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Student pursues ancient book's origins

Tuesday, 21st July, 2009

A fascinating Bengali book from the 19th century has been discovered at the local mosque.

The book was originally thought to be an old copy of the Koran, but was later discovered to be a 'puthi' titled Kachachol Ambia. The puthi contains a mixture of stories about Islamic and Hindu prophets, and was published in Calcutta in 1894. Unlike many historical texts, the book is written in verse and designed to be sung or recited to an audience by a Mullah.

The book's true nature was uncovered by University of Sydney student Samia Khatun, who noticed the strange tome while completing a PhD in Australian History.

"I saw a picture of the Broken Hill Mosque in another book... and it had a picture of a bunch of books that were in the mosque," she said.

" I looked at the book and it was labelled as the Koran, but the writing was in Bengali. I thought 'What on earth is that, and what is it doing in Broken Hill?'" Samia contacted Jenny Camilleri of the Broken Hill Historical Society regarding the find, and is now in the city studying the ancient texts. She said the book's journey and history would prove to be most enlightening. "I think I'll fish around town through mosque records, to see if I can work out who brought it here, and also how it got to Broken Hill. "Bengali people were sailors ... so it may have belonged to a sailor and its possible it was being performed and sung on a ship, and then it's ended up here.

"The University has also agreed to give me money to go to India to look at where the book was produced, who wrote it, and basically do a history of the book from Bengal to Broken Hill." The Bangladesh-born student said it was amazing to find something of such cultural significance in such a distant location.

"I'm really really happy all the bits and pieces in Broken Hill have been preserved and looked after, it's amazing to find a repository this far into Australia."

"It's weird to come to the middle of Australia and find that a little bit of your past from God knows where else has washed up here." Samia has taken video captures of the book and will begin work on a full translation shortly. The book itself will now be housed at the Broken Hill Historial Society's premises in the former Synagogue.

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