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Conference Announcement: EuroSEAS 2021

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The European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) will hold its 11th conference at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic from 7-10 September 2021.

EuroSEAS invites scholars and PhD students from all academic disciplines with an interest in Southeast Asia to submit panels that explore relevant research topics from an interdisciplinary perspective as well as discuss theoretical and methodological aspects of research generated in the field of Southeast Asian Studies.

Proposals are also invited for a limited number of roundtable discussions about recent developments in Southeast Asia; for a limited number of laboratories that would develop cross-disciplinary collaboration; and for screenings with academic discussion of documentaries or artistic movies on various topics from Southeast Asia.

Due to a limit on the number of participants (aprox. 400) during the 2021 EuroSEAS conference in Olomouc, the organizing committee will favour (but not limit its selection to) panels, roundtables and laboratories on language, literature, performing arts, postcolonial studies, and archaeology/material culture – fields that were underrepresented in previous conferences.

EuroSEAS and the Organising Committee will have to follow international, national and local regulations related to Covid19. In case a physical conference is not possible, the board would do its best to facilitate and organize an on-line EuroSEAS conference or series of activities.

Find out more detailed information from the EuroSEAS conference website.

The Palacký University Information Centre, known as the Armoury, in Olomouc.
Photograph by Michal Maňas. CC BY 4.0

Open-access resources on palm leaf conservation

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In the past decade we have seen an increasing number of projects to preserve and to digitize palm leaf manuscripts, especially in countries that historically have a strong palm leaf manuscript tradition. Hand in hand with digitization go registration and cataloguing of the manuscripts, as well as conservation treatment to restore damaged palm leaves and to preserve the original physical manuscripts for future generations alongside the digital images. The conservation of palm leaves is becoming increasingly important as large numbers of palm leaf manuscripts have been discovered in Buddhist temples and private collections in South and Southeast Asia. But also in library and museum collections in the West palm leaf manuscripts that need urgent conservation treatment have come to light. Whereas most library and museum conservators will have access to specialist and academic publications on the conservation of palm leaves, people who work with palm leaf manuscripts and those with a general interest in this material will find open-access resources on this topic useful.

Burmese Buddhist cosmology incised on palm leaves, 19th century.
British Library, Or 15283

A decade ago we published in our very own SEALG Newsletter an article with “Workshop Notes on the Conservation and Stabilization of Palm Leaf Manuscripts” by David Jacobs (SEALG Newsletter 2010). The former British Library conservator describes in the first part how palm leaf manuscripts are made. He then discusses preservation and conservation problems before presenting his experiences with British Library conservation treatments of palm leaves in more detail.

P. Perumal, former conservator at Sarasvti Mahal Library, Thanjavur, discusses in a blog on “Preventive conservation of palm leaf manuscripts” (2013) various factors that contribute to the deterioration of palm leaves. The article highlights the importance and methods of preventive conservation, including indigenous methods of pest management.

An informative short documentary film “Preserving Khmer Manuscript” (2014) was produced in connection with a project of the EFEO-FEMC for the preservation of Khmer manuscripts in Cambodia. It is estimated that only about 2% of the Cambodian literature heritage survived the destruction in the 1970s. The film (in Khmer language with English subtitles) looks at how Khmer palm leaf manuscripts were rediscovered, catalogued, scanned and restored.

The Preservation Lab reports about the examination, preservation and finding a suitable boxing solution for a “Nineteenth Century Buddhist Religious Treatise” (2016) from Burma. In this specific case, a physical surrogate was created for educational purposes to reduce the frequency of handling of the original manuscript. Both the manuscript and the surrogate were then stored in separate custom-made boxes.

An article published by the John Rylands Library looks at “Preserving Palm Leaf – A Sacred Manuscript Tradition” (August 2020) by highlighting some examples from their palm leaf manuscript collection and how they were created. Suggestions for the preservation of these precious manuscripts include storage in a climate controlled environment in acid-free enclosures, respecting the signs of wear, dirt and staining from oil and candles as evidence of their historical use, and minimal intervention to make manuscripts safe for handling, exhibition, digitisation and research while preserving their intangible value as sacred Buddhist objects.

The British Library’s conservation team reported about an interesting experiment to use leaf-casting for the conservation of heavily damaged palm leaves. The article “Magic in Conservation – using leaf-casting on paper and palm leaves” (October 2017) by Iwona Jurkiewicz describes in detail how the method of leaf-casting, which is mostly used in paper conservation, was applied successfully to repair a fragile Tamil manuscript.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator at the Chester Beatty Library, writes in her article “Delaminating and fraying fibres: developing an advanced treatment approach for the conservation of a 12th century palm leaf manuscript” (March 2020) about the conservation work carried out on a very rare and fragile Buddhist palm leaf manuscript in Sanskrit language from West Bengal. Of particular interest is her description of a newly developed method to treat delamination of palm leaves.

Doriscat13
Fragment of the Buginese La Galigo epos on scrolled palm leaf (late 19th or early 20th century) . The strokes of palm leaves are sewn together to form one long stroke. Cod.Or. 5475. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

Particularly challenging is the conservation of rolled palm leaf manuscripts because even opening them without damage can be very difficult. The article “Conservation and digitisation of rolled palm leaf manuscripts in Nepal” (2005) by Naoko Takagi, Yoriko Chudo and Reiko Maeda provides details of the conservation, digitisation and safe storage in custom-made archival boxes of 400 rolled palm leaf manuscripts with clay seals housed at the Asa Archives in Kathmandu.

An article in the International Academic Forum’s Journal of Literature and Librarianship on the “Sustainable Preservation of Lanna Palm Leaf Manuscripts Based on Community Participation” (July 2020) written by Piyapat Jarusawat highlights a problem that many temple libraries in Buddhist countries face: the large numbers of palm leaf bundles in these collections, often thousands or even tens of thousands, require a different approach towards conservation which does not rely on a small team of manuscript conservation professionals. The author examines the traditional method of involving Buddhist lay communities in the preservation and conservation of manuscripts.

A talk by Ignatius Payyappilly on “Palm-leaf Manuscripts: The Legacy of Traditional Preservation and Conservation” given at Hamburg University (recorded August 2018) presents traditional methods of palm leaf preservation, including adequate storage, cleaning and oiling, repairing damaged palm leaves, use of natural insect repellents, fungicides and protective cloths and manuscript boxes.

The conservation of birch bark presents similar challenges as that of palm leaf. British Library conservator Elisabeth Randell explains in her article “The Mahārnava, Conservation of a 19th Century Birch Bark Manuscript“(May 2020) how a fragile birch bark manuscript from Kashmir was treated, focusing on how delaminated layers of bark, large tears and cracks were repaired.

For a more in-depth study of palm leaf conservation “A Selective Review of Scholarly Communications on Palm Leaf Manuscripts” (2016) by Jyotshna Sahoo is particularly useful. It encompasses a selective range of researches on palm leaf manuscripts published in academic journals, conference proceedings, commemorated volumes, reports of different projects and case studies that have appeared during a period coverage starting from 1947 to 2013. The literature reviewed is organized into five related themes: Antiquities, types and nature of manuscripts – Process of seasoning and writing over manuscripts – Factors of deterioration, preservation and conservation – Cataloguing, metadata standards and subject access to Manuscripts – Digitization of manuscripts.

Last but not least the Palm Leaf Wiki offers a “Bibliography on palm leaf preservation and conservation” which lists publications up to the year 2014.

Community participation in the preservation of palm leaf manuscripts (wrapping manuscripts with protective cloth) at Wat Sungmen in Phrae, Thailand, 2020. Photo credit: Wat Sungmen Manuscript Temple

 

International Conference on Thai-Tai Language and Culture, 20 July 2020

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The 2020 Chulalongkorn Asian Heritage Forum invites to an international online conference on the theme Thai-Tai Language and Culture in commemoration of Prof. Dr. Khun Banchob Bandhumedha on her 100th Birthday Anniversary.

Thai-Tai conference 20-07-2020

The conference has three parallel panel sessions which will be streamed live online via the panel session links below. Each session starts at 13:45 Bangkok local time and ends at 16:15 Bangkok local time. The time schedule for the presentations is as follows:

PARALLEL SESSION I (Presentations will be given in Thai):
Thai Language and Culture. 
Moderator: Prapaipun Phingchim

13.45-14.15
The Journey of the “Conjunction” in Thai Language
Debi Jaratjarungkiat (Chulalongkorn University)

14.15-14.45
The Thai Notion of Self-construal and Some Linguistic Evidence
Natthaporn Panpothong, Siriporn Phakdeephasook (Chulalongkorn University)

15.15-15.45
The Grammaticalisational Relationship Between Comitatives and Instrumentals in Thai: A Diachronic Typological Perspective
Vipas Pothipath (Chulalongkorn University)

15.45-16.15
Distinctions in the Linguistic Encoding of Caused Separation in Thai
Nitipong Pichetpan (University of Sydney and Thammasat University)

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PARALLEL SESSION II (Presentations will be given in Thai):
Thai-Tai Folklore
Moderator: Arthid Sheravanichkul

13.45-14.15
The Telling of Tai Folktales by Professor Dr. Khun Banchob Bandhumedha in Satri San
Poramin Jaruworn (Chulalongkorn University)

14.15-14.45
The Tai Women: Representations in Myths and Rituals of Tai People in Central Mekong Basin Communities
Pathom Hongsuwan (Mahasarakham University)

15.15-15.45
The Route to Heaven: Cosmology and World Narratives of Tai Dam from Funeral Manuscripts
Pichet Saiphan (Thammasat University)

15.45-16.15
“Roots of the Tai” in “Thailand’s Songkran Tradition”: Tai Cultural Inheritance and Creativity in Thai Society
Aphilak Kasempholkoon (Mahidol University)

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PARALLEL SESSION III (Presentations will be given in English):
Tai Languages
Moderator: Nattanun Chanchaochai

13.45-14.15
Constituent Order in Tai Khamti: New Data from Myanmar
Rikker Dockum (Swarthmore College)

14.15-14.45
Lanna Tai of the 16th Century as Attested from Chinese Source
Shinnakrit Tangsiriwattanakul (Chulalongkorn University)

15.15-15.45
Proto-Shan, Old Shan and the Making of Ahom Writing System
Pittayawat Pittayaporn (Chulalongkorn University)

15.45-16.15
Analysing Phonological Variation in Tai Khuen
Wyn Owen (Payap University)

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Dr. Banchob Bandhumedha was a female academic who devoted all her life to the research and teaching of Thai language in and outside of Thailand. Born on April 9th, 1920 in Tambon Baan Moh, Amphur PhraNakorn, Pra Nakorn province, she was the seventh of eleven children. She passed away on 21st March 1992 at the age of 72.

She graduated with a Master’s of Arts degree from Chulalongkorn University in 1944, and later received a scholarship from the Indian government to pursue a PhD degree in philology from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India. Dr. Banchob followed in the footsteps of her father who was also a teacher. She spent her whole life teaching, researching, and writing books to share her knowledge. Her teaching career began at Satri Wat Rakhang School, after which she went on to teach at Amnuay Silpa School, Secondary Teacher Training School, and Chandrakasem Teacher College. Her last teaching job was as a part-time teacher in the Department of the Thai Language, Ramkhamhaeng University, teaching Thai and foreign languages in the Thai language program. Dr. Banchob received an honorary doctorate degree in Thai language from the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, an honorary doctor of philosophy degree in Thai language from Ramkhamhaeng University, a Golden Prakeaw Award from Chulalongkorn University for promulgating knowledge of the Thai language in 1986, and the Outstanding Researcher Award in Philosophy from the National Research Council of Thailand in 1987.

Dr. Banchob had a keen interest in the study of Thai dialects and foreign influences in Thai language. She wrote three textbooks on Thai language namely “Laksana Phasa Thai”, “Pali and Sanskrit languages in the Thai language” and “Foreign languages in the Thai language”, which is considered one of the finest Thai language textbooks. Her research and analysis of Thai language in relation to Tai languages in and outside Thailand, as well as other foreign languages, has been praised as being accurate, based on credible evidence and beneficial to the Thai language studies.

Remembering the black African heroes of World War II in Burma

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World War II ended 75 years ago. This was commemorated in numerous events, speeches, ceremonies, writings, interviews and film documentations during the past weeks. However, not much has been done to remember black Africans who served in the Allied Forces in Burma. Their names and their sacrifices have been absent from the combat narratives of World War II, and primary sources to find out about these heroes are limited and not easy to find and to access. Most of these servicemen are no longer alive, and there are no statues, monuments or street names to remember their names.

 

81st West African Division

Soldiers of the 81st Division Recce Regiment in Burma, c. 1944. © IWM IND 7049

As a result, Southeast Asian historians still struggle to acknowledge the African involvement in Burma during the last three years of World War II, although the African divisions played an important role in the battle against the Japanese forces, most especially in the capture of Myohaung, the ancient capital of Arakan. The British colonial possession of Burma was a rich prize for the Japanese – partly on account of its natural resources, partly as a stepping stone westward to India, and partly as a buffer against the Chinese in the North and Northeast. Japanese troops had reached Burma in December 1941, and had consolidated their position there by the end of 1942. Recapturing the country would take the Allies’ 14th Army, which had nearly one million men in its service, three years of desperate fighting. Thirteen divisions were under control of the 14th Army: eight Indian Divisions, two West African Divisions, two British Divisions, and one East African Division. Little of this is commonly known today, let alone discussed in history lessons and textbooks.

A few publications, however, stand out of the sea of silence.

In his 2001 academic publication “War Bush. 81 (West African) Division in Burma 1943-1945” (Norwich: Michael Russel) John A. L. Hamilton gives a detailed account of events of the war in Burma, but focuses on the involvement of  the 8lst (West African) Division of the 14th Army, which was made up of about 23,000 West Africans from Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and the Gold Coast, who joined the Allied Forces as volunteers. Hamilton’s research is mainly based on records and personal notes of the British involved in the war in Burma. A few memories of the Africans were investigated, too, but the Burmese view itself is missing completely. Some poems by African soldiers have been included to give an impression of the precarious atmosphere in the jungle.

War Bush Hamilton

Hamilton criticises that in the British annals of the Burma campaign much emphasis is put on the Indian Divisions, but the efforts and successes of the West African troops are either completely ignored or underrated.  Not only does Hamilton’s work provide very detailed information on the involvement of Africans in the Burma campaign and many facts concerning the movements and the battles, it also describes the natural environment and aspects of everyday life of the African soldiers, their experiences in the jungle and in villages, their anxieties, and their relationship with their European (mostly British and Polish) officers. A ten page bibliography lists the primary sources analysed by the author, and gives important bibliographical data for further reading and research. As such it is a valuable source for further investigation.

Nearly a decade after the publication of Hamilton’s book, the journalist and film-maker Barnaby Phillips located a rare treasure in the library of the Imperial War Museum in London: Isaac Fadoyebo’s memoir “A Stroke of Unbelievable Luck” (Madison: University of Wisconsin African Studies Centre, 1999). Nigerian Fadoyebo enlisted in the Army in January 1942, aged 16. Once in Burma, he was assigned the job of medical orderly but found himself thrust into active combat in March 1944. After he was seriously injured and spent a precarious time the jungle, a Muslim family in Burma provided support and concealed him and a friend from Japanese patrols. After the war Fadoyebo suffered from impaired mobility due to the wounds he received in Burma, but later recovered and he went on to work in the civil service back home in Nigeria. He was fortunate to find work – many servicemen who returned from Burma struggled to find work and to cope with the trauma of their experiences in the war. Fadoyebo’s memoir offers a unique record of one African soldier’s war service in Burma and tells the story of how he relied on the kindness of a Muslim Rohingya family to survive. Barnaby Phillips’ interview of Fadoyebo resulted in a TV documentary with the title “The Burma Boy” which was published in 2012, not long before Fadoyebo’s death in 2013.

Another Mans War

Fadoyebo’s story is also included in Stephen Bourne’s “The Motherland Calls. Britain’s Black Servicemen and Women 1939-45” (Stroud: The History Press, 2012), alongside other black service personnel who joined the Allied Forces like Ulric Cross (Trinidad), Cy Grant (Guyana), Billy Strachan and Sam King (Jamaica), Peter Thomas (Nigeria), Johnny Smythe (Sierra Leone), ‘Joe’ Moody, Lilian Bader and Ramsay Bader (Britain), Connie Mark and Allan Wilmot (Jamaica). Fadoyebo’s account is also the main subject of Barnaby Phillips’ debut book “Another Man’s War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain’s Forgotten African Army” (London: Oneworld Publications, 2014). Despite Fadoyebo’s fame as the subject of a TV documentary and two popular books by white authors, his memoir “A Stroke of Unbelievable Luck” is barely known and has remained out of print for many years since its publication in 1999.

Nigerian-born playwright, filmmaker and novelist Biyi Bandele gives a voice to the thousands of Africans who fought in Burma – including Bandele’s own father – who have not been properly memorialised until today. In his novel “Burma Boy” (London: Random House, 2007) he tells the story of the main character, Ali Banana, a fourteen-year old Nigerian blacksmith apprentice who finds himself behind enemy lines in the jungle in Burma, a dangerous place riddled with Japanese snipers, ambush, infection and disease. And most of all, leeches. In the end, it is the jungle that lays bare the truth that black and white are not different after all: all capable of courage, cowardice, compassion, selfishness, intelligence and mindlessness, all human. The brutality and privation of fighting in Burma was a leveller of hierarchy. Bandele’s tragicomic novel is a story of real-life battles, of the violence, the madness and the sacrifice of World War II’s most vicious battleground. Biyi Bandele was named one of the fifty Best African Artists in The Independent in 2006.

Burma Boy Bandele

Report by Jana Igunma

DREAMSEA: A programme to digitise Southeast Asian manuscripts and to safeguard cultural diversity

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DREAMSEA stands for Digital Repository of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia, which is a Programme that strives to preserve the content of manuscripts in the entire region of Southeast Asia by way of digitisation, and to make this content fully and openly accessible online. The Programme is carried out by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta, Indonesia, in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Manuscripts Culture (CSMC), University of Hamburg, Germany. The digital repository is presented in collaboration with the Hill Museum and Manuscripts Library. The Programme is supported by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, based in the UK.

Southeast Asia is a region with a high rate of cultural diversity. Since the aim of this Programme is to safeguard this diversity, it accommodates manuscripts written in any script and field of study as long as the manuscripts originate from Southeast Asia. The basic principle in the DREAMSEA Programme is to preserve Southeast Asian manuscripts that are under threat to be damaged or lost (endangered manuscripts), and whose condition already may have been affected by natural/environmental conditions or socio-political circumstances in Southeast Asia (affected manuscripts).

Although the Programme was only initiated in 2017, thousands of manuscript pages have already been digitised and made freely available online. In the first stage, high resolution images of 593 manuscripts containing 20,129 pages have been made available along with the metadata. They originate from three different collections: the legacy of the Kingdom of Buton in Baubau (Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia), the collections of a Muslim community in Kuningan (West Java, Indonesia), and the collection of manuscripts of Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang (Laos). In 2018-2019, DREAMSEA executed fifteen digitisation missions  and managed to safe the contents of 57 collections in eighteen cities in Indonesia, Laos and Thailand. Up to now, around 119,000 manuscript pages have been digitised and subsequently these will be made available to the public in the Programme’s  Repository, which offers search options by country, city/province, collection, project number, title, subject matter, author, language, writing support, and script. Both the quality and quantity of metadata provided for the digitised manuscripts deserve much praise, especially the often very detailed content descriptions and translations of colophons which are extremely useful for carrying out further research.

In addition, the Programme has opened its own Youtube channel of DREAMSEA Manuscripts on which short films document the work that has been carried out to digitise and preserve manuscripts in Indonesia and Laos.

Dreamsea

(Information provided by DREAMSEA)

Southeast Asia in historical photographs: Vietnam

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The National Overseas Archives in Aix-en-Provence (ANOM) have opened up to the public an ever growing online database called Base Ulysse, thereby making a variety of digitised materials from the Archives and their library available for research. Begun in 2002, this database currently makes available well over 45,000 individual photographs, albums, postcards, posters, drawings and maps.

These materials document on one side the history of the French colonial empire in general, but on the other side they are a rich source for the study of the cultures, traditions and everyday life in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in historical perspective. The materials mainly originate from public records (state secretariats and departments that managed French colonial territories from the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth century, general government offices, etc.) and private archives, but also from donations, purchases, and bequests.

The digital collection contains over 3000 photographs from Vietnam which include 1935 images related to Tonkin, 886 images related to Cochin-China, 615 images related to Annam, and 463 images categorized under Vietnam. Most of these images are photographs from the first half of the twentieth century, but the oldest images date back to the 1880s. Interestingly, they do not only document the French colonial influence in Vietnam, but also Vietnamese traditions, ceremonies and everyday life. In addition, the cultures of ethnic minorities and religious communities in Vietnam are depicted in these photographs. The Cao Dai religion, Buddhism and Islam and their rituals are well presented in this collection, as well as the cultural traditions of the Thai ethnic groups in north Vietnam, the Cham in south Vietnam and the Chinese in Saigon, Hanoi and other large cities. Some of the images document how these photographs were taken by French colonial officers and photographers.

Some examples that illustrate the wide range of topics covered by the collection of photographs from Vietnam are presented below. All images were sourced from the Base Ulysse.

Tonkin Hanoi street view 1897-98

Street view in Hanoi, Tonkin, c.1897-8

Tonkin Vietnamese woman 1884-85

Studio photograph of a Vietnamese woman in traditional costume, Tonkin, c.1884-5

Tonkin group of dancers 1892-96

A group of Vietnamese dancers, Tonkin, c.1892-96

Tonkin orchestra 1884-85

Traditional Vietnamese orchestra, Tonkin, c.1884-5

Tonkin Buddhist nun and novice 1919-26

Buddhist nun and novice, Tonkin, c.1919-26

Tonkin land surveyors 1884-85

Land surveyors with traditional measuring instruments, Tonkin, c.1884-5

Tonkin Hanoi two young Chinese men 1894-85

Studio photograph of two young Chinese men, Hanoi, Tonkin, 1884-5

Tonkin Thai ethnic group 1895-99

Members of the Thai ethnic group, Tonkin, c.1895-9

Annam royal ceremony at royal palace in Hue 1919-26

Ceremony at the royal palace, Hue, Annam, c.1919-26

Annam mandarin 1884-85

Studio photograph of a Mandarin, Annam, c.1884-5

Annam colonial photography taking photos of Moi ethnic group at Djiring by Rene Tetart 1919-26

Colonial photographer taking pictures of ethnic minority men at work, Annam, c.1919-26

Cochinchina maritime fishery at Cau Gio 1921-35

Maritime fishery near Cau Gio, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina Cham fishermen in the Mekong Delta 1921-35

Cham fishermen in the Mekong Delta, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina traditional art school at Lai Thieu 1919-26

Traditional art school at Lai Thieu, Cochin-China, c.1919-26

Cochinchina theatre stage at the pagoda of Hocmon 1921-35

Theatre stage at the pagoda in Hoc Mon, Saigon, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina Beng Angsa Khmer Buddhist pagoda 1930-54

Khmer Buddhist temple Soctrang at Beng Angsa, Cochin-China, c.1930-54

Cochinchina Buddhist monks on alms round 1921-35

Buddhist monks and novices on alms round, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina Mosque at Threa with worshippers 1930-54

Mosque at Threa with teachers and students, Cochin-China, c.1930-54

 

 

Stirring and Stilling: Dharma Songs from Cambodia

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Cambodia is one of the few countries with over 90% of their population practicing Buddhism. Since around the 5th century, Khmer people began to follow Mahayana Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism has been the main religion since the 13th century. The only exception was during the Khmer Rouge period which resulted in the destruction and loss of much of the Buddhist cultural heritage of Cambodia. Therefore, the preservation of the surviving cultural treasures of Cambodia is of utmost urgency.

Among these treasures are Buddhist scriptures, classical Khmer literature, poetry, music, dance and theatre. Cambodian religious music includes chanting of certain Buddhist scriptures in Pali and the recitation of poetry rendered by monks and lay people alike. However, Pali (the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism), is rarely understood by the laity. The recitation of religious poems (smot) occupies a position between chanting and singing. Unlike chanting, poetry recitation may be accompanied by a solo instrument such as a flute or string instrument. The main themes of smot recitation are devotional and educational Buddhist texts and the Buddha’s Birth Tales. These poetic texts are composed entirely in Khmer language, or sometimes mixed with some Pali and Sanskrit phrases, but easily understood.

Phnom Penh pagoda Botum Vodei

Buddhist procession at Wat Botum Watey Reacheveraram in Phnom Penh, c.1919. Source: Base Ulysse, Archives nationales d’outre mer

Great efforts have been made in recent years to preserve Cambodian manuscripts through digitization and conservation. However, the preservation of oral traditions appears more difficult and is paid less attention to. One rare resource that aims to help to preserve and to publicize Buddhist poetry recitations from Cambodia is the website “Dharma Songs” by Trent Walker. Recordings of recitations in Khmer language with translations into English, performed by Trent Walker, are presented. The website offers a chance to learn about—and listen to—the Cambodian Dharma song tradition, smot. Associated with it is a multimedia online book  with the title “Stirring and Stilling: A Liturgy of Cambodian Dharma Songs” that was originally conceived as a printed book accompanied by a set of CDs. However, the text and recordings have been made available online to enable people from around the world to experience and appreciate this special musical tradition.

Dr Trent Walker, a scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhism, developed the resource based on six years of research into Cambodian Dharma songs as both a student and performer of smot himself. His English translations of sixteen Dharma songs are presented in this resource for the first time. Walker also works with Bangsokol, a multi-disciplinary stage production combining music, film, movement and voice.

 

Buddhist manuscript textiles: East Asia (2)

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The previous articles on Buddhist manuscript textiles focused on manuscript wrappers, bags and textile book covers from mainland Southeast Asia and manuscript textiles from Nepal, Tibet, northwest China and Mongolia. All these rare textile objects came to light during the curation of an exhibition on Buddhism at the British Library (25 October 2019 – 23 February 2020).

Paper scrolls and bound books with silk covers were particularly popular in the manuscript traditions of the regions and countries in East Asia. This article focuses on manuscript textiles from China, Korea and Japan in the British Library collections which are unique and outstanding in their artistic presentation. In contrast to manuscript textiles from Southeast Asia, which are often of a more recent date than the manuscripts they belong to, East Asian manuscript textiles can sometimes be significantly older than the manuscripts they are attached to.

Or. 13926

Silk scroll cover of the Lotus Sutra (Myōhō rengekyō), containing chapter 8 ‘The Prophecy of Enlightenment to Five Hundred Disciples’, Japan, dated 1636.
© British Library, Or. 13926

Scroll covers made from silk damask and fine brocades can be found across East Asia. Especially copies of the most important and popular Sutras and other sacred texts commissioned by emperors or empresses are often equipped with impressive silk covers of outstanding quality.

The Lotus Sutra is one of the most influential scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, seen by many Buddhists as the summation of the teachings of the Buddha. The scroll depicted above is believed to be part of a set of 28 commissioned by the Japanese Emperor, Go-Mizunoo (1596–1680), to commemorate his grandfather-in-law, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616). The silk brocade scroll cover in pale saffron colour is decorated with floral patterns woven in continuous supplementary weft technique. Attached is a hand-woven silk binding tape. Since this is a specially commissioned manuscript, it can be assumed that the scroll and the silk cover are of the same date.

Or. 13839

Silk brocade cover of a paper scroll containing the story of the ‘Palace of Tengu’ (Tengu no dairi) in Japanese language, Japan, 1560-1600. © British Library, Or.13839, vol. 1

Another outstanding example from Japan is a silk brocade scroll cover in pale brown, blue and grey tones depicting figures of the dragon, phoenix as well as lotus blossoms with eight petals which also represent the Noble Eightfold Path; all incorporated into a vibrant geometrical pattern. The illustrated text contained in this paper scroll, Tengu no dairi, recounts an episode from the life of the tragic hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune, younger brother of Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–99).

63 (3)

Silk brocade cover of a paper scroll containing the Sutra of Filial Piety (Bussetsu daihō bumo onjūgyō) printed in Chinese characters. Japan, c. 17th century. © British Library, Or. 16331

The Sutra of Filial Piety was composed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–917), and incorporates ideas about honouring one’s parents and ancestors. It may have come as a response to claims that Buddhist beliefs could undermine this filial piety which plays an important role in Confucianism. From China the Sutra travelled to Korea then Japan, where it appeared at the end of the 14th century.

The paper scroll shown above contains a printed copy of the Sutra of Filial Piety with twenty hand-coloured illustrations extolling the love of parents for their children and the obligation of children to repay it. A square shaped piece of hand-woven silk brocade with a floral design in striking colours – cream-white, indigo, light blue and mint green on light brown background – was added as a protective cover on the back side of the frontispiece.

0.22_orb_misc_95

A miniature paper scroll with textile cover containing the ‘Daihannya rishubun o-mamori’ (Sanskrit: Prajñāpāramitā-naya-śatapañcaśatikā) for use as an amulet. Japan, c.1960. © British Library, ORB.Misc/95

Miniature scrolls containing Buddhist texts are very popular, but usually not made for reading but to be worn on the body or carried as protective amulets. The scroll shown above with a printed copy of a short text belonging to the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras dates back to the 1960s and is only four cm wide. The scroll cover is made from a small piece of industrially woven silk with red and gold metal threads to which a purple coloured binding tape is attached.

Folding books, also known as leporello or concertina books, as well as bound books are other popular formats to contain Buddhist scriptures in East Asia. Like in the Southeast Asian manuscript tradition, folding books often have elaborately decorated front and back covers. However, in East Asia the covers are preferably equipped with textiles whereas in Southeast Asia they are usually lacquered, gilded, painted or decorated with mirror glass inlay.

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A folding book containing a copy of the Diamond Sutra (Korean: Kŭmgang panyak p’aramil kyŏng) in Chinese characters, with front and back covers layered with silk brocade with a gold floral pattern. Korea, 18th century. © British Library, Or. 15263

Being a key text in Mahayana Buddhism, the Diamond Sutra was (and still is) copied frequently, often in beautiful calligraphy or with added illuminations and decorated silk scroll covers or book covers, depending on the book format.

The outstanding copy of the Diamond Sutra from Korea shown above was written in gold ink in Chinese characters, the lingua franca of Buddhism across East Asia, on indigo-dyed paper. The sturdy paper covers are layered with a grey coloured silk brocade, decorated with gold scrolling flower ornaments which are typical of the mid-Ming period (16th century). This suggests that the textile element in this case may be older than the hand-written manuscript itself. It was common practice to re-use old silks for book covers, and in some cases these silks may have been imported from other places.

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Imperial book with silk brocade covers containing the Guan Yin Sutra (Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara Sutra) in Chinese. China, 1705. © British Library, Add MS 22690

Buddhists across East Asia recite the Avalokiteshvara Sutra to invoke protection against accidents, illness, dangerous animals, theft, untimely death and issues around conception, pregnancy and childbirth. Known under the title Guan Yin Sutra in China, it has become one of the most popular Buddhist texts which is often illustrated with an image of Guan Yin (Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara).

The manuscript in the illustration above and below (detail) is an outstanding example dated 1705 CE containing a gold illustration of Guan Yin, with the text in Chinese characters written in gold ink on natural cream coloured silk. The silk was carefully glued on paper to form a folding book whose sturdy paper covers are layered with silk brocade of the finest quality. The complex design of the silk brocade depicts dragons in blue coloured roundels which are connected by lines in the same colour. There are also stylised flowers formed of interlocking squares with bent sides and curled extensions on the corners. The dragons and flowers are in pale blue and brown tones, whereas the ground is of a natural cream colour with a stunning geometric star design in light blue colour.

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Detail depicting a dragon roundel on the silk brocade cover of a folding book containing the Guan Yin Sutra in Chinese language. China, 1705. © British Library, Add MS 22690

Another fine example of a folding book with silk-layered covers is a miniature album containing a small collection of brush-painted paper amulets (below). Amulets are very popular in all Buddhist traditions: some types are believed to provide protection from negative thoughts and harmful influences, others are thought to bring good luck to the owners. Amulets can be made from paper, wood, metal or cloth, on which are written, stamped or printed short Buddhist texts or drawings of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, high-ranking monks, auspicious symbols etc.  They are usually issued by individual monks or Buddhist temples for their lay followers. The owner of such an amulet can make devotional visits to the places from which they received the amulet to pray and renew its protective power on a regular basis.

The album is made from paper in folding book format. The surface of the paper is layered with silk damask in old rose colour, on which the paper amulets are affixed. The thicker and sturdier book covers are layered with silk brocade whose design is dominated by flowers with four petals and svastika symbols, which stand for well-being in the Buddhist tradition; all on a bright blue background.

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Miniature album in folding book format with silk-layered covers containing brush-painted Buddhist amulets. China, early 20th century. © British Library, ORB.Misc/111

Besides paper scrolls and folding books, printed bound paper books played an important role for the spread of Buddhism across East Asia. A popular binding method was the stitched binding, which allowed for relatively thin book covers consisting of multiple or even single layers of paper only. To provide some form of protection for these books, they were often equipped with sturdy book cases. Such book cases could be made for single volumes or multiple volumes.

The example shown below was made for a single volume containing a Japanese Buddhist story, Tada no Manju, dating back to the early seventeenth century. It contains a story derived from Konjaku monogatari (‘Tales of the Past’) that is telling of the hero Manju and his conversion to Buddhism, with hand-coloured illustrations reflecting the message “Life has suffering”. The book case is layered with silk brocade with a floral design in yellow and light green colours. Small bone clasps prevent the book from falling out of the case.

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Woodblock-printed book containing the story ‘Tada no Manju’ in Japanese language, with a silk-covered bookcase. Japan, 1605-1610. © British Library, Or.64.b.26

Another type of manuscript textile worth mentioning is the mounting scroll. This is a paper scroll that is usually layered with three different silk brocades. Its purpose is for mounting votive paper objects carrying either sacred Buddhist images or sacred texts from the Mahayana tradition. Such images and texts could be printed or hand-written/-painted. To be hung up in temples or in private homes, for example in prayer or meditation rooms, the paper object was affixed in the middle of the three layered silk brocade as shown in the example below.

This modern calligraphy of the Heart Sutra in block script style was made by master calligrapher Miyamoto Chikkei (1926–2002) and mounted on a silk brocade scroll. The Heart Sutra is popular for recitation and calligraphy across East Asia.

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‘Hannya shingyō’ (Heart Sutra) calligraphy by Miyamoto Chikkei mounted on a triple layer silk scroll. Japan, 1995. © British Library, Or. 15542

To see Buddhist manuscript textiles as well as textile artefacts and colourful paintings on silk visit the Buddhism exhibition at the British Library which will be open until 23 February 2020.

By Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections, British Library

Further reading and references

Eric Boudot and Chris Buckley, The roots of Asian weaving: The He Haiyan collection of textiles and looms from Southwest China (Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2015

Anna Jackson, Japanese Textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: V&A Publications, 2000

Helen Loveday, The Baur Collection Geneva: Japanese Buddhist Textiles, Textiles Bouddhiques Japonais (Milan: 5 Continents, 2014)

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 1) (retrieved 13.02.2020)

Liz Rose, Assessment and conservation of Buddhist textiles for a major exhibition (In: Arts of Asia, January-February 2020) pp. 151-7

Shelagh Vainker, Chinese silk. A cultural history (London: British Museum, 2004)

New issue of SEALG Newsletter online

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A new issue of the SEALG Newsletter (2019) has been published and is now available online.

Included in the Newsletter is the report of our group’s Annual Meeting that took place in June 2019 in Leiden. In addition to this detailed report by Marije Plomp, the latest issue of the Newsletter contains the following articles:

  • A brief account of traditional Shan manuscript culture by Chaichuen Khamdaengyodtai
  • Calendars and horoscopes in mainland Southeast Asia by Jana Igunma
  • Two Bugis Manuscripts in the Library of Seminar für Südostasienwissenschaften (FB 9), Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt by Sirtjo Koolhof
  • Exploring Southeast Asia Scholarly Resources in Taiwan by Virginia Shih

Previous issues of the Newsletter in electronic format are also available on the SEALG homepage.

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Buddhist manuscript textiles: East Asia (1)

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The previous article on Buddhist manuscript textiles focused on manuscript wrappers, bags and textile book covers from mainland Southeast Asia which came to light during the curation of an exhibition on Buddhism at the British Library (25 October 2019 – 23 February 2020). The manuscript traditions of South and East Asia are equally diverse as one can see in the above mentioned exhibition. Although the nature and production of manuscripts in South and East Asia is in many aspects different from that in Southeast Asia, manuscript textiles here were also frequently reused or repurposed pieces of cloth. However, textiles directly attached to manuscripts were often custom-made for a particular manuscript or an entire set of manuscripts; silk being the preferred material. The commission of an elaborately decorated or illuminated manuscript counts as an act of merit in all Buddhist cultures.

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A manuscript wrapper made from silk velvet, silk damask and embroidered silk for a paper manuscript. Nepal, 1683 (date of the manuscript) and 19th century (textile). © British Library, Or.11124

Shown above is an embroidered Thangka hanging that was repurposed to be used as a manuscript wrapper for a paper manuscript containing a fine calligraphic copy in gold ink of the Pancharaksha, a ritual text for the invocation of Five Protections, with illustrations of five protective goddesses. The country of origin of the cloth is not known; the different types of silk used to make the Thangka may originate from different countries or regions. The frame of the Thangka is made from brown coloured silk velvet. Historically, China and Iraq were among the first and most important producers of silk velvet, but Uzbekistan has also long been famous for the production of silk velvet. At the top, there is a veil in three layers which is made from blue and green silk damask. At the centre is a beautiful, mandala-shaped floral design embroidered in blue and white tones on bright red tabby weave silk. The actual manuscript is about two centuries older than the cloth, and it is not known whether the manuscript originally had another wrapper which deteriorated and had to replaced, or whether the manuscript had no wrapper at all.

More frequently, manuscript wrappers were custom-made for a particular manuscript to add meritorious value to the manuscript and to protect it from damage. The cloth was often sewn together combining a simpler, but stronger inner layer with a more valuable outer layer made of plain silk, silk damask or brocade.

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Initiation and ritual texts in a paper pothi manuscript with a custom-made silk wrapper with brocade application. Tibet, early 19th century. © British Library, Or.14685

The Tibetan manuscript shown above contains initiation and ritual texts with 27 illustrations and diagrams. It is made from paper in the pothi format that resembles the long oblong shape of palm leaf manuscripts in the South Asian and Southeast Asian manuscript traditions. The manuscript is wrapped in a square-shaped silk wrapper made from a red coloured inner layer and a yellow coloured outer layer. In one corner a beautifully designed application was added which was made from a small patch of hand-woven silk brocade in red, purple, white, blue and yellow tones, with embroidered edges. Attached to this corner of the cloth is a ribbon sewn from silk brocade with a Chinese coin attached to it at the end. Two other corners of the cloth also have a ribbon attached. To wrap up the manuscript, the cloth is laid out in diamond shape with the inner red layer facing up. The manuscript is placed in the middle of the wrapper, and the one corner without a ribbon is folded over the manuscript. Then the two corners on the left and right side are folded over the manuscript and tied together with the ribbons attached to those corners of the cloth. Finally, the corner with the silk brocade application is wrapped around the manuscript and the ribbon with the attached coin wound around the bundle several times, and the coin is pushed under the ribbon.

The manuscript wrapper mentioned above is one of a few examples where the smell of an object has its own story to tell. This piece of cloth has stains and quite a strong smell from butter lamps which are used on Buddhist altars. It can be assumed that the manuscript was used frequently, and the wrapper served its purpose of protecting the manuscript very well indeed.

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Silk veil attached to the title page of a volume of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, Kanjur. Containing the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in 8,000 Verses. Southern Central Tibet, 18th century. © British Library, Tib.I.232

Tibetan manuscripts containing sacred Buddhist literature often have decorative sheets as title pages, which are typically framed or illuminated and veiled with plain silk, silk damask or brocade. Many Tibetan Buddhist scriptures were written down on paper specially treated with indigo or black lacquer, and the title was written elegantly in silver or gold script (dbu can) against the dark background.

The image above depicts the title page of a volume of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, Kanjur, containing the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in 8,000 Verses. The title page is made from multi-layered, indigo-dyed paper. A veil made from four layers of silk in yellow, red, green and blue colours protects the title that is written in gold ink. The top layer in yellow colour is decorated with a sewn-on piece of intricately hand-woven silk brocade depicting stylised lotuses and figures of mythical animals as shown in the close-up image of a part of the veil below.

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Detail of a four-layered veil with silk brocade attached to the title page of a volume of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, Kanjur. Southern Central Tibet, 18th century. © British Library, Tib.I.232

Another feature of Tibetan pothi manuscripts are shelf flaps which are usually attached on the left side of the first text folio. Similar to the veil on the title page, the shelf flap consists of several layers of silk. The example below has four layers in the colours yellow, red, green and blue. The yellow layer of silk damask bears information about the content of the manuscript. The shelf flap fulfils an important function: when the manuscript is placed on the shelf or in a cabinet in a temple library, only the shelf flap with the information on the manuscript’s content is visible and enables the quick identification of the manuscript.

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Shelf flap made of silk and silk damask attached on the left side of a volume of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, Kanjur. Southern Central Tibet, 18th century. © British Library, Tib.I.232

Not all Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts are equipped with multi-layered veils, brocades or shelf flaps. Presented below is a volume containing a text which summarises the contents of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras of the Tibetan canon. The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras are very popular in the Mahayana tradition and highlight the insight into the empty nature of all phenomena. The illustrations on the title page depict on the left Shakyamuni Buddha in his earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsha mudra) and Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara on the right. The red coloured veil in tabby weave stretches the whole length of the title page to cover both the title and illustrations when closed.

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Paper pothi manuscript containing a text in Tibetan with the title Ratnaguṇasaṃcayagāthā, with a silk veil attached to the title page. Tibet, 14th century. © British Library, Or.16445

Not only Buddhist canonical scriptures could be equipped with a veil on the title page, but also extra-canonical texts. The manuscript below contains a text that describes the experiences encountered in the state between death and rebirth (bardo). In the West it became famously known as the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”. The text is often read near the bed of a deceased person to guide them through the various stages of the after-death experience and to support their spiritual liberation. The title page and pages where a new chapter begins are illustrated with various deities that are said to appear to the individual during the bardo. Attached to the pages with illustrations are silk veils in red colour, hand-woven with a chequered pattern to protect the title in gold ink and painted figures of wrathful deities. Generally, veils attached to the title page or chapter pages can have different colours; a popular type of veil is dyed yellow, red and green.

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Chapter page with silk veil of a manuscript containing the text Bar do thos grol in Tibetan language. Tibet, 18th century. British Library, © Or.15190

Buddhist texts in Tibetan language are not only found in Tibet, but also Bhutan, Mongolia and neighbouring regions. Manuscripts made in Mongolia towards the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, for example, are usually protected by front and back covers made from multi-layered paper that was left in plain cream-white colour which is similar to the Tibetan tradition of making manuscripts. Occasionally, however, the covers were decorated each with a piece of cloth that was wrapped around the cover and then sewn together at the back of the cover. The example below shows the front cover of a well-known text in Tibetan language, the Vajracchedika Sutra (Diamond Cutter Sutra). It is decorated with a piece of printed cotton cloth with a floral design in red, yellow and brown colours.

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Front cover decorated with printed cotton of a manuscript containing the Dorjzoduba Sutra, Mongolia, 1890-1920. Held by the Dambadarjaa Monastery, Ulaanbaatar, EAP529/1/13

Some of the earliest extant manuscript textiles were found at the beginning of the 20th century by Sir Aurel Stein and his team in a library cave at Dunhuang in northwest China. The cave had been sealed for about a thousand years, which resulted in the 40,000 or so manuscripts and books contained in the cave remaining in relatively good condition.

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Silk fragment found in the library cave at Dunhuang Mogao, northwest China, 9th or 10th century. © British Library, Or.8210/S.13895 A recto

The small silk fragment above (size 8×4 cm) may have belonged to a miniature paper scroll containing a Sutra or another protective text. In this case, the piece of red coloured silk could have been attached to the back of the scroll as a scroll backing or as a cover. Miniature scrolls containing popular protective Sutras were often carried along on travels or brought back from pilgrimages as protective amulets. The silk fragment has seams at the top and bottom, and it appears as if it had been embroidered, or a pattern had been woven in for decoration, although this is not clearly visible due to the fragmented and fragile condition of the item.

Another rare manuscript textile discovered at the library cave in Dunhuang is a painted scroll cover belonging to a 21-metre long paper scroll (shown below).

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Painted silk cover of a paper scroll containing six Buddhist texts in Khotanese and Sanskrit languages in Brahmi script. Dunhuang Mogao, northwest China, dated 943 CE. © British Library, IOL Khot.S.46

The scroll contains a small collection of Mahayana Sutras and incantations written in ink on paper using the Khotanese and Sanskrit languages. The ancient kingdom of Khotan was located on the Silk Road (Xinjiang, northwest China) and was one of the main centres of Buddhism until the 11th century. This scroll was commissioned by a Buddhist patron requesting long life for himself and his family. To the scroll belongs a piece of silk that served as the scroll cover when the scroll was closed. A fine painting on the silk shows a pair of birds, possibly swan geese, standing on lotus flowers. In their beaks they are holding budding branches. This particular motif is frequently mentioned in Dunhuang literature and is also found on silk brocade book covers of the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) (see Vainker, 2004, pp.128-129).

Paper scrolls and bound books with silk covers were particularly popular in the manuscript traditions of the regions and countries in the east of East Asia. The upcoming second part of this article will look at manuscript textiles from China, Korea and Japan.

To see Buddhist manuscript textiles as well as textile artefacts and colourful paintings on silk visit the Buddhism exhibition at the British Library which will be open until 23 February 2020.

By Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator of Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections, British Library

Special thanks to Burkhard Quessel, Lead Curator of Tibetan Collections, Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator of Persian and Turcic Collections, and Liz Rose, Textile Conservator, all at the British Library, for their invaluable advice and support.

Further reading and references

Eric Boudot and Chris Buckley, The roots of Asian weaving: The He Haiyan collection of textiles and looms from Southwest China (Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2015

Elizabeth Hunter and Carl Norman, Painted silk Sutra wrapper IOL.MSS.Khot.S.46 (retrieved 03.01.2020)

Liz Rose, Assessment and conservation of Buddhist textiles for a major exhibition (In: Arts of Asia, January-February 2020)

Liz Rose, Video: The removal of linen backed paper from a silk scroll cover (retrieved 03.01.2020)

Ursula Sims-Williams, A Buddhist sutra and illustrated cover (retrieved 10.01.2020)

Shelagh Vainker, Chinese silk. A cultural history (London: British Museum, 2004)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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