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

23 August 2016

The formation of the British Library’s Vietnamese collection. Part 1: North Vietnam

In the digital era, accessing information of any kind from a library is just one click away on your computer keyboard, and almost makes you forget how difficult this activity could be in the past.  Half a century ago, this luxury was unimaginable, thanks not only to the state of technology at that time but also to the scarcity of source materials. The problem became even more acute when you were dealing with materials from a country which had gone through difficult circumstances, such as Vietnam in the 1960s.  In this two-part blog, I will discuss the great lengths to which the British Library went in order to acquire publications from this war-torn and politically-divided country, based on archives held in the department.

The drive to acquire materials from Vietnam was mainly due to G.H. Spinney, who from 1948 was Keeper of the State Paper Room (which subsequently became the Department of Official Publications in the British Library). During the early 1960s Spinney campaigned vigorously to increase the collection of official publications in the State Paper Room, largely by utilising the mechanism of international exchange (Harris 1998: 598, 654).  

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Publication from North Vietnam, 1961. British Library, 16684.a.1

The Vietnamese collection was originally held in the British Museum’s Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts. Unlike the large numbers of publications in Burmese and Malay from former British colonies in Southeast Asia, up to the 1950s the Vietnamese collection was very small. The Cold War and scarcity of information from remote communist-bloc countries compounded the difficulties in acquiring materials in both vernacular languages and English, and on 13 December 1960, H.A. Arnold from the State Paper Room wrote to Kubon & Sagner, a book supplier in Munich, Germany to see whether it would be able to supply materials from Mongolia, U.S.S.R., North Korea and North Vietnam for the Library.  

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1963 catalogue from XUNHASABA, the state-owned book supplier in North Vietnam, received via Kubon & Sagner, a supplier in Germany.

For sourcing materials from North Vietnam, the British Museum enlisted the help of Hanoi’s main ally, China, to find ways to contact relevant institutions. The National Library of China in Beijing eventually provided Spinney with contact details for North Vietnam and in May 1959, he wrote a long letter to the Director of the National Library in Hanoi to ascertain whether the latter would be interested in establishing book exchanges with the British Library. Parts of Spinney’s letter are worth quoting here:
“… During a general review of our accessions from Asiatic countries, we were disturbed to find that we have so far received no official publications from the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam … and we need therefore urgently to acquire documentation from official sources in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to provide a basis for research …. You will readily appreciate that in acquiring such documentary material we have to think in terms of the requirements of posterity as well as of current research …” (G.H. Spinney to the Director of the National Central Library, Hanoi, 4 May, 1959)
There is little evidence that Spinney’s request was well received by Hanoi, and further approaches were made in 1962 and 1963, as shown by copies of letters held in the archives from H.A. Arnold to the Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam in Moscow (dated 2 August 1961, 27 August 1962 and 15 July 1963).

Despite these setbacks the Library persevered in its attempts to build up the national collection in Vietnamese. In the 1960s, this task was split between two departments: the State Paper Room was in charge of acquiring official publications from Hanoi, while the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts collected printed books on social sciences and humanities. They used book dealers in (West) Germany and Hong Kong, and occasionally bought directly from Xunhasaba, the North Vietnam state-owned book dealer. Requests were sometimes rejected by Hanoi, especially for official publications, with the reason being given that “the item is not for export”, a message which indicates the level of secrecy and control of information in this country. However, sporadic donations of materials were also received from North Vietnam’s diplomatic mission in New Delhi.

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“No Export” notification on an item ordered from North Vietnam.

Towards the end of 1961, the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries in Hanoi started to send some publications to the British Museum. Subsequently, the task was transferred to the National Library of Vietnam and the Library of Social Sciences in Hanoi (source: letter from H.A. Arnold to Hoang Xuan Bui, Director for the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, 15 July 1963), and this arrangement continues to the present day with the British Library. In January 1968, the newly established Central Library for Science and Technology in Hanoi offered a publications exchange programme with the Library but the actual despatches only started in 1971 (source: letter from H.A. Arnold to Miss J.M. Fraser,  Publications Division, H.M.S.O., 16 April 1971).

Deliveries of books during the war years were never easy, and sometimes despatches from London to Hanoi or vice versa did not arrive at their destination. Correspondence between Ngyuễn Minh Tăn, the Vice Director of the Central Library of Science and Technology in Hanoi, and H.A. Arnold, the Keeper of the State Paper Room, illustrates vividly the problems experienced by the libraries in London and Hanoi. On 10 March 1973 Ngyuễn Minh Tăn wrote to Arnold:
“… We are happy to advise you that despite of the savage bombing of Hanoi by the US, our Library as well as the Library for Social Science and the National Library are very safe. We were evacuated for some time but we are now back in Hanoi, and working normally … We are currently experiencing some difficulties and cannot acquire some of your requested periodicals …”
To which Arnold replied on 24 May 1973:
“… It was good to hear from your Library again - Mr Tran Mai’s last letter to me …. was dated October 10th, 1971 – and I was very pleased to learn that not only was your own Library safe from the bombing, but also the Library for Social Science and the Bibliotheque Nationale as well … I can well appreciate that you are having many difficulties at the present time and that you are not in a position to send me some of the journals I have requested in the past. I am sure, however, that as conditions improve, … you will send me whatever you can find…”
[“The savage bombing” referred to in the above correspondence was the Operation Linebacker or the Christmas Bombing (18-29 December 1972) in which the US launched serious bombings over Hanoi to force the latter to negotiate a peace deal and eventually the Paris Agreement was signed on 27 January 1973.]

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Postcard to the Library of the British Museum from the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Hanoi, October 1968.
 
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Picture on the front of the postcard of 1968 shown above.

Despite all the difficulties during the Vietnam War, Vietnamese material from North Vietnam continued to arrive in London through various channels. When in 1973 the British Library was formed from the Library of the British Museum, the Vietnamese collection in the re-named Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books consisted of 3 manuscripts and about 800 printed books and some titles of periodicals (Goodacre and Pritchard 1977: 61).

No evidence of formal contracts for book exchanges with any institutions in North Vietnam have been found in our archives but we can deduce from various correspondence that the Library had exchange programmes with at least three libraries in Hanoi in order to acquire official Vietnamese publications on the economy, science and social sciences. It is interesting to note that the number of printed material, both official publications and monographs, which the British Library received from North Vietnam from 1973 underwent a noticeable increase. This might be related to the signing of the Paris agreement in January 1973 which eased tensions and hence allowed almost normal daily activities to resume. At the same time, the British Library still continued to acquire printed books from Vietnam on humanities, art and culture via book dealers in Germany and Hong Kong.

In the second part of this blog post, I will look at publications from South Vietnam.

References:

P.R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library 1753-1973. London: The British Library, 1998,
H.J. Goodacre and A.P. Pritchard, Guide to the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books. London: British Museum Publications Limited, 1977.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese  ccownwork

17 August 2016

The Indonesian Proclamation of Independence

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia. On the morning of 17 August 1945, the Indonesian nationalist leader Sukarno read out before a small audience gathered outside his own house at Jalan Pegangsaan Timur 56 in Jakarta a simple statement which was broadcast throughout the country:
Proclamation: We the people of Indonesia hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters concerning the transfer of power, etc., will be carried out in a conscientious manner and as speedily as possible.  Djakarta, 17 August 1945. In the name of the people of Indonesia, Soekarno - Hatta
The red-and-white flag, ‘Sang Merah Putih’, was raised and the song ‘Indonesia Raya’ – now the national anthem – was sung.

The rare handbill shown below, in the shape and colours of the national flag and measuring 17 x 11 cm, bears the type-written text of the proclamation:
PROKLAMASI  Kami bangsa Indonesia dengan ini menjatakan KEMERDEKAAN INDONESIA. Hal-hal jang mengenai pemindahan kekuasaan, dan lain-lain diselenggarakan dengan tjara saksama dan dalam tempo jang sesingkat-singkatnja.  Djakarta 17 Agustus 1945. Atas nama bangsa Indonesia. Sukarno - Hatta
Although it is not known on which occasion this handbill was produced, it probably dates from very shortly after the original event. 

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Typewritten handbill with the text of the Proclamation of Independence of Indonesia. British Library, RF.2005.a.465  noc

Just two days earlier, on 15 August 1945, the Japanese occupying forces in Java had surrendered unconditionally to the Netherlands East Indies.  Since no Allied forces had yet landed to reconquer Indonesia, the country was in a state of political turmoil, and the opportunity to proclaim independence was seized. But the armed struggle was only just beginning, and for the next four years Indonesian nationalists were forced to wage a revolution against returning Dutch forces attempting to reimpose colonial rule, and it was only in 1949 that the Dutch finally acknowledged the independence of Indonesia.

It is hardly surprising that the British Library has few publications or papers deriving from the chaotic earliest days of the new republic. But thanks to the personal interest of a former curator of Dutch collections in the British Library, Dr Jaap Harskamp, in the late 1980s and 1990s the British Library slowly began to build up an important collection of papers, documents, books, pamphlets and posters relating to the Indonesian struggle for independence, many deriving from the heirs of Dutch soldiers and officials fighting against the Indonesian forces.  The Indonesia Merdeka Collection, which now numbers around 1,500 titles, is in size and scope second only to the holdings of the KITLV in Leiden.  The collection has been fully catalogued in a published volume (Harskamp 2001), with all the individual items also accessible through the Library’s online catalogue Explore.  The rare copy of the proclamation shown here is one of the highlights of the collection.

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Reverse of the handbill containing the text of the Indonesian Proclamation of Independence. British Library, RF.2005.a.465  noc

Further reading:

Jaap Harskamp, The Indonesian question: the Dutch/Western response to the struggle for independence in Indonesia 1945-1950: an annotated catalogue of primary materials held in the British Library. Introduction by Peter Carey. Boston Spa: British Library, 2001.
Dorothée Buur, Persoonlijke documenten Nederland-Indië/Indonesië.  Leiden, 1973.
Dorothée Buur, Indische jeugdliteratuur. Geannoteerde bibliografie van jeugdboeken over Nederlands-Indië en Indonesië. Leiden, 1992.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

15 August 2016

Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting

Being invited to give a series of three lectures on this wide ranging topic at a seminar at the Universita di Ca’ Foscari in Venice in July 2016, it seemed a good opportunity to write a blog highlighting the interesting material in the British Library. Here are discussed such images in Mughal and Deccani painting.

Yogis and other types of ascetics are found in Mughal illustrated historical manuscripts showing encounters recorded in Mughal histories between the emperors Babur, Akbar and Jahangir; and also in indivdual album paintings. From the Mughal point of view more or less all Hindu ascetics were classed as yogis since they all practised bodily asceticisms of some kind or another. The Mughal concern with naturalism towards the end of the reign of Akbar to some degree accounts for what appears to be the accuracy of the early Mughal images of ascetics and yogis. Early Mughal pictorial representations of yogis have as Jim Mallinson points out (Mallinson, “Yogis in Mughal India”) enormous value as historical documents on account of the accuracy and consistency of their detail, overwriting in many instances what can be gleaned from the conflicting literary traditions. It is obvious, he writes, that a variety of traditions shared ascetic archetypes and freely exchanged doctrines and practices.

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Ascetics being shaved at Gurkhattri in 1505. Detail from painting by Gobind from a copy of  ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan’s Persian translation of the Baburnamah, 1590-92  (British Library Or.3714, f.197r)
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In the account in his autobiography, the Baburnamah, of his first raid into Hindustan in 1505, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in 1526 when he overthrew the Lodi Sultans of Delhi, mentions the well-known cave of Gurkhattri near Bigram (Peshawar) with its then-famous great banyan tree: ‘It was a holy place for yogis and Hindus, who came from faraway places to cut their hair and beards there’[1], but did not visit it at that time.

In 1519, in the course of another incursion, he managed to visit it.

... reaching Bigram, went to see Gurh Kattri. We entered a small, dark chamber like a monk’s cell and after passing through the door and down two or three steps, we had to lie down to get in. It was impossible to see without a candle. All around was an unending pile of hair and beard that had been clipped there. Many chambers like the ones in madrasas and caravansaries surround Gurh Kattri. The first year I came to Kabul ... I went to the great banyan tree in Bigram and was sorry not to have seen Gurh Kattri, but it turned out not to be much to be sorry for.[1]

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Ascetics at Gurkhattri in 1519. Detail from painting by Kesu Khurd from  the Baburnamah, 1590-92  (British Library Or.3714, f.320v)
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The sacred site at Gurkhattri was clearly in the hands of the Nath yogis, followers of Gorakhnath’s Hathayoga system. Nath yogis can be distinguished by the horn worn suspended round the neck, by the fillet worn round the top of the head and in their leaders by the necklace suspended from the shoulders to which are attached strips of cloth. They also wear cloaks often patched, but they do not have any sectarian marks, although they later became Shaivas. Note that at this stage Nath yogis wear hooped earrings through their earlobes and have not yet become the Kanphat or Split-ear yogis who split the actual cartilege of the ear. Other characteristics that mark them out is their long matted hair, piled up into jatas or loose, their nakedness or nearly such, and the smearing of their body with ashes. Note also the yogapattas or meditation bands and the fact that some seem still to wear the sacred thread.

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A shepherd offers flowers to a holy man. Attributed to Basawan, c. 1585 (British Library J.22, 13)
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Alongside these historical manuscripts individual album paintings were also being produced in the Mughal studio in Akbar’s reign. Some of them poke fun at the ascetic tradition as had long been traditional in Indian culture, as in Basavan’s study from around 1585 of a poor shepherd offering flowers to a grotesquely bloated ascetic as he stalks by unheeding; he is followed by an acolyte whose body is as thin as his master’s is the reverse.

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A Nath yogi as a border decoration. Mughal, 1605 (British Library Or.14139, f. 100v)
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By 1605 studies of yogis had become so commonplace that they could be added to the marginalia round illustrated manuscripts, as with this nearly naked Nath yogi tending his fire, complete with horn and earrings, from a manuscript of the Divan of Hafiz that was copied by Sultan ‘Ali of Mashhad but beautified with marginal studies at the beginning of Jahangir’s reign. Pictures of yogis were especially useful for Mughal artists since their nakedness could be used as an exercise in depicting the volumes of the human body or alternatively their voluminous robes for an exercise in modelling.

Although Akbar was interested in all religions and especially those of his Indian subjects and of course had numerous Sanskrit texts translated into Persian, it is his son Salim afterwards Jahangir who seems to have had a specific interest in yoga and ascetic practices, although the Library has no representations relevant to Jahangir here. Instead there are several studies of Nath yogis and other ascetics living in remote places (for example Falk and Archer, Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, nos. 25-27, 45-46).
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Two ascetics from the Album of Dara Shikoh. Attributed to Govardhan, c. 1610 (British Library Add.Or.3129, ff.11v, 12r)
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It was Jahangir’s grandson, Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, born in 1615, who was most famously involved with Hindu philosophy and ascetics. Here are two facing pages from Dara Shikoh’s Album, compiled in the early 1630s just before his marriage, showing two ascetics in yogic postures, attributed to the great artist Govardhan early in his career around 1610. Both wear long beards and have their uncut hair twisted up on to their head: the one of the right has a Vaishnava sect mark and holds up a manuscript page, the one on the left holds a rosary.

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A group of Nath yogis. Ascribed to Mas’ud, Mughal, 1630-40 (British Library J.22, 15)
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Govardhan’s famous study from the 1630s, formerly in the Cary Welch collection, of four nearly naked ascetics seated beside a fire seems to have served as inspiration for this study of Nath yogis by Mas’ud, which reproduces in mirror reverse Govardhan’s shrine on the hill and the tree with a group of ascetics seated before a fire. A young ascetic is bringing them food.

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An imaginary meeting between Dara Shikoh and Kamal, the son of Kabir. Mughal, early 18th century (British Library J.19, 1)
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Dara Shikoh is often represented in later paintings meeting ascetics, normally Muslim ones such as Mian Mir and Mulla Shah, but occasionally also Hindu as here. The accompanying inscription suggests that this is Dara Shikoh with La‘l Sahib, who was born in Malwa in the reign of Jahangir, among whose disciples was Dara Shikoh. The ascetic however in his white robe patched with pieces of variously coloured cloth, his sacred thread and his particular turban with a black fillet wound round a white kulah appears again in an important mid-17th century painting in the V&A Museum showing ten earlier Hindu mystics seated outside a Sufi shrine, where he is named as Kamal and seated beside his supposed father, the 15th century religious reformer Kabir. Both paintings are reproduced in Binyon and Arnold 1921, pls. XVII-XIX and XXII, who note that the two figures are the same but separate their identities according to the inscriptions. Kamal is mentioned in various hagiographical accounts of Kabir’s life and appears more of a spiritual than a biological son, but if he lived it was certainly earlier than Dara Shikoh. His presence here with Dara Shikoh adds weight to Elinor Gadon’s supposition (Facets of Indian Art, p. 157) that this prince was the patron of the V&A picture.

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A royal ascetic. Deccani, Bijapur, c. 1660 (British Library, J.16, 2)
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Artists in the Deccani studios were no less interested in portraying yogis than their Mughal counterparts, and they also developed the artistic idea of the female yogi or yogini. The Library’s only 17th century image of a Deccani yogi is this magnificent and engimatic study of a royal ascetic wearing the patchwork robe of a yogi, seated on a tiger skin beside a fire and with the crescent moon linking him with the great yogi Shiva himself. His sword, dagger, club and fakir’s crutch (no less useful as a weapon than a support for meditation) suggest he might be one of the warrior ascetics who roamed India in bands in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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A female ascetic with devotees. Farrukhabad, c. 1770 (British Library J.66, 5)
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Yogis and ascetics continued as the subjects of paintings in the late 18th century, but now from the schools of Bengal and Awadh. Images of female ascetics became increasingly common in the later 18th century. They normally wear long gowns and have their hair piled up on top of their head or wear a turban. They live out in the open with other yogis and attracted devotees just as did their male counterparts, as in this example from the variation of the Awadhi style from Farrukhabad in western UP. Here a group of women have brought fruit and flowers to such a one, watched by other ascetics. A small śivalingam beside her being perpetually lustrated indicates her orientation.

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A noblewoman visiting a group of ascetics. Murshidabad, c. 1770 (British Library Add.Or.5607)
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In another painting from Murshidabad, a noblewoman has brought her child to a hermitage where live two male ascetics, one old the other young, who sit there telling their beads, while a female ascetic, naked to the waist, supports herself on a swing and smokes from a nargila. The fire beside her suggests she is undergoing mortification, standing up supported by the swing while she exposes herself to the heat of the fire. Female ascetics leaning on swings are a feature of several other late 18th century paintings. The whole concept of Hindu female asceticism in India has only fairly recently become the focus of scholarly attention, specifically of anthropologists studying modern communities, but unless we are to believe that these pictorial studies are fantasies, then it clearly is a phenomenon known for several centuries.


Further reading:
Binyon, L., and Arnold, T.W., The Court Painters of the Grand Moguls, Oxford, 1921
Diamond, D. ed., Yoga: the Art of Transformation, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, 2013
Losty, J.P., Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting: the Mughal and Deccani tradition, 2016
Mallinson, James, ‘Yogis in Mughal India’, in Diamond, D. ed., Yoga: the Art of Transformation, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, 2013, pp. 68-83
——— ‘Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation’, 2013
Skelton, R., et al. eds., Facets of Indian Art: a Symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum April-May 1982, London, 1986
Falk, T and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981

J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts, Emeritus
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[1] W. M. Thackston. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor (Washington D.C., 1996), pp.186 and 285