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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddhist manuscript textiles: Southeast Asia

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The current exhibition on Buddhism at the British Library (25 October 2019 – 23 February 2020) focuses on Buddhist manuscripts and early printed works, and how they helped to spread Buddhism across Asia and beyond. During the curation process, an unexpected number of manuscript textiles came to light. These are textiles that are used to wrap around manuscripts to protect them from damage and dust, but also textiles that contain information about manuscripts, bags for the storage and transport of manuscripts and textiles attached to manuscripts. Often the textiles are custom-made for one particular manuscript, and in this case these cloths could be made from valuable hand-woven silk brocades, colourful printed cotton or imported materials like chintz and damask. Specially designed textiles were commissioned to add meritorious value to a manuscript or an entire set of manuscripts. However, sometimes discarded textiles like clothing, complete or partial wall hangings or leftover pieces of cloths made for other purposes were used to create manuscript textiles. This practice goes back to the historical Buddha himself who encouraged his disciples and followers to “recycle” material resources by reusing and repurposing them; for example, discarded pieces of clothing were dyed and sewn together as robes for Buddhist monks and nuns.

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Three-part tubeskirt (Lao: pha sin) that was repurposed as a wrapper for a small collection of palm leaf bundles containing Buddhist texts in Pali language in Dhamma script. Laos or North Thailand, 19th century (manuscripts) and Laos, mid-20th century (wrapper). © British Library, Or 16886

Buddhist manuscript textiles can be found across Asia, and the artistic creativity in designing and repurposing textiles for the use with manuscripts is truly amazing. In South and Southeast Asia one can find a great variety of manuscript wrappers and bags. The manuscript wrapper (Lao: pha ho khamphi) from northern Laos shown above is made from a repurposed tube-skirt that consists of three parts: a colourful decorative hem-piece with a geometric pattern made in supplementary weft, a main body part dyed in red and purple tones and woven in Ikat technique with woven-in metal strands, and a simple striped waistband at the top. Manuscript wrappers could get very dusty or even mouldy over time and had to be replaced frequently. Therefore, the manuscript(s) found with such wrappers are often much older than the textile itself, like in this case.

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Traditional two-pedal loom used for weaving the intricate and colourful Lao textile designs. The pattern is “programmed” in form of bamboo rods that are attached to the yarns of the warp. Lao Textile Museum, Vientiane, Laos, 2019. Photograph by Jana Igunma

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Geometric pattern in pink and purple tones on the hem piece of a hand-woven tube-skirt from northern Laos that was repurposed as a wrapper for seven palm leaf bundles containing Jatakas and other Buddhist texts. Laos, 20th century. © British Library, Or 15895

Textiles of high value were sometimes specially commissioned for particularly important Buddhist manuscripts, or for manuscript sets containing the entire Pali canon. George Cœdès who was director of the National Library of Thailand (formerly Vajiranana National Library) from 1918-29, wrote that “It was an old custom in Siam for fine cloths formerly used as garments but worn out, or belonging to deceased persons, to be presented to the priests for use as wrappings for their manuscripts. A considerable number of the manuscripts in the National Library are wrapped in old and beautiful cloths of every description; some delicately embroidered, some made of Indian or Siamese brocade, and others of a special kind of cotton, printed in India with Siamese designs.” (1924, p.17) The latter refers to chintz imported from the Coromandel Coast region in India.

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Silk wrapper brocaded with metal thread and a red coloured cotton backing belonging to a royal set of palm leaf bundles containing the Yōjana paṭhama samantapāsādika, a sub-commentary by the 15th-century scholar Nanakitti in Pali language in Khmer script. Thailand (manuscripts) and India (cloth), 19th century. British Library, © Or 5107

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Detail of a hand-woven purple coloured silk wrapper brocaded with metal-wrapped thread to create a plant or leaf pattern. India, 19th century. © British Library, Or 5107

The silk brocade wrapper (above) is thought to have been commissioned and designed by an unnamed Thai queen in the nineteenth century. It is one of a set of wrappers, made in India in the Deccan style, to cover palm leaf manuscripts belonging to a Thai royal edition of scriptures of the Pali canon dating back to the reign of Rama III (1824-51), including commentaries and sub-commentaries.

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Palm leaf manuscript, containing the Malalankara (Life of the Buddha), with a hand-woven binding tape and a wrapper made from imported printed cotton. Burma, 1883. © British Library, Or 16673

Printed cotton textiles imported from India were frequently used to make wrappers for manuscripts in Burma. A thicker piece of hand-woven Burmese cotton cloth was usually added as a backing to the thinner Indian cotton with colourful printed patterns. The wrapper shown above consists of a printed piece of cotton with a pattern of foliage and butterflies in red and white tones. It is combined with a white layer of cotton at the back. This wrapper was custom-made for a palm leaf manuscript in five bundles containing the Malalankara vatthu, or Life of the Buddha. A hand-woven binding tape (Burmese: sazigyo) of 330 cm length contains a colophon giving details about the donation of this manuscript. The carefully woven-in text in Burmese characters is in white colour on red background.

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Printed cotton wrapper for a manuscript containing the Sarasangaha in 13 bundles of palm leaves in Khmer script. India and Thailand, 19th century. © British Library, Or 1044

Following the Bowring Treaties (1855 and 1874), trade between British Burma and Thailand increased, and Indian cotton cloth was imported via Moulmein while at the same time traders of Indian origin frequented markets in Thailand. As a result, printed Indian cotton was frequently used to produce manuscript textiles in Thailand and subsequently in Laos and Cambodia as well.

The cotton wrapper shown above has two layers: the inner layer was made from a piece of Thai hand-woven cotton in plain red colour, and the outer layer consists of a piece of printed cotton with flowers on a blue background. A note in gilt letters on black lacquer on the manuscript states that the manuscript was given to R. C. Childers, a British Buddhist scholar, by the monk Waskaduwe Subhuti of Colombo.

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Gilded and lacquered palm leaf manuscript of the Bhikkhu Pacit Atthakatha Path with a custom-made cotton wrapper with geometric designs and woven-in bamboo slats. Burma, 1856. © British Library, Or 16545

Boards made from wood or bamboo were frequently added to palm leaf manuscripts to protect them from damage, but also to increase the meritorious value with lavishly decorated boards. However, the majority of palm leaf manuscripts do not have wooden boards and are therefore at a higher risk of damage as they can get brittle or break when they are bent and handled frequently. To add stability to palm leaf bundles without wooden boards, they were stored in custom-made cotton wrappers that have woven-in bamboo slats. The variable width of the bamboo slats allowed the creation of colourful geometric patterns.

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Two manuscript wrappers and a binding tape (sazigyo) made from Burmese cotton. Burma, 19th century. © British Library, Or 12010

The two manuscript wrappers (above) are made from Burmese cotton that was dyed with natural dyes. Red, blue, yellow, black and green were the most commonly used natural dyes. Red dye can be made from betel nut, sappan wood or the lacquer produced by the Coccus lacca insect (shellac); indigo leaves are used to make blue dye; tamarind leaves, mangosteen sap, turmeric and annatto seeds are used for yellow and orange dyes; black dye is made from ebony seed pods or pepper root; and green dye can be made by mixing blue and yellow dyes, or from pineapple leaves, wild almond bark or the myrobalan fruit and bark. Thin bamboo strips are woven into the cotton for stability. A binding tape, or sazigyo (left) is often tied around the manuscript with the wrapper.

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To make indigo dye, indigo leaves are soaked in water for 24 hours, then fermented for several days with a mixture of quicklime, rice wine, citrus leaves and ash water from burnt coconut wood. Lao Textile Museum, Vientiane, Laos, 2019. Photograph by Jana Igunma

In addition to manuscript wrappers custom-made bags were used to store manuscripts in Thailand. These bags could be made from various materials like pieces of plain or printed cotton or Thai silk. Chintz that was imported from India was also used to make manuscript bags. The bag shown below was sewn using printed cotton with a red, brown and white floral design for the outer layer, and a handwoven Thai cotton inlay of cream-white colour. Its size is 87 cm x 45 cm to house a large palm leaf manuscript of at least 10-12 bundles.

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Printed cotton bag made to fit a large palm leaf manuscript. India or Sri Lanka (fabric) and Thailand (inlay, cord and tassels), 19th century. © British Library, Or 15885

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Detail of a silk bag with a silk brocade border and Thai saffron coloured cotton inlay, custom-made for a palm leaf manuscript. China (silk) and Thailand (inlay), 19th century. © British Library, Or 16926

Besides locally produced Thai silk, imported silk from China and India was used to produce bags to store palm leaf manuscripts. Shown above is a detail (opening) of a manuscript bag made from imported Chinese damask for the outer layer. The border of the opening is decorated with silk brocade, whereas the inlay is made from saffron coloured Thai cotton. This example shows why a tougher Thai cotton inlay was always added: silk deteriorates faster and, being a protein fibre, is a preferred and easy target for cloth-eating larvae of insects.

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Scrolled bound paper book containing the Mahasupina Jataka, with indigo-dyed cotton cover and a cotton binding cord. Shan State, Burma, 1860. © British Library, Or 3494

One special type of manuscript is the scrolled or curled bound book in the Shan tradition. The Shan, an ethnic group living in the Shan State (Burma), southern China, Assam and Thailand, have a very rich manuscript tradition which includes palm leaf manuscripts, paper folding books and scrolled paper books. The latter could be made from long sheets of bamboo shoot paper (also called silk paper) or mulberry paper which were sewn together at the top. At the back mostly a cotton cover was sewn on which served as a cover when the book was scrolled up. The example above contains the Mahasupina Jataka, a Birth Tale of the Buddha, on 20 folios. The cover is made from indigo-dyed hand-woven cotton with an attached braided cotton cord in pink and white colours.

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Scrolled bound paper book, half opened, containing a Buddhist text in Shan language, with a printed cotton cover and attached felt binding tape. Shan State, Burma, first half of the 20th century. © British Library, Or 15368. From Soren Egerod’s collection.

The manuscript shown above contains a text with the title ‘Tanasaksesasanathauktikha‘ in Shan script written on 59 folios which are bound together to form a scrolled book. The attached printed cotton cover has a red, green and blue coloured leaf pattern and plain white edges. On the inside is a white cotton inlay. Attached on the lower left corner is a green velvet binding tape to wrap around the scrolled manuscript.

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Scrolled bound book containing a Buddhist commentary on the Paṭṭhāna section of the Abhidhamma, written in Shan language, with a cotton and silk cover and hand-woven binding tape. Shan State, Burma, 1800-1867. © British Library, Or 4858

Textiles imported from Europe were also used to make manuscript wrappers, bags or covers for scrolled books. The scrolled book above, made from bamboo shoot paper (silk paper), has a cream-coloured cotton wrapper (34 x 54 cm) with an industrially printed design of small cylinders, combined with a red silk damask border. Attached is a hand-woven binding tape made from red, black and yellow threads. A handwritten note on paper provides the following information: “A Shan translation of one of the books of the Belagat or Pali scriptures. It was obtained by Mr. Cushing, an American missionary of my acquaintance, in the Province of Theinnee some 28 years ago. J E Halliday, 16 January 1895”.

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

Ruth Barnes, Steven Cohen, Rosemary Crill, Trade, temple and court. Indian textiles from the Tapi collection (Mumbai: India Book House, 2002)

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

Patricia Cheesman, Songsak Prangwatthanakun, Pha Lanna. Yuan, Lu, Lao – Lan Na textiles. Yuan, Lue, Lao (Bangkok: Amarin, 1987)

Patricia Cheesman Naenna, Costume and culture. Vanishing textiles of some of the Tai groups in Laos P.D.R. (Chiang Mai: Studio Naenna, 1990)

George Cœdès, The Vajirañāna National Library of Siam (Bangkok: Bangkok Times Press, 1924)

Susan Conway, Thai textiles (London: British Museum, 1992)

Jana Igunma and San San May (editors), Buddhism: Origins, traditions and contemporary life (London: British Library, 2019)

San San May and Jana Igunma, Buddhism illuminated: Manuscript art from Southeast Asia (London: British Library, 2018)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report from the SEALG Annual Meeting 2019, Leiden

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The Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asia Library Group 2019 took place on 28-29 June 2019 in the Rouffaer Room and the Vossius Conference Room at Leiden University Library (UBL) in Leiden, the Netherlands, and was organised by Doris Jedamski and Marije Plomp. Participants from Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom attended the meeting this year.

Participants:
Jana Igunma (British Library, London, UK)
Doris Jedamski (University Library, Leiden, Netherlands)
Rahadi Karni (formerly University Library, Leiden, Netherlands)
Marije Plomp (University Library, Leiden, Netherlands)
Holger Warnk (Library of Southeast Asian Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany)

Friday afternoon the participants gathered for the first part of the programme. Doris Jedamski welcomed the participants present, noticing that the vice chairperson had not yet arrived. Due to a mix-up, an anxious search for Holger Warnk was started in the library building. Finally, it turned out that he had not even reached Leiden yet but that he was stuck in a major traffic jam. With some delay but very relieved the group opened the first session with a presentation by Marije Plomp, entitled War, Love and Paintings; The Correspondence Between Emiria Sunassa and Willem Pijper (1940-1963). Emiria Sunassa was one of Indonesia’s first modern women painters. Emiria was ‘rediscovered’ only about a decade ago, whereas many of the male painters of her generation had long become well-established names in the history of Indonesian Modern Painting. Due to the lack of data on her personal life and work, many questions related to her career have remained unanswered. Last year, Leiden University came in possession of the private correspondence (or a part of it) between Emiria and G.F. Pijper, a Dutch islamologist. Notwithstanding the personal nature of these letters, they contain references to Emiria’s work and career that provide answers to some of those unanswered questions.

The second presentation of the afternoon was given by Doris Jedamski: Resident Hartman, His Wife, and a Mysterious Album Amicorum. The album, although in a saddening state, contains, among other things, a number of extraordinary drawings. They are dedicated to Mrs. Hartman but often show Javanese temples discovered and/or restored by her husband, the Resident of Magelang, C.L. Hartman. One very rare, superb drawing by F. Junghuhn springs out; it shows the Hartman Residency in 1840 – ten years after the famous Javanese Prince Diponegoro had been trapped there by the Dutch to be banished. Not only did Junghuhn write a personal dedication to Mrs Hartman on the sheet, he also added a short poem-like text. The mystery of this album, however, lays in the fact that a well-concealed, handwritten ex libris proves that the album had a prior owner before Resident Hartman presented it to his wife as a gift.

After the tea break Doris Jedamski had prepared a small pop-up exhibition of selected items and manuscripts from the UBL/KITLV collections. She also invited the participants to visit the exhibition on the ground floor presenting the three items from the UBL and KITLV collections that have been inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and related items.

In the evening the participants had dinner at The Prentenkabinet in Leiden. In preparation for the discussion scheduled for the Business Meeting on Saturday, the participants shared their thoughts on SEALG and its future: expectations, challenges and potential.

Saturday morning started with the South East Asia Library Group Annual Business Meeting.

Annual Business Meeting

After a short welcome the apologies of Christophe Caudron, Carina Enestarre, Annabel Teh Gallop, Claudia Götze-Sam, Per Hansen, Jotika Khur-Yearn, Mia Nilsson, and Margaret Nicholson were announced. Also San San May and Sud Chonchirdsin sent their apologies.

The minutes from the Annual meeting 2018 in Leiden, as well as the financial report that had been compiled by our treasurer Margaret Nicholson were presented and unanimously accepted by the present members. Margaret Nicholson had expressed her wish to step down as treasurer. She is willing to stay on until a successor has been found. The committee will seek a successor. Holger Warnk inquired if the so-called “Brexit” could have any impact on SEALG and its (modest) bank account in the UK. Jana Igunma explained that the account was set up before the UK joined the EU, hence no problems are to be expected.


Reports from the members:

Jana Igunma explained how she has been busy for the last two years with the preparations for the major exhibition on Buddhism in the British Library. Digitisation of Southeast Asian material at the BL continues, with Annabel Teh Gallop taking the lead in this initiative with manuscripts from insular Southeast Asia. Also, two staff members will retire in autumn 2019.

Holger Warnk informed the participants that his department might lose one junior professor. This will result in a lower budget for the library. The library will move to a new building yet to be built and with less space for the library. The library received several donations, among them two exhibitions (one on the caricaturist Zunar, whose work is banned in Malaysia). There is ongoing cataloguing work on the Kratz and the Vietnamese collection.

Marije Plomp has tried to expand the library’s acquisition by joining Library of Congress’ Collective Acquisition Program Southeast Asia for a two-year trial. Dropping student numbers for Southeast Asian Studies are disturbing. If this trend continues the library’s budget for SEA will be cut significantly (the KITLV budget is not dependent on student numbers). Other issues that keeps the subject librarian and her colleagues at the library busy: digital collections and copyright, a platform to offer access to sources in PDF and the need to preserve audiovisual collections through digitization.

With the Leiden University Libraries’ focus still on Asia, there is extra budget and thus extra work for the curator and subject librarian for South and Southeast Asia. As the convener of two double/triple panels at ICAS 2019 and as a presenter, Doris Jedamski is currently focusing on ICAS. She furthermore curated the current library exhibition on the three UNESCO items kept at Leiden University Libraries: Panji – Diponegoro – La Galigo. Furthermore she announced the successful wrapping up of the digitization project concerning a selection of ca. 260 Panji manuscripts.

After the institutional news, the group discussed the SEALG blog. In order to stimulate the contribution of blog posts it is suggested to set up a schedule. Contributors can contact Jana Igunma. In addition Jana proposes to ask SEALG presenters to convert their presentation in a blog post.

The main topic for this year’s Business Meeting was how to proceed with SEALG while facing a steadily growing workload and a shrinking number of active members. What is SEALG? What do we want it to be and what is feasible? These questions formed the basis for a lively discussion. Although the number of members participating in the yearly conference and attending the Annual Meeting has never been large, the number has been decreasing the last few years. This, in combination with recent developments in the field of European libraries holding Southeast Asian collections made that the need was felt to evaluate the current state of affairs. SEALG is a member organization with half of its members from outside Europe. All members are library or archive staff working with South-East Asian collections. One of the organisation’s main objectives is to provide a network or its members, facilitate the communication and exchange between libraries and researchers, and also to advance the education of the public in South-East Asian studies. At present SEALG activities comprise an annual conference and business meeting, a yearly Newsletter, a website, and a blog. The Newsletter and blog posts inform librarians, scholars and others interested in South-East Asian studies. The yearly conference and annual business meeting offers members the chance to share knowledge and experiences, as well as disseminate news about projects, digital initiatives, conferences, and exhibitions. Whenever the meeting is held to coincide with a larger conference, such as EUROSEAS for instance, SEALG strives to organize a conference panel.

The interest in the yearly SEALG-meetings seem to be decreasing, the number of members that attend the meetings is diminishing. One major factor that might be responsible for this is the lack of funding/support from the employer. Moreover, more and more South-East Asian collections are managed by subject librarians for Asia General. The enormous workload all library staff is facing does not help either, and library staff without Special Collections feel less appealed (SEALG’s output is often related to Special Collections). As one possible reason the point was also raised that holding the meeting twice in a row at the same location could have caused this year’s meagre participation. All members present at the meeting confirmed that they deemed it important and worthwhile to meet fellow librarians at the SEALG conference and Annual meeting for the exchange of knowledge and experiences, even in a small group. The annual meetings were seen as informative, inspiring and a good way to strengthen the network one could always rely upon for help and advice.

It was felt that SEALG could and should take some kind of action to attract more members to the conference. One important step would be to clearly communicate to the members that the topics presented and discussed are not exclusively related to Special Collections, on the contrary, topics are most welcome that are informative to librarians who work with modern collections only. Examples are copyright, metadata standards, workflows, acquisition, faculty liaison, library services for the various user groups, provenance issues, digitization and everything that comes with it, and so on. Hence, the invitations could be more specific, mentioning in particular topics that could be of interest to libraries with modern collections only.

It was also proposed to consider adjusting the conference format, as the idea of having to present a paper might discourage members to participate. Several panels with round table discussions on topics of immediate interest to the participants could be an alternative format.

Another point that came up was the possibility of engaging scholars in the conference by, for example, opening up the conference to the public. But it was also pointed out that there are just a few local academics working on Southeast Asia at any location that can host the annual SEALG conference.

An attempt could be made to reach out to each individual member by sending a personalized letter. To gain insight into what topics SEALG members are interested in, a survey among SEALG member was proposed.

Following the business meeting, the SEALG Annual Meeting continued with two presentations.

In her presentation Curating Buddhism Jana Igunma gave an account of her work as one of the curators of a major exhibition on Buddhism in the British Library. To be able to offer an exhibition that appealed to the public, an external consultant was involved at the stage of writing the initial proposal. In addition, visitor focus groups were invited to give feedback. This research resulted in four key messages that are addressed in the exhibition, 1) Diversity of Buddhist Culture, 2) Global Outreach of Buddhism, 3) Mindfulness and Contemporary Buddhist Practice, and 4) The Role of Women in Buddhism. One of the challenges was to offer a balanced geographic representation of Buddhism.

Holger Warnk’s presentation Cermin Mata: A Missionary Journal from 19th Century Singapore told the story of an early missionary journal printed in Jawi (Arabic script for Malay) in Benjamin Keasberry’s Missionary Printing House in Singapore in 1858. Much of the text was perhaps written by Keasberry and translated into Malay by Abdullah Munshi or Husin bin Ismail. Keasberry had a school where he trained young boys to become, among other professions, writers, printers and bookbinders.

The SEALG programme concluded with an extended lunch at the Hortus Botanicus.

This year’s Annual meeting, like last year’s meeting, was kindly sponsored by the UB Leiden.

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Interior view of the UB Leiden with entrance to the Asian Library.

 

 

Panji – Diponegoro – La Galigo from the UB Leiden/KITLV collections

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Three Indonesian heroes in the Memory of World Register of UNESCO

The Panji stories, the autobiography of Prince Diponegoro and the epos I La Galigo are narrative works from Indonesia that, in their very own way, bear relevance to the cultural history of the region. The Leiden University Libraries hold a substantial number of manuscripts related to those three heroes. With an exhibition the UB Leiden is currently celebrating the extraordinary fact that, over the years, the above-mentioned items have been included in the Memory of the World Register of the UNESCO.

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Cod.Or. 1965, Ken Tambuhan, one of the hundreds of Panji manuscripts held in Leiden. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

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Masks used for staging Panji plays (loan Clara Brakel). Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

Panji and I La Galigo stories always travelled between media, from dance performance to stage theatre to manuscript, from oral traditions and recitations to printed matters – the written text often being a mere ‘back up’ version. The exhibition focusses on the various forms of presentation of these stories.
Diponegoro, being an historic figure, takes a special stand in this group of Indonesian heroes.  However, the items on display confirm that historiography is just another form of narration (freely quoting Hayden White).

Adventures
Panji stories originate from Java but gained a growing popularity throughout Southeast Asia from the 14th and 15th centuries onwards, competing successfully with the dominating Indian epics. Within the Javanese narrative traditions the Panji stories may be considered the most popular genre, one that is meant to entertain. The UB Leiden holds hundreds of Panji manuscripts, c. 200 of which have been selected for the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. In essence and ignoring all the side tracks, these stories depict the adventures of the Javanese Prince Panji and his lost love, Princess Kirana (both keep changing their names continually). The narrative’s ingredients are universal: love, jealousy, even murder, grief and pain, and – at least in most of the Malay versions – a happy ending.

Rebellion
Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855), one of the first indigenous rulers to seek independence from the Dutch, wrote his chronicles in exile in North-Sulawesi. Tricked by the Dutch, he was captured in 1830 when he agreed to negotiations in Magelang. The original text has not even survived the 19th century, but an early Dutch translation could be preserved and is on display now. Diponegoro’s account is often championed as the first Indonesian autobiography, but more relevant is that it forms the core of a very powerful national narrative in the modern state of Indonesia.

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D Or 13 Buku Kedhung Kebo  (1866)
Javanese manuscript that presents (part of) the ancestral history commissioned by Raden Tumenggung Cokronegoro of Purworejo (formerly called Kedhung Kebo). Raden Cokronegoro was in office from 1830 until 1862 and as fierce an opponent of Diponegoro’s as he was a loyal ally to the Dutch. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

Genesis
Flourishing in South Sulawesi since the 14th century, this oral Buginese tradition was translated from the ancient Buginese and put in writing by Queen Siti Aisyah We Tenriolle of Tanete (and/or her daughter). This mythical epos, in fact a poem built upon a metre of five syllables, narrates the genesis from a Buginese perspective. The UB Leiden holds 12 volumes which form the largest and also the opening part of what is the most voluminous literary work in the world. The complete work is estimated to contain 6.000 folio-sized pages and, because of its enormous length, no single manuscript exists that contain the complete text.

 

 

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NBG Boeg 188 La Galigo. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

The Buginese, the largest ethnic group of South Sulawesi with an estimated population of 2.5 million people, have a distinct language and script. I La Galigo – apart from being considered sacred and by some an historical source – is certainly also an intriguing piece of literature.

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Cod.Or. 5475, a fragment of the La Galigo epos on palm leave (late 19th or early 20th century) . The strokes of palm leaves are sewed to form one long stroke. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

UNESCO Memory of the World

By enlisting them in the Memory of the World Register as cultural heritage to be protected, UNESCO has certified the cultural (and socio-historical) relevance of the above-depicted manuscripts. In cooperation with libraries in Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia, the Leiden University Libraries/KITLV already successfully gained this special status for the three heroes Panji, Diponegoro and La Galigo.
Maybe it’s now time for a woman?

The exhibition is still on until 1 September 2019.

(Doris Jedamski, University Library Leiden)

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