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Journal of the Asiatic Society [drop-head title].

Part I. - History, Literature, &c. No. II - 1865.

Calcutta: Printed by C. B. Lewis at the Baptist Mission Press, 1865 Stock Code: 131333
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"The mystique of Tibetan monks in the elaborate regalia of masked dance"

First edition. The key contribution among the five papers printed here is "Description of a Mystic Play, as performed in Ladak, Zaskar, &c." by the explorer and geologist Captain Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen (1834-1923), "the chief authority in his day on the structure of the Karakoram and other ranges beyond the great Himalayan axis" (ODNB). The photographs are the first taken in this region of northern India: Ladakh (the "land of high passes") and the Zaskar Range, both in the modern state of Jammu and Kashmir, bordering Tibet. They are the work of Captain Alexander Brodie Melville of the Bengal Staff Corps, who worked with the Kashmir Survey (1855-63). "He took up photography in about 1861 and his views of Kashmir and Ladakh were shown to the Bengal Photographic Society in that year, which praised them as 'very creditable to an amateur photographer, who never touched a chemical before that year, and whose collodion had been subjected to such rough travelling on high mountain ranges'" (John Falconer in From Bombay to Shanghai: Historical Photography in South and Southeast Asia, 1995).

"This account of the monastic building, the monks' attire and their performance at Hemis was clearly based on Godwin-Austen's own observations supplemented by Tibetological information derived from the work of the Moravian missionary Heinrich August Jäschke whose "Note on the Pronunciation of the Tibetan Language" is printed here. Despite being the beneficiary of the missionary's erudition, however, Godwin-Austen was still left lamenting: 'What this strange masque was intended to represent is more than I can say, and the priests of the monastery seemed to know as little of the matter' Perhaps it was precisely because the 'strange masque' seemed so incomprehensible that Godwin-Austen's text was augmented by ten illustrations by Melville, which pictured the monks and the various costumes they wore for a 'cham' in celebration of the life of a major figure in Tibetan Buddhism: Padmasambhava. Also, since the prints were half-stereos (that is, one of two images created by a stereoscopic camera) they raise the intriguing possibility that the monks' dances had stimulated another kind of performance back in the plains of India and at the heart of the colonial administration. Since Godwin-Austen's paper was read before an audience of scholars and leading figures in the civil service at the Asiatic Society in Calcutta (now Kolkata), it may well have been illustrated with stereoscopic images in 1864 Melville's photographs of Ladakh reproduced some of the most inscrutable but alluring aspects of Tibetan Buddhist culture for the first time and very probably animated them in hyper-realist mode for the mandarins of Calcutta. The mystique of Tibetan monks in the elaborate regalia of masked dance would become a leitmotif for future photographers and, by the end of the nineteenth century, one of the most popular collectibles within the print culture of colonial India" (Clare Harris, Photography and Tibet, 2016, pp. 23-25).

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Octavo, pp. 51-113 (complete). Largely unopened in the original pale salmon-pink printed wrappers neatly rebacked. Housed in a dark blue cloth drop-back box, black leather label to the spine.


10 original half-stereo sepia-toned albumen print photographs on 5 leaves,one lithograph plate of symbols on early Indian coins, folding lithograph plate of Buddhist temple at Bakarya Kund, 2 small woodcuts in the text.


wrappers a little soiled and with a couple of chips, pale toning to the text, which is largely unopened, the mounting leaves lightly browned, a few of the photographs slightly faded as often, overall very good.


Howgego III G27.


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