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Islamic and other oriental manuscript books

Treasures from the East.

The collection of over 700 oriental manuscripts includes some of the greatest treasures of Edinburgh University Library. The manuscripts are mainly Islamic, written in Arabic or Persian, but there are also Jewish Torah scolls, Buddhist texts on palm leaves and Hindu manuscripts.

The Al-Bîrûnî, Rashid al-Din and Mahabharata manuscripts are the best-known items (Or.MS.161, Or.MS.20, Or.MS.510). Other treasures include a beautiful Koran (Or.MS.148) which belonged to Tipu-Sahib, Sultan of Mysore, 1749- 1799 A.D., who was killed in the battle to defend his city, Seringapatam, against the British. Arabic manuscripts include commentaries on the Koran; traditions of the Prophet; prayers; law, general history and biography; medicine, mathematics, philosophy and ethics; and, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, prose, tales, dictionary, and controversy. Persian manuscripts include theology, history, biography, and travel; mathematics and astronomy; ethics, poetry, music, composition and proverbs, tales and romances; grammar and dictionary; and, agriculture and war. Hindustani manuscripts deal with history, poetry, tales and astrology. Turkish manuscripts include material acquired in Astrakhan with several early Ottoman texts, divans of Neva'i and items of dialectical interest. There are also around 100 bundles or parcels of Buddhist works on palm leaves in Burmese, Pali, Sanskrit, Siamese, Tamil, and Tibetan. There are also Sanskrit charters on copper plates. Other languages represented include Ethiopic/Amharic, Armenian, Bengali, Cambodian, Hindustani, Javanese, Malay, Mon, Panjabi, Prakrit, Sinhalese, Syriac and Urdu.

The collection includes material gathered by Lieutenant-Colonel John Baillie of Leys and presented to the Library in 1876 by his grandson, Mr. John B. Baillie. Other donors to the collection were R. M. B. Binning of the Indian Civil Service, George Bell M.D., and the Rev. John Dickson who had been a missionary in Astrakhan. A number of manuscripts came with the David Laing bequest, including several fragments of a 9th-century Koran, at one time in the Mosque of Amr in Fustat - the first mosque in Egypt and indeed Africa (Or.MS.175).

In recent years, the collection has also been augmented through purchase. For instance, at E2011.22 there is a group of 40 manuscripts from the Ottoman Provinces and Iran, mostly 18th and 19th centuries. At E2011.23 there is an illuminated prayer-book, Northern Nigeria, of 29 folios, each with lines of black stylized 'maghribi', with various illuminated panels and medallions. There are over 30 metres of manuscripts in total.

The collection is not yet catalogued online. See Mohammed Hukk, 'A descriptive catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library' (Edinburgh, 1925) and R. B. Serjeant, 'A handlist of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani MSS. of New College, Edinburgh' (London, 1942). See also handlist H8.2.

Oriental Manuscripts Digital Images

Photographs of some items in this collection can be viewed online: Oriental Manuscript Images

The Jami' al-Tawarikh of Rashid al-Din can be browsed in full using our Book Reader software: Jami' al-Tawarikh Online