Takagi, Yoriko Chudo, Reiko Maeda
November 14, 2005
During the summer of 2005, the conservation and digitisation of 400 rolled palm leaf manuscripts with clay seals (fig. 01, below) housed at the Asa Archives in Kathmandu was carried out over a period of 6 weeks.
The Asa Archives is a public library named after the late Mr Asha Man Singha Kansakar, father of the late Mr. Prem Bahadur Kansakar (1917-1991), a prominent activist, social worker, educationist and Newar writer who had founded several social, cultural, literary and educational institutions. Their personal collections and later additions of the manuscripts became the base of the Archives which opened to the public in 1987. The archives houses more than 6,700 manuscripts, including Buddhist and Hindu texts, medical texts, manuals of magic and necromancy, astrology, astronomy, Vedic, Purana and Tantric text. Land grants written on rolled palm leaf manuscripts with clay seals are unique to Nepal.
Archives is one of the very few institutions in Nepal to have digitised
nearly its entire collection of manuscripts. The one exception was the
collection of the rolled palm leaf manuscripts which were not digitised
because of the difficulty of even opening them without causing damage.
The Rolled Palm Leaf Manuscripts
“Since palm leaf is not native to Nepal, one can presume that the tradition of writing in this medium was introduced into the country from the Indian plains probably during the Lichchhavi period (330-879 AD)” (Pal & Meech-Pekarik, 1982, p. 95).
Leaves of Talipot (Corypha umbraculifera Linn) and Palmyra (Borassus flabellifer Linn) were both found among the manuscripts in the Asa Archives. Talipot is far superior as writing material; longer, wider, lighter in colour with a smooth and supple surface, whereas the Palmyra leaf is shorter, narrower, thicker, corser and tends to become brittle and prone to physical damage.
There are approximately 1000 catalogued and 300 uncatalogued rolled palm leaf manuscripts in the archives, making it the largest collection of its kind in Nepal. They are land grant documents commonly called tamsuk in both Nepali and Newari (Nepal Bhasa). The oldest tamsuk among the 400 conserved is dated 1337AD (Newari Samvat 457) and they run up to the 17th century. The languages used are Nepali and Newari (Nepal Bhasa) mixed with Sanskrit. The scripts generally used are Bhujimmola, Devanagari and Prachalita.
Out of the 400 tamsuk the longest was 1m 27cm excluding the part which was folded several times under the seal. The shortest complete manuscript was 25.7cm. The average length was 55.2cm. The natural shape of a palm leaf is generally widest in the middle and tapered towards both ends. The width in the middle varied between 1.5cm and 5.5cm.
At the head of each tamsuk, an unfired dark grey clay seal varying in design and in size between 8mm and 2.8cm, is affixed over a knot of palm leaf strips which secured
The tail end is generally cut off a little and folded once. This folded line was found to be weak and many were broken off completely.
A few tamsuk show half a design of intricate patterns at either the head or the end of the document.
“The agreement was written in two identical copies on the right and the left side of a single strip of palm leaf, the two copies being separated by the fleuron. Upon ratification of the agreement, each party was issued with one part” (Kölver & Shakya, 1985, p. 26).
The text was normally written on one side only but occasionally codicils, brief notes or numbers were added on the verso.
The text was written on the surface, presumably with a reed pen and carbon based ink, rather than incised.
of the tamsuk
151 rolls out of 400 (38%) were damaged to a various extent by mice (figs. 03 and 04, below). Unexpectedly only 12 rolls were damaged by insects (fig. 05, below). A few suffered from mould damage especially around and underneath the seals.
184 rolls (46%) had previous cellotape repairs. Sometimes the entire surface of the palm leaf was covered with cellotape (figs. 06 and 07, below).
The clay seals of 175 rolls (44%) were either completely missing, separated from the palm leaf strip on which the seal was partially imbedded, or cracked.
Many manuscripts suffered numerous vertical cracks, folds and tears as the result of the rolls having been pressed down over the years.
Surprisingly the condition of the text itself was found generally sound, apart from some smudges or frayed surface making the text illegible.
The both surfaces of the palm leaves were cleaned with cotton swabs moistened with ethanol, avoiding the text area. All the cellotape, masking tape and other old repairs were removed and residue cleaned mostly with acetone (fig.11, above). All the tears were repaired using 100% Kozo fibre Japanese papers of different weights which were toned with Cartasol K dyes (cationic, direct dyes developed especially for predominantly wood-free pulp paper) in various shades. The dyes have been used in the British Library for quite some time, have shown good colour fastness and are stable. The vertical folds and creases were also supported with repair paper from the verso (figs. 12 and 13, above). The loose or faulty seal attachments were also strengthened (fig. 14 and 15, below).
was chosen as an adhesive mainly in consideration of climatic conditions
in Kathmandu, where during the summer monsoon months relative humidity
stays around 60% or over and the temperature 28-310 C.
Measuring, Record Keeping and Storage
manuscripts were wrapped in 14g/M2 Lokta paper softened by hand-squeezing.
can imagine the kayasthas (official scribes) in Mediaeval Nepal
carefully choosing a prepared and polished palm leaf, short or long, wide
or narrow depending on the length of the text he is about to record, from
a bundle of palm leaves which must have been carried from Indian plains
partly on the backs of men over passes and through jungles. He would then
write out the document, fold the head part of the leaf several times and
make a small incision for the palm leaf strip to go through and tie a
knot to secure the folded part. Finally, he would take a small amount
of round soft clay to impress his particular seal over it (fig. 20). When
the seal was dry the palm leaf would be rolled tightly for safe keeping.
project for 2005 was partially funded by the Japan Foundation.
(1996). Kathmandu: The Asa Archives, Publisher.