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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 1

The Gulistan (‘Rose Garden’) of Sa’di

Mughal (Agra),1584

Manuscript written in nasta’liq script on gold-flecked paper with section headings throughout in opaque watercolour including metallic paints; set into dyed paper margins ornamented with metallic paint; illuminated shamsa and double-page frontispiece in opaque watercolour including metallic paint and gold leaf; black morocco binding with gilt-stamped medallions and border lines | 128 fols; 35.8 x 23.8 cm | RCIN 1005022

Persian was the social, cultural, intellectual and administrative language of Hindustan under the Mughals. This is a copy of the well-loved Persian classic the Gulistan (‘Rose Garden’) by the thirteenth-century Iranian poet Sa’di of Shiraz. A text of timeless wisdom, passages from the Gulistan were widely quoted in everyday speech at the Mughal court.[1]Abd al-Muttalib Khan, a nobleman and personal attendant of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), commissioned the master calligrapher Muhammad Husayn of Kashmir (d. 1611/12) to write this copy. It was completed in Agra in 1584 and presented to Akbar as a gift.[2]

The elements which make up the Mughal art of the book – elegant calligraphy, decorative borders, dazzling illumination and ornate covers – all developed from earlier Iranian models. The superior materials and remarkable skill of the artists and craftsmen active at the Mughal court nevertheless meant that it was in the Indian subcontinent that some of the most beautiful Persian manuscripts were produced.

This magnificent volume is much larger in scale than most Mughal manuscripts. Its richly coloured wide borders are filled with floral and arabesque designs painted in gold pigment that gleam from the page. The manuscript opens with fine examples of intricate illumination and, throughout the volume, illuminated headings punctuate the text on almost every page. Muhammad Husayn’s celebrated style of nasta’liq script (a cursive script with inclining rounded letters in stacked arrangements) is characterised by subtly rhythmic lines and curves. It earned him the title Zarrin Qalam (‘Golden Pen’) and the admiration of generations of Mughal emperors.

On the manuscript’s first folio are several inscriptions, including those in the hands of Emperors Jahangir and Shah-Jahan, and the imperial seals of Emperors Shah-Jahan and Alamgir.[3] The seal of Abd al-Ahad Khan, better known as Majd al-Daula (‘Exalted of the Court’) a close advisor to Shah Alam II (r. 1728–1806), dated 1169 AH (AD 1756), is impressed on every folio though often cropped, indicating that the pages were trimmed before being re-bound into their present eighteenth century covers.[4]

  • [1] For an overview of this text see Lewis 2002. For the Gulistan in India see Kia 2014.   

    [2] The colophon states that Muhammad Husayn completed the manuscript in the kitabkhana of Abd al-Muttalib Khan in 992 AH (AD 1584). For Abd al-Muttalib Khan see Ma’asir al-Umara, vol. I, p. 40. 

    [3] Fol. 128v also has a number of seals and inscriptions. In the late 18th century attempts were made to obscure many of the seals and inscriptions in the manuscript although some are still legible. See Seyller 1997, pp. 252, 277–8 and fig. 15. Seyller notes an inscription on fol. 1r which he proposes is in the hand of Jahangir. It reads ‘God is almighty. This book of the Gulistan in the handwriting of Muhammad Husayn Zarrin Qalam was brought as a gift of Muttalib Khan to the late Akbar Padshah,  who at the time of receipt conferred one thousand Akbari mohurs upon Muhammad Husayn Zarrin Qalam as a reward on the date 9 Jumada II 993 [8 June 1585].’ This is however undoubtedly a later, forged inscription written in a very poor hand over an area where earlier inscriptions have been erased. The titles it uses are incorrect, and 1,000 mohurs would have been an extraordinary sum to give to the calligrapher when the manuscript itself is valued at no more than 101 mohurs. This inscription was probably written in Lucknow shortly before the manuscript was offered to Lord Teignmouth.

    [4] Majd al-Daula led the Mughal army against the Sikhs in 1779. Having suffered defeat, the Emperor had him imprisoned and confiscated his house and property (see Ma’asir al-Umara, vol. II, pp. 1054–5). The manuscript probably returned to the imperial library for a short period and was later acquired by the Nawab of Awadh. Nine folios (81–89) are later additions on a different type of paper, without catchwords and without the seal of Majd al-Daula, presumably added when the manuscript was re-bound. 

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