The Laur-Chand: an Indian Sufi romance


Hindustani MS 1 has been digitised and is now available to view online in the Rylands Collection.

This sixteenth-century copy of the Laur-Chand by Maulana Daud is one of the Library’s most beautiful and important manuscripts.

Dr Jacqueline Suthren Hirst has kindly provided an introduction to the story and to our manuscript.

The story

Maulana Daud, a Sufi poet from Dalmau (modern Uttar Pradesh, India), composed his narrative of the hero, Laurak, and his beloved, Chanda, around 1377-78 A.D.  Drawing on a popular north Indian regional folktale, which still circulates in vibrant performative traditions today, Daud used the language of Avadhi (or Hindavi) to compose the first surviving Indian Sufi romance, a model for later poets.  Avadhi was both a courtly literary language and a vernacular; Daud used Persian masnavi conventions, such as opening verses in praise of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad and his four Companions, his patron and his own pir (Sufi teacher), alongside Indian images and settings, to create an Indo-Islamic story with wide appeal.The story tells of the mutual love of Laur (Lorik/Laurak), already married to Maina, and the beautiful Chand (or Chanda), separated from an unsuccessful childhood marriage.  Brought together through the mediation of Chanda’s nanny, they run away together and face many trials, including Chanda’s near-fatal snakebites, the result of a curse. Eventually, they return to Maina, but the end of the story is unknown, none of the five surviving manuscripts being complete.  Chanda’s beauty draws Laurak, the Sufi seeker, to God’s beauty; his ‘death’ to nafs, the ego-self, as she ‘dies’ at the second bite, hints at fana’, the annihilation of the seeker in God’s being alone.

Laurak has just scaled the wall to Chanda’s bedchamber, before they have actually met. He gazes on her beauty as she sleeps, her female companions failing to wake and guard her as they should. The verses opposite describe the gorgeous wall-hangings: the ten-headed demon Ravana, the capture of Sita, Rama preparing for battle, from the epic of Rama and Sita; the story of the Pandavas, from the Mahabharata, the other great Indian epic; lions and deer – all delicately etched on the walls ‘the colour of aloewood’, gold-leafed in the painting.  In a moment, Laurak will wake Chanda, and the passion of their romance will begin…


The manuscript

The Manchester Chandayan is the most extensive extant manuscript, despite lacking beginning, end and some middle pages. A clever use of picture series draws readers into the story, immersing them in an experience which hints at emotions and unfolding action, creates suspense and engages them at the pace of the narrated tale.  While previously the Manchester manuscript was seen as an inferior version of a common lost original better reproduced by the Mumbai Chandayan (Losty), Adamjee has now convincingly argued for its subtle independent narrative strategies intertwining paint and word. The 286 minatures are characteristed by a pastel palette, minimal underdrawing, infilling patterns drawn from fabric design, and extensive gold leaf. The text pages show a Persian section-caption in red ink, above five verses in chaupai rhyming couplets in two columns, with the final verse of each section, in longer doha metre, at the bottom of the page, all written in naskh script.

Origin: India (North Deccan workshop, or possibly court of Malwa), 16th century (possibly c.1570 A.D).

Physical description: 239 x 148mm, 636 paper pages, nineteenth-century leather flap binding.

Manuscript history: Formerly part of the collection of the Persian scholar Nathaniel Bland (1803-1865). Bland’s oriental manuscripts were sold through Bernard Quaritch in 1866 to Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford. The Crawford manuscript collection was purchased in 1901 by Enriqueta Rylands, founder of the John Rylands Library.

Further Reading

Adamjee, Qamar,  ‘Strategies For Visual Narration in the Illustrated Chandayan Manuscripts’, unpublished doctoral thesis, (New York University: Institute of Fine Arts, 2011).

Hines, Naseem, Maulana Daud’s Cāndāyan: A Critical Study (New Delhi: Manohar, 2009).

Losty, Jeremiah, The Art of the Book in India (London: British Library Reference Division Publications, 1982).

Pandey, Shyam Manohar, The Hindi Oral Epic Loriki (Allahabad: Sahitya Bhawan, 1979).

___  The Hindi Oral Epic Canaini (Allahabad: Sahitya Bhawan, 1982).

___ ‘Love Symbolism in Candayan’, in Monika Thiel-Horstmann (ed.), Bhakti in Current Research 1979-1982 (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1983), pp. 269-93.

Suthren Hirst, Jacqueline, ‘An Indian Sufi romance’, in John Hodgson (ed.), Riches of the Rylands (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), p.211.


Cholera Comes to Manchester


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“The characteristic symptoms that define this disease are a constant vomiting and purging, the matter thrown up bilious attended with constant nausea and gripes and sometimes spasms of the legs. … most met with in the warm climates and brought on by an over flow of the bile, or eating a large quantity of ripe fruit, and also the sudden change from a warm to a moist air. The progress of the disease is very rapid and patients have died in 12 hours from the attack.” Comments on cholera from a manuscript of 1792 [MMM/23/1/10]

In 1831 cholera was spreading across continental Europe and worrying health authorities in Britain who met late in the year to discuss the potential problem and possible measures to keep it out of the country. However, the first cases were reported in Sunderland in October 1831 and it soon spread across the country taking hold in Manchester in 1832. Doctors at the time were in general disagreement as to the nature of the spread of the disease with some believing it was contagious and others attributing it to general uncleanliness. We now know the most common cause to be contaminated food and water.

In response, the authorities in Manchester established a hospital for the treatment of cholera victims at Knott Mill, Jordan Street, just behind Deansgate Train Station. Dr Edward Stephens was appointed one of the Cholera Medical Officers for the city and treated patients at Knott Mill and accounts of his life report how he was deeply affected by the effects the disease had and the rapidity with which some of his patients died.

John Windsor, another prominent Manchester surgeon at the time, recorded the details surrounding some of the patients he treated in a case book dedicated specifically to cholera victims. Although only a relatively small number of cases are recorded in this manuscript the addresses he supplies show all of his patients to be based either in the area surrounding Sackville Street or in Ancoats. We can also see that some died within 24 hours of Windsor’s first visit and few survived more than a couple of days. The first case reads as follows:

“James White’s wife, age 31, under 60 Silver St, 5 months advanced in pregnancy was seized with cramps, vomiting, and purging with the other symptoms of the prevailing epidemic at 9 o’clock AM 8th July. She only returned from Liverpool the preceding day but had not while there visited any one labouring under cholera. No remedies were used until I was called in at 4PM. She then was in excessive pain and screaming violently from the severity of the cramps in her legs and thighs, pulse indistinct and not to be counted, countenance shrunk and bluish, tongue cold, sickness severe, alvine evacuations frequent and exhibiting the usual white flocculent appearance … Ordered hot bricks to the feet, a mustard poultice to the epigastrium and hydragyri submuriatis [mercury (I) chloride] and opium with two tablespoonfuls of the following mixture between each dose of the pills, [aromatic confection, tincture of cinnamon, aromatic ammonia spirit, tincture of opium, & mint water], drinking occasionally one teaspoonful of brandy to a tablespoonful of mint tea …She continued in the same state asking repeatedly for drink until 2 o’clock AM when throwing out her arms and without uttering any complaints she expired. No inspection of the body was made.” Cholera Case Book [MMM/4/2/1/2]

L0003051 A cholera patient experimenting with remedies. Coloured Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images 'A cholera patient', caricature of a cholera patient experimenting with remedies (Robert Cruikshank's random shots No. 2) Coloured etching 1832 By: Robert CruikshankPublished: [1832?] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0003051 A cholera patient experimenting with remedies. 1832 By: Robert Cruikshank
Credit: Wellcome Library
Copyrighted-CC BY 4.0

There was little the medical community could do in the face of such an epidemic, yet certain treatments were very popular and held to be effective in fighting cholera. The use of opium had been highly recommended for several years at this point in addition to emetics, mercury, and wine. Windsor also treated one of his patients with prussic acid, or hydrogen cyanide. With such a concoction of hazardous substances on offer it is no wonder patients had little hope of survival and medical men were satirised for their efforts.

New inventory of our European Proclamations and Broadsides now available


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Printed Revolutions

inventory front page

I have now completed the inventory of the John Rylands Library European Proclamations and Broadsides (EPAB), a unique resource containing well over 10,000 items printed all over Europe between c.1530 and c.1890. The inventory complements the digitisation project ‘Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, 1789-1815’ announced previously on this blog, but it provides information on the entirety of EPAB. Although centred on France, this collection also includes material from elsewhere in Europe, including Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. It is the very first inventory to be made of the collection.

Please click on the link below to download a PDF copy of this inventory, or go to the ‘Inventory’ page of this blog for further information (see toolbar at top of page).

JRL EPAB Inventory

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New Japanese Maps Added to Our Digital Collections

CHICC Manchester

Following our blog entry in October 2015, Digitisation of Japanese Maps at the John Rylands Library, we are pleased to announce the completion of phase three of the Japanese Maps digitisation project. Over the course of the year 28 maps have been digitised as part of 3 small-scale projects, the images are now available for viewing in LUNA.

Phase one – 24th September 2015 – Japanese Maps Project : 18 maps, 48 images. This project was supported by the University of Manchester Library Digitisation Steering Group.

Phase two – 4th January 2016 – Japanese Maps Project – Part II: 4 maps, 28 images. This project was generously funded by the Japan Foundation.

Within this group of material selected for digitisation one unusual item stands out to me the most; Tokaido bunken ezu – The Road Atlas was published in five volumes in 1690. This is…

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The John Rylands Seminar on Print and Materiality in the Early Modern World – May 2016

a_printers_workshop-large cropped

The next session of the John Rylands Seminar on Print and Materiality in the Early Modern World takes place on Thursday 28 April 2016, 5.00-7.00pm, in the Christie Room, John Rylands Library. The theme of this session is ‘Embodied Emotions: Mind and Memory in Past and Present’ . We have another fantastic line-up of speakers and papers.

  • Dr Sasha Handley, Manchester, Sleep in Early Modern England
  • Dr Penny Lewis, Manchester, Sleep, Cognition and Neuroscience
  • Michael Smith, Manchester, Emotions and Devotions in Early Modern England

Charlotte Brontë letter filmed for BBC iWonder


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In a week of major literary anniversaries, The John Rylands Library features in a short BBC iWonder video, released to celebrate the two-hundredth birthday of Charlotte Brontë today, 21 April.

In ‘What did the Brontës do for Women?’, presenter Steph McGovern and Professor Sally Shuttleworth of St Anne’s College, Oxford, examine a letter that Charlotte Brontë wrote to Elizabeth Gaskell in September 1851, in which she emphatically rejects the notion that women should get the vote. 

BBC gaskell

Screenshot from the BBC iWonder video.

Shuttleworth argues that we should not judge Charlotte too harshly: ‘She was of her time. She was Tory in her politics but nonetheless she felt really passionately for women. She argued that they should actually be allowed to work.’

You can watch the interview now on the BBC iWonder website. The letter has been fully digitised and can be read on Luna at:



Shakespeare on show: editors in the spotlight and a mysterious inscription

The Rylands copies of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1623) and the first edition of his sonnets (1609) are currently on display in the Rylands Gallery as part of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death. For more information, see Celebrating Shakespeare

Seven years after Shakespeare’s death, his plays, including many never before published, were assembled, ordered into the now familiar categories of comedies, histories and tragedies, and issued in a single volume by his friends John Heminge and Henry Condell, effectively ensuring their survival in what has become known as the First Folio. The title-page bears a portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout. Being so contemporary, and issued with the approval of his friends, it has been supposed to be a good likeness of the author.


The Rylands First Folio is notable for being the copy thought to have been studied by two renowned editors of Shakespeare’s works, Lewis Theobald and George Steevens, when compiling their own editions.

Lewis Theobald, an eighteenth-century lawyer, classicist and writer of pantomimes, issued his Shakespeare edition in 1733. Theobald had severely criticised Alexander Pope’s edition of 1725, resulting in lengthy public animosity between the two scholars. Theobald is little remembered nowadays outside Shakespeare circles, yet his Shakespeare edition attracted critical acclaim.

The Rylands copy bears this handwritten note: “N.B. This was the book Mr. Theobald made use of for his edition.” It is not definitely known if Theobald actually owned this copy, although it is believed to be the one he used in preparing his own Shakespeare edition.

George Steevens, having published revisions to Samuel Johnson’s 1765 Shakespeare edition, was encouraged and supported by Johnson in producing his own ten volume edition, which was finished in 1773. As well as being an ardent book collector and scholar, Steevens became known also as a hoaxer, producing several credible items which were at first taken for genuine. His hoaxes included forged Shakespeare correspondence, an Anglo-Saxon tombstone, and a fictitious scholarly article on the discovery of a deadly Javanese tree.

The Rylands First Folio was bought at the sale of Martin Folkes’ library in 1756 by Dr. John Monro, an associate of Steevens. It is thought to have been passed from Monro to Steevens, and subsequently to George John, 2nd Earl Spencer. It was certainly in Earl Spencer’s library before 1822, when it was described by Thomas Dibdin in his Bibliotheca Spenceriana, where he wrote: “Every leaf of this copy was carefully examined by George Steevens, for Earl Spencer.”

jrl0903768dcThis first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was printed in 1609 in a quarto volume containing 154 sonnets, followed by the longer “A Lover’s Complaint”. The sonnets are addressed to either a “fair youth” or to a “dark lady”, and the volume is dedicated to “Mr. W.H.”. Despite much scholarly research and as much speculation, the identities of these individuals have never been definitively proved, and so the enigma remains. Although a smaller and more modest publication than the First Folio, this edition is far rarer, the Rylands Sonnets being one of only thirteen known extant copies.

It was purchased for £8 in 1798 by Earl Spencer at the sale of the library of the Shakespearian scholar, Rev. Richard Farmer. The sale catalogue refers to a handwritten inscription on the final leaf, and draws attention to speculation that this is in Shakespeare’s hand, although we have no evidence to support this. The identity of the recipient also remains unknown. The inscription: “Comendacons to my very kind and approued ffreind” does however appear to be contemporary, and of great interest, adding, as it does, another layer of mystery concerning the ownership and dedication of this important volume.
We would welcome your thoughts on the final part of the inscription, which we believe is 23:M:, or possibly B:M:, and could be a date or initials.

If you can’t make it to Manchester, both volumes have been digitised and are available on our image database:

First Folio (Spencer 8123)
Sonnets (Spencer 10739)

Mary O’Connor and Christine Stahl.

New Digital Resource on French Revolutionary and Napoleonic France


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Former John Rylands Research Institute Fellow, Dr Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley, reports on the recent digitisation of over 200 proclamations and broadsides from our of our French Revolution Collection.

Printed Revolutions


I am delighted to announce that this project has now overseen the completion of a new digital resource: ‘French Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, 1789-1815’. It provides free public access to high-resolution images of 201 items from the John Rylands Library European Proclamations and Broadsides collection (EPAB) via the University of Manchester Library Image Collections portal (LUNA). The picture above shows thumbnails of just under half of these. The digital element is complemented by full University of Manchester Library Catalogue entries. This is the first time that any material from EPAB has been either catalogued or digitised. More information on the project can be found on this blog’s ‘Digitisation’ page (see toolbar at top of page).

I would like to add a big ‘Thank you!’ to the John Rylands Research Institute for the additional funding provided for this project, the staff at the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care who…

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Manchester’s treasure trove: Dr Laure Humbert reflects on tips and treasures when using the John Rylands Library


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With permission, we reproduce a recent post by Dr Laure Humbert, Lecturer in Modern History, on the History@Manchester blog:

JRUL interior

Interior of the John Rylands Library. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a historian working on displacement and humanitarianism, I visited many archives in various countries over the course of my PhD. Research trips (particularly abroad) were often pleasant, but at times stressful: I had to find my way around different archival catalogues (at times in different languages), familiarise myself with different data rules and fill countless forms either to have access to documents or to be able to take photos. More often than I expected, there were differences between the catalogues available online and what was actually in the archives. My first piece of advice is therefore to always look at the ‘old’ printed catalogues, and spend time examining them; or check with the archivists that the online catalogues are exhaustive. This can be time-consuming: the League of Nations’ archives in Geneva, for instance, still hold and use index correspondence cards. These are very helpful to identify correspondence between various individuals and the Secretariat of the League, but they require a fair deal of patience (particularly for the latter years of the League)!

Luckily, things were much easier at the John Rylands Library, where I took my students to examine the archives of the London Office of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), an international association created in 1902. The archivist Fran Baker sent me a very detailed catalogue of the IWSA archives, with a brief history of the collection (the period covered in this archives is 1903-1920). As part of our class on ‘The aftermath of war’, we looked at the activities of the IWSA and concerns of feminist internationalists in early 1919. Examining these documents closely generated a flurry of questions about the politics and meanings of internationalism and the processes of cultural ‘demobilisation’ and ‘re-mobilisation’ in the aftermath of war. However, the collection contains much more, including documents about the treatment of prisoners of war, the situation of women and children in occupied Belgium and France, the plight of refugees and the work of the peace movement during the First World War. Potentially, these are great sources for an undergraduate dissertation!

On the day, the archivist Peter Nockles generously gave his time to present the history of the Library, founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands in the late nineteenth century. The library holds a fine collection of rare books, manuscripts and archives, covering a wide range of topics. The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library publishes scholarly articles related to the collections. For modern historian, it contains, for instance, the Guardian archive. Students were able to admire the Library’s neo-Gothic architecture; the high ceiling and wooden panels of the study room was undoubtedly much grander than our usual seminar room on campus!

So what are the practical things you need to know before using the wonderful resources at the John Rylands? The reading room for individual researchers is situated on the fourth floor. It is modern, bright and user-friendly. Lockers are located in the ground floor and operate by a key, so you need to bring a pound. At the John Rylands, you need to book in and order material at least 24 hours in advance of your visit by emailing the Reader Services team on The archivists will need to know when you are planning to come in, along with the collection and individual item references for the material you are interested in consulting. If you haven’t used the Library before, you’ll be asked to fill in a registration form on arrival, and you’ll need to have your student card with you.

And finally, following the great History@Manchester blog post on the ‘Advancing into the Archive’ workshop held in the Liverpool Records Office, here are a couple of other tips and thoughts to bear in mind:

  • Allow time to digest information and be inquisitive (some of the documents that we analysed were drafts that were undated and unsigned. They contain very useful information, but required further research in the collection to identify who wrote them.)
  • If you are thinking about using material, which dates from after 1914, think about data protection. Archives are obliged to meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Data Protection Act 1998 and other relevant legislation. In the case of uncatalogued collections, the curator of the archive will have to check through everything to see if data protection closures need to be applied (Personal data hold in the archives may be retained if they might cause ‘substantial damage and distress’ to someone). They appreciate being given as much notice as possible when researchers wish to access modern uncatalogued archive material – reading through hundreds of letters is a labour-intensive and a time-consuming task for the librarians, just as it may be for later students!

We are incredibly lucky to have the John Rylands as our University Library at Manchester — regularly voted one of Europe’s most beautiful libraries, it is also a real treasure trove of documents from all around the world from the medieval to the modern periods. So as a final piece of advice, don’t forget to just breathe in and pause to soak up the atmosphere while you’re in there, and make sure not to neglect the exhibition galleries as well — currently featuring the marvellous exhibition ‘Magic, Witches, and Demons in the Early Modern World,’ curated by our own Dr Jenny Spinks and Dr Sasha Handley (you can read more on this here).

Happy hunting! Dr Laure Humbert


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