The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the British Library Blog by Dr Sâqib Bâburî Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project

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One of the more enigmatic manuscripts now in the British Library (IO Islamic 1255) from the rich library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore (d. 1213/1799), is the untitled qiṣṣah or tale featuring a figure popular across the range of Persian literature, the Prophet Sulaymān (the biblical Solomon, son of David). In this tale, the prophet-king is confronted by the head of the ranks of birds, the Sīmurgh (Phoenix), expressing its disbelief in the doctrine of predestination (qaz̤āʾ va qadr). Having angered Allāh, Jibrāʾīl (the archangel Gabriel) is sent to inform Sulaymān of a prophecy foretelling the birth of the Prince of the East (Malikzādah-′i Mashriq) and the Princess of the West, daughter of the Malik-i Maghrib, who together bear a child out of wedlock. The Sīmurgh believes it can prevent this outcome. Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh conclude an agreement (qawl) to reassess the situation after fifteen years, by which time the accuracy of the prophecy would be apparent.

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Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah, by Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies, British Library Blog

While recently looking for documentation on the Library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), my eye fell on this entry in Charles Stewart’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (Cambridge, 1809), pp. 72-3:

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XCIV. Diwāni Sindbād Hakīm. Thick quarto, common hand, ornamented with pictures, &c. The instructions of the philosopher Sindbād to his pupil, the ignorant son of a king; in a series of interesting and facetious stories. The author is unknown; but it is dedicated to Shāh Mahmūd Bahmeny of the Dekhan, A.D. 1374.

More: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/06/revisiting-the-provenance-of-the-sindbadnamah-io-islamic-3214.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

 

 

A Mughal Shahnamah – British Library Blog

By Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections

More: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/06/a-mughal-shahnamah.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.

Fables taught universal values but were adapted to local cultures

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Panchatantra Panchatantra

A long tradition of preparing princes to rule was the genre of literature known as ‘mirror for princes,’ fables with tales in which animals are the leading characters of the stories. These tales, thought to have been introduced to the Muslim world through India, were derived from the Indian Panchatantra (‘The Five Principles’) and Mahabharata written in Sanskrit around the year 200.

 Khalila wa Dimna (Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France) Khalila wa Dimna (Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The tales were adapted and translated into numerous languages including Persian and Arabic, and were illustrated in Kalila wa Dimna manuscripts – from the thirteenth century onward in Arab lands, and from the fourteenth century in Iran.

The tales address the moral education of princes through two jackals, Kalila and Dimna, and a host of other animals as lead characters. These tales also illustrate “universal human strengths and weaknesses, as well as aspirations for justice and truth.”*

Sassanian silver plate, dated 7th century.(Image: British Museum) Sassanian silver plate…

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Nizami’s works became the model for subsequent romance literature

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Nizami Ganjavi, one of the greatest romantic poets in Persian literature, was born in 1141 in Ganja, modern-day Azerbaijan and lived at a time of intense intellectual activity. Since he was not a court poet, his name does not appear in the records of the dynasties. A prominent poet acquainted with Arabic and Persian literature, he was also learned in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, botany, and the Qur’an.

Manuscript of Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami, dated 1527 Iran (Image: Aga Khan Museum) Manuscript of Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami, dated 1527 Iran (Image: Aga Khan Museum)

Nizami composed qasidas and ghazals, only a small number of which have survived, but is best known for his five long narrative poems which have been preserved in a collection titled Khamsa (The Quintet). Written in masnavi style totalling 30,000 couplets, the Khamsa was a popular subject for lavish manuscripts. Three of the five works –  the romantic tale of Khusrau wa Shirin, the love story of Layla wa Majnun

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Poetry has been central to the spiritual life of Muslims

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Musical_Gathering A musical gathering, dated 18th century, Ottoman Turkey.
Aga Khan Museum Collection

The earliest examples of religious poetry in Islam are to be found in the verses of a small group of poets who were companions of Prophet Muhammad. The most famous poet was Hassan ibn Thabit (d. 669), who wrote poems in praise of the Prophet as well as to spread the messages from the Prophet. In the years following the Prophet’s death in 632, a number of the poets composed eulogies in his memory as well as poems inspired by passages of the Qur’an.

In the early years of Islam, Arabic poetry was largely non-religious, such as praise poems (madih), love lyrics (ghazal), hunting poems (tardiyyat), and satire (hija‘). Islamic religious poetry seems to have emerged in the late eight century in association with the widespread movement for religious and…

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Two Mystical Stories by Farid al-Din Attar

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Editor’s note: The following two mystical stories have been adapted from the August-September 1981 issue of The Unesco Courier magazine, which was dedicated to Islam and the Muslim world.

INTRODUCTION
(compiled from UNESCO Courier)

A manuscript by Farid Al Din Attar kept in Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany. Photo: Wikipedia. A manuscript by Farid Al Din Attar kept in Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany. Photo: Wikipedia.

We present two extracts from The llahi-nama or Book of God by the great Persian mystic poet Farid al-Din Attar (circa 537-627 AH, 1140-1230 AC) translated into English by John Andrew Boyle. The translation, with a foreword by Annemarie Schimmel, was published by the Manchester University Press in 1976 and forms part of the Unesco Collection of Representative Works.

Doctor, pharmacist and perfumer, Attar, whose name means “He who trades in perfumes”, wrote a prose work containing much information on the mystics, Tadhkirat ul-Auliya (abridged English translation, Biographies of the Saints, 1961) as well as several major works of poetry. In…

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