A Sinhalese Palm-Leaf Book in Deconstructed and Reconstructed Order

April 8, 2021 in Manuscript Studies

A Sinhalese Palm-Leaf Book
with Chopped and Disordered Leaves

A Cautionary Tale

Recently, we were contacted by a private collector, reading our blogposts and wondering about a book which had come through inheritance, without any identification to speak of.  The bare bones of information relayed got the object indicated “that it is a Buddhist book, with handwritten pages of about 33 leaves written on both sides”.  But what language?  Is it manuscript or print?  Etc.?

Private Collection, Sinhalese Palm-Leaf Manuscript, End-Leaf 01, Left.

Private Collection, Sinhalese Palm-Leaf Manuscript, End-Leaf 01, Left.

A few photographs gave some first glimpses.  (See below.)  With them, we conferred among ourselves, and offered a preliminary description.  It includes a brief guide about how to proceed, if wished, to examine the artefact more closely.

Mind you, we are talking in a time of pandemic and Bibliographical Lockdown.  (See, with some observations about escape routes, Selbold Cartulary Fragments, including some resourceful tips. Summed up as: “When all else fails, read the text.”)

Images are an amazing resource, of course, but what photographs might we seek to take, and how to look at them?  That question might come to the fore if, perchance, you don’t know what sort of book it is, let alone what language?  What if you can’t read the text?  And which way is up?

I phrase the questions this way because, in part, I can’t (yet) read every language (Can Dream!), decipher every script, etc., etc.

Perhaps you too?

Willing to learn?  At least some rudiments appropriate for the particular artefact?  Yes?

Read On!

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