18th October 2023

Manuscript from the collections of the National Library of Bulgaria included in the UNESCO “Memory of the World” register

A 16th-century transcript of “Masnavi-ye-Ma’navi”, the only known copy of the poet’s work at the National Library of Bulgaria, has been added to the UNESCO “Memory of the World” register. The manuscript is the work of the renowned Persian philosopher, mystic, spiritual leader, and poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi.

“Masnavi-ye-Ma’navi” is a poetic collection of anecdotes and stories derived from the Quran, hadith sources, and everyday tales. Stories are told to illustrate a point and each moral is discussed in detail. It is ascribed to be like a “Quran in Persian” due to its wisdom, rich language, intricate style, symbolism, and depth. The title “Masnavi-ye-Ma’navi” means “The Spiritual Couplets”. A remarkable aspect of transcript, which is preserved at the National Library in Bulgaria, is the presence of six seals on page 1r, indicating that the manuscript was passed down from hand to hand between 1701 and 1843 (1113-1259 according to the Hijri calendar) before it reached the library in Samokov, from where it was brought to the National Library of Bulgaria. In Ottoman libraries, books were stacked on top of each other, which is why it was necessary to write the author and title on the bottom side of the book.

Rumi’s works have been translated into numerous languages, and many copies are found in collections around the world. They contain aphorisms, wise sayings, instructive narrative verses, and examples from the lives of prophets, among other elements. The collective inclusion of Rumi’s works in the “Memory of the World” register also encompasses manuscripts from repositories in Germany, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The successful completion of the registration process was celebrated with a roundtable and festive ceremony on September 28, 2023, in Konya, Turkey, where the Persian poet spent most of his earthly journey. The year of inclusion coincides with the 750th anniversary of Rumi’s death. The transcript from the National Library of Bulgaria was presented to the forum participants by Sevdiye Ali, an archivist at the ‘Oriental Collections’ department and an expert in Arabic-language literature.

As of now, the “Memory of the World” register at UNESCO includes three manuscripts from the collections of the National Library of Bulgaria:

  • Enina Apostle: A short Apostolos lectionary, written on parchment in the second half of the 11th century, making it the oldest Cyrillic manuscript currently part of a Bulgarian collection.
  • Borilov Synodik: The earliest surviving copy, dating from the end of the 14th century. It was found in Tarnovo by Nikolay Palauzov and is currently housed in the National Library of Bulgaria
  • Masnavi-ye-Ma’navi (“The Spiritual Couplets”) by Rumi, from the 16th century

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