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Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

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

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).

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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).

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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.’

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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.

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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

20 January 2017

Şəhidlər: Azerbaijan's Black January

Collective memory and memorialization are, in many ways, the bread and butter of those who build and legitimize states. In the era of the nation-State, significant shared experiences and the invention of tradition – to paraphrase Eric Hobsbawm[1] – based on these events are among the state’s core tools for building patriotic feeling, solidarity and social cohesion. For the former members of the USSR, the experiences instrumentalized are often within living memory. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, social unrest, civil disobedience and open hostilities created the perfect storm for the collapse of the Soviet system and the dissolution of the Union, giving rise to 16 new states from the Baltic Sea to the Bering Strait. In many of the capitals, confrontations between unarmed protestors and heavily armed soldiers were the catalysts for the end of Moscow’s sovereignty. This is certainly true for Kazakhstan in December 1986 and Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in 1989. It is also very much the case for Azerbaijan, as a pamphlet commemorating the events of 19-20 January 1990 demonstrates.

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Cover of Gafkaz IRK’s Şəhidlər. Baku: Publisher unknown, 1991? (Asian and African Collections)

Black January (Qara Yanvar), as the events of 19-20 January 1990 are known in Azerbaijan, occurred when Soviet troops bloodily repressed anti-government demonstrations in Baku. Moscow claimed that it was acting to quell nationalist passions following a flare-up of violence against Armenians in the country, as well as attempts at overthrowing the government of Soviet Azerbaijan. Whatever the reasons for the protests and the ensuing violence, between 133 and 137 people lost their lives on the two days. They are remembered today in the Memorial for Black January, erected in 2010, as well as in countless publications.

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The entrance to Martyrs’ Alley, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo © Michael Erdman

The British Library’s Turkic Collections contain one such pamphlet, entitled Шәһидләр (Şəhidlər, Martyrs), 10,000 copies of which were published in 1990 or 1991. The pamphlet is printed in black and white, with the cover type white against a black background. The symbolism of the colour scheme and the starkness of the type and arrangement are obvious, but even more interesting is the quotation that accompanies the title. It is an Azeri-language translation of Verse 154 of al-Baqarah, the Cow, the second sura of the Qur’ān. The English translation reads: “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [them] not.” This overtly religious approach to the victims of state violence marks a distinct and aggressive departure from Soviet orthodoxy regarding the place of religion in public life.

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Portraits of the victims and final inscription, Gafkaz IRK, Şəhidlər

Such piety begs the question of just whom the pamphlet commemorates. The Qur’anic quotation makes specific mention of “those who die in the way of Allah” (مَن يُقتَلُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ); does this include non-Muslim victims of repression in the category of “Martyrs”? The answer appears to be no, given a brief overview of the photographs on the interior of the pamphlet. Although it is impossible to determine the self-identification of the victims and their relationship to Islam, a brief glance through the names associated to the images reveals that only those with non-Russian or non-Armenian surnames find their way among the Martyrs. It is obvious that there are fewer pictures in the pamphlet than the 133 or 137 deaths reported. Some are evidently unknown victims whose graves in Martyrs’ Alley are marked as Nǝmalum, or “Unknown”. Nonetheless, there are also individuals, such as Vera Lvovna Bessantina, whose image adorns the wall of Martyrs’ Alley, but not the collection of photographs of Şəhidlər.

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Tomb of Vera Lvovna Bessantina in Martyrs’ Alley, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo © Michael Erdman

The final page of the pamphlet informs us that “Use shall be made of the aid for a monument honouring the memory of the martyrs.” It is unclear whether the monument constructed in Martyrs’ Alley is the direct result of the campaign that this pamphlet was a part of, or if it was the product of a different effort by the public and the state. What is clear is that the Azerbaijani State’s commitment to multiculturalism and religious tolerance is manifest in the widening of the term Şəhidlər to all those who died in the events of 19-20 January 1990. This pamphlet, however, remains as a reminder of the raw and often uncontrolled approaches to religion, dissidence and the state that characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the chaotic and messy transition from Soviet hegemony to national sovereignty.


Michael Erdman, Curator Turkish and Turkic Collections

 CC-BY-SA

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[1] Hobsbawm, E. J. The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

16 January 2017

The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Sâqib Bâburî
Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project Ccownwork

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

09 January 2017

Malay literary manuscripts in the John Leyden collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

30 December 2016

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

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

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

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

Michael Erdman, Curator Turkish and Turkic Collections
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23 December 2016

The Christmas Story: Images from Ethiopic Manuscripts

To celebrate Christmas we bring you a selection of images from some of our Ethiopic manuscripts.

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The Nativity. The Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus in a manger, with Joseph. From the Nagara Māryām, the history and miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 18th century (British Library Or. 607, f.13v)
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The Ethiopic collections in the British Library include about 600 manuscripts which were acquired  from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. The collection is strong in illuminated manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries and also contains, in addition to biblical texts, an important collection of Ethiopian magical and divinatory scrolls. Several catalogues have been published, the details of which are given below.
 
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Nativity scene (British Library Or. 481, f.100v)
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Or. 481, written in a small elegant character on vellum, dates from the second half of the seventeenth century. It contains the first eight books of the Old Testament (the Octateuch), the four Gospels,  numerous short works on church order, canons of  Ecumenical Councils and other ecclesiastical works. It is decorated with coloured borders and contains many illustrations.

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Three Wise Men or  Magi, as described in The Gospel according to St. Matthew (British Library Or. 607, f.14r)
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This illustrated manuscript, Or. 607, is a copy of Nagara Māryām ነገር ማርያም, the history and miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is arranged for the twelve months of the year, and is also popularly known as the Gospel of the Mother or 'called in the Egyptian tongue the Little Gospel'. Written on vellum it was copied for ʼĪyāsū II of Ethiopia who ruled from 1730 to 1755.

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The flight into Egypt: Mary and Jesus followed by Joseph (British Library Or. 510, f.10v)
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Our third manuscript, Or. 510, beautifully written on vellum in three columns, dates from 1664-65 and was copied in Gondar, Ethiopia, for King John I, ʼAʼlaf Sagad, and his queen, Sabla Wangēl. The manuscript as a whole demonstrates the use of European models for the illustrations which were inspired by those of A. Tempesta, based on Dūrer, in the Arabic Gospels published in Rome in 1590-91. In the process of copying, perspective was eliminated and the presentation simplified.


Further reading
August Dillmann, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur. Pars tertia, codices aethiopicos amplectans. London, 1847.
William Wright, Catalogue of the Ethiopic Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired Since the Year 1847. London, 1877.
Stefan Strelcyn, Catalogue of Ethiopian Manuscripts in the British Library Acquired Since the Year 1877. London, 1978.

Eyob Derillo, Curator Ethiopian Collections
 ccownwork

20 December 2016

Old Javanese copper charters in the British Library

One of the greatest periods of building in stone ever known commenced in central Java in the late 7th century, and reached a climax with the construction of Borobudur – the largest Buddhist monument in the world – in the 8th century, and the Prambanan temple complex in the 9th century. During the 10th century, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, the centre of activity shifted from central Java to east Java, where Hindu-Buddhist temples were built in stone and then brick through to the late 15th century, until halted with the spread of Islam throughout the island. Neglected and uncared for, the temples fell into disuse and thence decay, hastened by the unchecked growth of vegetation and volcanic and seismic activity.

The traditional writing material in Java was palm leaf or paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree. Although if treated with great care organic materials may survive for several hundred years in the tropical climate, most of what we know about the early Javanese civilisations responsible for these great monuments is necessarily gleaned from a study of inscriptions engraved on more durable materials such as stone and copper.  The earliest known inscriptions from Java were written in Old Malay and Sanskrit, but by the 9th century Old Javanese was used. The Old Javanese language differs from modern Javanese in the very high proportion of Sanskrit words, while Old Javanese script, sometimes known as Kawi script, also differs from that used for modern Javanese. The earliest dated inscription in Old Javanese is the Sukabumi inscription of 804 AD, and Old Javanese continued to be used until the 15th century.  Hundreds of inscriptions survive, engraved on stone and copper. Some of the copper charters are later copies of earlier inscriptions, or more portable copies of inscriptions originally engraved on stone.

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Mount Sumbing, a volcano in central Java, shown with a selection of Javanese antiquities in the foreground. From the Java-Album by Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864). Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1856. British Library, 1781.a.21, Plate 5.

The British Library holds three separate copper charters in Old Javanese, all of which have now been digitised.  The two charters held as Ind. Ch. 57, both incomplete, relate to a man named Ugra in a village called Pabuharan. Although undated, there are textual indications that these charters may date from the 9th century. The plate which can properly be termed the ‘Pabuharan inscription’ (Prasasti Pabuharan), Ind. Ch. 57 (B), records a grant of the attributes of the Brahman-order and Kṣatriya-order by the king to Ugra's children named Dyah Kataywat and Dyah Nariyama in the domain (sima) of Pabuharan.  On this occasion several ceremonial gifts of cloth and gold were presented to various officials, and are listed in the inscription.

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Pabuharan inscription, copper charter, in poor condition, possibly 9th century AD. British Library, Ind. Ch. 57 (B), f. 2v.

The accompanying plate, Ind Ch 57 (A), records the making of a canal in the lěmah asinan of Pabuharan by Ugra, who is described as a a teacher, with some rights and regulations to be maintained for it.

Both plates were in the possession of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Java from 1811 to 1816, but there is no information on how Raffles acquired them in Java. The plates were originally held in the British Museum before being transferred to the British Library.

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Old Javanese charter recording the digging of a canal in Pabuharan. British Library, Ind. Ch. 57 (A), f. 1r.

The third charter was issued by King Siṇḍok, who reigned in Java from ca. 929 to 947, and it was probably during his reign that the main shift from central to east Java took place. Known as the Sobhāmṛta inscription (Prasasti Sobhāmṛta), the complete charter consists of seven plates, of which the first and third plates are held in the National Museum of World Cultures in Leiden, while the five remaining plates are held in the British Library as MSS Jav 106.  On the basis of the style of script, this is clearly a copy made sometime between the late 13th and 15th centuries of the original charter.  The inscription records that on 11 Suklapaksa in the month Waisakha 861 Saka ( 2 May 939 AD), the king – named in the text as Sri Maharaja Rake Hino Mpu Sindok Sri Isanawijaya Dharmottunggadewa – gave orders that rice fields, orchards, and house lands in Sobhāmṛta were to become a freehold area, in return for the duty of maintaining a temple.  The charter was discovered in 1815 in a village south of Surabaya in East Java during work on a water supply.  The name of this village was Betra, which could possibly be a corrupt version of the Sanskrit name Sobhāmṛta, meaning ‘splendid holy water’, from nine centuries earlier.

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The beginning of Plate 2 of the Sobhāmṛta inscription, dated śāka 861 (A.D. 939), in Old Javanese. A copy made in the Majapahit period (1293 - ca.1500). British Library, MSS Jav 106, f. 1r

The last plate ends with a series of decorative motifs marking the end of the text, including two floral motifs probably derived from the lotus blossom.

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Floral motifs marking the end of the text of the Sobhāmṛta inscription. British Library, MSS Jav 106, f. 5v  noc

For a full list of digitised Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library, click here.

Further reading:
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve & A.T.Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: EFEO, 2014; p. 257.

Ind. Ch. 57
Albertine Gaur, Indian charters on copper plates. London: British Museum, 1975; p. 32.
OJO (Oud-Javaansche Oorkonden) no. CXV in: J.L.A. Brandes, 'Oud-Javaansche oorkonden: nagelaten transcripties', edited by N.J. Krom. Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, 60 (parts 1 and 2), 1913. Batavia; ’s-Hage: Albrecht; Nijhoff; pp. 250-251.
Boechari, and A.S. Wibowo. Prasasti Koleksi Museum Nasional. Vol. 1. Jakarta: Proyek Pengembangan Museum Nasional, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, 1985-1986; inscription E.1.II (reading based on a cast).

MSS Jav 106
A.T. Gallop with B. Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia. London: British Library; Jakarta: Lontar, 1991; pp. 74-75.
Titi Surti Nastiti. Prasasti Sobhāmṛta. Jakarta: Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Arkeologi Nasional, Departemen Kebudayaan dan Pariwisata, 2007

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

12 December 2016

O graceful fawn, o gentle doe: Deer in Thai manuscript art

Among the most gorgeous images in Thai manuscript painting are those of forest animals. Illustrations of the heavenly forest Himmaphan (Pali: Himavanta), which in Buddhist cosmology is thought to surround the base of the mythical Mount Meru, are unthinkable without squirrels, rabbits, birds, lions, tigers, monkeys, elephants and deer. Scenes involving birds, elephants and deer, usually against a background of trees, plants and rocks, express an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. Deer seem to be of particular importance as they often feature in funeral books containing extracts from the Pali canon. In Thai Buddhism, symbolic meanings of deer include harmony, happiness and serenity, but also sensitivity and watchfulness. According to the Buddhist scriptures, there could have been no better place for Gautama Buddha to give his first sermon than in the tranquil landscape of the Deer Park at Sarnath.         

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A pair of deer, one looking watchfully backward, frolicking in a rocky landscape with a blossoming tree and flowers. Illustration from a Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka in Pali language, late 18th or early 19th century. British Library, Or 14027, f.54 Noc
 
Some of Buddha’s Birth Stories (Jataka) also involve deer, like for example the King Banyan Deer Jataka or the Suvannasama Jataka. The King Banyan Deer Jataka tells of one of Buddha’s former incarnations as a golden deer king whose herd was captured and held in a park for the King of Benares to hunt. The king granted the golden deer immunity, but wished to hunt the other deer and eat venison meat every day. When it was the turn of a pregnant doe to be slaughtered, King Banyan Deer sacrificed himself and laid his golden neck on the butcher’s block. The King of Benares was surprised to see this and asked why the deer king offered his own life. When he heard that King Banyan Deer had taken upon himself the plight of the pregnant doe, the king prohibited hunting of deer and all other animals in his kingdom.       

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Scenes from the Sama Jataka in a rare 18th century folding book from Thailand. This manuscript contains short extracts from the Tipitaka, including a text on the great qualities of the Buddha (Mahabuddhaguna) which are illustrated by scenes from the Ten Birth Tales. British Library, Or 14068, f.5 Noc

A popular Jataka involving deer is part of the circle of the last Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha with the title Sama Jataka (in Thailand also known as Suvannasama Jataka). Illustrations of this Jataka can often be found in Thai funeral or commemoration volumes in folding book format containing a text on the Buddha’s great qualities, and sometimes the legend of the Buddhist saint Phra Malai. The painting style and preference of certain colours varies according to the period in which a manuscript was created. Whereas deer in 18th century illustrations usually appear static, a century later they are often shown in motion.

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Naturalistic scene from the Sama Jataka with deer fleeing the violent event of Sama being shot by the King of Benares. Illustration from a 19th century Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka and the legend of Phra Malai. British Library, Or 14559, f.6 Noc

The Sama Jataka tells of a son who, with great devotion, cared for his parents who had lost their sight as a result of snake bites. Every day, he fetched water from the forest. Because of his gentle, peaceful character the deer in the forest would always follow him. One day the King of Benares went hunting in the same forest and accidentally shot Sama in the chest. Realising his mistake, he went to Sama’s parents to inform them and to apologise. The parents, however, remained calm and asked him to lead them to their dead son’s body where they pleaded with the gods to restore his life, and due to his extraordinary merit he did indeed come back to life and the king was forgiven. The parents also regained their eyesight.

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On the left, an illustration in an innovative, dynamic style shows Sama who was shot in the chest stumbling into the river. Two deer are by his side, the spilling water pot between them. On the right are Sama’s blind parents waiting for their son’s return from the forest. From a 19th century Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka. British Library, Or 16552, f.9 Noc

The Jataka best known Thailand is without doubt the Vessantara Jataka, the last of the Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha. This Jataka symbolises the virtue of generosity and narrates the life of prince Vessantara who from early childhood on showed a great sense of charity. He gave away all his possessions, including an elephant that he grew up with, his horses, even his children and finally his beloved wife Maddi. However, as a result of his great merits, his sacrifices and acts of generosity were always rewarded. For example, when he gave away his horses that were pulling his carriage to a forest hermitage a marvellous deer appeared immediately to replace the horses. In the end, the whole family and their animals got together again with a great celebration.   

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Scene from the Vessantara Jataka showing a marvellous deer with gold decorations replacing the horses that Vessantara, standing on the carriage, had given away. From a 19th century Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka. British Library, Or 16552, f.26 Noc

Not only in Thai manuscript paintings can one find images of deer, but also on manuscript covers and manuscript chests in the form of gold-on-lacquer decorations. These would usually represent scenes from the heavenly forest Himmaphan. The lavishly decorated manuscript cover below shows a deer in the centre, standing gracefully between two mythical lions and smaller forest animals, perhaps squirrels, before a delicate background of flowers and foliage.     

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Gilt and lacquered cover of a Thai folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka and the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. British Library, Or 15257, front cover  Noc

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