The Anvār-i Suhaylī or Lights of Canopus (the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina) is a collection of interrelated fables, mostly about animals, set within a frame story. This particular collection became best known in the West as the Fables of Bidpai and was first published in English in 1570 as The Morall Philosophie of Doni.
The Fables of Bidpai owe their origin to India where they are best known in Sanskrit as the Panchatantra, but it is largely through the Arabic translation by Ibn al-Muqaffaʻ (died c. 757) that they became so popular in Persian. The story describes how the Sasanian king of Iran, Anushirvan (Khusraw I, r. 531-579 AD), heard of a book treasured by the kings of India which had been compiled from the speech of animals, birds, reptiles and wild beasts. Anushirvan sent his physician Burzuyah on a mission to India to discover the book and Burzuyah returned with a copy which he translated into Middle Persian. The original translation is lost but the stories were re-translated into Arabic and Syriac, and then from Arabic into Persian and other languages.
At the end of the 15th century the Timurid Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara (r.1469-1506) asked Husayn Vaʻiz Kashifi to produce another, simplified, version in Persian and it was this which subsequently became the most popular, especially with the Mughal Emperors in India who commissioned several luxurious copies.
This manuscript was copied for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and completed in AH 1019 (1610/11) though its 36 miniatures were probably painted earlier while Jahangir, as Prince Salim, held court in Allahabad. The paintings are mostly ascribed to well-known Mughal artists and two are dedicated to Prince Salim and dated AH 1013 (1604/5).
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- The British Library
Wonder at these amazing hand-painted books of past ages and marvel at the vibrant colours used – these are works of art that were made for kings and queens, monasteries, bishops and counts.