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205 posts categorized "South East Asia"

22 August 2019

Monastic ordination in Theravada Buddhism

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This is the fourth of a series of blog posts looking forward to the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 – 23 Feb 2020

The Buddhist rainy season retreat or Buddhist lent, which started on Dhamma Day last month (17 July), is used by many Theravada Buddhists to enter the monastic order, Sangha, for the whole three months of the Buddhist lent. Ordination can also be for a shorter or longer period of time, depending on personal circumstances and decisions.

The practice of monastic ordination goes back to the time of the historical Buddha. Soon after he attained enlightenment, the Buddha founded a community of disciples called the Sangha. He started to form his bhikkhu-sangha with only five monks; but because of the rationality of the Dhamma he soon gained a large number of followers.

Yasa, the son of a rich man, joins the monkhood to become the sixth bhikkhu after the Buddha’s five chief disciples. Fifty of Yasa’s friends followed his example and joined the Sangha. Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, Or 14553, f. 2
Yasa, the son of a rich man, joins the monkhood to become the sixth bhikkhu after the Buddha’s five chief disciples. Fifty of Yasa’s friends followed his example and joined the Sangha. Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, Or 14553, f. 2 Noc

The Sangha is central to Theravada Buddhism. In the context of Buddhist monasticism, one who enters into a monastic life should for all purposes aim at the extinction of the three root causes of suffering (dukkha) – ignorance, aversion and greed – in order to put an end to the cycle of rebirths (samsara). Monastics shave their heads, wear robes in a shade of yellow, orange or ochre, study the Buddhist doctrines, observe a particular number of precepts depending on their religious advancement, practice meditation and spread the Dhamma, the Buddha’s teachings. Eight requisites (attha parikkhara) allowed to a monastic include three yellow, orange or ochre robes (i.e. the lower loincloth, the upper inner robe and the large top robe), an alms bowl, a razor to shave the head, a needle for mending clothes, a water strainer, and a cloth girdle.

Maha Mulasattha text on the principles of making merit written in Northern Thai Dhamma script on palm leaves with wooden covers, dated 1851 CE British Library, Or 16077. From Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection
Maha Mulasattha text on the principles of making merit written in Northern Thai Dhamma script on palm leaves with wooden covers, dated 1851 CE British Library, Or 16077. From Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. Noc

The eight requisites of monastics and some additional items like a ceremonial fan and a shoulder bag for travelling are normally donated by the lay community as acts of merit, along with food, medicines and objects for daily use. Making merit is at the centre of Theravada Buddhism and shapes the interaction between Sangha and the lay community. High levels of merit-making are regarded as a sign of peace, happy relationships and prosperity within the community or the entire country.

During the rainy season retreat, vassa, the Buddha stayed in one place of residency to teach the Dhamma. The rains retreat is a three-month period (July to October) where the Buddha did not travel from one location to another. The Buddha ordered his disciples to avoid travel for this three-month period during the rainy seasons. Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, Or 14823, f. 29
During the rainy season retreat, vassa, the Buddha stayed in one place of residency to teach the Dhamma. The rains retreat is a three-month period (July to October) where the Buddha did not travel from one location to another. The Buddha ordered his disciples to avoid travel for this three-month period during the rainy seasons. Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, Or 14823, f. 29 Noc

The Sinhala Ordination was introduced into Burma from Sri Lanka in the 12th century. In 1423 CE, twenty-five monks from Chiang Mai and eight monks from Angkor travelled to Sri Lanka and brought the Sinhala Ordination to Thailand. In 1476 CE, twenty-two monks from Burma were sent in two ships to the island. They were duly ordained by the Mahavihara monks at the consecrated sima (ordination hall) on the Kalyani River, near Colombo. Upon the return of these monks, King Dhammaceti (1471-1492 CE) built the Kalyani Sima in Pegu (Bago), where monks from neighbouring countries received their ordination.

In mainland Southeast Asia, two types of ordination ceremonies are held in the sima: ordination for novices (pabbajja), and ordination for monks (upasampada). To become a novice, the follower has to recite the Ten Precepts as well as the Three Refuges of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. In order to become a monk, the Sangha or monastic community will perform the upasampada ordination on fulfilment of the five conditions: Perfection of a person, Perfection of an assembly, Perfection of the sima, Perfection of the motion, and Perfection of the Kammavaca. The most senior elder leads the assembly for the newly-ordained monk, while selected monks will recite the upasampada Kammavaca ordination text taking great care with articulation and pronunciation.

Upasampāda Kammavācā in Dhamma script on red lacquered and gilt palm leaves or paper, northern Thailand or Laos, 19th century. British Library, Or.16454, cover and first leaf
Upasampāda Kammavācā in Dhamma script on red lacquered and gilt palm leaves or paper, northern Thailand or Laos, 19th century. British Library, Or.16454, cover and first leaf Noc

There are 227 monastic rules for a bhikkhu (monks) and 311 monastic rules for a bhikkhuni (nuns) as described in the Vinaya Pitaka under the section of Patimokkha, which includes abstaining from eating after midday and refraining from handling money. After the death of King Suddhodana, father of the Buddha, the widowed queen Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Buddha and asked him to allow women to be fully ordained. The Buddha initially refused her request as the reality of living nunhood posed a hardship for the women. After the Buddha’s disciple Ananda pleaded, the Buddha granted the request of Gotami on her promise to accept certain important rules to qualify her for ordination. Gotami, the Buddha’s foster mother was the first woman to be ordained in Buddhism to become a bhikkhuni. After Gotami’s ordination and the ordination of her five hundred followers, more and more women became nuns during the life time of the Buddha.

Folios of the Bhikkhuni-patimokkha in black lacquer on gilded leaves, Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, IO Man/Pali 21
Folios of the Bhikkhuni-patimokkha in black lacquer on gilded leaves, Burmese manuscript, 19th century. British Library, IO Man/Pali 21 Noc

Although there is currently no formally acknowledged Order of Bikkhuni in Burma, Thailand or Laos, upasika (women who take vows) play important roles in society. They shave their heads, wear light yellow or white robes, keep eight or ten precepts, study the Buddhist doctrines, practice meditation and spread the Dhamma. They are also educators for women who wish to become upasika. They help carry out religious rituals and ceremonies, and they give support to elderly women, widows and orphans who are left without family. Currently, there are strong endeavours to revive full ordination of women and to get formal acknowledgement of the bhikkhuni-sangha in several Southeast Asian countries. It is said that the bhikkhuni-sangha and ordination of nuns in the Theravada tradition had died out about 1000 years ago. Nonetheless many manuscripts containing the entire Bhikkhuni-patimokkha were still produced in Southeast Asia during the 18th and 19th centuries, and this leads to the question as to why this was done, if the Order of Bhikkhuni had indeed been non-existent for centuries.

San San May, Curator for Burmese
Jana Igunma, Lead curator, Buddhism exhibition

Ccownwork

01 August 2019

From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans with spurious colophons

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Over the past two decades, a number of unusual and impressive Qur’an manuscripts have come to light, some with colophons recording places of production in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone. This corpus of manuscripts was introduced and discussed in detail in my 2008 article ‘From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines’, published in the St. Petersburg-based journal Manuscripta Orientalia. In that study, I presented 14 Qur’an manuscripts with a shared and highly distinctive codicological profile, six of which had colophons recording Southeast Asian toponyms.

Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r
Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r
Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r Noc

It was through the publications and kind advice of Prof. Amri Shikhsaidov that I had been able to identify all these ‘Brunei-Philippines’ Qur’ans as deriving from the manuscript culture of Daghistan, in the Caucasus region of Russia.  But how could the Southeast Asian colophons be accounted for? From an examination of the historical record, I concluded that there were just enough traces of linkages - for example, a Daghistani scholar in Mecca in the late 19th century is known to have taught Southeast Asian Muslims - to imagine “a historical, theological and cultural contex within which the prospect of a Daghistani scribe producing a Qur’an in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone in the 18th or early 19th century is logically plausible, without, it must be admitted, a single piece of firm supporting evidence from Southeast Asia itself, other than the colophons of the six Qur’an manuscripts” (Gallop 2008: 49). At this point, I also faced up squarely to consider the question of forgery, and in particular, whether the colophons may have been tampered with or added to at some subsequent date, but on the basis of a close visual examination, concluded that there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the colophons. 

Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r
Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r Noc Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r
Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r Noc

Very soon after the publication of my 2008 article, however, I arrived at the opposite conclusion, namely that the colophons linking these Daghistani manuscripts to Southeast Asia must all be spurious (but very expertly done!) recent additions.  One major problem that I faced in 2008 was the lack of authentic comparative material, for not a single Qur’an manuscript from the Philippines or Brunei had then been published. But over the past decade, 17 Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao have now been documented, held both in the Philippines (Kawashima 2012) and in U.S. collections (Gallop 2011).  All of these Mindanao Qur’ans relate to broader Southeast Asian schools of manuscript art, but display no artistic or codicological linkages at all with the Daghistani Qur’ans. Another factor which tipped the already tenuous balance of probability was the relentlessly increasing number of such Qur’an manuscripts emerging onto the market.

Decorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848BDecorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848B

Thus far, my conclusions had been based purely on contextual evidence. Fortunately, with the assistance of Prof. Haida Liang, Head of Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art history and Conservation (ISAAC) at the School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University (NTU), I was recently able to test my hypothesis scientifically. On 14 February 2018, two Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library with Southeast Asian colophons (Or 15913 and Or 16058, both now fully digitised) underwent multispectral imaging by my BL colleague imaging scientist Dr Christina Duffy, and the resulting images were then analysed by Liang’s MA student Luke Butler and research fellow Dr Sotiria Kogou at ISAAC.

Or 16058 is a Qur'an manuscript written in a bold, confident hand with the calligraphic verve and even swagger typical of the Daghistani tradition, on Russian paper with a variety of embossed stamps in Cyrillic script of the paper-making factories (for example, Fabriki / Nasledekov / Sumkino / No.7 on f. 296r).  The colophon on f.546r is dated duhā Rabi‘ al-āwal 1237 (midday in November/December 1821) and mentions the name Mūsā bin Muhammad al-Ra’īs al-Jakkī al-Hakārī and the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). In this manuscripts, multispectral imaging of the colophon, written in black ink, did not deliver significant results in terms of any differentiation with the black ink of the surrounding or preceding text.

Final pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546rFinal pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546r Noc

Detail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546rDetail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546r Noc

The second manuscript, Or. 15913, yielded more spectacular results (as first reported in Gallop 2017). This manuscript is written on Russian laid paper, watermarked with the date 1795 and Cyrillic letters BUFSAGP, standing for bumashnaia uglichskaia fabrika soderzhatelia Aleksandra Grigor’evicha Pereiaslavtseva, a paper factory in Uglich, north of Moscow.  On the final page a colophon statement, set within an illuminated panel, reads kataba hādhā al-mukarram Zayn al-Dīn fī ?Ahūmū fī madinat fī Sabah min al-mamālik al-Burūnawiyyah fī Ramadān sanat khamsīn wa-alf <wa-mi’at>, ‘This was written by the honoured Zayn al-Dīn in ?Ahūmū in a town in Sabah, one of the kingdoms of Brunei, in Ramadan of the year one thousand and fifty <and one hundred>’, giving a date (1150 AH=1737/8 AD) which postdates the date of manufacture of the paper. 

Following analysis of the multispectral images, while the pigments surrounding the colophon appear to be identical with those elsewhere on the page to the naked eye, the near infrared (1050nm) band image shows a clear difference. As explained by the ISAAC team, both the application of principal component analysis (PCA) and the independent component analysis (ICA) on the spectral images, and the spectral comparison between the green areas in the colophon and those elsewhere on the page, show a clear difference in the material composition, and these results support the suggestion that the colophon panel was added to the manuscript at a later date. While spectral imaging cannot give a firm dating for this later addition, it does confirm that the colophon is not an integral part of the original manuscript.

Fig.20-BL Or.15913  f. (28)
Final page of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. Set into a decorative panel at the bottom is the colophon stating that the manuscript was copied in Sabah, part of Brunei. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v Noc
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v

In the continuing absence of any other supporting evidence from within the Southeast Asian manuscript tradition, I would suggest that all other 'Southeast Asian' colophons in Daghistani manuscripts are equally spurious modern additions. This lengthy expose - made possible thanks to the wonderful collaboration of Haida Liang and her team at ISAAC, NTU - is important due to the incalculable threat posed to scholarship and our understanding of the Islamic manuscript traditions of Southeast Asia through the circulation of such 'rogue' manuscripts, skilfully implanted into areas with relatively poorly-studied writing cultures, and from which few manuscripts have ever been published.

Moreover, it is ironic to note that although the Southeast Asian colophons were evidently added for commercial reasons to enhance the perceived monetary value of these manuscripts, the Daghistani Qur'ans themselves are in fact intrinsically valuable as fine examples of an impressive but little-known Islamic calligraphic tradition from the Caucasus, and are worthy of being appreciated as such in their own right. Thus the British Library is now happy to find itself the proud possessor of an important research collection of ten Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts, and these will be explored in a future blog. 

References

A.T. Gallop, From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines. I-II.  Manuscripta Orientalia, 14 (1), June 2008, pp.32-56; 14 (2), December 2008, pp.3-20.
A.T. Gallop, Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao in U.S. Collections. Islamic manuscripts from the Philippines in U.S. collections: a preliminary listing, including two printed Qur’ansOur own voice, April 2011. 
A.T. Gallop, Fakes or fancies? some 'problematic' Islamic manuscripts from Southeast AsiaManuscript cultures, 2017, 10: 101-128.
Kawashima Midori (ed.), The Qur’an and Islamic manuscripts of Mindanao.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian Cultures, Sophia University, 2012.
A. Shikhsaidov, Muslim treasures of Russia.  II: Manuscript collections of Daghistan.  Part II,  Manuscripta Orientalia,  13.1 ( 2007), pp. 25-61.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

With thanks to Christina Duffy, BL, and Haida Liang, Sotiria Kogou and Luke Butler, ISAAC, NTU

15 July 2019

Asalha Puja or Dhamma Day: the start of the Buddhist Lent

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This is the third of a series of blog posts looking forward to the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 – 23 Feb 2020

Buddhists celebrate Dhamma Day on the full moon day of July, signalling the beginning of the period of vassa (rainy season retreat or Buddhist Lent). Dhamma Day reminds Buddhists to express their gratitude to the Buddha and his teachings. It is one of the most important days in Buddhism as it marks the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching, for it was on the full moon day of July that the Buddha preached his first sermon in the deer park at Sarnath to the group of five ascetics who had previously been his companions. In the sermon, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma, the Buddha advocates a middle way between sensual indulgence and self-mortification. The essence of his teaching concerns: the truth of suffering; the truth of the cause of suffering; the truth of the cessation of suffering; and the truth of the way of life that is free of suffering. The original Teachings are found in the ‘Pali Canon’, the ancient scriptures of Theravada Buddhism written in the Pali language. While listening to his discourse, the ascetic Kondanna achieved the first level of sanctity (Sotapanna), and became the first disciple of the Buddha to take ordination as a monk. Soon afterwards, the other four ascetics followed him into the Buddhist order. Therefore, Asalha Puja or Dhamma Day – which falls this year on 16th July – is a very important day for Buddhists.

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The Buddha gives his first sermon Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta to five ascetics - Kondanna, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanam and Assaji - in the deer park at Sarnath on the full moon day of July. This sermon contains the essential teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. After listening to his sermon, the five ascetics became the Buddha’s disciples. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 38 Noc

Vassa: the Buddhist Lent
Vassa is an annual monastic retreat practised especially in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, which lasts for three lunar months from July to October. In the early days of the Sangha – the Buddhist monkhood – the monks had no fixed abode, but wandered throughout the year and dwelt under the shade of the forest trees to meditate. After attaining Enlightenment and proclaiming the dhamma, the Buddha spent the first vassa at Sarnath. There are practical reasons for why the Buddha instructed his monks not to make long journeys for the three months of the rainy season. During the monsoon season it was extremely difficult for the monks to travel as the paths and lanes were covered with water and mud, and walking at this time along muddy paths could also damage the grass and kill or injure countless tiny creatures. Therefore the three months rainy retreat, from the full-moon day of July to the full-moon day of October, came to be observed by monks on the recommendation of the Buddha himself.

When the Bodhisatta Siddhattha Gautama had renounced the world, and in the course of walking around accepted offerings of food at Rajagaha, King Bimbisara, ruler of Magadha, requested that he visit him as soon as he achieved his goal. In accordance with this promise the Buddha visited Rajagara after attaining enlightenment. The king donated his bamboo grove and built the Veluvana monastery, or arama, for the Buddha and his monks. The term arama refers to a dwelling place for monks during the annual rains retreat. Veluvana was the first arama accepted by the Buddha, and a rule was passed allowing monks to accept such aramas. After the great donation, the king became the royal patron of the Buddha during his life time. The Buddha spent three rainy seasons in his first monastery of Veluvana, and numerous Jatakas, or birth stories of the Bodhisatta, were recited there. The Buddha’s disciples Sariputta and Moggallana joined the Order at this first monastery. During these three months monks remain inside monasteries, devoting their time to intensive meditation, proclaiming and learning the doctrines, and reciting the patimokkha or teaching dhamma to lay people who come to them to observe the uposatha sila (Eight precepts).

The Buddha ascended to Tavatimsa heaven. He spent three months there in retreat, teaching his mother, who was then reborn as a deva in Tusita heaven to fulfil a debt of gratitude. He expounded the Abhidhamma or higher teachings to his mother deva and other celestial beings at Tavatimsa heaven. He also repeated these teachings to his disciple Sariputta, and Sariputta then became a master of the Abhidhamma. Abhidhamma Pitaka (literally ‘the basket of the Buddha’s Higher Doctrine) is one of the principal sections of the Buddhist canon, or Tipitaka. It explores the profound philosophy of the teaching and is a most important work.

Or_14405_f081r
The Buddha spends the seventh vassa at Tavatimsa heaven to preach the Abhidhamma (higher teaching) to his mother, who was reborn as a deva, and other celestial beings. British Library, Or. 14405, f. 81 Noc

Or_14823_f030r
While the Buddha was spending the tenth vassa in the Parileyyaka Forest, an elephant and a monkey ministered to his needs. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 30  Noc

Ordination ceremonies
Ordination ceremonies can take place in any month of the year, but are especially important during the Buddhist Lent. The ordination ceremonies take place with all possible kinds of giving. Buddhists believe that the giving of one’s own son to join the Order is the most meritorious act possible. It is also a meritorious deed for the person who enters into the Buddhist monastic order (Sangha) themselves. The ceremony is not necessarily big or grand but the eight requisites are essential. There must be an assembly of five monks who sponsor the ordination. The Kammavaca – the Buddhist ordination text – is uttered at the ceremony by the presiding monk and the novice or candidate monk-to-be.

Soon after attaining enlightenment the Buddha founded the order of monks or Sangha. Yasa came from a wealthy background, but left his home as he was dissatisfied with his life. After hearing the teachings of the Buddha, Yasa became the sixth bhikkhu or monk. After the Buddha ordained Yasa, his closest friends Vimala, Subahu, Punnaji and Gavampati followed him into the Sangha. Within two months a further fifty of Yasa’s friends had joined the Sangha. The Buddha’s son the Venerable Rahula who was still a novice received his Higher Ordination (Upasampada) at the Jetavana Monastery.

Or.14297.f.27
The ordination of Yasa, a son of a rich man who went to the deer park near Varanasi to become a bhikkhu (ordained male monk). Within two months a further fifty of Yasa’s friends had joined the Sangha. British Library, Or. 14297, f. 27  Noc

This Lenten season is the time for Buddhists to do meritorious deeds, and to fast and observe special precepts. Lay supporters offer robes to the monks which will be worn during Lent. They also look into the bhikkhus’ other needs. On the full moon day, the processing with offerings of robes and other gifts to the monasteries is another meritorious deed. Young people also join the procession with music troupes to celebrate the giving of offerings to the Sangha as a way of making merit. Lay communities of Buddhists come together at monasteries, and participate in the ceremony of chanting conducted by the monks.

Or_15021_f013r
Procession of offerings for the Sangha: The wooden stands, upon which offerings for the monks are placed, are set within the processional boats carried by lay people. British Library, Or. 15021, ff. 13-14 Noc

Further reading:
Dickson, J. F. Ordination in Theravada Buddhism. Edited by Piyadassi Thera. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1963.

San San May, Curator for Burmese Ccownwork

20 June 2019

Islamic Painted Page: Growing a Database

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

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

Headerimage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mainsearch1

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 June 2019

Some new old books on and from the Malay world

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Most of my blog posts are about manuscripts from maritime Southeast Asia, but the majority of items in the British Library are printed, including perhaps the most important collection in the world of early Malay printing. The Library also holds printed books in languages such as Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Batak and Bugis, dating from the earliest printed examples through to contemporary publications, as well as rare imprints in all languages from Southeast Asia. Occasionally there are opportunities to fill in gaps in our holdings, and presented below is a selection of early or relatively rare printed books from or on the Malay world acquired over the past few years.

Notes on secret societies, compiled by C.T. Dobrée, is a guide to Chinese triads or secret societies operating in Malaya in the post-war era, with information on the secret codes of language and gestures by which members could identify each other.  This book was compiled as a report for the Federation of Malay Police service in 1953, and printed at the Caxton Press in Kuala Lumpur. Charles Thomas Winston Dobree was appointed Superintendent in the Federation of Malaya Police service in 1948, and at the time of writing was Assistant Commissioner. He appears to have become quite an authority on Chinese gambling syndicates, for he also authored Gambling games of Malaya, printed at the Caxton Press in 1955.

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C.T. Dobrée, Notes on secret societies. Kuala Lumpur: printed at the Caxton Press, [1953]. British Library, ORB.30/8724

The study of languages is one of the great strengths of British Library collections, and whenever possible I try to add to our collection of early grammars and dictionaries of Austronesian languages. One new acquisition is by G.J. Grashuis, Maleische spraakkunst met vertaaloefeningen, printed in Zwolle in 1898. This copy bears the ex libris inscription of H. Kreemer; it is tempting to wonder if he was a relation of J. Kreemer, author of the Acehnese-Dutch dictionary Atjehsch handwoordenboek: Atjehsch-Nederlandsch, published in Leiden by E.J. Brill in 1931 (British Library, 14635.d.17). H. Kreemer evidently did not find this book of much interest, for the pages are still uncut.

From the following century is a small English-Iban phrase book, by Father Leo J. Barry of the Roman Catholic mission in Sarawak. The work was first printed in Kuching at the Government Press in 1958, and this is an (undated) copy of a later printing, probably of 1962.  As indicated by the title, this book was arranged by whole phrases rather than words, and covered the type of sentences deemed helpful for a European working in Sarawak.

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Left: G.J. Grashuis, Maleische spraakkunst met vertaaloefeningen, Zwolle: W.E.J. Tjeenk Willink, 1898. British Library, ORB.30/8733.  Right: Leo J. Barry, English-Iban phrase book, Kuching, [1962?]. British Library, ORB.30/8723.

Of interest to print historians, linguists, epigraphers, typographers and graphic designers is a book with samples of type in different scripts from the famous Lettergieterij 'Amsterdam' voorheen N. Tetterode (Type Foundry 'Amsterdam', formerly known as N. Tetterode), entitled Proeven van Oostersche schriften, published in 1910. It contains examples of its types for scripts ranging from Chinese and Japanese to Coptic and Syriac and Hieroglyphic, as well as Malay, Javanese, Old Javanese, Bugis, Makassarese (including a 'cypher' script), Batak and Mandailing.

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Proeven van Oostersche schriften, Amsterdam: Lettergieterij "Amsterdam", 1910; with a list of the scripts presented. British Library, ORB.30/8729

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Arabic and Malay types, from Proeven van Oostersche schriften, 1910. British Library, ORB.30/8729

The preferred technology for Muslim printing in Southeast Asia was lithography, but the first Malay newspaper, Jawi Peranakkan, published in Singapore in 1876, was typeset. The small book shown below – Hikayat Aluddin, or the Story of Aladdin – was issued by the prolific publisher Haji Muhammad Siraj in Singapore and printed at the Jawi Peranakkan press, using the same small type familiar from the newspaper.  However, lithography is used for the illustrations and captions within the book. The front cover, with the date 1889, may have been the first part of the book to be prepared, for the colophon on the last page gives the date of completion of printing clearly as 1 Ramadan 1307  equivalent to 20 April 1890 (Proudfoot 1993: 121).

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Hikayat Alauddin dengan pelita ajaib = Hikayat Aluddin (in Malay), translated by A.F. von Dewall. 
Singapore: Haji Muhammad Siraj bin Haji Muhammad Salih, 1890. British Library, ORB.30/5554  noc

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Lithographed illustration of Aladdin being importuned by a sorcerer (Tuk Nujum). British Library, ORB.30/5554  noc

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Colophon to Hikayat Aluddin, giving the date of printing at the Jawi Peranakkan press as 20 April 1890 and the name of the publisher as Haji Muhammad Siraj. British Library, ORB.30/5554  noc

As noted above, throughout the second half of the 19th century lithography was the print technology of choice for Muslim publishers because of its ability to reproduce the elegant flowing lines of Arabic calligraphy and to emulate the look of Islamic manuscript books.  Shown below is a typical lithographed publication of this period from a Malay Muslim press, published by Haji Muhammad Taib of Kampung Bali Lane, Singapore, in 1895 (Proudfoot 1993: 483). This is a work on the practice of Islamic law (fiqh), Sullam al-mubtadi fi makrifat tarikat al-muhtadi, composed in 1836 by Syaikh Daud ibn Abdullah al-Fatani (1769-1847), a renowned scholar from Patani in southern Thailand, who spent most of his life studying and writing in Mecca. According to Bradley, this is one of Syaikh Daud's most popular and influential works, and no fewer than 75 manuscript copies are known, in addition to at least eight published editions. The book is inscribed at the beginning and end of the book with the name of its owner, Muhammad Syam bin Abdullah Menjalar, who has also added manuscript annotations in the margin, explaining in Malay certain words in Arabic. 

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First and last pages of Sullam al-mubtadi by Daud bin Abdullah al-Fatani, lithographed in Singapore in 1895. British Library, ORB.30/4335  noc

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Muhammad Syam's manuscript annotations in Malay in the margins of the lithographed book, explaining difficult legal terms in Arabic. British Library, ORB.30/4335  noc

Further reading:

Francis Bradley, Center for Patani Studies.
John Randall (Books of Asia). Southeast Asia: Orientalia 7. London, 2018 (items 2 and 7).
I. Proudfoot. 1993. Early Malay printed books: a provisional account of materials published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major public collections.  [Kuala Lumpur]: Academy of Malay Studies and The Library, University of Malaya.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

With thanks to my colleagues Sud Chonchirdsin and Marja Kingma for cataloguing these items.

10 May 2019

The Buddhist Vesak Festival or Buddha Day

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This is the first of a series of blog posts looking forward to the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 - 23 Feb 2020

Every full moon day is an auspicious day for Buddhists, but the most important of all is the day of the full moon in May, because three major events in the life of the Gotama Buddha took place on this day. Firstly, the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhattha was born at Lumbini Grove on the full moon day in May. Secondly, after six years of hardship, he attained enlightenment under the shade of the Bodhi tree and became Gotama Buddha at Bodh Gaya also on the full moon day of May. Thirdly, after 45 years of teaching the Truth, when he was eighty, at Kusinara, he passed away to nibbana, the cessation of all desire, on the full moon day of May. Therefore, Vesak or Wesak - the day of the full moon in the lunar month of Vesakha, which falls this year on 19 May - is a very important day for Buddhists to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and parinibbana of the Buddha.

The birth of Siddhattha Gotama
The Buddha-to-be was born in about the year 563 BCE in the kingdom of the Sakyas (in present-day southern Nepal) on the full moon day of the month of Vesakha. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother was Queen Maya. They named their son Siddhattha, which means ‘He who achieves his Goal’. Soon after the birth, the king's wise men predicted that the little prince would become either a universal monarch, or a Buddha, ‘awakened one’. His father tried to prevent his son from coming into contact with any religious path, as he wanted his son to be his successor.

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The king took his little son, Prince Siddhattha, to the royal ploughing ceremony and left him to sleep in a tent under a nearby Eugenia tree. Instead, the boy seated himself cross-legged on the bed, and entered into his first state of meditation. On seeing this, the king was amazed, and paid homage to his son. British Library, Or. 14297, f. 8 Noc

Enlightenment
The young prince Siddhattha was brought up in great luxury and at the age of 16 married his cousin, princess Yasodhara. At the age of 29, when he encountered four signs - an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic - he decided to leave his life of luxury, and set out in search of truth and peace. He thus left the city of Kapilavastu and became a wandering ascetic. For nearly six years, in the course of his search for the truth, he practised various forms of severe austerity and extreme self-mortification, until he became weak and realised that such mortifications could not lead him to what he sought. He changed his way of life and followed his own path, the middle way. He sat cross-legged under the foot of the peepal bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) and determined not to rise without attaining enlightenment.

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Prince Siddhattha rides out of the palace after encountering the Four Signs: an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a monk. British Library, Or. 14297, f.11 Noc

Siddhattha continued to search for the solution to the true meaning of life. After six years of hardship, working to find the right spiritual path and practising on his own to seek enlightenment, the prince reached his goal. After forty-nine days, at the age of 35, he attained enlightenment and became a supreme Buddha, on the full moon day of the month of Vesakha at Bodh Gaya. He also became known as Siddhattha Gotama, Gotama Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha or simply the Buddha.

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The Buddha preached his first sermon to five ascetics (left) and gods (right) in the deer park at Isipatana. British Library, Or. 14297, f. 26 Noc

Soon after his enlightenment he gave his first discourse, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta or Turning the Wheel of Dhamma, to five ascetics in the deer park at Isipatana in Benares. After hearing his teaching, the five ascetics became his first disciples. His teaching attracted many followers and they joined the Sangha, the community of monks. He then visited his father, who was ill, to preach the Dhamma. After hearing the Buddha’s teachings the king attained arahatta (perfect sanctity) before he passed away. The Buddha then preached the Abhidhamma or the Higher Doctrine to his former mother, who was reborn as a deva with other deities in the Tavatimsa heaven. He also founded the order of Buddhist nuns. During his long ministry of forty-five years, the Buddha walked throughout the northern districts of India, and taught about the suffering of life, how to end it, and how to attain peace and nibbana, to those who would listen.

Mahaparinibbana (Death)
At the age of 80 the Buddha set out on his last journey with Ananda, his cousin and beloved disciple, and a group of bhikkhus from Rajagaha to Kusinara. The Buddha arrived at Vesali and stayed there during the rainy retreat (vassa). After leaving Vesali, on his way to Kusinara, he arrived at Pava where he had an attack of dysentery. The Buddha then arrived at Kusinara and lay down on a couch between two sal trees in the grove of the Malla kings. Though he was very weak, he addressed Ananda and the bhikkhus, and preached the Mahasudasana Sutta and made one last convert. Then the Buddha attained parinibbana or entry into the final nibbana on the full moon day of the month of Vesakha (May).

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The Buddha’s body was placed in a golden coffin upon a pyre, and a gilded and white umbrella was held above. Mahakassapa, the Buddha’s senior disciple, kneels before the Buddha’s coffin, uncovers the Buddha’s feet and pays homage with full prostrations. The grieving monks are gathered at the Buddha’s funeral in respectful adoration. The Malla kings also gather together to pay their respects to the Buddha with perfume, incense, dancing and music. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 20 Noc

The sacred relics of the Buddha were divided and enshrined across Asia in monuments called stupas. These stupas are considered by Buddhists to be the living presence of the Buddha. These sacred places became centres of pilgrimage where people come and honour the Buddha, who taught the Dhamma and established the Sangha.

The Vesak Festival
Vesak, also known as Buddha Day, is observed by Buddhists in South, Southeast and East Asia, as well as in other parts of the world, as "Buddha's Birthday". The festival of Vesak commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinibbana) of Gotama Buddha in the Buddhist tradition. As the Vesak full moon day is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar, many Buddhists go to the pagodas in procession to pour water at the foot of the sacred tree in remembrance of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. The Peepal Bodhi tree is the most sacred tree for Buddhists as it was under this tree at Bodh Gaya that Siddhattha attained Enlightenment and became a Buddha. Buddhists celebrate these historically significant events by going to monasteries, giving alms, keeping precepts and practising meditation. In return, the monks chant the scriptures, lead periods of meditation and give teachings on the themes of the festival. Vesak is widely celebrated across much of the Buddhist world, but especially in Southeast Asia, where it is considered an especially important time to perform meritorious deeds.

Further reading:
Herbert, Patricia M. The Life of the Buddha. London: British Library, 1993.
San San May and Jana Igunma. Buddhism Illuminated. London: British Library, 2018.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  Ccownwork

 

01 April 2019

Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta digitisation project completed

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Over 30,000 digital images of Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta are now fully accessible online through the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website. The project, generously supported by Mr S P Lohia, has digitised 75 Javanese manuscripts held in the British Library from the collections of John Crawfurd and Colin Mackenzie, who both served in Java under Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor from 1811 to 1816. The manuscripts had been identified by historians Peter Carey and Merle Ricklefs as having been taken from the Kraton (palace) of Yogyakarta following a British attack in June 1812, when Crawfurd was Resident of Yogyakarta and Mackenzie was Chief Engineer of the British army in Java.

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Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, copied in Yogyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 2v-3r  noc

The completion of the digitisation project was celebrated with an impressive ceremony at the Kraton of Yogyakarta on 7 March, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X. The British Ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, presented complete sets of digital images of the 75 manuscripts to Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, and also to the head of the National Library of Indonesia Mohd. Syarif Bando, and the head of the Libraries and Archives Service of Yogyakarta, Monika Nur Lastiyani. The digitised manuscripts will eventually also be accessible through the Kraton Jogja website.

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Ambassador Moazzam Malik presenting to Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwomo X the set of digital images of 75 Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta in the British Library, 7 March 2019

The celebrations also included a two-day International Symposium on Javanese Studies and Manuscripts of Keraton Yogyakarta from 5-6 March 2019, organised by Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu, the fourth daughter of Sri Sultan.  Princess Hayu is an IT specialist, and this was evident in the impressive digital presentation and styling of the Symposium, with the electronic submission of audience questions via an app. 

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Princess Hayu and her youngest sister Princess Bendoro answer audience questions posted electronically, in the session on ‘The Millenial Palace: Reconstructing Tradition in the Modern Era’ (Kraton Milenial: rekonstruksi tradisi dalam era kekinian), at the International Symposium on Javanese Culture and Manuscripts, Yogyakarta, 6 March 2019.

In her opening speech to the Symposium, Princess Hayu noted that even after the calamity of June 1812 - remembered in Yogyakarta as Geger Sepehi, the attack of the Sepoys, after the Indian troops commanded by the British - the Kraton had never ceased to be a centre for the production and reproduction of knowledge. Nevertheless, with the loss of the royal library there had been a definite break in the chain of transmission of knowledge (ada mata rantai yang terputus).

Responding to Princess Hayu's call for the recovery of the 'missing links' of traditional learning from the manuscripts, four of the 16 papers presented at the Symposium were based on newly-digitised manuscripts from the British Library. Ghis Nggar Dwiatmojo of Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta delved into a royal Yogyakarta primbon (divination) manuscript (Add. 12311) on palintangan (astrology), palindhon (earthquakes) and pakedutan (portentous tingling of the nerve-ends), looking specifically at predictions linked to earthquakes and eclipses. This paper was paired with Ahmad Arif's presentation, collating similar fruits of local wisdom born of collective memories of natural disasters from throughout the Indonesian archipelago.  Rudy Wiratama (shown below) of Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) found evidence in two manuscripts from the Mackenzie collection, MSS Jav 44 and MSS Jav 62, for the popularity of wayang gedhog - shadow-puppet plays based on the cycle of tales about Prince Panji - at the court of Yogyakarta before 1812. Stefanus K. Setiawan, also from UGM, had completely transliterated the beautiful copy of Jaya Lengkara Wulang pictured above (MSS Jav 24) for his undergraduate dissertatation, and was continuing his study of this manuscript for his masters degree; while Hazmirullah, from Universitas Padjajaran, Bandung, discussed a Malay version of judicial regulations issued by Raffles in Java (MSS Eur D742/1, ff. 155-166).

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Rudy Wiratama of UGM showing the digitised wayang gedhog manuscript MSS Jav 44 used in his research on wayang performance at the court of Yogyakarta in the late 18th century.

The manuscripts were not only subjects of academic research, but also bore fruit in performance. The Symposium was opened with the Beksan Jebeng, a dance involving a shield-bow, while the ceremony at the Kraton on 7 March was heralded by an impressive performance of the Beksan Lawung Ageng, a martial dance accompanied by the venerable 18th-century gamelan Kiai Kanjeng Guntursari. As explained by Princess Hayu’s husband Prince Notonegoro to Ambassador Malik, both dances - creations of the first sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwana I (r.1756-1804) - were being staged in their original form for the first time in two centuries, on the basis of information only now reaccessble through the digitised manuscripts.

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Performance of Beksan Lawung Ageng at the palace of Yogyakarta, 7 March 2019

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Left, Beksan jebeng text (Add. 12325, f. 26v); right, Beksan Lawung text (MSS Jav 4, f. 177r)  noc

The evening also celebrated the opening of an exhibition at the Kraton of manuscripts from Yogyakarta collections, curated by Fajar Wijanarko of the Sonobudoyo Museum. Fajar noted that the earliest dated manuscript copied after 1812 now found in the Kraton library is the beautifully illuminated first volume of the Babad Ngayogyakarta, written in 1817.

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Babad Ngoyogyakarta, vol. 1, covering the reigns of Hamengku Buwono I to Hamengku Buwono III, dated 1817, on display in the Kraton exhibition. Widyo Budoyo, W78/A27

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(Left) royal librarian Romo Rinto showing a visitor to the Kraton exhibition a manuscript of Babad Ngoyogyakarta, covering the reigns of Hamengku Buwono III to Hamengku Buwono IV, dated 1854, with (right) a detail of the fine illumination. Widyo Budoyo, W84/A22

Back in London, alongside events marking Indonesia's role as Market Focus Country at the London Book Fair (12-14 March 2019), a small display of the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta was launched in the Treasures exhibition gallery in the British Library. At a talk at the British Library on 12 March entitled Beauty and History: Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta, I was joined by maestro Ki Sujarwo Joko Prehatin, who brought the manuscripts to life in song (macapat). Javanese literature is traditionally written in verse, according to set metres, and was designed to be sung aloud to an audience.  To listen to mas Jarwo singing from the Babad bedhah ing Ngayogyakarta by Pangeran Arya Panular, describing the British attack on Yogyakarta (Add 12330, f. 43v), click here (with thanks to Mariska Adamson for this recording).

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Ki Sujarwo Joko Prehatin, singing (menembang) the texts of Javanese manuscripts, at the British Library, 12 March 2019.

After the British attack on the Kraton of Yogyakarta in 1812, only three manuscripts were left in the royal library: a copy of the Qur'an copied in 1797, a manuscript of Serat Suryaraja written in 1774, and a copy of Arjunwiwaha dated 1778 (Carey 1980: 13 n. 11). During the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the palace scriptorium was kept busy with the creation of new literary works as well as the re-copying of classics, and a recent catalogue lists 700 manuscripts now held in the Widyo Budoyo and Krido Mardowo royal libraries (Lindsay, Soetanto & Feinstein 1994: xi-xii). Following the presentation of the digital copies of the Yogyakarta manuscripts from the British Library, Princess Bendoro informed me that Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X has decided that rather than printing out paper copies from the digital files, all 75 manuscripts will be recopied again by hand in the Kraton, in a continuation of the centuries-old tradition of inscribing knowledge in the courts of Java.

References

Carey, P. B. R. (ed.), The archive of Yogyakarta.  Volume I.  Documents relating to politics and internal court affairs.  Oxford: published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1980.
Jennifer Lindsay, R. M. Soetanto and Alan Feinstein. Katalog induk naskah-naskah Nusantara.  Jilid 2.  Kraton Yogyakarta.  Jakarta: Yayasan Obor, 1994.
Fajar Wijanarko, Yogyakarta dalam sastra sejarah: catatan kuratorial. In: Pameran naskah Kraton Jogja: merangkai jejak peradaban nagari Ngayogykarta Hadiningrat, 7 Maret-7 April 2019 (Yogyakarta: Karaton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, 2019); pp. 8-14.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

 

18 March 2019

Vietnamese collection milestone: retroconversion of card catalogue completed

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In 2015 Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, launched Living Knowledge,  a vision for the future of the British Library, aiming to make our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Living Knowledge also sets out to make the British Library the most open, creative and innovative institution of its kind in the world. In order to achieve these targets, the Library announced a series of new values to guide its staff in this direction, one of the most important being ‘putting users at the heart of everything we do’.

Curators for different collection areas, along with all other members of staff, have taken this new mission seriously. We are aware that the extensive and rich source materials in our collections are of no use unless our users can access them, or at least become aware of their existence. In the Asian and African Collections, curators have been encouraged to clear backlogs and to make source material in their collections searchable online.

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Drawer of Vietnamese catalogue cards, filed by name of author, in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library at St Pancras in London

The Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC), the first online library catalogue, was launched at Ohio University in August 1971. Although this seminal event occurred almost half a century ago, it was a long time before online cataloguing was adopted by institutions worldwide. Even into the 1980s and 1990s, some collections were still being catalogued manually, often due to issues relating to the transliteration of non-Roman scripts and the use of diacritics. The cataloguing of the Vietnamese collection at the British Library fits into this category perfectly, due to problems with inputting the double diacritics needed for Vietnamese. When I took up my post as curator for Vietnamese at the British Library in 2005, most of the printed materials in our collection were still catalogued using old-fashioned catalogue cards, and hardly anything was searchable online. One of my major tasks has been to retroconvert the Vietnamese card catalogue onto the British Library’s online catalogue, and that task is now virtually complete.

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Vietnamese book, previously only catalogued on cards (top right), which has now been recatalogued online (bottom right).

This mammoth project was conducted in two phases. Phase one started in around 2007, two years after I took up my post. I called up almost every single Vietnamese printed book to physically check that it was the correct one before I created an online record. This process was slow but was more likely to lead to fewer mistakes, such as mismatches between shelfmarks and items, or duplications of records. It took me a long while, until in October 2014, I was able report with some satisfaction that the retroconversion of the Vietnamese printed collection had been completed. However, the satisfaction of this achievement turned out to be rather short-lived as, not long afterwards, in June 2016, during office relocation moves one of my colleagues found four cardboard boxes brim-full of Vietnamese catalogue card in her area. When I randomly checked some cards to see whether they had been retro-converted in the first phase, none of them came up on an search on the British Library’s online catalogue Explore, meaning that all these cards also had to be recatalogued online.

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One of the boxes of Vietnamese catalogue cards discovered in 2016

Hence my second phase of retroconversion began in August 2016. Judging from the amount of cards in those four boxes, which seemed to number well over 10,000, I couldn’t afford to use the same very thorough method for cataloguing as I had done in the previous phase. I therefore decided to rely on the bibliographic record appearing on each card as the major source for recataloguing, and only if there were serious doubts or queries would I call up the physical item in question to check. This method helped to speed up the cataloguing process. Fortunately, a large proportion of cards turned out to be duplicates and could be discarded; in the end, only just over 2,400 catalogue cards had to be retroconverted.  During this second phase of retroconversion, I found that issues certainly arose from not having physically seen all the items before creating new online records. There were sometimes mismatches between shelfmarks and items, or different items shared the same shelfmarks. These problems had to be resolved, for otherwise they would have caused confusion and frustration for users when calling up items for consultation.

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An example of a cataloguing problem: the online catalogue gives a different title with the same shelfmark

Finally, I can now at last report that all our old Vietnamese catalogue cards, except for just a few problematic ones, have been retroconverted and are searchable online through Explore. Together with new acquisitions, there are now more than 10,900 titles in the Vietnamese collection ready for our readers.  I very much hope that the completion of this project will enable our readers to access more readily source material in Vietnamese in the British Library, either for research or enjoyment, as set in our Living Knowledge mission statement.

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Dr Sud Chonchirdsin at work cataloguing Vietnamese printed books

Further reading:

Vietnam - British Library collection guide

Sud Chonchirdsin
Curator for Vietnamese