A Pali Manuscript from Burma

TCD MS 1642 f1

This manuscript (TCD MS 1642) from Burma, now known as Myanmar, bears the text of the Upasampada Kammavaca, the ordination service for Buddhist monks, and is one of a number of Burmese manuscripts housed in M&ARL .

When one of their sons became a monk, wealthy Burmese families often commissioned a copy of the Upasampada Kammavaca for presentation to the monastery their son was intending to enter. The ordination ceremony is one of the legal acts contained in the Buddhist Monastic Rule or Vinaya. The strict requirement to follow the Rule has meant that the ceremony has remained unchanged for thousands of years, since the time of the Buddha. It is still conducted in Pali, the original language of Buddhism.

Lacquered and gilded wooden cover

Lacquered and gilded wooden cover

This elaborately lacquered and gilded manuscript set comprises two wooden covers and nine leaves. The covers and leaves would have been tied together with string or by thin sticks of bamboo threaded through the hole in the left hand side. Each strip holds six lines of Pali script, written in the square Burmese style, in black magyi zi lacquer made from tamarind seed, between hatched borders. In this instance the leaves have been described as being made from plantain but Kammavaca leaves can also be made from palm leaf, ivory, copper and brass sheets, and sometimes from the old robes of a venerated monk.

Estelle Gittins