[INDOLOGY] rubrication in Indian mss.

DC Lammerts DCL96 at rci.rutgers.edu
Wed Nov 25 18:18:53 UTC 2015

Dear Colleagues,

A brief footnote on palm-leaf blackening practices in Burma, so as to dispel any potential confusion between blackened palm-leaf and paper in that context. The vast majority of engraved (as opposed to inked, which are anyhow quite rare by the 17th–19th centuries) palm-leaf manuscripts were blackened, in order to raise the contrast between the incised text and the surface of the folio. Albert Fytche describes the blackening process for engraved palm-leaf as follows in _Burma, Past and Present_, Vol 2 (London 1878), 8–9:

"Burmese books are composed of leaves of the palmyra palm, through the ends of which a string is passed*, and are bound together between a couple wooden covers, gilt, and lacquered in colored devices. The letters are engraved on the leaves with an iron stylus, held nearly perpendicular by the two forefingers and the thumb of the right hand, and steadied by the thumb-nail of the left hand, in which a nick is often cut to receive it. The writing is rendered visible by the application of charcoal ground with eng-tway [Bse. အင်တွဲ, aṅ tvai], a fragrant gum procured from Dipterocarpus grandiflora, and which latter [sic] preserves also the leaves from the attacks of insects. Every Buddhist monastery contains a library of these books, kept in carved and lacquered cabinets."
{*n.b. this is not entirely correct, and—certainly during the 19th century—binding techniques included wooden sticks in addition to string.}

Other accounts mention different blackening compounds (e.g. the use of Entada pursaetha oil), but the basic procedure is the same, and as far as I am aware this is also done elsewhere in mainland SE Asia. Blackening is still used today, and I have witnessed even engine oil enlisted for this purpose. In any event, this procedure is quite different from the sort of blackening used to manufacture paper black parabaik mss, the aim of which is to render the entire surface of the folio black prior to writing on it with steatite or chalk. 

Best regards,

DC Lammerts
Assistant Professor
Department of Religion
Rutgers University

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