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Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

16 January 2017

The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix

One of the more enigmatic manuscripts now in the British Library (IO Islamic 1255) from the rich library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore (d. 1213/1799), is the untitled qiṣṣah or tale featuring a figure popular across the range of Persian literature, the Prophet Sulaymān (the biblical Solomon, son of David). In this tale, the prophet-king is confronted by the head of the ranks of birds, the Sīmurgh (Phoenix), expressing its disbelief in the doctrine of predestination (qaz̤āʾ va qadr). Having angered Allāh, Jibrāʾīl (the archangel Gabriel) is sent to inform Sulaymān of a prophecy foretelling the birth of the Prince of the East (Malikzādah-′i Mashriq) and the Princess of the West, daughter of the Malik-i Maghrib, who together bear a child out of wedlock. The Sīmurgh believes it can prevent this outcome. Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh conclude an agreement (qawl) to reassess the situation after fifteen years, by which time the accuracy of the prophecy would be apparent.

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The Prophet Solomon and the Phoenix’s agreement is witnessed by members of his court; the two yogis in the foreground represent the assembled jinns. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 2v. Noc

The tale additionally interweaves several digressive subplots focussing on the adventures of the Prince of the East from his minority to adolescence. In the process, his development into a pious youth is mapped through a succession of episodes where he interacts with magical beasts, Satan, kings, courtiers, merchants, and sages. This didactic tale may be part of the ‘mirror for princes’ tradition, but as we shall later discover, there is more to it than appears at first glance.

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The Prince of the East (not shown) overhears a king’s angry exchanges with his courtiers while seated amid special trees. Note the lengthy jamahs and sweeping turbans that indicate eighteenth-century courtly fashions, while the patterned floorcoverings attempt to capture the rich texture of contemporary embroidered and brocaded soft furnishings. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 8r. Noc

Profusely illustrated, the manuscript IO Islamic 1255 has surprisingly eluded scholarly attention. Although it ends without a dated colophon, the distinctive style and details of its 63 illustrations on 26 folios offer sufficient evidence to locate its origins in mid-eighteenth-century Deccan, possibly even the Carnatic, ruled by the Nawabs of Arcot. On the other hand, the coarse nastaʿlīq script tending toward taʿlīq makes it clear that this is not the product of an élite or royal workshop. The absence of gold illumination and the use of a muted colour palette further strengthen this impression. The unusually tall and narrow format underscores the peculiarity of the volume as a whole. Though the paintings have oxidised in areas, the manuscript must have been a valued item in Tipu’s library, as the work was bound in a contemporary finely-tooled, gilded, and painted leather binding.

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The Prince of the East is discovered by his two Arabian horses while sheltering under the hide of a horse at the foot an isolated tree. This image shows the increased levels of pigment oxidation in paintings towards the end of the manuscript. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library, British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 22r. Noc

The tale’s literary significance is heightened when considering the version in another British Library manuscript catalogued recently, entitled Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr (IO Islamic 4806). We encounter the familiar characters of the Prophet Sulaymān, the Sīmurgh, the Prince of the East and Princess of the West, with the narrative sharing the same basic structure. Like the version in the Tipu manuscript, the tale’s author is not named. Differences lie in the laconic style of the substantially abridged account, with some passages and episodes rearranged, and others omitted. Occasionally, the simplicity of prose is abandoned in favour of a more formal style and additional poems, while adjectives and titles take on a distinctly courtly flavour. Notwithstanding, the overall feel is that of a relatively faithful retelling of the Tipu version.

The most original feature of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr is its introductory matter (ff. 1v-3r), which elevates it to the status of pseudo-history and prophetic tradition. Accordingly, when the Prophet Muḥammad was troubled by Meccan groups, Jibrāʾīl appears and gives him the seal of Sulaymān, a gift from Allāh. Jibrāʾīl is asked if it prevents death. He clarifies that there are two kinds of death, qaz̤ā-′i muḥkam or conspicuous (avoidable?) death and qaz̤ā-′i mubram or certain death. After a few days, Jibrāʾīl reappears and narrates the tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh to demonstrate how nothing escapes the certainty of fate. The tale begins from this point forward in much the same way as the Tipu manuscript.

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Illuminated sarlawḥ and opening passage of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr. British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 1v. Noc

The tale’s connection with the Prophet Muḥammad is established on the authority of a tenuous chain of transmission, mentioning the names of Ibn Saʿd (d. ca. 66/686), who heard it from Ḥasan Baṣrī (d. 110/728), who heard it from one of the unidentified muʿtamadān or confidants of the Prophet. Whether or not the chain of transmission is authentic, such details are unnecessary for the purpose of a mere adventure tale, indicating the intention to emphasise its moral and pious message. While subsequent details correspond closely with the Tipu manuscript, these extraordinary passages do not appear in that version.

The Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr manuscript is not dated and owners’ marks have been erased. It consists of 26 folios commencing with a gilded and painted sarlawḥ or headpiece, and has gold rulings throughout, with scribal nastaʿlīq on thin burnished paper. The nine brightly coloured illustrations are painted with sparsely populated simplistic compositions. Only the King of the West and the Prince of the East are depicted wearing Persian (Safavid) costume, while the remaining characters are dressed in eighteenth-century Hindustani attire. Neither manuscript has chapter or section headings, making it difficult to follow the programme of illustration in both manuscripts without closely reading adjacent text. A comparative list of illustrations in both manuscripts can be found here: Download Solomon and the Phoenix illustrations.

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The King of the West’s men shoot at the Phoenix stealing the Princess’s cradle. Note the differentiation in status between figures reflected in their costume. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 3v. Noc

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The Princess of the West falls in love with the Prince of the East, who finds his way to the foot of the isolated tree where she is held captive by the Phoenix. The Princess here is dressed in the Hindustani peshvaz and dupattah, while the Prince sports a turban in a distinctly Safavid style with the ends of the qamarband always tucked in. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 19r. Noc

Given that both manuscripts discussed here are associated with South Asia, one might be forgiven for taking this as an indication of the tale’s origins, perhaps traceable to some obscure Sufi source of moralistic parables. Evidence to counter this regional association is found in a fragile Judaeo-Persian manuscript from the British Library’s Gaster Collection (Or 10195). Although the fragmentary volume has several compositions in poetry and prose, one of these comprises yet another prose rendition of the same tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh. While the work needs to be studied in detail, it would be particularly revealing if it could be verified that this version commences with or without the prophetic tradition, and whether it consists of the lengthier or abridged version. The systematic comparison of all texts may form the basis of future research to identify a common Urtext, which might not even be in Persian at all. It is hoped this article may mark the start of the process.

Bibliographical note on IO Islamic 1255
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the Late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809, p. 84, where it is listed as the third of the Persian fables. Hermann Ethé, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford, 1903, vol. 1, coll. 544, no. 854. Another undated manuscript (IO Islamic 1627), also from Tipu Sultan’s library, reproduces over ff. 106v-111v an independent work based on a fragment of the same tale comprising episodes 14-28 (Ethé, no. 853).

Dr Sâqib Bâburî
Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project Ccownwork

Acknowledgements
I am grateful to Ursula Sims-Williams for referring me to IO Islamic 1255. I would also like to thank Ilana Tahan and Zsofia Buda for their research and help with Judeo-Persian.

09 January 2017

Malay literary manuscripts in the John Leyden collection

The collection of Malay manuscripts formed by the Scottish poet and scholar of Oriental languages John Leyden (1775-1811), now held in the British Library, is an exceptionally important resource for Malay literature. Leyden spent four months in Penang from late 1805 to early 1806, staying in the house of Thomas Stamford Raffles, initiating a deep friendship which lasted until Leyden’s early death in Batavia in 1811. The 25 volumes of Malay manuscripts in the Leyden collection contain 33 literary works, comprising 28 hikayat in prose and five syair in narrative verse, with some titles existing in multiple copies. Nearly all the manuscripts come from the environs of Kedah, Perlis and Penang and were collected by Leyden or Raffles, while a few were copied in Melaka, where Raffles was stationed in 1811 and where Leyden spent some weeks en route to Batavia. 24 of the works are dated to between 1802 and 1808, and over ten names of scribes are found in the colophons. The collection thus affords a remarkable snapshot of literary activity along the northwest coast of the Malay peninsula in the first decade of the 19th century.

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John Leyden, by an unknown artist. Ink on paper. Bequeathed by W.F. Watson, 1886. Scottish National Portrait Gallery, PG 1686

Some of the Malay works in Leyden’s collection are found in multiple copies and versions all over the Malay archipelago.  For example, manuscripts of the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka date back to the 17th century, and there are three copies in Leyden's own collection. Hikayat Dewa Mandu is known from at least 14 other Malay manuscripts from the peninsula, Sumatra and Java, and is also found in Cham regions in present-day Cambodia and Vietnam, where it is known as Akayet Deva Mano. Other texts are less familiar: Leyden’s copies of Hikayat Raja Dewa Maharupa and Hikayat Ular Nangkawang are the only manuscripts known of these works, while his copy of Hikayat Silindung Dalima is the only prose copy known of this work usually encountered as a syair.

MSS Malay D 1, ff.1v-2r
Hikayat Raja Dewa Maharupa, copied in a fine neat hand, completed on 22 Zulkaidah 1216 (26 March 1802) in Penang.  The manuscript shows clear signs of having been read, with smudges and small red crosses in the margin. British Library, MSS Malay D 2, ff. 1v-2r  noc

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Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, early 19th c. British Library, MSS Malay A 1, ff. 1v-2r  noc

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Colophon of the Hikayat Silindung Dalima, copied in Melaka on 5 Muharam 1223 (3 March 1808). The name of the scribe is given as Tuan Haji Mahmud from Bintan or Banten (b.n.t.n), but this may be the name of the scribe of the original MS from which this copy was made. British Library, MSS Malay C 6, f. 65v  noc

Five of the manuscripts in the John Leyden collection are copies commissioned by Raffles, as stated clearly in the colophon, but most of the others appear to be ‘working’ manuscripts created for a Malay audience and used within that community, as can be gauged by well-thumbed and smudged pages, and reading marks throughout the text. Paper was clearly a valuable commodity: in most of the manuscripts the text is written densely across the full surface of the page, with no extraneous embellishment. On two pages of Hikayat Dewa Mandu, the scribe has taken the decision that ink scribbles should not hinder the continued usage of the paper, and he has annotated the top of the page: ini surat dipakai tiada salah, 'this page has been used, there is essentially nothing wrong with it' (MSS Malay D.1, ff. 37r, 39r).

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Part of a page of Hikayat Isma Yatim, early 19th c., with an 'x' in the margin probably indicating the place reached by a reader.  The two '//' marks at the end of the third line have been used by the scribe as a 'filler' to ensure a neat right-hand edge to the text block. British Library, MSS Malay C 4, f. 17r (detail)  noc

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Page from Hikayat Dewa Mandu, copied in 1808, which the scribe decided to use despite the ink scribbles on the paper, writing at the top ini surat dipakai tiada salah. British Library, MSS Malay D 1, f. 37r (detail)  noc

 On the initial page of Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, the scribe has practised writing out the basmala and the heading for the opening of the Qur'an, with the words Sūrat al-Fātiḥah al-Kitāb sab‘ah āyāt, ‘The Chapter of the Opening of the Book, six verses’.  Recent research by Ali Akbar (2015: 317) has shown that the headings Sūrat al-Fātiḥah al-Kitāb or Sūrat Fātiḥah al-Kitāb for the first chapter of the Qur'an are strongly associated with Ottoman Qur'an manuscripts, and in Southeast Asia are only encountered in Qur'an manuscripts from the east coast of the Malay peninsula, in the Terengganu-Patani cultural zone. In Qur'ans from all other parts of the Malay world, such as Aceh, Java and Sulawesi, the chapter heading is presented simply as Sūrat al-Fātiḥah.  This suggests that the scribe of Hikayat Ular Nangkawang was familiar with this Ottoman practice, perhaps through its manifestation in Qur'an manuscripts from the east coast of peninsula, which were exported to many other parts of the Malay world.

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Heading for Surat al-Fatihah, from the beginning of Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, early 19th c. British Library, MSS Malay A 1, f. 1r   noc

All the Malay literary manuscripts in the John Leyden collection have now been fully digitised and are accessible through the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website or via the Malay Manuscripts project page, or directly from the hyperlinks below:

Prose works (hikayat)
Hikayat Bayan Budiman, MSS Malay B.7 & MSS Malay B.8
Hikayat Budak Miskin, MSS Malay D.6
Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, MSS Malay C.1 & MSS Malay C.2
Hikayat Dewa Mandu, MSS Malay D.1
Hikayat Hang Tuah, MSS Malay B.1
Hikayat Isma Yatim, MSS Malay C.4 & MSS Malay C.5
Hikayat Lima Fasal, comprising five short works: (1) Hikayat fakir; (2) Hikayat orang miskin yang bernama Ishak; (3) Hikayat Raja Jumjumah dengan anak isteri baginda; (4) Hikayat anak saudagar bersahabat dengan orang kaya dan miskin; (5) Hikayat anak saudagar menjadi raja, MSS Malay B.10
Hikayat Maharaja Boma, MSS Malay C.8
Hikayat Mesa Tandraman, MSS Malay C.3
Hikayat Mi’raj Nabi Muhammad, MSS Malay B.3
Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, MSS Malay B.6 & MSS Malay D.5
Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, Perlis, MSS Malay D.4
Hikayat Nabi Muhammad berperang dengan Raja Khaibar, MSS Malay D.5
Hikayat Pandawa Jaya
, MSS Malay B.4
Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka, MSS Malay B.2, MSS Malay D.5 & MSS Malay B.10
Hikayat Parang Puting, MSS Malay D.3
Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, MSS Malay B.12
Hikayat Putera Jaya Pati, MSS Malay B.5
Hikayat Raja Dewa Maharupa, MSS Malay D.2
Hikayat Silindung Dalima, MSS Malay C.6
Hikayat Syahi Mardan, MSS Malay D.5
Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, MSS Malay A.1

Poetical works (syair)
Syair orang berbuat amal, MSS Malay B.3
Syair Silambari, MSS Malay B.3
Syair surat kirim kepada perempuan, MSS Malay B.3
Syair Jaran Tamasa, MSS Malay D.6 & MSS Malay B.9

Further reading:
Ali Akbar, ‘The influence of Ottoman Qur'ans in Southeast Asia through the ages’, in From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, eds A.C.S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop; pp.311-334.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. (Proceedings of the British Academy; 200).
John Bastin, John Leyden and Thomas Stamford Raffles.  Eastbourne: printed for the author, 2003.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

30 December 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name: Turkish in its Various Apparitions

For those who have learnt foreign languages, the presence of a loanword can be both comforting and surreal. In languages written in non-Roman scripts, a borrowed word – take computer as an example – greatly eases the task of building vocabulary; it is far simpler to remember the Japanese konpyutaa than the Hungarian számítógép. However, such loan-words can also be disorienting, triggering memories of one’s mother tongue while confronting it with the sight of a totally foreign representation. Now imagine that nearly every word in a text was much the same. This phenomenon is referred to as allography, and, in the period before standardized orthographies, state-sponsored schooling and the mass media, it was an exceptionally common occurrence. Among the most famous of cases are the Jewish languages of Yiddish and Ladino, but in the Ottoman Empire, where secular, state-directed education was not enforced until the 20th century, Turkish in scripts other than Arabic was a matter of routine business.

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Ahd-i Atikten On Yedi Kitap, yani Doğuş Kitabından Ester Kitabınadek, or The Old Testament from Genesis to the Book of Esther. Izmir: Grifilyan Basmahanesi, 1841 (BL 14400.c.4)
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The two largest allographic communities were the Armenians and the Greeks. Armeno-Turkish – a rendering of Ottoman Turkish in Armenian letters – gave rise to a vibrant publishing industry and cultural community. The orthography was largely phonetic and based upon Western Armenian readings of the letters. It was in Armeno-Turkish that many French and other Western European works came into Turkish. This was a situation assisted by the reticence of the Sublime Porte to authorize Ottoman Turkish printing presses, despite the expansion of Armenian, Greek and Jewish ones. Many volumes printed were religious works, for example BL 14400.c.4, shown above, a copy of the Old Testament. The growth of an Armenian middle class gradually permitted the flourishing of secular publication as well, allowing for the appearance of translations, adaptations and original works. A case in point is the collection of şarkılar, or folksongs, in Armeno-Turkish shown below, BL 14499.a.14(5). That the Armeno-Turkish cultural sphere was a world in its own right is attested to by an Armeno-Turkish guide to the works of Professor Bezjian published in Aleppo in 1932, four years after the introduction of a Latin script for Turkish, and more than a decade and a half after the tragic events of 1915.
14499a14(5) Uncatalogued Armenian Book
Left: Yeni Şarkiler Mecmuası, or The Journal of New Folk Songs. [Istanbul?]: n.p., 1871 (BL 14499.a.14(5))
Right: Prof. Y. A. Bezciyan ve Bazi Onun Eserleri, or Prof. Y. A. Bezjian and Some of His Works. Aleppo: Halep Kolej Matbaası, 1932
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Turkish written in Greek characters also laid the foundation for a vibrant publishing industry, with a heavy emphasis on religious materials. The language, known as Karamanlidika in Greek and Karamanlıca in Turkish, was the everyday idiom of the Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians of Anatolia. Despite being ethnically and linguistically Turkish, their religion required them to be classified as Rum or Greek Orthodox under the Ottoman system. The Orthodox clergy controlled education, and a tradition of literacy in Greek letters, rather than modified Arabic script. Although many of the Library’s holdings in Karamanlidika are translations of the New Testament – usually published by British missionaries, for example BL 14400.a.28 below – there are also a few non-scriptual examples. One is a play based on the story of Abraham’s sacrifice, a story that is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike (BL 14469.c.4).
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Left: Incili Şerif, yani Ahd-i Cedid, or The Holy Gospel, or the New Testament. London: Rildert and Rivington Publishers, 1873 (BL 14400.a.28)
Right: Hazreti Avraamin: Ziyade Cok Cana Menfaatı Kurban Hikayesi, or Saint Abraham: The Sacrifice Story, of Great Use to Many Souls. Istanbul: Ignatious Basmahanesi, 1836 (BL 14469.c.4)
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The final example of allography from the Ottoman Empire is a much less common one, but no less interesting. It is of the newspaper Leshānā d’umthā, Syriac for Voice of the Nation (BL 753.k.35). This bi-weekly was produced in Beirut, Lebanon from 1927 until 1946 and had articles in Syriac, Arabic and Turkish. Arabic written in Syriac script is a common occurrence throughout the Christian Orient, and is referred to as Garshuni. Turkish written in Syriac characters, however, is far rarer, and represents a unique view into the linguistic, political and cultural identity of Beirut’s Christian communities decades after the end of Ottoman sovereignty. Unlike Armeno-Turkish, the author of the Ottoman Turkish articles in this periodical adhered to Ottoman orthography as much as possible, even when it did not conform to the spoken language. This indicates that the compiler of the articles was educated in Ottoman Turkish, yet opted to write in Syriac script; a reminder of just how powerful the visual aspects of language were and are in the Middle East.

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Left: The Syriac-script, trilingual (Syriac-Arabic-Turkish) biweekly Leshono d’Umtho, or Tongue of the Nation. Beirut, 1928 (BL 753.k.35(2))
Right: İlm-i Hal, or Catechism. The complete collection of faith-based knowledge for Muslims, printed in a modified Perso-Arabic script. Istanbul: Tevsi-i Tabaat Matbaası, [1910?](BL ITA.1994.a.128)
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Questions of script, orthography and language were not limited to the minority communities. Indeed, perhaps the most vibrant discussions were held about the majority language itself. Ottoman intellectuals frequently debated script and grammar reforms in discussions that impinged on issues of identity, power and connectivity. The edition of the Islamic theological tract, İlm-i Hal, produced by the Society for the Teaching of a New Script in the second decade of the 20th century, exemplifies this latter push for change (BL ITA.1994.a.128). One of only three publications by the Society, it sought to reconcile orthographic efficiency with tradition by adding vowel characters to the Arabic script, some of which were based on Old Turkic runes. Like the allographies of the Armenians, Greeks and Syriac Christians, this attempt would fall victim to the drive for standardization and generalization of the new age of nations ushered in by the end of the First World War. Today these publications remain as memorials to the colourful and pluralistic cultural milieus of the age of empires.

Michael Erdman, Curator Turkish and Turkic Collections
 ccownwork