THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

Burmese

Digital access to Burmese manuscripts

The Burmese manuscript collection in the British Library consists of approximately 1800 manuscripts. The majority are written on palm leaf, but there are also many paper folding books (parabaik), and texts written on diverse materials such as gold, silver, copper and ivory sheets in the shape of palm leaves. The collection is particularly strong in historical, legal and grammatical texts, and in illustrated material. In particular, there are many folding books with illustrations of the Life of the Buddha, Jataka stories, court scenes and other subjects.

The manuscripts derive from two historic sources, the British Museum and the India Office Library, and were mostly brought from Burma by travellers, envoys, missionaries, administrators and researchers. From the British Museum came the John Murray collection, acquired in 1842, which includes several manuscripts from Arakan dating from the 1740s, and the Sir Arthur Phayre collection, acquired in 1886. The India Office Library collection of Burmese manuscripts began with the Royal Mandalay Collection acquired in 1886 after the Anglo-Burmese war, and a collection of official documents formed by Henry Burney which was probably presented to the Library by Burney himself.

Or16761.f28r
Royal entertainments: In the above scene, a musical troupe is entertaining the royals. To the left, the royal party is seated under a canopy watching a Burmese classical dance (Zat pwe), while to the right are dancers and musicians accompanied by an orchestra (Saing waing). The dance Zat taw gyi or zat pwe is usually based on Jataka stories, the most popular literary source throughout all periods of Burmese history. British Library, Or.16761, f.28r Noc

Catalogues of all the Burmese manuscripts are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, and about 700 manuscripts in Burmese and and in Pali in Burmese script can be found in the online catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts. Listed below are all the Burmese manuscripts which have been digitised so far, mostly with support from the Henry D. Ginsburg Legacy, and which are accessible through the Digitised Manuscripts website.

List of digitised Burmese manuscripts

Add. 15289
Kammavaca, 18th century
Blog post, 17 February 2017: Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

Add. 15291
Kammavaca, 18th century

Add. 17699A
Buddhist cosmology, 19th century
Blog post, 1 July 2016: The Sixteen Sacred Lands of Buddhism

Add. 17699B
Scenes from the Jataka and other stories, 19th century

Or. 1609
Kammavaca, 18th century

Or. 3676
Scenes from Wizaya and Inaung Zats, mid-19th century
Blog post, 20 January 2016: Scenes from Burmese popular dramas

Or. 4542/A
Scenes from the Jataka stories 81-119: 39 Jataka stories of Ekanipat, 19th century
Blog post, 13 March 2015: The Jatakas: birth stories of the Boddhisatta

Or. 4542/B
Scenes from the Jataka stories 251-277: Tika nipat, 19th century
Blog post, 13 March 2015: The Jatakas: birth stories of the Boddhisatta

Or. 4762
The third part of an illustrated account of the Buddha’s life, 19th century  
Blog post, 26 November 2014: Burmese scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 5757
Account of the Buddha's life, 19th century
Blog post, 26 November 2014: Burmese scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 12010 A
Kammavaca, 18th century
Blog post, 17 February 2017: Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

Or. 12010 B
Kammavaca, 19th century

Or. 12010 E
Kammavaca, 18th century
Blog post, 17 February 2017: Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

Or. 12010 H
Kammavaca, 18th century
Blog post, 17 February 2017: Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

Or. 12010 I
Kammavaca, 19th century

Or. 13538
Scenes from the Jataka stories, from Panca nipata, 19th century            
Blog post, 13 March 2015: The Jatakas: birth stories of the Boddhisatta

Or. 13681
Depictions of Royal donations, 19th century
Blog post, 7 May 2013: Royal donations in the 19th century

Or. 13896
Kammavaca, 19th century
Blog post, 17 February 2017: Kammavaca: Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscripts

Or. 14004
Buddhist cosmology, 19th century
Blog post, 17 March 2016: Buddhist rebirth in different plans of existence

Or. 14178
Ramayana, 19th century
Blog post, 5 May 2014: The Ramayana in Southeast Asia (3): Burma

Or. 14197
Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, 19th century
Blog post, 26 November 2014: Burmese scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 14220
Scenes from the Jataka stories, 79 (Kharasara Jataka) to 84 (Atthassadvara Jataka), 19th century
Blog post, 24 December 2015: Scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 14297
Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Part 1, 19th century
Blog post, 24 December 2015: Scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 14298
Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Part 2, 19th century
Blog post, 24 December 2015: Scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 14405
Part 4 of an illustrated copy of the Life of the Buddha, with the text of Malalingara vatthu, 19th century
Blog post, 24 December 2015: Scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 14550
Buddhist cosmology, 19th century
Blog post, 17 March 2016: Buddhist rebirth in different plans of existence

Or. 14553
Part 9 of a series of scenes from the Life of the Buddha, 19th century
Blog post, 24 December 2015: Scenes from the Life of the Buddha

Or. 14823
Scenes from the lives of previous Buddhas and Gautama Buddha, 19th century
Blog post, 19 June 2015: 28 Buddhas

Or. 15021
Court festivals, 19th century
Blog post, 5 August 2015: Festivals in Burma (Myanmar)

Or. 16761
Royal entertainments, 19th century
Blog post, 13 June 2013: Burmese court scenes in a 19th-century parabaik

Mss Burmese 202
Birth stories of the Buddha, 19th century
Blog post, 13 March 2015: The Jatakas: birth stories of the Boddhisatta

IO Man/Pali 20
Bhikkhupatimokkha and Bhikkhunipatimokkha, the code of the discipline of Buddhist monks and nuns, 19th century

IO Man/Pali 21
Bhikkhupatimokkha and Bhikkhunipatimokkha, the code of the discipline of Buddhist monks and nuns, 19th century

San San May, Curator for Burmese Ccownwork