Union Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Islamicate World

Persian MS 882 (The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester)

Persian Manuscripts

An undated, illustrated miscellany collectively entitled Fīlnāmah (Book of Elephants).


Summary of Contents: This popular illustrated miscellany, probably completed in India in the late 18th century, features three works. The first, Kursīnāmah-'i Mahāwat-garī (Genealogy of Elephant-keeping), relates a mythical history of elephant-keepers, or mahouts, posed as a series of questions and answers. The author, Sayyid Aḥmad Kabīr, claims he descends from the Prophet Noah, whom he describes as the first mahout. A second, anonymous text comprises the bulk of the volume, here entitled Savāniḥāt-i Afyāl (Mishaps of Elephants); however, it often appears under the title Mu‘ālajāt-i Afyāl (Remedies for Elephants) in other surviving copies. It discusses elephant husbandry together with various diseases and remedies in seventeen chapters. Finally, a brief, multilingual veterinary glossary of Arabic and Persian terms with Hindustani equivalents appends the manuscript.
1. Folios 2b to 9a
Incipit: برگ ۲پ (folio 2b): کرسی‌نامه مهاوت‌گری از سید احمد کبیر است. اگر ترا پرسند او مهاوت گری کدام کس کرده است بگو آنکه در وقت نوح پیغمبر مهاو شده است.
Explicit: برگ ٩ر (folio 9a): تمام شد کرسینامه
Colophon: No colophon
Language(s): Persian
2. Folios 9b to 64b
Author: Anonymous
Title: Fīlnāmah
Incipit: برگ ٩پ (folio 9b): بدانکه نسخۀ سوانحات افیال که از جد بزرگوار واستادان رسیده بقلم آمده...
Explicit: برگ ۶٤پ (folio 64b): تمت الكتاب فيلنامه بالخير قلمى شد
Language(s): Persian
3. Folios 65b to 67b
Author: Anonymous
Incipit: برگ ۶۵پ (folio 65b): انگبین
Explicit: برگ‌های ۶۷ر-پ (folios 67a–b): تمت الکتاب [۶۷پ] فیل(؟) بالخیر. نقط.
Language(s): Arabic
Language(s): Persian
Language(s): Hindustani

Michael Kerney's handlist misidentifies this work as the better-known Fīlnāmah mas̱navī poem by Rahī, a mahout employed by by the Mughal ruler Jahāndar Shāh (British Library Or. 344, see Rieu, Catalogue, Vol. II, 703b, also listed in Storey, p. 401, no. 680 [17]). However, a subsequent pencilled note, probably in the hand of Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford, clarifies this volume differs from that work. In fact, it closely compares with British Library Or. 13255 (see Waley catalogue) and Bodleian Ms. Pers. d. 87 (see Beeston catalogue), whereas SOAS ms. 46459 and Wellcome MS Persian 429 (see Keshavarz catalogue) both feature the second anonymous text alone. Other elephant-themed volumes noted by Storey and Munzavī may also likely be variant copies of these same works, under titles.

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Thin-weight, butter-coloured, straight and cross-grained laid paper, probably manufactured in India. Laid lines ~9 per cm apart; without discernible chain lines. Delicate finger-tabs of of knotted silver and silk threads adhered to the fore-edge indicate illustrations, of which fourteen remain.
Extent: 66 folios (ff. 66)
Dimensions (leaf): 222 × 150 mm.
Dimensions (written): 155 × 84 mm.
Foliation: Hindu-Arabic numbers incribed in black only denote the illustrations, not the folios.
Foliation: Pencilled Arabic numerals on the upper-left corners of the a sides, includive of the endpapers and boards, with subsequent mistaken corrections on the last three folios, hence off by one.


Undetermined, but probably primarily quaternions throughout. Catchwords throughout on the lower-left corners of the b sides.


In good condition, but beware of the fragile finger tabs of knotted silver and silk threads that protrude at the fore-edge.


Written in 1 column with 12 lines per page. Ruled with a misṭarah hand guide.


Written in clear nasta‘līq in black with subheaders and some terms in red.


Nineteen simplistic illustrations depict various elephants, often with one or two keepers.

  • The top of the left paste-down bears the number ‘68’ written in pencil.
Bookplates and labels:
  • The left paste-down bears the ‘Biblioteca Lindesiana’ bookplate with shelfmark ‘F/10’, and an earlier handwritten label at top ‘Persian MSS no. 88 Fíl Namah’, with the number crossed out and ‘882’ added.


Probably originally bound in India, then apparently later restored by the library in the 20th century.

Unsupported resewing with polyester thread, all-along at five stations. Binding originally covered in full mottled brown goatskin leather over pasteboards, without a flap (type III binding per Déroche). Spine later repaired at head and tail with thinned brown goatskin leather.

Boards decorated with flush paper onlays for the central scalloped mandorlas, detached pendants, and corners, repeatedly blind tooled with insular dots. Margins double-ruled in black. Spine panels hand-drawn with triple dots and single flowers, also in black.

222 × 155 × 18 mm.

In good condition, albeit with page openings to the gutter margins restricted.


Origin: Probably completed in India. Undated, but likely late 18th-century.

Provenance and Acquisition

Evidently acquired as an isolated purchase by Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford (1812–1880) in 1866.

Purchased by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908) in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (1847–1913).

Bequeathed by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908) in 1908 to the John Rylands Library.

Record Sources

Bibliographical description based on an index created by Reza Navabpour circa 1993, derived from a manuscript catalogue by Michael Kerney, circa 1890s and his Bibliotheca Lindesiana, Hand-list of Oriental Manuscripts: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, 1898.

Manuscript description by James White in 2018 with reference to the volume.

Physical description amended and record enhanced by Jake Benson in 2021 with reference to the manuscript in hand, and in consultation with Dr Fabrizio Speziale, Director, l'Ecole des Haute Étude en Sciences Sociale.


The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader, see Becoming a Reader for details. Please contact uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk for further information on the availability of this manuscript.

Digital Images

Manchester Digital Collections (full digital facsimile)


    A. F. L. Beeston, Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindûstânî, and Pushtû Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Part III (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 7 no. 2471 [Bodl. Ms. Pers. d. 87. ].
    F. Keshavarz, A Descriptive and Analytical Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute of Medicine (London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1986) p. 363, no. 197 [Wellcome MS Persian 429].
    A. Munzavī, Fihrist-i Mushtarak-i Nuskhah'hā-yi Khaṭṭī-i Fārsī-i Pākistān, Vol. 1. (Islamabad: Markaz-i Taḥqīqāt-i Fārsī-i Īrān va Pākistān, 1382 SH [1983 CE]), p. 460, nos. 876 and 2402.
    A. Munzavī, Fihristvārah-i Kitāb'hā-yi Fārsī (Tehran: Markaz-i Dāʼirat al-Maʻārif-i Buzurg-i Islāmī, 1382 SH [2003 CE]), pp. 2243, 3905, nos. 3897–98, 3909.
    A. Nawshāhī, Fihrist-i Nuskhah'hā-yi Khaṭṭī-i Fārsī-i Mūzah-'i Millī-i Pākistān, Karāchī (Islamabad: Markaz-i Taḥqīqāt-i Fārsī-i Īrān va Pākistān, 1382 SH [1983 CE]), no. 312 [National Museum of Pakistan, no. 1955-955/1].
    F. Speziale, Culture persane et médecine ayurvédique en Asie du Sud (Leiden: Brill, 2018), p. 216, n193.
    C. A. Storey, Persian Literature: A Bio-bibliographical Survey, Vol. 2, Pt. 3 (London: Luzac & Co., 1939), p. 401, no. 680 (18–19).
    N. M. Titley, Miniatures from Persian Manuscripts: A Catalogue and Subject Index of Paintings from Persia, India, and Turkey in the British Library and the British Museum ( London: British Museum, 1977), p. 33, no. 84A [BL Or. 13255].
    M. I. Waley, Supplementary Handlist of Persian Manuscripts in the British Library: 1966-1998, (London: British Library, 1998), p. 34 [Or. 14143].

Funding of Cataloguing

Iran Heritage Foundation, the John Rylands Research, and the Soudavar Foundation



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