Asian and African studies blog

244 posts categorized "South East Asia"

09 August 2021

The art of small things (3): Surah headings in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia

Some of the most impressive examples of Islamic calligraphy from the Malay world are the headings of the surahs or chapters set within the elaborate illuminated frames sited at the beginning or end of Qur’an manuscripts. Shown below is the heading for the final chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al-Nas, in a manuscript from Aceh, which is almost modernist in its design, with the inscription in reserved white against a ground of red and yellow, interwoven with further purely decorative elements. However the focus of this blog post will not be on exceptional artworks such as these, but on the standard surah headings encountered on the inner pages of Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia.

Heading for the final chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al-Nas, in a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, f. 255r (detail)-det.
Heading for the final chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al-Nas, in a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, f. 255r (detail)  noc

Illuminated frames at the end of a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 254v-255r
Illuminated frames at the end of a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 254v-255r  noc

In all Qur’an manuscripts, a certain amount of information is usually conveyed at the start of a new chapter, namely the name or title of the surah, whether it was revealed in Mecca or Medinah, and the number of verses it contains. Considerable care is taken to signal graphically the difference between this ‘metadata’ and the text of the Divine revelation itself.  Thus the information is usually written in a different coloured ink, and sometimes in a different style of script, and often the surah heading is placed in a separate panel.

The best places to study surah headings are the final pages of a Qur’an manuscript, as the chapters of the Qur’an are ordered not chronologically but inversely by length. Thus the shortest surahs are clustered together at the end of the volume, usually with several on a single page. In these penultimate pages in a Javanese Qur’an, we see how the scribe has paced his writing carefuly, with increasingly large, widely-formed letters with deep stretched bowls, in order to fill the space exactly, leaving the two final chapters to be presented overleaf in special frames. On the other hand, the scribe of the Acehnese Qur’an seen below has not judged his pace quite so well: the first surahs on the right-hand page have been written with standard spacing, but on the left he is forced to leave large gaps between the lines in order to fill the page, thus enabling the final two chapters to be placed within ornamental frames overleaf.

Penultimate pages in a Javanese Qur’an, with multiple surah headings. British Library, Add 12343, ff. 188v-189r
Penultimate pages in a Javanese Qur’an, with multiple surah headings. British Library, Add 12343, ff. 188v-189r  noc

Penultimate pages in an Acehnese Qur’an, with multiple surah headings. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 312v-313r
Penultimate pages in an Acehnese Qur’an, with multiple surah headings. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 312v-313r  noc

Presented below are the headings and first line of the same Meccan chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q. 101, 'The Calamity'), in eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia held in the British Library, arranged by region. Starting with four Qur’an manuscripts from Java, in each case the surah heading is written in red ink and placed within ruled black frames that largely mirror the composition of the text frames of the pages. The first three manuscripts are written on Javanese paper, dluwang, made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree. In each case the surah heading is written in a dashing calligraphic hand, with elegantly knotted final letters. Although the final letter ta' marbuta is often written with knots – and is also found in one of the Acehnese Qur’ans – the most stylised and extravagant examples are indeed associated with Java. The fourth manuscript is written on European paper, and is in a much poorer hand.

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Or 15877, f. 295r
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Or 15877, f. 295r  noc

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Add 12343, f. 187r
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Add 12343, f. 187r  noc

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Add 12312, f. 198v
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Add 12312, f. 198v  noc

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an, with a ruled sin-mim ligature in the basmala. British Library, Or 16877, f. 320r
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in a Javanese Qur’an, with a ruled sin-mim ligature in the basmala. British Library, Or 16877, f. 320r  noc

In three Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library, here too the surah heading is written in red ink, and is set in ruled frames which largely mirror the red-black-red-black composition of the text frames. It can be noted that while the Javanese surah headings shown above all give the number of verses in Surat al-Qari‘ah as eight, in the Acehnese Qur’ans the first two shown below give a figure of ten verses, while the last states that there are eleven verses. Variation in counting the number of verses in the Qur’an is not uncommon, and different traditions are known to have prevailed around the world. A difference of one is usually accounted for by whether or not the opening basmala is counted as a separate verse, while a larger differential probably indicates variant regional traditions.

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in an Acehnese Qur’an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 311r
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in an Acehnese Qur’an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 311r  noc

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in an Acehnese Qur’an, located at the bottom of a page, with the chapter itself found overleaf. British Library, Or 16304, f. 257r
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in an Acehnese Qur’an, located at the bottom of a page, with the chapter itself found overleaf. British Library, Or 16304, f. 257r  noc

Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in an Acehnese Qur’an. British Library, Or 16915, f. 253r
Heading for Surat al-Qari‘ah (Q.101) in an Acehnese Qur’an. British Library, Or 16915, f. 253r  noc

All the examples of surah headings shown above are carefully prepared, with the title information in red ink, set within ruled borders. It is a common experience, though, when looking through Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, to encounter unfinished surah headings, and in fact such incomplete examples are extremely helpful in casting light on the order in which the scribe worked.

One of the Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh, Or 15406, illustrates well all the different stages of the process. Firstly, the scribe would write out the complete Qur’anic text in black ink. If the end of a surah did not fit completely onto one line, the scribe could decide either to just use part of the next line, or to position the final words in the centre (as shown below), or to arrange them at the two ends of the line.

Beginning of Surat Hud (Q.11) in an Acehnese Qur’an, without the title or ruled frames. British Library, Or 15406, f. 105v
Beginning of Surat Hud (Q.11) in an Acehnese Qur’an, without the title or ruled frames. British Library, Or 15406, f. 105v  noc

The next stage would be to fill in the information about the surah in red ink. It is interesting to note that while there are many examples of Qur’an manuscripts missing these red ink surah headings, there are are no known examples of the missing first words of a juz’ or thirtieth part of the Qur’anic text, which are also often traditionally written in red ink. This implies that the scribes took good care to ensure that the Qur’anic text itself was complete, changing colours of ink as necessary, but completing the surah headings was clearly a lower priority.

Beginning of Surat al-Anfal (Q.8) in an Acehnese Qur’an, with the title but without the ruled frames. British Library, Or 15406, f. 84v
Beginning of Surat al-Anfal (Q.8) in an Acehnese Qur’an, with the title but without the ruled frames. British Library, Or 15406, f. 84v  noc

The final stage would be to add ruled borders around the surah heading. The same work order probably also applied to Javanese Qur’ans, for in Add 12312 shown above, the ruled frames break around the spikes of the kotted letter ta' marbuta, showing that they were added after the surah heading had been written.

Beginning of Surat al-Ma'idah (Q.5) in an Acehnese Qur’an, with the title and ruled frames. British Library, Or 15406, f. 50v
Beginning of Surat al-Ma'idah (Q.5) in an Acehnese Qur’an, with the title and ruled frames. British Library, Or 15406, f. 50v  noc

Compared with the strongly distinctive regional characteristics noticeable in some minor decorative elements in Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts, such as text frames and verse markers, surah headings are remarkably similar all over the Malay archipelago: the surah heading is written in red ink, and often set in discrete frames. It can either fill a full line, or share it with the final words of the preceding surah, either by flanking them in the middle, or being flanked by them at either end, as seen above.

It is really only in the most elaborate Qur’an manuscripts from the East Coast of the Malay peninsula and a few from Java that we encounter elaborate illuminated surah headings. Fine examples can be seen in a small Patani Qur’an in the British Library, which has been left till the end because it is a show-stealer. In this manuscript, the surah headings are all picked out in reserved white against a ground of coloured bands of alternating red and blue or green.  The skill of the scribe can also be seen in the superbly controlled elongated sin-mim ligature of the basmala.

Heading for Surat al-Qari’ah (Q.101) in a Patani Qur’an, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, f. 301v
Heading for Surat al-Qari’ah (Q.101) in a Patani Qur’an, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, f. 301v  noc

Penultimate pages in a Patani Qur’an, with multiple illuminated surah headings. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 302v-303r
Penultimate pages in a Patani Qur’an, with multiple illuminated surah headings. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 302v-303r  noc

This is the third of a five-part series on ‘The art of small things’ in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The first part is on Verse markers; the second on Text frames; the fourth on Juz’ markers; and the fifth and final part is on ruku' and maqra' Recitation indicators.

Blog posts:
4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library
25 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

 

26 July 2021

Glorious chariots in Thai manuscript paintings

Chariots figure prominently in South and Southeast Asian art and architectural decoration. Borrowed from the Sanskrit word ratha, the chariot is called rot (รถ) in Thai and has a special importance in  religious traditions in Thailand, especially those related to royal ceremonies and funerals. Impressive funeral chariots on four wheels have been reserved for kings and members of the royal family since the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767). Representing Mount Meru, the tip of which reaches the heavens according to the Thai Buddhist cosmology Traiphum, such ornate and lavishly gilded funeral chariots carried equally ornate urns containing the body of the deceased to the place of cremation. Four-wheeled chariots or chariot-like vehicles are also used in ceremonies to parade Buddha statues during Songkran (New Year) processions, as shown in the image below.

Drawing of a Buddhist procession in southern Thailand
Drawing of a Buddhist procession in southern Thailand, commissioned by James Low, Penang, 1824. British Library, Add MS 27370 f.2v Noc

The coloured drawing of a procession of a Buddha statue in southern Thailand was commissioned in 1824 by Captain James Low who was based at Penang as an officer of the English East India Company. It depicts a realistically-drawn four-wheeled cart with a superstructure in the shape of a chariot on which a Buddha statue is paraded through town. The vehicle is pulled by twelve men and accompanied by monks and charioteers seated next to the statue, with additional men, women and children in various ethnic attires seen in southern Thailand at the time. Depictions of chariots with four wheels are rare in Thai manuscript paintings, however, two-wheeled chariots are frequently found in illustrations of scenes from the last ten Birth Tales of the Buddha (Jataka) in which the Bodhisatta, or Buddha-to-be, uses the vehicles. They can also be seen carrying Lord Sun and Lord Moon (below) in Thai Buddhist cosmologies.

Lord Moon (Phra Chan), travelling across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot
Lord Moon (Phra Chan), travelling across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot. Detail from a drawing of Mount Meru and the Buddhist heavens. Copy from a Thai Buddhist cosmology made for James Low, Penang, 1824. British Library, Add MS 27370 f.4r Noc

While some European influence is obvious in the illustration of Lord Moon travelling in a chariot – for example in the simplified depiction of the wheels – the parts of a typical chariot in the Thai painting style are visible: the shaft with a decorative element in the shape of a naga (serpent) head and a banner, a highly decorative seat and a “tail” in a popular design called kranok.

Illustrations of scenes from the last ten Jataka were often added to a Buddhist text on the Great Perfections of the Buddha (Pali: Mahābuddhagunā) and collections of short extracts from the Pali Buddhist canon. Each of the last ten Jataka symbolises one of the Buddha’s Great Perfections. These texts and images were often included in funeral and commemoration books made in folding book format (samut khoi) from mulberry paper in the fashion of the 18th and 19th centuries. In some of these Jataka stories chariots play an important role.

Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 18th century
Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 18th century. British Library, Or 14068, f.4 Noc

The painting above depicts a scene from the Nemi Jataka in the style of the late 18th century. Although the Nemi Jataka - which symbolises the perfection of resolution - is not included in this manuscript, the illustration appears in the context of the Mahābuddhagunā. Before a vibrant red background with floral decorations one can see King Nemi (Pali: Nimi) on a two-wheeled chariot pulled by two horses. The wheel of the chariot has eight spokes, similar to the Dhammchakka whose spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path, or Middle Way of Buddhism. On one horse kneels the divine charioteer Matali, who was sent from the heavenly realm of the god Indra to fetch Nemi for a visit to the Buddhist heavens, and Nemi is seen here sitting in the carriage with a small pavilion-like superstructure. However, Nemi ordered Matali to first take him to the realms of hell - shown in the lower part of the picture - so he could teach his subjects about the horrors that await evildoers.

Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 18th century
Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 18th century. British Library, Or 14255, f.4 Noc

Although illustrations from the Jataka stories were relatively standardised in Thai manuscripts, there are always variations in the choice of colours and execution of details. The example above has a bright orange background with a deity hovering in the air. Two horses are jumping over a skeleton, but apparently the painter had some difficulty with perspective since the hind legs and tail of only one horse are visible. The chariot, harness and garments of the deity and charioteer are decorated with gold leaf.

During the 19th century, Thai painters seem to have enjoyed greater freedom to change details or to include their own ideas in their works. The illustration below depicts King Nemi on a glorious chariot that is pulled by only one horse. For the background, the artist chose plain black, perhaps to highlight the fact that hell is a dark and hopeless place. An interesting element in this illustration is the charioteer’s conical white hat  which is a traditional headgear worn by Thai nobility and royal Brahmins.

Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century
Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16552, f.13 Noc

The features of horses appear more realistic in 19th-century illustrations, and often some Western influence is visible in the painting style. The picture below has a bright blue background with white clouds executed with simple brush strokes. In the clouds, however, there are rooftops of heavenly palaces painted in the conventional Thai style. The chariot has no superstructure, but a wheel with a unique arrangement of spokes. Matali is depicted with green skin, possibly to emphasize the fact that he is a divine charioteer sent by the god Indra.

Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, dated 1894
Scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, dated 1894. British Library, Or 16101, f.3 Noc

Another popular Jataka involving a chariot scene is the story of Prince Temiya, who as a child pretended to be “crippled and mute” so he would not have to become king, a role in which he might have to commit cruel acts leading to negative Karma. Ignorant Brahmins advised the king to send the apparently disabled child in a chariot to a graveyard and bury him there. Upon arrival at the graveyard, the young prince lifted the chariot with one hand to show his power and capabilities. The scared charioteer released Temiya at once, realising he was a Bodhisatta, who then chose a life in meditation as an ascetic. Temiya lifting the chariot is the most popular scene from this Jataka, shown in the illustration below in 18th-century painting style with a distinctive rocky landscape and a crooked tree. The scene is made particularly lively by the shocked, escaping horses.

Scene from the Temiya Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 18th century
Scene from the Temiya Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 18th century. British Library, Or 14068, f.1 Noc

Another example of illustrating the Temiya Jataka, from a 19th-century manuscript, is shown below: the chariot waiting to pick up Prince Temiya, who sits motionless in meditation in front of a white stone building. The charioteer is depicted with green skin, perhaps to indicate that he was under the influence of Indra’s deities when they guided him to steer the chariot carrying Temiya through the Gate of Victory instead of the Gate of Death. The heavily decorated chariot is also equipped with two monastic fans (Thai: talaphat) and a golden offering bowl.

Scene from the Temiya Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century
Scene from the Temiya Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 14559, f.4 Noc

The Vessantara Jataka, or Great Jataka, also contains important episodes involving chariots. It tells the story of the Buddha’s last existence before attaining Buddhahood as a generous prince who showed great compassion with the needy and the poor. One well-known episode is depicted in the painting below, from a 19th-century manuscript: when Prince Vessantara was banished from the kingdom, he departed with his wife and children in a horse-driven chariot to set up a hermitage in the forest. However, on the way some Brahmins asked for the horses which Vessantara gave them as a gift. Deities sent by the god Indra immediately transformed themselves into deer to replace the horses and pull the chariot.

Prince Vessantara is seen on the chariot which is only half shown. The realistically-painted deer that is pulling the chariot has a golden harness, similar to those worn by the white horses which are being taken away by the Brahmins. This excellently executed illustration in 19th-century painting style has a calm light pink and light green background.


Scene from the Vessantara Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century
Scene from the Vessantara Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16552, f.26 Noc

Another popular episode of the Vessantara Jataka is the return of the prince and his family to the royal palace, followed by his ascension to the throne. In contrast to the two-wheeled chariots in most Jataka illustrations, the scene below depicts an extravagantly decorated, glorious chariot with four wheels and a gilded pavilion-like superstructure in which Prince Vessantara is seated. Also kneeling on the chariot are his wife Maddi with their two little children, as well as Prince Vessantara’s parents who welcomed them back into the palace. They are wearing golden headgear as a sign of royalty. At the back of the chariot one can see two gilded monastic fans. Below are four attendants in commoners’ outfits accompanying the procession.

Scene from the Vessantara Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century, red background
Scene from the Vessantara Jataka in a paper folding book, central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16552, f.78 Noc

In all these Jataka illustrations, chariots are more than just vehicles for transportation: they also fulfil symbolic functions. In the Nemi Jataka the chariot is a means to travel between the Three Worlds (Traiphum) of the Thai cosmos – human realm, heavens and hells. In the story of Prince Temiya, the chariot is used to express the hero’s physical power, and metaphorically his mental strength and moral stature as a Bodhisatta. The chariots that appear in the Vessantara Jataka are vehicles in which the Buddha-to-be goes through pivotal changes, from a life of luxury and convenience in the royal palace to a life of sacrifice and hardship as a hermit in the wilderness, and then back from a hermit to becoming a righteous Buddhist king.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

Further reading
Blurton, Richard, A processional chariot from south India. London: British Museum, 2018.
Terwiel, Barend J., Two Scrolls Depicting Phra Phetracha’s Funeral Procession in 1704 and the Riddle of their Creation. Journal of the Siam Society vol. 104 (2016), pp. 79-94.

 

12 July 2021

The art of small things (2): Text frames in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia

At first glance, one of the simplest ways to identify a Qur’an manuscript in Southeast Asia – thus distinguishing copies of the Holy Book from the hundreds of other Islamic manuscripts written in Arabic script, whether in Arabic or in a local language such as Malay or Javanese – is that on every page, the text is usually enclosed within a frame. There are certainly other, non-Qur’anic, manuscripts with text borders, but probably no other Islamic text in the Malay world is so consistently presented with a frame on every page. At key junctures of the Qur'an, such as the first and last pages, or at the start of certain significant chapters, these frames may be exquisite artistic constructions, embellished with floral and foliate motifs, such as shown below in a Qur’an manuscript from Patani. However, even on all the other ‘regular’ pages in between, the text will still be framed.

Illuminated double frame marking the start of Surat Yasin, in a Qur’an from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 222v-223r
Illuminated double frame marking the start of Surat Yasin, in a Qur’an from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 222v-223r  noc

The text frames in Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts always consist of a series of ruled lines. The schematic composition of these frames – in terms of the colour and order of the lines – is extraordinarily faithfully adhered to within each region, although sometimes there may be more than one preferred pattern within a single region. Text frames can thus be a key indicator of the geographical origin of a Qur’an manuscript, and may help to identify a manuscript when a study of the larger decorated elements is inconclusive. Some of the most characteristic patterns of text frames will be explored below with reference to the small collection of eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia held in the British Library, all of which have been fully digitised, as well as Qur'an manuscripts from Indonesia digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP).

Along the East Coast of the Malay peninsula, two standard patterns of text frames are encountered. Most of the smaller, simpler Patani-style Qur’an manuscripts will have text frames of three ruled lines, black-black-red (here and elsewhere I follow the convention of describing the lines from inside out). More lavish manuscripts, generally produced within the Terengganu school but also sometimes in the Patani/Kelantan style, will have a more complex set of frames of black-thick yellow-black-black-red lines, and in the most sumptuous manuscripts the yellow might be replaced with gold. The exceptionally fine small Patani Qur’an in the British Library pictured above (Or 15227) has these black-thick yellow-black-black-red frames on every page.

Text frames in a Qur’an from Patani of black-thick yellow-black-black-red lines, typical of the fine East Coast school. British Library, Or 15227
Text frames in a Qur’an from Patani of black-thick yellow-black-black-red lines, typical of the fine East Coast school. British Library, Or 15227  noc

Similarly elaborate text frames – but with the red line constituting the innermost rather than the outermost frame – are also found in Qur’ans illuminated in the Sulawesi diaspora geometric style, including one held in Riau digitised through EAP.

EAP1020_PDEMK_BKG_ALH_02_10-text-crop
Text frames in a Qur’an held in Kampar, of red-black-thick yellow-black-black lines, as typical of Sulawesi-style manuscripts. EAP1020/3/2

For Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh, there are also two prototypes of frames. The most common pattern – and that found in all three Acehnese Qur’ans held in the British Library, shown below - is a series of four parallel ruled lines of red-black-red-black ink. The other, less commonly encountered pattern, is a series of three lines of red-red-black ink.

Tf-15406  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: (middle) Or 16034  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh:  Or 16915.
Text frames of red-black-red-black lines in three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh. British Library, (left) Or 15406, (middle) Or 16034, (right) Or 16915. noc

The prescriptions for frames for Qur’an manuscripts from Java are rather less rigid, but nonetheless still distinctive of their origin. Javanese Qur’ans generally have frames of a series of ruled black lines, most commonly three, but sometimes two or four. These lines may either be spaced evenly or clustered, but the most common pattern – as demonstrated by Or 16877 – is for a frame of three ruled black ink lines, with the inmost two lines close together, with a larger space before the outer line. Examples of the frames in the four Qur’an manuscripts from Java in the British Library are shown below.

Text frames of three ruled black lines-Add 12312  Text frames of three ruled black lines-15877-f.6v
Text frames of three evenly-spaced ruled black lines in two Qur’an manuscripts from Java. British Library (left) Add 12312, (right) Or 15877

Text frames-16877  Text frames in Qur’an manuscripts from Java. British Library, Add 12343, with four ruled lines, grouped in two closely-placed pairs.
Text frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Java. British Library (left) Or 16877, with three ruled lines with the two inner lines closer together; (right) Add 12343, with four ruled lines, grouped in two closely-placed pairs.  noc

In the Minangkabau realm of west and central Sumatra, text frames usually comprise red lines, sometimes combined with black lines.

EAP117-3-1-3.123  EAP117-23-1-3.11
Text frames in two Qur’ans from the Minangkabau region, both now held in Kerinci: (left) EAP117/30/1/3, and (right) EAP117/23/1/3.

In my previous blog post looking at verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, it was noted that ‘errors’ or lapses by scribes were extremely valuable in signalling the various work stages of copying a Qur’an manuscript. It could be seen that firstly, the scribe would copy the text, usually placing a small black mark to indicate clearly the placement of a verse marker. After the text was completed, the next stage was to draw in with red or black ink the circles of the verse markers. If the markers were to be coloured, the third stage was to fill them in with pigment.

Looking closely at text frames, it is also thanks to certain problems encountered by the scribes that we can be certain that in general, the text frames were added after the text was written on each page, not before. This becomes clear when we see that, in all three Qur’ans from Aceh, when the scribe realised that he had left out part of the text, he was able to supply the mising words before the frames were added. The frames, therefore, had to step around the additional words, which was done as neatly as possible. In one of the Qur'ans, we even find that three full pages were left out – perhaps forgotten – during the task of adding text frames to the book.

The text frame steps up and then down to accommodate some added words in a Qur’an from Aceh. British Library, Or 16915, f. 207r
The text frame steps up and then down to accommodate some added words in a Qur’an from Aceh. British Library, Or 16915, f. 207r  noc

Probable scribal miscalculation leads to a stepped text frame in a Qur'an from Aceh. British Library, Or 15406, f. 204r 

Probable scribal miscalculation leads to a stepped text frame in a Qur'an from Aceh. British Library, Or 15406, f. 204r   noc

The text frame detours around some words which the scribe has added vertically at the end of a line, in a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 15406 f.9r
The text frame detours around some words which the scribe has added vertically at the end of a line, in a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 16034, f. 9r  noc

There are three pages (ff. 221r, 221v, 222r) with missing text frames in this Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 16034, ff. 220v-221r.
There are three pages (ff. 221r, 221v, 222r) with missing text frames in this Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 16034, ff. 220v-221r.  noc

This is the second of a five-part series of blog posts on ‘The art of small things’ in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The first part is on Verse markers; the third on Surah headings, the fourth on Juz’ markers, and the fifth and final part on ruku' and maqra' Recitation markers.

Blog posts:
28 June 2021, The art of small things (1): Verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia
4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library
25 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

28 June 2021

The art of small things (1): Verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia

Studies of the art of the Qur’an usually start with the beautiful illuminated frames across two facing pages that are naturally the most visually striking parts of the book, but all too often the studies also stop there. In fact, it is often in smaller features that geographical origin is most readily determined, through deep-seated attachments to certain preferred formats of page layout. The British Library holds eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia representing three regional traditions, with one from Patani on the East Coast of the Malay peninsula (Or 15227), three from Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra (Or 15406, Or 16034, Or 16915), and four from Java (Add 12312, Add 12343, Or 16877) including one from the island of Madura (Or 15877). Drawing on these and Qur'an manuscripts from Indonesia digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme, we will explore the art of minor decorative elements in Qur’an manuscripts, starting with the smallest of all: verse markers.

Decorated frames marking the start of Surat al-Kahf in a Qur’an manuscript from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 149v-150r
Decorated frames marking the start of Surat al-Kahf in a Qur’an manuscript from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 149v-150r  noc

In the absence of punctuation in Arabic script, and to support correct recitation, from at least the 10th century onwards Qur’an manuscripts were generally copied with small graphic devices separating each verse or aya. In Qur’ans from Southeast Asia, these verse markers are invariably small circles, generally varying in size from between 3 to 7 mm in diameter, and with olour schemes that differ between regions.

Detail from the Patani Qur’an shown above, with two differently coloured round verse markers, each 3 mm in diameter. British Library, Or 15227, f. 149v (detail)
Detail from the Patani Qur’an shown above, with two differently coloured round verse markers, each 3 mm in diameter. British Library, Or 15227, f. 149v (detail)  noc

Presented below is one line from each of the eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library, showing the start of the same verse (Surat al-Kahf, Q.18:8, ‘And lo! We shall make all that is therein a barren mound’), to show the shape and placement of the verse markers, with comments on each regional tradition.

On the East Coast of the Malay peninsula, Qur’an manuscripts normally indicate verse breaks with small red-ink circles.  More de luxe volumes, especially from the Terengganu school, have black or red ink circles filled with yellow pigment, and in the most lavish cases, gold. As shown above, the fine small Patani Qur’an in the British Library, Or 15227, has black circles filled with yellow (or occasionally green) paint. While copying the Qur’anic text, the scribe has taken care to leave enough space for the round verse markers to sit on the line adjacent to the words.

Qur’an from Patani, Q.8:18.  British Library, Or. 15227, f. 148v
Qur’an from Patani, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels.  British Library, Or. 15227, f. 149v  noc

In the three Acehnese Qur’ans shown below, only in one manuscript (Or 15406) has space been left on the line to fit in the verse markers; in the two other manuscripts the verse markers have had to be placed above the line. In Aceh, verse markers in illuminated Qur’an manuscripts are nearly always black ink circles which are coloured in with yellow. This colour scheme is found in all three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh in the British Library shown below, although on the page in question in Or 16034, the scribe has forgotten to colour in the verse markers, which have been left as black ink circles. In this manuscript, we can see clearly the small black ink dots that the scribe left while copying out the text to indicate the breaks between the verses, as a guide for placing the markers.

Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 15406, f. 142v
Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 15406, f. 142v [NB this page is bound upside down in the volume]   noc

Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 16915, f. 131r
Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 16915, f. 131r  noc

Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of black circles which have not been coloured in yellow. British Library, Or. 16034, f. 115v
Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of black circles which have not been coloured in yellow. British Library, Or. 16034, f. 115v  noc

In Qur’an manuscripts copied in the Javanese tradition, verse markers are invariably red ink circles. In the four Javanese Qur’ans in the British Library, only in one manuscript are the markers placed on the line of writing, while in three others they are located above the lines. In all these manuscripts too we can see the scribal mark left to indicate where the verse markers should be placed, but in the Qur’an from Madura, the scribe has forgotten to draw a red circle around the second caret mark placed above the line at the end of the verse Q.18:8.

All these small scribal lapses are interesting because they serve to illustrate clearly the three-stage order of working: firstly, the scribe would copy the text, usually placing a small black mark to indicate clearly the placement of a verse marker. After the text was completed, the next stage was to draw in with red or black ink the circles of the verse markers. If the markers were to be coloured, the third stage was to fill them in with pigment.

Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add 12312, f. 95r
Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add 12312, f. 95r  noc

Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add. 12343, f. 89r
Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add. 12343, f. 89r  noc

Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, , with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Or 16877, f. 146v
Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, , with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Or 16877, f. 146v  noc

Qur’an from Madura, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles; one has been missed out at the end of the verse. British Library, Or 15877, f. 147r
Qur’an from Madura, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles; one has been missed out at the end of the verse. British Library, Or 15877, f. 147r  noc

The round verse markers in Qur’ans from Southeast Asia are indeed the smallest artistic elements in the manuscripts, but they are also the basic buildings blocks of more elaborate graphic devices that sometimes blossom into remarkable artworks. These are used to indicate larger textual divisions such as juz’ or thirtieth parts of the Qur’an and subdivisions thereof, or the ends of suras or chapters. These composite roundels can range from the very basic models found in Javanese manuscripts to more artistic illuminated compositions in Acehnese Qur’ans, and can reach even more elaborate heights in other genres of manuscripts such as Kitab Mawlid texts.

Roundel-12312-f.14v-juz2  Roundel-16877-f.273v
Triple roundels in two Javanese Qur’ans to mark the start of a new juz’: British Library, (left) Add 12312; (right) Or 16877, f. 273v   noc

Roundel-16034-f.258r
Illuminated composite roundels used as a line filler at the end of Surat al-Fil (Q.105) in an Acehnese Qur’an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 258r  noc

Roundel-16915-f.131v  Roundel-16915-f.128v  coloured foundel in a Quran manuscript -15406-f.18v
Coloured composite roundels marking subdivisions of a juz’ in Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts. British Library, (left and centre) Or 16915, (right) Or 15406.  noc

As can be seen in the images, all the verse markers are perfect circles that were drawn mechanically with a compass, as is evident from the small black dot or indent discernible in the centre of nearly all the circles. The ubiquity of these perfect circles, in Qur’an manuscripts of every varying level of competence (for example, the Javanese Qur’an Or 16877 is copied in a very poor hand), suggests that rather than using a dedicated tool, they may have been made through an easily-learned scribal technique of somehow pivoting the nib of the pen around a sharp point. The use of a sharp-pointed implement is proven by some back-lit images taken to show the watermarks in a manuscript of a sermon from Kerinci, digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP117/9/1/3), which highlight the tiny holes created in the making of the composite roundels; similar observations have been made in Islamic manuscripts from Mindanao. However, the precise method of drawing these small circles, whether by using a tool or a technique, remains at present undocumented, and a field for future study.

Pinprick pivot holes in the paper made during the creation of decorative composite roundels, in a sermon from Kerinci, Jambi, probably written in the 1830s. EAP117/9/1/3  EAEAP117-9-1-3-compass points in a composite roundel
Pinprick pivot holes made in the paper during the creation of decorative composite roundels, in a sermon from Kerinci, Jambi, shown below, probably written in the 1830s. EAP117/9/1/3, 6

Sermon, written on a scroll, ca. 1830s, Kerinci, Jambi, Sumatra.  EAP117/9/1/3.
Sermon, written ca. 1830s in the form of a scroll in English paper watermarked 'Allford 1829', Kerinci, Jambi, Sumatra.  EAP117/9/1/3.

Occasionally small hand-drawn circles are also found in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, and these are especially common in central Sumatra and areas in the Minangkabau sphere of influence, as in the Qur’an below.

EAP144-2-5.16
Hand-drawn small red circles as verse markers in a Qur’an from West Sumatra. EAP144/2/5.16

This is the first of a five-part series on ‘The art of small things’ in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The first part is on Verse markers; the second on Text frames; the third on Surah headings; the fourth on Juz’ markers; and the fifth and final part is on ruku' and maqra' Recitation indicators.

Blog posts:
4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library
25 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

14 June 2021

Three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh in the British Library

Aceh is renowned as one of the most fervently Islamic regions of Southeast Asia. Situated on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, it was the site of the first Muslim kingdoms in the archipelago in the 13th century, and Aceh has also produced many famous Islamic scholars and writers. There are probably more illuminated Qur’an manuscripts known today from Aceh than from anywhere else in the Malay world, and nearly all conform closely to what can be termed the Acehnese style of manuscript illumination (cf. Gallop 2004). The British Library holds three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh, and all have been fully digitised.

Illuminated frames at the start of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 2v-3r.
Illuminated frames at the start of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 2v-3r.  noc

An especially fine example of this genre is Or 16915, which has three superb pairs of illuminated frames and further marginal ornaments throughout the manuscript indicating standard divisions of the Qur’anic text into thirty parts of equal length or juz’. As can be seen in the illustration above, the text boxes on two facing pages are surrounded by rectangular borders, with the vertical borders extended upwards and downwards. On the three outer sides of each page are arches, and those on the vertical sides are flanked by a pair of ‘wings’ or foliate tendrils. The palette is centred on red, yellow and black ink, but the most important colour is the reserved white of the background paper, which carries the main motif, usually a scrolling vine. Gold is never used in the illumination of Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts. In the final pair of illuminated frames from the same manuscript, shown below, the arches are ogival rather than triangular, but all elements still conform to the precepts of the Acehnese style.

Illuminated frames at the end of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 254v-255r.r
Illuminated frames at the end of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 254v-255r.  noc

The other two manuscripts are simpler bibliographic productions, but both were also created with decorated frames at the beginning, middle and end of the book. However, Or 16034 is now missing the first few folios, and thus also the initial illuminated frames which it would undoubtedly have had. It still has illuminated frames in the middle, which, as is the case with all Acehnese Qur’ans, are located at the start of the textual mid-point of the Qur’an, at the start of the 16th juz’, in Surat al-Kahf, verse 75, indicated here with the line in red ink. Although the decorated frames are cruder in design and execution than those shown above, they illustrate well both the degree of conformity to, yet variation possible within, the parameters of the Acehnese style.

Decorated frames in the middle of the Qur’an, at the start of the 16th juz’ (Q, 18:75). Or 16034, ff. 119v-120r.
Decorated frames in the middle of the Qur’an, at the start of the 16th juz’ (Q, 18:75). British Library, Or 16034, ff. 119v-120r.  noc

Probably the most interesting feature of this Qur’an manuscript is that the final pair of illuminated frames, which are located after the end of the Qur’anic text, were left blank. While at first glance it might be assumed that they were unfinished, in fact this is a distinctively Acehnese phenomenon, and scores of examples of such blank illuminated frames in Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh have been documented. In most cases they appear to have been designed to contain a prayer to be recited on completion of the Qur’an, or the final chapters of the Qur’an, or a repetition of the first chapter, Surat al-Fatihah. In Or 16034 the first words of a prayer have been written but the attempt then petered out, leaving only a few doodled pencil marks.

Blank decorated frames at the end of the Qur’an. Or 16034, ff. 260v-261r.
Blank decorated frames at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 16034, ff. 260v-261r.  noc

The third Qur’an manuscript, Or 15604, has three pairs of double monochrome frames. These should not be regarded as ‘unfinished’ examples of manuscript art, for so many examples of Acehnese manuscripts with monochrome decoration can be found that this should be regarded as a standard variant of the Acehnese style. In all other aspects, these decorated frames are typical of the Acehnese style save that, unusually, both the initial and final pairs of frames are lacking the arches and flanking tendrils on the outer vertical sides, although these are present in the (very damaged) middle frames.

Monochrome decorated frames, without side arches, at the beginning of a Qur’an from Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 1v-2r.
Monochrome decorated frames, without side arches, at the beginning of a Qur’an from Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

Damaged monochrome decorated frames in the centre of a Qur’an from Aceh, at the beginning of juz’ 16, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 147v-148r.
Damaged black and brown ink decorated frames in the centre of a Qur’an from Aceh, at the beginning of juz’ 16, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 147v-148r.  noc

Both these two simpler Qur’an manuscripts display one of the most characteristic features of Acehnese illumination less evident in the finer Or 16915, namely the plaited rope border. This deceptively simple and seemingly universal motif is in fact fundamental to the Acehnese style, while almost never being encountered in Qur’an manuscripts from any other part of Southeast Asia.

Plaited rope borders from decorated frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh

Plaited rope borders from decorated frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh
Plaited rope borders from decorated frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh: British Library, (top) Or 15406, f. 314r; (bottom) Or 16034, f. 120r  noc

All three Qur’an manuscript from Aceh in the British Library were produced with three pairs of decorated frames, albeit with differing degrees of artistry and finesse. However, Or 16915 is a much more lavish example of book art as all the textual divisions within the Qur’an are marked with beautiful marginal ornaments. The Qur’an is traditionally divided into thirty juz’ or parts of equal length to facilitate its recitation within a complete month, especially the blessed month of Ramadan.  Each juz’ can also be subdivided into regular fractions of half (nisf), quarters (rubu‘) and eighths (thumn), and all these divisions are indicated in Or 16915 with ornamented medallions placed in the margin. The start of each new juz’ is also highlighted with a small composite roundel composed of intersecting circles within the text itself, and by setting the first line within red-ruled frames and writing the first verse in red ink. In the other two Acehnese Qur’ans, Or 15406 and Or 16034, the first line of each new juz’ is also written in red ink, and in Or 16034 is usually also marked by a composite roundel, but there are no decorative devices in the margins.

The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82)

The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82)

The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82)
The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82) marked with varying degrees of ornamentation in three Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts: British Library, (top) Or 16915, f. 54r, (middle) Or 15406, f. 57v, (bottom) Or 16034, f. 45r.  noc

It is probably in the minor decorative features that the umbilical cord linking all three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh is revealed most clearly. Thus all three manuscripts – despite evidently varying places and dates of production within Aceh – have text frames of exactly the same composition, namely a series of four parallel ruled lines (described from inside out) of red-black-red-black ink. This is the one of two frame schemes found in nearly all Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts, the other being the less common red-red-black (cf. Gallop 2007: 195).

Tf-15406  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: (middle) Or 16034  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh:  Or 16915.
Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: British Library, (left) Or 15406, (middle) Or 16034, (right) Or 16915.  noc

Lastly, all three Qur’an manuscripts are also linked by the smallest common ornamental element: the aya or verse markers, which in Acehnese Qur’ans are invariably small black circles, drawn mechanically with a compass-like tool, coloured in with yellow pigment.

Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment-15406 f.246v  Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment-16034  Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment-16915
Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: British Library, (left) Or 15406, (middle) Or 16034), (right) Or 16915.  noc

None of these three manuscripts is dated, but Or 16915 is written on English paper made by J Whatman watermarked with the date '1819', suggesting it was copied sometime in the 1820s.  The two other manuscripts are copied on Italian paper with the tre lune watermark of three crescent moons, indicating 19th century production. It is very rare to find colophons in Southeast Asian Qur'an manuscripts, but Or 15406 does have an endowment (waqf) statement at the end naming the owner:  Inilah Qur'an milik Teungku Ti orang baruh duduk pada nanggroe Lam Kubu tetapi Qur'an ini diwakaf pada tangan Teungku Abdul Kadir Lam Siwi intaha kalam tamma, ‘This is the Qur'an belonging to Teungku Ti, from the coastal lowlands, residing in Lam Kubu, but this Qur'an has been inalienably endowed into the hands of Teungku Abdul Kadir of Lam Siwi, finis.’

Endowment statement at the end of the Qur'an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 315r
Endowment statement at the end of the Qur'an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 315r  noc

Further reading:
A.T. Gallop, ‘An Acehnese style of manuscript illumination’, Archipel, 2004, (68): 193-240.
A.T. Gallop, The art of the Qur’an in Southeast Asia. Word of God, Art of Man: the Qur’an and its creative expressions. Selected proceedings from the International Colloquium, London, 18-21 October 2003. Edited by Fahmida Suleman. Oxford: OUP in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007, pp.191-204.
Blog post, 24 March 2014, An Illuminated Qur’an manuscript from Aceh
Blog post, 4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

20 May 2021

An inspiring Indonesian woman writer: S. Rukiah

The current British Library exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights (until 1 August 2021), documenting feminist activism in the UK in historical context, is accompanied by a wide-ranging programme of talks and articles exploring the complex history of women’s rights across the world. A recent blog post focussed on Inspiring women writers of Laos; this blog highlights another inspiring female writer from Southeast Asia, S. Rukiah (1927-1996).

The proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945 towards the end of World War Two heralded another five years of armed conflict within the country: between Indonesian nationalists and the returning Dutch colonial power, but also between left- and right-leaning factions of Indonesia’s nascent military force. The period also ushered in a host of new literary voices. One Indonesian writer who came of age during this time, and whose writings were shaped by the pressures and anguishes of the Revolution, was S. Rukiah, whose 1950 novel Kejatuhan dan Hati (‘The Fall and the Heart’), is probably the most important early Indonesian novel by a female writer.

S. Rukiah, in ca. 1954
S. Rukiah, in ca. 1954, from H.B.Jassin, Seri esei dan kritik kesusasteraan Indonesian moderen (Jakarta: Gunung Agung, 1962, vol. 1, p. 208). Wikimedia Commons.

Rukiah’s early work is set in the foothills of West Java against a backdrop of guerilla activity during the Indonesian Revolution, but her writing transcends place and time by focussing on the dilemmas of an intelligent modern Indonesian woman and the societal conventions which bind her. Explored in Rukiah’s poems and short stories, and developed most fully in her novel, the constraints of the female predicament are contrasted with the freedom enjoyed by male characters, who have the luxury of pursuing their own destiny, often choosing to wed themselves to a cause. But this all-or-nothing revolutionary fervour does not appeal to Rukiah’s female characters – such as Susi in Kejatuhan dan Hati – who yearn for the seemingly impossible: to love passionately and work fulfillingly, but also to enjoy a happy and peaceful family life.

S. Rukiah’s 1950 novel Kejatuhan dan Hati was first translated into English by John H. McGlynn as ‘An Affair of the Heart’ and published in Reflections on rebellion: stories from the Indonesian upheavals of 1948 and 1965 (Ohio University Press, 1983; British Library, YA.1986.b.248). Shown above is McGlynn’s translation republished as The Fall and the Heart (Jakarta: Lontar, 2010). British Library, YD.2011.a.7962.
S. Rukiah’s 1950 novel Kejatuhan dan Hati was first translated into English by John H. McGlynn as ‘An Affair of the Heart’ and published in Reflections on rebellion: stories from the Indonesian upheavals of 1948 and 1965 (Ohio University Press, 1983; British Library, YA.1986.b.248). Shown above is McGlynn’s translation republished as The Fall and the Heart (Jakarta: Lontar, 2010). British Library, YD.2011.a.7962.

S. (Siti) Rukiah was born on 27 April 1927 in Purwakarta, a small town northwest of Bandung in West Java. During the Japanese occupation she trained as a teacher, and while teaching at a local girls’ school in 1946 she published her first poems. She also began writing for the magazine Godam Jelata, ‘The Proletariat Hammer’, one of the founders of which was her future husband Sidik Kertapati. Around May 1948, Rukiah became Purwakarta correspondent of the influential literary journal Pujangga Baru (‘The New Poet’), and over the next few years she published 22 poems, six short stories and her novel Kejatuhan dan Hati, which first appeared as a special issue of Pujangga Baru (Nov.-Dec. 1950) before being re-issued by Pustaka Rakyat.

S. Rukiah, Kedjatuhan dan Hati (Djakarta: Pustaka Rakjat, 1950). British Library, 14650.f.148.
S. Rukiah, Kedjatuhan dan Hati (Djakarta: Pustaka Rakjat, 1950). British Library, 14650.f.148.

Rukiah’s first collection of poems and short stories, Tandus (‘Barren’) – mostly work which had previously appeared in journals in 1948 and 1949 – was published in 1952 by the government publisher Balai Pustaka, and the following year it won the inaugural National Cultural Council award for poetry. The esteem accorded to Rukiah’s work can be judged by her fellow awardees: Pramoedya Ananta Toer for short stories, Mochtar Lubis in the novel section and Utuy Tatang Sontani for drama, later regarded as three of the top Indonesian writers of all time.

Tandus, the rare 1st edition of 1952  S. Rukiah, Tandus, 'Barren', a collection of poems and short stories (Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 2nd ed. of 1958).
S. Rukiah, Tandus, 'Barren', a collection of poems and short stories, published in Jakarta by Balai Pustaka.  Left: the rare 1st edition of 1952, British Library, 14650.f.46; Right: the 2nd edition of 1958. British Library (shelfmark pending).

In 1952 Rukiah married Sidik Kertapati, and they had six children. By 1951 Rukiah had begun editing the children’s magazine Cendrawasih (‘Bird of Paradise’), and over the next decade, under her married name of S. Rukiah Kertapati, she published actively in the fields of children’s literature and retellings of Indonesian folk stories. In 1959, at the first National Congress of Lekra, a cultural association sympathetic to the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI), Rukiah was elected as a member of its Central Committee, and she represented Lekra at a writers’ Congress in East Germany in 1961.

S. Rukiah Kertapati, Djaka Tingkir, a retelling of a Javanese folk tale. Djakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1962. British Library, 14650.f.75.
S. Rukiah Kertapati, Djaka Tingkir, a retelling of a Javanese folk tale. Djakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1962. British Library, 14650.f.75.

The febrile political atmosphere in Indonesia by the early 1960s came to a head on 30 September 1965, with the murder of top military leaders in an apparent coup attempt. The aftermath saw a ferocious purge of Communist Party members and suspected PKI sympathizers, leaving up to a million dead and hundreds of thousands imprisoned. At the time Sidik Kertapati – then a PKI member of parliament – was visiting China; like many leftists then abroad, he was unable to return to Indonesia and spent the next four decades in exile. Rukiah herself was imprisoned, with no provisions made for the care of her six young children. Her books were banned and her writings were expunged from future editions of the authoritative anthology of Indonesian literature, Gema Tanah Air ‘Echoes of the Homeland’. She was eventually released in 1969 on condition that she did not write or publish again, and returned to her hometown of Purwakarta, where she lived quietly, aware that she was under constant suveillance as she struggled to support her family.

In 1985, at the suggestion of my supervisor Dr Ulrich Kratz, I made the work of S. Rukiah the subject of my MA dissertation in Indonesian and Malay studies at SOAS, and my first visit to the British Library was to look at the rare editions of Rukiah’s works pictured here. With the help of a close friend, S. Budiardjo – an Indonesian exile living in London – I was able to write to Rukiah in Purwakarta, and was overjoyed to receive a letter back from her. Addressing me as Ananda (‘Child’; I addressed her reverently as Bunda, ‘Mother’), she wrote, ‘I was so glad and touched to receive your letter, and to hear that you know and are studying my works that were published decades ago, for even I myself had forgotten them, it was so long ago.’

In another letter written in December 1985, Rukiah gave a harrowing account of her fate after 1965: “While in prison, I was not allowed to see my beloved children. And so all the time I was detained, I had no idea of the fate of my children: were they living destitute under bridges, or had they even starved to death? (For in those terrible times, nobody was allowed to take in or look after my children. If anyone had dared to do so, they themselves would have faced prison.) So you can just imagine how I agonized and suffered in prison. In the end, my desperate longing for my children and my fears for them forced me to write to the Government begging for release, under any conditions.

And so a suffocating deal was struck: “On 24 April 1969, I was freed fom prison and reunited with my children, on condition that I could never write again. I was clearly regarded as far too outspoken and critical. In the event that I might try to get something published, all publishers were informed that it was forbidden to publish my writings. The Government knew, of course, that this was the harshest possible punishment for any writer. But I agreed to everything, because of my love for my children, who were still so young, and who couldn’t possibly fend for themselves without a mother or a father.”

Extract from a letter from S. Rukiah to Annabel Gallop, December 1985.
Extract from a letter from S. Rukiah to Annabel Gallop, December 1985.

In October 1986, I came to Jakarta and Rukiah’s son, Windu Pratama, met me and took me to visit his mother in Purwakarta. I was overwhelmed to finally meet this courageous woman whose gentle smile and serene demeanour belied the horrors she had faced in years past.

S. Rukiah in Purwakarta, 1986. Photograph by A.T. Gallop.
S. Rukiah in Purwakarta, 1986. Photograph by A.T. Gallop.

In her writings Rukiah had plumbed the depths of the dilemmas of heart and mind. In her life too, Rukiah, had been forced to choose between the very essence of her being – her writing – and her beloved family. Her surviving works are all the more precious for the enforced silencing of her original and inspiring voice.

Further reading:
Annabel Teh Gallop, The work of S. Rukiah. [M.A. thesis]. London: SOAS, 1985.
Yerry Wirawan, Independent woman in postcolonial Indonesia: rereading the work of Rukiah. Southeast Asian Studies, 2018, 7(1): 86-101.

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

With very many thanks to John H. McGlynn of the Lontar Foundation for his advice and help.

03 May 2021

Bollinger Singapore digitisation project completed

In 2013, through the generous support of William and Judith Bollinger, the British Library embarked upon a five-year project, in collaboration with the National Library Board of Singapore, to digitise materials in the British Library of interest to Singapore. The project initially focussed on Malay manuscripts, early maps of Singapore, and archival papers of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who had founded a British trading settlement in Singapore in 1819. The project later also encompassed Bugis manuscripts, reflecting the cultural heritage of a distinctive community within the broader Malay population in Singapore, and the small collection of Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The digitised materials are being made accessible through the websites of both the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts and the National Library of Singapore's BookSG.

Malay manuscripts
The complete collection of Malay manuscripts in the British Library, comprising about 120 volumes and about 150 letters and documents in Malay, has now been fully digitised. The manuscripts date from the 17th to the late 19th centuries, and originate from all over Southeast Asia where Malay was the common language of trade, diplomacy and religious education. Highlights include the oldest known copy of the earliest Malay historical chronicle, Hikayat Raja Pasai (Or 14350), copied in Semarang in north Java in 1797, and two copies of the history of the great sultanate of Melaka, Sulalat al-Salatin or Sejarah Melayu, one copied in Singapore around the 1830s (Or 16214) and one in Melaka in 1873 (Or 14734). The collection is rich in literary works, both in prose and in poetic (syair) form, and also has a few finely illuminated manuscripts, including an exquisite copy of a ‘mirror for princes’ containing advice on good governance, the Taj al-Salatin or ‘Crown of Kings’ (Or 13295), commissioned in Penang in 1824 by Ralph Rice for his 'bibliomanist' brother, Rev. Rice of Brighton. While technically admirable, of greater cultural significance is a nicely decorated copy of the story of the Prophet Joseph, Hikayat Nabi Yusuf (MSS Malay D.4), copied in Perlis in 1802, as this is the only illuminated Malay manuscript known to identify the artist by name: Cik Mat Tok Muda, or, in more formal terms, Datuk Muda Encik Muhammad.  The Malay manuscripts can be accessed here and through BookSG.

Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, the Malay story of the Prophet Joseph, copied in Perlis, 1802.
Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, the Malay story of the Prophet Joseph, copied in Perlis, 1802. British Library, MSS Malay D.4, ff. 3v-4r. Noc

Many of the Malay letters in the British Library were written to Thomas Stamford Raffles, who spent nearly two decades in Southeast Asia in the service of the East India Company, initially in Penang and then as Lieutenant-Governor of Java (1811-1816) and of Bengkulu in Sumatra (1818-1824). The majority of the letters date from around 1811 when Raffles was based in Melaka making preparations for a British invasion of Java, as the Napoleonic wars in Europe spilled over into the Indian Ocean arena and Southeast Asia. Other letters were sent to Raffles at later dates, including a collection of formal farewell letters on his departure from Java in 1816.

Illuminated farewell letter in Malay from Sultan Cakra Adiningrat of Madura to T.S. Raffles on his departure from Java in 1816.
Illuminated farewell letter in Malay from Sultan Cakra Adiningrat of Madura to T.S. Raffles on his departure from Java in 1816. British Library, MSS Eur E378/7. Noc

Early maps of Singapore
Tom Harper, Lead Curator, Antiquarian Maps, describes this part of the project:
"Approximately 250 early maps and charts featuring Singapore have been digitised. Ranging in date from the late 15th to early 20th centuries, these were sourced from across the British Library’s collections including the India Office Map Collection and the Topographical Collection of George III. Of particular significance are the maps of Singapore Island and town drawn by the governor of Singapore William Farquhar a mere five years after the foundation of the British settlement in 1819. Other included maps illustrate the strong continuity and tradition of maritime charting of the Singapore strait from the chart drawn by the Frenchman Jean Rotz and presented to Henry VIII in 1542 (Royal MS 20 E IX), to British Admiralty charts of the straits surveyed and published three centuries later.  Finally, the hand-drawn atlas of 1700 by William Hack, formally owned by George III (Maps 7.TAB.125), containing 85 charts of the coasts between South Africa and Japan and prominently featuring the Singapore Strait and surrounding area, was digitised in its entirety for the first time." The map collection can be accessed here.

A chart of the coast of Asia, from Cochin China on the east, to Ormus on the west, with Sumatra, Java, and part of Borneo; drawn in 1578, by Joan Martines of Messina.
A chart of the coast of Asia, from Cochin China on the east, to Ormus on the west, with Sumatra, Java, and part of Borneo; drawn in 1578, by Joan Martines of Messina.  British Library, Harley MS 3450, f. 7r Noc

Papers of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles
Antonia Moon, Lead Curator, India Office Records (Post-1858), writes:
"27 volumes were digitised from the India Office Private Papers. These included 14 volumes of Raffles’s own correspondence, journals, notes and observations, which most interestingly reflect his administration of Java, his interest in the history and culture of the people, and his early explorations of Singapore. Also digitised was correspondence with Lord Minto, Governor General of Bengal, which contains Raffles’s narratives of the natural history and antiquities of South East Asia. Five items were digitised from the Raffles Family Papers, including the list of Raffles’s personal possessions lost on board the ship ‘Fame’. Copyright clearance was achieved on most of the material including, importantly, that created by Raffles."  The Raffles Papers can be accessed by searching for 'Mss Eur' on BookSG.

Statement of personal property of Sir Stamford Raffles lost on board the Fame, 1824.
Statement of personal property of Sir Stamford Raffles lost on board the Fame, 1824. British Library, Mss Eur D742/4, f. 6. Noc

Bugis manuscripts
Singapore is home to a substantial Malay community of Bugis/Makassar descent, who maintain a strong interest in the language, culture and traditions of their ancestral homeland in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The 32 Bugis and 2 Makasar manuscripts which have been digitised, listed here, were taken in 1814 during the British attack on the kingdom of Bone in south Sulawesi, and entered the possession of John Crawfurd, a senior East India Company official. The collection includes an important series of royal diaries kept by senior court officials, including some belonging to the former king of Bone himself, Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin (1775-1812).

Bugis diary of the Maqdanreng (most senior court official) of Bone, showing the entry for March 1729, with a detailed account of activities on 15th March written in a square spiral.
Bugis diary of the Maqdanreng (most senior court official) of Bone, showing the entry for March 1729, with a detailed account of activities on 15th March written in a square spiral. British Library, Or 8154, f. 77r. Noc

Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts
The Bollinger-Singapore project enabled the completion of the digitisation of the British Library’s small collection of eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, making publicly accessible a selection of Qur’ans representing three distinct regional traditions of the Malay world, from Aceh, Java and Patani on the East Coast of the Malay pensinsula.

Qur’an from Java, 18th-early 19th century, collected by John Crawfurd
Qur’an from Java, 18th-early 19th century, collected by John Crawfurd. British Library, Add 12312, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

The Bollinger-Singapore Digitisation Project was initiated when William and Judith Bollinger moved from London to Singapore in 2012, and extended their already generous patronage of the British Library to a project which they envisaged would enhance collaboration between the British Library and the national library of their new home.

Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian of the British Library, describes the impact of the project: “We are so grateful for this visionary support from William and Judith Bollinger, which has allowed the British Library to make freely and fully accessible a highly significant part of its collections relating to Singapore and the Malay world, benefitting not only the scholarly community but also reaching new audiences, especially in Southeast Asia."

Tan Huism, Director of the National Library of Singapore, expresses appreciation of the project and outlines some of the beneficial outcomes: “It takes a special person, in this a case a special couple, to support digitisation work. While digitisation is largely unseen work done by libraries, it is crucial work in enabling access and the sharing of collections with people all over the world when put online. The National Library of Singapore is grateful to Bill and Judy for their generous support in this project which has not only enabled the Singapore public to engage with these wonderful treasures held by The British Library digitally but the digitisation had also facilitated the loans of some of these materials for exhibitions in Singapore.”

This digitisation project was one of the first to make widely accessible such a range of primary source material for the study not only of the history of the Malay world, but also for its literature, art, calligraphy, book culture and writing traditions.

Further interest:

A video of Judy Bollinger speaking in 2018 at the National Library of Singapore.

Tales of the Malay world, an exhibition of Malay manuscripts at the National Library of Singapore in 2018.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

19 April 2021

Konlabot: Thai poetry from 'Jewels of Thought'

Among the literary treasures of Thailand is the famous work Chindamani, "Jewels of Thought". The oldest version of this work is attributed to the seventeenth-century monk and court astrologer Horathibodi of Ayutthaya. It is thought that he compiled it around 1670 in Lopburi for King Narai, but he may have drawn inspiration and knowledge from older texts. Although the original work has not been preserved physically, copies of it are held in numerous archives and libraries in Thailand and abroad. Chindamani is a treatise about "writing", covering vocabulary, orthography, grammar, loan words from Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer, literary styles and poetry conventions.

Thai poetry is shaped by a combination of foreign influences and the 'poetic' character and tonality of the Thai language. Thai poets were inspired by foreign languages like Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer, but the nature of the Thai language governs, selects and adapts these imported influences. Poets in the past explored the possibilities of the language and indirectly established new conventions for the following generations. This can be seen in the techniques of word-play and punning as well as the many variations of Thai verse forms known as Konlabot.

The poem Suriyakanta nai chak (Lord Sun in the wheel) illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f.11
The poem Suriyakanta nai chak (Lord Sun in the wheel) illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f.11 Noc

A small treasure in the Library's Thai, Lao and Cambodian collection is a nineteenth-century folding book (samut khoi) made from mulberry paper with examples of illustrated Konlabot poetry. The poems are written in black ink, in a very accurate hand, on eighteen folios. Twelve folios contain coloured illustrations, most of which have Konlabot verses written in a geometric pattern. The size of the book is 340 mm x 107 mm, rather small compared to the larger Thai folding books containing Buddhist texts. However, this is the usual folding-book size for literary, historical and other secular topics. The first part of the book contains nine poems without illustrations and two poems accompanied by illustrations, including one about the popular folktale Kraithong, a story of a brave man who rescued a young lady after she was abducted by a crocodile and held captive in a cave. The second part contains poems which are embedded in paintings of fine quality, like for example two striking symbolic illustrations of the sun (above) and moon (below) which contain verses in praise of Suriya, lord of the sun, and Chandra, lord of the moon. The moon with the white rabbit is shown together with the demi-god Rahu who is trying to swallow the moon – a traditional explanation of a lunar eclipse.

The poem Phra Chandra (Lord Moon) illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 12
The poem Phra Chandra (Lord Moon) illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 12 Noc

Historically, Thai poets have cherished and explored the possibilities of language through the invention of various stylistic methods of Konlabot. In many major literary works in Thai language - like Lilit Phra Lo, Yuan Phai, Samuttakhot Khamchan, and Anirut Khamchan - there is an abundance of Konlabot poetry to break up the main text, or to poetically "illustrate" the main text. This serves the purpose of highlighting the mastery of an author and their ability to intensify the emotions in their work. Much dedication and effort are given to the novelty of imagery that can appeal to the feelings and the aesthetic senses of audiences. Therefore, the refinement of diction and embellishment through poetry is highly valued.

The poem Dragon flicking his tail illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 13
The poem Dragon flicking his tail illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 13 Noc

Although over time many different types of Konlabot have emerged, Chindamani is the only theoretical work to cover Konlabot poetry as a subject, giving examples of different types of Konlabot with their proper names. Ten of the most popular and best-known types of Konlabot are the following:

- Alternating letters
- Kinnara picking lotus
- Cows circling a stake
- Elephants joining tusks
- A serpent's composition
- The mountain covered
- Stems joining on to flowers
- Lions swishing tails
- Charioteers driving
- Flowers in designs

These ten types of Konlabot are also mentioned in an inscription from the treatise of Khlong Konlabot found at Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho) in Bangkok, the temple considered as the first university in Thailand founded by King Rama III.

The poem Thousand lotuses illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 14
The poem Thousand lotuses illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 14 Noc

From the different types of Konlabot mentioned above it is obvious that the name of each type of Konlabot implies certain characteristics corresponding to the name. For example, words or verses can be arranged in a certain geometric pattern, which is then embedded in an illustration. The reader needs to know the "code" to decipher the poem that is represented in the geometric shape. This geometric structure subsequently affects the sound pattern and the rhythm of the poem. Usually the poet includes certain key-words together with a suggestive title which enable the reader to decode a poem. Thus, Konlabot poetry can also be used to cover taboo topics, or to send secret messages to lovers, like for example the erotic poem about the Bird in the cave below. The title is a symbolic expression for love-making, and the poem elaborates on the poet’s desire for his lover, a gorgeous lady with a playful, chatty voice and a face bright and sparkling like a diamond.

The poem Bird in the cave illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 17
The poem Bird in the cave illustrated in a folding book containing Konlabot poetry, Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16102, f. 17 Noc

The idea of poetry as a critical exploration of language is highlighted in the famous eighteenth-century work Klon Konlabot Siriwibunkiti, which contains eighty-four variations of versification. While this text is seen as evidence of the established importance and recognition of Thai written poetry since the Ayutthaya era (1350-1767), it also shows that the Konlabot genre is proof of the Khmer influence in Thai poetry. Like the Kaap, another popular form of versification in Thailand, Konlabot has exact counterparts in Khmer language. Generally, Thai classical literature embraces Khmer and Sanskrit loanwords, especially older compositions from before the nineteenth century.

Further reading:
Braginsky, Vladimir: The comparative study of traditional Asian literatures: from reflective traditionalism to neo-traditionalism. London, 2015
Cholthira Satyavadhana: วิจารณ์รื้อวิจารณ์ ตำนานวรรณคดีวิจารณ์แนวรื้อสร้างและสืบสาน = Wichan ru wichan tamnan wannakhadi wichan naeo ru sang lae suepsan. Mahasarakham, 2550 (i.e. 2007)
Herbert, Patricia and Anthony Milner (ed.): South-East Asia: languages and literatures: a select guide. Whiting Bay, 1990
Peera Panarut: Cindamani. The Odd Content Version. A Critical Edition. Segnitz, 2018
Peera Panarut: On a quest for the jewel: a review of the Fine Arts Department’s edition of Phra Horathibodi’s Chindamani. Manusya Journal of Humanities, vol. 18/1 (2015), pp. 23-57
Suchitra Chongstitvatana: The nature of modern Thai poetry considered with reference to the works of Angkhan Kalayanaphong, Naowarat Phongphaibun and Suchit Wongthet. PhD thesis, SOAS, London, 1984

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections Ccownwork

I would like to thank Prof. emeritus Cholthira Satyawadhana, former Dean of School of Liberal Arts, Walailak University, for her advice and help in decoding poems in the Konlabot manuscript that is subject of this article.

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