A glance at Afghanistan National Archives Collections reveals that a major part of the manuscripts, books, photos and other documents currently housed there has come from former King Zaher’s Royal Library in the Arg.
According to Abdul Rashid Othman, keeper of the Manuscripts section, currently a total of 1,050 manuscripts have been identified as damaged and in need of urgent conservation by specialists.
The collection consists of two main components: manuscripts and historical documents. These are kept in two separate vaults.
The Manuscripts Section located under the right wing of the building, in addition to a small office, has a downstairs underground vault where the valuable cultural material heritage is stored, and a large exhibition hall.
This section is 16x8 meters long, surrounded by thick walls with metal doors. The Manuscripts Section contains about 7,000 hand-written volumes consisting of many valuable copies of the Holy Qur’an, collections of poetry, works on history and philosophy, as well as unique examples of calligraphy, paintings, and shelves containing old manuscripts.
Among the responsibilities designated to the Manuscripts Section are the following:
The manuscripts held in this section represent some of the most cherished and valuable treasures of Afghanistan, of value both in terms of content and artistic achievement. Most date from the post-Islamic era. Pre-Islamic treasures of Afghanistan are found mainly on stone engravings and edifices such as those found in Bamiyan, Surkh Kotal, Shoto Rak and Ai Khanoum.
Artifacts from these sites are displayed in the National Museum. Examples of pre-Islamic calligraphy found on these sites are in various scripts and languages: Kharoshthi, Kufic, Sardangari, Pahlavi, Greek, Avestan and Aramaic.
In addition to other features, manuscripts are important in terms of:
1. Historical antiquity
2. The art of miniature and calligraphy
3. Manuscripts in the author’s handwriting
The manuscripts kept in this section include valuable works by some of the most famous calligraphers (Khat-i-Nastaliq), including Sultan Mohammad Khandaan and his pupil Qasem Shah, Mir Mohammad Ali and Mir Emaduddin Hosaini Khan Kabuli, Ata Mohammad Khan and his son Mirza Fath Mohammad Khan from the time of Amir Abdul Rahman and Amir Habibullah.
According to Abdul Rashid Osman, in charge of manuscripts, the section contains more than 1,100 samples of calligraphy. Some of these samples belong to the Herati Timurid period (15th C. Miladi: 7-8 AH), including the oldest sample of calligraphy by Mir Emaduddin Hosaini.
The manuscripts are written in different styles of calligraphy, including Khat-e-Mohaqqeq, which is a transformed style of Khat-e-Kufi, Khat-e-Sols, Siah Mashq, Taaliq, Naakhan, Toghri, Raqaa, Shekast, etc.
Sometimes calligraphy is used to depict various forms, such as lions, ewers, vases, and pitchers.
Books are divided into two main categories: hand-written and printed books. In addition to content and writing style, books are categorized by the quality of calligraphy, paper, illustrations, date of writing, date of printing, which is usually based on inscriptions, as well as signatures or seals of famous personalities of the time.
At times, the names of known writers or publishers assist in dating the item. Often the content and writing style of a manuscript is itself of value.
Books and manuscripts held in the manuscript section are mainly on subjects such as Philosophy, Theology, Interpretation of the Holy Qur’an, Hadith, Mysticism, Jurisprudence, Devotions, Prayers, Spells, History, Geography, Ethics, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Geometry, Prose: Literature and Poetry, Military Education, Law, Politics, Greek Medicine, Veterinary Science, Sports, Hunting, Legends and Tales.
Seventy-five percent of the manuscripts are heavily illuminated with beautifully painted or elaborately constructed covers. In some cases the quality of the cover of a manuscript far exceeds anything found inside the book.
Manuscripts are written in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Farsi, Pashto, Dari, Uighur, and other languages. Some are also in Devanagari script. Most contain miniatures belonging to the artistic schools of Heart, Bukhara, Balkh, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Istanbul, Kashmir and Delhi.
Many different styles of calligraphy can be found among the manuscripts such as Kufic, Mohaqqeq, Sols, Rahyan, Naskh, Nastaliq, and Raqaa. The writing is on different types of material such as deerskin, leather, Baghdaadi, Khaanbaleghi, Samarqandi, Khaqandi, Khorasani, Hindi, Kashmiri, silk sheets, Hanaayee Abra, European paper - both plain and colored.
The covers of these types of books are mostly decorated with designs called Qa’tayee, Rouya Abrai, Bokharaayee, and Laki. The designs are found on black leather. The designs use colors like purple, teal, various shades of greens and yellows. Some designs use gilded flowers and leaves.
The books kept in the Manuscript Section belong to the period after Islam. The surviving pre-Islamic art is mostly engraved on rocks or walls at historical sites as mentioned above.
The oldest manuscript in the National Archives is part of a Qur’anic text attributed to Their Excellencies Osman and Ali (the third and fourth caliphs of Islam), Imam Hassan and Imam Hossain (R.A.). These, using common Kufic script and dating form the 3rd and 4th centuries Miladi, are written on deerskin. There are also three volumes of the Qur’an attributed to Osman (pbuh) printed in 1905 in a large size from the original kept at Bukhara. These were given as a gift to King Amanullah during his trip to the Soviet Union.
Some of the rare manuscripts are valued for their antiquity and the quality of the Dari and Arabic prose:
1. Epics of Peshdaidaian Kings
2. Heroic tales and legends, ending with the invasion of Alexander the Great
3. Tales form the Sassanid era and the ascendancy of the Arabs in ancient Persia
The calligrapher of this work is Abdul Razaq Ibn Ataullah dated 1044 AH, with miniatures by Mohammad Masai and Mohammad Shafi, 1119 AH. This Shahnama has 140 miniatures and according to Abdul Rashid Osman, keeper of the manuscript section, is the finest available Shahnama to date. It is known for containing a unique couplet at the end, not seen in other versions of the Shahnama: [We are not at this time able to reproduce the couplet. We will work on getting an image of the script.] Tan-i-Shah Mahmood Abad Bad – Saraesh Sabez-o-Dilish Shad Bad (May the body of King Mahmood be healthy, his life long and his heart happy.)
The Manuscript Section’s collection of valuable handwritten books and miniatures are also works of great artistic quality. Among these are examples of artistic and calligraphic schools of Heart from the 10th and 15th Miladi. Moreover, the library has collections from the miniature schools of Kashmir, the “Hindi” and the Turkish.
Seraju-Tawarikh is one of the most important manuscripts, authored by Mula Faiz Mohammad Katib Hazara in four volumes. The first and second volumes are written in 540 pages in 1331 Hejiri Lunar. It has a cloth (capra) cover and its character is Nastaliq, written on Indian paper. The first volume starts with Afghanistan’s former boundaries and Ahmad Shah Baba’s status before his monarchy. It ends with details on the Amir Mohammad Yaqoob Khan era.
The third volume of the history book mentioned has 288 pages, cloth cover, and is dated 1332 Hejiri Lunar. This book is also written in Nastaliq on Indian paper. The book details Amir Abdu Rahman Khan’s time.
In a memo, on the top margin, it is stated that the book has 20 sections. The first and twentieth are missing, but the rest contain 288 pages.
The Information and Culture Ministry bought the fourth volume for USD$25,000 in 2008 Miladi and is currently kept in the Ministry’s manuscripts archives. The volume written in 734 pages in 1304 Hejiri Lunar on Indian paper with Nastaleegh. Its cover is pea-green Capra. It starts with Amir Habibullah Khan’s early circumstances and ends with details on Amir Amanullah Khan’s reign. On the last page its complete date, 1304 Hejiri Lunar, is given.
The Manuscript Section exhibition hall (16 x 8 meters) displays a number of examples from the collection in glass cases for public viewing.
Among them is a Holy Qur’an written on a piece of white cloth (22cmx x25cm) in Naskh scripts with chapter titles written in Shangarf script. This Qur’an is displayed in a special revolving glass case. There is also a tablet with a golden frame in which the Ekhlas verse from the Holy Qur’an is written in blue Naskh script.
There are also illustrated pages from the story of Yusuf and Zulaikha in five wall frames containing 59 pictures in each frame. A 10 meter long glass case contains the family tree of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and his followers. These tablets mostly are religious in content, with verses from the Holy Qur’an and in some cases, Persian poetry. The frames themselves are works of art, engraved with exquisite designs.
Finally, displayed in the hall is the Ganjin-i-Khotut, written by Mohammad Ali Attar Herawi, which introduces different types of calligraphy. This valuable book was published by the Historical Association through the efforts of Mr. Reza Mayel.
In addition to the above, the following items are also available: a portrait of Amir Ali Sher Nawaee, the knowledgeable minister of Sultan Husain Bayqara; an ornamental table from the time of Amir Abdul Rahman (1278 AH); Mahmud Tarzi’s poetry (1292 AH/1875 Miladi); a version of the Riyadh al Arwash attributed to Mulla Mohammad Husain Kashefi; Fazl al Ketab written by Khwaja Mohammad Parsa (821 AH/1417 Miladi); selected poetry in miniature (953 AH/1934 Miladi); a decorative gilt and miniature calendar using natural colors; Rubaiyat-e-Khayyam with miniature illustrations; Dalayel al Khairat, a calendar and miniature (1353 AH/1934 Miladi); Anwar al Sohaili’s Kelila va Damna, with miniature illustrations (1300 Miladi/1893 Miladi); samples of the Holy Qur’an, decorated with gilt and miniatures (1387 Lunar/1675 Miladi); papers from Awaked Salary, attributed to the time of Amir Sher Ali Khan (1311 AH Lunar/1893 Miladi); and numerous other samples of calligraphy and other manuscripts.
According to Sakhi Monir, Director of the Afghanistan National Archives, most of the manuscripts have been classified based on subject, title of the book, and name of the author. There are also indexes and catalogs of the items displayed in the exhibition hall to facilitate the work of visitors, including researchers, historians, students, and orientalists. The Director also emphasizes that there are 1,051 “sick” manuscripts in urgent need of professional experts and extra care.
In order to understand historical events and social conditions of past eras, researchers need documentation. Therefore, each society pays attention to historical documents.
The Historical Documents Section contains a collection of about 150,000 valuable historical documents including:
(Pictures and photos related to historical personalities and places, which are no longer accessible, including photos of the period of Amir Sher Ali Khan to President Daoud)
Government and academic institutions must regularly collect and preserve documents about their society. They regard safe keeping of such collections as a national responsibility.
The Historical Documents Section also has a small office and downstairs underground vaults with an upstairs exhibition hall. This section is also 16 x 8 meters long and is surrounded by thick walls with metal doors. It is located under the left wing of the building.
At the two sides of the first hall of the vault is a half-meter wide marbled corridor 16 meters long. Here there are collections of photos, documents, journals, audio and video cassettes, CDs and books related to the Constitutional Loya Jirga (1382 HA/2001 Miladi), which were transferred from the Loya Jirga Tent and the Afghanistan National Assembly to the National Archives for safekeeping until a more suitable location is chosen.
All documents are kept in special folders and placed on bookshelves. These documents have not met the time requirement for documents housed at the National Archives (which is 30 years) and so are kept in the temporary historical archives. They will be transferred to inner archives of historical documents after the required 30 years have passed.
Duties of the Historical Documents Section are:
The second half of the Historical Documents vault contains the most important historical documents; a large number of old donated books; collections of Afghan newspapers such as Anis, Islah, Hewad and Weramge; journals and old calendars. These are kept inside metal drawers and glass cases. One of the oldest documents in the collection is the decree of Sultan Jusain Bayqara (901 AH Lunar) written in beautiful Nastaliq script and bears the seal of Sultan Husain at the bottom. The collection also contains documents dating back to Amir Sher Ali Khan and Amir Abdul Rahman Khan.
The third and last hall of the Historical Documents vault contains decrees, declarations, portraits of previous Amirs and Kings; customary and formal documents such as deeds, letters of delegations; judgments; divorce papers; wills and legal securities, as well as pictures and photos of the natural landscape of Afghanistan and other countries. According to Mr. Habibullah Akbari, Keeper of the Historical Documents, there are about 2,500 – 3,000 photo albums (100,000 photos) in the collection. Most are related to official trips by Afghanistan’s various rulers, particularly Nader Khan, King Zaher and President Daoud, to countries such as Germany, India, Russia, France, Japan, China, Poland, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Egypt, and the USA.
The oldest pictures of the collection belong to the periods of Amir Sher Ali Khan, Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, Amir Habibullah Khan, Amir Amanullah Khan and Amir Habibullah Khan Kalakani.
The Historical Documents Section, in addition to the archives with 150,000 historical documents, has a large separate exhibition hall in which a number of photocopies of original documents and pictures displayed. The exhibits are displayed in glass covered cases, as well as on the walls of the hall.
In addition the Historical Documents Section contains the following: