Miftāḥ al-surūr-i ‘Ādil-šāhī | Monography or Translations of known period | Sexology | Survey | Perso-Indica


Monography or Translations of known period
Maḥmūd or Muḥammad(-i) Ayāz, Miftāḥ al-surūr-i ‘Ādil-šāhī

The author lived in Mālwa and Bijapur in the first half of the 10th/16th century. His name is not totally clear. The manuscript under scrutiny (Ms. London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, f. 1b) reads “Maḥmūd(-i) Ayāz”. Different manuscripts have “Muḥammad(-i) Ayāz” and “Niyāz Maḥmūd” (Munzawī 1382š/2003, p. 3719). “Niyāz Maḥmūd”, however, is unlikely, since the British Library manuscript clearly reads “the servant of the wantless court (banda-yi dargāh-i bī-niyāz) Maḥmūd(-i) Ayāz”. Hence, “niyāz” is not part of the name. Information on the author is entirely derived from the foreword of his treatise. He refers to himself and his forefathers as being content servants of the Khiljī dynasty of Malwa until political turmoil took place. He thus decided to take refuge with the ‘Ādil Šāh ruler, to whom he intended to introduce himself by a book on medicine (ṭibb), since he had studied it for a large part of his life (Ms. London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, ff. 2a-3a).
The Miftāḥ al-surūr-i ‘Ādil-šāhī (‘Ādil Šāh’s Key To Delight) is an original Persian work on ‘ilm al-bāh (lit. ‘knowledge of coitus’) dedicated to Abū al-Mujāhid (or Maḥāmid) ‘Ādil Šāh (probably the sultan Isma‘īl, r. 915-941/1510-1534) and written in Burhānpūr (Munzawī 1382 s/2003, p. 3719). The author's arrival in Burhānpūr is dated in several manuscripts as muḥarram 922/February 1516 (Ms. London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, f. 2b) or 923/1517 or 926/1519 (Munzawī 1382 s/2003, p. 3719), but 926 (given as “muḥarram-i sittīn (!) wa ‘išrīn wa tis‘i-miʾa”) could easily be a writing error for 922 (i.e. “muḥarram-i iṯnayn wa ‘išrīn wa tis‘i-mi’a”). In Burhānpūr, the author heard that the ‘Ādil Šāh king was absent from the capital due to a military expedition. Deciding against following him empty-handedly to the camp, the author resolved to write a treatise and wait until the return of the ruler. Hence, the work has been composed in 922/1516 (alternatively 926/1519; 923/1517) or shortly afterwards.
The Miftāḥ al-surūr can be classified as part of the later literature on ‘ilm al-bāh that evolved in the late medieval and early modern Muslim world by merging elements of the formerly independent genres of purely medical and erotological works (Franke 2012). The author indeed classifies his work as a treatise (risāla) on quwwat-i bāh (potency) (Ms. London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, f. 3b) and explicitly states to have discussed information from the “books of the philosophers of India and Rūm” (kutub-i ḥukamā-yi Hind wa Rūm). Although he does not list all of his sources, judging from contents he most probably used a version of the Kitāb albāb al-bāhiyya wa al-tarākīb al-sulṭāniyya, a treatise on coitus (bāh) ascribed to Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274). The Laḏḏat al-nisā’ and the Alfiyya wa šalfiyya – illustrated books on sexual matters in various versions not always extant today – are sources explicitly named.
The treatise is structured as follows: in a preface the author gives an account of the events leading to the composition of the work. The introduction explains the basic medical concepts behind potency (quwwat-i bāh) and general rules for practicing sexual intercourse. In chapter one the author explains in sub-chapters from one to three various medical issues of Arabic and Persian texts like the preservation of potency and benefits and harms of sexual intercourse. Sub-chapters from four to six introduce types of women according to Indian literature and philosophers of Rūm and discuss positions for sexual intercourse and erotic techniques like embraces, kisses and the application of fingernails. Chapter two provides single and compound medicines for enhancing potency and chapter three single and compound foods. In the conclusion, the author elaborates on bandages and clothes for different seasons and on cosmetic issues. The bulk of the work is devoted to medicines and foods, but erotological information makes up more than half of chapter one.
The influence of Indic works on sexual intercourse and erotology is notable in the Miftāḥ al-surūr especially in sub-chapters four to six of chapter one. The author describes the four Indian types of women of the Kokaśāstra tradition (padmini, čitrini, sankhini, hastini) along with ten rūmī types in order to facilitate the choice of pleasurable slave girls and wives for the aristocracy according to physiognomy. Men are also warned about detrimental effects of sexual intercourse with unsuitable types of women. Erotic techniques to enhance sexual pleasure are treated afterwards. Both, the description of the four types of women and the presentation of the erotic techniques are particularly reminiscent of the Laḏḏat al-nisā’ in the Naḫšabī tradition.
With regard to different positions of sexual intercourse, however, in spite of admitting that they are a matter of individual tastes, the author defends the Muslim medical notion that only missionary position is not detrimental to men’s health. Here, the reasoning is exactly the same as in the treatise on coitus ascribed to al-Ṭūsī (compare Ms. London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, f. 19a and Ṭūsī 2014, p. 112 and pp. 49-50 of the edition). Nevertheless, the author adduces lack of space as the reason for referring the reader to various positions given in illustrated books like the Alfiyya wa šalfiyya and the Laḏḏat al-nisā’.
Moreover, in accordance with Muslim medical views, the author criticizes the “ignorant physicians and yogis” (juhhāl-i aṭibbā wa jōgiyān) who advocate complete abstinence from sexual intercourse (Ms. London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, f. 11b). On the other hand, for information on types of women as well as medicines and foods he draws on both Muslim and Indian traditions without further discussion. The chapter on medicines contains also Indic terms in Arabic script. Unfortunately, the author does not name his sources on Indic medical knowledge. Judging from erotological knowledge, he may have used Persian translations of Indic medical works as well. However, as he mentions in the foreword having had teachers (ustādān-i ḫwīš) in medicine, it is also possible that some of his sources on Indic medical knowledge were oral.

i) Place of copying; ii) Period of copying; iii) Copyist; iv) Commissioner;
v) Information on colophon; vi) Description of miniatures/illustrations; vii) Other remarks; viii) Information on catalogue(s)

London, British Library, IO Islamic 2473, ff. 65

, ii)

Monday, 8 ramażān year 20 (?)

, vii)

Ethé suggests that 8 ramażān year 20 could mean year 20 of Muḥammad-Šāh’s reign which would be 1151/20 December 1738, but that was a Saturday, not a Monday

, viii)

Ethé 1903, vol. 1, c. 1262




Ethé, Hermann, 1903, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford, vol. 1.
Franke, Patrick 2012, “Before scientia sexualis in Islamic culture: ‘ilm al-bāh between erotology, medicine and pornography”, Social Identities, 18, 2, pp. 161-173.
Munzawī, Aḥmad, 1382š/2003, Fihristwāra-yi kitābhā-yi fārsī, Tehran, vol. 5.
Ṭūsī, Naṣīr al-Dīn al-, 2014, Kitāb albāb al-bāhiyya wa al-tarākīb al-sulṭāniyya, English translation: The Sultan's sex potions: Arab aphrodisiacs in the Middle Ages, Daniel L. Newman, ed., London, Saqi Books.

Susanne Kurz

Originally published: 22 October 2018
How to quote this article:

Kurz, Susanne, 2018, "Miftāḥ al-surūr-i ‘Ādil-šāhī", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.,

available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/miftah_al-surur-i_adil-sahi.
Main Persian Title: Miftāḥ al-surūr-i ‘Ādil-šāhī
English Translation of Main Persian Title: ‘Ādil Šāh’s Key To Delight
Approximate period of composition: 1516-1519

الحمد لله الفرد الصمد الذی خلق من کل شیء زوجین اثنین و الصلوة و السلام علی رسوله محمد سید الکونین المباهی بکثرة الامة یوم حضور الثقلنین و علی آله و اصحابه و اولاده قسرة عینین – اما بعد میکوید محرر این مقاله و مولف این رساله بنده درکاه بی نیاز محمود ایاز اصلح الله احواله

Place: Burhānpūr  - Deccan 
Dedicatee: Abu al-Mujāhid (or Maḥāmid) ‘Ādil-Šāh, probably Isma‘īl ‘Ādil Šāh 
Local Informants: Probably teachers of the author in medicine in Mālwa