THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

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

05 August 2019

Charles Wilkins as a type designer: hand drawn Modi script

Today’s guest blogger is Komal Pande, who was the Charles Wallace Trust Fellow at the British Library from February to May 2019. Komal is also the Assistant Curator for Numismatics and Epigraphy at the National Museum in New Delhi.

As part of my research fellowship in the Visual Arts section, I had the opportunity to research and arrange as a set of hand-drawn Modi letters. Modi, is the vernacular script used to write the Marathi language spoken predominantly in Maharashtra, India. The Peshwas, the ruling class of the Maratha empire from the mid-17th to early 19th centuries, used Modi script for administrative purposes ‘as preserved in the many parcels (rumals) of official documents in the Maharashtra State Archives in Mumbai’. Marathi merchants also used the script for their business transactions. In 1917, Modi was replaced with Devanagari. Since few people can read Modi, these hand-drawn letters are important to India’s vernacular cultural past. The orientalist Sir Charles Wilkins (1749-1836) prepared this set of Modi letters in the early 1800s.

Image showing four examples of Modi script on seperate cards
Cards with the Modi script for vowels, British Libary, Foster 5702

Wilkins, an employee of the East India Company, was assigned as the superintendent of the Company’s factories in Malda (western Bengal) from 1770. Wilkins studied a range of languages and became proficient in Sanskrit, Bengali and Persian. Based on his expertise and knowledge of Bengali, the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings commissioned Wilkins ‘to undertake a set of Bengal types’. Wilkins manufactured a set of metal printing founts or typefaces, that could be used to mechanical print the Bengali language as exemplified in Nathanial Halhed’s instructional volume, A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hoogly, 1778). Wilkins returned to England in 1786.

The set of sixty-nine hand-drawn Modi letters was prepared after Wilkins returned to England. According to Graham Shaw (formerly, Head of Asian and African Collections, British Library), ‘they may well be associated with [Wilkins] connection to the East India Company’s Haileybury College from 1805, perhaps to be used in printing text-books for the Company’s new recruits to learn the Modi script’.

Each card features one Modi letter: its transliteration in English and Hindi written below it, making the cards bi or trilingual. A card may contain vowels or consonants, along with some variations of half, conjunct and compound consonants. While each card measures approximately 75 x 25mm,  slight variations can be noticed in width of these cards. While the vowels and consonants are of similar size, the half letter cards are written on narrower pieces of card. The cards for the compound consonants are broader to accommodate the form and clarity of the fount.

An example, showing the difference in the width of the cards, British Library, Foster 5702.
An example, showing the difference in the width of the cards, British Library, Foster 5702.

The letters are written in black ink. The calligraphy on these cards is particularly intriguing as its purpose is more utilitarian than ornamental. The stylization of these letters was created to understand the fount in three dimensions, as these cards were prepared as functional typeface that had the potential to be used for creating matrices and punches.

Interestingly, the set also includes some blank, unfinished and cancelled cards. These cards are as important as the complete cards, as they elucidate Wilkins’ method of scribing. On the card, the pencil rules were drawn in the upper centre creating a space for the Modi letter. Since the card was to be bi or trilingual, keeping Modi as the prime script, a Modi letter of 35x25 mm dimensions was drawn in pencil. Once the form of the letter was decided, the outline was made in ink and its transliterations was scribed under the letter. Finally, the outlines of the letter were filled in black ink giving it dimension and volume. Most of the complete cards show, voluminous Modi letter in the centre along with its transliteration in small Devanagari and Roman scripts for the purpose of identification of each letter.

Alongside the process of scribing, it is equally interesting to study the method of corrections carried out by Wilkins. A few of the cards in the set show the process of how the corrections were made on the inscribed Modi letters. These include correcting the form of the letters and reflect how the three dimensionality of the letter was rectified by adjusting angles and curves by scraping off all imperfections. The cancelled signs, the scalpel marks and the pencil ruled lines inform us of Wilkins’ efforts to achieve perfect typefaces.   

According to Graham Shaw, ‘as far as it is known, no work was ever printed using a Wilkins Modi fount. When James Robert Ballantyne published his A grammar of the Mahratta language’ in Edinburgh in 1839 (for use at Haileybury), he noted in the preface “The lithographic press has been employed because no fount of Mahratta [i.e. Modi] types was to be found in London”. The only other early Modi fount cast was at the Serampore Mission Press in Bengal, used in 1808 to print the second edition of the Baptist Missionary William Carey’s A grammar of the Mahratta language’ (after criticism for the use of the Devanagari script in the 1805 first edition.’

Further reading:

Ross, F. and Shaw, G. (2003) 'An unexpected legacy and its contribution to early Indian typography', in: Randle, J. and Berry, J. (eds.) Type and typography: highlights from Matrix. Mark Batty Publisher, New Jersey, pp. 169-181

With thanks to Graham Shaw for his invaluable comments for this blog post.

01 August 2019

From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans with spurious colophons

Over the past two decades, a number of unusual and impressive Qur’an manuscripts have come to light, some with colophons recording places of production in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone. This corpus of manuscripts was introduced and discussed in detail in my 2008 article ‘From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines’, published in the St. Petersburg-based journal Manuscripta Orientalia. In that study, I presented 14 Qur’an manuscripts with a shared and highly distinctive codicological profile, six of which had colophons recording Southeast Asian toponyms.

Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r
Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r
Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r Noc

It was through the publications and kind advice of Prof. Amri Shikhsaidov that I had been able to identify all these ‘Brunei-Philippines’ Qur’ans as deriving from the manuscript culture of Daghistan, in the Caucasus region of Russia.  But how could the Southeast Asian colophons be accounted for? From an examination of the historical record, I concluded that there were just enough traces of linkages - for example, a Daghistani scholar in Mecca in the late 19th century is known to have taught Southeast Asian Muslims - to imagine “a historical, theological and cultural contex within which the prospect of a Daghistani scribe producing a Qur’an in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone in the 18th or early 19th century is logically plausible, without, it must be admitted, a single piece of firm supporting evidence from Southeast Asia itself, other than the colophons of the six Qur’an manuscripts” (Gallop 2008: 49). At this point, I also faced up squarely to consider the question of forgery, and in particular, whether the colophons may have been tampered with or added to at some subsequent date, but on the basis of a close visual examination, concluded that there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the colophons. 

Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r
Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r Noc Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r
Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r Noc

Very soon after the publication of my 2008 article, however, I arrived at the opposite conclusion, namely that the colophons linking these Daghistani manuscripts to Southeast Asia must all be spurious (but very expertly done!) recent additions.  One major problem that I faced in 2008 was the lack of authentic comparative material, for not a single Qur’an manuscript from the Philippines or Brunei had then been published. But over the past decade, 17 Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao have now been documented, held both in the Philippines (Kawashima 2012) and in U.S. collections (Gallop 2011).  All of these Mindanao Qur’ans relate to broader Southeast Asian schools of manuscript art, but display no artistic or codicological linkages at all with the Daghistani Qur’ans. Another factor which tipped the already tenuous balance of probability was the relentlessly increasing number of such Qur’an manuscripts emerging onto the market.

Decorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848BDecorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848B

Thus far, my conclusions had been based purely on contextual evidence. Fortunately, with the assistance of Prof. Haida Liang, Head of Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art history and Conservation (ISAAC) at the School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University (NTU), I was recently able to test my hypothesis scientifically. On 14 February 2018, two Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library with Southeast Asian colophons (Or 15913 and Or 16058, both now fully digitised) underwent multispectral imaging by my BL colleague imaging scientist Dr Christina Duffy, and the resulting images were then analysed by Liang’s MA student Luke Butler and research fellow Dr Sotiria Kogou at ISAAC.

Or 16058 is a Qur'an manuscript written in a bold, confident hand with the calligraphic verve and even swagger typical of the Daghistani tradition, on Russian paper with a variety of embossed stamps in Cyrillic script of the paper-making factories (for example, Fabriki / Nasledekov / Sumkino / No.7 on f. 296r).  The colophon on f.546r is dated duhā Rabi‘ al-āwal 1237 (midday in November/December 1821) and mentions the name Mūsā bin Muhammad al-Ra’īs al-Jakkī al-Hakārī and the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). In this manuscripts, multispectral imaging of the colophon, written in black ink, did not deliver significant results in terms of any differentiation with the black ink of the surrounding or preceding text.

Final pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546rFinal pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546r Noc

Detail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546rDetail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546r Noc

The second manuscript, Or. 15913, yielded more spectacular results (as first reported in Gallop 2017). This manuscript is written on Russian laid paper, watermarked with the date 1795 and Cyrillic letters BUFSAGP, standing for bumashnaia uglichskaia fabrika soderzhatelia Aleksandra Grigor’evicha Pereiaslavtseva, a paper factory in Uglich, north of Moscow.  On the final page a colophon statement, set within an illuminated panel, reads kataba hādhā al-mukarram Zayn al-Dīn fī ?Ahūmū fī madinat fī Sabah min al-mamālik al-Burūnawiyyah fī Ramadān sanat khamsīn wa-alf <wa-mi’at>, ‘This was written by the honoured Zayn al-Dīn in ?Ahūmū in a town in Sabah, one of the kingdoms of Brunei, in Ramadan of the year one thousand and fifty <and one hundred>’, giving a date (1150 AH=1737/8 AD) which postdates the date of manufacture of the paper. 

Following analysis of the multispectral images, while the pigments surrounding the colophon appear to be identical with those elsewhere on the page to the naked eye, the near infrared (1050nm) band image shows a clear difference. As explained by the ISAAC team, both the application of principal component analysis (PCA) and the independent component analysis (ICA) on the spectral images, and the spectral comparison between the green areas in the colophon and those elsewhere on the page, show a clear difference in the material composition, and these results support the suggestion that the colophon panel was added to the manuscript at a later date. While spectral imaging cannot give a firm dating for this later addition, it does confirm that the colophon is not an integral part of the original manuscript.

Fig.20-BL Or.15913  f. (28)
Final page of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. Set into a decorative panel at the bottom is the colophon stating that the manuscript was copied in Sabah, part of Brunei. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v Noc
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v

In the continuing absence of any other supporting evidence from within the Southeast Asian manuscript tradition, I would suggest that all other 'Southeast Asian' colophons in Daghistani manuscripts are equally spurious modern additions. This lengthy expose - made possible thanks to the wonderful collaboration of Haida Liang and her team at ISAAC, NTU - is important due to the incalculable threat posed to scholarship and our understanding of the Islamic manuscript traditions of Southeast Asia through the circulation of such 'rogue' manuscripts, skilfully implanted into areas with relatively poorly-studied writing cultures, and from which few manuscripts have ever been published.

Moreover, it is ironic to note that although the Southeast Asian colophons were evidently added for commercial reasons to enhance the perceived monetary value of these manuscripts, the Daghistani Qur'ans themselves are in fact intrinsically valuable as fine examples of an impressive but little-known Islamic calligraphic tradition from the Caucasus, and are worthy of being appreciated as such in their own right. Thus the British Library is now happy to find itself the proud possessor of an important research collection of ten Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts, and these will be explored in a future blog. 

References

A.T. Gallop, From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines. I-II.  Manuscripta Orientalia, 14 (1), June 2008, pp.32-56; 14 (2), December 2008, pp.3-20.
A.T. Gallop, Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao in U.S. Collections. Islamic manuscripts from the Philippines in U.S. collections: a preliminary listing, including two printed Qur’ansOur own voice, April 2011. 
A.T. Gallop, Fakes or fancies? some 'problematic' Islamic manuscripts from Southeast AsiaManuscript cultures, 2017, 10: 101-128.
Kawashima Midori (ed.), The Qur’an and Islamic manuscripts of Mindanao.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian Cultures, Sophia University, 2012.
A. Shikhsaidov, Muslim treasures of Russia.  II: Manuscript collections of Daghistan.  Part II,  Manuscripta Orientalia,  13.1 ( 2007), pp. 25-61.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

With thanks to Christina Duffy, BL, and Haida Liang, Sotiria Kogou and Luke Butler, ISAAC, NTU

25 July 2019

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo, British Library astronomy manuscripts in new visual forms

The Iranian-American artist Pantea Karimi’s recent solo exhibition Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo at the Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland, California, USA, was inspired by a study of several of the British Library’s scientific manuscripts which she reviewed during an extended visit in 2018. In this guest blog she speaks about this process and her work.

Two ancient manuscripts in the British Library drew my special attention and formed the foundation for my exhibition: the 17th century Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo’s De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris (Add MS 22786) and the 11th century Persian astronomer Biruni’s Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm (Or. 8349). My multimedia works in the exhibition explore an ancient and enduring fascination with the moon in science, culture and language, while simultaneously celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission.

Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v
Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v Noc

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46   Noc

My completed works are large scale digital illustrations combining the abstract lunar diagrams with images of the Moon taken on my cell phone from a hill in California, as well as archival images from the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969. They are printed on fabric, and titled Moongraph, 01, 02, and 03. Other similarly inspired diagrams and images of the surface of the Moon have been combined with verses of Persian poetry and printed on circular pieces of metal in various sizes. They are presented in an installation on a grey geometric background that references the Moon and its phases. I believe that illustrating abstract ideas, as was done in these early diagrams, indicates how they were used as an important tool to visualize early science and pass down these ideas to later generations.

My exposure to these manuscripts from the early pioneers of astronomy has allowed my artistic interpretation of the science of astronomy. However, it was Persian poetry and its playful use of metaphor that first sparked my imagination and interest in the moon. As a child I was an avid reader of science fiction, especially Jules Verne novels translated into Persian.

The exhibition in many ways revisits my childhood obsession with the moon: from my compositions and illustrations, to the use of medieval Persian poetry that presents the moon metaphorically and symbolically. Verses by poets Attar Nishapuri, Nezami Ganjavi, and poet-scientist Omar Khayyam are included.

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019

Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet
Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet

Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA
Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA

TThe Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail
The Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail

From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.
From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.

Pantea Karimi’s work as a multi-disciplinary artist centers around visual representations and textual contents in medieval Persian and Arab and early modern European scientific manuscripts in five categories: mathematics, medicinal botany, anatomy, optics/astronomy and cartography. This recent research project has further broadened her interest in the long-term exchange of knowledge across these cultures. She specifically examines how illustrations in ancient scientific manuscripts played a role in communicating knowledge, and how the broader aesthetic considerations of science were closely linked to art. Her work collectively highlights the significance of visual elements in early science and invites the viewer to observe science and its history through the process of image-making. Karimi works with interactive installations, virtual reality, silkscreen and digital prints on various substrates. She moved from Iran to the UK to study and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005.

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo will be exhibited in the Fall of 2019 at the Euphrat Museum of Art in De Anza College in Cupertino, California, USA.

Pantea Karimi Ccownwork

Pantea Karimi wishes to thank the British Library and staff for the opportunity to view and study the scientific manuscripts in their care.

For more information visit: www.panteakarimi.com
@panteakarimiart
@Karimipantea

22 July 2019

African cosmologies in the British Library’s collections

It’s summer again, if briefly, and once more we have had the great pleasure of hosting the annual Africa Writes festival (5–7 July 2019) here at the British Library.

The Africa Writes festival
The Africa Writes festival

Among the gems of this year’s festival was an invitation to ‘Reimagine the gods’, in the company of writers Inua Ellams and Sitawa Namwalie, whose creative works have been inspired by deities and beliefs from Nigeria and Kenya, and academic Louisa Egbunike. I was both pleased and intrigued to be asked to open this panel with a short introduction to the British Library’s collections on African cosmologies. This is of course a huge subject, encompassing a very wide range of belief systems, and going far beyond what is classified as ‘religion’ in European terms. The holistic nature of African thought has meant that relationships between gods, spirits and people, and the dead and the living, were and are woven into everyday practices and a wide variety of rituals. 

So what does the British Library have on this subject? The answer, as ever, is ‘rather a lot’. To illustrate the kind of material we have, I’m focusing here on the theme of the Yoruba gods and other religious practices.

Illustration of Ifá divination from the memoir of a missionary. Charles Andrew Gollmer, Charles Andrew Gollmer, his life and missionary labours in West Africa (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1889). British Library, 4888.b.64.
Illustration of Ifá divination from the memoir of a missionary. Charles Andrew Gollmer, Charles Andrew Gollmer, his life and missionary labours in West Africa (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1889). British Library, 4888.b.64 Noc

The Yoruba deities of Nigeria and Benin belong to one of the most famous African religions. The gods (òrìṣàs) include among their number Òrúnmila, god of wisdom and divination; Ògún, god of war, iron, the hunt and the road; and Èṣù, the trickster-god. They were and are part of a wider set of beliefs and practices including the Gẹ̀lẹ̀dẹ́ masquerade, which ensured the fertility and well-being of the community by focusing on women, and a system of divination called Ifá.

Ifá divination cups. Published in Und Afrika sprach (The voice of Africa), an account of a 1910–12 expedition to Nigeria led by the German ethnographer and archaeologist Leo Frobenius. With numerous illustrations by Carl Arriens. Leo Frobenius, Und Afrika sprach, vol. 1 (Berlin, 1912, 13). British Library, 10094.pp.9.
Ifá divination cups. Published in Und Afrika sprach (The voice of Africa), an account of a 1910–12 expedition to Nigeria led by the German ethnographer and archaeologist Leo Frobenius. With numerous illustrations by Carl Arriens. Leo Frobenius, Und Afrika sprach, vol. 1 (Berlin, 1912, 13). British Library, 10094.pp.9. Noc

The British Library collections include, as you might expect, accounts of Yoruba rituals and beliefs, as well as images of items used in religious practice, made by Europeans in West Africa before and during the colonial period.

Carved Yoruba temple panels. Leo Frobenius, Und Afrika sprach, vol. 2 (Berlin, 1912, 13). British Library, 10094.pp.9.
Carved Yoruba temple panels. Leo Frobenius, Und Afrika sprach, vol. 2 (Berlin, 1912, 13). British Library, 10094.pp.9. Noc

The early writings of Europeans are of course often problematic and biased – missionaries in particular saw African religion as ‘heathenism’ – and the image of Africa and Africans they portray is often negative or inaccurate. Europeans also, generally speaking, benefited from unequal power relationships which facilitated their research and (in some cases) collecting. Nevertheless, when read with a critical eye, many of the works of such observers remain important, if always debateable, sources of knowledge on these subjects.

On the west coast of Africa, a Western-educated African elite flourished, and published books, from the mid-19th century. For example, the Rev. E.M. Lijadu (1862–1926), writing in the early 20th century, was a figure of major importance in recognising and promoting Yoruba religious beliefs and practices. We hold several of his titles in Yoruba.

5a Lijadu 884.g.22 Title page and dedication of E. Moses Lijadu, Ǫrûnmla! Nipa (Nottingham: S. Richards, 1908). British Library, 884.g.22
Title page and dedication of E. Moses Lijadu, Ǫrûnmla! Nipa (Nottingham: S. Richards, 1908). British Library, 884.g.22  Noc

Oral texts were and are central to Yoruba religious practices, as in other African religions. The BL’s collections are very strong in this respect. Among other things, we hold recordings made by academics based at Nigerian universities in the 1960s and 1970s.

Peggy Harper specialised in dance, and a clip from her film (with Frank Speed) of a Gẹ̀lẹ̀dẹ́ ritual is online here. The recording below of a group of male priests (babalawo), led by Ayotunde Aworinde, was made by Robert Armstrong at the University of Ibadan in 1965, and transcribed and translated with Val Oyeyemi and other Nigerian colleagues.

C85s/1-3 Babalawo recording by Robert Armstrong
British Library, Robert Armstrong Collection. C85/1–3

With the independence of Nigeria in 1960, and the rise of a strong university sector, academics and others increasingly published on aspects of Nigerian culture, including religion.

Wande Abimbọla (ed.), Yoruba oral tradition (Ile-Ife: Department of African Languages and Literature, University of Ife, 1975) YA.1989.a.1808. [Copyright: the authors]
Wande Abimbọla (ed.), Yoruba oral tradition (Ile-Ife: Department of African Languages and Literature, University of Ife, 1975) YA.1989.a.1808. [Copyright: the authors]

Generally speaking, we hold many relevant works produced by the academic sector, in Nigeria, the UK, the West, and many other places, as well as works by scholars and commentators from beyond the academy. Anthropologists were particularly important in recording religious practices. Most of these texts are in English and other European languages, but there is also a significant number in Yoruba. We also hold books, articles and journals about the migration of Yoruba religion to the Americas, where it was re-established by enslaved people in systems such as Candomblé in Brazil.

7Pierre Verger, Orixas: 38 desenhos dé Carybée, ill. Carybé (Bahia: Livraria Progresso Editora, 1955) 10 W20/5527. Temas de Candomblé, ill. Carybé (Bahia: Livraria Progresso Editora, 1955) 9 W20/5525. [Copyright: the authors and illustrator]
Pamphlets showing aspects of Candomblé in Brazil.
Pierre Verger, Orixas: 38 desenhos dé Carybée, ill. Carybé (Bahia: Livraria Progresso Editora, 1955) 10 W20/5527.
Temas de Candomblé, ill. Carybé (Bahia: Livraria Progresso Editora, 1955) 9 W20/5525. 
[Copyright: the authors and illustrator]

Artistic interventions have been a popular way of engaging with ideas about the gods. Wole Soyinka’s poem Idanre, which takes inspiration from the god Ògún, was commissioned for the Commonwealth Arts Festival of 1965, of which we hold the papers. These include Soyinka’s typescript, together with his autograph revisions, drawings and musical directions. The manuscript is unusual in that we do not hold many original documents by African writers. We do, however, have a very extensive collection of published works of fiction, drama and poetry, as well as books illustrating and analysing responses in the visual arts.

Book of poems in Spanish, published in Cuba, on the theme of the Yoruba gods and Ifá divination.Frank Upierre Casellas, Tablero de Ifá (Ciudad Habana: Ediciones Extramuros, 1994) RF.2015.a.1611
Book of poems in Spanish, published in Cuba, on the theme of the Yoruba gods and Ifá divination.
Frank Upierre Casellas, Tablero de Ifá (Ciudad Habana: Ediciones Extramuros, 1994) RF.2015.a.16
[Copyright: the author and illustrator]

The Yoruba material is only one example of our very rich collections relevant to this subject, published across the world, and crossing many disciplines. Scholarship on Yoruba belief systems is particularly extensive, but for most subjects it’s likely that the researcher will find information.

It is also worth remembering that there are many, very different, forms of religious belief in Africa. If investigating, for example, the beliefs and rituals of the Khoe and San people of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, researchers would want to look at older and new material – the new often in dialogue with the old – and think about the ways in which archaeology, rock art studies, history and anthropology come together. Trance rituals, for example, are represented in rock art. Our sound collections in this field are rich – see for example the Emmanuelle Olivier collection. Researchers could also look at publications from organisations representing Khoesan people, as well as engagements through literature and the visual arts.

Finally, to research our collections:
• For published material see our main catalogue. To view material in our Reading Rooms, you will need a reader pass.
• For audio-visual collections, see also the specialist sound and moving image catalogue and this guide to accessing the collections.
• For general guidance, the Africa subject page is a good place to start. For more research advice see also this blog.
• For West Africa, see the West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song web pages.

References

Robert Armstrong, Iyere Ifá: the deep chants of Ifá (Ibadan: Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, 1978)

Insa Nolte, ‘Spirit: Histories of Religion and the Word’, West Africa, Word, Symbol, Song (London: British Library, 2015–16)

Jacob K. Olupona, ‘The study of Yoruba religious tradition in historical perspective’, Numen, 40, 3 (1993), 240–73

J. David Lewis-Williams and Sam Challis, Deciphering ancient minds: the mystery of San bushman rock art (London: Thames & Hudson, 2011)

Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, Africa Ccownwork

18 July 2019

The first Iranian newspaper: Mirza Salih Shirazi’s Kaghaz-i akhbar

Todays guest blogger is Borna Izadpanah, PhD Candidate, University of Reading. Borna is a typeface designer and researcher based in London. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading working on the history of typographic representation of the Persian language.

Fig 1_Mirza Salih  Fig 1_Mirza Salih
Left: the 1829 lithographed portrait of Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ Shīrāzī by Karl von Hampeln. Courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; right: the 1868 statue by John Henry Foley of Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ Shīrāzī in the Asia group of the Albert Memorial, Kensington Garden. Photo by the author

In 1837, the first Iranian newspaper was published in Tehran by Mīrzā Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ Shīrāzī, one of five students dispatched to England under the patronage of the crown prince ʻAbbās Mīrzā with the mission to acquire a knowledge of modern European sciences. Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ kept a journal of his time in England that lasted from 1815 to 1819, a manuscript of which is currently held at the British Library (BL Add. 24,034).

Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ’s journal reveals significant information regarding his interest in the ‘art of printing’, which led him to an apprenticeship under an English printer and typefounder (most likely Richard Watts). He also recorded an account of his encounter with newspapers in London. Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ translated the word newspaper into Kāghaz-i akhbār [literary news-paper]. Perhaps, for this reason, Kāghaz-i akhbār (and often Akhbār-i vaqāyiʿ [news of events]) is used in most sources to refer to his untitled newspaper.

Fig 3_Journal_2000
Folio 133r of the manuscript copy of Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ’s travelogue containing information concerning his encounter with newspapers in London (BL Add. 24,034). Public domain

Before his return to Iran in 1819, Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ, with the help of Richard Watts, purchased a typographic press to be shipped to Iran. Later he established a lithographic press in Tabriz, with a press and equipment that were imported from Russia. A single copy of the first publication from the latter press, a lithographed Qurʼān (Ramaḍān 1249/1834), has only recently come to light and is now preserved at the Majlis Library in Tehran.

Fig 4_MS Seal_2000
Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ’s seal which reads al-Wathiq al-rajī Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ ‘confident and hopeful [of the forgiveness of the God] Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ' (National Archive FO 60/23). Courtesy of the National Archives, UK.

A few years later, Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ published a newspaper in Tehran under the royal decree of Muḥammad Shāh Qājār. Initially a lithographed Ṭalīʿa [pre-publication advice] of this newspaper appeared between 29 December 1836 and 8 January 1837. In 1945, the Persian journal Yādigār published the entire content of the Ṭalīʿa, the only known copy of which was reportedly in the possession of Ḥāj Muḥammad Āqā Nakhjavānī. According to this Ṭalīʿa, one of the main missions of this monthly newspaper was to educate and inform the residents of the mamālik-i maḥrūsa-i īrān [the guarded domain of Iran] about the news of the Eastern and Western nations. This newspaper was to be distributed to different parts of the country (See Yādigār, 1945).

In 1839, the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society published an article entitled ‘Persian newspaper and translation’ in which the entire content of Kāghaz-i Akhbār from Muḥarram 1253 (7 April - 6 May 1837) was printed with movable type followed by an English translation. This article also provided a brief description of the newspaper and its editor: lithographed and printed at Tehran … under the editorship of Mirza Salih, one of the public secretaries of H. M. the Shah of Persia … two large folios, printed on one side only; it is closely written in a plain hand, and is surmounted by the Persian emblem of the Lion and Sun’ (JRAS, 1839, p. 355). Unfortunately no copy of this newspaper survives today in the archive of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.

Fig 5_JRAS_2000
The typeset reproduction of Kāghaz-i akhbār from Muḥarram 1253 (7 April - 6 May 1837), Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1839). Public domain

Also, in 1839, Richard Wilbraham in his Travels in the Trans-Caucasian Provinces of Russia reported that ‘a lithographic press has been established of late year in Tehran … within the past year a newspaper has been printed in the capital’ (Wilbraham, 1839, p. 46).

Perhaps the first Persian source that mentioned an existing copy of the Kāghaz-i akhbār was an article entitled ‘Gāzit-i āntīka-yi īrān’ [antique Iranian gazette] in the Persian newspaper Akhtar, printed in Istanbul in 1876. According to this report, an ‘Iranian merchant’, had provided Akhtar with an imperfect copy (lacking the first page) of ‘an antique Iranian gazette’ from approximately 40 years earlier, which contained news of foreign nations including Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Spain, England, and France (See Akhtar, 1876, pp. 2–3).

Finally, in 1968, the leading Iranian newspaper Kayhn for the first time published a rather unclear ‘picture of the first and oldest Iranian newspaper’. According to Kayhn, the Iranian scholar Hamīd Mowlānā was granted permission to photograph this ‘unique copy’ of Kāghaz-i akhbār at the British Museum (Kayhn, 1968). In the following year, a clearer reproduction of the front page of a British Museum copy of Kāghaz-i akhbār (Jumādá al-Ūlá 1253/3 August 1837 - 1 September 1837) appeared in the first published edition of Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ’s travelogue, as ‘the only extant copy of the newspaper’ (See Rāʼīn, 1969, p. 27). In fact, this was perhaps the first time that a reproduction of an issue of Kāghaz-i akhbār, which was previously only known through secondary sources, was published.

Fig 6_Kayhan_2000
The Kayhn report entitled ‘picture of the first and oldest Iranian newspaper’. The photograph shows Hamīd Mowlānā (left) presenting a facsimile of the Kāghaz-i akhbār to Alī-Qulī Ardalān (3 August 1968)

With regard to the ‘discovery’ of the Kāghaz-i akhbār at the British Museum there are some conflicting statements. Hamīd Mowlānā later claimed to have ‘discovered’ two copies of the Kāghaz-i akhbār at the British Museum in 1963 (Mowlānā, 1979, p. 15). However, in his PhD thesis –submitted in the same year– Mowlānā writes that ‘today, unfortunately no copy of Akhbar Vaghayeh is extant’ (Mowlānā, 1963, p. 200). Moreover, the only copy of Kāghaz-i akhbār that appears in Mowlānā’s studies, and seemingly all the subsequent studies of this newspaper, is the same issue from Jumādá al-Ūlá; no visual representation of the second issue of Kāghaz-i akhbār seem to have appeared in any publication to this day.

Fig 7_Kaghaz-i akhbar_Journal_2000
The reproduction of Kāghaz-i Akhbār from Jumādá al-Ūlá in the first published edition of Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ’s travelogue, edited by Ismāʿīl Rāʾīn and published in 1969.

In recent years I have tried to trace the cited copies of the Kāghaz-i akhbār in order to study their printing quality and other aspects of their production which could not be deduced from the existing reproductions. According to my investigation, no archive or library catalogue bears any record of an extant copy of Kāghaz-i akhbār –apart from a microfilm at British Library (Or.Mic.4776) which proves that the British Museum at some point possessed two copies of this newspaper. However, I was unable to find a shelfmark or any reference concerning the current location of these two issues. Thus, this led to the assumption that these copies had been lost or even destroyed.

Ultimately, however, and thanks to Dr Goel Cohen who drew my attention to the studies of another Iranian scholar Alī Mushīrī, I was able to locate the copies of the newspaper, which had been moved from the British Museum to the British Library. This investigation led me to the shelfmark O.P. 3 (13), cited in two Persian articles by Alī Mushīrī (Mushīrī, 1963 & 1964) which are probably the earliest sources to introduce the British Museum copies although they did not actually include any visual representation of Kāghaz-i akhbār.

This post is notably perhaps the first report in which the both known copies of the Kāghaz-i akhbār are shown – particularly in their present condition. They were inserted into a large anonymous volume containing miscellaneous newspapers in Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Turkish, Sinhala, Japanese, etc. The two issues are from Rabīʿ al-Thānī 1253 (5 July 1837 - 2 August 1837) and Jumādá al-Ūlá 1253 (3 August 1837 - 1 September 1837). They are completely intact and have been layered by Japanese tissue paper that has stiffened the original paper. This, however, has also desaturated the black printing ink which only appears on one side of the paper.

O_P_3_The Rabīʻ al-Thānī 1253_2000
The Rabīʻ al-Thānī 1253 (5 July 1837 - 2 August 1837) issue of Kāghaz-i akhbār (BL O.P. 3 (13)). Public domain


O_P_3_The Jumādá al-Ūlá 1253_2000
The Jumādá al-Ūlá 1253 (3 August 1837 - 1 September 1837) issue of Kāghaz-i akhbār (BL O.P. 3 (13)). Public domain

The illustration of the emblem of Iran Shīr va khurshīd [Lion and Sun] with minor variations appears on both issues. The main headline, which is written in riqaʻ style, reads ‘news of the month of … of the year … that was printed in Dār al-khilāfa [the abode of the caliphate] of Tehran’. As what seems to be a general rule, the right-hand folio contains the ‘news of the Eastern nations’ and the left-hand folio contains the ‘news of the Western nations.’ The main text is written in an elegant nastaʻlīq hand, with the name of cities and countries highlighted in riqaʻ style. The approximate size of a single page is 42 in 27 centimetres.

Fig 10_Lion and Sun_2000
The emblem of Iran Shīr va khurshīd [Lion and Sun]. Left: Jumādá al-Ūlá issue and right: the Rabīʻ al-Thānī issue. Public domain

Some Persian sources have stated that these issues of Kāghaz-i akhbār were sent to the British Museum by an employee of the British legation in Tehran since they contained the news of the death of the King William IV and the coronation of the Queen Victoria (this is reflected in the Rabīʿ al-Thānī issue). Alī Mushīrī mentions a certain ‘Charles Sundt’ as the person responsible for sending the papers to England (Mushīrī, 1964, p. 609). I have not been able to find anyone fitting that description, but, it is possible that the person in question, whose name might have been misspelled in the Persian transliteration, is Charles Stuart, the secretary to the British Envoy to Persia, and the author of Journal of a residence in northern Persia and the adjacent provinces of Turkey .

Primary sources
Microfilm containing two issues of Kāghaz-i akhbār (BL Or.Mic.4776)
The manuscript of Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ’s journal (BL Add. 24,034)
The anonymous volume containing two original copies of Kāghaz-i akhbār (BL O.P.3)

References
‘‘Aks-i avvalīn va qadīmītarīn rūznāma-yi īrān dar muʼassisa-yi ʻālī maṭbūʻāt’, in Kayhn (Tehran newspaper), 3 August 1968, p. 14.
‘Gāzit-i āntīka-yi īrān’, in Akhtar (Istanbul newspaper), 15 February 1876, pp. 2–3.
Hamīd Mowlānā, Journalism in Iran: a history and interpretation, PhD thesis, Northwestern University, Illinois, 1963.
Sayr-i irtibāṭāt-i ijtimāʻī dar īrān, Tehran, 1979.
Alī Mushīrī, ‘Avvalīn ruznāma dar īrānī’, in Khvāndanīhā, Vol 24, No 29, 1963, pp. 25&46.
— ‘Avvalīn ruznāma-yi īrānī’, in Sukhan, Vol 14, No 7, 1964, pp. 906–11.
‘Persian newspaper and translation’ in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland , Vol 5, No 2, 1839, pp. 355–371.
Ismāʿīl Rāʾīn, Safarnāma-yi Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ Shīrāzī, Rawzan, Tehran, 1969.
‘Tārīkh-i rūznāmanigārī dar īrān’, in Yādigār, Vol 1, No 7, 1945, pp. 6–17.
Richard Wilbraham, Travels in the Trans-Caucasian provinces of Russia, London, 1839.

With special thanks to Goel Cohen, Gerry Leonidas, Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, Fiona Ross, Graham Shaw and Michael Twyman.

Borna Izadpanah, PhD Candidate, University of Reading
Ccownwork

15 July 2019

Asalha Puja or Dhamma Day: the start of the Buddhist Lent

This is the third of a series of blog posts looking forward to the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 – 23 Feb 2020

Buddhists celebrate Dhamma Day on the full moon day of July, signalling the beginning of the period of vassa (rainy season retreat or Buddhist Lent). Dhamma Day reminds Buddhists to express their gratitude to the Buddha and his teachings. It is one of the most important days in Buddhism as it marks the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching, for it was on the full moon day of July that the Buddha preached his first sermon in the deer park at Sarnath to the group of five ascetics who had previously been his companions. In the sermon, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma, the Buddha advocates a middle way between sensual indulgence and self-mortification. The essence of his teaching concerns: the truth of suffering; the truth of the cause of suffering; the truth of the cessation of suffering; and the truth of the way of life that is free of suffering. The original Teachings are found in the ‘Pali Canon’, the ancient scriptures of Theravada Buddhism written in the Pali language. While listening to his discourse, the ascetic Kondanna achieved the first level of sanctity (Sotapanna), and became the first disciple of the Buddha to take ordination as a monk. Soon afterwards, the other four ascetics followed him into the Buddhist order. Therefore, Asalha Puja or Dhamma Day – which falls this year on 16th July – is a very important day for Buddhists.

Or_14823_f038r
The Buddha gives his first sermon Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta to five ascetics - Kondanna, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanam and Assaji - in the deer park at Sarnath on the full moon day of July. This sermon contains the essential teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. After listening to his sermon, the five ascetics became the Buddha’s disciples. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 38 Noc

Vassa: the Buddhist Lent
Vassa is an annual monastic retreat practised especially in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, which lasts for three lunar months from July to October. In the early days of the Sangha – the Buddhist monkhood – the monks had no fixed abode, but wandered throughout the year and dwelt under the shade of the forest trees to meditate. After attaining Enlightenment and proclaiming the dhamma, the Buddha spent the first vassa at Sarnath. There are practical reasons for why the Buddha instructed his monks not to make long journeys for the three months of the rainy season. During the monsoon season it was extremely difficult for the monks to travel as the paths and lanes were covered with water and mud, and walking at this time along muddy paths could also damage the grass and kill or injure countless tiny creatures. Therefore the three months rainy retreat, from the full-moon day of July to the full-moon day of October, came to be observed by monks on the recommendation of the Buddha himself.

When the Bodhisatta Siddhattha Gautama had renounced the world, and in the course of walking around accepted offerings of food at Rajagaha, King Bimbisara, ruler of Magadha, requested that he visit him as soon as he achieved his goal. In accordance with this promise the Buddha visited Rajagara after attaining enlightenment. The king donated his bamboo grove and built the Veluvana monastery, or arama, for the Buddha and his monks. The term arama refers to a dwelling place for monks during the annual rains retreat. Veluvana was the first arama accepted by the Buddha, and a rule was passed allowing monks to accept such aramas. After the great donation, the king became the royal patron of the Buddha during his life time. The Buddha spent three rainy seasons in his first monastery of Veluvana, and numerous Jatakas, or birth stories of the Bodhisatta, were recited there. The Buddha’s disciples Sariputta and Moggallana joined the Order at this first monastery. During these three months monks remain inside monasteries, devoting their time to intensive meditation, proclaiming and learning the doctrines, and reciting the patimokkha or teaching dhamma to lay people who come to them to observe the uposatha sila (Eight precepts).

The Buddha ascended to Tavatimsa heaven. He spent three months there in retreat, teaching his mother, who was then reborn as a deva in Tusita heaven to fulfil a debt of gratitude. He expounded the Abhidhamma or higher teachings to his mother deva and other celestial beings at Tavatimsa heaven. He also repeated these teachings to his disciple Sariputta, and Sariputta then became a master of the Abhidhamma. Abhidhamma Pitaka (literally ‘the basket of the Buddha’s Higher Doctrine) is one of the principal sections of the Buddhist canon, or Tipitaka. It explores the profound philosophy of the teaching and is a most important work.

Or_14405_f081r
The Buddha spends the seventh vassa at Tavatimsa heaven to preach the Abhidhamma (higher teaching) to his mother, who was reborn as a deva, and other celestial beings. British Library, Or. 14405, f. 81 Noc

Or_14823_f030r
While the Buddha was spending the tenth vassa in the Parileyyaka Forest, an elephant and a monkey ministered to his needs. British Library, Or. 14823, f. 30  Noc

Ordination ceremonies
Ordination ceremonies can take place in any month of the year, but are especially important during the Buddhist Lent. The ordination ceremonies take place with all possible kinds of giving. Buddhists believe that the giving of one’s own son to join the Order is the most meritorious act possible. It is also a meritorious deed for the person who enters into the Buddhist monastic order (Sangha) themselves. The ceremony is not necessarily big or grand but the eight requisites are essential. There must be an assembly of five monks who sponsor the ordination. The Kammavaca – the Buddhist ordination text – is uttered at the ceremony by the presiding monk and the novice or candidate monk-to-be.

Soon after attaining enlightenment the Buddha founded the order of monks or Sangha. Yasa came from a wealthy background, but left his home as he was dissatisfied with his life. After hearing the teachings of the Buddha, Yasa became the sixth bhikkhu or monk. After the Buddha ordained Yasa, his closest friends Vimala, Subahu, Punnaji and Gavampati followed him into the Sangha. Within two months a further fifty of Yasa’s friends had joined the Sangha. The Buddha’s son the Venerable Rahula who was still a novice received his Higher Ordination (Upasampada) at the Jetavana Monastery.

Or.14297.f.27
The ordination of Yasa, a son of a rich man who went to the deer park near Varanasi to become a bhikkhu (ordained male monk). Within two months a further fifty of Yasa’s friends had joined the Sangha. British Library, Or. 14297, f. 27  Noc

This Lenten season is the time for Buddhists to do meritorious deeds, and to fast and observe special precepts. Lay supporters offer robes to the monks which will be worn during Lent. They also look into the bhikkhus’ other needs. On the full moon day, the processing with offerings of robes and other gifts to the monasteries is another meritorious deed. Young people also join the procession with music troupes to celebrate the giving of offerings to the Sangha as a way of making merit. Lay communities of Buddhists come together at monasteries, and participate in the ceremony of chanting conducted by the monks.

Or_15021_f013r
Procession of offerings for the Sangha: The wooden stands, upon which offerings for the monks are placed, are set within the processional boats carried by lay people. British Library, Or. 15021, ff. 13-14 Noc

Further reading:
Dickson, J. F. Ordination in Theravada Buddhism. Edited by Piyadassi Thera. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1963.

San San May, Curator for Burmese Ccownwork

11 July 2019

Suanplu Chorus from Thailand performs at the British Library

This week the British Library welcomed the world-renowned Suanplu Chorus from Thailand, which performed traditional and contemporary songs that present the beauty of Thai culture expressed through vibrant vocal techniques. The special free lunchtime concert that took place at the British Library on 9 July 2019 was organized in collaboration with the Royal Thai Embassy in London. The 38 singers harmonised beautifully, and the stunning acoustics of the Library’s foyer brought out the best in their vocals. The Suanplu Chorus came to the British Library fresh from their triumph at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod 2019 in Wales, where on 6 July 2019 they had won the First Award in the Open Choirs category.

02 Suanplu
The Suanplu Chorus from Thailand in concert at the British Library on 9 July 2019, attracting enthusiastic applause from the many visitors in the Library’s foyer, and even enticing many readers out of the reading rooms and onto the surrounding balconies.

Formally established in 2000 by Thai National Artist Dusdi Banomyong, Suanplu Chorus has been a pioneer of combining the beauty of Thai music with Western choral traditions. Their repertoire ranges from classical, contemporary and traditional Thai songs to original compositions written for them. At the British Library, the eclectic programme started with a superb performance of the Gloria by Joshua Himes, sung in Latin, followed by popular musical hits and American gospel songs before moving on to a wide range of Thai classical and folk songs.

03 Suanplu
Dr Luisa Mengoni, Head of Asian and African Collections, thanked HE Pisanu Suvanajata, Ambassador of Thailand to the UK, and National Artist Dusdi Banomyong, founder of Suanplu Chorus, for making this concert possible through their support and dedication.

The concert cemented yet further the long-standing good relationship that the Library has enjoyed with Thailand for over four decades. The British Library hosted visits by Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn in 1991 and 2005, as well as visits by delegations from the Thai Library Association, the Office of the Ombudsman Thailand, SEAMEO SPAFA and from various Thai universities. In 1996, to mark the Golden Jubilee of His Majesty King Bhumiphol, and the state visit to Thailand of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a British Library exhibition of Thai manuscripts and early printed works travelled to Bangkok under the auspices of the British Council, and was exhibited for two months at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok.

Rich collections relating to Thai music are held in the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image Archive. These encompass nearly 2000 recordings from Thailand including the John Moore music collection, classical music, folk and pop music, recordings of religious ceremonies and Tom Vater’s field recordings. There are also recordings of wildlife, documentary films and Thai feature films. These resources are accessible through the Sound Archive catalogue.

04 OR_16102_f009r
‘Konlabot’, a paper folding book containing examples of Thai rhymes and poems with illustrations. Central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16102   

The Library’s Thai collection consists of approximately 400 manuscripts in Thai, Northern Thai and Pali languages. Most of the manuscripts are paper folding books and palm leaf manuscripts, but there are also some textiles and wooden manuscript boxes and cabinets. The Library also holds more than 5000 printed books and periodicals in Thai language, dating from the mid-19th century onwards (mostly searchable in the Library’s online catalogue Explore). The earliest period of Thai printing, from ca.1840-1890, is well represented due to a gift by Christian missionaries of about 100 books and pamphlets, some of which are unique copies including the only known copy of the first Thai book ever printed in Thailand, a Christian text published in 1838 (ORB.30/894).


05 Thai embassy Siam.23
Nirat of London, a Ballad Concerning the Tour of the Siamese Embassy to and from London in the Year of Our Lord 1857 and 1858’ by Mom K. Rajoday (in Thai). Published in Bangkok, Bradley’s Press, 1881. British Library, Siam.23

A selection of the finest and most important Buddhist manuscripts and printed Buddhist scriptures from Thailand will feature in the upcoming Buddhism exhibition at the British Library (25 October 2019-23 February 2020), which will be accompanied by a full programme of cultural events.

06 OR_14115_f020v
A Thai folding book containing extracts from the Buddhist canon and the legend of Phra Malai. Depicted are devata, deities residing in the Buddhist heavens. Central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or. 14115

Further reading on the Thai collection in the British Library

Ginsburg, Henry: Thai manuscript painting. London: British Library, 1989 (OIJ 745.674)

Ginsburg, Henry: Thai art and culture. Historic manuscripts from Western Collections. London: British Library, 2000 (OIJ 745.674)

San San May and Jana Igunma: Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia. London: British Library, 2018

Farrington, Anthony and Dhiravat Na Pompejra (eds.): The English factory in Siam, 1612 – 1685. London: British Library, 2007 (YC.2007.a.16965, YC.2007.a.16966)

Jana Igunma
Lead Curator, Buddhism exhibition

08 July 2019

Rustam: The Hero with Red Hair

Today's post comes from Dr Peyvand Firouzeh, Postdoctoral Fellow, Getty Foundation & American Council of Learned Societies at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck- Institut. Peyvand has been a frequent visitor to our Reading Room during her research on the art and material culture of the Islamic world, especially early modern Iran and India. 

The Shahnama (Book of Kings), was completed ca. 1010 by the poet Ferdowsi in Persian. It is the most-popularly copied, illustrated, and circulated epic that has survived in Persianate societies. One of the most frequently depicted, key protagonists of the Shahnama is the hero Rustam, known for his remarkable physical strength and, as Ferdowsi put it, ‘elephant-bodied’ (pil-tan) stature.

In manuscript illustrations, Rustam is known for specific attributes that help distinguish him immediately from others: particularly, his tiger-skin surcoat and leopard headwear, and sometimes his ox-headed mace and leopard-skin saddle. But another feature of Rustam’s appearance has remained rather neglected: his red hair. This detail caught my eye while working on a fifteenth-century manuscript of the Shahnama, Or. 1403, at the British Library. A quick look through the manuscript proved that every depiction but one shows Rustam with red facial hair.

Or1403_f183v
Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam overthrows Puladvand. 1438 (BL Or. 1403, f. 183v)
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In my attempts to contextualise this feature of Rustam’s appearance, I could only find brief mentions in previous literature: observations that note Rustam’s red hair in a single manuscript (for example, Clinton and Simpson, 178), or associate it with a specific workshop (Goswamy, 25), or with certain periods – for instance the fifteenth-century (Robinson (1951), 83), or the Safavid period (Robinson (2005), 261). It has rarely been acknowledged as a widespread phenomenon (Swietochowski, 186).

Rustam’s red hair, however, crosses geographical and temporal boundaries. It is found in manuscripts attributed to Baghdad, Shiraz, Tabriz, Isfahan, Gilan, Mazandaran, and several workshops in India, starting from some of the earliest surviving illustrated manuscripts of the Shahnama in the fourteenth century. Indeed, the red hair is just as old as other iconographic features like the tiger-skin coat and leopard-skin headwear, which are thought to have emerged, respectively, in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscript paintings (Robinson (2005), 253, 256, and 258).

F1940.12
Scene from the Shahnama: Garsivaz prostrating himself before Siyavush in the presence of Rustam. 14th century, Ilkhanid (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1940.12)

18.2-3-1988-Miniature-fra-Jainesk-Shahnama_2000
Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam Kills the Turanian Hero Alkus with his Lance. ca. 1450, India (The David Collection, Copenhagen, Inv. no. 3/1988). © Pernille Klemp

3540_f1176r
Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam leads an attack on the Turanians' allies. ca. 1590, Shiraz (BL IO Islamic 3540, f. 176r)
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Of course, to understand the full extent of Rustam’s image as a redhead, a complete survey would be necessary. Based on the material surveyed so far, it seems that in the earliest surviving Shahnama manuscripts from the fourteenth century, the hero is predominantly depicted with red hair, though not completely consistently: this is the case in all of the four surviving Shahnamas made under the Inju dynasty (see H. 1479 , Dorn 329), one of the so-called Small Shahnamas, as well as several other Ilkhanid Shahnama paintings. The red hair features quite regularly in illustrated Shahnamas of the fifteenth century, while the ratio of the hero’s image with red hair to his total surviving depictions seems to drop increasingly from the Safavid period forward.

FS-7394_38
Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam slays Ashkbus and his horse. ca. 1350, Ilkhanid (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1944.56)

F1945.7.
Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam rescues Bijan from the well, detail showing the red pigment. 1341, Inju, Shiraz (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1945.7)

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Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam shoots Isfandiyar in the eyes with a double-pointed arrow, detail showing Rustam’s facial hair with a darker shade. 1486, Shiraz (BL Add. 18188, f. 292v)
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With some exceptions, there is usually a good degree of consistency throughout a single manuscript, and some of the inconsistencies could be due to later repairs and repainting. In general, there are also common scenes that eliminate the facial hair to show Rustam in his youth, or depict white hair to indicate old age.

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Scene from the Shahnama: Rustam slaying the white elephant, detail showing Rustam with red eyebrows and hair, but no facial hair, hinting at his young age. 14th century, Ilkhanid (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1929.35)

The emergence of red hair in paintings requires more in-depth study of medieval physiognomy. Christ, too, was commonly depicted with red hair, especially in the fourteenth century. Apart from the connection with blood and bloodshed, there also seems to have been a connection between physical strength and red hair, which Robinson and Swietochowski mention in passing (Robinson (2005), 261; Swietochowski, 186). That ideas about this connection were circulating in the medieval Islamic world can, for instance, be witnessed in descriptions of the Sufi writer Shaykh Ahmad-i Jam (d.1141), who is recorded to have red hair, wine-coloured beard, tall stature, and striking physical strength, which earned him the title Zhanda-pil (Moayyad and Lewis, 8), a term used commonly by Ferdowsi to describe things, animals, and people – including Rustam – that were awe-inspiring.

Unlike the tiger-skin coat (babr-i bayan), which is mentioned by Ferdowsi in the Shahnama, and similar to the leopard headwear, it has been noted in passing that there is no indication of Rustam’s red hair in the text of the Shahnama (Swietochowski, 186). This seems to be the case for most copies. However, in some versions of the epic, there are two lines that do note Rustam’s red hair, and raise interesting questions about the relationship between text and image. The lines occur in the section on the birth of Rustam where Rudaba, Rustam’s mother, had to have a caesarean to deliver the immense baby. The lines in question are among the first that describe Rustam at the moment of birth, bringing together metaphors of light, blood, and the colour red:

The hair on his head all red, his hair like blood,
he emerged like the shining Sun.
Both hands full of blood, he was born of his mother,
No one has ever known of a child like this.

همه موی سر سرخ و مویش چو خون
چو خورشید رخشنده آمد برون
دو دستش پر از خون ز مادر بزاد
ندارد کسی این چنین بچه یاد

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Scene from the Shahnama: birth of Rustam. 1616, Mughal, India (BL  Add. 5600, f. 54r)
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Interestingly, the authenticity of these two lines has been questioned. Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh leaves them out (Khaleghi-Motlagh, vol.I, 267-8), while Dabir Siyaqi includes them in the main text (Dabir Siyaqi, 136), and Ashtiani and others record them in footnotes (Khalifeh, vol.I, 213). I have not yet come across any illustrated manuscripts – even those depicting Rustam with red hair – which include these lines. Yet, the existence of these verses attests that at some or multiple points there was a written – and perhaps oral – dimension to such iconography.

Explaining this disparity between text and image requires more in-depth research into the iconography and textual variations of the Shahnama. Whether the text predates or was inspired by the image remains unclear for the time being, but two preliminary points can be mentioned here.

First, it is possible that earlier texts, images, and oral traditions that have not survived led to the choice of this iconography for Rustam. There is both textual and visual evidence for the transmission of the legends of Rustam dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, before the completion of the Shahnama by Ferdowsi in the eleventh century (Eighth and ninth century versions of the Rustam cycle and Sims-Williams & Sims-Williams (2015), 252-254). Moreover, several depictions of Shahnama scenes on pre-1300 objects and architecture attest to the transmission of the hero’s visualisations prior to the earliest illustrated Shahnama manuscripts that have reached us.

But there is no reason to assume that images of the Shahnama were strictly dependant on texts, either of Ferdowsi’s Shahnama or related legends. Images of a hero like Rustam – like many other people and narratives in the Shahnama – were popular beyond the medium of the book and had a life of their own. Visual traditions of the Shahnama offer multiple examples of artists who took the liberty to depict extra-textual details. Another way to explain the text-image disparity in the case of Rustam is the possibility that his image as a redhead came first, and subsequently found its way into written traditions, either directly or by way of oral traditions. If so, this could be an interesting case where the pictorial, verbal and textual forms of the Shahnama converge on a single figure, and the former informs the latter.

My sincere thanks to Rachel Parikh and Charles Melville for their help with this blog post.

 

Further Reading
Clinton, Jerome W. and Marianna S. Simpson. “How Rustam Killed White Div: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry.” Iranian Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2006): 171-197.

Ferdowsi, Abu’l-qasem. Shahnama, edited by Djalal Khaleqi-Motlaq. New York: Bibliotheca Persica, 1987.
Shahnama, edited by Muhammad Dabir Siyaqi. Tehran: Qatreh, 2007.
Shahnama, edited by ‘Abbas Iqbah Ashtiani and Bahman Khalifeh. Tehran: Talayeh, 2007.

Goswamy, B. N. A Jainesque Sultanate Shahnama and the Context of pre-Mughal Painting . Zürich: Museum Rietberg, 1988.

Moayyad, Heshmat and Franklin Lewis, eds. and transl. The Colossal Elephant and His Spiritual Feats: Shaykh Ahmad-e Jam, The Life and Legend of a Popular Sufi Saint of 12th-Century Iran . Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2004.

Robinson, B. W. “The National Hero in Persian Painting.” Journal of the Iran Society, Vol.1, No. 3 (1951): 80-85.
—  “The Vicissitudes of Rustam.” In The Iconography of Islamic Art: Studies in Honour of Robert Hillenbrand, edited by Bernard O’ Kane, 253-268. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

Sims-Williams, Nicholas and Ursula. “Rustam and his zīn-i palang.” In: From Aṣl to Zāʼid: Essays in Honour of Éva M. Jeremiaś, edited by I. Szánto, 249-58. Piliscsaba: Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, 2015.

Catalogue entry (p.186) by Marie Lukens Swietochowski in: Ettinghausen, Richard. Islamische Kunst: Meisterwerke aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art New York . Berlin [u.a.]: Rembrandt-Verlag [u.a.], 1982.

 

Peyvand Firouzeh, Postdoctoral Fellow, Getty Foundation & American Council of Learned Societies at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck- Institut.
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