Image: Palm Leaf Manuscript, Sri Lanka E29058A

Palm Leaf Manuscript, Sri Lanka E29058A

Palm Leaf Manuscript, probably late 19th century - Sri Lanka.


Stan Florek
© Australian Museum


This palm leaf manuscript was acquired by exchange from the Colombo Museum – now the National Museum of Sri Lanka - in the 1920s. Described as ‘Satipatthana Sutra’ the manuscript is the aphorismic collection of Buddhist formulas for attaining mindfulness through the various steps of meditation, probably written in Sinhalese script.

Manuscripts like this were first used in south India and Sri Lanka, at least in the 5th century BCE, and probably much earlier. They were instrumental in propagating Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as related religious texts and literature in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Trimmed, flattened and dried leaves were first smoothed by sanding. The writing, from left to right, was done with a needle-like stylus, which cut into the surface of the leaf, but was almost invisible. To complete the writing, the leaf was covered, like in the etching process, with sooth or pigment, frequently mixed with oil. When the pigment was cleaned from the surface, the dark residue was firmly lodged in the scratched writing. Writing was often done on both sides of the leaf. Sometimes illustrations were added to accompany a text. Individual leaves were then put together by stringing them through one or more holes, which were made before the lines of writing were composed on each leaf. Such a completed bundle was protected by two panels made from wood, ivory or other material, frequently decorated.


BCE – means Before Common Era, and indicates the years counted back from the first year of the Western Calendar. For example, in 30 BCE Rome conquered Egypt and Cleopatra took her own life.




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