THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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

27 June 2016

Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah (IO Islamic 3214)

While recently looking for documentation on the Library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), my eye fell on this entry in Charles Stewart's Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (Cambridge, 1809), pp. 72-3:

XCIV. Diwāni Sindbād Hakīm. Thick quarto, common hand, ornamented with pictures, &c. The instructions of the philosopher Sindbād to his pupil, the ignorant son of a king; in a series of interesting and facetious stories. The author is unknown; but it is dedicated to Shāh Mahmūd Bahmeny of the Dekhan, A.D. 1374.

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The philosopher Sindbad promises the king to teach his son (BL IO Islamic 3214, fol. 18v)
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Immediately I was reminded of the Sindbādnāmah about which I had written in an earlier blog (The Story of Sinbad or the Seven Sages). Circumstantial evidence had given this manuscript an origin in South India, probably Golconda, between 1575 and 1585 (Weinstein, p. 127), but how it arrived in the East India Company Library remained a mystery.

Thanks to the manuscript being digitised, I was immediately able to look for mention of a date of composition and found the year 776 (1374/5) of Stewart's description mentioned in the introduction on folio 8v. I then had the good fortune to discover that a volume in the India Office Records and Private Papers described as Tipu Sultan papers (Mss Eur E 196) included copies of lists of books allocated by the Prize Agents to the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the East India Company Library. Sure enough, not only was the volume mentioned in a list of manuscripts designated for the East India Company Library in 1799, but it also occurred in a list of books due to be despatched from Calcutta in February 1807.

F70r
Above: List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. the Court of Directors, submitted by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam in December 1799
Below: “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad, the Poetical works of Hakeem Sindbad, with Paintings” (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff.70r and 74v)
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74v

Although 197 volumes of Arabic and Persian manuscripts were deposited in the Library on 16 July 1806 (Library Day Book for 1806), it wasn't until 1807 (204 vols) and April 1808 (68 vols) that the full allocation was received. Of almost 2000 volumes of the original library, the East India Company received an estimated total of 469 while the rest were divided between the Asiatic Society and the College of Fort William, Calcutta.

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Binding of IO Islamic 3214 labelled “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad”
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Above: Packed ready for despatch, a List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted, included in a letter from Wm. Hunter, Secy. to College Council, Fort William, dated 17 February 1807, to Thomas Brown, Chief Secy. to Government
Below: Details of manuscripts sent (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff 90r and 91r)
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Folio 1r of the Sindbādnāmah contains several abraded seals. One is the East India Library stamp which was deliberately effaced when the book was stolen from the library (see my earlier post). Laura Weinstein had already suggested (Variations on a Persian theme, p. 127) that at least one of the others might be a seal of the Qutbshahi dynasty. Examination using sophisticated filters at RetroReveal.com and comparison with other Qutbshahi seals show that it is likely to be the seal of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, and is probably dated 1012 (1603/4). The fact that many of Tipu Sultan's manuscripts had belonged previously to the Qutbshahi dynasty only serves to strengthen this connection.

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Folio 1r showing the abraded Qutbshahi seals above and the effaced East India Company stamp below (BL IO Islamic 3214, f. 1r)
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Above: Seals of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, from another Tipu manuscript (BL IO Islamic 550)
Below: Seal of IO Islamic 3214 viewed with help from RetroReveal, revealing the letters مهر ز on the lower right side

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This research has resulted in some exciting discoveries of new source material on the royal library at Seringapatam. I'll be posting the results during the next few months as we digitise selected manuscripts from Tipu Sultan's collection.

Further reading
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809
Laura S. Weinstein, Variations on a Persian theme: adaptation and innovation in early manuscripts from Golconda. PhD diss., Columbia University, 2011
Mss Eur/E196, ff.70-82: Copy of List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. The Court of Directors, dated 1 & 28 December 1799, signed by D. Price, S.W. Ogg
Mss Eur/E196, ff 90-94: List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted. Signed W. Hunter, Secy. C.C.
Mss Eur/F303/1: Library Day Book 1801-1814

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
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The story of Sinbad or the seven sages
Tipu Sultan’s dream book (IO Islamic 3563)

21 June 2016

A Mughal Shahnamah

In a recent post I wrote about some of our loans to the exhibition The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination in Delhi. These included our Mughal illustrated Shāhnāmah (Add.5600). A direct benefit of participating in exhibitions such as this is that we have now been able to digitise it and make it available on our website.

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The heroes Gīv and Pīrān bring Kay Khusraw from Turan to Iran to be crowned king. Artist: Shamāl (British Library Add.5600. f. 139v)  noc

This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.

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Rustam, glass in hand, prepares to eat a wild ass alfresco while Bahman contemplates killing him with a giant boulder. Artist: Banvārī (British Library Add.5600, f. 320v)  noc

In his Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: 263-73, John Seyller expands Jerry Losty's view (Art of the Book: 122-3) that the paintings were added for the great statesman and patron ʻAbd al-Raḥīm Khān Khānān (1556-1627). The artists Qāsim and Kamāl are known to have worked for him and one of the paintings, ascribed to the artist Shamāl (f. 274r), is dated 1025 (1616/17) which places the Shāhnāmah in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's studio at that time. The volume, Seyller suggests, was probably incomplete when ʻAbd al-Raḥīm acquired it. Thirty-five of the paintings were added directly to blank painting areas, leaving four completely empty (for example f. 446v). Some folios were replacements for missing ones. The remaining 55 original illustrations were covered with paper which was then painted over. Occasionally the original painting is visible from the other side, as in folio 338 illustrated below, or round the edges of the new paintings.

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Right:  folio 338v showing the dying Rustam, impaled in a pit of spears, shooting Shaghad through the tree trunk. Left:  folio 338r, the other side of the same leaf showing visible traces of over-painted branches of a tree (British Library Add.5600, f. 338)  noc

Add5600_f257r_reworking Add5600_f189r_reworking
Left: folio 257r and right: folio 189r,  examples of original paintings showing round the edges

The artists of the Shāhnāmah
The 90 paintings are the work of seven named artists listed below. Follow the hyperlinks to go directly to the digital image. Details of the individual illustrations are available here.

Banvārī 26, (ff. 32v, 65v, 84v, 107v, 128r, 130r, 134r, 154v, 178r, 200v, 234v, 295r, 304v, 314v, 320v, 325v, 333r, 343v, 344v, 357r, 437r, 452v, 488v, 525r, 555v, 562v)

Bhagvatī 3 (ff. 28r, 68v, 338v)

Būlā 1 (f. 24v)

Kamāl 11, (ff. 54r, 88r, 156v, 211v, 264v, 346v, 353r, 361v, 464v, 551v, 578v)

Mādhū 1 (f. 12v)

Qāsim 25 (ff. 37r, 42v, 64r, 75v, 78v, 99r, 142v, 147v, 182v, 222v, 236v, 269v, 280v, 285r, 288v, 310v, 350r, 372r, 399v, 404v, 408v, 477v, 483v, 548r, 573v)

Shamāl 21 (ff. 18v, 51r, 116v, 139v, 169v, 176r, 180v, 183v, 189r, 197v, 244v, 250r, 257r, 274r, 277v, 364v, 385v, 411v, 419v, 506r, 538v)

Unattributed or erased 2 (ff. 387v, 402v)


An illustrious past
Lack of  ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's name in Add.5600 means we can only deduce his connection from other evidence, but luckily we have a bit more concrete information about what happened after it left his studio. The details, however, are far from certain and allow plenty of scope for future research!

The first piece of tangible evidence occurs in inscription A below, which records that the manuscript was given in 1625 to Muʻtaqid Khān who had been awarded this title by Jahāngīr when he was made chief huntsman (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668-72). After Jahāngīr’s death in 1627, Muʻtaqid Khān was promoted to Ilāhvirdī Khān by Shāh Jahān as a reward for his loyalty at the time of succession. This explains inscription B written by Muʻtaqid, now Ilāhvirdī Khān (or Chelah as his name is in the inscription), which confirms that the Shāhnāmah had been a gift from Jahāngīr which he was now presenting to his brother Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd1. The inscription is dated on the first of the month of Āzar, regnal year 8. Both John Seyller (“Workshop and Patron”: 264) and Jerry Losty (Art of the Book: 122-3) have interpreted this date as referring to the eighth year of Jahāngīr’s reign (November 1613) which is problematic. If the manuscript was presented to Ilāhvirdī Khān in 1613, then how could it have been in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm’s studio when the artist Shamāl completed his painting in 1616? Bearing in mind that inscriptions A and B presumably refer to the same person, the later inscription B, written after Jahāngīr's death, is surely more likely to indicate a date in Shāh Jahān’s reign equivalent to November 16342 referring to the time when Ilāhvirdī presented the book to Muḥammad Rashīd.

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Portrait of Ilāhvirdī Khān (d. 1659), identified in a Persian inscription, c. 1680 (Johnson Album 64, 2)  noc
 
Inscription C is unfortunately undated but records that the manuscript passed from Muḥammad Rashīd, Ilāhvirdī's brother, to his son Muḥammad ʻĀrif. It is accompanied by his seal.

Several others are mentioned in later inscriptions and seals, but Khān Jahān Bahādur, mentioned in inscription D can perhaps be identified with Aurangzeb's military commander Khān Jahān Bahādur Ẓafar Jang Kokaltāsh who was awarded the title Khān Jahān Bahādur in regnal year 16 (1672/73). The seal associated with this inscription is dated 1101 (1689/90). Khān Jahān Bahādur became Governor of the Punjab in regnal year 34 (1690/91) and remained there until summoned to court three years later. He died in 1697 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 1: 783-91).

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Portrait of Khān Jahān Bahādur (d.1697), identified from a Persian inscription, by the artist Hūnhār, c. 1690. See also Mughal India, pp.156-8 (British Library Johnson Album 18, 12)  noc

The octagonal seal E on folio 1v is dated 1142? (1729/30) and belongs to Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur who was perhaps Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur Khvīshagī (d. 1743), a learned scholar and collector who was given the title Mutahhavar Khān after Aurangzebʼs death in 1707 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 2: 333-43).

The most recent owner was Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), famous for his grammar of Bengali, his support of Warren Hastings and also his promotion of the self-proclaimed prophet Richard Brothers. Halhed acquired a fine collection of oriental manuscripts mainly in Calcutta between 1776 and 1789 and sold them to the British Museum in 1795 and 1796 (Add.5569-5661).

 
The Inscriptions
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Left: Add.5600, folio 2r; right: Add.5600, folio 1v  noc

A
(in gold): Ba-tārīkh-i hashtum-i māh-i Amurdād [ilāhī] sannah 20 julūs-i mubārak [...] [ba-m]uʻtamad Muʻtaqid Khān ʻināyat k[ardah]
Translation: On the 8th of the month Amurdād ilāhī year 20 of the blessed accession [of Jahāngīr] (August 1625) [this book] was given to the trusted Muʻtaqid Khān

B (the left hand margin recopied at the time of repairs and added in [ ]): Īn Shāhnāmah rā ḥuz̤ūr-i ghufrān panāh Jahāngīr [pādshāh] bah kamtarīn-i ghulāmān Ilāhvirdī Chelah ʻināyat farm[ūdah būdand] bah tārīkh-i ghurrah-i māh Āzar ilāhī sannah 8 chūn milk-i [bandah būd] [ba-]barādar-i ʻazīz Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd guzarānīd[ah shud]
Translation: The late Jahāngīr pādshāh had given this Shāhnāmah to the least of his slaves, Ilāhvirdī Chelah. On the first of the month of Āzar ilāhī year 8 (of Shāh Jahān = November 1634), since it was mine (lit. the property of this slave), it was presented to [my] dear brother, Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd

C: Min mutamallakāt al-muḥtāj ilá raḥmat Allāh al-Malik al-Ḥamīd, Muḥammad ʻĀrif ibn Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd
Translation: From the possessions of one who needs the mercy of God the king the praised one, Muḥammad ʻĀrif son of Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd ...
This is followed by a seal (undated): Dīn-i ʻĀrif ibn Muḥammad Rashīd yāftah bar fayz̤-i ilāhī kilīd

D: Min mutamallakāt-i Muḥammad ʻĀdil ibn Muḥammad Saʻīd bin Muḥammad Ḥasan mutannā-yi4 Navvāb Khān Jahān Bahādur ba-qaymat-i haftṣad rūpiyah dar Lāhūr kharīd namūdah shud.
Translation: From the property of Muḥammad ʻĀdil son of Muḥammad Saʻīd son of Muḥammad Ḥasan, purchased for 700 rupees at Lahore at the desire of Nawab Khān Jahān Bahādur.
This is followed by a seal:  ʻĀdil hast ibn Saʻīd Khān 1101? (1689/90)

E: Octagonal seal: Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur 1142? (1729/30)


Further reading

John Seyller, “Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Rāmāyaṇa and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ʻAbd al-Raḥīm”, Artibus Asiæ. Supplementum, 42 (1999): 263-73, 378.
J.P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982: 122-3.
J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire: Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012.

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
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[1] Ilāhvirdī Khān is known to have had one brother, Mukhliṣ Khān (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668), but he may well have had others whom we don’t know about!
[2] The ilāhī era was in use in Shāh Jahānʼs reign until 1638 (Stephen Blake, Time in Early Modern Islam, CUP 2013, p.131)
[3] I am grateful to my colleague Saqib Baburi for his help and patience with these inscriptions!
[4] I am grateful to John Seyller for this suggestion.

 

Celebrating Noruz in Delhi with new 'Everlasting Flame'
Razmnamah: The Mughal Mahabharata
The tales of Darab: a medieval Persian prose romance
15000 images of Persian manuscripts online

15 June 2016

The Great Palace at Madurai

The city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu is the home of the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple, one of the largest and most famous temple complexes in the south of India. Far less is known about the Great Palace at Madurai, constructed by Tirumalai Nayak in the 1620s, which covered an area the same size as the temple complex. In the early 18th Century, following the demise of the Nayak Dynasty, the palace fell into disrepair. Today, only two buildings from the original palace are still standing, and are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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Detail from an oil painting by Francis Swain Ward showing the west side of the palace from outside the city walls, 1764 (British Library F31)
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In the British Library’s collections, there are numerous visual sources showing how the Palace at Madurai looked in the 18th Century. With the help of these images, one can reconstruct areas of the palace that are now missing.

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Detail from a map of Madurai by William Jenings, 1755. The palace buildings, labelled “5”, are in the top left corner. (British Library Maps.K.Top.115.87)
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The history of courtly architecture in South India has understandably been overshadowed by interest in temples. It is far easier to research a vibrant living tradition than it is to study the fragmented remains of a palace. Fortunately, pictures and archival records such as those in the British Library can help form a clearer picture of Madurai’s palace, and its powerful relationship with the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple.

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Aquatint by Thomas and William Daniell of a missing courtyard, 1792. (British Library P948)
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Drawing by Elisha Trapaud of missing structures in the palace, 1780s. (British Library WD4561)
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The Nayak Palace at Madurai is an architectural conduit towards our understanding of South Indian courtly architecture. It was constructed when the Vijayanagar Empire was falling into decline in the early 17th Century, and it was in use when a number of small adjacent kingdoms, such as Pudukkottai and Ramnad, began building palaces of their own. Madurai’s palace therefore provides an important link within South India’s palace building traditions.


Further reading
Howes, Jennifer, The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India: Material Culture and Kingship. London: Routledge, 2003.
Michell, George, The Vijayanagar Courtly Style: Incorporation and Synthesis in the Royal Architecture of Southern India. New Delhi: Manohar, 1992.
Patterson, George, The Diary of George Patterson (1772-1773). Vol. 8 of 9, pp. 238-242  (British Library Mss Eur E379). 

Jennifer Howes, Art Historian
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