I was searching for illustrations of the Blackbuck when I stumbled upon a Wikimedia Commons page for the Farahnamah. Translated as Farah’s Encyclopedia of Nature, this is a most beautiful Persian manuscript. A treatise on natural history by al-Mutahhar ibn Muhammad al-Yazdi (who lived around the second half of the 12th century CE), it describes the flora and fauna of the region. Also known as Ajayib al-dunya or Wonders of The World, the manuscript was copied all over again in the 17th century, complete with brightly coloured and charmingly detailed illustrations of a whole range of mammals, birds and reptiles. Mythical beasts, ordinary humans, cultivated plants, and inanimate rocks were also included.

The pdf version of the book can be downloaded from the World Digital Library (a project of the US Library of Congress, with support from UNESCO). Though I cannot read the script, flipping through the scanned pages of the document has been an immensely enjoyable experience. I can visualize myself as one of the medieval townsmen who would gather around such books, in colleges and at home, eager to have a glimpse of the world beyond their city walls, soaking in the information captured by pen and brush. The Farahnamah is proof of the beauty and aesthetics of Persian miniature painting. This particular copy is preserved at the Harvey Cushing and John Hay Whitney Medical Library in Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut (USA).

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and shows an illustration of the Blackbuck, from a copy of the Farahnamah dating back to the 17th century CE.

Reference: World Digital Library