Yesterday afternoon ended with a rather unusual errand, delivering a nineteenth century Buddhist palm leaf manuscript, wrapped in newspaper and a Homebase carrier bag, to Edinburgh University’s Special Collections in the Main Library. It was the end of a surprising little story that began with a colleague in Asian Studies mentioning to me that he had been asked to go and look at a manuscript that had been donated to a local charity bookshop. Hearing that the manuscript was ‘probably Burmese’ I asked to go along too, to see if my rudimentary skills in Burmese script could be of use.
The manuscript was indeed Burmese, written on palm leaf in a beautiful hand, and at least partly in Pāli. That much I could ascertain, but any more than that was beyond my skills! I agreed to take the manuscript away to get it identified, and to ask about having it accepted into the University’s collection.
Thanks to the help of San San May at the British Library, to whom I sent photographs, I now know that the text is the Parivāra portion of the Vinaya in Pāli and Burmese, and that it dates from the mid nineteenth-century. Sadly the leaves are all disordered, though I have at least put them all the same way up and between their protective covers.
Now that the manuscript has joined others in the University Library (and a payment has been made to the charity bookshop) all it needs is a bit of attention from a scholar. Unfortunately the Pāli collections here have not been adequately studied, nor even properly catalogued yet, though a recent Masters student has made great strides in documenting them, especially those in Sinhalese script. This little manuscript adventure has strengthened my resolve to improve matters and make sure that the University’s collection gets a proper audience.