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Hanuman, Planets, Princely States, and the “Arabian Nights” in Urdu: Highlights of South Asian Materials from the Library’s International Collections Facebook Page

(The following post is by Jonathan Loar, South Asia Reference Librarian, Asian Division.)

Friendly reminder – there is a Library of Congress International Collections Facebook Page.

Just like this 4 Corners of the World blog, the International Collections Facebook Page comes to you from the librarians of the African & Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and Hispanic Reading Rooms. The Facebook page showcases the diversity of the Library’s collections from around the world, including important historical works, rare books, beautiful and unusual manuscripts, recent acquisitions, and new digital projects. Past posts have also looked at holidays, like Nowruz, and commemorative times of year, like Hispanic Heritage Month. The page has also taught us a thing or two. Until this year, I had no idea that January 10 was National Houseplant Day!

While you can like and follow our Facebook page to learn more about the Library’s international collections, we wanted to share some of the page’s highlights on our blog, too. We start with an assortment of interesting materials from the Asian Division’s South Asian Rare Book Collection. Enjoy this jaunt through our page’s archives.

An printed image of a South Asian god.

Trivikramapaṇḍita. “Vāyustutiḥ.” Bambai: Śrīveṅkaṭeśvara Stīm-Presa, 2001 [1944]. South Asian Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress Asian Division.

A calligram is an arrangement of text used to create a visual image. Here’s one example from the South Asian Rare Book Collection: the Sanskrit text of the “Vayustuti” arranged in the shape of the Hindu god Hanuman. Composed around the 13th century, Trivikrama Panditacharya’s “Vayustuti” addresses his guru Madhvacharya, whom some consider an incarnation of Vayu, the god of wind. Vayu is also known as an incarnation of Hanuman, hence the use of the hymn to create this image. It was created in 1944 and published by the Shri Venkateshwar Steam Press in Bombay. See the calligram’s bibliographic record for more information. (Originally posted on October 6, 2018.)

A manuscript contains colorful illustrations and texts.

“[Baidha saphu].” [1722]. South Asian Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress Asian Division.

One word for planet or celestial body in many South Asian languages is graha, a force or deity that can grab and influence people’s lives positively or negatively. This early 18th-century manuscript from Nepal contains beautiful illustrations of the nine grahas of Hindu astrology: Surya (the sun), Soma (the moon), Budha (Mercury), Shukra (Venus), Mangala (Mars), Brihaspati (Jupiter), Shani (Saturn), Rahu (the Moon’s ascending node), and Ketu (the Moon’s descending node). The illustration highlighted in this post depicts Shukra in white and Shani in dark blue. The manuscript is in the format of a folding book, or thyasaphu, and the text is a combination of Sanskrit and Newari, a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by the Newar community in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. Its stotras, or hymns of praise, are intended to pacify the planetary deities and avoid their adverse effects in one’s life. Research into this manuscript has identified its date of creation as 842 in the Nepal Sambat calendar, or 1722 in the Western calendar. View this digitized manuscript and its illustrations in detail online. (Originally posted on June 25, 2021.)

A document with red color stamp and text in an Indian language.

Document in Hindi from the princely state of Bikaner with stamp in the denomination of 8 annas. Part of the Princely State Papers in the South Asian Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress Asian Division.

Prior to the independence of Pakistan (August 14, 1947) and India (August 15, 1947), there were a number of small, nominally-independent “princely states” covering about half of the Indian subcontinent, each with its own ruling family and court system. The Library of Congress’ South Asian Rare Book Collection has several thousand papers from the courts of these and other princely states. Acquired through a donation to the division, most are from the very late 19th century or the early 20th century in a mix of Hindi, Urdu, and Rajasthani languages, alongside a few in English. Many of these documents are on stamped papers that people had to purchase when writing up commercial transactions and legal affairs, including lawsuits and other court cases. These colorful stamps come in various denominations (e.g., 1 anna, 4 annas, 8 annas, 1 rupee) and bear the image of their princely state’s ruler or emblem. Check out some samples of documents from the princely states of the past. Contact the Asian Division through Ask a Librarian to schedule an appointment to view this collection. (Originally posted on August 16, 2018.)

Two photographs featuring an early printed book.

Urdu translation of the “Arabian Nights,” including the marginalia in volume three. Munshī ʻAbdulkarīm, translator. “Alf lailah Urdū.” [Kānpur, India]: Mat̤baʻ Muṣtafāʼī, 1263 [1847]. South Asian Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress Asian Division.

A new acquisition for the South Asian Rare Book Collection! A very early translation of the classic “Arabian Nights” in Urdu—four volumes in two beautifully bound books lithographed at Cawnpore (Kanpur) by the Mustafai Press in 1847. Munshi Abdulkarim’s prose translation became quite popular in British India due to the ease and fluidity of its language. Volume three of the Library’s copy contains lots of marginalia, presumably from its previous owner, with handwritten definitions of Urdu words encountered in the text, like the phonetically-spelled “zerub” defined as “to multiply” and “taxseem” as “divided.” As with all items in the rare book collection, please contact South Asian reference staff via the Asian Division’s Ask a Librarian to make an appointment in advance to view this work. And learn more about the Arabian Nights from this 2017 post on the Library’s 4 Corners blog. (Originally posted on March 20, 2019.)

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