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294 posts categorized "South East Asia"

01 July 2024

Henry Alabaster’s “Catalogue of Siamese manuscripts” (2): miscellaneous texts, novels and dramas

Henry Alabaster (1836-84) started his career as an interpreter for Thai in the British consular service in Bangkok where he was in close contact with King Mongkut (Rama IV). He helped to organise the solar eclipse observation event in August 1868 that was attended by various foreign government officials, including British and French. Shortly after the King died from malaria a few weeks after this event, Alabaster had to return to the UK. Thanks to his language skills and his in-depth knowledge of Thai literature he was employed by Reinhold Rost, librarian of the India Office Library, to catalogue seventeen Thai manuscripts that had been sitting in the IOL collection unexamined for two or more decades. Alabaster returned to Bangkok in 1872 to become King Chulalongkorn’s (Rama V) adviser. In the first part of this blog post, four legal manuscripts from Alabaster’s “Catalogue of Siamese manuscripts”, first section, were introduced. Now we will look at the remaining thirteen manuscripts.

Henry Alabaster standing next to King Mongkut on occasion of the solar eclipse observation event at Wa Kor observatory in southern Thailand
Henry Alabaster standing next to King Mongkut on occasion of the solar eclipse observation event at Wa Kor observatory in southern Thailand, on 18 August 1868 (detail on the right). Photo source: ณ หว้ากอ : อดีต ปัจจุบัน อนาคต [Na Wākō̜ : ʿadīt patčhuban ʿanākhot], Bangkok 2018. British Library YP.2023.b.318 (front cover)

The handwritten catalogue has three sections: 1) Royal edicts and books of laws; 2) Miscellaneous; and 3) Novels and dramas.

In the second section, there are only three records for literary works.

The first item (MSS Siamese 5) is described as “Suphasit. Elegant sayings or Poverbs” (สุภาษิต), written with white chalk pencil on black paper in folding book format, 56 fols. He explained that this work contains 222 secular and Buddhist proverbs, commonly known as “Suphasit Thai”, which were also mentioned in Pallegoix’s “Grammatica linguae Thai” (Bangkok, 1850). Alabaster did not explicitly say that this manuscript may be related to Pallegoix in terms of provenance, but Pallegoix may have had access to this or a similar manuscript after he became vicar apostolic of Eastern Siam in 1838.

The second record (MSS Siamese 6) is for a black paper folding book, 60 fols., containing a text with the title “Kratai kap Phë. The Hare and the Goat. A fable” (กระต่ายกับแพะ), with unrelated drawings of naga (serpents) and floral designs. Alabaster included a summary of the story and established 1811 as the year of creation thanks to a note in this manuscript saying that the scribe saw a comet for eleven nights (this must have been the Great Comet of 1811).

A small unfinished drawing in a black folding book containing the story “Kratai kap Phë. The Hare and the Goat
A small unfinished drawing in a black folding book containing the story “Kratai kap Phë. The Hare and the Goat. A fable”, dated 1811. British Library, MSS Siamese 6, f. 59

Next follows a description of another black folding book (MSS Siamese 7), 56 fols., containing two texts written with white ink: “Phra Samutha Khlong Wuta Chindamani Chan – Prosody (an extract)” (จินดามณี) and “Kaiya Nakhon, the City of the Body, a Buddhist Allegory” (กายนคร). Chindamani, or Jewels of Thought, is one of the most important literary treasures in Thai language going back to the 17th century. The other is a Thai version of a Pali text (kāya nagara) dealing with contemplation of the human body, which is one of the fundamental four meditations (satipatthāna) in Theravada Buddhism. Alabaster noted the inconsistent use of accents (tone marks) which may point towards a creation date around 1800 or earlier.

Extract from the “Chindamani” written in white ink in a black paper folding book
Extract from the “Chindamani” written in white ink in a black paper folding book. British Library, MSS Siamese 7, f. 14

The third section of Alabaster’s catalogue on “Novels and Dramas” is the most extensive part, containing descriptions of ten manuscripts:

- MSS Siamese 8 “Hoi Sang vol. 1. The Adventures of Prince Hoi Sang. His escape from the city of the genies and his marriage with Princess Ruchana” (หอยสังข์), black paper folding book, 56 fols., no date. Prince Hoi Sang is born in a conch shell, similar to the hero of the story of Sang Sinchai.
- MSS Siamese 9 “I-hnao vol. 4. A Drama founded on Malayan or Javanese legends” (อิเหนา), black paper folding book, 56 fols., no date. Alabaster gives a summary of the text which is a popular Thai version of the Javanese Panji tales.
- MSS Siamese 10 “Phra Unarut vol. 5. The fight of King Unarut with the Genie King whose daughter has eloped with him” (พระอุณรุท), black paper folding book, 56 fols., no date. Alabaster notes that this is a Thai version of the story of King Anirut (Aniruddha) and Queen Usa.
- MSS Siamese 11 “Dara Suriwong vol. 1. The loves of Prince Dara and the Princess with the fragrant hair” (ดารา สุริวงศ์), black paper folding book, 66 fols., no date. Story of a prince who finds a casket containing a lock of fragrant hair and his search for the hair’s owner who turns out to be the daughter of the King of Benares.
- MSS Siamese 12 “Suwannahong vol. 13. Prince Suwannahong and his angel wives” (สุวรรณหงส์), black paper folding book, 56 fols., no date. Alabaster provides a summary of the story of the prince and his three jealous wives.
- MSS Siamese 13 “Samut Niyai Phra Si Muang vol. 1. The Story of Prince Si Muang and the wonderful Hong Bird” (พระศรีเมือง), white paper folding book, 82 fols., no date. Story of a prince who possesses a talking bird (hamsa) that leads him to study with a hermit, who then seeks a wife for the prince.
- MSS Siamese 14 “Thao Sawatthi Racha vol. 1. The King of Sravasti and his white elephant” (ท้าวสาวัตถีราชา), white paper folding book, 56 fols., contains a later added date, 1817, “which is probably the time at which it passed into foreign hands”. Story of the King of Sawatthi, whose twin sons were born while he spent many years in the jungle to look for his escaped white elephant.
- MSS Siamese 15 “Thepha Lin Thong vols. 1 and 2. The Adventures of Prince Thepha Lin Thong” (เทพลินทอง), white paper folding book, 76 fols., no date. Alabaster notes that it was “written by some foreigner, probably a Portuguese in romanized Siamese”.
- MSS Siamese 16 “Another volume of the same work” (MSS Siamese 15), white paper folding book, 58 fols., no date. “Written in ink in Siamese character, the form of the letters slightly differing from the forms now in vogue. Mentioned by Pallegoix in his list of Siamese Books as ‘King Lin Thong’”. Alabaster gives a detailed two-page summary of this story.
- MSS Siamese 17/a-b “Sang Sin Chai vols. III and V. The story of Prince Sang Sinchai, possessor of the magic shell, the magic bow, and the magic sword” (สังข์ศิลป์ชัย), black paper folding books, 44 fols. (a) and 42 fols. (b), date not stated. Alabaster provides a very short summary of the story and mentions that “The first, second and fourth volumes have got separated and are now in the British Museum numbered 12261, 12262a; and 12264 of the Additional manuscripts”. What he refers to are three manuscripts acquired for the British Museum in January 1842 from Thomas Rodd, a London bookseller, as part of the collection of Scotsman Sir John MacGregor Murray (1745-1822) who served in the British establishment in Bengal from 1770 to 1797 and brought back a vast collection of Persian, Arakanese, Pali-Burmese and few Thai manuscripts. It is certain that MSS Siamese 17/a-b, and possibly other manuscripts described in Alabaster’s catalogue, were originally part of Murray’s collection – especially the legal texts in section 1 since Murray had a particular interest in such.

One opening of the Romanised version of “Thepha Lin Thong” written in black ink in a white paper folding book
One opening of the Romanised version of “Thepha Lin Thong” written in black ink in a white paper folding book. British Library, MSS Siamese 15, f.9

After completion of his “Catalogue of Siamese manuscripts”, Alabaster was determined to return to Bangkok. He rejected offers of posts in Cayenne and Saigon, and by April 1872 was deemed to have resigned from the British consular service. The reason was that he had been invited back to Siam by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to work in the King’s service. In May 1872 he was on a ship back to Bangkok, and on 15 November 1872 Alabaster wrote in a letter to MP Charles W Dilke that the Siamese government had recognised his position and that he was helping to facilitate the conclusion of the Chiang Mai Treaty (British Library, Add MS 43885, p. 247).

In the years until his untimely death in 1884 due to a sudden illness, Henry Alabaster made significant contributions to the modernisation of Thailand. In an announcement of his death in the Straits Times Weekly, 10 September 1884, his achievements were highlighted as follows:
“This gentleman who has been in the country for almost thirty years, was known and highly esteemed by everybody. He might, indeed, claim to have been for a long time the most prominent foreign personage in Bangkok, on account of his great influence as well as for the high offices he held for many years. He was His Majesty’s librarian, the director of the Royal Museum, the Royal Surveyor, the Administrator of Royal Parks and Gardens, the Superintendent of Roads and Bridges, and the First Official Interpreter of the King. In this delicate position especially he knew well how to command the full confidence and the highest esteem of the Sovereign, who often applied to him for advice …”

Watercolour sketch of Wa Kor observatory by Palacia Alabaster
Watercolour sketch of Wa Kor observatory by Palacia Alabaster, 1868. The National Archives, TNA, FO 69/46. Photo courtesy of Padej Kumlertsakul.

Especially for the future of the Thai library sector, Henry Alabaster played a crucial role as the King’s librarian who took the lead in cataloguing the royal collection of manuscripts and books. He instructed his Thai assistants in Western standards of cataloguing and classification, which he had learned from Reinhold Rost in order to create the “Catalogue of Siamese Manuscripts” for the India Office Library.

Alabaster left behind two families: three children by his English wife, Palacia; and two by his Thai wife, Perm. In a handwritten condolence letter  to Mrs Alabaster, King Chulalongkorn informed her, in English, that the funeral was to be conducted with all the honours of the First Class Phya, and a monument of European style would be erected at the place of Alabaster’s burial. Nearly three decades later, when King Vajiravudh (Rama Vl) introduced the use of surnames in 1913, Alabaster’s Thai family was given the name ‘Savetsila’, a literal translation of the word ‘alabaster’.

Henry Alabaster’s memorial inscription at the Protestant Cemetery in Bangkok reads:
“To Henry Alabaster, formerly of H.B.M.’s Consular Service, afterwards in that of His Majesty the King of Siam by whom this monument was erected in recognition of faithful service.
Born A.D.1836 - Died A.D.1884.
A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country.”

Henry Alabaster’s memorial erected by King Chulalongkorn (left) and bust (right) at the Protestant Cemetery in Bangkok
Henry Alabaster’s memorial erected by King Chulalongkorn (left) and bust (right) at the Protestant Cemetery in Bangkok, just a short distance from his grave, 2024. Photos courtesy of Jason Rolan.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

References and further reading
Igunma, Jana: Reunited at last: a classical Thai verse novel from Ayutthaya (published 25 April 2022)
Alabaster, Henry. Henry Alabaster of Siam: correspondence 1857-1884 and career. [Great Britain]: Alabaster Society, 2009.
Alabaster, John S. Henry Alabaster of Siam 1836-1884: serving two masters. [Great Britain]: Alabaster Society, 2012.
Correspondence of Henry Alabaster and Palacia Alabaster (accessed 14 May 2023)

02 October 2023

Drawn from across the globe: manuscript textiles in the Southeast Asian collections

The Chevening Fellowship hosted by the British Library’s Asian and African Collections Department from September 2022 to September 2023 has been completed successfully. The aim of this project was to research and catalogue manuscript textiles found in the Library’s Southeast Asian collections.

Display of manuscript textiles from the Southeast Asian collections, 6 September 2023
Display of manuscript textiles from the Southeast Asian collections, 6 September 2023

Over the past twelve months Chevening Fellow Noon Methaporn Singhanan assessed, described and photographed 120 manuscript textiles. The outcome is detailed catalogue descriptions, with photo documentation, and an extensive bibliography for further study. The metadata of the textiles will be added to existing manuscript records in the online catalogue in the coming weeks. As a final highlight of this project we organised a display of selected textiles for colleagues and external guests on 6 September 2023. During this event, Noon answered questions about the displayed items and her research. She also demonstrated how manuscript mats with bamboo sticks were made in northern Thailand, a tradition she has helped to revive in the past through her volunteer project at UNESCO prize-winning temple Wat Pongsanuk in Lampang.

Noon Methaporn Singhanan demonstrating how to make a manuscript mat with bamboo sticks
Chevening Fellow Noon Methaporn Singhanan demonstrating how to make a manuscript mat with bamboo sticks

To summarise the findings from this project, Noon said that there were three important aspects that will help with her PhD research: 1) the diversity of materials originating from different places across the globe, 2) the different types of manuscript textiles she discovered, and 3) the importance of object comparison as a research method.

Diversity of materials
Quite unexpectedly, Noon found a large number of textiles and materials which did not originate from Southeast Asia, but from China, Japan, India, and the UK. Raw cotton used to produce fabrics in Britain was most likely sourced from American plantations and from India. For example, most of some 29 British-made wooden boxes (IO Pali 1-29) with kapok and velvet cushioning contain stunning Chinese silk tapestries in the style of Dragon Robes and silk ribbons that were repurposed to wrap around Burmese Buddhist manuscripts. These were given to Arthur Phayre, Commissioner of Burma 1862-7, by the King of Burma.

Wooden box with red velvet and kapok cushioning, containing a Burmese Buddhist palm leaf manuscript with two wrapping cloths
Wooden box with red velvet and kapok cushioning, containing a Burmese Buddhist palm leaf manuscript with two wrapping cloths cut to size from Chinese silk brocade, c. 1862-7 or earlier. British Library, IO Pali 29

A Burmese Kammavāca manuscript (Add MS 23939) from the late 18th or early 19th century was found to be wrapped with a stunning piece of Japanese silk brocade with a pattern of Chrysanthemums, plum blossoms and butterflies woven into yellow silk with gilded washi paper threads.

Another surprising find was a scrolled paper manuscript with a Buddhist text in Shan language from the first half of the 20th century (Or 15368), acquired in 1995 from Søren Egerod’s collection. Sewn on to the binding is a factory-made cotton cover printed with a leaf pattern, which may have been imported or made locally post-1920 in one of the emerging cotton mills in Burma. Attached at the rim is a synthetically dyed green felt ribbon, made from wool, a material that is unusual in the Shan manuscript tradition. Further testing will be necessary to establish the country of origin of the wool.

Noon also discovered a wrapper made up of several parts, including a stunning piece of batik cotton fabric with rose pattern on the outside, and checkered silk sewn together with a piece of cotton on the lining. This was custom-made for a Burmese Buddhist palm leaf manuscript dated 1869 (Or 11810).

The great variety of materials and techniques to make manuscript textiles is evidence of trade and exchange relations from the late 18th to the early 20th century. In some cases, a creation date is contained in the manuscript, and usually a date is included in the acquisition record of a manuscript, so that it is possible to estimate the approximate age of the textiles.

Types of manuscript textiles
The most common type of manuscript textile found in the Southeast Asian collections is the cloth wrapper, either custom-made to fit the size of the manuscript or sometimes made from re-purposed pieces, like for example shoulder cloths and tube-skirts in the Lao manuscript tradition (Or 16886). Noon found out that many Burmese manuscripts are wrapped with printed cotton fabrics which originated in the UK, but occasionally imported velvet is found, too. One Burmese shell book dated 1907 (Or 16052) contains pages made from fine silk and it is wrapped in a piece of cloth woven on the backstrap loom in Karen style. Some manuscripts from Thailand have wrappers made from imported fabrics like silk brocades from India or European printed cotton (Or 1044). A red silk brocade wrapper with a gold thread pattern (Or 5107) was made in India for a 19th-century royal Thai edition of the Tipitaka on palm leaves. A stamp on the red coloured cotton lining is in a Brahmic script (probably originating from north-west India).

Cloth wrapper and mat consisting of 84 coconut leaf stalks, yarn and cotton fabric made for a Burmese Buddhist manuscript
Cloth wrapper and mat consisting of 84 coconut leaf stalks, yarn and cotton fabric made for a Burmese Buddhist manuscript dated 1856. British Library, Or 12645

Another frequently found type of manuscript wrapper is the wrapping mat produced from yarn or fabric that is reinforced with bamboo slats or stalks from coconut tree leaves. Occasionally, the cloth wrapper and mat could be combined, and such items were found in the Burmese collection. The example above (Or 12645) is a wrapper made from an imported printed cotton handkerchief, of UK origin made for the South Asian market, together with a locally custom-made mat consisting of 84 coconut leaf stalks intertwined with red and yellow cotton fabric. These two items were used to cover a Burmese Buddhist palm leaf manuscript dated 1856.

Generally, there are three techniques of making wrapping mats. One method often seen in the Lao and northern Thai manuscript traditions is to weave the mat on the loom, using cotton yarn for the warp and alternately cotton yarn and bamboo slats for the weft (Or 12401).

Hand-woven mat with 19 bamboo slats and factory-made hem made for ten northern Thai palm leaf bundles
Hand-woven mat with 19 bamboo slats and factory-made hem made for ten northern Thai palm leaf bundles with Buddhist texts. Manuscripts dated 1827-74. British Library, Or 12401

Another technique to make wrapping mats is to connect the bamboo slats by wrapping cotton yarn, or occasionally wool yarn, around them; and by using yarns of different colours one can create beautiful symmetric diamond or zig-zag patterns (Or 16545). This method was widely used in Burma and northern Thailand.

A third method is to manually weave the mat using yarn, bamboo slats or coconut leaf stalks, and rectangular pieces of fabric to insert between the yarn and bamboo slats (Or 12645).

Mat made from knitting wool with 95 bamboo slats in a diamond-shaped symmetric pattern
Mat made from knitting wool with 95 bamboo slats in a diamond-shaped symmetric pattern, for a Burmese Buddhist manuscript dated 1852. British Library, Or 16545

In the Shan manuscript tradition, the most common type of textile is the cloth cover. Scrolled paper books with text in Shan script are usually equipped with a cloth cover, either made from imported printed cotton or locally made cotton fabric that is sewn on to the stab-stitch binding. Occasionally, a ribbon is attached at the rim of the cloth cover to secure the scrolled manuscript. Noon found one exceptionally beautiful Shan scrolled manuscript from the 19th century adorned with a locally made plain white cotton cover that was painted by hand with a floral design in red, orange, yellow and blue tones (Or 16137).

Shan scrolled manuscript containing a Buddhist text
Shan scrolled manuscript containing a Buddhist text (right), with a hand-painted cotton cover (left) sewn-on to the binding, 19th century. British Library, Or 16137

In the Thai, Burmese and Malay manuscript collections Noon found textile manuscript bags and envelopes, all of them made from imported fabrics. One such example is a manuscript bag for a Thai palm leaf manuscript, custom-made from imported printed cotton fabric (Or 15885). The factory-made outer layer has red, brown and white floral ornaments, whereas the lining was made from locally-made cream coloured cotton fabric. A rope to tie up the open side of the bag is decorated with small cotton tassels at its ends, and such tassels are attached to all four corners of the bag, too.

Manuscript bag for a palm leaf manuscript from Thailand
Manuscript bag for a palm leaf manuscript from Thailand, made from imported printed cotton, c. 1840-60. British Library, Or 15885

An envelope made from European damask silk originally came with a letter from Pangiran Adipati of Palembang, addressed to Stamford Raffles in Bengkulu in 1824 (MSS Eur D 742/1/61). The envelope is combined with a paper wrapper made from Dutch paper, with intricately cut ends at the back, made in the Malay tradition.

Yellow silk and paper wrapper addressed to Raffles
Yellow silk and paper wrapper addressed to Raffles from a letter from Pangiran Adipati of Palembang, made from European damask silk and Dutch paper, 1824. British Library, MSS Eur D 742/1/61

In the Burmese collection Noon found a large number of manuscript ribbons (sazigyo) which fulfil two purposes: 1) to wrap around palm leaf or Kammavaca manuscripts - the latter often consisting of loose leaves - in order to keep the leaves in order when the manuscript is stored, and 2) to add a dedicatory message from the donor which is woven into the ribbon. Sazigyo were usually made in the tablet-weaving technique from cotton, silk or hemp. These ribbons can be of extraordinary lengths of several metres, and in addition to the inscription decorations in form of sacred symbols, geometric forms, plants and animals can be found (Or 3665).

Burmese manuscript ribbon (sazigyo) made from hand-spun cotton yarn
Burmese manuscript ribbon (sazigyo) made from hand-spun cotton yarn, with text and ornaments on a solid red background, 19th century. British Library, Or 3665

Object comparison
When researching the manuscript textiles, Noon realised that many questions remained unanswered, especially regarding the country of origin and creation dates. Therefore, she visited several other organisations in the UK, including the British Museum, the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the Wellcome Collection, the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, the National Archives at Kew and the Victoria and Albert Museum to see if there were similar items in these collections, possibly with recorded dates or detailed provenance records.

The method of object comparison proved useful to establish connections between some textile items and places of origin. During a visit to the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, Noon had the opportunity to see seven silk wrappers of exactly the same make as the British Library’s Or 5107. It is almost certain that they belonged to the same set of the Tipitaka thought to have been commissioned by King Rama III (r. 1824-51). The Mancunian acquisition record tells us that the Thai palm leaf manuscripts were donated by Pali scholar Thomas Rhys Davids in 1917.

Cotton wrapper with a butterfly and vine print on red background
Cotton wrapper with a butterfly and vine print on red background, lined with plain white cotton. Manchester 1874. British Library, Or 16673

During a visit to the National Archives in Kew Noon consulted numerous large volumes containing samples of textile designs registered by British companies in the 1870s-80s. With great excitement she found an exact match for a cloth wrapper made from a piece of imported printed cotton fabric with plain white hand-woven cotton lining in the British Library’s collection (Or 16673). It was made for a Burmese palm leaf manuscript with text on the Life of the Buddha, dated 1883. The fabric design was registered in 1874 by The Strines Printing Company in Manchester.

The moment of discovering a registered fabric design matching British Library Or 16673 at the National Archives in Kew
The moment of discovering a registered fabric design matching British Library Or 16673 at the National Archives in Kew.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections
Noon Methaporn Singhanan, Chevening Fellow at the British Library 2022-23

25 September 2023

Sang Hyang Hayu: an Old Javanese 'Great Book' in three different scripts

This guest blog post is by Agung Kriswanto and Aditia Gunawan, librarians at the National Library of Indonesia. In June 2023, Agung spent a week at the British Library through the Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project and recently contributed a blog post on Javanese palm leaf manuscripts written in Buda script. This post looks specifically at one Old Javanese text, Sang Hyang Hayu, the subject of Aditia's recent Ph.D. at École Pratique des Hautes Études - PSL, Paris.

MSS Jav 53 is a collection of 35 palm leaf manuscripts, numbered MSS Jav 53 a to MSS Jav 53 ii, which has been digitised by the British Library in collaboration with the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO). The collection was obtained in Java by Colonel Colin Mackenzie during his time on the island between 1811 to 1813. The manuscripts, which are all written on the palmyra palm leaf known in Indonesia as lontar (Borassus flabellifer), contain texts written in Javanese, Old Javanese and Balinese languages, and in a variety of scripts.

The oldest known Javanese palm leaf manuscript in Buda script, dated 1493
The oldest known Javanese palm leaf manuscript in Buda script, dated 1493. British Library, MSS Jav 53 t Noc

Six manuscripts in the British Library collection MSS Jav 53 are written in the archaic Buda or Gunung ('Mountain') script, and probably the most significant is found in MSS Jav 53 t, a lontar manuscript containing the text Sang Hyang Hayu, 'The Holy Good', a religious treatise in Old Javanese probably composed in the 14th century. Although Sang Hyang Hayu was written in Old Javanese, it does not appear to have been a popular text in Old Javanese literary circles, whether in Central or East Java, or in Bali. In fact, this text circulated more widely in the Sundanese cultural region of West Java, as can be seen from the fact that almost all known manuscripts of Sang Hyang Hayu originate from West Java, and nearly all are written on gebang palm leaf (Corypha gebanga), not the more usual lontar.

The importance of this text for Sundanese communities can be judged from its reception in this region: the most important portions of the text were translated into Old Sundanese by the author of Sang Hyang Sasana Mahaguru, 'Sacred Instructions of the Master', in around the 15th century. Certain authors of Old Sundanese texts have referred to Sang Hyang Hayu as vataṅ agəṅ,'The Great Book', reflecting its authoritative status (Aditia Gunawan 2023).

The importance of the British Library manuscript MSS Jav 53 t lies in the fact that this is the only copy known of Sang Hyang Hayu written in Buda script, for this text is not found in the large Merapi-Merbabu collection in National Library in Jakarta, or in any other collection of Buda-script manuscripts worldwide. Furthermore, this manuscript is complete, compared to the other Buda-script manuscripts in MSS Jav 53 which contain only fragmentary texts; equally crucially, the Sang Hyang Hayu text in MSS Jav 53 t contains a colophon. The scribe of MSS Jav 53 t also described this work as apus agəṅ, 'The Great Book', echoing the approbation of the Sundanese writers. The colophon states that the manuscript was written within the hermitage (batur) of Kasinoman, Ketralingga (read: Kertalingga?), in the Javanese Śaka year 1415, equivalent to 1493 AD. Although the precise location of Kasinoman and Ketralingga cannot be identified, the dating of 1493 AD is extremely significant not only within the group of Buda-script Javanese manuscripts, but also in the broader context of other Indonesian manuscripts, for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, MSS Jav 53 t is older than the Ramayana manuscript dated 1521 AD in the Merapi-Merbabu collection held in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta, which has long been regarded as the oldest known Buda-script manuscript (Kuntara Wiryamartana & van der Molen, 2001: 55). Secondly, this is the second oldest known manuscript of Sang Hyang Hayu, after manuscript L 638 in the National Library of Indonesia, which is dated Śaka 1357, equivalent to 1435 AD. Thirdly, with its date of 1493, MSS Jav 53 t is by far the oldest Indonesian manuscript in the British Library. 

Colophon of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script, dated 1493
Colophon of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script: ti titi pva yeka vula(n) saptami, kr̥ṣṇāpakṣa ø I śaka, 1415 ø Om̐ saṁ hyaṁ [...], giving a date equivalent to 1493 AD. British Library, MSS Jav 53 t, f. 43r  Noc

In the MSS Jav 53 collection, apart from MSS Jav 53 t which is in Buda script, there is another lontar manuscript of Sang Hyang Hayu written in a different script: MSS Jav 53 gg, which is in a form of coastal (pasisir) Javanese script. This manuscript is also extremely important as the only known copy of Sang Hyang Hayu written in Javanese script. Unfortunately, and unlike MSS Jav 53 t, MSS Jav 53 gg does not have a colophon giving details of its production, and so it is not known where or when the manuscript was written. Thus the Mackenzie collection MSS Jav 53 contains two copies of Sang Hyang Hayu, both originating from the Javanese tradition, written using two different scripts, namely Buda script and (coastal) Javanese script.

Sang Hyang Hayu, written in Javanese script
Sang Hyang Hayu, written in (coastal) Javanese script. British Library, MSS Jav 53 gg  Noc

In the British Library, in addition to the two Sang Hyang Hayu manuscripts in the MSS Jav 53 collection, there is a third Sang Hyang Hayu manuscript, MSS Jav 105, which is written in Old West Javanese quadratic script (see Acri, 2017: 48). This manuscript comes from the West Javanese tradition as it is written on gebang leaf, like the other Sang Hyang Hayu manuscripts known from West Java.

The opening lines of the text of Sang Hyang Hayu in the manuscripts MSS Jav 53 t and MSS Jav 53 gg, written on lontar, are essentially identical to that found in MSS Jav 105, which is written on gebang leaf, and all other known texts of Sang Hyang Hayu also start in the same way. It can therefore be concluded that the two copies of the Sang Hyang Hayu text found in MSS Jav 53, and written in Buda script and Javanese script on lontar (and therefore both originating from the Javanese cultural milieu of Central and East Java ), are the only two known copies of this text from a manuscript tradition outside West Java.

Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script, incised on lontar
Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Buda script, incised on lontar (palmyra leaf): Om̐ Avighnam astu nāma siḍəm· ø ndaḥ saṁ hyaṁ hayu hikaṁ hajarakna mami riṅ vaṁ kadi kita, kunaṁ deyanta humiḍəpā... British Library, MSS Jav 53 t, f. 1v  Noc

Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Javanese script, incised on lontar
Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in (coastal) Javanese script, incised on lontar (palmyra leaf): Om̐ Avighnam astu nama. ṅdaḥ saṁ hyaṁ hayu hajarakna mami (- -) kadi kita, kunaṁ deyanta humiḍəp·... British Library, MSS Jav 53 gg, f. 2v   Noc

Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Old West Javanese quadratic script, written in ink on gebang lea
Beginning of Sang Hyang Hayu in Old West Javanese quadratic script, written in ink on gebang leaf: //ø// Om̐ Avignam astu //ø// nḍaḥ saṁ hyaṁ yu Ikaṁ Ajarakna mami riṅ vaṁ kaḍi kita, kunəṁ deyanta humiḍəpā...  British Library, MSS Jav 105, f. 1v   Noc

Munawar Holil and Aditia Gunawan (2010: 140-141) have identified five Sang Hyang Hayu manuscripts in the National Library in Jakarta. Two more are held in the Kabuyutan (hermitage) of Ciburuy, at Garut in West Java, which have been digitised through the Endangered Archives Project EAP280 (EAP280/1/2/5 and EAP280/1/2/3). The text of Sang Hyang Hayu was edited by Undang A. Darsa in his master's thesis in 1998, based on three manuscripts in the National Library of Indonesia. The most recent research by Aditia Gunawan (2023) listed 12 copies of Sang Hyang Hayu held in collections worldwide. The two lontar manuscripts described above, MSS Jav 53 t and MSS Jav gg, now bring the total number of copies of this text to 14, while also showing that the 'Great Book' Sang Hyang Hayu circulated not only in the western part of Java, but also further east in the island.

Agung Kriswanto and Aditia Gunawan, Librarians, National Library of Indonesia Ccownwork

[This blog post was translated by Annabel Gallop from the Indonesian original, which can be read  here]

The two authors of this blog - (left) Aditia Gunawan and (right) Agung Kriswanto
The two authors of this blog - (left) Aditia Gunawan and (right) Agung Kriswanto - with manuscripts of Sang Hyang Hayu in the Reading Room of the National Library of Indonesia, Jakarta.

References
Acri, A. (2017). Dharma Pātañjala: A Śaiva Scripture from Ancient Java : Studied in the Light of Related Old Javanese and Sanskrit Texts. Second Edition. Śata-Piṭaka Series 654. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan.
Aditia Gunawan (2023). Sundanese Religion in the 15th century: Philological Study based on the Śikṣā Guru, Sasana Mahaguru, and the Siksa Kandaṅ Karəsian. Ph.D Thesis, EPHE-PSL, Paris.
Kartika Setyawati, Kuntara Wiryamartana & Willem van der Molen. (2002). Katalog Naskah Merapi-Merbabu Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia. Yogyakarta: Universitas Sanata Dharma.
Kuntara Wiryamartana & Molen, Willem van der (2001). The Merapi-Merbabu manuscripts A Neglected Collection. Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land-En Volkenkunde, 157(1), 51–64.
Munawar Holil dan Aditia Gunawan (2010). ‘Membuka Peti Sunda Kuna di Perpustakaan Nasional RI: Upaya Rekatalogisasi’. In: Sundalana 9. Bandung: Pusat Studi Sunda.
Ricklefs, M.C., P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop (2014). Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia. [Includes a facsimile edition of Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977.]
Undang Ahmad Darsa (1998). ‘Sang Hyang Hayu: Kajian filologi naskah bahasa Jawa Kuno di Sunda pada abad XVI’. Master's thesis, Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung.

 

11 September 2023

How Old is the Language of Young Malay Manuscripts?

This guest blog, by Prof. Edwin Wieringa of Cologne University, How Old is the Language of Young Malay Manuscripts? A note on the unusual Malay reflexive phrase bertunjukkan diri(nya), turns the spotlight on a phrase in of one of the oldest Malay texts, ‘Tales of the Wise Parrot’.

A drawing of a green parrot
A drawing of a green parrot, in a copy of the Arabic text, Kitāb ʿajāʾib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʾib al-mawjūdāt, 16th-century. British Library, Or 4701, f. 214r Noc

Some years ago, when two copies of the Hikayat Bayan Budiman or Tale(s) of the Wise Parrot just had been digitized, Annabel Teh Gallop posted helpful background information to this work and its textual witnesses on this blog, pointing out that it was probably composed in the 15th century or earlier, but that the two digitized manuscripts at the British Library dated from the early 19th century. This considerable time gap prompts the general and broader, though rarely raised or discussed, question as to whether such relatively young copies may still be regarded as faithful keepers of an older language layer. As the Dutch philologist Roelof Roolvink (1965: 311) warns us, “at any period a copyist, apart from making the usual copyist’s mistakes and embellishments of style etc., was inclined – as was only natural – to substitute new words and forms for those that had already become obsolete or otherwise unintelligible at the time the copy was made.”

Opening pages of Hikayat Bayan Budiman, copied in Penang in 180
Opening pages of Hikayat Bayan Budiman, copied in Penang in 1808. British Library, MSS Malay B.7, ff. 1v-2r  Noc

An intriguing example of a substitution of an unusual grammatical expression can be observed in the transmission of the Hikayat Bayan Budiman. Profiting from the availability of digitized images of MSS Malay B.7, which I recently used for a course in reading the Jawi script of Malay manuscripts, my attention was drawn to a reflexive phrase with an unconventional ber-…-kan verb, namely bertunjukkan dirinya (“to show itself/herself/himself/themselves”), which may very well represent the original wording of many centuries ago. This variant reading does not occur in the critical text edition made by Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt (1878-1966), which is based on two other principal manuscripts from the 19th century. In the Malay Concordance Project, a wonderful online research tool of the late Ian Proudfoot (1946-2011), the latter observed “a tendency to complex verbal morphology” in the Hikayat Bayan Budiman; Proudfoot’s list of words found in Winstedt’s edition facilitates research in this aspect of the text, but without – of course – reference to the morphological form ber-tunjuk-kan.

The opening of the frame story in MSS Malay B.7, which I had chosen for students as reading matter, telling about the plucking of the parrot by the merchant’s wife, is not too difficult to read, because the script is clear and easily legible, while the text runs parallel to Winstedt’s edition. However, in the episode in which the published text edition (Winstedt 1966: 14) has Maka bayan itupun keluarlah terbang menunjukkan dirinya kapada isteri saudagar itu seraya katanya (“Then the parrot came out flying, showing itself to the merchant’s wife, while saying …”), the British Library manuscript is considerably shorter, namely (f. 7v, line 12): Maka bayan itupun bertunjukkan dirinya kepada perempuan itu seraya katanya (“Then the parrot showed itself to the woman, while saying…”).

A line of Malay text from Hikayat Bayan Budiman
The line reading: Maka bayan itupun bertunjukkan dirinya kepada perempuan itu seraya katanya from Hikayat Bayan Budiman, 1808. British Library, MSS Malay B.7, f. 7v (line 12) Noc

The reflexive phrase consisting of a ber-...-kan verb with the reflexive pronoun diri (“self”) is not found in the dictionaries (including the online official monolingual dictionaries of Indonesia and Malaysia), whereas Roolvink (1965), in a rare case study of the historical grammar of the Malay language, could not muster any examples of bertunjukkan. Roolvink based his grammatical study on a corpus of fifteen text editions, including Winstedt’s Hikayat Bayan Budiman, which in my opinion is merely a random sample, though Roolvink (1965: 313) confidently thought that it gave “a good representative of the older language”.

Fortunately, over the last decades, many more text editions have become available, but the unusual reflexive phrase remains a peculiarity: a Malay Concordance Project search for bertunjukkan mentions only one example in the Hikayat Indraputra, in which the eponymous protagonist is “showing himself” (Indraputra … bertunjukkan dirinya…) and is subsequently seen by the nymphs (maka Indraputrapun dilihat oleh segala bidadari). The MCP also mentions three other examples of bertunjukkan (but without diri(nya)), namely two from the Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnain and one from a 17th century collection of Sufi tracts. An internet search brought to light another example in a copy of the Hikayat Amir Hamzah (Indonesian National Library, ML 23, p. 3), in which the two brothers Ghar Turki and Tar Turki, who want to attack Hamzah, “show themselves” (bertunjukkan dirinya), whereas the text edition by A. Samad Said has the common expression of menunjukkan dirinya.* As the Hikayat Indraputra and the Hikayat Amir Hamzah together with the Hikayat Bayan Budiman belong to the oldest works of traditional Malay literature, it seems likely that the reflexive phrase bertunjukkan diri(nya) reflects an older layer of Malay, which by the 19th century was considered by copyists as an archaism in need of revision.

All this goes to show that a reader of Malay manuscripts needs to be sensitive to the textual instability of the transmitted texts. Variant readings are invariably cause for ‘philological alarm’ and should draw us into closer reading.

* Retrieved from an unpublished paper by Prima Hariyanto, p. 27, uploaded on Scribd. The Romanised transliteration in this paper (which I could not check against the original) is: “Maka arikian Goraterka dan Taraterka pun bertunjukkan dirinya.” The corresponding sentence in A. Samad Ahmad’s text edition (1987: 323) reads: “Ketika itu Tarturki dan Gharturki pun menunjukkan dirinya.”

References
R. Roolvink, “The passive-active per-/ber- // per-/memper- correspondence in Malay” in Lingua 15 (1965), 310-337.
A. Samad Said, Hikayat Amir Hamzah. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1987.
R.O. Winstedt, Hikayat Bayan Budiman. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Edwin P. Wieringa, Professor of Indonesian Philology and Islamic Studies, University of Cologne, Germany Ccownwork

04 September 2023

Javanese palm leaf manuscripts written in Buda script in the British Library

Through the Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project, a team from the National Library of Indonesia spent a week at the British Library in June 2023. The aim of the visit was to strengthen collaboration between the two national libraries, and to enhance knowledge exchanges especially relating to Javanese manuscripts. This guest blog post is by Agung Kriswanto, librarian of the manuscripts section at the National Library of Indonesia.

The team from the National Library of Indonesia visiting the Royal Asiatic Society
During their visit to the British Library, the team from the National Library of Indonesia also visited other important collections of Indonesian manuscripts in London, and are shown here in the Royal Asiatic Society, looking at Javanese manuscripts from the Raffles collection. From left to right: Agung Kriswanto, Ade Riri Riyani, Didik Purwanto and Agus Sutoyo (Head of the Center for Library Services and Manuscripts Management), with Annabel Gallop.

One of the oldest yet barely explored collections of Javanese palm leaf manuscripts in the British Library is MSS Jav 53, which consists of dozens of manuscripts obtained in Java by Colonel Colin Mackenzie during his stay on the island from 1811 to 1813. This collection is amongst those being digitised by the British Library in collaboration with the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO), and will shortly be online. 

At present MSS Jav 53 consists of 35 manuscripts, numbered MSS Jav 53 a to MSS Jav 53 ii (Ricklefs, Voorhoeve & Gallop 2014). In Mackenzie’s notes (Blagden, 1916: xxix) MSS Jav 53 is said to contain 24 manuscripts written on leaves, in the ‘Hindu’ style, mostly in Javanese script, while Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977: 65-67) identified 29 manuscripts, numbered MSS Jav 53 a to MSS Jav 53 cc. The increase in number over the years probably reflects mistakes in counting or through the subdivision of bundles.

One of the manuscripts written in Javanese in Buda script
One of the manuscripts written in Javanese in Buda script, comprising an unstrung bundle, with many damaged leaves. British Library, MSS Jav 53 ii Noc

Mackenzie obtained the manuscripts from a regent (Blagden, 1916: xxix). Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977, 2014: 65) identified this regent as Kyahi Tumenggung Puger. The source of this identification is a damaged incised leaf found in MSS Jav 53 z, which reads: layaṁ kunna, sakiṁ kyahi tuməṁguṁ pugər, katur ḍatəṁ tu... haṁṅris· 1 buṁkus hisi 18 hiji 17-2-39, ‘Old writings. From Kyahi Tumenggung Puger, given to Tu... English, 1 packet consisting of 18 leaves. 17-2-39’, with the date ‘39’ probably referring to the Javanese year 1739, equivalent to 1812 AD. Ricklefs and Voorhoeve thus noted further, ‘These MSS thus appear to be a single collection, probably from the area of Puger (the 'East Hook'), which would explain the variety of languages.’ 

Incised uninked note naming Kyahi Tumenggung Puger as the source of this manuscript, and the date ’17-2-39’
Incised uninked note naming Kyahi Tumenggung Puger as the source of this manuscript, dated 1812. British Library, MSS Jav 53 z, f. 38v  Noc

In the collection MSS Jav 53 there are a few Javanese manuscripts written not in (modern coastal) Javanese script, but in characters known as Buda or Gunung script. The term Buda (‘Buddha’) script evokes the pre-Islamic era in Java, while Gunung or ‘mountain’ refers to the mountainous regions with which most of the known examples are associated (Cohen Stuart, 1872: III; Pigeaud, 1970: 22-23; Kuntara Wiryamartana & van der Molen, 2001: 51). The forms of Buda script found in MSS Jav 53 are in fact similar to those found in palm-leaf manuscripts from Central Java.

The largest number of manuscripts in Buda script are found in the Merapi-Merbabu collection held in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta. This collection was acquired from the slopes of the Merapi and Merbabu volcanoes in Central Java, which in the 15th and 16th centuries was a centre for the study of Hindu-Buddhist literature and religion (Noorduyn, 1982: 413–422; Kartika Setyawati et al, 2002; Kuntara Wiryamartana & van der Molen, 2001: 55). These manuscripts were first mentioned in a report of 12 August 1823 by the Dutch Resident of Kedu to Governor-General Van der Capellen, stating that there were many notes written on leaves stored in a bamboo hut near the cremation ground of Panembahan Windusana. Some of these writings were handed over to government officials, and were sent to Batavia along with the report (van der Molen, 1983: 111-112).

These notes on the origin of the Merapi-Merbabu manuscripts recalls Mackenzie’s own notes on MSS Jav 53, mentioning that the manuscripts were found in a dilapidated building in the forest in a remote area, and had evidently been abandoned for many years (Blagden, 1916: xxix). The two collections thus both originate from remote sites. Such places were most likely mandalas, religious settlements for retreats and meditation (Supomo, 1977: 66-67). The environs of a mandala are usually described as being located in the middle of a verdant forest, with groves of well-tended trees. Each dwelling would have a verandah where literary readings could be held, and a garden full of flowering plants (Agus Aris Munandar, 2001: 102).

Apart from the collection in Jakarta, there are also a few manuscripts in Buda script held in the Netherlands (in Leiden), in Germany (Berlin) and in France (Paris). Most of these can be linked with the Merapi-Merbabu region because they all originate from officials who had been based in Batavia, such as Friedrich and Schoemann (cf. Pigeaud 1970; Groot 2009 and Acri 2011). 

An unidentified text written in Javanese in Buda script
An unidentified text written in Javanese in Buda script, from the manuscript bundle shown above. British Library, MSS Jav 53 ii, f. 2v  Noc

According to Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977, 2014), within the collection MSS Jav 53 a-ii there are eight manuscripts in Buda script. Unfortunately one, MSS Jav 53 m, has been missing for a number of years, while another, MSS Jav 53 c, was found to be written not in Buda script. This leaves six Buda-script manuscripts, namely MSS Jav 53 k, n, o, t, dd and ii, which mostly have basic descriptions but no titles in the published catalogues.

MSS Jav 53 k can now be classified as a tutur (didactic doctrinal work) as it contains explanations on mantras and religious doctrines.  The term tutur covers texts of a general nature, in contrast to the more specific term tatwa. According to Andrea Acri (2011: 10), tutur can be understood as heterogenous compilations from various sources, while tatwa are characterised as single texts with a more coherent textual structure.

A broken leaf from a manuscript containing tutur and aji texts, written in Javanese in Buda script
A broken leaf from a manuscript containing tutur and aji texts, written in Javanese in Buda script. British Library, MSS Jav 53 k, f. 5r  Noc

Apart from the tutur, MSS Jav 53 k also contains a number of aji texts, relating to magical and amuletic formulae (Zoetmulder, 1995: 17), including Aji Kakalangan, Kaprajuritan and Mahapadma Pagesengan. These three texts are also found in the Merapi-Merbabu collection at the National Library in Jakarta, showing that despite originating from different regions, there are still connections between MSS Jav 53 manuscripts and the Merapi-Merbabu corpus. 

Another manuscript in Buda script, MSS Jav 53 o, is also a tutur that contains two texts. The first, Rasayajña, contains an explanation of how to reach heaven. The second text, Darma Kamulaning Dadi, expounds on the process of the creation of life in the universe. An especially valuable aspect of MSS Jav 53 o is that it has a colophon, giving the date of writing of this manuscript as Thursday Kaliwon, 1550 Śaka or 1628 AD.

Rasayajña text, with a colophon dated 1628
Rasayajña
text, with a colophon dated 1628. British Library, MSS Jav 53 o Noc

A subsequent blog post will discuss probably the most significant manuscript in Buda script in the collection, MSS Jav 53 t, which contains a copy of Sang Hyang Hayu with a colophon dated 1493, making it by far the oldest Indonesian manuscript held in the British Library.

Agung Kriswanto, Librarian, National Library of Indonesia Ccownwork

[This blog post was translated by Annabel Gallop from the Indonesian original, which can be downloaded here

References
Acri, Andrea (2011). Dharma Pātañjala: A Śaiva Scripture from Ancient Java : Studied in the Light of Related Old Javanese and Sanskrit Texts. Groningen: Forsten.
Agus Aris Munandar (2001). ‘Pusat-pusat Kegamaan Masa Jawa Kuna’ in Sastra Jawa: Suatu Tinjauan Umum (Edi Sedyawati, ed.). Jakarta: Pusat Bahasa dan Balai Pustaka.
Blagden, C.O. (1916). Catalogue of manuscripts in European languages belonging to the Library of the India Office. Vol.I. The Mackenzie Collections. Part I. The 1822 Collection & the Private Collection. London: Oxford University Press.
Cohen Stuart, A. B. (1872). Eerste vervolg catalogus der bibliotheek en catalogus der Maleische, Javaansche en Kawi handschriften van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen. Batavia & ’s Hage: Bruining & Wijt & Nijhoff.
Groot, Hans. (2009). Van Batavia naar Weltevreden: Het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen 1778-1867. Leiden: KITLV.
Kartika Setyawati, Kuntara Wiryamartana & Willem van der Molen. (2002). Katalog Naskah Merapi-Merbabu Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia. Yogyakarta: Universitas Sanata Dharma.
Kuntara Wiryamartana & Molen, Willem van der (2001). The Merapi-Merbabu manuscripts A Neglected Collection. Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land-En Volkenkunde, 157(1), 51–64.
Molen, W. van der. (1983). Javaanse Tekstkritiek Een Overzicht en een nieuwe Benadering Geilllustreerd aan de Kunjarakarna. Dordrecht/ Cinnaminson: Foris Publications.
Noorduyn, J. (1982). Bujangga Manik’s journeys through Java: topographical data from an Old Sundanese source. Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land-En Volkenkunde, 138, 413–442.
Pigeaud, T. G. (1970). Literature of Java: Catalogue raisonnè of Javanese manuscripts in the library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands Vol. 3. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Ricklefs, M,C. and P. Voorhoeve (1977). Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ricklefs, M.C., P.Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop (2014). Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia.
Supomo, S. (1977). Arjunawijaya: A kakawin of Mpu Tantular (2 vols.). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Zoetmulder, P. J. (1995). Kamus Jawa Kuna - Indonesia. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama.

14 August 2023

Literary manuscripts from Southeast Asia on display

The British Library collections of manuscripts from Southeast Asia are especially rich in literary works, ranging from centuries-old epics deriving from Indian models, to innovative compositions in prose and poetry. In some regions literary manuscripts were designed to be read aloud to an audience, while in other places books were savoured in private. The written word aimed to enchant and soothe the soul, but usually also to instruct and improve the mind.

Literary works from Southeast Asia currently on display in the British Library.
Literary works from Southeast Asia currently on display in the British Library.

A selection of literary manuscripts from Southeast Asia is currently on display in the exhibitions case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room on the third floor of the British Library building at St Pancras in London. On the bottom shelf are two illustrated folding books in Thai and Burmese, and on the top shelf are texts written in Vietnamese and Malay.

Thai konlabot กลบท. Thailand, 19th century
Thai konlabot กลบท. Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16102, f. 9r  Noc

This folding book contains konlabot rhymes in the Thai language. Konlabot is a special form of Thai poetry going back to the classical work Chindamani (‘Jewel of Thought’), attributed to the Buddhist monk Horathibodi around 1670. Konlabot poetry is used in classical Thai literature to express emotions and the beauty of characters and scenes, but also to show the skill and intellect of the author. Rhymes are often presented in the shapes of animals, plants or natural settings, like the mythical golden hamsa bird in front of a cave.

Ramayana in Burmese. Myanmar (Burma), late 19th century
Ramayana in Burmese. Myanmar (Burma), late 19th century. British Library, Or. 14178, f. 8r  Noc

The great Indian epic Ramayana is known in Burmese as Yama Zatdaw. This beautiful illustrated folding book depicts the episode when Rama (with green face), his wife Sita and and his brother Lakshmana are living in exile. The demon king Ravana plots to abduct Sita by sending one of his demons in the form of a golden deer. Sita begs Rama to catch the golden deer for her (left), and so he leaves Sita under the protection of Lakshmana and goes off to shoot the golden deer with his bow and arrow (right).

Vietnamese tuông plays. Vietnam, mid-19th century
Vietnamese tuông plays. Vietnam, mid-19th century. British Library, Or. 8218, vol. 1, f. 2r Noc

‘Life story of Song Ciming zhuan’ is one of 46 tuông plays from a ten-volume set possibly written in Hue, the capital of Vietnam in the 19th century. Tuông, or classical Vietnamese theatre, is believed to have originated through Chinese influence in the 13th century. It became especially popular during the Nguyên dynasty (1802-1945), when emperors and high-ranking mandarins became patrons of troupes and had performances given in their private chambers.

Malay tale of Muhammad Hanafiah. Penang, 1805
Malay tale of Muhammad Hanafiah. Penang, 1805. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, ff. 1v-2r Noc

Translated from a Persian original probably in the 15th century, the Malay Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah tells of heroic battles waged in the name of Islam, and this story came to epitomise valour in battle. In a famous episode in the Sejarah Melayu, the chronicle of the great kingdom of Melaka, the night before Melaka was attacked by the Portuguese in 1511, the young knights sent a message to the sultan requesting the recitation of the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah to give them courage.

All the manuscripts shown here have been digitised, and can be read fully on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Southeast Asia section curators Ccownwork

17 July 2023

Edmund Edwards McKinnon: donor of rare books on north Sumatra

Edmund Edwards McKinnon (1936-2023) – known to all as Ed McKinnon – first came to Indonesia in the 1960s to work in the field of plantation agriculture in Sumatra. After discovering the mediaeval harbour site of Kota Cina near Belawan, Deli in 1972, he embarked on an MA and then a PhD in art history at Cornell University leading to his doctoral dissertation of 1984 on Kota Cina: its context and meaning in the trade of Southeast Asia in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Thereafter, alongside his professional consulting career, he never ceased to be deeply involved in archaeological and art historical research in Sumatra. Ed McKinnon published widely on subjects ranging from early inter-regional commerce between the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China; the trading activities of the Tamil guilds in west Sumatra; medieval trade ceramics in Sumatra; the location of the historic Sumatran ports of Lamuri and Fansur; and on Batak material imagery. In March 2023, over fifty years after his initial work at Kota Cina, he returned to North Sumatra and on this visit – much-feted in the Indonesian press – he urged the Governor to take measures to protect the many historical and archaeological sites of world importance. His sudden passing of a heart attack, on 23 June 2023, came as a great shock to his family, friends, colleagues and admirers.

Ed McKinnon in the museum store room at Muara Jambi, during the First International Conference on Jambi Studies, 2013
Ed McKinnon in the museum store room at Muara Jambi, during the First International Conference on Jambi Studies, 2013. Photograph by A.T. Gallop.

Over the past few years, Ed McKinnon generously donated to the British Library a number of rare books relating to the history of north Sumatra from his personal collection, some dating from the 1970s. These books were mostly printed in Medan, the capital of the province of North Sumatra and the second largest city in Indonesia, and an important centre of the Malay press since the 1920s. One such local publication is a history of the city of Medan, Sejarah Kota Medan (2012) which by coincidence shows on page 2 a photograph of Ed McKinnon in a very characteristic activity: sorting through ceramic sherds.

Sejarah Kota Medan Ed McKinnon inspecting ceramic sherds
Sejarah Kota Medan (2012). British Library, YP.2020.a.625

The oldest book donated by Ed McKinnon to the British Library was a work by the Sumatran writer and poet Dada Meuraxa published in 1974 on a cultural history of Sumatra, covering the whole island from Aceh in the north to Lampung in the south.

Front cover of Dada Meuraxa, Sejarah kebudayaan Sumatera (1974)
Front cover of: Dada Meuraxa, Sejarah kebudayaan Sumatera (1974). British Library, YP.2018.a.162

Also dating from the 1970s are three booklets by M.B. Purba, a retired army officer, all concerning the art and cultural heritage of the Simalungun Batak region to the north east of Lake Toba.

Three booklets by Let. Col. (Retired) M.B. Purba on aspects of Simalungun Batak culture
Three booklets by Let. Col. (Retired) M.B. Purba on aspects of Simalungun Batak culture: a history of the Simalungun Museum in Pematang Siantar (1978); a compendium of painted and carved design motifs (1979); and a treatise on the cultural traits of the Simalungun people (1977). British Library, YP.2018.a.165; YP.2018.a.163; YP.2018.a.164

A pictorial account of the growth of the Simalungun Museum in Pematang Siantar
A pictorial account of the growth of the Simalungun Museum in Pematang Siantar, from a single building in 1939 to a cluster of 11 traditional structures in the 1970s. M.B. Purba, Museum Simalungun (1978). British Library, YP.2018.a.165, p. 29

Another group of books given by Ed McKinnon relate to the renowned historian and cultural figurehead, Tengku Luckman Sinar (1933-2011), who published widely on all aspects of Sumatran Malay history and traditions. Tengku Luckman Sinar was the third son of Sultan Sulaiman Syariful Alam Syah (r. 1879-1946) of Serdang, on the northeast coast of Sumatra. Following the declaration of Indonesian indepencence in 1945 and the ensuing ‘Social Revolution’ in east Sumatra, which saw violent local uprisings against aristocratic families for perceived collaboration with the Dutch colonial forces, for most of the 20th century the royal courts of Sumatra lost all political power and functioned purely as guardians of traditional customs. However, after the fall of President Suharto in 1998 and subsequent state decentralisation, in many parts of Indonesia sultanates were revived and played an increasingly visible and influential role. Thus in 2001, after a long professional career as a writer and academic, and following the deaths of his two older brothers, Tengku Luckman Sinar was installed as Sultan Lukman Sinar Bashar Shah II of Serdang. The donations from Ed McKinnon include a biography of Tengku Luckman Sinar by his daughter Tengku Mira Sinar, accompanied by the programme of the launch event for that publication in Medan in 2016.

Publications relating to Tengku Luckman Sinar of north Sumatra
Publications relating to Tengku Luckman Sinar of north Sumatra donated by Ed McKinnon.

List of books donated to the British Library by Ed McKinnon, 2017-2022:
• Dada Meuraxa, Sejarah Kebudayaan Sumatera. Medan: Firma Hasmar, 1974. YP.2018.a.162
• Purba, M.D., Lingga Sitopu, S.A., Mengenal Lukis & Ukir Tradisional Simalungun (Painting and Ca[r]ving). Medan: M.D. Purba, 1979. YP.2018.a.163
• Purba, M.D., Mengenal Kepribadian Asli Rakyat Simalungun. Medan: M.D. Purba, 1977. YP.2018.a.164
• Purba, M.D., Obyek Wisata Museum Simalungun. Medan: M.D. Purba, 1978. YP.2018.a.165
Sejarah Kota Medan. Medan: Pemerintah Kota Medan, Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah, 2012. YP.2020.a.625
• Yayasan Kesultanan Serdang (Medan). Sumatera Utara tempo doeloe. Koleksi gambar: Tuanku Luckman Sinar Basarshah II S.H. Medan: Yayasan Kesultanan Serdang, 2009. YP.2020.a.665
• Tengku Luckman Sinar. Mengenang kewiraan pemuka adat dan masyarakat adatnya di Sumatera Utara menentang kolonialism Belanda, oleh Tuanku Luckman Sinar Basarshah. Medan: Forkala, 2017. YP.2020.b.124
• Tengku Mira Sinar. Tengku Luckman Sinar, Melayu Nusantara dan strategi kebudayaan, oleh Tengku Mira Sinar; editor dan kata pengantar, Heddy Shri Ahimsa-Putra. Yogyakarta: Kepel Press, 2016. YP.2018.a.3499
Peluncuran buku: ‘Tengku Luckman Sinar, Melayu Nusantara dan strategi kebudayaan’. Medan, 2016. YP.2020.a.664
Ragam Pusaka Warisan Leluhur Nusantara: Pekan Raya Sumatera Utara, 18-24 Maret 2016. [Medan]: Pusaka Semenda Deli, 2016. YP.2023.b.194
• Tengku Lah Husny, Lintasan Sejarah. Peradaban dan Budaya Penduduk Melayu-Pesisir Deli, Sumatera Timur 1612-1950. Medan: privately printed by T. Lah Husny. (n.d. (1975))?. [shelfmark pending]

Ed and Sinta McKinnon at the British Library, 2022
Ed and Sinta McKinnon at the British Library, June 2022. Photograph by A.T. Gallop.

Selamat jalan, Pak Ed.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

(Updated with correct date of birth, 1.8.2023)

03 July 2023

Manuscript Textiles: Weaving the Thread of Faith

This blog post on the use of manuscript textiles in Thailand and Laos, illustrated by examples in the British Library's Southeast Asian collections, is by Chevening Fellow Methaporn (Noon) Singhanan, who also took all the photographs of the items.

Thai and Lao manuscript textiles have a rich history that dates back to at least the 18th century. Buddhist teachings and scriptures, written on palm leaves or paper, were highly valued, and often adorned with intricate designs, illustrations, and calligraphy. Manuscript textiles were created to protect and preserve these texts from dust, humidity and insects and, as a result, many were transformed into beautiful pieces.

Luxury manuscript textile from northern Laos
Luxury manuscript textile from northern Laos, made from a re-used tube skirt of exquisite quality, combining a silk and silver-thread tapestry (border) with a large piece of Ikat fabric (main body) and a cotton waistband. Ca. mid-20th century. British Library, Or 16886

Manuscript textiles were fabrics, usually made from finely woven cotton or silk, occasionally also hemp, using a variety of weaving techniques, such as tapestry and ikat. They were created in many different shapes and patterns and often were a mixture of materials, for example silk brocade with cotton lining. Sometimes they included repurposed monk’s robes, ritual cloths, curtains and women’s skirts. Another type of weaving used bamboo slats interwoven with colourful cotton yarn and pieces of fabric in order to provide greater strength.

Manuscript wrapper using bamboo slats that were inserted while weaving the textile with red, green, black and white cotton yarns
Manuscript wrapper using bamboo slats that were inserted while weaving the textile with red, green, black and white cotton yarns. It was used to wrap ten palm leaf bundles containing Buddhist scriptures in Northern Thai Dhamma script, dated between 1827-74. British Library, Or 12401/B-C 

For centuries, textiles have been an integral part of women's lives in Thailand and Laos. From spinning raw cotton into yarn to weaving cloth, women have played a significant role in the creation of textiles. Often women planted the cotton shrubs, picked the cotton and dyed the yarn themselves. Textile production was a way for women to earn money and contribute to their families' income. In addition to their economic importance, textiles also held cultural significance. Traditional clothing and fabrics often reflected a community's values, beliefs, and history. Women were responsible for preserving these traditions by passing down textile-making techniques from generation to generation.

These manuscript textiles ranged from the luxurious to simple, and the materials used and their quality often reflected the wealth of the person offering the item. Decorative elements of these textiles include innovative geometric patterns and nature motifs.

Detail of a handwoven cotton shoulder cloth re-purposed as a manuscript wrapper
Detail of a handwoven cotton shoulder cloth re-purposed as a manuscript wrapper with diamond pattern in red colour on white background, with a simple red-and-black border design. Used to wrap ten palm leaf bundles with texts on the perfections of the Buddha in Northern Thai Dhamma script, ca. 1880-1920. British Library, Or 16865

Manuscript textiles were highly appreciated works of art due to the time and skill required to create them by hand, and enjoyed an exceptional level of popularity in Northern Thailand and Laos during the 18th and 19th centuries. They showcase the skill and creativity of the master weavers who created them, offering a glimpse into the rich history and traditions of the area. Manuscript textiles also provided an opportunity for women artisans to express their devotion to their faith through weaving. The textiles were believed to carry the energy and power of the teachings they encased.

Detail from a handwoven silk-and-cotton manuscript textile depicting two large butterflies surrounded by colourful geometric patterns
Detail from a handwoven silk-and-cotton manuscript textile depicting two large butterflies surrounded by colourful geometric patterns. Originally this was either a bedroom curtain or a shoulder cloth, then re-used to wrap palm leaf bundles. Northern Laos, ca. mid-20th century. British Library, Or 16597

In Theravada communities in Southeast Asia, the main form of accruing merit for men was to be ordained as a monk for a period, during which they learned to study and copy the scriptures. Although ordination remained an option for women, it was not widely practiced and even forbidden in some monastic orders. This meant that most women at that time could not study the scriptures in the formal way men did. Instead, the Buddha’s teachings were learned orally, and female devotees acted as patrons of the monastic communities and devoted themselves to supporting the Sangha (monastic order) in other forms. Since weaving has been a strongly gendered profession in Northern Thailand and Laos, creating cloths to store and preserve the scriptures was considered an important form of accruing merit for women.

Weavers had to learn to use a variety of techniques in order to create beautiful fabrics. Materials were selected carefully, and an elaborate cloth woven with a meditative state of mind counted as a valuable offering to honour the Buddha. Handwoven fabrics made in this way were therefore more refined and of a higher quality than handicrafts used in everyday life. Creating textiles on the basis of belief and faith in Buddhism was regarded as one of the Dhamma practices, with the hope that the produced virtue will contribute to a happy rebirth in the next life.

Detail from a handwoven manuscript textile depicting the popular chicken-and-ancestor motif
Detail from a handwoven manuscript textile depicting the popular chicken-and-ancestor motif. Northern Laos, ca. mid-20th century. British Library, Or 16597

The copying of manuscripts preserved the Buddhist teachings that were written down and passed on for centuries. Manuscripts were also used in meditation and prayer and were considered sacred objects. Manuscript textiles, which were used to wrap up the manuscripts in order to prevent damage by dirt, dust, intense sunlight, or insects, were thus comparable to protecting the Buddha’s words.

Sponsoring and offering manuscripts to a Buddhist temple has traditionally been an important and widely practised way of making merit, and as a result one would be re-born in fortunate circumstances. Anisong (Pali: ānisaṃsa) manuscripts praising the benefits of meritorious acts and gift-giving enjoyed great popularity across Thailand and Laos, and were often  themselves presented to monasteries alongside other manuscripts with beautiful cloth wrappers. Anisong texts frequently mention the virtue of creating scriptural manuscripts as a special meritorious act. It is believed that “one script character yields the same merit as the creation of one Buddha image” (Peltier 2014: 183).

Many Anisong manuscripts specifically mention the importance of offering textiles to wrap scriptures. A frequently found quote is: “A person who offers manuscript textiles will have a prosperous life full of barns, clothes, and plenty of food. The person who provides the manuscript cloth will go to the celestial palace, which will be decorated with various precious gems after their death” (Wichian 2006: 315).

In Lao culture, a common practice was to re-purpose tube-skirts (Pha Sarong or Sinh) or shoulder cloths (Pha Biang) - often the most luxurious a person or family owned - as manuscript wrappers. An explanation for this practice is that “… people donated Pha Sarong or Sinh because their son or daughter had died when they were very young. Their children thus had had no chance to wear beautifully woven clothes, so during their funeral ceremony the parents did not burn beautiful Sinh cloth with the bodies, but instead produced palm-leaf manuscripts wrapped with Sinh cloth to make merit for their dead children in the hope that in the next life they would live long enough to wear plenty of these clothes” (Legends in the weaving 2001: 89).

Handmade cotton cords with loops used to string three bundles of a palm leaf manuscripts containing Buddhist texts in Pali language with plain wooden covers
Handmade cotton cords with loops used to string three bundles of a palm leaf manuscripts containing Buddhist texts in Pali language with plain wooden covers. Central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 4888

In addition to the manuscript wrappers, people could offer a cord made from silk or cotton yarn, which was used to string palm leaves together to create bundles or volumes of palm leaf scriptures. A method of binding palm leaf books going back to the first millennium was to put a looped cord through a hole that was drilled through the palm leaves on the left side; another hole on the right side was often left empty for ease of flipping the leaves while reading. Northern Thai and Lao Anisong manuscripts often contain a dedicatory phrase like “whoever offers the cords to string the palm leaf manuscript will dwell with the wise and not lose their treasures” (Wichian 2006: 319) or “Whoever ties a rope to a book will have a lot of wealth and infinite perseverance” (Wichian 2006: 315).

07 Or 4890 combined
Handmade cotton cords with tassels, no loops, in dark red colour used to string five bundles of palm leaf manuscripts containing a Pali grammar, with lacquered and gilded covers. Central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 4890

A white cotton cord mixed with long hair to string a palm leaf manuscript, with dedicatory inscription mentioning a woman from Lamphun Province as donor
A white cotton cord mixed with long hair to string a palm leaf manuscript, with dedicatory inscription mentioning a woman from Lamphun Province as donor. Northern Thailand, 1949. British Library, Or 16985H

Manuscript textiles were not only works of art in and of themselves, but also mirror the social status and beliefs of the people who created them. For Northern Thai and Lao women the act of weaving wrappers and cords was analogous to the act of weaving the thread of faith, thus ensuring the preservation and continuation of the Buddha’s teachings.

Many of the practices and beliefs relating to manuscript textiles described above are still in use in Northern Thailand and Laos today. Since 2015, there has been a campaign with local communities and students to revive the custom of creating and offering traditional manuscripts with textiles at Lampang Province's Pongsanuk Temple. There are now many workshops and cultural events taking place in Northern Thailand to teach about making manuscript textiles in various techniques.

09 wrapper making
Creating manuscript textiles using colourful yarns by intertwining them with bamboo sticks. Methaporn Singhanan, Chiang Mai, Thailand, November 2020 (photo courtesy of จดหมายเหตุกรุงศรี Jod Mai Hed Krungsri)

Methaporn Singhanan, Chevening Fellow at the British Library 2022-23  Ccownwork

References and further reading
Andaya, Barbara Watson. Flaming womb: repositioning women in early modern Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, c2006.
Arthid Sheravanichkul. Narrative and gift-giving in Thai Ānisaṃsa texts. Buddhist narrative in Asia and beyond. Edited by Peter Skilling and Justin McDaniel, Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University, 2013, pp. 37-46. 
Gordon, Alec and Napat Sirisambhand. Evidence for Thailand's missing social history: Thai women in old mural paintings. International Review of Social History, 47(2), pp. 261-275. 
Legends in the weaving - ຜ້າແພນີ້ມີຕຳນານ [Phā phǣ nī mī tamnān]. Vientiane: The Japan Foundation Asia Center, 2001
Peltier, Anatole-Roger ed. อานิสงส์กลุ่มชาติพันธุ์ไท ในภูมิภาคลุ่มน้ำโขงและสาละวิน [ʿĀnisong klum chāttiphan Thai nai phūmmiphāk Lum Nam Khōng læ Sālawin] = Ānisaṃsa in Tai Buddhism = Les Ānisaṃsa dans le Bouddhisme Tai. Chīang Mai: Mahāwitthayālai Rātchaphat Chīang Mai, 2557 [i.e. 2014]
Seeger, Martin. Gender and the path to awakening: hidden histories of nuns in modern Thai Buddhism. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2018
Sundara, Ajahn. Women in Theravada Buddhism. British Library, 2019 
ผ้าห่อคัมภีร์วัดคงคาราม: ประวัติศาสตร์(ที่อยาก)บอกเล่า [Phā hō̜ khamphī Wat Khongkhārām: prawattisāt (thī yāk) bō̜k lao]. 2557 [i.e. 2014]
วิเชียร สุรินต๊ะ; อุไร ไชยวงค์ [Wichīan Surinta; ʿUrai Chaiyawong]. อานิสงส์ล้านนา: การปริวรรตและสาระสังเขป [ʿĀnisong Lānnā: kānpariwat læ sāra sangkhēp]. Chīang Mai : Sathāban Wičhai Sangkhom, Mahāwitthayālai Chīang Mai, 2549 [i.e. 2006]
อุไร คำมิภา [ʻUrai Khammiphā]. ผ้าห่อคำภีร์ใบลาน: ศรัทธาและปรารภนาแห่งสตรีไทย [Phā hō̜ khamphī bailān: satthā læ prārop nā hǣng sattrī Thai]. Nakhon Rachasima: King Rama IX Commemorative Library.

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