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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


From the Indian Subcontinent

Pilgrims from India disembarking at Jedda, 1940

Pilgrims from India disembarking at Jedda, 1940, Royal Geographical Society/Gerald de Gaury

The Journey from India to Jedda was a very hazardous one. When Indian ships approached the coast of the Arabian Sea they encountered violent waves. Piracy was also one of the major hazards mentioned by Muslim sources. Therefore the return of pilgrims is an occasion of joyous celebration for the completion of a spiritual experience and also for safe arrival.

It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are sailing on ships and rejoicing in the favouring wind, a storm arrives: waves come at those on board from all sides and they feel there is no escape.
Qur’an 10 – Nuh :22.

Jedda to Mecca: Across the Indian Ocean (1677– 80, Gujarat, India)

Jedda to Mecca: Across the Indian Ocean (1677– 80, Gujarat, India)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, MSS 1025 fols 2b, 3b, 21a, 22b (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

The illustrations start on the left with the port of Surat north of Bombay which was the main point of embarkation for the pilgrims. It is orientated to the south and the ships are about to depart. Having crossed the Indian Ocean they enter the Arabian Sea, here called the Sea of Oman. They travel in convoy in ocean-going dhows. The smaller boats are perhaps there to guide them as they are entering dangerous coastal waters. After entering the Red Sea, the first port is that of Mocha in Yemen, famous for its association with the export of coffee. Finally they reach Jedda, the port of Mecca.

Chart of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (c. 1835, Gujarat, India)

Chart of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (About 1835, Gujarat, India)

Royal Geographical Society, mr Asia S.4

This chart was probably used by Indian navigators on ships which transported pilgrims to Mecca for Hajj. The map depicts the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, with Jedda on the far left. Different types of ship are depicted which are shown on marked directional lines. Key features of interest to sailors including islands, reefs, and flags of local rulers, are annotated in Gujarati and Hindi. Some places, such as Kamaran Island, the location of a quarantine station, are noted in English. The inner channel along the Arabian coast was notoriously difficult to navigate. This chart was presented to Sir Alexander Burnes in 1835 by a pilot from Kutch in Gujarat. Its Gujarati maker is unknown.

The encampment of the caravan of pilgrims From India and Iran (1677 –1680, Gujarat, India)

The encampment of the caravan of pilgrims From India and Iran (1677 –1680. Gujarat, India)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, MSS 1025 fol 17a (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

This is a page from Anis al-hujjaj, "The Pilgrim’s Companion", by Safi ibn Wali. The author describes the groups of pilgrims he meets en route to Hajj. He says that the Iranian pilgrims entered the Hijaz either through the port of Kung (down the coast from Bushehr) or through Baghdad and Najaf. "They were simple and appeared to be poor, worried by their outward condition… however they were excusable in this regard due to their helplessness and modesty. They suffered… because they could not come here if they did not get surety".

Thomas Cook pilgrim report, pilgrim booklet, pilgrim ticket (1886, Peterborough, UK)

Thomas Cook pilgrim ticket
Thomas Cook pilgrim letter

Thomas Cook Archive

Thomas Cook pilgrim booklet

This selection of objects comes from the Thomas Cook Indian Hajj archives. The pilgrim report is by one of the agents sent by Thomas Cook to Jedda to advise on how shipping and transportation arrangements could be improved for Indian pilgrims. On learning of his father’s appointment to the post of agent, Thomas Cook’s son commented: ‘I know this business is surrounded with more difficulties and prejudices than anything I have hitherto undertaken.’ The pilgrim booklet gives a detailed description of Thomas Cook’s involvement with the Hajj. Thomas Cook tickets were issued to the thousands of pilgrims who travelled from India to the Hijaz for Hajj.

Pilgrim receipts (1955-6, Saudi Arabia)

Pilgrim receipts (1955-6, Saudi Arabia)

British Museum, CM 1984,0605.1995

Pilgrim receipts were introduced in 1953. As currency exchange throughout the world became more competitive, the monetary options available to pilgrims increased. Pilgrim receipts, used like travellers cheques, were purchased by pilgrims at banks in their home countries and exchanged in Saudi Arabia for Saudi riyals. This meant that pilgrims were no longer disadvantaged by poor exchange rates on their arrival in Saudi Arabia.

This receipt is worth 1 riyal.

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council