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.

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Persian literature was dominated by a sophisticated tradition of poetry

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A manuscript of Rumi's Masnavi dated1652–53. (Image: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford) A manuscript of Rumi’s Masnavi dated1652–53. (Image: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford)

Persian literature is dominated by a highly  sophisticated tradition of poetry dating to the tenth century. Persian poetry can generally be divided into two forms: the lyrical and the epic. The major lyrical forms are the qasida, ghazal, and rubai. The basic form of epic poetry is the masnavi.

The qasida, a long mono-rhyme (aa, ba, ca) similar to an ode, is mostly used as a speech or in praise of somebody as well as for secular or religious moralism. It consists of three parts – a prologue, the actual praise or tribute, and a final appeal to the patron. It was also used to praise of God and the Prophet. The chanted qasida is part of the religious tradition of Arabic and Persian–speaking Nizari Ismailis.

The ghazal, rhythmically similar to the qasida only…

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Early Muslim societies were characterized by a rich intellectual and literary tradition

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The first revelation to the Prophet was about knowledge and learning. The pursuit of knowledge is the central message of the Qur’an. The value placed on knowledge in the Qur’an became the foundation for the development of education among Muslims.

Sayings of Pythagoras, dated 13th-14th century Iraq or Syria representing an interaction between teacher and student as a traditional mode of transmission of knowledge and learning. (Image: Aga Khan Museum) Sayings of Pythagoras, dated 13th-14th century Iraq or Syria representing an interaction between teacher and student as a traditional mode of transmission of knowledge and learning. (Image: Aga Khan Museum)

As Islam spread outside the Arabian peninsula, the new Muslim rulers came into contact with people who had relatively sophisticated ideas about theology, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics, and the rulers incorporated these new ideas into their own way of looking at the world. A vast movement of translation and development took place in Baghdad in the eight and ninth centuries, where scholars of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds worked together and achieved scientific advancements.

The classical Greek literature was translated…

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