Switchover from palm leaves to paper

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Jan 5 18:49:52 EST 1998


The answer should be different per area.

In Kashmir, where one used birchbark, paper was introduced from
Buchara/Samarkand by king Zain ul Abidin (1420-1470) but the last
birchbark MSS I know is dated 1675 AD (von Huegel MS in Vienna State
Libr.). All written with ink, of course. The earliest paper MSS are from
the 17th c., I think (I am writing at home from memory). See collections
of Kashmiri paper MSS (Marc Aurel Stein's collections) in Paris, London,
Vienna, Tuebingen, Berlin; further: Goettingen, New Delhi and of course
Srinagar (unpublished catalogue of c. 8000 titles). Information on
birchbark and other MSS in Buehler's Report JRASBombay 1877 and last, W.
Slaje, Book on Sarada script, and MSS, and Y.Ikari (ed.), A study of the
Nilamata, Kyoto 1994(?) on Kashmiri mss.

Though paper manufacture may be early in Nepal: from bushes, bast, see
book by a Danish person whose name I forget(*) palm leaf MSS were written
down to c. 1500 AD. The c. 2400 palm leaf MSS filmed by the NGMPP stop
about that time. All written with ink (except for a very few South Indian
MSS in the National Archives, inscised with stylus).--- The earliest
local paper MS I know of is dated 1381 AD. This is a thyasaphu (Newari)
"folded book", leporello, which was much in use in Nepal (also in S.E.
Asia). I think Albiruni mentions a folded blue book, used for keeping of
official records, in the Panjab of his time. Palm leaf documents (small
strips of leaf, rolled up and sealed with the king's seal) for recording
land sales and mortgages were used well into the 18th c. I think.
Examples in Bernhard Koelver and Hemraj Sakya, Documents from the
Rudravarna- Mahavihara, Patan. Sankt Augustin : VGH Wissenschaftsverlag,c.
1990

(*) It is:  Trier, Jesper.
Ancient paper of Nepal. Results of ethno-technological
field work on its manufacture, uses and history - with
technical analyses of bast, paper and manuscripts.
Copenhagen, Gyldendal, 1972. ( 271 p. illus. 31 cm).
Jutland Archaeological Society Publications, v. 10


The Jains in Gujarat have palm leaf MS around 1100 AD, but also some
of the earliest paper MSS in India proper, if my memory does not fail me.

In Orissa, palm leaf MSS were prepared well into this century; and fakes
are of course very recent: A nice fake one is the palm leaf written with
ink in NAGARI script in Orissa(!), photo in the Vastu Upanisad, ed. Alice
Boner/ Sadashiva Rath Sharma.  Some peope still know how to write with
stylus on palm leaves. In the big India exhibition in Boston c.1990, an
Oriya man did so, to show how things are done.

In Central Asia use of paper for Skt. MSS is of course much earlier, see
examples in Lore Sanders, Palaeographisches zu den Turfan MSS.

Hope this helps. MW.

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Michael Witzel                       witzel at fas.harvard.edu
Harvard University                   www.shore.net/~india/ejvs
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