For this edition of “Cotsen’s Covert Collections” I’d like to post about another item I know very little about: an 18th-century manuscript from Rajasthan, India. But the manuscript is such an unusual item that I thought it was definitely worth advertising!
Here’s what we do know: The manuscript was written in the Braj Bhasa language in Devanagari script probably around 1780 in the Mewar region of the Indian state of Rajasthan. It contains 3 distinct works: the text Avatara-carinthr, which describes the different reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu; the text Shri Ramcandra-carinthr manas, which describes the life of Rama and Sita (from the Ramayana epic); and the tenth book of Bhagavata Purana, which is the holiest book for worshipers of the Hindu god Vishnu. Though the middle text appears to be the bulk of the manuscript, it’s hard to designate the sections (for me anyway) because the manuscript is unpaginated.
Physically, the manuscript is really beautiful and honestly kind of daunting. The folio-sized manuscript, which measures about 16 inches high, is massive! It’s over 500 pages long and contains around 1600 illuminated and hand-painted miniatures. When talking about Western medieval manuscripts, “illuminated” means that gold (or silver) foil is used in the decoration of the artwork; and “miniatures” are not necessarily minute in size, but is a specialized meaning of the term to denote those paintings within a manuscript.
Another fascinating feature of this manuscript is the folded binding–a one-of-a-kind example in our collection.
This means that 24-inch-long sheets, painted and calligraphed on both sides, were pierced and folded over each other and then tied to the outer housing through the center of the fold (though our current housing is definitely later than the book). Since all the sheets were folded together we are left with a distinct peak in the center of the manuscript which recedes in a teardrop shape as the folded sheets increase in number. This is very different from familiar Western style binding where small groups or quires of sheets are folded together and then the ends of the full book block are cut for uniform edges.
As you can see above, while perusing the manuscript for interesting images, I came across another very surprising feature of the book. Many of the illuminated miniatures in the second section are unfinished.
I hope that showcasing this beautiful object will bring it to the attention of someone more knowledgeable than I, who can help us discover more about this wonderful (and under-described) manuscript. Cotsen has such a diverse range of unusual or unexpected artifacts, books, and objects. As always, this blog series is supposed to inspire researchers to see what else they can find in our collection.