Manuscripts and Paintings: In Foreign Collections
(a). This relates the ownership title of the 17th century Persian manuscript of the Windsor Bādshāh-Nāmah and its 46 priceless paintings and, with it, nearly 70,000 Indian manuscripts (of which about 6,000 are illustrated), written in Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and other Indian languages, which are now in Physical possession of various museums, libraries and other collections in Europe and the U.S.A.
An idea of their contents and value can be had by perusal of 20 and odd catalogues of these collections, as Catalogue of Manuscripts: in the British Museum Library London by C.Rieu (3 vols); in the Bibliotheque Nationale Paris by E.Blochet (2 vols); in the Bodlein Library Oxford by E.Sachau and H.Ethe; in the India Office Library London by H.Ethe (2 vols); in the Royal Asiatic Society London by W.H.Morley; and in the University of Cambridge Library by E.G.Browne, for example.
These manuscripts have reached these collections, mostly during the period from 1757 to 1947, by gift, purchase, theft and plunder, and, because these collections are in physical possession of these manuscripts, they are claiming their ownership rights and copyrights which have, in fact, never been transferred to them along with the physical possession. These manuscripts are, in fact, our Intellectual Property and our National Heritage, and we have to assert the Principle of “OWNERSHIP OF PROVEN ANTIQUITIES BELONGS TO THE COUNTRY OF ORIGIN.”
We are being denied their use; or exhorbitant fees are being charged from us for their use. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (U.S.A.) (vide their letter No.PL-14623 d. 22 January 1990) demanded $175 for the use of only one transparency (of a Mughal painting entitled : ‘Jehangir & I’timād-ud-Daulah’ painted by Manohar under Jahangir c. 1615) returnable within 6 months, after which $ 25 per month was demanded. Similarly, the Victoria & Albert Museum London demanded £ 193 for 9 black-and-white photographs (of 9 paintings of the Akbar-Nāmah in their possession under the Vantage Bequest (Collection) vide their letter No.PRO/UR d. 21.1.1990.
These foreign collections are also ruthlessly commercialising this Indian heritage. The examples of the Ṭūṭī-Nāmah, one of the earliest illustrated works of the reign of Akbar, and the Ḥamzā-Nāmah, being roll paintings on cloth, may be cited by way of examples. The Windsor Bādshāh-Nāmah is the most outstanding, singular and unique Persian manuscript of this lot.
The Bādshāh-Nāmah (also called Pādshāh-Nāmah), authored by ‘Abd’al Ḥamīd Lāhaurī, is the most important and authentic Persian history of Shah Jehan’s golden age. Lahauri was commissioned to write the history of Shah Jehan’s reign in the style of Abū’l Fażl, Akbar’s celebrated historian. He wrote the history of first 20 years of the period, divided into two cycles of ten years each (1628 to 1638 and 1638 to 1648). He was an eye-witness and he is truthful and graphic in his narrative. As a court historian, he is generally flattering and occasionally verbose. But he deals with details minutely. He is the first historian of Mughal India who devoted as much attention to the architectural projects of Shah Jehan, one of the greatest builders of India, as to his political and administrative activities, and his work is invaluable for the study of contemporary architecture. He died in 1654 and the history of the third cycle of Shah Jehan’s reign (1648 to 1658) was added by his pupil Muḥammad Wāris.
Lahauri’s Bādshāh-Nāmah is a voluminous work which covers 1840 printed pages (Asiatic Society of Bengal Calcutta, 1866-68) with an average of 22 lines per page.
Full pages were left blank in the original manuscript of the Bādshāh-Nāmah for illustrations which were painted by such miniature painters of Shah Jehan’s court as Bālchand, Lālchand, Rāmdas, Murār, Bichitra, Bholā, Ābid, Pāyāg, Bishandās, Bulāqī, ‘Tezdast’, Dholā and Daulat, roughly from 1633 to 1656, which shows that the paintings were done simultaneously and contemporarily with the text.
The original manuscript which was scribed by Muḥammad Āmīn of Mash-had in A.H.1067/1657 A.D. was preserved in the Imperial Mughal Library at Agra. The library was plundered during the period of anarchy following the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 A.D., and the manuscript, some how or the other, reached Lucknow. The British collected it from there in 1799, ostensibly, as a gift from the Nawāb of Awadh and it was presented to the King of England, King George-III, who placed it in the Buchingham Palace. When King George-IV gave his father’s library to the British Museum in 1823, this unique and priceless manuscript of the Bādshāh-Nāmah was not included and it was placed in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (Ms.1367), the accompanying note (Ms.1368) stating that the manuscript was purchased by Nawāb Āsafuddaulah of Awadh for Rs.12,000/- (£ 1500). It has been exhibited for the first time in 1997.
The present manuscript is incomplete and contains 239 folios only, dealing with the history of only the first cycle of Shah Jehan’s reign (1628 to 1638) and only 46 paintings. Unsurpassed in richness of colours and fineness of details; truthful, almost photographic, representation of the personnel and the events depicted; and extremely beautiful compositions, specifically of the court scenes, the paintings of the Bādshāh Nāmah constitute the most exquisite set of Mughal miniatures.
The manuscript of the Windsor Badshah – Namah was brought out, for the first time, in 1997 and exhibited in various museums of the world, including the National Museum New Delhi. A book has also been published from England reproducing, in facsimile, all the original 46 paintings of the original manuscript (R.Nath purchased a copy at Rs. 1800 in 1997, the price was later raised to 5000/- and now it is reported to be priceless).
The publishers of this book and their associates claimed ownership rights and copyrights of these paintings. This was questioned by R.Nath and he sent a Registered letter d. 18 November 1998 to the publishers. It was returned, whereupon he sent it again, on 14 January 1999, by Registered and ordinary mail (Air Mail) to: M/s Azimuth Editions Ltd, 33 Ladbrooke Grove, London W 11 3 A 7; the Director/Librarian Incharge, Royal Library, Windsor Castle London; and the Officer Incharge, the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace London (copy enclosed see 5/1).
He received acknowledgement from the Royal Collection Enterprises, St.James Palace London, d. 8 February 1999 (copy enclosed see 5/2) and their reply d. 10 March 1999 (copy enclosed see 5/3). In this reply, they did not claim any ownership rights or copyrights in the original manuscript or the original paintings of the Windsor Badshah-Namah; they have asserted their rights only in the photographs which they have published.
These photographs are facsimile, exact and true copies of the original paintings and the photographer/printer/publishers of these plates have not created any new or original work, and they have only copied the Mughal originals. Hence, the copyright of these photographs/plates is linked inseparably with the copyright of the original paintings and cannot exist independent of them.
This and other points R.Nath clarified in his rejoinder which he sent to them on 2 April 1999 (copy enclosed see 5/4). Of this, he has not received any response so far.
We can now proceed further in this matter and enact a law asserting our ownership rights and copyrights in all such works which constitute our Intellectual Property and our National Heritage (a specimen proforma enclosed see 5/5). At this stage, we must assert our ownership rights theoretically; the matter of their final retrieval can wait until an opportune moment arrives.
(b). R.Nath was already working on this matter related to the Indian Intellectual Property Rights. ‘Parliament’, ‘Press’ and ‘PIL’ are the three avenues for any such ‘Protest’, open to the ‘People’, in the ‘Public Interest’. He sent this matter to eminent Members of Parliament and the Leader of Opposition, with the request please to consider it and enact a suitable Law to protect our National Heritage. George Fernandes M.P. liked the suggestion and replied that he would have a bill drafted and submit to the Parliament. Acknowledgement from the Private Secretary to the Leader of Opposition (Lok Sabha) was also received. Fernandes pursued the matter sincerely and again informed, by his letter d. 13 July 1994, that the bill was being drafted and would be “submitted to Parliament before the Monsoon session opens.” But, inspite of his best efforts, nothing could be done.
Thereupon, R.Nath sent more than a hundred letters to the concerned Government departments, scholars, historians, eminent lawyers, and journalists and editors of almost all National newspapers. The matter was widely reported in the National Press (May to August 1999), with concern and alarm. A completely indifferent reply was received from the Archaeological Survey of India (see 5/6), showing how a wooden reply could be given without comprehending the matter. Reply from the Department of Culture (Government of India), however, assured that the matter was:
“being examined by the Registrar of Copyright as well as the Department of Legal Affairs”
R.Nath, still, did not give up. He brought this matter to the notice of the Hon’ble President of India by his letter d. 17 Feburary 2003, (see 5/8) which the Secretary to the President acknowledged by his letter d. 5 March 2003 (see 5/9) that the letter was being:
“forwarded to Department of Culture in the Government of India for appropriate action.”
Subsequently, along with his letter d. 11 November 2003, he sent a copy of the reply d. 3.10.2003 received from the Secretary of Department of Culture (see 5/10: two letters).
R.Nath pursued the matter still further. He wrote full articles on it, in Hindi and English, in important newspapers, magazines and journals. Copy of one representative Hindi aricle entitled: ‘Bhāratīya-Bauddhik-Sampadā: Loot-aur-Swāmitva’ (Indian Intellectual Property: Loot and Ownership) published in several newspapers and magazines is given herewith (see 5/11).
An author has not other weapon to wield, except his PEN. In such desperate situations, when the politicians and bureaucrats, making the government, are too indifferent and insensitive to such subtle matters of National interest, the only course open to him is to create an awareness, perhaps for the Posterity, more than the present generation: surely and certainly, like the tiny seed of Peepal (ficus religiosa), the IDEA will grow to its logical end, in due course of time!
God cannot alter the PAST, historian can !
Links of Chapter 5