Zambeel – The legendary bag of tricks

Ever wondered what the Zambeel looked like?
The Zambeel is a furry bag of tricks that belonged to Umar Ayyar (also written as Amar), a trickster and loyal companion to Amir Hamza, the hero of the legendary tales of the Hamzanama.
Umar Ayyar was the son of Umayya Zamiri, and is described as the greatest the greatest ayyar (shrewd, crafty, imposter) of the age. (1)
In this image Umar is seen carrying the magical Zambeel to help him combat a tremendous dragon.
ayyar zambeel lowUmar slays a dragon with naphtha (detail) (2)
“Hamza orders Umar to deliver a letter to Qitanush Shah urging him to convert to Islam. The road passes through an utterly desolate land pocked with deep noxious pits. In this hellish environment lurks a fearsome dragon. Umar knows better than to attack this beast with a sword and digs instead into his bag of tricks. He whips out a vial of naphtha (a flammable liquid) and hurls it at the dragon, incinerating him on the spot”. (3)
Click to view full image (4).ayyar dragon
The Hamzanama
The Hamzanama is a popular collection of action filled stories that recount in straightforward language the colourful adventures of Hamza and other legendary heroes as they travel the world spreading the teachings of Islam. (5) Hamza’s adventures were varied and plenty, as he battled giants, demons and strange creatures. (6)
The Manuscript
Born from the tradition of Persian oral literature, the tales of Hamzanama enthralled the young Mughal emperor Akbar who ordered them to be the subject of the first royal manuscript illustrated in India during his reign (1556-1605). (7)
The series of 1400 paintings on cloth may have been produced in either 12, 14 or 17 volumes. Directed by two Iranian master artists, Mir Sayyed Ali and Khwaja Abd-as Samad, the work involved over a hundred artists, gilders and bookbinders, and took fifteen years to complete (1562 to 1577).
A new Mughal style evolved, combining elements from the regional traditions of the Indian subcontinent with an Iranian compositional framework and distinctively Iranian motifs.
The paintings are unusually large, measuring around 74 x 58 cm. About 140 of these illustrations are known to survive. (8). On the other side of the image is the text in Persian in the Nasta’liq script, arranged so that the text is opposite the matching picture in most openings of the book. (9)
The Tradition
By its scope, size and execution, the Hamzanama lends itself to two very different kinds of viewing experience: one, as part of a public recitation that was dramatised serially by a professional storyteller, the other as the focus of a more intimate perusal of its illustrations. (10)
1 John Seyller et al, The Adventures of Hamza. Painting and Storytelling in Mughal India (Washington: Freer-Sackler, Smithsonian Institution, 2002) 80
2 Image (CAT 86), John Seyller et al, ibid, 253
3., accessed 26 April 2013
4., accessed 27 April 2013
5., accessed 25 April 2013
6., accessed 25 April 2013
7., ibid
8., accessed 26 April 2013
10. John Seyller et al, ibid, 12

About zambeeldramaticreadings

Zambeel Dramatic Readings aims to present texts in Urdu and English rendered in their dramatised form, to create a dynamic collusion between literature and performance. Referencing traditions of storytelling and the contemporary form of the radio play, our works traverse time and geographical boundaries to interpret and enliven narratives through sound and recitation.
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