This dedicatory inscription in "tughra" script, dated A.H. 905/A.D. 1500, is from a mosque in western Bengal built for Prince Daniyal, a son of Sultan Husayn Shah. The inscription is an outstanding example of Indo-Muslim epigraphy: the regular pattern in which the vertical letters are arranged and the skillfully inserted, bowlike words that structure the pattern are typical of Muslim calligraphy in medieval Bengal and later in the Deccan
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Title:Dedicatory Inscription from a Mosque
Date:dated 905 AH/1500 CE
Geography:Made in India, Bengal
Dimensions:H. 16 1/8 in. (41 cm) W. 45 5/16 in. (115.1 cm) D. 2 3/4 in. (7 cm) Wt. 194 lbs. (88 kg)
Credit Line:Purchase, Gift of Mrs. Nelson Doubleday and Bequest of Charles R. Gerth, by exchange, 1981
Dedicatory Inscription from a Mosque
This inscription panel, made of grayish-black speckled stone (gabbro), is written in the distinctive Bengali tughra-style script, frequently described as "bow and arrow." The body of the text appears at the base of the panel, the sixty vertical shafts of the letters occupy approximately the upper two-thirds of it, and the arrangement of the rounded forms of select words near the top completes the elegant pattern. Elaborate interlacing of letters in the lower register makes the inscription seem difficult to read, but the similarity of its content to epigraphs across the Bengal region facilitates the task. The inscription, a hadith (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad, is found fairly commonly on mosque dedicatory panels in India, especially among those from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Bengal and elsewhere in the Islamic world.
Stone sculpture from the pre-Islamic Buddhist Pala and Hindu Sena dynasties of Bengal is well known for its workmanship. It is likely that inscriptions were first designed by calligraphers, then carved by skilled local craftsmen who outlined them on stone either in charcoal or as lightly incised marks. Numerous inscription panels in variations of the Bengali tughra style are found from the Sultanate period during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This calligraphic style is largely replaced with nasta‘liq-script inscriptions during the Mughal period, which follow the types seen elsewhere in north India. Tughra-style inscriptions appear later in the Deccan.
Very little is known about Prince Daniyal, who is commemorated here. His name appears on another inscription, dated A.H. 903/1497–98 A.D., on the tomb of Shah Nafa in the fort of Monghyr (Munger), Bihar. He is also reported in medieval Persian histories as representing his father, ‘Ala’ al-Din Husain Shah of Bengal (r. 1493–1519), during negotiations with Sultan Sikandar Lodi of Delhi (r. 1489–1571) held about 1495 on the Bengal-Bihar frontier, which forestalled a possible invasion. Husain Shah is reported as having eighteen sons, but only two others—Nusrat Shah (r. 1519–31) and Ghiyath al-Din Mahmud Shah (r. 1532–38)—are known by name, as they later attained the throne.
Qamar Adamjee in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. Hasan, Perween. Sultans and Mosques: The Early Muslim Architecture of Bangladesh. London and New York, 2007, pp. 60–61.
3. Siddiq, Mohammad Yusuf. Historical and Cultural Aspects of the Islamic Inscriptions of Bengal: A Reflective Study of Some New Epigraphic Discoveries. Studies of Bengal Art, 10. Dhaka, 2009, pp. 36, 39 nn. 22–23.
4. See ibid., chapter 6, pp. 107–90, and appendix 2, pp. 250–59, for dated examples of Sultanate-period inscriptions from Bengal.
5. One such example is in the Metropolitan Museum (acc. no. 1985.240.1).
6. Digby, Simon. "The Fate of Daniyal, Prince of Bengal, in the Light of an Unpublished Inscription." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 36, no. 3 (1973), p. 592.
Dedicatory Inscription from a Mosque
The Indian genius for working in stone, so renowned under Hindu and Buddhist patronage, was applied in very different ways under the Muslim rulers, as is apparent in this dedicatory slab from a mosque in Bengal. The inscription, worked with chisels, files, and abrasives, begins with words taken from the Hadith, or Prophetic Traditions: "The Prophet, the blessing of God and peace be upon him, said, 'Whosoever builds a mosque for God, God will build for him a palace the like of it in Paradise.' In the reign of Sultan 'Ala' ad-Dunya wa'd-Din Abu'l-Muzaffar Husain Shah al-Sultan, may God perpetuate his rule and sovereignty, Prince Daniyal, may his honor endure, built this congregational mosque on the tenth of Dhu'l-Hijja of A. H. 905 [July 7, 1500]."
Composed in Arabic and written in a special Bengali variant of the Tughra script known as "bow and arrow," the inscription is still as legible as it is visually arousing. Designed within a long rectangle by a master calligrapher whose sensitivity to rhythm and proportion recalls a painting by Uccello, Mondrian, or Gris, it brings to mind an army of the faithful on the march, their standards raised high over a bustling throng of horsemen and elephants.
According to Annemarie Schimmel, the slab illustrates a particularly successful example of the "rhythmic parallelism" cited by Richard Ettinghausen and Irma L. Fraad as characteristic of Indian calligraphy: "Vertical hastae [have been] elaborated into a regular pattern that is then interrupted and shaped regularly by the long backward strokes of the letter ya and superimposed kaf, a feature also found in predominantly Indian manuscripts. A bowlike design is achieved by placing the round letter nun in the upper register. Regularity is rarely, if ever, achieved; at best, five hastae are grouped into one unit. Our stone has exactly sixty verticals of equal length, through which five 'bows' are set, each comprising twelve hastae with two very minor variants. The central 'bow' consists of two superimposed, slightly rounded wide letters; each of the other four 'bows' has a straight horizontal letter, forming a kind of bowstring. The pattern thus assumes a perfect harmony, and can be considered the finest of all published inscriptions from Bengal. "
With the weakening of the sultanate of Delhi, the provincial governors became independent, not only politically but culturally. In Bengal various dynasties replaced the Delhi governorships between 1340 and 1526, when the first Mughal emperor, Babur, entered the Indian scene. Particularly admired among the Bengali kings was 'Ala' ad-Din Husain Shah (r. 1493–1518), a Sayyid of Arab descent. Husain Shah was made king after the tyrannical Shams ad-Din Muzaffar Shah, a former slave from Abyssinia under whom Husain had served as vizier, was deposed and slain. During his long rule, Bengal prospered. At the capital, Gaur, and in other parts of Bengal, he and his family built splendid mosques, tombs, and palaces, some of which have survived. Simon Digby, who first translated the inscription, has identified Prince Daniyal, who built the mosque for which this piece was the dedicatory inscription, as one of Husain Shah's eighteen sons. The tomb of Shah Nafa at Monghyr, dated 1497, also bears the prince's name. During the nineteenth century, Gaur became a quarry for contractors from Calcutta, and it was probably then that this stone was carried off and in due course sent to England.
1. Schimmel, Annemarie, in Notable Acquisitions 1982-1983. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 13–14.
Inscription: In Arabic in Bengali tughra-style script:
قال النبي صلی الله علیه وسلم
من بنی مسجداً لله بنی الله له
قصراً مثله في الجنة في عهد السلطان علاء و الدنیا و الدین
ابو المظفر حسین شاه السلطان خلد الله ملکه وسلطانه
بنی هذا المسجد الجامع شاهزاده دانیال دام عزه في العشر من ذي الحجة
سنة خمس و تسعمائة
The Prophet — God’s blessings and peace be upon him — said:
“He who builds a mosque for God, God builds a palace the like of it in
paradise.” In the reign of the Sultan ‘Ala’ al-Dunya wa’l din Abu‘l-Muzaffar
Husain Shah al-Sultan, may God perpetuate his dominion and sovereignty.
Shahzada Daniyal, may his glory endure, built this congregational mosque on
the tenth of Dhu’l-Hijja in the year A.H. 905 [July 7, 1500]
possibly Thomas Hope of Deepdene, England; [ David Drey, London, before 1962; sold to Hodgkin]; Howard Hodgkin (British), London (from before 1962–81); [ Terence McInerney Fine Arts Ltd., New York, 1981; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "INDIA !," September 14–September 14, 1985, no. 74.
Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration," October 12, 1991–January 12, 1992, no. 354.
Swietochowski, Marie, Stuart Cary Welch, and Annemarie Schimmel. "Notable Acquisitions." The Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 39 (1982). pp. 13–14, ill. (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. India: Art and Culture 1300–1900. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985. no. 74, pp. 129–30, ill. (b/w).
Levenson, Jay A., ed. Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. New Haven and London: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1991. no. 354, pp. 494–95, ill. (color).
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. pp. 328–29, ill. fig. 38 (b/w).
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). p. 52, ill. fig. 62 (b/w).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 240, pp. 339, 344–45, ill. p. 344 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. How to Read Islamic Calligraphy. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. p. 23, ill. fig. 11.
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