Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings
Qur’an On Two Pages
India or Iran
dated 1283 H/186667 CE
Materials and technique
Ink and gold on paper
48.6 x 69 x 0.8 cm
This Qur’an has been copied in its entirety on two pages in minuscule ghubari script, which derives its name from the Arabic word ghubar, meaning “dust”. The calligrapher, Sayyid ‘Ali al-Tabataba’i, who has signed and dated his work at the foot of the left-hand page, arranged the space in thirty sections (fifteen per page), each of which corresponds to a juz’ - one of the most commonly used divisions of the Qur’an. This allows the text to be read in one month, corresponding to a thirty-volume Qur’an. The presentation of the sacred text in this manuscript is non-standard; indeed this may be the only known example on paper, one of its closest equivalents being a Qur’an on linen, even smaller in size (54 cm x 33.8 cm) and divided into sixty compartments each containing thirty-one lines of text, produced in Turkey in the seventeenth century. In India and in Iran it was more common for one part of the text (a juz’, one thirtieth, or a hizb, one sixtieth) to be written in very small script on the recto and verso of the same sheet. This allowed the text to be accommodated within around thirty or sixty folios. This ghubari script, with letters measuring between 1.3 and 3 mm, is not always legible to the naked eye. Originally it was used to convey urgent messages by carrier pigeon. From the fourteenth century onwards, and probably earlier too, calligraphers used it to copy very small-scale Qur’ans presented in the form of scrolls or codices, sometimes octagonal in shape. The name of the commissioning patron, Sultan al-‘Ulama’ is displayed in the colophon and on the binding. Very probably this refers to ‘Allamah Sayyid Muhammad ibn Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali (d. 1867 CE), who, following in the footsteps of his father Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali al-Nasirabadi (1752-1819 CE), is known as one of the Shia authors who opposed the theories defended by the theologian Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dihlawi (of Delhi) (1746-1823 CE). These writings date from a period when Shia Islam in India was developing and becoming more organised (from the late seventeenth to the early eighteenth century). Even though the name al-Tabataba’i is common in Iran, it is conceivable that this Qur’an was produced in India, where many Iranians lived in the Indian Shia kingdoms, initially in the Deccan Plateau and then from the eighteenth century onwards in Northern India.
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