We are delighted to announce that two manuscripts have been added to the Society’s online collections and can now be read in full on our Digital Library. These are a Bustan of Sa’di (RAS Persian 251), dating from ca. 1530 AD, and Two texts on Indian history and legends (RAS Tod 126), completed around 1815 AD. Both these manuscripts have been digitized thanks to sponsorship received in response to the Bicentenary Appeal, which was launched late last year and will continue throughout 2023.
The Bustan was the first major work by the Persian poet Sa’di (AD 1210-1291/2), and includes accounts of the author’s travels and analyses of human psychology. RAS Persian 251 is a high-quality copy of the Bustan, beautifully written and richly illuminated by the calligrapher Sultan Mohammed Nur in Bukhara around 1530 AD. It boasts an exceptional and distinctive Indian binding of red leather with stamped decoration and central panels of green velvet, an elaborately illuminated initial opening, and headings in gold on panels filled with illuminated scrolls. The folios are of varied colours and the broad margins are splashed with gold. The manuscript also contains two miniature paintings in the Bukhara style. Presented to the Society in 1834 by Lieut. Colonel Charles ‘Carlo’ Doyle, the manuscript can now be viewed online from around the world. This digitization was sponsored by Dr Barbara Brend, whose long career in service of the understanding and appreciation of Persian painting has been marked by the publication of a recent Festschrift (more below).
The second manuscript which has been made available on the Digital Library (RAS Tod 126) comprises two texts on Indian history and legends: Hindusthān-kī bādshāhī-kā pramāṇ vā oddhā kārkhānā-kī kitāb (tabulated sketch of administrative offices in the kingdoms of India), and Vikrama-vilāsa (tales of King Vikramāditya by Miśra Gaṅgeśa). The texts were copied for Lieut. Col James Tod around 1815 AD, using other versions in the library of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh – Jaipur’s original library. Tod sought out information about the history of Rajasthan to support his official work for the East India Company and to amass the materials which would eventually allow him to complete The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, a new edition of which is being issued by the Society later this year. This digitization was sponsored by Dr Shuchi Gupta, to help make these materials and the legacy of Tod’s research available for new generations of scholars (https://royalasiaticsociety.org/a-tribute-for-the-legacy-of-james-tod/).
We are very grateful to Dr Brend and Dr Gupta for supporting this work and helping make these manuscripts accessible to a global audience. The Society depends upon its members and supporters to further its vision of promoting public interest and scholarly exchange in the history and cultures of Asia. Accordingly, as part of our efforts to celebrate and commemorate the history and collections of the Society during our bicentenary year in 2023, we are continuing our Bicentenary Appeal for sponsorship to support the digitization of our holdings. This will build upon the outstanding success of previous years – made possible by the generosity of our supporters – which has seen hundreds of manuscripts and other materials added to the Society’s Digital Library. The benefits of remote access to cultural heritage is reflected in the fact that most visitors to our Digital Library now come from South and South-East Asia.
Other parts of the collection that have been identified as prime candidates for digitization can be found here: https://royalasiaticsociety.org/ras-bicentenary-appeal-digitization-sponsorship-copy/ Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about sponsoring digitization or supporting other areas of our work.
The early part of the year is customarily a busy one for Society events, and it is fitting that the bicentenary year should continue that tradition. Last week, Thursday 2 February saw a particularly special occasion, with the presentation at the Society of a Festschrift in honour of Dr Barbara Brend. The Festschrift was published as a special issue of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (October 2022), compiled by guest editors Dr Alison Ohta, Dr Emily Shovelton, and Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi.
Barbara has long been a dedicated member of the Society, having joined in 1973 and serving in a number of different guises: as a member of Council since 2001; as Honorary Secretary from 2005-2008; and more recently as Vice-President between 2018 and 2021. Currently, she chairs the Library Committee and serves on Publications.
The festschrift acknowledges both her scholarship and her worthy and generous contributions to the life of the RAS. It is a token of the respect and affection in which the Society and its members hold her. At the event each of the guest editors gave short presentations on their festschrift papers, explaining the connection to Dr Brend’s work.
Reflecting on Dr Brend’s article ‘The Arts of the Book’ published in The Arts of Persia, Dr Ohta discussed Persian book bindings. Her presentation focused on the binding of the Hamadan Qur’an (Dar al-Kutub, Cairo, Rasid 72), which was commissioned for the Ilkhanid Sultan Öljaytü (1303-1316) and completed in 1313. The Qur’an, composed of thirty parts, has remained intact in the Dar al-Kutub in Cairo since it arrived in Egypt sometime in the 1320s. Dr Ohta discussed the decoration of the binding and how it is representative of the geometrical designs that formed part of the Persian binders’ repertoire before being entirely discarded by the middle of the fourteenth century in favour of lobed and ogival medallions with pendants derived from cloud-collar profiles.
Dr Chida-Razvi’s contribution to the Festschrift, entitled ‘Power and Politics of Representation: Picturing Elite Women in Ilkhanid Painting,’ takes its cue from a 2014 Courtauld symposium paper. Preparing her paper for the symposium, which was titled ‘Women, Luxury and Status: Images of Courtly Ladies in 13th– and 14th-century manuscripts in the Persianate World,’ Dr Chida-Razvi credited her discussions with Dr Brend in helping to formulate and flesh out her approach to the topic.
With references to Dr Brend’s pioneering work on Persianate cultural world and its Iranian-Indian interface, Dr Shovelton looked at the relationship between manuscript production in Shiraz under the Timurids and in the Sultanate states of South Asia. The discussion focused on an illustrated copy of the Shāhnāma of Firdausi dated 843/1440, currently in the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna, once owned by Muḥammad Shāh, Sultan of Gujarat.
Rounding off the evening Professor Charles Melville discussed briefly his contribution to the Festschrift which looked at the celebrated universal Islamic history, Mīrkhwānd’s Tārīkh-i Rauḍat al-ṣafā, written in Herat in the late Timurid period. His paper focuses on the fourth volume of Mīrkhwānd’s history, on the Persian dynasties up to the rise of Timur, four copies of which have been illustrated, among them the Royal Asiatic Society’s manuscript RAS Persian 38.
It is with immense pleasure that we present this Festschrift as a small token of appreciation and admiration on behalf of all those who have benefitted from knowing and learning from Barbara Brend.
 Accessible via the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/artsofpersia0000unse/page/n7/mode/2up