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

17 February 2017

Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

Kammavaca is a Pali term describing an assemblage of passages from the Tipitaka –  the Theravada Buddhist canon –  that relate to ordination, the bestowing of robes, and other rituals of monastic life. A Kammavaca is a highly ornamental type of manuscript usually commissioned by lay members of society as a work of merit, to be presented to monasteries when a son enters the Buddhist Order as a novice or becomes ordained as a monk. The novitiation ceremony of a Buddhist monk is an important family ritual, the main purpose being to gain merit for their future life. A novice may remain a monk for as long as he wishes, whether for one week or one season of lent or even for life, and he may undergo the initiation ceremony as many times as he likes. The most important Kammavaca were prepared for the upasampada (higher ordination), the ritual for the ordination of a Buddhist monk. 

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British Library, Add. 15289, f. 1v, top outer leaf  noc
Add15289
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script on gilded and lacquered palm leaf, 18th century. The outer leaf, shown above, has eight octagonal panels with lotus patterns within circles, while the leaf below shows the beginning of the ordination text (upasampada), flanked by similar larger lotus patterns. British Library, Add. 15289, f.1.  noc

Kammavaca manuscripts are written on a variety of materials, primarily on palm leaf but also on stiffened cloth, or gold, silver, metal or ivory sheets in the shape of palm leaf. Thickly applied lacquer or gilded decoration appears on the leaves themselves and also on the cover boards. The Pali text is written in black lacquer in ornate Burmese characters known as ‘tamarind-seed’ script, also refered to as ‘square’ script, which differs from the usual round Burmese writing. Some attractive and unusual Kammavaca may be made from discarded monastic robes thickly covered with black lacquer, with inlaid mother-of-pearl letters.

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British Library, Or. 12010H, f.1v  noc
Or12010H
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script on ivory, 18th century. The outer leaf shown at the top is lacquered and gilded with birds and lotuses in octagonal panels, while  the opening leaf of the ordination section (upasampada) shown below has black lacquered text and gilded lotus patterns. British Library, Or. 12010H, f. 1r  noc

In the 12th century, the Sihala Ordination was introduced into Burma by Chappaṭa who had studied the canon and commentaries in Sri Lanka. In the 15th century, Sri Lanka was again turned to as the source of orthodoxy, and in 1476, twenty two disciples and chosen bhikkhus (monks) were sent in two ships to the island. They were duly ordained by the Mahavihara monks at the consecrated sima or ordination hall on the Kalyani River, near Colombo. Upon the return of these monks, King Dhammaceti (1471-1492) built the Kalyani Sima in Pegu (Bago), to which bhikkhus from neighbouring countries came to receive ordination.

Two types of ordination ceremonies are held in sima: ordination for novices (Pabbajja), and ordination for monks (Upasampada). To become a novice, the follower has to recite the Ten Precepts as well as the Three Refuges for a monk.  In order to become a monk, the Sangha or monastic community will perform the Upasampada ordination on fulfillment of the five conditions: Perfection of a person, Perfection of an assembly, Perfection of the Sima, Perfection of the motion, and Perfection of the Kammavaca. The most senior monk will lead the assembly for the newly-ordained monk, while selected monks will recite the Kammavaca taking great care with articulation and pronunciation.

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British Library, Or. 12010E, front board  noc
Or12010E
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script, written on palm leaf, 19th century. Shown at the top is the binding board, with lacquered and gilt lotuses in roundels; below is the text written in black lacquer on a red lacquer ground. British Library, Or. 12010E, f. 1r  noc

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British Library, Or. 13896, f. 1r  noc
Or13896.2
British Library, Or. 13896, f. 16r  noc
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Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script, written on metal gilded and lacquered in red, 19th century. British Library, Or. 13896, f. 1v  noc

The outer sides of the first and last leaves of the Kammavaca manuscript shown above (Or. 13896) have unusual and fine decoration in gold and red of scenes from the Buddha’s life. At the top, Prince Siddhartha cuts off his hair with his sword, the symbolic gesture of the renunciation, and Sakka, the king of the celestial abodes, receives it, while on the right devas present a robe and alms bowl to Prince Siddhartha. On the final leaf shown in the middle, when Prince Siddhartha becomes a monk, Sakka plays the harp to show Siddhartha the way to the Middle Path, and devas come to pay respects. The outer margins of text leaves are decorated with deva.

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British Library, Or. 12010A, f. 1v, outer front board   noc
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British Library, Or. 12010A, inner front board with donor's name  noc
Or 12010A
Kammavaca manuscript in Pali in Burmese square script, lacquered cloth, with gilded and lacquered boards, 19th century. British Library, Or. 12010A, f. 1r.  noc

The leaves of this manuscript (Or. 12010A) consist of cloth thickly covered with lacquer to provide a rigid surface, which is then gilded with background decoration of floral sprigs. In the margins are depicted kneeling deva or celestial figures with their hands clasped in reverence for the Kammavaca text. The text leaves are stored between a pair of bevelled binding boards, red on the inside, and lacquered and gilt on the outside, with devas within panels. A Burmese inscription on the inside of the top board of this Kammavaca records that the manuscript was a pious gift of lay devotee U Tha Hsan and his wife Ma Lun.

The manuscript contains the following Kammavaca texts: Upasampada  (Official Act for the conferment of the Higher Ordination), Kathinadussadana (Official Act for the holding of the Kathina ceremony), Ticivarena-avippavasa (text for the investiture of a monk with the three robes), Sima-sammannita (Official Act for the Agreement of boundary limits), Thera-sammuti (Official Act to agree upon the seniority of theras), Nama-sammuti (Official Act to agree upon a name), Vihara-kappa-bhumi-sammuti (text of the dedication of a Vihara), Kuṭi-vatthu-sammuti (Official Act to search and agree upon a site for a hut), Nissaya-muti-sammuti (Official Act to agree upon relaxation of the requisites). 

The leaves of the various Kammavaca manuscripts illustrated in this post range are made of various materials including palm leaf, ivory, metal and lacquered cloth, and range in size from 50 to 60 cm in length, and from 10 to 15 cm in width. The outer sides of the first and final leaves of the Kammavaca are usually decorated with panels of birds, lotus, flower and leaf designs, devas, figures of the Buddha and geometric patterns. The leaves have two holes in them in which small bamboo sticks are usually inserted in order to hold the leaves together, and the leaves are bound between decorated binding boards. Kammavaca were usually wrapped in woven or silk wrappers, and secured with a woven ribbon and placed in a gilded box.

Further reading:
To Cin Khui, The Kalyani Inscriptions erected by King Dhammaceti at Pegu in 1476 A.D. Rangoon: Superintendent, Government Printing, 1892.
Sao Htun Hmat Win, The initiation of novicehood and the ordination of monkhood in the Burmese Buddhist culture. Rangoon: Department  of Religious Affairs, 1986.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  ccownwork

14 February 2017

Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts

For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry in particular has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts, we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.

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Illustration to a ghazal celebrating love and music from an undated Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ. The painting is unsigned (BL Grenville XLI, f. 66v noc

We begin with a painting (Grenville XLI, f. 66v) illustrating a lyric poem or ghazal (rhyming a-a, b-a, c-a, and so on) by one the genre’s most distinguished exponents, Ḥāfiẓ of Shīrāz (d. circa 1202). Although its tone is initially celebratory, the composition continues by examining different aspects of the lover’s condition, gradually moving toward the melancholic. Couplets 1, 2, and 6 illustrate this shift:

Love's musician possesses an amazing instrument and sound / every air composed strikes a chord.
May the world never empty of lovers’ laments / their sound possesses a delightful harmony.
Showing tears of blood, doctors commented / it is the disease of love, requiring heartrending medication.

The painting is broadly consistent with the ghazal’s narrative arc, showing seated musicians in the foreground facing several figures on a canopied stone platform. The mature male on the left is presumably Ḥāfiẓ addressing his patron, seated on the right, notionally depicted here as a youth absorbed in love’s sorrows.

Although the manuscript is not dated, it is thought to have been transcribed around 1600-1605 in Timurid/Mughal India, and illustrated very soon after. Some of the damage caused to other figures in the same scene is due to the partial obliteration of faces and strategic overpainting (now partially removed), ordered by later owners. Another Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ (Or 14139, f. 47r) refurbished with decorated margins just a few years earlier at the same court isolates the celebratory theme of the first couplet interpreted more straightforwardly as a European musical entertainer playing a fiddle-like instrument while dancing on the spot, and enclosed within an ornamental cartouche.

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Ghazal celebrating love and music from a Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ dateable to circa 1470, with illumination added in the margins as part of later refurbishment (BL Or 14139, f. 47r)  noc

Epic poetry and romances play an important role in distilling specific personal traits and emotional states in the characters of the heroes, heroines, and lovers they seek to celebrate, and thereby humanising the ghazal’s expressive and frequently abstract repertoire of conceits and metaphors. The exploits of the archetypal hero, Sasanian ruler Bahrām Gūr (Bahrām V, d. 438), are the subject of several works of epic poetry, notably the Haft Paykar, part of the Khamsah or Quintet of poems by Niẓāmī of Ganjah (d. 599/1203). In one of the finest manuscript treasures at the British Library, the interpretation of a distinctly amorous scene has been the source of some confusion (Or 2265, f. 221r).

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Scene from the tale of King Turktāzī and Turktāz, queen of the faeries, as told by the Princess of India in the Haft Paykar from Shāh Ṭahmāsp Ṣafavī's Khamsah of Niẓāmī. Signed by Muḥammad Zamān, dated 1086/1675-76. For more on this painting see Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman (BL Or 2265, f. 221v)  noc

The Haft Paykar’s allegorical narrative describes Bahrām Gūr’s encounters with seven princesses over the period of seven evenings. An illustration close to the beginning of the narrative appears at first to depict the first of the seven encounters, specifically, with the Princess of India dressed in black, representing Saturn. A closer reading of the text indicates the painting is an illustration from an edifying tale told by the Indian princess of King Turktāzī entertained by Turktāz, queen of the faeries.

After a lengthy description of Turktāzī awaking in an enchanted garden, the mas̲navī (couplets rhyming a-a, b-b, c-c, and so forth) gradually recounts the impression made be the queen’s magical arrival and unveiling to expose her European (literally Rūmī or Byzantine) features and complexion. Following tender exchanges, the romantically-charged feast of duck (replaced in the painting by pomegranates) and wine takes on a renewed intensity. It is at this point the surge of passion is delicately summarised by the use of familiar musical metaphors establishing the convivial mood:

The musician entered and cup bearers departed / joyousness hardly needed an excuse.
Every imperforate pearl was pierced (in sequence) / every song followed another.
Dance opened the field to form a circle / entering on foot, skipping and gesturing.

BL Or_12208_f123r_detail
Zayd revives the fainting Laylá and Majnūn (Qays) in the wilderness in Laylá va Majnūn from the Khamsah of Niẓāmī written for  the Timurid/Mughal Emperor Akbar I. Ascribed to Farrukh Chelah (BL Or 12208, f. 123r)  noc

In another mas̲navī from the same work, but a different illustrated manuscript (Or 12208, f. 122v), Niẓāmī records with particular sensitivity the doomed relationship of two pre-Islamic lovers, Laylá and Majnūn (originally known as Qays). Qays, distracted with love’s ardour for his beloved since childhood, Laylá, is driven to the wilderness where he is reduced to rags. It is at this point he is given the epithet majnūn, Arabic for ‘possessed by jinns’ or ‘maniac.’ Later, a mutual friend, Zayd, momentarily reunites Majnūn with Laylá in the vicinity of her tents. The scene of their dramatic meeting is evoked in the following selection of couplets:

Majnūn, upon seeing his beloved / glimpsing his soul in a dark veil.
He, alive, though spiritless / she, withholding her life, yet dead.
The two lovers collapsed, senseless / worldly sounds evade their ears.
Bloodthirsty beasts encircle / sharpening their claws in the dead.
The two fallen lovers remained / until midday on the path.

We see in the exquisitely detailed painting by Farrukh Chelah (ascribed in the lower border) that Laylá and Majnūn are being revived by Zayd with a bottle of perfume, just as the text specifies. However, Farrukh Chelah has used this illustration as an opportunity to fill his composition with an array of vegetal, animal, and topographical features that go beyond the text, to make a visually stimulating whole.

Returning to the ghazal genre, a perennial concern to literary critics is the degree to which poets and their audiences, including later illustrators of their works, interpret meaning. Insofar as the Persian language is essentially gender neutral, that is, you cannot automatically infer from a text whether the subject is male or female in the absence of a gendered attribute, poets have in the past been able to encode into their compositions both heterosexual and homosexual references. Such constructive ambiguity, to borrow a recent term, has in turn been exploited by illustrators to respond to the demands of their patrons, in determining the male or female gender of the beloved as described.

BL IO_Islamic_843_f322r_detail
An older man clasps the hand of a departing adolescent boy, based on a ghazal from the Kullīyāt of Saʿdī, dated 1624 (BL IO Islamic 843, f. 322r)  noc

In a painting from a lavishly illustrated copy of the Kullīyāt or compendium of collected works by Saʿdī (d. 690/1291), dated 1624 and made in Safavid Shīrāz, the poet’s place of birth (IO Islamic 843, f. 322r), we witness the interplay between words and the painted image. The scene shows men seated around a pool, several of them with books in hand, indicating a genial poetic gathering. The bearded man seated in a recess clasps the hand of an adolescent boy about to depart. The relevant couplet illustrated here does not, however, mention either the gathering of men, the reading of poetry, or the detention of a boy specifically, except for the daring khvājah, who is in this context a mature man. It is evident from the range of certain visual interpretations of gender in illustrated manuscripts of poetry that patrons and readers generally approached such nuanced subjects with latitude.


Sâqib Bâburî

Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project
 ccownwork

10 February 2017

Some British ‘Islamic’ style seals in Persian manuscripts from India

The history of manuscript movements, usage and ownership in the Islamicate world is a comparatively underdeveloped subject. Happily, however, paratextual studies especially of seals and ownership inscriptions are now becoming increasingly important in research on the early-modern period. In an earlier post, my colleague Daniel Lowe (Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ Seals of British Colonial Officers) gave examples of ‘Islamic’ style seals used by British colonial officers in the Gulf well into the 19th and 20th centuries. I thought I would parallel this with some examples of Europeans’ seals found in our Persian manuscripts from India. These can reflect the official status of the owner of the seal or more simply act as a personal statement of ownership. The list is arranged chronologically and is by no means exhaustive, reflecting very much current work in progress!

Or2839_f1r
Seal of Archibald Swinton (1731-1804) dated 1174 in the 2nd regnal year of Shah ʻAlam II (1760/61): Archībāld Svīntan Bahādur Rustam Jang, 1174 [year] 2. From a copy of the poem Sūz va Gudāz ‘Burning and Melting’ by Nawʻī Khabūshānī (BL Or.2839, f.1r
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Originally trained as a surgeon Archibald Swinton (1731-1804) began his career in India in 1752 serving under Robert Clive in the Carnatic. From the end of 1759 he participated in the Company’s campaigns against Shah ʻAlam II and at the beginning of 1761 after the battle of Gaya was sent by Major Carnac to negotiate terms with him. Presumably this was when Swinton was awarded the Mughal title Rustam Jang. One hundred and twenty of Swinton's mostly Persian manuscripts were sold after his death by Christie’s on June 6th 1810, however this by no means included all his manuscripts of which the British Library has several.

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Seal of Major James Browne dated 1191 (1777/78): Muʻīn al-Dawlah Naṣīr al-Mulk Jīms Brawn Bahādur Ṣalābat Jang, 1191. From a history of the Kachwaha Rajas of Dhundhar commissioned by Browne in 1784 (BL Or.1271, f.11r)
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James Browne had joined the East India Company in 1765 and in 1782 was chosen to be Warren Hastings representative at the Mughal Court in Delhi on a mission to supplant the Marathas in Shah ‘Alam's loyalties. Due to delays he was not however presented until 5 Feb 1784. It was during his time in Delhi that Browne wrote his History of the origin and progress of the Sicks which he translated from an especially commissioned Persian manuscript. After Warren Hastings’ resignation and return to England in 1785, Browne was withdrawn from Delhi due to policy changes. The British Library has several of his manuscripts, two of which subsequently belonged to the Marquess of Hastings, Governor-General 1813–1823.

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Bookplate of Richard Johnson (1753-1807) based on his seal dated 1780: Mumtāz al-Dawlah Mufakhkhar al-Mulk Richārd Jānsan Bahādur Ḥusām Jang, 1194. (BL IO Islamic 1518)
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Richard Johnson (See ʻWhite Mughal’ Richard Johnson and Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat) arrived in Calcutta as a writer for the East India Company in 1770. In 1780 he was nominated for an embassy to the Mughal Emperor but for some reason this mission did not materialise[1]. This must have been the occasion of his being awarded the titles Mumtāz al-Dawlah (ʻChosen of the Dynastyʼ), Mufakhkhar al-Mulk (ʻExalted of the Kingdomʼ), Bahādur (ʻValiantʼ) and Ḥusām Jang (ʻSharp Blade in Warʼ) by Shāh ʻĀlam II on 4 Rabīʻ I 1194 (10 March 1780). The titles carried with them the rank (mansab) of 6,000 and insignia of a fish and two balls, a kettle-drum and fringed palankeen[2]. Johnson’s 716 manuscripts and 64 albums of paintings were acquired by the East India Company Library in 1807 and today form one of the most important of the British Library Persian and Arabic manuscript collections.

Add6574_f4r
Seal of James Grant dated 1193 in the Bengali era (1786/7): Jams Grānṭ Ṣadr-i Sarrishtahdār va Mulāḥiz̤-i Kull-i Dafātir az ṭaraf-i Dīvān-i Ṣūbahjāt-i Bangālah va Bahār va ghayrih Madār al-Mahām Sipahsālār Angrīz Kampanī, sannah Bangalah 1193. Unlike the seals above which included Mughal titles, this is an official Company seal though it seems to have been used here in a private capacity. Note the early typographical use of a retroflex <ṭ> in Grant's name, as is also found twice in Richard Rotton's seal below (BL Add. 6574, f.4r)
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James Grant (1750-1808) was from 1782 to 1784 the East India Company’s Resident at the Court of the Nizam at Hyderabad and while there had several important historical works transcribed for him from the library of Ṣamṣām al-Mulk Shāhnavāz Khān (d.1781), minister of the Nizam. After his return to Bengal, in 1785 he was appointed Chief Sarrishtahdār (‘Account Keeper’) of the Board of Revenue and continued his research into the system of land tenure publishing several important works on the subject. The post was abolished in 1789 and Grant returned to Scotland. Several of his manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1825 as part of a bequest of the Rev. John Fowler Hull.

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Seal of Richard Whytell Rotton dated in the 32nd regnal year of Shah ʻAlam II (1790-91): Rawshan al-Dawlah Mubāriz al-Mulk Richārd Vial Rāin Asʻad Bahādur Sābit Jang, [year] 32. The seal is accompanied by Rotton's signature: ʻR.W. Rotton 14 April 1791ʼ (BL Egerton 1016, f.3v)

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Major Richard Rotton (b. 1770[3]) was an English mercenary who, unsuccessful in joining the East India Company in 1801, for economic reasons joined the Marathas. He became one of Richard Wellesley’s most highly prized spies before being discharged and transferring to the Company in 1803 at the beginning of the Second Anglo-Maratha War (Cooper, pp. 241; 264-6). Rotton had obviously been active in India for a long time before this to judge from the date of his seal which presumably corresponded with the date of his being awarded his titles. One of his sons with an Indian mother, Felix, was employed by successive nawabs of Awadh for twenty years or so, commanding part of their artillery, and reaching the rank of captain in 1856 [4].

IMG_4448 IMG_4425
Seal of William Yule dated 1213 (1798/99), an example of musanná calligraphy in which the letters of his name are written on each side as mirror images. Yule subsequently developed this design to form a cat-shaped bookplate dated 1805 (BL Add.16802, f3r and flyleaf)
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William Yule  (1764-1839) went to India as a cadet in 1781, returning to Scotland in 1806. During the latter part of his career he was Assistant Resident in Lucknow under Lieut.-Col. William Scott, and afterwards in Delhi under Lieut.-Col. David Ochterlony. His collection of 267 Arabic, Persian, and Urdu manuscripts were given to the British Museum by his sons in 1847 and 1850. It includes many very important works partly derived from the libraries of the Safavid prince Abuʼl-Fath Mirza, the Dīwān of Awadh Maharaja Tikait Rai Bahadur (1760–1808), and of the French General Claude Martin (d.1800), all of whom were his contemporaries in Lucknow.

Or.1271, f2r,
Seal of William Price, dated 1811/12: Vilyam Prāʼīs, 1226. This seal occurs on the same manuscript, mentioned above, which was previously owned by James Browne (BL Or.1271, f.2r)
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Although there were several people with this name active in India at the time, this is likely to be William Price (1788-1888) who taught Sanskrit, Bengali and Hindi at the College of Fort William Calcutta between 1813 and 1831.

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Seal of James Skinner (1778–1841): Nāṣir al-Dawlah Karnīl Jams Iskinar Bahādur Ghālib Jang, 1830 (BL Add.27254, f.3v)
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James Skinner (for more on him see James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised) the son of a Scottish soldier father and Rajput mother, like William Rotton above was a mercenary working for the Marathas. When war broke out between the East India Company and the Marathas in 1803, he took advantage of the Company’s offer to come over to its side. He founded the famous regiment of irregular cavalry, Skinner’s Horse, known as the ‘Yellow Boys’. The manuscript in which this seal occurs was Skinner's own copy of his Tazkirat al-Umarāʼ (‘Biographies of Nobles’) which he presented to his friend Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) who had just retired as Governor of Bombay. The titles Nāṣir al-Dawlah (‘Defender of the Stateʼ) and Ghālib Jang (ʻVictorious in War’) were  granted to him on 3 May 1830 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar II.

There are doubtless many more examples of similar seals waiting to be recorded. Apart from telling us more about the individual seal owners and their taste in reading matter, the dates and titles granted demonstrate the increasing assimilation and integration of the British into the Indo-Persian culture of pre-modern India.


Further reading:
Annabel Teh Gallop, Venetia Porter, and Heba Nayel Barakat, Lasting impressions: seals from the Islamic world. Kuala Lumpur  Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.
S.A.I. Tirmizi, Index to titles (1798–1885). Delhi: National Archives of India, 1979.
Lucian Harris,
 “Archibald Swinton, A New Source for Albums of Indian Miniatures in William Beckford's Collection”, The Burlington Magazine 143, no. 1179 (June 2001): 360-366.
Sir Evan Cotton, “The Journals of Archibald Swinton”, Bengal Past and Present 31/1 (Jan-Mar 1926): 13-38.
Krishna Dayal Bhargava, Browne Correspondence. Delhi: National Archives of India, 1960.
Randolph G.S. Cooper, The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India. Cambridge UP, 2003.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian Collections
 ccownwork

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[1] Richard Johnson, (1753-1807): nabob, collector and scholar…. London, 1973.
[2] BL IO Islamic 4749, f.13r-v.
[3] MyHeritage
[4] Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, The great uprising in India, 1857-58: untold stories, Indian and British. Woodbridge, 2007, p.60.

06 February 2017

Abdul Samad of Palembang, Malay guide to the writings of al-Ghazālī

Abdul Samad (ca. 1704-1791) from Palembang in south Sumatra (‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Falimbānī) was  the most prominent and influential Malay religious scholar of the 18th century, who spent most of his life studying, teaching and writing in the Arabian peninsula. From references in his own works we know he was living in Mecca and Taif between 1764 and 1789. According to al-Nafas al-Yamānī by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Sulaymān al-Ahda, in AH 1206 (AD 1791) Abdul Samad arrived in Zabid, Yemen, to teach. This is the last firm date that we have in his biography, and he probably died in the Hijaz without ever returning to Sumatra. Abdul Samad wrote in Malay and Arabic on the Sammaniyya Sufi brotherhood and on jihād or holy war, but his most important contribution is undoubtedly his Malay translations of the great 12th-century theologian, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (ca. 1058-1111), who was born in Tus in Khorasan, Iran. Al-Ghazālī earned from his contemporaries the sobriquet Hujjat al-Islam, ‘Proof of Islam’, and is credited for reconciling in his writings both legal and mystical aspects of Islam. 

Abdulsamad
‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Jāwī al-Falimbānī, ‘Abdul Samad, the Jawi [i.e. Muslim from Southeast Asia], from Palembang’: the name of the author as given in a manuscript of his work Hidāyat al-sālikīn . British Library, Or. 16604, f. 2r (detail)  noc

In 1778 Abdul Samad completed Hidāyat al-sālikīn fī sulūk maslak al-muttaqīn, ‘A guide for travellers on the path of those who fear God’, a Malay adaptation of al-Ghazālī’s Bidāyat al-hidāya, ‘Beginning of guidance’, which deals with a number of subjects pertaining to dogmatics, sharī‘a and other matters in a somewhat mystical way. According to the colophon the work was completed in Mecca on  5 Muharram 1192  (3 February 1778).  This work was extremely popular throughout the Malay world: over 82 manuscripts have been documented from published catalogues alone, held in Leiden, Paris, Jakarta, Palembang, Aceh and Malaysia, including 50 in the National Library of Malaysia. Hidāyat al-sālikīn was one of the first Malay works to be published in the 19th century in Cairo, Mecca, Bombay and Singapore, and it is still in print in Malaysia and Indonesia today.

MNA 07-0002
Hidāyat al-sālikīn, a copy from Aceh, 19th c. Museum Negeri Aceh, 07-0002. Source of image: Portal Naskah Nusantara

The British Library holds one manuscript of Hidāyat al-sālikīn from Aceh which appears to be the earliest dated copy known (Or. 16604). According to the colophon, the manuscript belonged to Teungku Busangan who had married the daughter of Teungku Abdul Rahman, who was of Ottoman extraction (saudara bani ‘Uthmaniyyah), and it was copied by Teungku Haji Hasyim ibn Abdul Rahman Patani in negeri l.m.s.y.n (Lamsayun in Aceh?), on 4 Rabiulawal 1197 (9 February 1783). The manuscript thus dates from just five years after the composition of the work, at a time when Abdul Samad was still actively writing. Another manuscript – one of ten copies of this text now held in the famous Islamic madrasah at Tanoh Abee in Aceh – is dated just a few months later, as it was copied in Mecca by Lebai Malim from Lam Bait in Aceh on 19 Jumadilakhir 1197 (22 May 1783) (Fathurahman 2010: 196). The presence of two manuscripts of this work copied thousands of miles apart, within five years of the work’s composition, illustrates well the impact of Abdul Samad’s writings within his own lifetime.

BL Or.16604, ff.1v-2r
Initial pages of Hidāyat al-sālikīn by Abdul Samad of Palembang, a translation of Bidāyat al-hidāya by al-Ghazālī. British Library, Or. 16604, ff. 1v-2r  noc

BL Or.16604, ff.147v-148r (1)
Final pages with colophon of Abdul Samad al-Palembani’s Hidāyat al-sālikīn, copied in Aceh in 1783. British Library, Or. 16604, ff. 147v-148r  noc

A year after completing Hidāyat al-sālikīn, Abdul Samad started on his final and most ambitious project, a rendering into Malay of an abbreviated version of the most influential of al-Ghazālī's works, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, ‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’.  The Iḥyāʾ is presented in four sections, each containing ten chapters. 'Acts of worship' (Rub‘ al-‘ibadāt), deals with knowledge and the requirements of faith; 'Norms of daily life' (Rub‘ al-‘adat), concentrates on people and society; 'The ways to perdition' (Rub‘  al-muhlikāt) discusses vices to be overcome, while the final book, 'The Ways to Salvation' (Rub‘  al-munjiyāt), focusses on the virtues to be strived for.

Abdul Samad’s Malay work, entitled Sayr al-sālikīn ilā ‘ibādat rabb al-‘ālamīn, was likewise presented in four parts (bahagi), each comprising ten chapters (bab). The first, Pada menyatakan ilmu usuluddin, on prescriptions for ritual purity, prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, recitation of the Qur’an, and so forth, was started in 1779 and completed in Mecca in 1780. The second, Pada menyatakan adat, on manners related to eating, marriage, earning a living, friendship and other societal matters, was finished in Taif in Ramadan 1195 (August-September 1781). The third book, Pada menyatakan muhlikat yakni yang membinasakan, discusses the destructive impact of vices, and was completed in Mecca on 19  Safar 1197 (24 January 1783). The fourth and final book, Pada menyatakan munjiyat yakni yang melepaskan dari pada yang membinasakan akan agama ini, focusses on virtues which overcome threats to faith, and was completed on 20 Ramadhan 1203 (14 June 1789). Sayr al-sālikīn was also extremely popular throughout Southeast Asia, with over 60 manuscripts known today (often containing just one part), including 14 manuscripts in Dayah Tanoh Abee and 36 in the National Library of Malaysia, with the majority originating from Aceh.

MSS 2399
A beautifully written and decorated copy of the third book of Sayr al-sālikīn, a copy from Aceh, probably 19th c. National Library of Malaysia, MSS 2399, ff. 2v-3r.

The British Library holds a manuscript which contains only the final two-thirds of the third book of Sayr al-sālikīn , in two stitched bundles of quires, enclosed in a loose leather wrapper (Or. 15646). The text begins in the middle of the third chapter, on crushing the two desires, of the stomach and the genitals (pada menyatakan memecahkan syahwat), with the section on curbing the appetite for food (pasal pada menyatakan bersalah-salahan hukum lapar). The manuscript continues through the chapters on defects of the tongue (kebinasaan lidah), and condemnations (kecelaan) of anger (marah), worldly mores (dunia), love of wealth (orang yang kasih akan arta), ostentation (kasih kemegahan), pride and conceit (kejahilan) and self-delusion (orang yang terpedaya).  According to a note on the leather wrapper, this manuscript was owned by Muhammad Yusuf from Tanoh Abee in Aceh.

 Or.15646-col
Colophon to the third part of Abdul Samad's Sayr al-sālikīn, composed in Mecca in 1783; this undated manuscript was probably copied in the 19th century in Aceh. British Library, Or. 15646, ff. 136v-137r  noc

Public institutions in the UK hold some of the most important Malay literary and historical manuscripts extant, in line with the interests and preoccupations of their mainly 19th-century British collectors, but these collections are equally characterised by a marked absence of works reflecting Islamic thought and practice in Southeast Asia. It is remarkable that these two manuscripts in the British Library of works by Abdul Samad of Palembang, found in such large numbers throughout Southeast Asia, are the only known copies in British collections. Both have now been fully digitised, and can be read through the hyperlinks or on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website.

Further reading:
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. 112-117, 130-136.]
G.W.J. Drewes, Directions for travellers on the mystic path. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977. [See pp. 222-224.]
Oman Fathurahman, Katalog naskah Dayah Tanoh Abee Aceh Besar: Aceh manuscripts, Dayah Tanoh Abee collection. Jakarta: Komunitas Bambu, 2010.
R. Michael Feener, ‘Abd al-Samad in Arabia: the Yemeni years of a Shaykh from Sumatra.  Southeast Asian Studies, 4(2), 2015.
Sair as-salikin
. Banda Aceh: Museum Negeri Aceh, 1985/1986. [Transliteration of MS no. 923 in the MNA by A. Muin Umar, with a biographical note by Henri Chambert-Loir, ‘Abdussamad al-Falimbani sebagai ulama Jawi’.]
Hidayatus salikin: Syeikh Abdus Shamad al-Falimbani, ed. Hj. Wan Mohd. Shaghir Abdullah. Kuala Lumpur: Khazanah Fathaniyah, 1997-2000. 3 vols.

ghazali.org: a virtual online library on al-Ghazali, including a page in Malay

This blog was updated on 11 February 2017 to incorporate new biographical information from Feener 2015.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

03 February 2017

‘South Asia Series’ talks continue

The British Library is pleased to announce the continuation of the ‘South Asia Series’ talks, based around the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project of printed books from the South Asia collections. Speakers from the UK, US and India will share the results of their research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

The first talk, on Monday 13th February 2017, will be by Richard Morel, Curator of the Philatelic Collections at the British Library. The talk entitled ‘Imperialism by the Book: The Library of the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, 1784-1858’ re-discovers a ‘lost’ library of early colonial India. Drawing upon various collections of the India Office Library, Richard Morel will focus on the activities of the library of the government department known as the Board of Control, which regulated the activities of the East India Company, its colonial settlements and contributed towards the development of British policy throughout the Near East and Asia between 1784-1858.

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Image of the Civil Service Commission Building, Cannon Row formerly home of the India Board (1874). British Library, LOU.LON 107

The second of the talks will be on Monday 27th February 2017, and will be given by CJ Kuncheria, a PhD candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. His talk entitled ‘An Empire of Smoke: Growing Indian Tobacco for Britain in the Interwar Years’ demonstrates how Indian tobacco, grown in India from the 17th century onwards, was ‘improved’ during the colonial period in order to better conform to ‘European’ tastes.  Kuncheria draws upon India Office Records and shows how the emergence of ‘Empire Tobacco’, colonial-grown tobacco, transformed agriculture and agricultural practices in the producer colonies, marking the beginnings of industrialised agriculture in India.

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Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937, with rules made prior to the 3rd edition, 31 December 1946 (1947).  British Library, IOR/V/27/500/14

On 13th March 2017, Professor Francesca Orsini of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS will talk on the circulation of books in non-European languages in Britain and other parts of Europe.  The talk titled ‘Present Absence: World Literature and Book Circulation in the 19th Century’ will question why, despite the material presence and circulation of these books in Victorian Europe, as evinced in the records kept by book importers such as  Trübner & Co., they remained absent from the imagination of world literature.

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Front Page of ‘Trübner’s American and Oriental Literary Record’ (1865). British Library, SV 176

The fourth talk, on Monday 27th March 2017, will be by Professor Tony K. Stewart, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. His talk ‘The Colloquy between Muhammad and Saytān: Conundrums in the 18th century Bengali Iblichnāmā of Garībullā’ examines a short 13th century Bengali work written by the highly productive scholar Garībullā. This somewhat unusual text is a colloquy between the Prophet Muhammad and the fallen Iblich (Ar. Iblīs), also called Saytān. The bulk of this fictional text is an interrogation of Iblich regarding the nature of his followers and their actions. Prof. Tony K. Stewart shows how the move to fiction immediately alters the approach of the reader, who is rewarded with humorous, often naughty descriptions of the depraved and licentious acts of Saytān’s lackeys.  This titillation of the reader, he will argue, is an escape from the Bakhtinian monologic of theology, history, and law that governs the discourse of the Bengali Sunni (hānifīyā) mainstream.

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Front page of the Iblichnāmā (1870). British Library, VT 1766

On Monday 10th April 2017, Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, MBE will talk on ‘The Enlightenment in 18th Century India’. Using India Office Records, she will look at the transmission of Enlightenment ideas from Europe to India through high-ranking men employed by the East India Company.   The talk discusses the new-found interest in botanical classifications which led to drawings commissioned from local artists; fascination with ‘natural philosophy’ and scientific experiments including hot-air balloons, as well as humanitarian ideas that were very much part of Enlightenment philosophy and which were fostered in India by the Freemasons.

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Image of Major General Claude Martin of the British East India Company’s Bengal Army, sitting on the sofa in a red uniform, in the 18th-century painting ‘ Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, in a 19th-century reproduction. British Library, P 890

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate.

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’

layli.uddin@bl.uk

27 January 2017

The Year of the Rooster, from a Thai perspective

According to the Chinese luni-solar calendar, the Year of the Rooster (or Chicken) begins on the 28th January 2017. It falls on the day of the new moon halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  A variety of calendrical systems has traditionally been used in Thailand, one of them being the Chinese calendar, together with the Chinese zodiac system. The Thai people have adapted the Chinese zodiac symbols in accordance with their own purposes and ideas, still following the principle of the twelve-year lunar cycle with each year represented by an animal, except with the Chinese dragon replaced by a Buddhist nāga (serpent). The completion of a twelve-year cycle was and is important for Thais as a reminder of their birth year and as a means to calculate their age. The zodiac is also often used for forecasting horoscopes, match making and fortune telling.

OR.3593fol20
Page of a Thai Phrommachāt manuscript dealing with predictions for people born in the Year of the Rooster. Dated 1885 A.D. British Library, Or.3593, f.14 Noc

The twelve animals of the Thai zodiac are called sipsǭng rāsī and it is believed that a person's fate can be determined by the position of the major planets at the time and date of a person's birth, along with the positions of the moon and the sun. Thai manuscripts dealing with the Thai zodiac and divination or fortune telling, usually in paper folding book format, are called Phrommachāt. They are usually illustrated with four images of each of the twelve animals, which are combined with alternating male and female “avatars” of the birthplace (chātphūm) and number diagrams. Each animal is also associated with an element (metal, wood, water, fire, earth) and a particular plant in which the khwan (soul) lives. The features and colours of the characters and their costumes depicted in the paintings are mostly in the unique Thai painting style of the Rattanakosin period, but some older versions and local variations exist as well.

Or.12167fol21
Four roosters, each representing one quarter of a year, with a male giant (yaksa) as “avatar” of the birthplace with a unique waist cloth, a plant and a number diagram determining the lucky and unlucky numbers for people born in the year of the rooster. This manuscript was rescued from a burning temple in Rangoon. Phrommachāt, 19th century. British Library, Or.12167, f.21 Noc

In Thailand, the Year of the Rooster is called Pī rakā. Its element is metal, and the avatar is a male yak (yaksa). Its lucky directions are North, East and South-West. People born in the Year of the Rooster are generally believed to be honest, competitive, punctual, generous, and self-confident. However, there are variations: people born in the 5th, 6th and 7th month of the year can be easy to teach as children, they will progress well in their career, and gain prosperity. Those born in the 8th, 9th and 10th month can be difficult as children and have a bad temper, but are intelligent and may gain wisdom and prosperity in later life. People born in the 11th, 12th and 1st month may get into trouble or live in poverty, but could make the acquaintance of a great supporter and do considerably well in the civil service and trade. People born in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th month are believed to gain great wisdom, knowledge and wealth. “Roosters” are thought to make good matches with people born in the Year of the Ox, the Year of the Snake, and the Year of the Serpent. Marriages between “Roosters” should be avoided by all means.  

OR_13650_f011v
Illustrations with highly symbolic meanings are used to determine the fate of people born on a particular day. Phrommachāt, 19th century. British Library, Or.13650, f.22 Noc

People born on Saturday or Sunday (represented by a yaksa riding on a rooster) may be troublesome as children and have a bad temper, but become powerful due to effort and persistence. People born on a Monday (nobleman riding on a horse) are bound to become leaders and gain prosperity, but will have to move around the country a lot and may not settle down. People born on a Tuesday (noblewoman on a pedestal) are thought to have a successful career and live a comfortable and wealthy life. People born on a Wednesday (mahout riding on an elephant) may become very knowledgeable and do well in government service, but there is a chance they will not be happy and have to move far away. People born on Thursday (human carrying goods) may have a lot of trouble and do hard work, but through hard study they could do well and find a dedicated supporter. People born on a Friday (dēva riding on a nāga serpent) are believed to become highly respected persons with an ascending career in government, but their character may be intolerant and impatient and they may not do very well in trade.    

Orb.30.5675
Thai trading card showing one of the fortune-telling symbols for the Year of the Rooster adopted from Phrommachāt manuscripts, [ca. 1920-1940]. These collectibles, which came with packages of cigarettes, were very popular in the first decades of the 20th century. British Library, ORB.30/6575, p.2 Noc

The beginning of the Thai New Year, however, does not coincide with the Chinese New Year or the beginning of a new cycle of the Thai lunar year (which usually occurs in December). It is determined by the Buddhist calendar and initially coincided with the rising of Aries in the astrological chart, but is now fixed on 13 April (5th month of the Thai lunar calendar). On this occasion, colourful banners with the twelve animals of the Thai zodiac are drawn and added to sand pagodas in many northern Thai Buddhist temples. Every zodiac symbol is associated with one particular Buddhist temple in Thailand. Many people aspire to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime to the temple that represents their birth year to give offerings and make merit.  Associated with the Year of the Rooster is the Hariphunchai temple in Lamphun, which derives its name from the ancient Mon Kingdom of Hariphunchai.

Or.14532fol11
Page related to the Year of the Rooster in a Phrommachāt manuscript in Mon language in Burmese script, 19th century. British Library, Or.14532, f. 11 Noc

The Mon people were the founders of some of the earliest kingdoms in mainland Southeast Asia. Right up until today, Mon communities live in Thailand and Burma. The Mon created versions of the Phrommachāt in their own language and script, although the illustrations are usually similar to those in Thai manuscripts. In some Mon manuscripts, the Burmese script was used rather than Mon script. Other versions of the Phrommachāt exist in Northern Thai (Lanna), Lao, Tai Lue and Tai Nuea languages.

Further reading
Eade, J. C., The Calendrical Systems of Mainland South-East Asia. Leiden: Brill, 1995
Rom Hiranpruk, Traditional Thai calendar system.
ʿUrukhin Wiriyabūrana, Phrommachāt : chabap lūang pračham bān dū dūai ton ʿēng. Bangkok:  S. Thammaphakdī, 1957
Wales, H. G. Quaritch, Divination in Thailand. The hopes and fears of a Southeast Asian people. London & Dublin: Curzon, 1983

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

25 January 2017

East India Company headquarters on Leadenhall Street

BBC One’s new period drama Taboo with actor Tom Hardy follows the story of James Keziah Delaney and his encounters with the East India Company. As the headquarters of the East India Company on Leadenhall Street was demolished in 1861 which is the present day site of Lloyds of London, the programme used Goldsmiths Hall in the city of London for their 'headquarters'.

IMG_1151
Detail showing East India House from 'Plan of Queen Hith and Vintry Wards divided into Parishes from a New Survey'. Map of the City of London by Royce showing Leadenhall Street and East India House. Late 18th century. 1780-1800. British Library, P2337  noc

Since the 17th century, the East India Company offices were based in east London. The history of the headquarters and new buildings constructed for the purposes of company affairs can be documented through the prints and drawings held in our collections. The earliest drawing of ‘Old East India House’ in our collection is attributed to William Vertu and dates to c.1711. Our catalogue records states: ‘The drawing shows the original home of the East India Company. It was formerly the house of Sir William Craven and was leased to him by Robert Lee and Anne, his wife, for twenty-one years by an agreement dated 22 May 1607, to which was added a schedule of the fittings (see P.E. Jones, 'East India House', ‘Notes and Queries,’ 25 March 1944, vol.186, no.6, 153, and lease and schedule, Corporation of London Records Office, no.131.1, now in Guildhall Library MSS.).  The schedule is mostly concerned with the interior of the house, but mentions 'An fine paire of Gates with a Portcullis of wood' followed by a description of 'The Yard next Leadenhall Street'.  The house was later leased by William, then Lord Craven and the owner, to the East India Company, 11 March 1661, and it was later purchased by the Company in 1710’. 

East India House 1711

The old East India House, Leadenhall Street, London. Attributed by William Foster to George Vertue, c.1711. British Library, WD1341  noc

In 1726, architect Theodore Jacobsen was commissioned to redesign and expand the headquarters. The project was completed by in 1729 under the direction of John James. The new East India Company headquarters was designed in the fashionable Palladian style. An undated print documents the facade of the building as it stood from 1729-1786 and is featured below.

FullSizeRender
The East India House, no imprint, 1726-1786, British Library, P2189  noc

Reflecting the great wealth of the East India Company, no expense was spared on the interior decorations. Palladian architectural features, including Corinthian pilasters and heavy moulding, continued throughout the interior. Lavish Georgian furnishing including ornately carved boardroom tables and velvet upholstered chairs for the Chairman and Vice-President, were commissioned. Works of art, including a series of paintings by George Lambert and Samuel Scott of East India Company settlements and full-length sculptures of eminent officials including Lord Robert Clive were made by Peter Scheemakers. 

F905_3
Director's chair with the East India Company arms embroidered on the crimson velvet, c. 1730. British Library, Foster 905  noc

In 1796, the Company purchased an additional plot of land and work began to extend its premises. The designs and project was started by Richard Jupp and completed by Henry Holland in 1799. The front of the building faced Leadenhall Street; the premises included a new 'Sale Room, Pay Office, as well as rooms for the Committees of Correspondence, Shipping and Warehouses' (Hardy 1982, p.7). Art works and historic furniture commissioned in the 1730s continued to be displayed and used in the new building. In the illustration of the Directors' Court Room, you can see the Chairman's crimson velvet chair and the oil paintings by Lambert and Scott on display. The furniture featured in the illustration are held by the British Library.

WD4585
The East India House, Leadenhall Street by James Elmes, 1803,  as rebuilt by Richard Jupp and Henry Holland in 1796 to 1799. British Library, WD4585  noc

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The Directors' Court Room, East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, c.1820 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. British Library, WD2465  noc

Following the India Act of 1833, Uprisings of 1857 and the India Bill of 1858, the East India Company and the Board of Control offices merged to form the India Office. The building on Leadenhall Street was sold in 1861 and within months destroyed (Hardy 1982, p.9). The India Office retained the furniture and works of art mentioned above; these were incorporated into their new offices in Whitehall, now part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A selection of oil paintings and sculpture remain on display at the FCO; the rest are held at the British Library.

For readers interested in the India Office Records and the historical archives: East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

 

Further reading:

William Foster, India Office Library: Prints and Drawings, India Office, 1924

William Foster, East India House: its history and associations, John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, 1924

John Hardy, India Office Furniture, British Library, 1982

Karen Stapley, A break-in at East India HouseUntold Live Blog

Hedley Sutton, Treasures of the Asia and Africa Reading RoomAsian and African studies Blog

 

 

Malini Roy

Visual Arts Curator

23 January 2017

The Seal of Prophethood: Malay prayers for protection

Malay manuscripts are generally written in conventional ‘book’ form, but a few scrolls are also encountered. Malay manuscript scrolls are primarily associated with sermons, to be read in the congregational mosque at the Friday prayers, but occasionally small scrolls are found containing prayers and amulets which appear to have been compiled by individuals for their own personal use and protection. The British Library holds one such Malay scroll (Or. 16875), which contains a variety of prayers and talismanic symbols in Arabic, with explanations in Malay about their efficacy and directions for use. The scroll, which measures nearly three metres long when unrolled, is very finely written in black and purple ink. The manuscript has been fully digitised and can be read by clicking on the hyperlinks below the images.

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Decorative presentation of the shahadah, ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God’, from a Malay prayer scroll. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The main contents of the scroll is a series of depictions of the ‘Seal of Prophethood’ (in Persian muhr-i nubuvvat, in Arabic khātam al-nubuwwah, and in Malay mohor nubuat). The Seal refers to a special mark borne by Muhammad described by all who knew him as a type of mole or fleshy protruberance located between his shoulder blades (Savage-Smith 1997: 1.106). All over the Islamic world, manuscripts are known depicting the Seal of Prophethood, usually in the form of circular diagrams containing prayers or letters and numbers believed to have magical significance, which acted as talismans whose protective power could be activated by gazing upon them.

The Malay prayer scroll Or. 16875 contains seven diagrams of the ‘Seal of Prophethood’, each said to be found on a different part of Muhammad’s body, and each carrying different protective powers if viewed morning and evening, or written on a piece of paper and carried around. Gazing on the Seal on the Prophet's forehead (dahi) will ensure such success in business that it will feel like entering heaven (pelaris segala jualan seperti masuk syurga); that on his face (muka) will bring happiness (kesukaan); that on his left side (lambung kiri) will bring honour and long life; gazing at that on his right [side] (kanan) is a service (khidmat) to the Prophet and will be rewarded with God's safekeeping; and carrying an amulet (azimat) of the Seal on his mouth (mulut) will ensure that kings and great men will grant the bearer's request. Show below is the Seal of Prophethood said to found on Muhammad’s cheek: ‘This is the Seal of Prophethood on the cheek of the messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, according to ‘Abd al-Raḥman, may God be pleased with him, whoever looks upon this [mark of] Prophethood, his sins will be forgiven by God the Glorious and Exalted, or whoever writes it down and takes it to war will be safe wherever he goes, and whatever he wishes for will be granted by God, it will not be denied to him through the grace of God the Glorious and Exalted’ (Ini mohor al-nubuat pada pipi rasul Allāh ṣallā Allāh ‘alayhi wa-sallam, cetera daripada ‘Abd al-Raḥman raḍī Allāh ‘anhu, barang siapa melihat dia nubuat ini diampun Allāh subḥānahu wa-ta‘ālā sekalian dosanya atau disurat bawa berperang barang ke mana perginya selamat dengan barang hajatnya dikabulkan Allāh tiada tertolak orang itu dengan berkat kurnia Allāh subḥānahu wa-ta‘ālā akan dia).

Or_16875_f001e~r-crop pipi
The circular diagram depicts the Seal of Prophethood said to be on the cheek of the prophet. In the centre is the name of God, and in the border are the names of the four first Caliphs of Islam. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll also contains a series of repeated esoteric letters and formulae said to be associated with early figures of Islam, including the Prophet, his grandsons Hasan and Husayn, his uncle Hamzah, Husayn’s son Zayn al-‘Abidin, and the prophets Sulayman, Yaqub and Adam. Each sequence is introduced by the phrase bab ini pakaian, ‘these are the letters used by’, followed by the appropriate name.

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The letters associated with the Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon). British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll also contains a few magical symbols which are often encountered in Malay manuscripts. These include the five-pointed star, the pentagram, which can be ‘strengthened’ further by the addition of loops or 'lunettes' to its tips, and the angka sangga Siti Fatimah (seen below), which in another Malay manuscript in believed to have the power to make a thief return an item he had stolen to the rightful owner (Farouk 2016: 198).

 Or_16875_f001c~r-crop
Magical signs include the pentagram, with looped tips or 'lunettes', and in the lower right corner the angka sangga Siti Fatimah. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

In the writing of Islamic talismans, it is believed that letters will exert a greater power if they are written in certain ways. Thus diacritical dots are often missing, in emulation of the antique angular script. A particularly notable feature is a preference for the stretched-out form of the letter kaf, as can be seen to very striking effect in the amulet below.

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Horizontally elongated kaf, believe to enhance efficacy of this prayer. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll ends with a Qur’anic verse (Q. 61:13) very often found in amulets, ‘Help from God and a speedy victory, so give the Glad Tidings to the Believers.’

Or_16875_f001jr-crop 2
Qur’anic quotation from Sura 61, al-Saff, v.13, at the end of the scroll. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The Malay language is used in all parts of maritime Southeast Asia, and as there is no information on the scribe, date or place of writing of this scroll, or any evident linguistic localisms, it is very difficult to ascertain where it comes from. A very cautious guess, based partly on the use of purple ink, suggests a possible origin from the Malay peninsula in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Or_16875_f003r
The manuscript was photographed in the British Library by senior photographer Elizabeth Hunter, who in addition to detailed images of each section, also managed to capture the entire scroll – measuring 2850 x 80 mm, made up of five piece of paper glued together – in a single shot. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

Further reading:
Farouk Yahya, Magic and divination in Malay illustrated manuscripts. Leiden: Brill, 2016. (Arts and archaeology of the Islamic world; Vol. 6).
Francesca Leoni, Power and protection: Islamic art and the supernatural. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2016.
Emilie Savage-Smith, Science, tools & magic. Part One. Body and spirit, mapping the universe, Francis Maddison and Emilie Savage-Smith. Part Two. Mundane worlds, Emilie Savage-Smith, with contributions from Francis Maddison, Ralph Pinder-Wilson and Tim Stanley. London: Nour Foundation, 1997. (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art; Vol.12).

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork