An Avestan manuscript with Gujarati translation

« previous post | next post »

In late January, the Asian and African studies blog of the British Library announced that, after "two years' work in an ongoing project sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation together with the Bahari Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute", the department had just uploaded more than 15,000 images of Persian manuscripts online.

wo years' work in an ongoing project sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation together with the Bahari Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.W74Bo6sq.dpuf
wo years' work in an ongoing project sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation together with the Bahari Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.W74Bo6sq.dpuf
wo years' work in an ongoing project sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation together with the Bahari Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.W74Bo6sq.dp15,000 images of Persian manuscripts online.

In the beautiful post by

Ursula Sims-Williams
Ursula Sims-Williams

Ursula Sims-Williams that announces and describes the uploading, one of the most amazing items is this:

A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf

A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf

A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf

A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
Io_islamic_3043_f137r
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
Io_islamic_3043_f137r
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf
A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r) – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.QBPGJuGf.dpuf

A leaf from the Saddar ('100 doors'), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution.  This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation.

(BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r)

BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r)

There is a nice discussion (in the comments section) of why the interspersed Gujarati translation is upside down, something that I noticed as soon as I took one look at the leaf.  In answer to Elisa Coghlan, who pointed this out, Ursula acknowledges that the Gujarati is indeed upside down, but goes on to explain:

The Avestan script however is the right way up. There is quite a tradition of interlinear Gujarati instructions being included in Zoroastrian texts this way (ie. upside down), it occurs most frequently in liturgical texts used in worship. There are two views about this: a) my preferred: since Avestan reads from right to left but Gujarati left to right, this would have been the most economical usage of space. After writing the Avestan script, you turned the book upside down and carried on from where you had stopped. b) the Gujarati was upside down so that priests or students who were standing facing the teacher/main priest could read the Gujarati explanation/translation while he was reading the Avestan out loud. However, this would only work when the text was a liturgical text and the Saddar is not that, more a practical text for learning the rules! – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/15000-images-of-persian-manuscripts-online.html#sthash.2MyuSSIp.dpuf

The Avestan script however is the right way up. There is quite a tradition of interlinear Gujarati instructions being included in Zoroastrian texts this way (ie. upside down), it occurs most frequently in liturgical texts used in worship. There are two views about this:

a) my preferred: since Avestan reads from right to left but Gujarati left to right, this would have been the most economical usage of space. After writing the Avestan script, you turned the book upside down and carried on from where you had stopped.

b) the Gujarati was upside down so that priests or students who were standing facing the teacher/main priest could read the Gujarati explanation/translation while he was reading the Avestan out loud. However, this would only work when the text was a liturgical text and the Saddar is not that, more a practical text for learning the rules!

This is but one of the many treasures of the Asian and African department of the British Library.  I warmly encourage you to look around.  And be sure not to miss this one about a Dunhuang manuscript that has special meaning for me (digitized by the International Dunhuang Project).

[Tip of the hat to Arif Dirlik]

Share:



5 Comments »

  1. Ursula Sims-Williams said,

    May 18, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

    Glad you liked it Victor! Our collections are full of these multicultural/lingual oddities! I take it you saw Sam van Schaik's post on the Chinese/Khotanese phrasebook Pelliot chinois 5538 (http://idpuk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/phrasebooks-for-silk-route-travellers.html):
    "After some phrases regarding the arrival of a Tibetan teacher, the conversation goes in this direction:

    He is dear to many women. He goes about a lot. He makes love.
    Which suggests that gossip was also a popular activity among Silk Route travellers over a thousand years ago!"

  2. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

    From Jamsheed Choksy:

    I agree with both explanations for the upside-down Gujarati. As for explanation (b) it works not only for liturgical but also for instructional texts which are often discussed between teacher and pupil with each sitting opposite the other.

    In the summer of 1984 (between junior and senior years as an undergraduate at Columbia University) I was funded by the university to research Zoroastrian purity rituals in India and recall sitting in the expansive entry hall of the Wadia Atash Bahram at a table across from Dastur Dr. Firoze Kotwal with such manuscripts between us. Wonderful memories.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 18, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    I would imagine (w/o knowing of actual examples . . .) that down in Kerala there would likely be interlinear MSS generated over the history of the old indigenous Christian communities that would have a Syriac original with a Malayalam gloss. I would think you'd have the same issue (one language written right-to-left and the other left-to-right) and it would be fascinating to know if the same solution was arrived at.

  4. John Cowan said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    There are strange things done in the world of multidirectional text. This is example is not directly on point, but indicates the kind of thing that can happen.

    Classical Mongolian script is written vertically from top to bottom, with lines that progress from left to right across the page (unlike CJK vertical scripts, which progress from right to left). This is because Mongolian script is descended (via several intermediaries) from the Aramaic script, which was and is written horizontally from left to right. In essence, the forms of the script were created by rotating the page as a whole 90° counterclockwise, causing right to become down and down to become left.

    Now when Arabic text is embedded in Mongolian, it is written upwards; that is to say, against the direction of the Mongolian, just as Arabic text embedded in English is written against the direction of the English. However, when for any reason Mongolian script must be written horizontally, it is not rotated back 90° clockwise. Instead, the page is rotated a further 90° counterclockwise, producing glyphs that are read left to right. They are upside down with respect to their Aramaic ancestors, and any embedded Arabic text will be in fact upside down.

    JWB: The usual case is to write the primary text normally, and each word of the gloss is normal but the direction of the words is reversed. In sheet music with Hebrew lyrics, each syllable of the Hebrew is written right to left under its note, but the overall direction of the music is left to right, so the syllable progression is left to right also.

  5. John Cowan said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 8:21 pm

    Aramaic script, which was and is written horizontally from left to right.

    Of course, that should read from right to left.

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment