Asian and African studies blog

16 January 2015

Inscriptions in the Iskandar Sultan Miscellany (Add.27261)

A previous posting on this remarkable manuscript, one of the British Library’s greatest treasures, introduced the volume and discussed a few of its pages. In this piece we discuss the inscriptions which it contains, beginning with the elaborate illuminated double-pages opening (folios 2v-3r) which contain the dedication of the manuscript to its patron.
The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket miscellany containing 23 works. Copied 813-4/1410-11 (Add.27261, ff. 2v-3r)

The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket miscellany containing 23 works. Copied 813-4/1410-11 (Add.27261, ff. 2v-3r)

The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket miscellany containing 23 works. Copied 813-4/1410-11 (BL Add.27261, ff 2v-3r) - See more at:

The text in the upper and lower panels is written in an especially ornate version of floriated Kufic script (compare, for example, the much clearer decorative title headings for two poems, Kitāb Jām-i Jam (f. 420v) and Sa‘ādat-nāma (f. 504v). The text appears to consist of supplicatory phrases. The present writer has begun, but not completed, the struggle to decipher them. Perhaps some readers of this blog can do better, in which case we should be glad to hear from them. In any case, the contents complement the prayer in Arabic for the manuscript’s patron, Iskandar Sultan, inscribed in thulth script in the lobed circular central panel on the right hand page (f. 2v):

O God, perpetuate the rule of the most mighty Sultan, the most just and noble emperor, sovereign of the sovereigns of the Arabs and non-Arabs…

The continuation, in the panel on the left hand page (3r), reads:

…the Shadow of God upon all regions of the Earth, the Champion of Water and Clay [i.e. Defender of the Interests of Mankind], the Reliant [upon God], the Supreme King, Glory of the Nation and Faith [of Islam] Iskandar, may God make his dominion eternal.

Close up of (left) f. 3r and (right) f. 2v Close up of (left) f. 3r and (right) f. 2v
Close up of (left) f. 3r and (right) f. 2v

Among the special ‘personal touches’ found elsewhere in the manuscript are the inscriptions half-concealed in the ornately illuminated margins of three pages: folios 343v, 344r, and 345r. All are in verse, and here they appear to be addressed to Iskandar Sultan, although that does not necessarily mean that they were originally composed for him; their authorship has yet to be established.

Folio 343v, which incidentally is featured (as are folios f. 2v and f. 3r) in the ‘Turning The Pages’ presentation of selected pages of this Miscellany, contains geometrical theorems from the first Book of Euclid’s Principles. Written in gold, half-hidden within the decorative cartouches ranged along the margins of this and the following page (f. 344r), are verses praising the manuscript's royal patron using imagery entirely appropriate to a bibliophile:

Add. 27261, f. 343v
Ay daftar-i iqbāl-rā naqsh-i ḥavāshī nām-i tū

3 bar lawḥ-i taqdīr az qaẓā nukḥustīn ḥarf kām-i tu2Dawlat ba-kilk-i ma‘dalat āyāt-i fal u makramat 4binvishta matn u ḥāshiya bar ṣaḥfa-’i ayyām-i tu.

O you whose name has been marked down
   in the margins of Success’s book!
Your will is, by the decree of Fate,
   the first letter on Destiny’s Tablet.
With the pen of Justice, Good Fortune
   wrote the signs of virtue and greatness
upon the page of these, your times,
   in both the text space and the margins.

The inscription contained within four cartouches in the margin of folio 344r is much easier to read:

Add. 27261, f. 344r
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.48.43
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.49.34
Nigīn-i sa‘ādat
/ ba-nām-i tū bād
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.50.33
Screenshot 2015-01-15 17.51.26
Hama kār-i dawlat / ba-kām-i tū bād

May Fortune’s signet ring
    be [inscribed] with your name;
and all matters of state
    accord with your desire.

As if the preceding eulogies were not enough, they are followed by a still more flattering single bayt or couplet on f. 345r, together with the name ‘Alī in gold on blue, calligraphed in square Kufic.

Add. 27261, f. 345r
Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.35.45 

Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.37.34Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.37.56
Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.35.11
Ay az bihisht / tu juzvī / va
z ramat āyatī / aqq-rā ba-rūzgār-i / tū bā mā ‘ināyatī

You who are a part of Heaven, a portent of [Divine] Mercy;
in this your era, God [has shown His] favour and concern for us.

Let us now turn our attention to the various colophons in Add. 27261. The first of these occurs on f. 112v, at the end of Ilāhī-nāma (‘Book of the Divine), a didactic poem by the great mystical poet Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār (d. ca. 1220). In it, one of the two calligraphers who worked on this Miscellany, Muḥammad al-Ḥalvā’ī, states that he finished copying the text in Jumādā l-avval (sic: normally in the feminine form Jumādā l-ūlā) 813, which month began on September 9th 1410. Here, as in another of his colophons (see below), which are in Arabic as convention dictates, this scribe employs phrases which show him to have been an admirer of the mystical Path and its people, and perhaps a Sufi himself.
Colophon in the margin at the end of ʻAṭṭār's Ilāhī-nāma (‘Book of the Divine), dated 813/1410. Add.27261, f. 112v
Colophon in the margin at the end of ʻAṭṭār's Ilāhī-nāma (‘Book of the Divine), dated 813/1410. Add.27261, f. 112v
: noc

[This copy of] “The Book of the Divine”, by the Sultan of the Knowers and Lovers [of God], Protector of the Protégés of the Ancients and Moderns, the Unique One of the World and the Faith (Farīd al-Dunyā wa l-Dīn) Muḥammad known as ‘the Perfumer’ (‘Aṭṭār) – may God cool his resting-place, illumine his dwelling-place (mathwā), and make the Pool of Paradise his drinking-place (ma’rā) – was completed on Saturday 27th of Jumādā l-awwal 813. Praise is due to God alone, and God’s salutations and innumerable greetings be upon the Best of His Creation Muḥammad and his goodly, pure Family, one and all. By the hand of the weak and feeble servant, wholly reliant upon [God] the Eternally Self-Sufficient Sovereign: Muḥammad known as al-Ḥalvā’ī (‘The Sweetmeat Man’), may God improve his condition and put his mind at rest.

By contrast, the colophon written by al-Ḥalvā’ī on f. 294r at the end of Niẓāmī’s Khamsa (‘Five Poems’) is exiguous and looks as though it may have been composed and executed in haste. No acknowledgement to the Creator, salutations to the Prophet, or honorifics for the author; the scribe’s name is there, but has just been squeezed in at the end of a line:

End of the book known as the Khamsa of Niẓāmī. Written by Muḥammad, and [may Divine] forgiveness [be his], in Jumādā l-ūlā of the year 814’ (equivalent to late August-September 1411.

Another inscription of interest, which occurs on f. 302r, appears in the form of a flattering addition to what is announced as Niẓām al-tavārīkh, an abridgement and continuation of this short history of Persia from earliest times down to 674/1275 by ‘Abd Allāh al-Bayẓāvī. Immediately after a brief notice of the Mongol Īlkhān Abū Sa‘īd (d. 736/1335) we find this:

And [today, God’s] creatures are in the shade (sāya, repeated again on the next line) of the justice and the shadow of the compassion of the Just King…Jalāl al-Dunyā va l-Dīn Iskandar Bahādur, may God perpetuate his rule…’ (the remainder of the text resembling that of the prayer on f. 340r translated below).

The colophon (f. 340r) which concludes a selection of ghazals or lyric verses by several different poets, is almost as long as that on f. 112v and yet contains no date; in this respect the volume exhibits no standard style. In it we read:

The ghazals have been completed, with the help and goodly aid to success of God, Transcendent and Exalted is He. Salutations and peace be upon Muḥammad, the Best of His Creation, and his Pure Family. Written by the poor servant Muḥammad, scribe to the Majestic Sovereign Iskandar (al-kātib al-Jalālī al-Khāqānī al-Iskandarī), may God perpetuate his (i.e. the sovereign’s, not – as the syntax suggests – the scribe’s) kingship and establish his justice and beneficence throughout the universe, by the Prophet and his goodly descendants.

Colophon concluding a collection of ghazals. Add.27261, f 340r
Colophon concluding a collection of ghazals. Add.27261, f 340r

After this point in the manuscript there are no further lengthy colophons. Whereas the opening of the more famous Manṭiq al-ṭayr and Ilāhī-nāma, found earlier in the volume, are marked only by episode headings, the poems Jām-i Jam and (part of) Sa‘ādat-nāma both have ornamental title headings. Neither of the latter, however, has any kind of inscription at the end. And although there remain some artistic pyrotechnics to come, as regards the textual content the Miscellany rather peters out. The last colophon (f. 542v) consists of two lines of text directly below the end of the treatise on astronomy with which the Miscellany concludes. Instead of being configured in the conventional keystone form, these two lines are written exactly as if they were part of the text. The first line announces the conclusion of of Rawat al-munajjimīn (‘Astronomers’ Garden’), while the second reads:

Katabahu turāb al-fuqarā’ va l-sālikāin Nāir al-Kātib, asana Llāh ‘avāqibahu, fī salkh Jumādā l-sānī 814

Written by [one who is] dust [at the feet] of the dervishes and the [spiritual] wayfarers, Nāṣir the Scribe – may God grant him a goodly life Hereafter – at the end of Jumādā l-sānī 814 (equivalent to early October 1411).

Colophon at the end of Rawẓat al-munajjimīn (‘Astronomers’ Garden’), dated 814/1411. Add.27261, f. 542v
Colophon at the end of Rawat al-munajjimīn (‘Astronomers’ Garden’), dated 814/1411. Add.27261, f. 542v

Lastly, there are two very different inscriptions which were added by later owners of the manuscript at the end of it. These have been described and discussed in the ‘Turning The Pages’ presentation of the Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan, together with a selection of 74 other pages.

A detailed catalogue description with links to the individual works and paintings can be read or downloaded here.

Muhammad Isa Waley, Asian and African Studies



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