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

05 December 2016

A Malay work on Islamic law from Aceh: Mirat al-tullab

In the 16th century the sultanate of Aceh on the north coast of Sumatra grew to become the most powerful Muslim kingdom in Southeast Asia and a great centre for the study and teaching of Islam.  One of the most famous scholars and writers from Aceh was Abdul Rauf (‘Abd al-Ra’ūf ibn ‘Alī al-Jāwī al-Fanṣurī al-Sinkīlī), who was born at Singkel on the west coast of Sumatra in around 1615. Like many intellectuals from the Malay world, Abdul Rauf undertook the hajj pilgrimage and spent several years en route studying with a succession of teachers, first in Yemen and then in Jeddah, Mecca and Medina in the Arabian peninsula.  After nineteen years in the Middle East, in 1661 Abdul Rauf returned to Aceh during the reign of the first queen, Sultanah Tajul Alam Safiatuddin Syah (r.1641-1675), daughter of Aceh’s most famous ruler, Iskandar Muda (r.1607-1636).

Abdul Rauf composed numerous works in Malay and Arabic, including the first Malay interpretation of the Qur’an, Tarjumān al-mustafīd, based on the Tafsīr al-Jalālayn.  At the behest of Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah in 1663, he also wrote a work on jurisprudence (fiqh), comprising a guide to religious obligations in all aspects of life in accordance with Islamic law, entitled Mir’āt al-ṭullāb fī tashīl ma‘rifat al-aḥkām al-shar‘iya lil-mālik al-wahhāb, 'Mirror of the seekers of knowledge of the law of God'. Written to complement Nuruddin al-Raniri’s Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm, another popular Malay work on fiqh composed in Aceh in 1644 which focused solely on religious obligations, the Mir’āt al-ṭullāb covers a much broader range of topics affecting social, political and economic life, arranged in sections on commercial, matrimonial and criminal law.

Or_16035_f001r
Start of the manuscript of the Mir’āt al-ṭullāb. This is the second page of the original book, as there would originally have been a first page opening to the right, with an illuminated frame mirroring the decoration on the surviving page. The illumination is typically Acehnese in style, with a palette of red, black, yellow and reserved white.  British Library, Or. 16035, f. 1r.  noc

Although composed in Aceh, Mir’āt al-ṭullāb was influential throughout the Malay archipelago, including areas as far eastwards as Gorontalo in north Sulawesi and Mindanao.  27 manuscript copies of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb are known so far, held in libraries in Jakarta, Aceh, Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, Leiden and London (for a full list see Jelani 2015: 132-134).  The London manuscript, which is held in the British Library as Or. 16035, has now been fully digitised and can be read here. According to the colophon it was copied on 14 Muharam 1178 (14 July 1764), and from the illumination and other codicological features was clearly written in Aceh.

Traditional Malay manuscripts do not use punctuation, paragraphing, or page numbering.  Apart from rubrication – the highlighting in red ink of significant words – there are few visual aids to differentiate between the different parts of the text, and it is difficult to envisage exactly how early readers managed to navigage their way around long books.  Uniquely in some manuscripts from Aceh, though, we do find a developed system of marginalia, flagging up visually to readers the start of a new subject within the text. 

BL Or
Mir’āt al-ṭullāb by Abdul Rauf of Singkel, with a calligraphic marginal subject indicator.  British Library, Or. 16035, ff. 74v-75r.  noc

The British Library manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb contains some of the finest and most elaborate examples known of these calligraphic marginal subject indicators.  All commence with the Arabic words maṭlab baḥth, ‘section discussing […]’, written in a stylish boat-shaped flourish, orientated at an angle to the text, some of which are further decorated with typically Acehnese ornamental foliate flourishes. There are a total of 31 such maṭlab baḥth markers in this manuscript, some simply inscribed maṭlab baḥth but others include explanations in Malay on the particular type of law being discussed, as in the example shown above on f.74v: maṭlab baḥth yang seyogyanya diketahui yang qāḍī itu hukum sharikat , ‘section discussing what should be understood by judges on the law of association’.  At the start of the manuscript, from f. 8r onwards, the markers are relatively simple inscriptions.  From f. 32r onwards, they become more elaborate, and in some examples are enhanced with the use of red ink, dots and even glittery inks. 

Shown below are several examples of calligraphic maṭlab baḥth subject markers from the manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb, offering us a glimpse into one of the few artistic outlets available for a Malay manuscript scribe in Aceh in the 18th century.  In the illustrations below the markers have been rotated to facilitate reading, but the hyperlinks below the images will link to the actual page of the manuscript containing the marker.

BL Or
Simple subject marker at the start of the manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb  inscribed maṭlab baḥth hukum riyāh, ‘section on the law of dissemblance’.  British Library, Or.16035, f. 8r.  noc

BL Or.16035 (20)
Elaborate marginal inscription reading maṭlab baḥth [in black ink] yang seyogyanya diketahui yang qāḍī itu hukum sharikat [in red ink], ‘section on that which should be understood by judges on the law of association’. British Library, Or.16035, f.74v.  noc

BL Or
Marginal subject marker inscribed maṭlab baḥth [in red ink] yang seyogyanya diketahui setengah daripada hakim hukum ṣālaḥ [in black ink], ‘section on what should be known by the judges on the laws of prayer’.  British Library, Or.16035, f. 66r.  noc

BL Or
Subject marker inscribed maṭlab baḥth pada menyatakan hukum farā’iḍ, ‘section on the laws of inheritance’  British Library, Or.16035, f. 119v.  noc

Or_16035, f.135r
Monochrome marker inscribed maṭlab baḥth pada menyatakan waṣiyyat, ‘section regarding wills'. British Library, Or. 16035, f. 135r.  noc

Or_16035_f70r
An example of a marginal marker inscribed simply maṭlab baḥth, without any further explanation of the content of the new section. British Library, Or. 16035, f. 70r.  noc

A full list of all the decorative marginal maṭlab baḥth indicators in the manuscript of Mir’āt al-ṭullāb, Or. 16035, with hyperlinks, is given below:
f. 8r, f. 10v, f. 15r, f. 17v, f. 24v, f. 28v, f. 30ar, f. 32r, f. 33v, f. 35r, f. 36v, f. 41r, f. 56r, f. 62r, f. 65r, f. 66r, f. 70r, f. 74v, f. 98r, f. 107v, f. 112r, f. 118r, f. 119v, f. 123r, f. 124r, f. 125v, f. 129v, f. 135r, f. 139v, f. 183v

References:

Azyumardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern 'ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004.  [See pp. 70-86.]
Jelani Harun, Mir'at al-tullab by Syeikh Abdul Rauf Singkel: a preliminary study of manuscripts kept in the Special Collections, Leiden University LibraryMalay literature, 2015, 26(2): 119-138.
Annabel Teh Gallop,  An Acehnese style of manuscript illuminationArchipel, 2004, 68: 193-240.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

28 November 2016

Batak manuscripts in the British Library

The Batak peoples of north Sumatra are associated with a distinctive writing culture, with manuscripts written on a range of organic materials, primarily tree bark, bamboo and bone.  Most characteristic are the bark books known as pustaha, written on strips of bark of the alim (Aquilaria malaccensis) tree, which is folded concertina-fashion, and sometime furnished with wooden covers, which can be beautifully decorated.  Probably because of their intriguing appearance, Batak manuscripts are encountered in more libraries and museums in Britain than manuscripts in any other Indonesian language.

MSS Batak 10
Batak pustaha in Simalungun script, containing a text on divination by means of a chicken that is put under a basket after its head has been severed. When it no longer moves, the datu (magician) lifts the basket and observes its position. British Library, MSS Batak 10.  noc

The term ‘Batak’ covers a number of different linguistic groups, most prominently the southern cluster of Toba, Angkola and Mandailing, and the northern group of Karo and Dairi-Pakpak, with Simalungun generally treated as a separate category.  The Batak alphabet, which is written from left to right, is related to other Indonesian scripts all ultimately of Indian origin, including Lampung, Rejang and rencong in south Sumatra, Bugis and Makassar in Sulawesi, and Javanese and Balinese.

Or.16736 (2)
Batak divination text in Karo Batak script, incised on a bamboo container.  British Library, Or. 16736.  noc

In Batak society literary works ranging from myths and legends to histories were composed and transmitted orally. The use of writing was restricted to certain specific purposes: for laments and letters, which were generally incised on bamboo, and for recording the esoteric knowledge of the datu, the shaman or medicine man, in the tree-bark books called pustaha (Kozok 2009: 15). In all Batak regions, the bark books are written in a fairly uniform arcane language called hata poda, the language of instruction. The subject matter encompasses protective or ‘white’ magic, which includes remedies and amulets and charms, destructive or ‘black’ magic, and divination. Pustaha may record the names of the writer or the datu from whom the knowledge was learned, but they are never dated, and therefore the year of acquisition by a library or museum is often the only reliable guide to dating a Batak bark book.

The British Library holds a pustaha, Add. 4726, which was presented to the British Museum by Alexander Hall in 1764, making it the oldest known Batak book to have entered a European collection. This manuscript consists of 18 folds of tree bark and two wooden covers, and has just been fully digitised and can be read here, and by clicking on the hyperlinks below the images.

Add_ms_4726_f001r
Batak manuscript on the lemon oracle (panampuhi), in Toba Batak script. On the first page is written: Ompoo Nee Ha ee doo pun / Harryen Soocoonya / Punnampoo Hee wrote this / witness Raja Muntaggar, while the Batak text explains that 'this is an instruction from my grandfather ... Haidupan who lived in Poriaha, a man of the clan Haraan'. British Library, Add. 4726, f. a 1. noc

Add_ms_4726_f033r
Drawing of a figure, from Batak text on the lemon oracle (panampuhi). British Library, Add. 4726, f. b 15  noc

Add_ms_4726_fse006r
Wooden covers of the Batak pustaha. British Library, Add. 4726.  noc

This manuscript contains the text of the lemon oracle (poda ni panampuhi), with instructions on how to tell from the way two sliced ends of a lemon drop into a bowl of water whether or not a prospective sweetheart is suitable, or to fortell the results of war.  The text is written from left to right parallel to the folds of the book, in black ink with a pen made from twigs (tarugi) found in the fibre of the sugar palm (Arenga saccharifera) tree.  The text starts with and is punctuated with decorative section headings called bindu, and includes several drawings in black ink.

The British Library holds 32 Batak manuscripts, including 28 pustaha, all of which are described in a published catalogue (Ricklefs, Voorhoeve & Gallop 2014).  Kozok (2009: 15) estimates that between one and two thousand pustaha are known today, held primarily in Dutch and German collections, as well as in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta, including 31 copies of panampuhi, the lemon oracle.

Further reading:

Uli Kozok, Surat Batak: sejarah perkembangan tulisan Batak. Jakarta: EFEO & KPG, 2009.
Uli Kozok, 'Bark, bones and bamboo: Batak traditions of Sumatra', pp.231-246 in: Illuminations: the writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. by Ann Kumar and John H. McGlynn. New York: Weatherhill; Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996.
Annabel Teh Gallop with Bernard Arps, Golden Letters: writing traditions of Indonesia. London: British Library; Jakarta: Yayasan Lontar, 1991; see 'Batak bark books', pp.113-117.
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve & A.T. Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: EFEO, Perpustakaan Nasional Republic Indonesia & Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014
R. Teygeler, ‘Pustaha; A study into the production process of the Batak book’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1993, ‘Manuscripts of Indonesia’,149 (3): 593-611

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

21 November 2016

Nasir Shah's Book of Delights

To celebrate our new series of South Asian seminars and especially the focus on food with Neha Vermani's talk this evening Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal elite I thought I would write about our most ʻfoodyʼ Persian manuscript, the only surviving copy of the Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (Nasir Shah's Book of Delights) written for Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (r.1469-1500) and completed by his son Nasir al-Din Shah (r.1500-1510). We are planning to digitise this manuscript in the near future but meanwhile I hope some of these recipes will whet your appetite.

IO Islamic 149_f4-5r
Recipes for samosas (see below) with illustrations showing cows being milked (right) and Sultan Ghiyas al-Din seated on his throne (left), attended by servants (British Library IO Islamic 149, ff4v-5r)
 noc

This beautifully written and illustrated work was composed for the Sultan of Malwa Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji who ruled from 1469 to 1500. According to the ʻAdilshahi historian Firishtah[1] this colourful ruler shortly after his accession,

...gave a grand entertainment; on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated, that as he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banners of his illustrious father, he now yielded up the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy ease the rest of his days. He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court, and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.

These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trades. 500 female Turks, dressed in men's clothes, stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly, 500 Abyssinian women also in uniform, armed with firearms. This might seem quite an extravagent description but it is confirmed by the paintings and recipes in the book which describe in detail the methods for cooking luxurious savouries and sweetmeats, for preparing medical remedies, for making perfumes[2] and for going on expeditions, whether in battle or hunting.

The Ni’matnāmah is undated and there are many unanswered questions about the format it has today. The first few leaves have been added later and there is no expected author’s introduction. The main work appears to end on folio 161v and then a new section begins on folio 162v which has the title Kitāb-i Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (‘Nasir Shah’s book of delights’). Altogether at least 15 leaves are missing which were extracted at various different times before it was acquired by the East India Company after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799. It seems most likely that the first part of the work at least was written in the latter part of Ghiyas Shah’s reign and then perhaps the second section was added after his son had taken over in 1500. The 50 illustrations demonstrate a fusion of Persian ‘Turkman’ Shiraz influence of the second half of the fifteenth century with a progressively Indic style, especially in the use of colours and the style of the costumes and architecture.

A flavour of the Niʻmatnāmah
We are very fortunate in having a published facsimile (albeit black and white) and translation of the Niʻmatnāmah made over the course of several years by Norah Titley after her retirement from the British Library in 1983. Below I quote her translations alongside some of the illustrations.

A recipe for samosas (ff. 4v-5r, see above)

Mix together well-cooked mince with the same amount of minced onion and chopped dried ginger, a quarter of those, and half a tūlcha [a measure] of ground garlic and having ground three tūlchas of saffron in rosewater, mix it with the mince together with aubergine pulp. Stuff the samosas and fry (them) in ghee. Whether made from thin course flour bread or from fine flour bread or from uncooked dough, any of the three (can be used) for cooking samosas, they are delicious. (Titley, p. 4)

IO Islamic 149_f32r
Preparation of rice water (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.32r)
 noc

A recipe for making broth

Another recipe for the method of  pīchha, namely the surplus water that is removed from the cooking pot after cooking rice and separating it. Put mūng pulse into the water and boil it. Chop fresh sandal and take its juice. Put the myrobalan and cardamoms into it and cook it. Put in salt. When it is cooked add some mint leaves and serve it. (Titley, p. 17)

IO Islamic 149_f66r
Ghiyas Shah watching preparations for sherbert (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.66r)
 noc

A recipe for making sherbet

Another recipe for sherbet: mince coconut and leave it (to soak) in sweetened water. Strain off the coconut milk and, if desired, put the syrup in it and also mangoes if so wished. Then drink it with bhāt and add fresh ginger, onions, lime juice, cardamoms, cloves, pepper, turmeric and fenugreek and flavor it with asafoetida. Then drink it with bhāt [cooked rice or maize]. (Titley, p. 32)

IO Islamic 149_f79v
Ghiyas al-Din watches the process of cooking green vegetables (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.79v)
 noc

A recipe for cooking greens

Another recipe for green vegetables: boil vine greens in dūgh and water. Then take them off, squeeze them well and open them out and fan them. Then having roasted and ground cumin, salt and sesame seeds, add them. (Titley, p.38)

IO Islamic 149_f100v
Ghiyas al-Din eats a betel chew (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.100v)
 noc

On the uses of and recipes for betel

The qualities of that tanbūl are that the teeth are strengthened, diseases of the tongue, lips, gullet, throat and windpipe are prevented, as is inflammation of the chest. All the foregoing diseases are prevented and the intellect is strengthened, the eyes made bright, the quality of hearing is improved, the nose is purified, halitosis is banished and all illnesses are repelled. Hair becomes longer and shinier and is strengthened, broken bones mend and food that is bound up in the stomach is dissolved and digestion of food is assisted. Phlegm is prevented, the stomach is soft and an appetite for food is enhanced and it makes for a life of beauty and chastity. Coarse wind that may be in the stomach is relieved. It is astringent so bile and excess blood are decreased and phlegm is prevented. Blood is purified, ejaculation is delayed, gripes are cured and the stomach is tightened. If it is rubbed on the skin of the body, leprosy is driven away and the colour of the skin is made white and bad odours are prevented. It is the jewel of the mouth, the mouth is purified and the ardour of passion is increased. (Titley, p.50)

This universal panacea is followed by a list of 57 separate ingredients consisting of flowers, herbs, nuts and spices.

IO Islamic 149_f159r IO Isl 149_f111
Left: Ghiyas al-Din on a hunting expedition (IO Islamic 149, f.159r)
Right: perfumes being distilled (IO Islamic 149, f.111v)
 noc


The history of the Niʻmatnāmah
The details of what happened to the Niʻmatnāmah between the time of its completion ca. 1500 and its arrival in London after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799 are far from clear. However there are some facts of which we can be certain. An inscription on folio 196v mentions that the manuscript was inspected on 24 Sha’ban 978 (21 Jan 1571). Unfortunately there isn't any indication of where this was done.

IO Islamic 149_flyleafr
Flyleaf with the abraded circular seal of Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah, r.1627–1657 (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.Ir)
 noc

Another inscription on folio 1r reads: “Niʻmatnamah on the science of medicine in naskh writing, in a red binding, from the possession of Malik Almās, entered the court library on 22 Rab I 1044 (15 Sept 1634)”. A similar inscription, dated eight days later, occurs on the flyleaf (above). These were previously thought to be Mughal inscriptions but the wording is identical to inscriptions used by the ʻAdilshahi librarians. Moreover the large circular seal on the flyleaf can now be identified conclusively as the circular seal of Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah who ruled in Bijapur from 1627-57. The seal itself is not very clear but can be read by comparing it with a better preserved copy on a manuscript from Bijapur. It contains the sajʼ (coin legend in verse):
Dārad az luṭf-i ḥaqq sar afrāzī
Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh ghāzī    
“By the grace of God he has eminence, Sultan Muhammad Shah the conqueror.”

The second smaller seal has so far defied interpretation! However there is no reason to think it is a Mughal seal nor that the manuscript has in fact any Mughal connection at all.

Bijapur 207_f1r_seal
Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah's seal (British Library Bijapur 207, f.1r)

As for the previous owner Malik Almas, there was someone of this name in Golconda who died in 1674. He served as a steward of Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah (r.1580-1612) and in the reign of Sultan ʻAbd Allah (1626-72), he became superintendent of buildings[3]. In 1633 Muhammad ʻAdil Shah married Sultan ʻAbd Allah's sister, Khadija Sultana, so if this the same Malik Almas, a possible scenario might be that the Niʻmatnāmah came to Bijapur from Golconda with Khadija, perhaps as a wedding present?

From Bijapur the manuscript was acquired by Tipu Sultan and came as part of his collection to the Library of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street, London between 1806 and 1808. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any identifiable record of it in the contemporary lists of Tipu's Library (see my earlier blog Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah) nor in the printed catalogue of the collection by Charles Stewart (A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore. Cambridge, 1809).

Further reading
Norah M. Titley, The Niʻmatnāma Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu. London, 2005.
Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982, no. 41.

I am grateful to colleagues Saqib Baburi and Keelan Overton for discussing some of the problems with me.
Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

--------

[1] John Briggs, History of the rise of the Mahomedan power in India, till the year A. D. 1612 / translated from the original Persian of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta, Vol. 4. London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1829.
[2] By chance William Dalrymple has just published an article in the Economist's 1843 magazine “Scents and sensuality on ittars and perfumes, particularly mentioning their use in the Niʻmatnāmah.
[3] See SA Bilgrami, Landmarks of the Deccan. Reprinted Delhi, 1992, pp.102-4).