Reading about the recently opened exhibition,Collector Extraordinaire, Mackenzie Collection exhibition, at Lews Castle, Stornoway, in the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides - see our recent post Colin Mackenzie, collector extraordinaire – I was reminded that there was a small but significant number of Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Colin Mackenzie’s collection, which is often overlooked. In this post I will feature one which is especially interesting, the Silsilah-i-Jogiyan (Chain of Yogis) which played an important role in Western understanding of Indian religious groups.

Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis but spent most of his life from 1783 until his death 38 years later working for the East India Company. His most important work was as a military engineer and surveyor in Mysore (1800-1809), in Java (1811-1813) and from 1815 until his death in 1821 as the first Surveyor General of India. During his long career Mackenzie built up a unique collection consisting of 1,568 manuscripts, 2,070 “local tracts”, 8,076 inscriptions, 2,159 translations in addition to 79 plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, 106 images and 40 antiquities. This collection today is divided among several different institutions in India and the United Kingdom, including the British Library.

At the time of his death, Mackenzie had been hoping to complete a catalogue of his manuscripts and books but this task was left to Horace Hayman Wilson to complete in 1828. Wilson gives details of 10 Arabic and 87 Persian manuscripts, which he rather dismissively described as “of little consideration, but some of them are of local value”. In fact, we have 94 Persian items in our collections at the British Library. These are mostly historical works, biographies, collections of letters in addition to a few volumes of poetry, tales, and philosophical and religious works.

Horace Wilson’s 1828 catalogue of Mackenzie’s Persian manuscripts, including Silseleh-i-Jogiyan.

In 1828, in what was the first major work in English on the religions of India, Wilson published the first of two articles, “A sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus”. The second, a continuation with the same title, was printed in 1832. Wilson’s account was based on two Persian works, both written by Hindu authors, one of which was Silsilah-i-Jogiyan by Sital Singh, Munshi to the Raja of Benares. This was number 81 in Wilson’s catalogue, now numbered IO Islamic 3087.

Sital Singh had been commissioned to write an account of the different religious groups in Benares in 1800 by the British magistrate John Deane. Also titled Fuqara-yi-Hind, it includes descriptions of 48 ascetic groups divided into five chapters on Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Sikhs and Jains. The descriptions are followed by a short philosophical defence of the Vedanta and an early census of the different religious and professional groups to be found in Benares. In addition to this work, Sital Singh wrote several other philosophical works and poetry under the name Bīkhwud.

IO Islamic 3087 includes 48 miniature portraits painted in the margins next to the relevant descriptions. Unlike the typically more sophisticated company paintings, which occur in similar works, these are comparatively simplistic in style. Although the manuscript is not dated, the paper is watermarked J Whatman 1816 so it must have been copied after that but before Mackenzie’s death in 1821. Several of the paintings are dated between January 13 and January 27, but without any year. Perhaps these were the dates when the paintings were added in the margins.

The sects are arranged as below:

The 16 Vaishnava sects

Gosain of Vindraban, Gosain of Gokul, Sakhibhava, Ramanandi, Vairagi, Virakta, Naga, Ramanuji Kabirpanthi, Dadupanthi, Ravidaspanthi, Harichandi, Surnapanthi, Madhavi, Sadhavi, Charandasi.

From left: Gosain of Gokul, Sakhibhava and Kabirpanthi. Photo credit: British Library
From Left: Madhavi, Sadhavi and Charandasi. Photo credit: British Library

The 19 Shaiva sects

Dandi, Agnihotri, Yogi, Shankaracharya, Atit, Sanyogi, Naga, Avadhuta, Urdabahu, Akasmukhi, Karalingi, Rukhara, Ukhara, Aghori, Alakhnami, Jangama, Nakhuni, Chokri, Paramahansa.

From left: Dandi, Agnihotri and Atit. Photo credit: British Library
From left: Naga, Urdabahu and Nakhuni. Photo credit: British Library

The four kinds of Shaktas

Bhakta, Vami, Kanchuliya, Karari.

From left: Vami, Kanchuliya and Karari. Photo credit: British Library

The seven kinds of Nanakshahis

Udasi, Ganjbakhshi, Ramra’i, Suthrashahi, Govindsakhi, Nirmali and Naga.

Left: Ramra’i (f. 41r); centre: Govindsakhi (f. 42v); right: Naga (f. 47v). Photo credit: British Library IO Islamic 3087

The two kinds of Sravakas

Sravaka and Jati.

From left: Sravaka and Jati. Photo credit: British Library

This article first appeared on the British Library’s Asian and African Studies blog.