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The Hamzanama chronicles the fantastic adventures of Hamza as he and his band of heroes fight against the enemies of Islam. This illustration shows the witch Anqarut in the guise of a beautiful young woman, who hopes to seduce the handsome king Malik Iraj, whom she has captured and tied to a tree.
An Indonesian wayang puppet of Amir Hamzah, also known as Wong Agung Jayeng Rana
Battle of Mazandaran, number 38 in the 7th volume of the Hamzanama, as inscribed between the legs of the man in the bottom center. The protagonists Khwajah 'Umar and Hamzah and their armies engage in fierce battle. Originally, the faces were depicted; these were subsequently erased by iconoclasts, and repainted in more recent times. text on verso
Umar, disguised as Mazmahil the Surgeon, Practices Quackery on the Sorcerers of Antali, c. 1570.[1]

The Hamzanama (Persian/Urdu: حمزه نامه Hamzenâme, Epic of Hamza) or Dastan-e-Amir Hamza (Persian/Urdu: داستان امیر حمزه Dâstâne Amir Hamze, Adventures of Amir Hamza) narrates the legendary exploits of Amir Hamza, an uncle of Muhammad, though most of the stories are extremely fanciful, "a continuous series of romantic interludes, threatening events, narrow escapes, and violent acts".[2] The stories, from a long-established oral tradition, were written down in Persian, the language of the court, in multiple volumes.

Most of the characters of the Hamzanama are fictitious. In the West the work is best known for the enormous illustrated manuscript commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in about 1562. The Hamzanama contains 46 volumes and has approximately 48000 pages. It is said that Dastaan Ameer Hamza was written in the era of Mahmud of Ghazni.

The text augmented the story, as traditionally told in dastan performances. The dastan (storytelling tradition) about Amir Hamza persists far and wide up to Bengal and Arakan (Burma), as the Mughals controlled those territories.[3]

Akbar's manuscriptEdit

Though the first Mughal Emperor, Babur, described the Hamzanama as "one long far-fetched lie; opposed to sense and nature",[4] his grandson Akbar, who came to the throne at the age of fourteen, greatly enjoyed it. He commissioned his court workshop to create an illustrated manuscript of the Hamzanama early in his reign (he was by then about twenty), which was conceived on such an unusually large scale that it took fourteen years, from about 1562 to 1577, to complete. Apart from the text, it included 1400 full page Mughal miniatures of an unusually large size, nearly all painted on paper, which were then glued to a cloth backing. The work was bound in 14 volumes. After the early pages, where various layouts were experimented with, one side of most folios has a painting, about 69 cm x 54 cm (approx. 27 x 20 inches) in size, done in a fusion of Persian and Mughal styles. On the other side is the text in Persian in Nasta'liq script, arranged so that the text is opposite the matching picture in most openings of the book.[5]

The size of the commission was completely unprecedented, and stretched even the huge imperial workshop. According to contemporary accounts, about thirty main artists were used, and over a hundred men worked on the various aspects of the book in all. According to Badauni and Shahnawaz Khan the work of preparing the illustrations was supervised initially by Mir Sayyid Ali and subsequently by Abdus Samad, the former possibly being replaced as head of the workshop because the pace of production was too slow. After seven years only four volumes were completed, but the new head was able to galvanize production and complete the ten volumes in another seven years, without any loss of quality. Indeed, "the later pages are the most exciting and innovative in the work".[6]

The painting depicts a devoted spy named Umar hired by Hamza, who discovers a hidden pathway to the Castle of Furad.

The colophon of this manuscript is still missing. None of the folios of this manuscript so far found is signed, though many have been attributed to different artists. Compared to Akbar's Tutinama, a smaller commission begun and completed while the Hamzanama commission was in progress, the manuscript shows a much greater fusion of the styles of Indian and Persian miniatures. Though the elegance and finish may seem closer to Persian works, the compositional style and narrative drama owe more to Indian tradition. Between them, these two manuscripts are the key works in the formation of the Mughal miniature style.[7]

Only a little over a hundred of the paintings survive. The largest group of 61 images is in the Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna (Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst or MAK), with the rest spread over many collections. The Victoria and Albert Museum possess 27 images, bought in Kashmir, and the British Museum in London has one.[8][9] The MAK organized in 2009 the exhibition GLOBAL:LAB, Art as a Message. Asia and Europe 1500-1700, which showed its whole holding of the Hamzanama.[10] Other recent exhibitions dedicated to the manuscript have been at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2003 and in 2002/2003 at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. which transferred to the Brooklyn Museum in New York.[11]

Whole miniature of Mughal Hamzanama trace by John seyller in his book "The adventures of Hamza : painting and storytelling in Mughal India"[1]

Other versionsEdit

The Dastan-e-Amir Hamza existed in several other illustrated manuscript versions. One version by Navab Mirza Aman Ali Khan Ghalib Lakhnavi was printed in 1855 and published by the Hakim Sahib Press, Calcutta, India. This version was later embellished by Abdullah Bilgrami and published by the Naval Kishore Press, Lucknow, in 1871. Two English language translations have been published. The first is available in an expanded version on the website of the translator Frances Pritchett, of Columbia University.[12] Pritchett's former student at Columbia University, Pasha Mohamad Khan, who currently teaches at McGill University, researches qissa/dastan (romances) and the art of dastan-goi (storytelling), including the Hamzanama.[13] In 2007 Musharraf Ali Farooqi, a Pakistani-Canadian author, translated the Ghalib Lakhnavi/Abdulla Bilgriami version into English.

A Pakistani author Maqbool Jahangir wrote Dastan-e-Amir Hamza for children in Urdu language. His version contains 10 volumes and was published by Ferozsons (also Ferozsons Publishers).

The story is also performed in Indonesian puppet theatre, where it is called Wayang Menak. Here, Hamzah is also known as Wong Agung Jayeng Rana or Amir Ambyah.


Character Description
Amir Hamza Paternal uncle of Muhammad.
Qubad Kamran The king of Iran
Alqash Grand Minister of Qubad Kamran and an astrologer
Khawaja Bakht Jamal A descendant of Prophet Daniel (not in reality) who knows of astrology and became teacher and friend of Alqash.
Bozorgmehr Son of Khawaja Bakht Jamal, a very wise, noble and talented astrologer who became Grand Minister of Qubad Kamran.


  1. ^ This painting of the "Qissa" (Accession no. 24.49) is identified as Book 11, 84 r. by Sheila Canby and is one of a series of three which depict the entry of Amr and his companions into the fort of Zumurud Shah and his sorcerers disguised as a physician and his attendant.
  2. ^ Beach, 61
  3. ^ The Bustan of Amir Hamzah (the Malay version of Dastan-e-Amir Hamza); Farooque Ahmed, The Sangai Express-Imphal, May 25, 2006 Amir Hamza-book review
  4. ^ Beach, 60
  5. ^ Beach, 61
  6. ^ Beach, 61
  7. ^ Grove
  8. ^ Titley, 189; Titley says "only just over one hundred of the paintings have survived", while the V&A says "about 140", but they are counting fragments.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-10-18. Retrieved 2017-06-24. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ exhibition GLOBAL:LAB, 03.06.2009 - 27.09.2009 Archived 2010-12-29 at the Wayback Machine at the MAK Vienna
  11. ^ V&A Archived 2008-06-24 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Pritchett, Frances. "The Romance Tradition in Urdu: The Adventures from Dastan-e Amir Hamza". Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Pasha M. Khan | Institute of Islamic Studies - McGill University". Retrieved 2016-03-16.


  • Beach, Milo Cleveland, Early Mughal painting, Harvard University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-674-22185-0, ISBN 978-0-674-22185-7
  • "Grove", Oxford Art Online, "Indian sub., §VI, 4(i): Mughal ptg styles, 16th–19th centuries", restricted access.
  • Titley, Norah M., Persian Miniature Painting, and its Influence on the Art of Turkey and India, 1983, University of Texas Press, 0292764847
  • Farooqi, Musharraf Ali (2007), The Adventures of Amir Hamza (New York: Random House Modern Library).
  • The Bustan of Amir Hamzah (the Malay version of the story)
  • Musharraf Farooqi (2009), (transl.Tilism-e hoshruba, vol. 1 of Jah):Hoshruba, Book One: The Land and the Tilism, by Muhammad Husain Jah).
  • Seyller, John (2002), The Adventures of Hamza, Painting and Storytelling in Mughal India, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, in association with Azimuth Editions Limited, London, ISBN 1-898592-23-3 (contains the most complete set of reproductions of Hamzanama paintings and text translations)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit