[INDOLOGY] scribal self-recitation while copying

Jean-Luc Chevillard jean-luc.chevillard at univ-paris-diderot.fr
Mon Jul 29 17:23:32 UTC 2013

The PDF file attached to this message
contains the scanned image of one chapter
("A stratagem")
extracted from the (very much) ABRIDGED translation
of the biography of
Mahavidwan Sri Meenakshisundaram Pillai (1815-1876)
who was the teacher of U.V. Swaminatha Aiyar,
one of the fathers of Tamil philology.

This chapter tells a story
in which a stratagem is used
for borrowing a MS from an unfriendly priest
(in order to copy it)
and also the method used for copying the MS.
See page 29:


Sri Pillai gave each friend and pupil of his a set of ten palm-leaves
to be copied, and transcribed the rest himself. On the seventh day
the leaves were assembled and after comparison of the copy with the 
original, the latter was returned to Sundaram Pillai
who called for it. Sundaram Pillai had the book and the sovereign
given to the priest by the friend who had acted as his attendant.


I have not checked the original Tamil text.
It might contain more details.

-- Jean-Luc Chevillard (Pondicherry)

On 24/07/2013 17:58, Tyler Williams wrote:
> Dear all,
> There is, of course, quite a bit of variation in scribal practices over
> time and region; at various places and times there is documented
> evidence of, or oblique references, to scribes working singly,
> collectively, with reciters, and without reciters, and with the
> establishment of Islamicate courts in northern India, ateliers on the
> model of the kar-khana.  There were significant differences in practice
> between, say, monks working in a temple or monastic institution,
> itinerant Kashmiri scribes that travelled singly or in groups around
> northern India, copying texts for a fee, and court 'scribes' (who were
> actually much more), who have received a good bit of attention from
> O'Hanlon and Minkowski. The question of mass-produced manuscripts is an
> interesting one that has received a little bit of attention in the Jain
> context; some helpful sources on these and other questions include:
> Cort, John E. 1995. “The Jain Knowledge Warehouses: Traditional
> Libraries in India.” /Journal of the American Oriental Society/ 115 (1): 10.
> Data, Kali Kumar. 1971. “The Ritual of Manuscripts.” /Our Heritage:
> Bulletin of the Department of Post-Graduate Training and Research,
> Sanskrit College, Calcutta /19 (1).
> Losty, Jeremiah P. 1982. /The art of the book in India/. London: British
> Library.
> Data's article sites a number of texts that give normative prescriptions
> for how a text used for ritual performance was to be copied.  Losty
> discusses a period and genre of mass-produced stereotyped Jain manuscripts.
> Most references are, unfortunately, terse and scattered.  For South
> Asia, more work has been done on scribal practices among the Persianate
> elites; for Europe the body of research is quite significant.
> Best,
> Tyler Williams
> Columbia University
> On Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 7:20 AM, Ashok Aklujkar
> <ashok.aklujkar at gmail.com <mailto:ashok.aklujkar at gmail.com>> wrote:
>     On 2013-07-23, at 7:56 PM, Allen Thrasher wrote:
>     ...  I wonder if there is any evidence that scribal workshops would
>     ever produce many copies of a work at one time, with a single reader
>     and a number of scribes. ... Presumably there would be a market for
>     standard classics (e.g. the Gita) that in some circumstances would
>     justify producing them in advance of specific individual orders.
>       ... But everything I recall reading seems to assume that copies
>     were produced singly.  It need not even be a question of one person
>     recruiting scribes so to speak off the street; it could also be a
>     workshop of a scribe and his sons (younger brothers, nephews, etc.),
>     a family operation.<
>     As I recall, king Kurmaarapaala of northern Gujarat is said to have
>     arranged one thousand scribes to produce one thousand copies of
>     Hema-candra's grammar, ;Sabdaanu;saasana, soon after it was
>     completed. There is documentary evidence for this, but I cannot put
>     my hands on it at present. Perhaps Georg Buehler's Life of
>     Hema-candra specifies the source.
>     In the late 1920s, when travelling teams went to collect manuscripts
>     in the Madras Presidency, those collected manuscripts which were to
>     be returned to their owners were copied (i.e., transcribed into
>     Nagari on paper) at Madras with one pandit reading and another
>     pandit writing the heard text. Then they usually reversed roles and
>     the faithfulness of the transcription was ascertained (or a more
>     experienced pandit was requested to check the accuracy of the
>     transcription) before the manuscript was returned. You still see
>     evidence of this in several transcripts in the GOML and at Adyar
>     Library and Research Centre with the names of pandits specified and
>     the date of completion of the process written at the end.Confirming
>     signatures also appear.
>     It is quite likely that at places of pilgrimage the Kaayastha
>     families kept a few extra copies of popular texts on hand to sell to
>     pilgrims.
>     a.a.
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