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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

02 November 2018

The Javanese 'Chronicle of the Kingdoms': Babad Kraton

Today’s guest blog for the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogykarta Digitisation Project is by Prof. Merle Ricklefs of the Australian National University

Despite the simple opening frames, devoid of colours and gold, this Javanese manuscript of Babad Kraton, ‘Chronicle of the Kingdoms’ (British Library, Add 12320), is one of the most important documents shedding light on the intellectual and cultural framework of the court of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in the later 18th century. The work has received considerable attention: I’ve discussed it particularly in my books Jogjakarta under Sultan Mangkubumi 1749-1792 (1974), War, culture and economy in Java 1677-1726 (1993) and The seen and unseen worlds in Java 1726-1749 (1998), and the text has been published in transcription by I. W. Pantja Sunjata, Ignatius Supriyanto and J.J. Ras (eds and translits), Babad Kraton: Sejarah keraton Jawa sejak Nabi Adam sampai runtuhnya Mataram, menurut naskah tulisan tangan The British Library, London, Add 12320, 2 vols (1992).

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Opening pages of Babad Kraton, Yogyakarta, 1777-8. British Library, Add 12320, ff. 1v.-2r.  Noc

Babad Kraton was written in the court of Yogyakarta in 1777-8. The writer was a son-in-law of Sultan Hamengkubuwana I (r. 1749-92) named Jayengrat. The work begins with Adam, as do many Javanese chronicles (babad) aspiring to a sort of universal history, and continues to historical times. The writer seems essentially to have copied out – perhaps altering to some degree as he did so – pre-existing manuscript copies of such babads to make his new compilation. There are, however, some oddities in this manuscript, the most important of which relates to the date when it was ended. To understand the significance of this, we have to turn to Javanese ideas about cycles of dynastic change.

Javanese sources make clear that there was thought to be a regular cycle of dynastic succession. At each ’00 year of a century, a court (kraton) would fall, and its successor would be established in the ’03 year of the new century. In Java’s poorly institutionalised and frequently unstable states, the widespread expectation that events would unfold in such a sequence made it more likely that they would. If everyone expected a kraton to fall, why bother to defend it when enemies appeared at its walls?

The most prominent example – and the one most relevant to our discussion of Babad Kraton – was the fall of the court of Plered, capital of the Javanese kingdom of Mataram, to a rebel army in the Javanese (AJ) year 1600 (CE 1677). After a period of division and conflict, the new court of Kartasura was founded in the month Ruwah of AJ 1603 (September CE 1680). In this example, the theory and the events were at one.

The next major kraton to fall was Kartasura, but it fell to rebels in June 1742, equivalent to Mulud AJ 1667, 33 years before it should have fallen in AJ 1700, according to the dynastic theory. The successor court of Surakarta was occupied in February 1746, equivalent to Sura AJ 1671. Surakarta was clearly the successor to Kartasura but, as far as the century cycle of kratons was concerned, as Hamlet famously lamented, the times were ‘out of joint’. Who, in 18th-century Java, was going ‘to set it right’?

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Detail from a dynastic tree-diagram of the rulers of Java compiled in 1814, starting from Adam, showing the leaves numbered 53-4 and mentioning the rulers: (53) Amangkurat I (Tegalwangi), whose court fell to rebels in AJ  1600/1677 CE (he was buried at Tegalwangi); (53A) Amangkurat II (Kartasura), who founded the court of Kartasura in AJ 1603/1680 CE; (53B) Amangkurat III (Selong), who was exiled to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in 1708; and (54) Pakubuwana I (r. 1704-19). British Library, Or 15932, f. 72r. Noc

When Jayengrat sat down to write out Babad Kraton, the Javanese courts were facing another turn of the dynastic cycle. The Sultanate of Yogyakarta might have felt the more threatened by the supposed supernatural forces that drove this cycle. Surakarta had clear precedents going back to previous kratons, but Yogyakarta was where the rebel prince Mangkubumi was declared king in 1749 and his permanent court was established after the end of warfare in 1755. What were its immediate predecessors? How could the supernatural forces surrounding the century cycle be managed when there were two rival courts in existence? Would one fall in AJ 1700 (March 1774-March 1775 CE)? Would a new court arise in AJ 1703 (February 1777-January 1778)?

Several measures were taken by the two courts in the years leading up to AJ 1700 to stabilise the politics of Central Java. Land agreements and legal codes removed potential sources of conflict. Then, at least in Yogyakarta, it seems that supernatural forces were mobilised through literature to protect the court in the challenging period AJ 1700-03.

In the month Muharram, the first month, of AJ 1700 the Yogyakarta Crown Prince (later Sultan Hamengkubuwana II) composed a vast (and beautifully illuminated) pseudo-history and prophecy entitled Surya Raja. It was about a court – which clearly represented Yogyakarta – and how it would triumph in unifying a divided kingdom. In the end, this court would also oversee the conversion to Islam of infidel intruders – clearly representing the Dutch – and their reconciliation with the ruler of pseudo-Yogyakarta. How – or indeed whether – Yogyakarta court dignitaries actually expected this to happen in the world of Realpolitik is unclear. But it is reasonable to accept that this book (which is now regarded as one of the sacred, supernaturally powerful regalia of the Sultanate) was a step to neutralise the threat posed by the arrival of the year AJ 1700.

AJ 1700 passed without a new war breaking out or a court falling. Nevertheless, there was still the question of how to understand AJ 1703 when it arrived. Would a new court be founded?

This is where Babad Kraton appears to have played a role. Jayengrat began his writing in Ruwah AJ 1703 (September CE 1777) – the centenary of the founding of the court of Kartasura. The century cycle is part of the history retold in the pages of Babad Kraton and surely must have been in Jayengrat’s mind (and that of the rest of the Yogyakarta kraton elite) when he began to write his chronicle at this time.

In February 1778, Jayengrat brought his chronicle to an end – for the first time for, as we shall see, there was a second ending. He first drew the chronicle to a close just after the founding of Kartasura in Ruwah AJ 1603 (September CE 1680), which is described on f. 395r. On f. 398r. (transcribed in Pantja Sunjata et al., vol. ii, p. 52), he wrote a concluding passage, saying that the writing came to an end on 19 Muharram AJ 1704 (17 February CE 1778) and particularly admonishing readers and listeners to ponder that date. Ff. 398v. and 399r. are without text (except for the last words of a blessing which the writer invoked), but they have borders marked which are identical to the beginning and the end of the MS. This was clearly where this babad was supposed to end. F. 399v. is blank.

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Decorative frames marking the originally planned ending of Jayengrat's Babad Kraton. British Library, Add 12320, ff. 398v.-399r. Noc

We may deduce that this babad – written on the centenary of the founding of Kartasura and ending with the account of Kartasura’s foundation in AJ 1603/CE 1680 – probably was intended to say that the century cycle was intact and, crucially, that a divided kingdom was part of the cycle. In AJ 1704/CE 1778, just as a century before, the kingdom was divided between two courts. In the earlier century, one monarch was in Kartasura while his brother occupied the previous court in Mataram (where Yogyakarta was located). This was a historically correct depiction.

But someone – Jayengrat, the Sultan, whoever – must have quickly realised that the precedent for division in AJ 1704/CE 1778 was inauspicious. That division in AJ 1603/CE 1680 had ended in the victory of Kartasura over the rebel brother holding out in Mataram. It was, that is to say, a precedent for Surakarta (as Kartasura’s successor) to be victorious over Yogyakarta (Mataram’s successor).

So Jayengrat took up his pen again. On f. 400r., he began writing the text exactly as it was written on f. 398r. (Pantja Sunjata et al., omit the repetition). But this time around, the date of completion was omitted; instead, the text carries on with more cantos. If ff. 398r. to 399v. had been removed from the MS, the text would have carried on seamlessly without the ending originally written there, and there would have been no sign that an earlier ending had been planned but then abandoned. Fortunately for us, whoever was responsible for the final polishing of the MS, including removing ff. 398r. to 399v., failed to do her or his job. So we are left with evidence supporting our deductions about the ideas of court circles.

Jayengrat wrote on for another three months. He made a mistake in this part of his babad. Was he getting tired of the whole enterprise and becoming careless? At the end of each canto in Javanese verse texts, there is commonly word-play signalling what metre would be used in the following canto. This was to assist people performing the text orally, to know which of the fixed poetic metres to use when beginning to sing the next canto. On f. 631r., Jayengrat ended Canto 150 with a signal that the next canto would be in Asmaradana metre. And so it is. But he must have put down the exemplar he was working with and when he picked it up again, or when he picked up another to copy from, he started with an Asmaradana canto from a much later period. He thereby managed to omit events over the years 1719-41 CE.

Add 12320 f.631r
Jayengrat's missing years: note the change of handwriting style after the canto marker. British Library, Add 12320, f. 631r. Noc

Probably unaware of this error, Jayengrat wrote until May 1778. He again brought his copying to an end, but this time the last significant event was the fall – not the foundation – of Kartasura in Rabingulakir AJ 1667/CE 1742 (we ignore a scribal error in this date). This is described on ff. 714v.-715r. (trancribed in Pantja Sunjata et al., vol. ii, p. 430).

Given the clear evidence that trouble was being taken to get dates and precedents right, we may reasonably conclude the following from this new ending. Courtiers who knew of this account could accept – we may say, they could pretend – that the century cycle was working. Kartasura had been the last kraton to fall, as it should have been, having been founded in AJ 1603/CE 1680. By omitting all the history since that date, Babad Kraton seems to have implied that Yogyakarta could regard itself as the new court for the new century. That is not the way history had worked out – and all those Javanese aristocrats knew this was so – but in the world of literature and literary magic, it could be made to seem so.

The looming threats of the ’00-’03 cycle had been surmounted. Literature provided a transition which history had stubbornly refused to do. Yogyakarta could be considered as a legitimate court in the new century, representing no violation to the chronological cycle of kratons.

When the British sacked the court of Yogyakarta in 1812 and carried off the Babad Kraton manuscript (along with many others), they brought us this fascinating object for our literary detective work.

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Closing pages of Babad Kraton. British Library, Add 12320, ff. 715v.-716r. Noc

M. C. Ricklefs  Ccownwork
Melbourne, October 2018

21 October 2018

A Photographic Tour of the Persian Gulf and Iraq, 1906

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House of the dragoman [translator] of British Consulate Basra’, 1906 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 27)
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In November 1906, Wilfrid Malleson, a British military intelligence officer, departed from Simla in British India on an intelligence-gathering tour of the Persian Gulf and what British officials then termed ‘Turkish Arabia’ (the south of modern Iraq, then part of the Ottoman Empire). Britain was already the dominant imperial power in the Gulf and was keen to ascertain the situation in those territories to its north that remained under the sway of the Ottomans. Malleson’s report of his journey – that included stops in Muscat, Kuwait, Basra, Baghdad and Mohammerah – provides a fascinating snapshot of the region at this time.

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‘Mosque and minaret of coloured tiles at Basra’. Malleson described it as: “a brick building with a minaret ornamented with some pretty blue tiles, but, on the whole, a squalid and sorry structure which in India one would hardly turn aside to look at” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)
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In addition to Malleson’s narrative, the report also contains a series of photographs of the places that he visited, foremost amongst them, Basra and Baghdad. Although Malleson apologised for their poor quality in the preface to his official report, over a hundred years later they provide an evocative glimpse of locations that have changed dramatically since and in some cases, came under British military occupation less than a decade after his visit. Indeed, Malleson made notes regarding the military defences (or lack thereof) of the places that he visited including Basra, of which he remarked, “[t]here are no defences and a landing could easily be covered from ships in the river”. Malleson also speculated that “judicious treatment [by Britain] could easily succeed in turning the local Arab against the much-hated Turk”. Eight years later – perhaps using intelligence supplied by Malleson – the British army invaded and conquered Basra as a part of the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War, events that eventually led to the establishment of the modern nation state of Iraq. In 2003, almost a hundred years after Malleson’s visit, the British Army invaded and occupied Basra again.

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‘The British Consulate and Messrs Lynch’s offices Basra; Showing 4,000 tons of merchandise awaiting shipment to Bagdad’. Malleson noted that Basra’s shops were “full of Manchester goods of a florid and ornate pattern suited to the local taste”. The workmen or “coolies” on Basra’s wharfs were said by Malleson to be “Arabs and Chaldeans” that “are of fine physique and can lift great weights. They work from sunrise to sunset, but refuse to work when it is wet and knock off when they feel inclined” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)
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In addition to military matters, the report discusses a wide range of other topics including trade, agriculture, history, transport infrastructure and religious communities, as well as the activities of rival powers, notably the German and Ottoman Empires. As Malleson noted apologetically in its preface, the report contains much “not of immediate military interest”.

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‘Bahreini pilgrims on board the Khalifa’. Malleson took the Khalifa upriver to Baghdad and commented “[m]ore interesting than the country passed through were the pilgrims we took along with us. They were of every type, coming from all parts of the Muhammadan world in order to make the pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Kerbela and Nejef” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 33)
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Malleson also recorded the various characters that he met during the course of his journey including a German trader on the boat to Muscat and a pair of hospitable “Cosmopolitan Jews” in Basra’s quarantine station. The two men, father and son, were merchants and the latter was re-locating his business to Manchester in the north of England. Malleson commented that the dominance of Manchester in Baghdad’s trade “became apparent to us later”. He also encountered an explorer who was willing to share his findings with British intelligence and believed that “a strong British policy in the Gulf would mean progress and the spread of civilisation, and would, therefore, further the interests of the world in general”.

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‘Cafe and mosque near the North Gate, Bagdad’. Malleson remarked that “[t]he cafes are largely frequented by the Turkish soldiery who, for the most part slouching and out-at-elbows, seem to have little enough to do” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)
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‘View in Baghdad’. Malleson was struck by Baghdad’s diversity stating that “[i]n addition to a large population of Arabs…and representatives of most of the peoples of Asia there are some 35,000 Jews, and a great number of queer Christian sects, such as Armenians, Nestorians, and Neo-Nestorians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, Arians, Jacbobites and Manichaeans. Most of them wear some distinguishing garments and the varied hues and shapes of these make a very striking effect” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 35)
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The report, though engagingly written, is replete with the lamentable orientalist and misogynistic attitudes that characterised the stance of many British imperial officials in this period. In perhaps the most unpleasant instance of racist language in the report – and as testament to the ongoing existence of slavery in the region during this period – when discussing the women that he saw in Baghdad, Malleson wrote that they “of course go veiled when abroad, even those of the numerous Christian sects and the Jewesses. The latter wear extraordinarily gorgeous silken garments, and the really smart thing is to possess a white donkey tended by the blackest and ugliest of negro slaves”.

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‘Near the big mosque, Bagdad’ Medieval Baghdad, Malleson noted, had flourished while “the greater part of Europe had hardly emerged from the primitive barbarism it had sunk with the fall of the Roman Empire, or from which it had never emerged” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 37)
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‘A Street in Bagdad’. The reality of modern Baghdad was underwhelming however, Malleson believed “[t]he traveller who, attracted merely by the glamour of a name, expects to find in Bagdad the wondrous city of his dreams is doomed to disappointment”(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)
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As well as visiting modern settlements while in Iraq, Malleson also visited historical ruins including the remains of ancient Babylon and Ctesiphon, the former capital of the Sassanian Empire.

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‘The arch of Ctesiphon’. Although Malleson reported that “[l]ocal experts are of opinion that this majestic ruin cannot much longer stand”, over a hundred years later, in spite of repeated invasions and wars, the arch still stands (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 48)
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‘Our conveyance across the desert to Babylon’. In Malleson’s words, “[i]t was a queer looking shandridan, half bathing-machine and half grocer’s cart, with very narrow and uncomfortable seats, and drawn by a team of four, and sometimes five, mules harnessed abreast and driven by a wild-looking son of the desert” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 43)
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‘The only arch so far discovered in Babylon’. Discussing his visit to Babylon, Malleson wrote “Here, too ‘midst the ashes of dead empires and the havoc wrought by man, the philosopher may muse on the mutability of mundane things, the fleeting character of fame, the mockery of riches and the vanity of power”(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 47)
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Concluding his report, Malleson wrote: “[a]nd so, with a heightened interest in the problems of the Middle East, and with, perhaps, some increase of knowledge; with friendships made with useful people, and numerous promises of help and correspondence, we turn our backs on Turkish Arabia and shape a course for Bushire and Karachi”. Just eight years later, Britain would return to Basra as an invading force and when the its flag was raised over the town, the Daily Mail proudly proclaimed “Another Red Patch on the Map”.


Further reading:
For details on the connection between Manchester and Middle Eastern trade see: Fred Halliday, “The millet of Manchester: Arab merchants and cotton trade”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies   19:2 (1992), pp. 159-176.

An illustrated account of a tour of the same region in 1886-87: Turkish Arabia: Being an Account of an Official Tour in Babylonia, Assyria, and Mesopotamia, 1886-87 (India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F112/384).

A photographic album of a tour of the same region in 1916-18: Album of tour of the Persian Gulf. Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6).

An official account of Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign during the First World War: ‘HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR BASED ON OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS. THE CAMPAIGN IN MESOPOTAMIA 1914-1918. VOLUME I’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/66/1).

For more on Britain’s invasion and occupation of Basra in the First World War see: Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, “1914: The Battle of Basra”, Hurst publishers Blog, 21 November 2014.

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
 ccownwork

15 October 2018

A Vietnamese Lord’s letter to the East India Company

During the Later Lê dynasty (1428-1788), Vietnam was effectively divided into two parts. For over two centuries – from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 18th centuries – the Trịnh Lords ruled the northern part (referred to in Vietnamese history as Đàng Ngoài) and the Nguyễn Lords had power over the southern part (Đàng Trong) of Vietnam, while the Lê emperors had no real political power at all.

The oldest manuscript in the Vietnamese collection at the British Library, from the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane of 1753, was probably written by the Trịnh ruler of Tonkin in the late 17th century (Sloane 3460). It is a long scroll of yellow paper, beautifully illuminated in silver, written in the Vietnamese language in Han Nom (adapted Chinese) characters, and bearing a large square red ink seal. Unfortunately, the first part of the scroll is missing, and some of the characters in the remaining part are illegible, and it is therefore impossible to establish the precise date of this manuscript.

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Vietnamese letter, probably from Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682) of Tonkin to the East India Company, ca. 1673. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

At my request, Dr Li Tana, of the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, kindly examined images of the manuscript in April 2018. She has transcribed and translated its contents, and is of the opinion that it was probably written under the command of Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682) and was sent to the English East India Company (EIC) some time in 1673, following the arrival in Tonkin in 1672 of the first EIC ship. Foreign traders always sought assistance from local powers to facilitate their commercial missions, and in return the local lords also tried to benefit from these foreign visitors, especially their technical know-how on modern technology, as the content of the Trinh lord’s letter clearly demonstrates:

…[overseas merchants visiting us] have been many but only Holland has come … (three characters not legible). It has acted in both friendship and righteousness. [They] sometimes offer pearls and beautiful presents and sometimes send craftsmen who are specialised in cannon casting. This kindness is above all rulers.  Although your country has only just begun interactions with us, we treat all countries equally with compassion and good will. Recently your head trader brought one iron cannon and two bronze cannons. The bronze ones broke as soon as they were tested. [They] were definitely not of solid and excellent quality. [We therefore] have returned them to the ship captain but he has not yet taken them back. If you are arranging for ship[s] to come next year, [please] bring amber either in pieces or stringed together with real pearls for us. We will pay [you] accordingly right away. [This] will be of benefit to both sides. [Please] also send cannon casting craftsmen so that the craftsmen from Holland cannot monopolise this skill. This way our friendship will last forever. [We are sending] 560 catties of raw silk for the two iron cannons which we received last year. Please buy for us 50 hoc (= 50 kilogrammes) big sized amber, plus 5000 pieces of stringed amber. Written in the mid-winter.
(Translated by Dr Li Tana, edited by Dr Geoffrey Wade, April 2018)

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Detail of the text of the letter, with silver illumination on a yellow ground. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

By the early 17th century, commercial competition among European mercantile states had expanded to Asia, and Southeast Asia was targeted for its rich resources. Vietnam was located in a commercially strategic maritime location and many European traders started to visit the kingdom to seek commercial opportunities. The East India Company (EIC) sent its first delegation from its Japanese base of Hirado to Vietnam in as early as 1613 (Le Thanh Thuy 2014: 62) amid vigorous competition with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and other western European nations. Hirado had been an important port of call for ships between Japan and the Asian mainland since the Nara period, and both the EIC and the VOC had ‘factories’ (trading posts) there. 

In 1672, the East India Company sought to establish a factory in Tonkin, as a liaison base for the export and import of British traders’ goods to China, Japan and maritime Southeast Asia (Thuy 2014: 63). On 25th June 1672, the EIC ship The Zant was sent from Bantam, in Java, to Tonkin, with William Gyfford and five other EIC employees, to seek the establishment of commercial relations with Tonkin. However, it was not until 14th March 1673 that Gyfford had an opportunity to meet Trịnh Tac. After receiving the gifts and letter of the Bantam Council, the Trinh lord only allowed the EIC to set up their factory at Phô Hiến, but not at the capital of Tonkin as the EIC mission had hoped (Thuy 2014: 64).

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Seal on the Vietnamese letter to the East India Company, ca. 1673. Sloane 3460  noc

Even though we can’t be certain that this manuscript letter was sent by Trịnh Tac, it is still an important piece of historical evidence, as it reflects the fluidity and versatility of commercial and political affairs in the changing world of the mercantilism of the 17th century, and the arrival of colonialism in Asia.

The letter, Sloane 3460, has been fully digitised, and is currently on display in the Southeast Asia case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library, alongside other Southeast Asian manuscripts from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane.

With thanks to Li Tana and Geoffrey Wade.

Further reading:

Le Thanh Thuy. “Trade Relations between the United Kingdom and Vietnam in the 17th -19th Centuries,” in Vietnam Social Sciences, No. 3 (161), 2014, pp. 59-73.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese  ccownwork

28 September 2018

Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese version of the Hamzanama

Two copies of Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese story of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, are now available online through the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project.

The story of the warlike and amorous exploits of Amir Hamza, as he and his companions fight against the enemies of Islam, was popular throughout the Muslim world. Many fine illuminated copies of the Persian version, Hamzanama, are known, and shown below is a detail from a large multi-volume copy commissioned in 1562 by the great Mughal emperor Akbar, a task which took 15 years to complete.

Hamzanama V&A-crop
In this illustration, Hamza is deep in coversation with a demon called Hura, unaware that a dragon is approaching from behind rocks to the right. Hamza's close companion, 'Umar Umayya, gesticulates wildly to warn Hamza. Victoria & Albert Museum, IS. 1505-1883

The Hamzanama probably spread throughout Southeast Asia initially in a Malay garb before being translated into other regional languages, including Javanese, Bugis and Makasar. A famous episode in the Malay chronicle of the kingdom of Melaka, the Sulalat al-Salatin or Sejarah Melayu, recounts how the night before Melaka was attacked by the Portuguese in 1511, the nobles ask the Sultan Mahmud Shah for the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah - the bloodthirsty tale of the many battles of Muhammad Hanafiah, a half-brother of the Prophet's grandsons Hasan and Husayn, set in the early days of Islam - to be recited to give them courage. The sultan tested their resolve by suggesting that they did not merit the tale of this great warrior, and offered them instead the Hikayat Amir Hamza as a more appropriate measure of their courage. But the Malay nobles protested and persisted, and finally Sultan Mahmud Shah granted their request for the recital of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah.

While the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah may have been associated with a higher level of valour in Malay tradition, it is the story of Amir Hamza that is far more popular in Javanese literature. In Java, the hero Amir Hamza was granted the ancient Javanese title Menak, and this title is now applied to the whole cycle of Islamic epic tales, which were soon localised according to Javanese literary conventions. Thus in the Menak cycle Amir Hamza is accorded two panakawan companions, Marmaya (based on Amir Hamza's lifelong friend 'Umar Umayya in the Hamzanama) and Marmadi, who are mentors and cunning servants of the hero such as are always found in wayang shadow puppet dramas.

The two Javanese manuscripts which have just been digitised both tell the story of Menak Amir Hamza in the Javanese language, but in two different scripts. MSS Jav 45 is written in Javanese script, derived from an Indian (late southern Brahmi) prototype, and is read from left to right. This manuscript was copied by Mas Ajĕng Wongsaleksana of Jipang, and is dated 9 Rabingulakir, with chronogram panca tri pandita jalma giving the year  in the Javanese era as 1735, equivalent to 4 June A.D. 1808. The text is written in verse and comprises 85 cantos.

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Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese language and script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library, MSS Jav 45, ff. 3v-4r   noc

The second manuscript of Menak Amir Hamza, MSS Jav 72, is written in pegon script, namely Arabic script with the addition of seven letters representing consonantal sounds needed for Javanese but not found in Arabic, and is thus read from right to left. The first two pages are set in decorative frames ruled in black ink, with a diamond superimposed on a rectangle. This is a quintessential Javanese preferred form for double frames, comprising an elegant assemblage of ruled vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. Very similar frames are found in a Javanese Qur’an manuscript also held in the British Library, Add 12343.

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Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese in Arabic script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library, MSS Jav 72, ff. 4v-5r  noc

A third copy of the Menak Amir Hamza from Yogyakarta in the British Library collection, Add. 12309, is also being digitised as part of the current project. From the introduction it is clear that this book was written for Ratu Ageng (c. 1730-1803), a wife of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I and the mother of Hamengku Buwana II, some time after 1792. As this manuscript is perhaps the largest single volume Javanese manuscript known, consisting of over 3000 pages written in pegon script, there are some technical challenges to be overcome before this copy can be made available online, but we hope to publish it soon. Watch this space!

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Menak Amir Hamza with 1520 folios, copied between 1792 and 1812. British Library, Add. 12309

Further reading:

Theodore G. Th.Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols. Volume 1, pp. 212-215.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

24 September 2018

The Queen’s poetry book: Hamidah Banu’s Divan-i Hijri

It is well established that the Mughal royal ladies were highly educated and could read and write in several languages. For example Babur’s daughter Gulbadan wrote her own autobiography (A Mughal princess's autobiography) and Princess Jahanara completed a life of the Sufi saint Muʻin al-Din Chishti (Princess Jahanara’s biography of a Sufi saint). We also know from contemporary sources and inscriptions that they were book collectors with their own libraries. Perhaps the best-known of these was Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani (d. 1604), wife of the Mughal emperor Humayun (r. 1530–40; 1555–56) and mother of the emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605).

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The baby Akbar and his mother Hamidah Banu Maryam Makani, from Abu'l-Fazl's Akbarnāmah. Artists: Sanvala and Narsingh (BL Or.12988, f. 22r )
 http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

The British Library has one of thirteen known manuscripts which belonged to Hamidah Banu (Das, Books and pictures). This is the little-known Dīvān-i Hijrī, a collection of poems composed mostly in honour of Akbar. The author is likely to be one of Akbar’s court poets, Khvajah Hijri who was described by the contemporary historian Bada’uni (Muntakhab al-tavārīkh , vol 3). Hijri was descended from Shaykh Ahmad-i Jam Namaqi, as was Hamidah Banu herself – and this might explain why she had a copy. Bada’uni described him as “very pious, chaste, and pure, and had an angelic disposition.” His dīvān apparently consisted of 5000 couplets of which Bada’uni quotes several long extracts. The British Library copy, consisting of 80 pages each containing a maximum of 17 couplets, is much shorter, but to my knowledge, no other copy is known to compare it with.

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The decorated opening of the Dīvān of Khvajah Hijri, dating from between 1556 and 1560 (BL IO Islamic 791, f. 1v)
http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

Our copy has no colophon but was completed after Humayun’s death in 963 (1556) – as is mentioned in a chronogram –, and presumably before 968 (1560/61), the date of the second of Hamidah’s two seals (see below). It is written in a good calligraphic nastaʻliq hand and many leaves have been dyed yellow, pink and pale blue.

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Preliminary leaf showing Hamidah Banu’s seal with the inscriptions and seals of subsequent librarians and owners (BL IO Islamic 791, f. IIIr)
http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

Hamidah’s twelve-lobed petal-shaped seal is stamped at the front of the volume and reads Ḥamīdah Bānū bint ʻAlī Akbar, 957  ‘Hamidah Banu daughter of ʻAli Akbar, 957 (1550/51)’. It is known to occur on five other manuscripts and was also apparently used as an official seal on documents (Tirmizi, Edicts, pp. 2-10). In contrast, Hamidah’s second seal, dated 968 (1560/61) is square-shaped, inscribed with her name Hamidah Banu Begam and a legend which plays on the two words muhr ‘seal’ and mihr ‘ love’, loosely translated as ‘Let her seal be the love which signifies affection, let her seal be the mirror of the face of good fortune’.

خاتم مهر كه توقيع محبت باشد
مهر او آئینهٔ چهرهٔ دولت باشد

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Left: Hamidah Banu’s seal dated 957 (1550/51), stamped at the front of the Dīvān-i Hijrī (BL IO Islamic 791, f. IIIr)
Right: her later seal dated 968 (1560/61), from the Dīvān-i Shāhī (CBL Per 257, f.1r) © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

This second seal occurs on two of the most valuable manuscripts of the imperial collection both graded as ‘First Class’ [1]: the Khamsah of Navaʼi (RCIN 1005032) and the anthology of Mir ʻAli (NMI 48.6/11). The Dīvān-i Shāhī shown above (CBL Per 257) although only graded as ‘Class two, grade one’ had belonged apparently to Shah ʻAbbas and included the personal inscription of the Emperor Jahangir.

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Inscription recording the transfer of the manuscript from the property of Nawab Maryam-Makani to Mulla ʻAli on the 12th of Mihr Ilahi year 49 (September 1604) (BL IO Islamic 791, f. 40v)
http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c6f873df970b-pi

For a detailed history of these manuscripts as recorded by their seals and librarians’ inscriptions, see John Seyller’s “Inspection and Valuation” (below). It is sufficient here to note that the manuscripts with the earlier seal share many similar features. Three are graded ‘Class three’ and they were all transferred from Hamidah Banu’s library to the care of one Mulla ʻAli in 1604 within a few weeks of her death. In addition they have inspection dates and seals in common which suggest that they may have followed a separate trajectory from the other manuscripts Hamidah Banu is known to have owned.


Further reading
John Seyller, “ The Inspection and Valuation of Manuscripts in the Imperial Mughal Library”, Artibus Asiae 57, No. 3/4 (1997), pp. 243-349.
Asok Kumar Das, “Books and pictures from the Zenana Mahal: the collection of manuscripts of Hamida Banu Begam” in The diverse world of Indian painting: vichitra-viśva : essays in honour of Dr. Vishwa Chander Ohri , eds. Usha Bhatia, Amar Nath Khanna, and Vijay Sharma. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2009, pp. 20-28.
SAI Tirmizi, Edicts from the Mughal harem, Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1979.

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad3ace627200b-pi


[1] The early Mughal emperors categorised their books as ‘Select’, ‘Class one grade one’, ‘Class two’ and ‘Class three’ etc.

21 September 2018

Panji in Javanese manuscripts

Today’s guest blog is by Java specialist Prof. Ann Kumar of the Australian National University.

The legend of the Javanese culture hero Panji has endured longer, spread more widely, and been represented in more genres than any other in Southeast Asia. From its origins in Java it spread across Indonesia to the Malay peninsula, and to mainland Southeast Asia (and, it has been argued, even to Japan). One has to look a long way west for a comparable phenomenon, the closest being the Arthurian legends. The popularity of these two legends from top to bottom of society, over such a large geographical area and over the better part of a millennium, is probably due to two main factors: the idealized picture they present of royal courts, and their focus on heroic battles and romance. As to whether Panji (or Arthur) was actually a historical figure we can only speculate.

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Serat Panji Angronagung Pakualaman, dated 1813. British Library, Add. 12281, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Illustrated in this blog are four Javanese manuscripts containing a range of Panji stories which are being digitised (hyperlinks will go live as each manuscript becomes accessible online). Panji stories have a daunting complexity, with many sub-plots, disguises, and deceptions. The Javanese scholar Poerbatjaraka analysed a large number of Panji texts, classifying them into seven main types, but despite this variety, there is a common structure of master narrative in most of them.

The story of Panji is set in the period following King Airlangga’s 1045 division of the east Javanese realm into two halves, Jenggala (also called Panjalu, with its capital Kuripan) and Kediri (also called Daha). A marriage is envisaged between Panji, Crown Prince of Jenggala, and his peerlessly beautiful and admirable beloved, Candrakirana (‘moonlight’), the daughter of the ruler of Kediri. Complications intervene: rival suitors, enemy attacks, and/or the disappearance of the princess. Panji, in disguise, solves the problem and then reveals himself. Like Panji, the princess too is often disguised, generally as a man. Eventually she reappears as her beautiful self, and she and Panji marry, returning peace and prosperity to the world. Other dramatis personae include the Klana, a ferocious barbarian from overseas who desires Candrakirana; Gunung Sari, Candrakirana’s brother; Ragil Kuning, Panji’s sister who marries Gunung Sari; and Wirun, Kertala and Andaga, young relatives of Panji. There are also panakawan (retainers) and servants.

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The story of Panji Kuda Waneng Pati, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, Add. 12319, ff. 3v-4r  noc

Panji stories written at the Javanese courts display a high level of poetic language. One of the oldest that has survived is the Middle Javanese Wangbang Wideya, where Panji amply lives up to his cognomina jayeng rana, ‘victorious on the battlefield’ and jayeng tilem, ‘victorious in the bedchamber’. But apart from his famous martial and amorous prowess, he also displays a surprising number of other qualities.

The poet depicts him dressed for audience in a cloth (kain) of light red ochre in a South Indian (keling) pattern, with a black pointed tumpal motif, indicating royalty, and wearing a green sash of gilded cloth. His dagger (kris) is inlaid with a design of maids and lovers on a green ground and set with gold and gems, and he wears ear-studs of ivory painted green and decorated in gold, and a red and yellow flower (puspanidra) behind his ear. He is perfumed with fragrant musk and wearing a scented salve.

Panji is not just a dandy – he has many accomplishments. He is depicted painting a picture from a wayang play on a kain for his beloved to embroider; she has never seen such fine workmanship, more like the work of a god than of a mortal. He is also depicted writing a poem, and carving an armband.
He is a skilled gamelan player, and a skilled puppet master or dalang who performs the story of Supraba duta, using the Sanskrit words faultlessly. He is an expert in the sacred books, reflecting the high level of Indian influence in the courts of the period.

Nor is Panji just a handsome, glamorous, accomplished aristocrat – he is also a person of virtues. He is discerning, knowledgeable in letters, unselfish in thought and policy, skilled in considering the innermost feelings of others, generous to the poor, giving shade to those affected by heat, earning the devotion of the leading brahmans. He is unassuming, and gentle. Candrakirana too is beautiful, virtuous and accomplished, and at the beginning of the story has disappeared, in order to practice asceticism in a secluded place. Even allowing for poetic hyperbole, all this suggests a society whose élite were expected to be not just warriors but people of virtue, and accomplished in various arts – not universally the case in the 14th century.

For most Javanese, the Panji stories were known from performances, rather than written texts. Apart from the Indic repertoire which has been most extensively described by Western scholars, there is a second subdivision of wayang kulit  or shadow puppet theatre dedicated to the Panji stories, called wayang gedog. Wayang gedog performances in mid-nineteenth century Gresik were noted by a visitor, Cornets de Groot, who lists a dozen Panji stories (‘Dandang Welis, Kudanarawangsa, angrene, angron akoong, magat-koong, prijembada, prowelas maroe, moerdaningkoong, Djaja koesoema, kalmendang dadang dewa and wahoe djaja’).

MSS Jav 34 (2)
Wayang gedog text, probably from Yogyakarta, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, MSS Jav 34, ff. 5v-6r  noc

In former times, there was also a type of wayang called wayang beber that used cambric scrolls, painted with illustrations of the characters and scenes of the story to be told. The scroll was stretched between two columns, and its story told by a dalang. In Bali, Gambuh - the oldest dance drama developed in 15th century Gelgel - is almost entirely based on Panji stories. The audience of a Panji dance or drama performance would recognize the different characters from the particular mask - called topeng in Javanese and malat in Balinese - worn portraying them.

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Mask (topeng) of Raden Panji, acquired in Java by T.S. Raffles, before 1817. British Museum, As1859,1228.282

MSS Jav 60  (3)

MSS Jav 60  (1)
Volume of fragments of Panji texts, inscribed on the frontispiece by Colin Mackenzie: Cheritra Toppeng, The History of Pandjee of Cooripan, containing an account of the civil wars & of the wars with the Rajahs of Tana Sabrang. British Library, MSS Jav 60, pp. 4-5  noc

Panji and his consort were present in society not only in theatrical performance. At all levels of Javanese society, major milestones in life are marked by prescribed ceremonies. In the ceremony for pregnant women, a ritual object is traditionally inscribed on one side with a drawing of Panji, and on the other one of Candrakirana, expressing the wish that a son might resemble the first, and a daughter the other. And finally, as if these myriad qualities were not enough, in addition to all his other feats and accomplishments Panji was traditionally believed to have invented Javanese theatre, the gamelan and the kris!

Ann Kumar  ccownwork

See Ann Kumar's JAVA WARRIOR WOMAN web page

All the Panji manuscripts illustrated above have been digitised through the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, supported by Mr S P Lohia.

On Malay manuscripts containing Panji tales, see: Panji stories in Malay

 On 21 September 2018, a Symposium on Panji Stories in Manuscripts and Performance will be held at Leiden University Library in the Netherlands.

19 September 2018

‘South Asia Series’, Autumn/Winter 2018

Asia and African Collections at the British Library (BL) are pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in their new 'South Asia Series', October-December 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects from 'Theosophy and Bengali spirituality' to 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the last Mughal emperors'! This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s project ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ and its South Asian collections. The speakers include scholars and academics from the UK and elsewhere who will share their original research followed by an open discussion. The presentations will take place on Mondays at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

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The Bhagavad Gita translated by Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1887) (BL 14065.e.25)
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On 1st October 2018, Mriganka Mukhpadhyay from the University of Amsterdam will talk on theosophy and Bengali spirituality, focusing on the works of Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1858-1936), a member of the Bengal Theosophical Society (from 1882) and a significant member of the Theosophical Movement. His talk 'Theosophy and Bengali Spirituality: Mohini Mohun Chatterji’s Works' will discuss how Chatterji’s translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts, original essays and his public lectures shaped the Western world’s understanding of oriental spirituality. More importantly, as a Bengali theosophist and philosopher, he became a major figure in the history of transcultural spirituality in the modern world. This talk will discuss how Chatterji’s publications created a distinctive identity for modern Hindu spirituality in the Western intellectual world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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Indian Music and Rabindranath Tagore by Arnold Bake (1932?) (BL P/V 2339)
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Moushumi Bhowmik, a singer, writer and music researcher based in Kolkata who works in India, Bangladesh and the UK, will talk about the Bake-in-Bengal archives. In her talk 'The Bake-in-Bengal Archives, and Beyond' on 8th October 2018 she will focus on the works of Arnold Bake both in the British Library Sound archives as well as from her fieldwork experiences in Bengal in collaboration with audiographer Sukanta Majumdar. In this presentation Moushumi will talk about the fascinating sonic maps of Bengal, their process of map-making, tracing contour lines from listening and recording, to listening to recordings, and to recording the act of listening. The talk addresses several questions including what was at the source of the motion: the Bake-in Bengal archives scattered in many places, or what lies beyond?

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A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony, British Resident to the Mughal court 1803–06 and 1818–25, watching a nautch in his house in Delhi (c. 1820) (BL Add. Or. 2)
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On 22nd October 2018, Katherine Butler Schofield, a historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the colonial Indian Ocean based in King’s College London will take us through the financial accounts of the East India Company that are alive with details of music and dance in Jaipur state in nineteenth century India.  Her talk 'Mayalee Dancing Girl versus the East India Company' will focus on a particular musician who stands out in these accounts as an exceptional, Mayalee “dancing girl”, an important courtesan. Little exculpatory notes in the margins of successive accounts reveal that Mayalee successfully resisted the Company’s attempt to force her to give up her salt stipend in exchange for cash. This talk looks at what official British records yield about Indian musicians and especially courtesans.

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I Spy with My Little Eye by Humphry House, Calcutta 1937 (BL P/T 2530)

On 5th November 2018 we have Supriya Chaudhuri, Professor Emerita, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, who will talk about a modernist community in 1930s Calcutta formed around the literary journal Parichay. The Parichay group included not only writers and artists, but also scientists, historians, politicians, philosophers, and spies. Its contacts extended to a number of disaffected colonialists in Calcutta: the geologist John Bicknell Auden, brother of the poet Wystan, the Dickens and Hopkins scholar Humphry House, the colonial official Michael Carritt, ICS, and Michael Scott, Chaplain to the Bishop of Calcutta, the last two being spies for the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this talk entitled 'Modernist Communities in 1930s Calcutta: Print, Politics and Surveillance', she will trace the network of connections through the Parichay archives, through other digitized records held at Jadavpur University, and through British Library holdings (for example Michael Carritt’s papers).

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(Secret) Government of Bengal: Home Department Political: District Officer’s Chronicle of Events of Disturbances, August 1942-March 1943 (BL IOR/R/3/1/358: 1943)
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Anwesha Roy, Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of History, King’s College London will focus on the years 1940-1942 before the Quit India Movement in Bengal in her talk 'Prelude to Quit India in Bengal: War Rumours and Revolutionary Parties, 1940-42' on 12th November 2018. She will discuss how war-time colonial state policies created annoying disruptions and intrusions in various ways in the day-to-day lives of the people of Bengal, building up mass discontent up to the edge, which, coupled with war rumours, reconfigured the image of the colonial state in Bengal. This talk taps into the psyche of the colonised mind, which was increasingly and collectively coming to see the hoax of British invincibility in the face of serious reverses in the Eastern Front and Japanese victories.

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Bodhan by Kazi Nazrul Islam in the periodical Moslem Bharat (1920) (BL 14133.k.2)
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On 20th November 2018, Ahona Panda, doctoral candidate, University of Chicago, will focus on the National Poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam in her talk 'Kazi Nazrul Islam and the Partition of Bengal: A Language of Unity, a Language of Loss'. This talk will explore how Nazrul tried to create a new Bengali language single-handedly. Using a large number of periodicals from the British Library’s collection, and drawing from extensive research in Bangladesh, this talk reconstructs Nazrul’s early years in journalism in which as writer and editor, he forged a new literary register for the Bengali Muslim community and crafted a political language that was anti-separatist, socialist whilw referring to a philological landscape including centuries of Islamic and Hindu literary traditions. The talk will conclude with how Nazrul found new life in the language movement in East Pakistan in the 1950s, in the years leading up to the Liberation War of 1971.

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Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant, chief hereditary musician to the last of the Mughal emperors Akbar Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar. From James Skinner’s Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Hansi (near Delhi) (1825) (BL Add. 27,255, f. 134v)
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We end our autumn/winter talks for 2018 with Katherine Butler Schofield from King’s College London talking about musicians in the Mughal court in her talk 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the Last Mughal Emperors' on 3rd December 2018. This talk focusses on contemporary Indian writings on and a portrait of Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1845), chief hereditary musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r. 1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–58). In this talk she will also make sense of the divergence of these competing lineages of musical knowledge in Persian, Urdu and English c. 1780–1850, by considering them side by side. It will show how viewing proto-ethnographic paintings and writings against a remarkable new wave of music treatises c. 1793–1853 reveal an incipient indigenous modernity running in parallel with colonial knowledge in the most authoritative centres of Hindustani music production, Delhi and Lucknow.

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

Priyanka Basu, Project Cataloguer of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad35bc1f1200c-pi

 

17 September 2018

15,000 images of Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta now online

The Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, generously supported by Mr S P Lohia, aims to digitise 75 manuscripts from Yogyakarta now held in the British Library, and provide free online access through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Full sets of the digital images will also be presented to the Archives and Libraries Board of Yogyakarta (Badan Arsip dan Perpustakaan DIY) and to the National Library of Indonesia (Perpusnas) in Jakarta. Six months after the official launch of the project at the British Library on 20 March 2018 by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, over 15,000 images from 35 manuscripts are now accessible digitally, with all 75 manuscripts scheduled for full online publication by March 2019.

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Opening pages of Bratayuda kawi miring, copied by Wongsadirana of Tanggung, probably before 1797. British Library, MSS Jav 4, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Shown above is one of the newly-digitised manuscripts, a copy of Bratayuda kawi miring (MSS Jav 4), the 18th-century retelling in modern Javanese of the Bratayuda, the Old Javanese version of the Mahabharata composed in the 11th century. Other manuscripts now accessible online, pictured below, are historical works such as Serat Sakondar (Add 12289) recounting the coming of the Dutch to Java; Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang (Add 12310), containing ethical and mystical instruction interwoven with the story of the wanderings of Prince Jayalengkara; and a primbon, a personal compilation of texts on religious matters, often of an esoteric nature (Add 12311). The 75 manuscripts to be digitised were identified by Prof. Merle Ricklefs as originating from Yogyakarta, and include 61 manuscripts believed to have been taken from the library of the Kraton of Yogyakarta by the British in 1812. For a full list of the manuscripts to be digitised, click here.

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Serat Sakondar. British Library, Add 12289, ff. 2v-3r Noc

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Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang. British Library, Add 12310, ff. 5v-6r Noc

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Punika sĕrat Primbon Palintangan Palindon Pakĕdutan. British Library, Add 12311, ff. 139v-140r Noc

Over the past few months, conservators, photographers, curators and digital technicians have been hard at work on the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project. Conservator Jessica Pollard has checked every single manuscript, ensuring the volumes can be opened for photography without causing any damage. Creased pages have been flattened, tears repaired and bindings secured, to enable the manuscript to be digitised safely. 

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Left: Jessica Pollard at work in the British Library Conservation Centre; Right: repairing a tear across a drawing of a wayang figure.

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Top image: severe insect damage in a manuscript of Javanese wayang texts; bottom image: the same manuscript, after repair by Jessica. British Library, MSS Jav 20

From the Conservation Centre the manuscripts go on to Carl Norman in the Imaging Studios for photography. Each page is arranged to lie as flat as possible, with the rest of the book secured by velcro-bands, and with the spine supported adequately. Due to the complications of mounting the manuscript, Carl first photographs all the left-hand pages, and then turns the volume round and photographs all the right-hand pages. When the whole volume has been photographed, the images are interfiled, so the pages can be read in sequence.

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Carl checking the focus on the camera, with a Javanese manuscript set up for photography.

Many Javanese manuscripts have scribal or editorial corrections or amendments, which are sometimes written on separate pieces of paper which are then sewn onto the page at the intended point of insertion. Such pages present a real challenge for Carl: in order to photograph the manuscript so that all the text is legible, the page has to be photographed several times, with the sewn-on inserts folded in different directions to reveal the lines underneath.

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Bratayuda kawi miring, 1797: f. 266v has an insert sewn onto the left hand page, and Carl has had to photograph this page three times in total, in order to show all the text. British Library, MSS Jav 4, f. 266v Noc

The images are then passed on to Project Assistant Kate Thomas for quality assurance. Kate checks each digital image, looking at consistency of colour and ensuring that the sequence of images displays correctly. Occasionally she may find that one page has been missed out, or a stray hair might have fallen across the page during photography, and so the manuscript will need to be retrieved and sent back to Carl for the required pages to be re-photographed. Finally, the images are linked up with the catalogue entry, and the manuscript is ‘published’ to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website, where it can be read in full, online, all over the world.

Kate
Kate Thomas checking the quality of all the images of each Javanese manuscript, before publishing the manuscript online.

Once the manuscript is live, the project page is updated, and the news disseminated through social media, including the British Library Asian and African Studies Blog, Facebook (Annabel Gallop) and Twitter @BLMalay. So do subscribe to our blog, and follow us for the latest updates!

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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