The collection of illustrated Shahnamas at the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library (hereinafter KBL) is the largest in India, and among the largest in the world. It comprises eighteen manuscripts altogether, from Iran and India, from the late-14th century until the late-19th century, or early-20th century. Several of the Shahnamas at the KBL are described in: Catalogue of Arabic and Persian Manuscripts in Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, 1993. The catalogue is conveniently scanned and available online at the library's website. In addition to this catalogue, a list of the SN manuscripts in Indian Museums, Libraries, and Private Collections (including the KBL) was compiled by Barbara Schmitz for the Edinburgh University Shahnama Conference in 2003. It has mainly been quoted here as a reference for the place of production and the style of the illustrations.
The earliest among the manuscripts is dated in the colophon to the late-14th century, but the illustrations were executed at a much later date in India. From the 15th century, there are two intriguing and surprising manuscripts; one is a copy from Shiraz dated 1440; the other is a well-executed manuscript presumably from Gilan, dated 1436. Two other noteworthy examples are the readily recognized fine Shirazi productions of the 16th century. In addition to these, there are several manuscripts which were probably illustrated in Kashmir in the 19th century. In four of the eighteen manuscripts, blank spaces were left for the illustrations, but only very few of these have been executed.
Conservation work has been conducted on many of the manuscripts: the text-frames and illustrations, including the catch-words at the bottom of the folios (where applicable), were cropped and taped on new sheets. Most manuscripts are now rebound in more than one volume.
Preliminary search at the KBL was done by Amin Mahdavi in 20??. In 2009, Bilha Moor visited the collection, recorded all manuscripts, and obtained the photos. Thanks to the assistance of the librarians it has been possible to add a few manuscripts to Barbara Schmitz' list. Lines of seven manuscripts were checked by BM (H.L. 3791; H.L. 3787-3788; ACC 1243-1244; Cat. no. 1, H.L. 358; Cat. no. 1792, H.L.1814; *H.L. 2770 A-B; *H.L. 3355-3356). The lines for the rest of the manuscripts were checked by ??.
We are greatly indebted to Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad, the Director of the KBL, and to his helpful staff and librarians, especially Mr. Abu Muzaffar Alam, for providing access to all manuscripts, for their interest in the project, and for their kind cooperation and hospitality.
Photo note: View of Patna, on the way to the library.