised – Burmese, Gregorian, the Javanese Saka era, and the Chinese zodiac calendar – and writing supports range from palm leaf and bamboo to Javanese beaten tree-bark paper (dluwang) as well as European and Chinese paper.

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Sloane manuscripts from Southeast Asia on display outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room  noc

On the top shelf of the exhibition case are grouped manuscripts relating to faiths of Southeast Asia. The Hinduized court culture of early Java is represented by a fragment of the Arjunawijaya, a court poem (kakawin) composed by Mpu Tantular in the 14th century in the kingdom of Majapahit (Sloane 3480). The lines on this small fragment of palm leaf, representing part of the right-hand half of a single leaf, describe a confrontation between Śiva’s attendant Nandīśvara and the ten-faced demon Rāvaṇa. The manuscript is in Old Javanese – an early form of the Javanese language characterised by an exceptionally high proportion of Sanskrit words – written in Balinese script, and is undated.  Since its entry into the British Museum this Old Javanese fragment had remained unidentified until it was digitised and highlighted in a recent blog; within 24 hours the text had been read and identified by a group of scholars located in different parts of the globe, and their report can be read here.

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Fragment of the Arjunawijaya in Old Javanese in Balinese script, on palm leaf. British Library, Sloane 3480  noc

Also written on palm leaf is a manuscript of the Pātimokkha, the Buddhist code of monastic discipline, dating to around 1700 or earlier (Sloane 4099(4)). The single folio on display contains three main lines of text from the Pātimokkha in Pali, the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism, written in Cambodian (Khmer) script, accompanied by interlinear explanations.

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Section of one leaf of the Pātimokkha in Pali in Khmer script. British Library, Sloane 4099(4)

Islam is represented by an important Arabic text of the Shafi‘ī school of law, Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, ‘Questions for instruction’, by the 16th-century Yemeni scholar ‘Abd Allāh bin ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Bā Faḍl (Sloane 2645). This manuscript, copied by a scribe named ‘Abd al-Qadīm, has an interlinear translation in Javanese in Arabic (pegon) script, and is dated  1545 in the Javanese era, equivalent to 1623/4 AD. This complete copy. in excellent condition. is one of the earliest dated manuscripts written on dluwang, Javanese paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree.

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Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, in Arabic with Javanese translation and notes, 1623. British Library, Sloane 2645, ff. 6v-7r  noc

The most recent world religion to arrive in Southeast Asia was Christianity, brought by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and on display is a Christian Psalter written in Malay in Roman script (Sloane 3115). The owner of this book was Cornelius van der Sluijs, a clergyman who served in the Moluccas and died in Batavia in 1715. This collection of hymns, psalms and Christian services in Malay was probably compiled in Ambon around 1678, following Van der Sluijs’s ordination as a full minister of the Dutch Calvinist church.

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The first page of the Psalms of David in Malay, showing the distinctive octagonal British Museum stamp designed for use on Sloane's library. British Library, Sloane 3115, f. 2r  noc

On the bottom shelf are documents relating to trade. The largest and most impressive visually is a royal letter from the ruler of Tonkin in the form of an illuminated scroll written in the Vietnamese language in Chinese (Han Nom) characters, probably despatched in 1673 (Sloane 3460). In 1672 the first English East India Company ship arrived in Tonkin in north Vietnam, and in March 1673 the captain, William Gyfford, was permitted to meet the ruler Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682). While the Company sought the establishment of commercial relations with Tonkin, the Vietnamese were interested in accessing new technology, and in his letter, Trịnh Tac requests iron or bronze cast cannons.

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The complete illuminated Vietnamese letter with red ink seal of Lord Trịnh Tac, 1673, with a detail showing the fine silver illumination; only a small section of the scroll has been unrolled for display. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

The Chinese mercantile presence in Southeast Asia is reflected in a small piece of bamboo, with two lines of Javanese incised on one side with further annotations in Javanese and Lampung script, and on the other side a note written in black ink in Chinese (Sloane 1403E). The Chinese text appears to be a record of an account, and is dated in the Chinese zodiacal cycle with a date most likely equivalent to 1708.

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Front and reverse of a financial account, with text in Javanese, Lampung and Chinese, [1708]. British Library, Sloane 1403E  noc

Of particular interest are two trading permits issued by King Chandrawizaya (r. 1710-1731) of the kingdom of Mrauk U in Arakan in Burma (Myanmar). The permit written in Burmese, dated 1728, is the longest and the earliest dated palm leaf manuscript from Burma (Myanmar) in the British Library (Sloane 4098). Also found in the Sloane collection is a Persian edict (farmān) from the ruler of Arakan, dated 14 Sha‘bān 1090 (Sloane 3259). In his catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the British Museum, Charles Rieu assumed that the year inscribed was in the Hijra era, and thus dated the letter to 1679. Fortunately, just as we were preparing this exhibition, Arash Khazeni was preparing an edition of the Persian farmān, and noticed that the year was given as sanat 1090 Magi, referring to the Burmese era. The date was thus equivalent to 1728, revealing that the Persian document was in fact a counterpart to the Burmese permit! Both documents are addressed to the Armenian merchant Khwajeh Georgin (George) in Chennaipattana (Madras) across the Bay of Bengal, giving him permission to trade. Both bear the king’s round seal, inscribed in Pali, ‘Supreme Lord, Master of the Golden Palace’, which is blind-stamped on the palm leaf permit, stamped in black ink on the Persian letter, and in red wax on its cloth envelope and paper wrapper.

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The pointed end of the Burmese permit of the king of Arakan, with his round seal. Sloane 4098  noc

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The seal and date at the start of the trading permit in Persian from the king of Arakan, 1728. British Library, Sloane 3259  noc

Further reading:

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Sir Hans Sloane's Old Javanese manuscript, Sloane 3480

Malay manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Arash Khazeni, ‘Merchants to the Golden City: the Persian Farmān of King Chandrawizaya Rājā and the elephant and ivory trade in the Indian Ocean, a view from 1728’, Iranian Studies, 2018, vol. 51.

From books to bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and his collections, ed. Alison Walker, Arthur MacGregor and Michael Hunter (London: The British Library, 2012)

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma & Sud Chonchirdsin, Southeast Asia section