On the 17th of August 1570, a scribe in the kingdom of Bijapur completed an ambitious, highly complex, and sumptuously illustrated work on astrology and astral magic. Housed in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, the manuscript is not identified by a title in the text, but takes its name from a note inscribed on the first folio, which describes it as the Nujūm al-‘ulūm (“Stars of the Sciences”). To date, the Nujūm al-‘ulūm has attracted scholarly attention for the richness and spectacular nature of its illustrations—some four hundred—which depict a dazzling variety of angels, anthropomorphized planets, zodiac signs and degrees, talismans, magical spells, astrological tables and horoscopes, tantric goddesses, horses, elephants, and weapons. […]
It is clear from the introduction of the Nujūm that Ali Adil Shah, (its probable author) intended his work to serve a didactic purpose among the nobles surrounding him at court. He even attributes the inspiration of his encyclopedic work to the encouragement of his intimate friends:
It should be clear and evident to the enlightened hearts enriched with bounty of the masters of guidance and instruction that some of the faithful companions and affectionately mannered friends beseeched this humble person that he should put in writing a few words on each chapter of sciences like astronomy, mysticism, and so on, talismans, magic and tricks, and similar things. And [also] put in writing, chapters related to planting trees and medicine and things resembling that, so that this may be an intimate friend of the hearts of those who are aware of the hidden mysteries and [a friend] of the confidantes of the secrets of the soul and a director and guide to the seekers [of knowledge]. And the entreaty and the polite requests of that party reached the limit of perfection. Then this humble and modest fellow carried out their command and obeyed that class of exalted glory, for the medicines to care for their lives.
A fihrist (table of contents) follows (the introduction), listing the proposed chapter headings of fifty-two chapters: the fifty-third chapter heading is left blank. Although most of these chapters are no longer extant, and in fact may never have been completed, the wide range of skills and knowledges that they cover provides insight into both the cosmopolitan nature of Bijapur courtly culture and the complex mass of skills that a successful courtier would be expected to acquire. These range from knowledge of elephants, poetry, and arms to music, rhetoric, and medicine, from the kinds of women and men and the different nations to the types of love and the qualities of angels, from gardening, alchemy, cooking, and hunting to wrestling, perfume, and firework-making, from descriptions of Sufis, yogis, and ritual hymns to the conduct of spies, accounts of rare and marvelous events, and the qualities of different kinds of meat. After his exhaustive list Ali Adil Shah reminds his readers of the original aim of his book:
It is hoped these scraps of discourse may be beautiful in the vision of the intelligent ones and good and laudable in the eyes of the buyers[. . .]. However, after this it should not remain concealed that the original aim of writing these lines and the overall intention of these lines is the aforesaid one. It is an account of created beings from the elements, the heavenly bodies, plants, minerals, animals, an enumeration of the angels on top of the sky, the rosaries of their
names, the revelation of the benefits that are the necessary essence of the stars of every sky, and so on. Undoubtedly the way from the world of poverty of education to the plain of the riches of existence is made manifest precisely by commencing in the right direction with endeavor, advancing gradually from the surrounding universe to reach the summit of the point of the center.
With these words and his earlier description of his book as “medicine to care for the lives” of his friends, Ali Adil Shah demonstrates a sustained belief in the transformative power of knowledge. […]
(TABLE OF CONTENTS)
OF THE NUJŪM AL – ‘ULŪM
Chapter 1 : An account of the seven heavens and their angels, the angels of the throne of God, the signs of the zodiac, and so on.
Chapter 2 : A description of the seven planets, their place of rising, their degrees and drawing out the adjustment of each year, according to the calendars of India and Khurasan.
Chapter 3 : An account of the characteristics of the earth and 120 astrological charts and overpowering and overcoming them, and the forms of 84 yoginis.
Chapter 4: A description of rare events, an account of their signs, and how to repulse them.
Chapter 5 : An account of horses, their condition, and their diseases.
Chapter 6 : A description of elephants, their death in the state of rut, their conditions and their diseases.
Chapter 7 : A description of music, the melodies, modes, and 108 rhythms, and their merits and demerits, and the sixteenth letter, and the seventh notes and their offspring, and the names of thirty of them.
Chapter 8 : A description of the mystical journey, meditation, ecstasies, miracles and fourteen houses given by the Sufis. Ecstasies, their ranks, and conduct.
Chapter 9 : A description of the thirty-six arms of war, their qualities, characteristics, and their functions.
Chapter 10 : An account of twelve sects of yogis and their distinguishing signs and austerities and their conduct.
Chapter 11 : A description and account of the conditions of auguries and good omens
Chapter 12 : A description and account of sowing seed and gardening, of the eastern wind and medicines for pests caused by it.
Chapter 13 : A description of the experiments of the ancient sages and talismans and calculations and the events of their position.
Chapter 14 : A description of the medical sciences, diseases, ailments, and a description of simple and compound medicines and their causes and distinguishing signs according to the Indian and Persian system of ailments.
Chapter 15 : A description of Indian and Khurasani exercises of wrestling, its tricks, and their modes and manners.
Chapter 16 : A description of the character of the four types of men and the four types of women and their characteristics and their distinguishing marks and modes of sitting.
Chapter 17 : A description of fireworks and the various sorts and the ways of making them.
Chapter 18 : A description of ritual hymns and supplications and the names of Allah and the answering of prayers and the manner of these, the times of these, and the origin of these.
Chapter 19 : A description of Persian and Indian systems of spells and a description of their benefits, their nature, and prognosticating by the stars and emitting smoke signals and giving water libations.
Chapter 20 : A description of the conduct of the sultans to viziers and governors, heads of the guards on duty, and to spies and politeness to them and plots and treachery and justice and war and the way of the sultanate.
Chapter 21 : A description of the kinds of meat of animals and their benefits and properties.
Chapter 22 : A description of the wonders, a portion of which God Almighty, the Truth, provided and bestowed on each city.
Chapter 23 : A description of recognizing and making rejuvenating therapy and an account of it and its conditions, the benefits, and names of it.
Chapter 24 : A description of making perfumes, the methods of it and the varieties and kinds of it.
Chapter 25 : A description of the origin of the gutkha and alchemy and making someone act against his nature, and the science of letters, conquering planetary forces and enslaving jinns and geomancy and the modes of the origin and account of them.
Chapter 26 : A description of [incantations] to kill someone and to drive someone away and to deprive someone of the power of action or speech and to enchant someone with an illusion, and to make someone blind and to make someone deaf and magic and great magic and subterfuge, and an account of the actions of that.
Chapter 27 : A description of being possessed by an evil spirit and avoiding khahat and rendering homage and protection.
Chapter 28 : A description of repulsing poison and the sorts of poisons, the causes and distinguishing marks of poison.
Chapter 29 : A description of the origins of wiliness.
Chapter 30 : A description of the ways of hunting animals and their names and the ways of preparing them.
Chapter 31 : A description and account of the acts of simples which are received from every place and assembled.
Chapter 32 : A description of the interpretation of dreams and a description of true and false dreams.
Chapter 33 : A description of the varieties of peoples and the seventy divisions of them and their sects and creeds and beliefs.
Chapter 34 : A description of love, and the degrees of it and the kinds of it.
Chapter 35 : A description of the conduct towards each person and societies and friendship with each level.
Chapter 36 : A description of the Indian and Khurasani way ofsummoning high and low ranks.
Chapter 37 : A description of poetic metre, rhythms, and whatever is connected to poetry.
Chapter 38 : A description of recognizing jewels and kinds of gems, the benefits of gems, the values of gems and the seals of jewels.
Chapter 39 : A description of the rules of languages and a description of some rituals that should be used for the whole year and with necessary things and celebrations and actions and functions of that.
Chapter 40 : A description of Qur’anic interpretation and the sayings of the Prophet and Gabriel and knowledge of men and whatever is connected to this.
Chapter 41 : A description of the rules of arithmetic, multiplication and division and whatever is connected to arithmetic.
Chapter 42 : A description of the science of speech, such as grammar, logic, scholastic theology, rhetoric and so on.
Chapter 43 : A description of astronomy.
Chapter 44 : A description of the astrolabe.
Chapter 45 : A description of strength, the causes of strength, the benefits of strength, the loss of strength of men and medicines for it.
Chapter 46 : A description of the science of physiognomy and the art of making amulets and charms.
Chapter 47 : A description of the history of prophets from the exalted Prophet Adam and the Prophets of Islam up to the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad.
Chapter 48 : A description of fables and romances
Chapter 49 : A description of the letters and words of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hindi, Sanskrit, Frankish, Kannada, Telugu, Tughra, and so on.
Chapter 50 : A description of viands, sherbets, halwas, confections, and so on.
Chapter 51 : A description of tools and instruments of the crafts of traders and artisans.
Chapter 52 : A description of knowledge of the science of writing and its appurtenances, from sharpening the pen and making ink and so on.
Chapter 53 : Blank
Excerpt from Emma Flatt, “The Authorship and Significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm: A Sixteenth-Century Astrological Encyclopedia from Bijapur,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 131, No. 2 (April–June 2011), pp. 223–244.
The Fihrist (Table of Contents) by Emma Flatt was adapted by Raqs Media Collective for Yokohama Triennale 2020.