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Mahābhārata, illustrated manuscript scroll, 1795 C.E.

 Item
Identifier: Or Ms 510
Mahābhārata scroll [link to full scroll]
Mahābhārata scroll [link to full scroll]

Scope and Contents

A monumental epic (or perhaps more correctly a ‘chronicle’) dated as a text to about 400 BCE – 400 CE, the Mahābhārata consists of dramatic narrative and sermonising didactic on ethics and moral law (dharma) as played out in the lives of two groups of dynastic cousins who fought over control of Bhāratavarṣa, present day central north India. It is one of the two major epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. This extensive scroll, made by a workshop of scribes and painters, is inscribed with text in Sanskrit and punctuated by decorative cartouches inset with delicately rendered illustrations from the story.
Sequence of miniatures
The text is preceded by a series of 15 large miniatures, with others between the various parvans (books), as well as a series of small quatrefoil-shaped ones interspersed through the text of the Ᾱdiparvan and Sabhāparvan, as detailed below. There is no special treatment for the Bhagavadgītā. All the miniatures have gold backgrounds with red and white flowers, green leaves, blue diamond shapes and gold flowers in orange cartouches.
Click here to open a detailed description of the illustrations.

Dates

  • 1795 C.E.

Language of Materials

Sanskrit

Physical Description

Scroll format; burnished paper laid on cotton or silk; scroll mounted on rollers in a 19th century British glass-topped oak wood box and wound with a key; minute, neat Nāgarī script; 78 miniatures in lobed- and quatrefoil-shaped cartouches.

Conservation

Margins stabilised and restored, Emily Hick, CRC, 2017.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, but please contact the repository in advance.

Extent

1 linear metre (Custom wooden box with a crank handle.)

Custodial History

Belonged to John Baillie of Leys (1772-1833) (not Col. Alexander Walker of Bowland as sometimes recorded). Baillie entered the army of the East India Company in 1790 but his interest in oriental languages led him to be appointed professor of Arabic and Persian at Fort William College, Calcutta, in 1800. In 1807 he became Resident at the court of the Nawab of Awadh at Lucknow, a post from which he was sacked in 1815. Following his retirement from India, in 1818, he became a Director of the Company and an MP, latterly for Inverness 1830-1833. When Baillie died in London in 1833 his fine collection of manuscripts, including the Mahābhārata scroll, was seemingly overlooked, but was rediscovered there 6 years later by Duncan Forbes, Professor of Oriental Languages at King's College London, and subsequently returned to Baillie’s family in Scotland. The collection was bequeathed to Edinburgh University Library in 1876 by his grandson John B. Baillie.

Bibliography

Losty, Jeremiah, The art of the book in India (London: British Library, 1982), pp.121, 145.
Christies, London, Arts of India, 12 June 2018, lot 81.
John Brockington, The Sanskrit Epics (Leiden: Brill, 1998)
On Baillie see: Martin Casey, ‘Baillie, John (1772-1833), of Leys Castle, Inverness and Devonshire Place, Mdx’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832. Edited by D.R. Fisher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/baillie-john-1772-1833 [accessed 13 August 2018]; and William H. Morley, 'Letters to the Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 6, 1 (1841), pp.11-41, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25207539 [accessed 22 August 2018].

Physical Description

Scroll format; burnished paper laid on cotton or silk; scroll mounted on rollers in a 19th century British glass-topped oak wood box and wound with a key; minute, neat Nāgarī script; 78 miniatures in lobed- and quatrefoil-shaped cartouches.

Conservation

Margins stabilised and restored, Emily Hick, CRC, 2017.

Dimensions

scroll: approx. 13.5 cm x 7010 cm

Processing Information

Description compiled by John Brockington, 1998. Revised by John Brockington and Andrew Grout, 2018, with the help of Naomi Appleton and Brian Black. Keyed into ArchivesSpace by Aline Brodin, September 2018.

Repository Details

Part of the Edinburgh University Library Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379