[This post is a follow-up to my earlier Visit to Khuda Bakhsh. It focuses on some of the challenges in manuscript identification]
Most of the particulars concerning the Tarikh-e khandan-e timuriyah (more generally known as the Timur-nama) may be found in the official application to include the manuscript in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. The application – or, more precisely, Nomination Ref. no. 2010-62 – was submitted to UNESCO, jointly, by the Khuda Bakhsh Library and the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India and was approved in 2011.
Besides listing technical details, such as the manuscript’s number of folios (338), number of illustrations (133), folio size (15¾” x 10½”), script (Nasta’liq), etc., the nominators also venture to speculate about the somewhat nebulous origins and objectives of this understudied tome. They suggest that the manuscript was a collective work that involved a large cohort of court historians and painters. Shah Jahan’s inscription (that I had shown in the earlier post), official seals of other Mughal dignitaries, and the signature of Mr. Francis Gladwin all attest to the manuscript’s authenticity. Gladwin, by the way, was a British official, orientalist, translator and compiler of a Persian-Hindustani-English dictionary, who seems to have spent the years 1802-09 in Patna, first as Collector of Customs and then as Commissary Resident. His signature appears on other Persian manuscripts in the Library’s holdings, although I’m not sure if Gladwin was one of the previous owners of some of the books, whether he signed as a reader or as a customs official (the least likely prospect). Back in the early years of the nineteenth century, the manuscripts were still the private collection of Mohammad Bakhsh, father of the Library’s founder, Khuda Bakhsh. The Library was opened to the public only in 1891.
Despite the Timur-nama’s exquisite and complex production and the copious resources that went into its creation, several uncertainties linger: the manuscript is unique (no other copies were made that could shed light on its missing parts), its author remains anonymous, and its purpose remains unknown, as there are no explanations or dedications or clear indications of patronage (even if we assume that Akbar’s atelier was the production venue). The absence of an Introduction and a Conclusion – should we presume that they even existed? – only serves to augment the mystery.
The nominators believe that the text was written “primarily to provide basic reference-material to Abul Fazl [namely, Emperor Akbar’s minister, biographer and confidant] who was then compiling the official history of Akbar’s reign – the Akbar Namah, which includes a history of Akbar’s ancestors.” I have doubts about this assessment: first, much of the text is based on Yazdi’s Zafar-nama and Babur’s Babur-nama, two books that Abu’l-Fazl already had at his disposal. Secondly, and more importantly, why would one need such an elaborate artistic production – over 130 highly crafted paintings by the finest artists in the realm – merely to make available a reference tool for a court biographer for the purpose of composing a different work altogether? Was this “Timur-nama” supposed to be an independent work or part of a much larger endeavor? It is difficult to answer without more time spent with this and other Mughal texts.
Timur-nama or Chingiz-nama?
Another interesting – and problematic – suggestion made by the nominators concerns the potential identification of the “Timur-nama” with another text that had been commissioned by Akbar, known by the generic title Chingiz-nama, namely, a history of Chinggis Khan.
The nominators put forward the following hypothesis: “Abul Fazl, Akbar’s official biographer, has listed the nine most important illustrated Persian manuscripts commissioned by Akbar in his account of the Emperor’s life and rule… Eight of these manuscripts, mentioned by Abul Fazl, have been identified. But the ninth, the Chingiz Namah is still unknown. Some scholars suggest that this Timurid history, Tarikh-e Khandan-e Timuriyah could be the Chingiz Namah or the ninth, as yet unidentified, manuscript in Abul Fazl’s list of important manuscripts commissioned by Akbar.”
As most specialists know, Akbar had commissioned more than nine illustrated manuscripts. I suppose that by “the nine most important” manuscripts, the nominators refer to the following passage in Abu’l-Fazl’s discussion of the arts of writing and painting (see his Ain-i akbari, section 34; I added in brackets a short description of the different titles):
“Persian books… were ornamented with pictures, and a very large number of paintings was thus collected. The Story of Hamzah [the fantastic adventures of the Prophet’s uncle] was represented in twelve volumes… The Chingiznamah, the Zafarnamah [Yazdi’s Book of Victory of Timur], this book [namely, the Ain-i akbari], the Razmnamah [the “Book of War,” an abridged Persian translation of the Mahabharata], the Ramayan [Persian translation of the Ramayana], the Nal Daman [Faizi’s (Abu’l-Fazl’s uncle) poems modeled after the Sanskrit poem Nala and Damayanti], Kalilah Damna [famed animal fables], the Ayar Danish [more fables in the manner of advice literature] &c., were all illustrated.”
Thus reads the English translation of the first volume of Ain-i akbari, completed in Calcutta in 1868 by Henry Blochmann. The son of a printer from Dresden, Henry (actually, Heinrich Ferdinand) Blochmann had studied Persian in Leipzig, then moved to London, enlisted in the British army and was sent to India. Upon his release from the service he decided to stay on, worked for a while as interpreter for P&O (the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company), and continued his studies, this time gaining an M.A. in Hebrew at the newly founded University of Calcutta. He also served as philological secretary for the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Blochmann eventually became a teacher and later the principal of the Mohammedan College of Calcutta, otherwise known as Calcutta Madrasah – an institution of higher education for Muslims founded by Warren Hastings in 1781 (we will revisit this institution below). Blochmann’s translation, not the original Persian, has been serving as the basis for much of the work of many historians and art historians of the “Great Mughals.” In this case, the translation and the Persian text edition of Ain-i akbari – also prepared by Blochmann – are pretty much the same (cf., p. 108 of the translation with p. 118 of the text edition).
Based on this passage in the Ain-i akbari, could it be that “our” manuscript is, indeed, the purportedly elusive Chingiz-nama? Almost a century ago, Abdul Muqtadir, the first cataloger of the manuscript, raised this hypothesis in the Catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in the Oriental Public Library at Bankipore, vol. VII, 1921 (for our purpose here, Bankipore is considered as synonymous with Patna).
The cataloging of the Library’s vast collection began when the renowned orientalist Edward Denison Ross had visited the place in 1901 together with Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, and the latter decided to support the cataloging endeavors. Curzon’s patronage is acknowledged to this very day, as is evidenced in the Reading Room (est. 1905) named after him, which faces the main library building.
Having trained two young Muslim scholars – Maulavi Abdul Muqtadir (the Persian language expert) and Maulavi Kamaluddin Ahmad (the Arabic language expert) – in the preparation of a catalogue raisonneé (published 1905) of the Islamic manuscripts in the Calcutta Madrasah (whose principal in those years was Ross himself, following in Blochmann’s footsteps), Ross then returned to Bankipore with his new protégés. The result of their work was the first large catalog of Arabic and Persian manuscripts ever published in India. The catalog was truly groundbreaking for its time, and the catalogers, who had very little reference work to consult, were bound to also make a few miscalculations in their identifications and evaluations, including, alas, confusing the Timur-nama with the Chingiz-nama.
At the time of the Catalog’s preparation, V. C. Scott O’Connor, a prolific author and war correspondent who had begun his career as Finance Advisor for Railways in the Government of India, was visiting the Library. Having spent “two happy winters” in Patna, O’Connor published a book about the Khuda Bakhsh library, entitled An Eastern Library (Glasgow, 1920), that includes a quaint description of the Library and some of its holdings; a delightful discussion of the Timur-nama (pp. 11-18), and even two short handlists of the Library’s possessions, prepared by Abdul Muqtadir (Persian) and Abdul Hamid (Arabic).
Regarding the Timur-nama, O’Connor relates that, “Khan Sahib Abdul Muqtadir would identify [the Timur-nama] with the Chingiz Namah, mentioned by Abul Fazl as one of the nine principal manuscripts illuminated for the Emperor Akbar.” Unfortunately, Abdul Muqtadir got it wrong.
[On the right: a portrait of Mohammad Khuda Bakhsh as it appears in O’Connor's An Eastern Library.]
Although one sometimes finds tales and histories of Chinggis Khan and Timur stacked together or interlocked (such is the case with several Tatar publications), it seems odd that Akbar would be responsible for a similar conflation. All the more so, since the Tarikh-e khandan-e timuriyah carries no information whatsoever about Chinggis Khan, something that Yuri Bregel had noticed several decades ago. We read in Persidskaia literatura (Bregel’s Russian translation and significant expansion of Charles Storey’s Persian Literature: a Bio-Bibliographical Survey) about the general traits of the “magnificent and beautifully illustrated manuscript… probably the only instance of an unknown author writing about Timur and his successors up to the time of Akbar.” Bregel then turns to cite Abdul Muqtadir’s catalog identification and notes: “this assumption would be easier to accept had the work actually included stories about Chinggis Khan.” [Bregel, vol. II, 841].
What is this supposedly “mysterious” Chingiz-nama? It seems that the Chingiz-nama was an illustrated copy of the Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din’s early 14th-century Jami al-tawarikh (“Compendium of Chronicles”) that had been commissioned by Akbar in the late sixteenth century. The manuscript, or what’s left of it – many paintings attributed to this volume are now scattered in museums, galleries, private collections and auction houses all over the world – is in Iran, housed in the Gulistan Library in Tehran.
I may revisit the Chingiz-nama manuscript at a later date. For now, let me suffice with the following observations: Most scholars that refer to the “Chingiz-nama” in their publications, sometimes quite enthusiastically, never really saw it and this may be one of the reasons for considerable contradictory information that one encounters in books and articles on related aspects of Mughal history, art and culture. As it happens, scholars either give no reference at all to support their assertions on the manuscript, or they cite a 1963 Czech publication, authored by J. Marek and H. Knizkova, and published also in German (Tschingis-Chan und sein Reich), French (L’Empire de Gengis-Khan dans la miniature mongole), and English (The Jenghiz Khan Miniatures from the Court of Akbar the Great) translations. This short book – approximately 30 pages of text and 34 color plates of miniature paintings (or details thereof), photographed by W. Forman – includes very little information about the manuscript itself. A brief description, written by Knizkova (pp. 29-30), refers to the work as the Kitab-i Changeznama, property of the Imperial Library in Tehran, rarely seen outside Iran (the manuscript was apparently exhibited in Leningrad in 1935 at the Third Congress of Iranian Painting and Archeology). According to Knizkova, “Kitab-i Changeznama” was completed in May, 1596. It has 304 folios and 98 full-page miniatures.
The authors were interested primarily in the impressive miniature paintings of this Chingiz-nama and not in the text. Accordingly, there are no references to the text itself and so one cannot know much about the circumstances of its creation (who ordered it, why, when, what original manuscript served as the model, etc.). Yuri Bregel refers to this manuscript in Persidskaia literatura (vol. I, 309), but he bases all information on the German version of Marek and Knizkova’s publication (although he is careful to add the word ‘apparently’). Similarly, Shiraiwa Kazuhiko, in his otherwise extremely valuable “Rashid al-Din’s Compendium of Chronicles: a bibliography of extant manuscripts” (Tokyo, 2000; in Japanese) that is, unfortunately, almost unknown to Western scholars, repeats Marek and Knizkova’s information, relying on the French version of the Czech publication.
Based on the number of pages from this manuscript that have been sold or displayed all over the world, I would not be surprised to learn that the Tehran manuscript now has far fewer folios and paintings than it did in the early 1960s. A comparison with other similar texts (for instance, the Rashid al-Din manuscripts in the Reza Library in Rampur) may yield a better understanding of the “Chingiz-nama” story.