Category Archives: Stories

our collections and special features about AIIT

Charles Bawden and his Gift to the Trust

It is with great sadness that the trust learned of the death of distinguished Mongolian scholar Professor Charles Bawden on the 11th August. Charles Bawden was Professor of Mongolian at SOAS from 1955 to 1984 and his published works on Mongolian literature and history include a Mongolian-English dictionary, published in 1997, which is considered by many to be the most comprehensive ever written. In 1955, he also translated and annotated the Mongol chronicle Altan tobči or ‘Golden Summary’ from old Mongolian script; a 17th century text of the history of the Mongol dynasties or Khans.


Charles Bawden, Mongolia 1958. Reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Bawden.

Professor Bawden built his book collection over many years, acquiring books also during his several trips to Mongolia, most notably in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He donated a substantial part of his library to the Ancient India & Iran Trust in March 2001 and the remainder of his collection more recently in 2014, including his working papers, correspondence and an important collection of photographs and slides, many of which were taken by him on his travels to Mongolia.

The collection is an invaluable resource for the study of Mongolian language (there are more than 40 different Mongolian dictionaries), literature, history, religion and culture of Mongolia. The history of modern Mongolia is particularly well represented through a variety of materials, including also books and periodicals (scientific and popular) published in Mongolia which give insight into politics and life in Mongolia during the communist period.

Professor Charles Bawden (1924-2016)


Charles Bawden, Mongolia 1958. Reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Bawden.

Jal Edulji Amrolia’s gift to the Library

We were sad to hear last week of the death on 12 May of Jal Amrolia, a long-standing friend of the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Jal Edulji Amrolia was born in Zanzibar on 22nd August 1929 to Tehmina and Edulji Amrolia, one of three siblings with two sisters Khurshed and Sheru. He went to boarding school in Nargol, Gujarat, and then to Technical College in Surat where he met his future wife Banoo (Armin) whom he married in 1955. He returned to Dar-es Salam and got a job in the Tanganyika Electrical Supply Company with postings in Mwanza and Kigoma. In 1961 he came to the UK and worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board with postings at Brunswick Wharf, Hackney and finally as Charge Engineer at Battersea Power Station.

In his spare time Jal studied Avestan with Nicholas Sims-Williams at SOAS and took up silversmithing, specialising in reproductions of Achaemenid and Sassanian works of art. Two of his most successful works were exhibited in the exhibition Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination held first at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, in 2013 and more recently at the National Museum Delhi.

Amrolia rhytonA modern reproduction of a gold rhyton found in Hamadan (Ecbatana) in the 5th century BC now in the National Museum Tehran. Collection Z. Amrolia

Amrolia bowlA modern reproduction of a gold Achaemenid bowl found in Hamadan (Ecbatana), engraved with the name of the Persian king Xerxes I, c. 4th-5th century BC now in the National Museum, Tehran. Collection Z. Amrolia

We also benefited from his generosity at the Trust where he donated several books. The most interesting of these is a Gujarati translation of the story of the Zoroastrian hero Arda Viraz (‘the righteous Virazʼ), or Viraf as he is called in Persian and Gujarati. Originally written in Pahlavi (pre-Islamic Persian) in the early Islamic period, the story was translated into Persian verse at the end of the 13th century by Zartosht Bahram Pazhdu. The Gujarati version we now have thanks to Jal’s generosity, is a very rare book. It was printed in Bombay in 1871 using – as we are told in the introduction – an earlier published translation of Zartosht Bahram’s poem, but with the addition of 59 drawings copied directly from an unspecified Persian manuscript.

AVliesdown_2000Arda Viraf lies in a trance while his soul travels to the world of the dead. Public domain

heroes_2000Arda Viraf sees the souls of warriors in Heaven. Public domain

evildeana_2000Arda Viraf sees the soul of a male sinner as he meets his ‘daena‘, a female personification of his evil deeds on earth. Public domain. Public domain

slackers_2000The souls in Hell of those who were slack in carrying out the rules of the religion. Public domain

Jal Amrolia is survived by his two sons Zarathustra born in 1963 and Persis in 1964.

I am grateful to Malcolm Deboo for supplying biographical information.

Ursula Sims-Williams ©

AIIT’s Flavour of the month…

When the trust was invited by Alan Alder, one of the regular presenters on Cambridge105’s Saturday food programme Flavour, to participate in a feature on food-related books in Cambridge libraries, we thought why not.

Although we are not known for our gastronomical collections, it was interesting to note how many books we discovered that were not just cookery books, but also included content on the social and cultural aspects of food in Indian, Zoroastrian and Central Asian life and history.

AIIT food books
From the collection of two of our founding trustees, Raymond and Bridget Allchin, there are cookery books such as Punjabi Cooking (Gill, P.T., 1984), and South Indian Recipes (Neela, Miss R., 1950); small volumes, mostly un-illustrated (with the exception of The Dalda Cookbook / Dalda Advisory Service, Bombay, 196?, see photo below) and densely packed with everyday recipes for roti, rice, dals, pickles, koftas and halwas; as well as many vegetarian and meat recipes for more substantial meals, including one for ‘curried partridge’ (p.67, Punjabi Cooking / P.T. Gill).

Dalda cookbook
Less unusual titles from the collection of two eminent archaeologists, are those on ancient food gatherers, hunters and farmers in ancient India, including; Food and Drinks in Ancient India (Prakash, Om, 1961, N F32B 12) and From Hunting and Food Gathering to Domestication of Plants and Animals: Beginnings of Agriculture (Sharma, G.R. et al, 1980, N F31E 15), which illustrate the story of subsistence from the earliest civilisations of the Indian subcontinent up to 1200 A.D.

Our collection from another archaeologist, Gregory Possehl, also includes both archaeological and anthropological books with themes that include: ancient farming and food-production, in Farming in Prehistory (Bender, B., 1975, FP592); cultural comparisions of the development of culinary practices around the world in Cooking, Cuisine and Class: a study in comparative sociology (Goody, J, 1982, FP771); studies of the development of food production in Aspects in South Asian Food Systems: Food, Society and Culture (Khare, R.S. & Rao, M.S.A., eds., 1986, FP599) and the superbly titled Human Evolution Cookbook (Dibble, Harold L., Williamson, D. & Evans, B.M., 2003, FP975), which claims to combine “…a dash of prehistory, a sprinkle of recipes, and a generous helping of humor…” and includes tempting recipes such as ‘Serengeti Scavenged Stew’ (see photo below), ‘Neanderthal Nibblers’ and ‘Glacial Gravlax’!

IMG_3425 IMG_3423
Two of the more unusual food-related titles in our collection are from the collection of Mongolian studies material, donated to the trust by Charles Bawden. Published in Cyrillic script, Malyn tsusyg khu̇nsėnd khėrėglėkh nʹ  (translated as ‘Using animal blood in food’) by TS. Gėndėnzhamts (1986, M F28H 18) and Khu̇nsniĭ bu̇tėėgdėkhu̇u̇n khadgalakh mȯsȯn zoorʹ  (translated as ‘Food products [of/in] cold storage’) by N. Lonzhid (1986, M F28H 23) are guides to the processes involving the preservation of blood for use in food, rather than books that contain specific culinary references. Historically, dating back to Genghis Khan, it was seen as taboo in Mongolia to spill or waste blood (see Francis Woodman Cleaves, The Secret History of the Mongols (Cambridge, MA, 1982, A15G 27), 140; also, Marco Polo, The Description of the World, eds. Moule & Pelliot (London, 1938, F44F 2) I, 199-200;) and thus publications that instruct on the preservation and use of blood do not seem that unusual in the reference collection of a Mongolian scholar.

Within the trust’s Persian collection are many references to Parsi food. There are guidelines in the Videvdad (Vendidad), within the sacred texts of the Avesta (B8A 60), emphasizing that people should eat and drink well so as to prevent their bodies from becoming weak and diseases to develop. Two articles on ‘The eating habits of the Parsis’ (Chalo, Jamva, pp 521-534) and ‘Parsi cuisine in the villages of Gujarat’ Dalal, Katy, pp 535-539), in A Zoroastrian Tapestry: art, religion & culture (eds. Godrej, Pheroze J. & Mistree, Firoza Punthakey, 2002, B8A 61). Both articles are illustrated and include some wonderful photographs of ‘…early twentieth century advertisements of the well known Irani bakeries and cafes in Bombay.’ (529, photo below).

parsi bakers ads final
The selection of books discussed on the programme ranged from Indian cookery books of the 1950s (all filled with recipes and nutritional advice); to Mongolian practical guides on how to store blood for cooking; to Parsi cuisine and the contrast between advice in the ancient Zoroastrian Videvdad texts and an online book of Zoroastrian recipes for feasts, celebrations and religious ceremonies, entitle Eat, Live, Pray. This recent publication included a feature on wine, which reminded us that Shiraz is a city in southwest Persia, and the grape was exported from there to countries around the world. It also has a recipe for Chai Creme Brulee, stating that it is also known as ‘Trinity Cream’ or Cambridge Burnt Cream, after the college where it debuted – something we thought was well worth a mention!

That the discoveries we made, whilst researching for this feature, were so diverse and not all scholarly in content highlights that when we accept collections of books into our library they can be eclectic and go well beyond the realm of the subject specialism, or that academic’s area of expertise.

For those of you who haven’t already tuned in to Flavour, it is aired fortnightly on Cambridge105 at 12pm and you can listen to a podcast of the edition that featured Alan’s conversation with our librarian, Jo Salisbury, which aired on Saturday 14th May.

Jo Salisbury


From the archives

Some unexpected recent discoveries at the Ancient India and Iran Trust were two preserved leaves from the bodhi or pipal tree (ficus religiosa).

Bailey misc 1_6According to Professor Bailey’s note, he discovered the leaf on 29 May 1941 in Professor Rapson’s copy of Ausgewählte Erzählungen in Māhārāshṭrī, edited by Hermann Jacobi, Leipzig, 1886 (AIIT A11G 7). The leaf is inscribed, presumably by Professor Rapson himself,  “Bo Tree (Peepul) / Temple of / the Tooth / Kandy / Nov. 1914.”

Professor Edward Rapson (1861-1937) began his distinguished career as a numismatist in the department of coins and medals at the British Museum in 1887. In 1906 he left to become Professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge and was succeeded on his retirement in 1936 by Harold Bailey. One of Rapson’s most important works was the decipherment and edition with Auguste M. Boyer and Émile Senart of the Kharoshthi documents discovered by Stein at Niya in Central Asia. This was a subject dear to Bailey’s heart, indeed his volumes are so well-used that they are in a somewhat sad condition.

HWB_Rapson_1936Edward Rapson and Harold Bailey in 1936  (AIIT Bailey archive)

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka. It is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, and houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha, brought to Sri Lanka, according to legend, in the 4th century AD by Princess Hemamali, hidden in her hair.

P1585Lithograph by Jonathan Needham (fl.1850-1874) after Charles D.C. O’Brien of ‘The Malagawa Temple, Kandy’ in Sri Lanka, dated 1st January 1864. This print forms plate 2 of ‘A series of fifteen Views of Ceylon illustrative of Sir J.E. Tennent’s work, from sketches made on the spot by Capt C. O’Brien, late Assistant Surveyor General, Ceylon’ London, 1864 ( British Library P1585). Public domain

The bodhi or pipal tree (ficus religiosa) is regarded as sacred in that it was the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree symbolizes enlightenment and peace while its bark, fruit and, especially, leaves are believed to have medicinal properties and are used for the treatment of asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, gastric problems, inflammatory disorders, jaundice and heart disorders.

HW_125_1A Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka (AIIT Howard Wilson archive)

The Trust also has a second bodhi leaf in its collections: this one collected by Sir Harold himself in Bangkok in December 1963:

Bailey misc 1_1

Ursula Sims-Williams

Bodhisatta vs. the Big Stick

The Cambridge Shorts scheme allows University of Cambridge researchers to work with artists and filmmakers to make films that are creative, accessible and engaging.

Charles Li, researcher at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge, has collaborated with film-maker Eleonora Mignoli to make Bodhisatta vs the Big Stick, a short film looking at one of most popular of the Jātaka tales: a  story about one of the past lives of the Buddha as a bodhisatta, named Mahosadha.  The film, part of which is filmed at the Ancient India and Iran Trust,  features an interview with Margaret Cone, who has been writing a Pāḷi-English dictionary for over 30 years.

The film can be seen on the Cambridge University YouTube channel here:


Presentation of the RAS Medal 2014 to Dr Bridget Allchin

Thursday 13 March
Presentation of the Royal Asiatic Society Medal 2014 to Dr Bridget Allchin with a lecture in her honour:

From Oxus to Mysore: the Story of the Allchin Partnership in South Asian Archaeology by Professor Robin Coningham (University of Durham)

Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD
T: 0207 388 4539

The lecture will start at 6pm and will be followed by a small reception.
All welcome.

Trust Update

A busy season at the Ancient India and Iran Trust included a Himalaya Study Afternoon on 29 November celebrating Christophe Roustan-Delatour’s work on the Penelope Betjeman (Chetwode) Collection of photographs of Himachal Pradesh.  The  seminar looked at related collections in presentations by Anna Maria Motrescu-Mayes of the Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge; John Falconer of the British Library and Christophe Roustan-Delatour from the Museums of Cannes.  Richard Blurton (British Museum) and Ursula Sims Williams (British Library and AIIT) chaired.  The capacity audience for Christophe’s public lecture the same evening  included Penelope Betjeman’s daughter, Candida Lycett-Green.

Penelope Chetwode (Betjeman) with Indian friends (by permission of the Penelope Betjeman estate)

Penelope Chetwode (Betjeman) with Indian friends (by permission of the Penelope Betjeman estate)

The first Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology – established to commemorate the work of Bridget and Raymond Allchin – was held 6-7 December 2013 and brought together UK-based scholars working in South Asian archaeology, history and the history of art and architecture, including established lecturers as well as post-doctoral researchers and PhD students. The event provided a forum for the presentation and discussion of current research as well as methodological and theoretical concerns that affect research on South Asia.  The aim was to strengthen research, foster new ideas and promote synergies between different areas, periods and subjects of study.  Following a lively keynote address by Adam Hardy of Cardiff University on the evening of 6 December at the McDonald Institute, the symposium continued the next day at the Ancient India and Iran Trust, chaired by Dr Cameron Petrie (Trustee) and Dr Jason Hawkes.

Bridget Allchin with Sir Nicholas Barrington (Trustee) and Dr Jason Hawkes, Symposium co-Chair.

Dr Bridget Allchin with Sir Nicholas Barrington (Trustee) and Dr Jason Hawkes, Symposium co-Chair.

On 26 November 2013, the Ambassador of Afghanistan, H.E. Dr Daud Yaar visited the Trust for a briefing on the activities of the Trust and the work of the University in Afghan archaeology, Iranian languages and Islamic studies.  Later that day he visited King’s College to see rooms associated with Lord Keynes and held a question and answer session with students and teachers in the Faculty of Human, Social and Political Sciences.

From left to right: Mrs Yaar, James Cormick (Trust Custodian), Sir Nicholas Barrington (Trustee), Dr Yaar, Nicholas Sims-Williams (Chair), Wahid Parvanta (Hon. Cultural Attache') and Christine van Ruymbeke (Trustee).

From left to right: Mrs Yaar, James Cormick (Trust Custodian), Sir Nicholas Barrington (Trustee), Dr Yaar, Nicholas Sims-Williams (Chair), Wahid Parvanta (Hon. Cultural Attache’) and Christine van Ruymbeke (Trustee).

Exhibition- ‘Wise men from the east: Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond’ at the British Museum

Exhibition- ‘Wise men from the east: Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond’
British Museum, 24 October 2013 – 27 April 2014

‘This small exhibition will explain Zoroastrianism, an ancient but living religion named after the Prophet Zarathustra, through objects and coins from Persia (Iran) and beyond.

The display will feature a variety of ancient and modern objects and coins, and will highlight the importance of Zoroastrian traditions in other religions. It will touch on the concept and imagery of the Three Kings of the Christian tradition, who are described in the New Testament (Matthew 2.2) as Magi from the east – Zoroastrian priests in the Persian tradition. Magnificent Islamic coins from Mughal India which follow the Iranian Zoroastrian calendar adopted by the emperor Akbar (1556–1605) will also be on display.

Modern objects will show the ongoing legacy of this ancient Iranian religion and its significance as a symbol of national identity for Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian Iranians in modern Persia and beyond.’


THE EVERLASTING FLAME: ZOROASTRIANISM IN HISTORY AND IMAGINATION – exhibition held from 11th October 2013 to 14th December 2013, in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London.

‘One of the world’s oldest religions, Zoroastrianism originated amongst Iranian tribes in Central Asia during the second millennium BCE and spread to Iran where it became the principal faith until the advent of Islam. Central to the religion is the belief in a sole creator god, Ahura Mazda, his emissary Zarathustra (Zoroaster) and the dichotomy between good and evil.

The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination is the first exhibition of its kind to provide a visual narrative of the history of Zoroastrianism, its rich cultural heritage and the influence it has had on the major world religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The exhibition takes you on a journey from the earliest days of the religion to its emergence as the foremost religion of the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian empires of imperial Iran.

A fascinating and diverse collection of artefacts, texts, paintings and textiles are displayed alongside spectacular installations that include a walk-in fire temple and a ten-metre glass etching based on the cast of the western staircase from the palace of Darius at Persepolis in the British Museum.’

For further information follow this link to the exhibition website.  In addition, The British Library’s Asian and African Studies blog features related posts about ‘The Everlasting Flame‘ exhibition and ‘Zoroaster’s Egg‘ (Ovum Zoroastræum).

Ovum Zoroastræum
Ovum Zoroastræum

Armenian Manuscripts at the Cambridge University Library

Some of the Trust’s Armenian manuscripts will be on display tomorrow (Wednesday 8th May) at the Cambridge University Library, as part of an event to celebrate the publication of Dr Vrej Nersessian’s catalogue of the Armenian Manuscripts in the British Library.

Talk, reception and display from 5pm at the UL. More information here: