June 30, 2016

Two Textual Excerpts

This calligraphic fragment includes two separate and unrelated texts written diagonally in black Indian nastaʻliq script on beige paper. The lines of the texts are separated visually by strokes in red ink. The first text at the top provides a section from the Indian historical work entitled the Tarikh-i Bikramajit (History of Bikramajit). It appears that this text belongs to a series of works dealing with local histories, in this case of the Indian state of Sangri and its ruler Bikramajit (ruled 1800−1803 and 1815−16). The calligrapher, a certain Jamal-i Nuri, has signed and dated his work in the last two diagonal lines. He states that he executed the text on the 20th day of Rajab during the third regnal year in the dar al-sultanah (capital city) of Lahore. Whose regnal year is not specified, but one may hypothesize that the calligrapher may have written the work during the third year of Bikramajit’s rule, that is, in 1803. The second text in the lower part of the fragment includes a section of Bustan (The fruit garden) by Shaykh Saʻdi, which discusses events during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. This section relates the story of a certain Hakim Taʼi, a generous man who belonged to a tribe that did not accept Islam, and his daughter’s pleading for the Prophet’s mercy upon the killing of her tribesmen. This fragment is written in a fluid nastaʻliq typical of texts written in India during the late 18th century. The nature of the historical text in the upper portion of the fragment and its date also support placing this fragment within a corpus of works produced in 18th century India.

Jami's "Nafahat al-Uns"

This calligraphic fragment includes a section from a hagiographical work by Jami (died 1492) entitled Nafahat al-Uns (Lives of the saints), in which the lives of a number of Sufi saints are described. In this particular folio and its verso, Jami describes an event in the life of the Sufi shaykh Sirri ibn al-Maghlas al-Saqati (died 867). He was the teacher and maternal uncle of the famous mystic Junayd of Baghdad (Abu al-Qasim Junayd ibn Muhammad, died circa 910) and composed many sayings on tawhid (mystical unity), love of God, and other spiritual matters. The biography is continued on the verso of this folio. The Persian verses are written in black nastaʻliq script in two columns on a beige paper. Verses are divided by a plain central gutter marked off by two gold vertical lines. An illuminated chapter heading towards the bottom of the text panel includes the section title about al-Saqati written in white ink on a gold background. The text panel is framed and pasted onto a larger sheet of paper decorated with flower-and-leaf motifs on a blue ground achieved through the use of a pounce. This kind of marginal decoration is found in a number of 16th-century manuscripts produced under Shaybanid patronage in Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan) from about 1500‒1550. Other manuscripts, such as a 1568 copy of Athar-i Muzaffar (A history of the Prophet) in the Topkapi Palace Library, also make use of pounced motifs as marginal decoration. For these reasons, it is possible to suggest that this manuscript was produced in Central Asia during the 16th century.

Verses by Jami

This calligraphic fragment includes verses composed by the famous Persian poet Jami (died 1492). In the top-right corner, the text begins with the attribution of the verses to the makhdumi (master) poet and a request for (God’s) al-maghfarah (forgiveness) and al-rahmah (mercy) upon Jami. The verses then describe how often true beauty is overlooked: “How often there is a beautiful face with graceful ways / Who is not sought after by people / But how often a harlot with sweet winks / Causes the blood of hearts to pour out in gushes.” In the lower-right corner, al-mudhnib (the lowly) calligrapher Hajji Yadigar al-Katib has signed his work. As his name suggests, he must have completed the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and been a katib (professional scribe). He may be a certain Yadigar Khwajah Samarqandi, who arrived in India and offered the Mughal ruler Jahangir (ruled 1605‒27) a muraqqaʻ (album) of calligraphies, for which he received a robe of honor. The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script on a beige paper. Framed by cloud bands, the text appears on a background lavishly decorated with gold painted vegetal designs highlighted in light-blue and red dots. These motifs appear to support a 17th-century Central Asian or Mughal provenance.

The Div Akvan throws Rustam into the Sea from Firdawsi's "Shahnamah"

This painting represents an episode described in the Shahnamah (The book of kings), the epic story of ancient kings and heroes of Persia composed by the renowned poet Firdawsi during the first decades of the 11th century. The text on the fragment’s recto and verso describes the painting. King Khusraw summons Rustam to help him stop a div (demon) disguised as a wild ass that is ravaging the royal herds. After three days of unsuccessful battle, the hero falls asleep in the grass. Thereupon, the Div Akvan casts aside his disguise, resumes his demonic form, rushes towards Rustam, and digs up the ground around the hero. He gives Rustam the choice of being thrown against the mountains, to be eaten by lions and onagers, or cast into the sea, where he would drown. Knowing that the demon’s action would be the exact opposite to his request and realizing that, if cast into the sea, he would have a chance to swim to safety, he asks to be thrown against the mountains. Rustam is then cast into the sea, swims back to the shore, and returns to defeat the demon in combat. The painting shows the precise moment when the Div Akvan pauses before deciding to hurl Rustam into the waters. The demon stands tall, his outstretched arms supporting a still-sleeping Rustam, as his gold bell bangles clang loudly. A posteriori labels added to the right of Rustam’s head and at the demon’s waist identify Rustam and Div Akvan. On the right side of the composition, rocky mountains and two threatening tigers are depicted, while, at the bottom of the painting, a variety of fish swim in the sea. Immediately above the painting, the chapter heading executed in gold ink identifies the scene and its corresponding text. The painting's style and composition are typical of illustrated manuscripts of the Shahnamah produced during the Safavid period in Iran. The shapes of the rocky outcrop, loosely painted in light-blue, pink, and yellow washes, seem to hint at facial features. The layout of the text and the script (nastaʻliq) as visible on the painting's verso also are characteristic of 16th-century Persian manuscripts. The lower-right corner of the painting has suffered damage and thus a small portion of the painting is lost to us today.

Invocation of ʻAli

This calligraphic fragment includes a duʻaʼ (invocation) to ʻAli, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, in the central text panel. Written in black nastaʻliq script on a beige paper decorated with arabesque motifs painted in gold, the Shiʻi duʻaʼ reads: “Call upon ʻAli who causes marvels to appear / You will find him to help (you) in adversity / All anguish and sorrow will vanish / Through your guardianship, oh ʻAli, oh ʻAli, oh ʻAli.” In the lower-right corner of this main text panel appears the calligrapher’s signature: “katabahu (written by) al-mudhnib (the poor) Ahmad al-Husayni.” The triangular area that contains the signature is rather suspicious: the paper does not match the main text panel and this section appears to have been cut out and pasted onto the fragment. It is possible that the otherwise-unknown calligrapher Ahmad al-Husayni may have removed the original calligrapher’s signature and replaced it with his own. The main text panel is framed by a pink border decorated with gold vine motifs and a large blue frame decorated with gold leaves and panels of Persian verses. Each rectangular panel of text has been individually cut out and pasted into the appropriate panels in the blue border. The whole composition is contained on a larger sheet of pink paper painted with gold flowers and backed with cardboard. Although the original, main text panel executed in large nastaʻliq script may have been executed during the Safavid period (16th century), the surrounding border and the calligrapher’s signature may have been added later, in the 18th‒19th centuries. Such procedures of alteration show how some calligraphies experienced a “second life” when combined into albums or passed down through the hands of another calligrapher.

Section of Mirkhwand's "Rawzat al-Safa'"

This fragment includes a section of the Rawzat al-Safaʼ (The garden of purity), a Persian historical encyclopedia composed by the prolific Timurid author Mirkhwand (Muhammad ibn Khavandshah Mir Khvand, 1433‒98). This particular excerpt begins with an invocation to Huwa al-ʻaziz (God, the Glorious) and then relates a particular episode in the life of the seventh Shiʻi imam Musai al-Kazim ibn Jaʻfar (circa 745‒99). The imam is described as going one day to a mountainous place where he sees a group of Christians looking for a rahib (monk) in a dayr (monastery) from which he had not exited for an entire year. Although the remaining portion of the story is lost, the last word va (and) and the number 12 in the lower-left corner hint that the text may have continued on a subsequent page. The text is executed in black taʻliq typical of the 18th and 19th centuries, while the theme of its text suggests an Indian Shiʻi milieu. Written diagonally on a cream-colored paper, the text panel is framed by a dark-green border outlined in red and backed by cardboard for strength.