Highlights of Manuscripts from Wat Ban Hong Luang

Preserving Religious Manuscripts in Jember, East Java
November 5, 2022

Palm-leaf manuscript jointly written by four monks and novices

The documentation and digitization of manuscripts from Wat Ban Hong Luang, Ban Hong sub-district, Ban Hong district, Lamphun province, has been carried out in a project supported by DREAMSEA. A total of 752 palm-leaf fascicles were documented and digitized. The contents of these manuscripts are mostly related to Buddhist teachings, such as texts from the Tipiṭaka (the Pali canon), Jātaka stories, and Buddhist sermons. From the contents of the various texts recorded in palm-leaf manuscripts kept at Wat Ban Hong Luang, it is evident that Wat Ban Hong Luang once served as a centre of Buddhist teaching where monks and novices from communities in the neighbourhood and from further away came together to study the Teachings of the Buddha.

The studies at this monastery did not only involve in studying and practicing the teachings of their great monk-teachers on various occasions, but also in copying manuscripts as one study method. Because before copying any palm-leaf fascicle, the copyist had to read its contents first. Only then the copying of the text could start. Having finished the copying, the text had to be checked once again. If mistakes were found, they needed to be corrected before monks could use the manuscript in sermons and rituals or to be donated to a monastery. This is different from the present-day reading of books because the copyist would read the text to be inscribed at least three times. That means reading before copying, reading while copying, and reading for checking before a donation and use in sermons. This is a most interesting aspect of traditional knowledge about how studies need to be arranged.

In the past the learning of the Lan Na variant of the Dhamma script and the copying of palm-leaf manuscripts formed part of the curriculum of monastic learning and were required from all monks and novices. Apart from belonging to an ancient tradition of Buddhist scholarship, there was also the belief that the copying of manuscripts in various monasteries needed to be encouraged in order to ensure that the Teachings of the Buddha could be continued. But it was also believed that the copying of palm-leaf manuscripts give people the opportunity to make merit by sponsoring the making of manuscripts thereby enabling the scribes to earn some money.

An example from a palm-leaf manuscript kept at Wat Ban Hong Luang, Ban Hong sub-district, Ban Hong district, Lamphun province, inventoried and digitised by a grant from DREAMSEA

In general each palm-leaf fascicle was written by one scribe who inscribed the text from the first to the last leaf. But we have found quite a number of manuscripts at Wat Ban Hong Luang which were copied but more than one scribe, sometimes by two or three persons and in two cases even by four different persons.

Palm-leaf fascicle written by four scribes

Case 1: the palm-leaf manuscript entitled Phutthakhanana (Buddha-gaṇanā), one single fascicle (code: DS_0126_00222) totalling up to 24 palm-leaf folios, five lines for each side of a leaf, written in the year CS 1281 (1919 CE). The text is on the life of Lord Buddha Gotama both with regard to the accumulation of merit in his previous lives and concerning his present life as Prince Siddhartha who was bored of the Cycle of Rebirths, went out to become an ascetic and finally attained enlightenment. Then the text describes the propagation of Buddhism in various regions, the characteristics of the universe with Mount Meru as its centre, the orbit of the sun and the moon creating days, months and years. Furthermore, the text highlights the veneration of the Buddha after Lord Buddha Gotama’s Parinibbāna; one example is his bodily remains that were enshrined in various stupas. The text ends with the teachings to the Four Assemblies (Buddhaparisā) to know their tasks, to keep the precepts, and to meditate and chant for escaping from suffering and to attain the highest stage of happiness which means entering Nibbāna.

The four monks and novices who joined in the copying of the manuscripts were Phra Siwichai (monk), Phra Suriya (monk), Nen Khamphira (novice), and Nen Thammachai (novice) as is evident from the following colophon:

“[The writing of this manuscript] was finished on the new moon of the eleventh [lunar] month, a Monday [as] the Mon [say], a <em>kat hao</em> [day as] the Tai [say], in the afternoon, fully accomplished at that time, in the year CS 1281, a <em>kat met</em> year. We all have written (<em>khian khit taem</em>) this religious one-fascicle manuscript used for preaching which is titled <em>Phuttha khanana</em> to be donated to ensure that the Teachings of Lord Buddha Gotama will last until the end of 5,000 years according to the life of a palm-leaf.

<p>I, Phra Siwichai, wrote the initial part. Phra Suriya Bhikkhu, Nen Khamphira and Nen Thammachai wrote the following parts until it was accomplished. We all wish to reach the crystal city, the summit [of happiness which is] the Great Nibbāna. <em>Nibbāna niccaṃ dhuvaṃ</em>. [The manuscript] was written in a hurry [as] the sponsor (<em>cao phüan</em>) needed it urgently.”

The colophon at the end of this manuscripts has been written by Phra Siwichai who also provides the title of the inscribed text, Phuttha khanana (Calculations of the Buddha). The date when the writing (here: copying) of the manuscript was finished is given according to the Northern Thai lunar calendar, recording both the day of the week (Mon tradition) and the day of the 60-day cycle (Tai tradition). This date corresponds to Monday, 28 July 1919 of the Gregorian calendar. The year CS was indeed a kat met year (year of the goat, the first year of the decade). The wish that the meritorious deed of copying a religious text and sponsoring the making of the manuscript might contribute to the extension of the Teachings of the Buddha until the end of 5,000 year (or at least until the life palm leaves on which the religious texts were inscribed) is found widespread in colophons.

The benefits (anisong) derived from making manuscripts (either as sponsors and donors or as scribes) is believed to have a positive impact on future existences and eventually will pave the way to Nibbāna, i.e. the final escape from the Cycle of Rebirths which is the essential reason for the suffering of all sentient beings. The reason why our manuscript had an usually large number of scribes might have been the urgency with which the cao khamphi bailan (lit.: “lord ” + “friend, other person”), most likely the sponsor who commissioned the making of the manuscript, asked for obtaining the written artefact. Unfortunately we do not know how long it took the four scribes to inscribe the text on the palm leaves. However, from other cases we know that to inscribe a text on a fascicle (phuk) of twenty palm leaf pages (ten leaves inscribed on both sides) would need an experiences scribe two full days of work.

When examining the handwriting of the 47 inscribed palm-leaf sides (“pages”) on 24 folios of this manuscript, we arrive at the conclusion that Phra Siwichai, the principal scribe who also wrote the colophon, inscribed the first 16 pages (see folio 1 below).

Folio 1 recto, inscribed by Phra Siwichai
(DS_0126_00222_001)

Folio 9 verso and Folio 10 recto: The handwriting as seen by the form of the inscribed characters cleary differs from that of Folio 1 verso to Folio 16 verso
(DS_0126_00222_010)

From Folio 10 recto to Folio 12 verso the text might have been written by Phra Suriya following directly the text inscribed by Phra Siwichai.

Folios 12 verso and Folio 13 recto: The handwriting as seen by the form of the inscribed characters cleary differs from that of Folio 9 recto to Folio 12 verso.
(DS_0126_00222_013)

From Folio 13 recto to Folio 15 verso the text might have been written by Novice Khamphira following directly the text inscribed by Phra Suriya.

Folios 15 verso and Folio 16 recto were inscribed by different hands.
(DS_0126_00222_016)

From Folio 16 recto to Folio 23 verso the text might have been written by Novice Thammachai. The colophon (on Folio 24 recto) was written by Monk Suriya who started copying the manuscript, according to the following images.

Folios 23 verso and Folio 24 recto were inscribed by different hands.
(DS_0126_00222_024)

The colophon of this palm-leaf manuscript does not mention at which monastery the four scribes were ordained as monks and novices. However, when examining their names, the time when the writing took place and the characteristics of handwriting evidenced by other palm-leaf fascicles kept at Wat Ban Hong Luang – such as that of a manuscript entitled Chai Thang Cet (ไชยทัง 7) and inscribed by a monk called Phra Siwichai at Wat Huai Nam Dip (วัดห้วยน้ำดิบ; situated roughly two kilometres southeast of Wat Ban Hong Luang) – we may conclude that our manuscript titled Phuttha khanana was (partially) inscribed by the same monk Phra Siwichai and other monks and novices. Look at the two images below. The first image is from the last page 47 (folio 24 recto) of manuscript Phuttha khanana, the second image is from folio 22 verso of manuscript Chai Thang Cet, claimed in the colophon that the manuscript was inscribed by Monk Siwichai.

Comparison of the characteristic handwriting of Phra Siwichai as evident in Phuttha khanana (DS_0126_00222_024) and Chai Thang Cet (DS_0126_00218_023)

Case 2: The palm-leaf manuscript titled Maha Patthan (มหาปัฏฐาน) comprises one fascicle (Code: DS_0126_00343) and a total of 44 palm-leaf pages (or 22 folios inscribed on both sides). Each side or “page” runs over six lines. The writing of this manuscript was finished in the year CS 1252 (1890/91 CE). According to the colophon, there were four persons who joined in the endeavor of inscribing the text: Samanen Anon (novice), Samanen Chaimongkhon (novice), Samanen Ubali (novice), and Samanen Ano (novice). The colophon reads: “This religious manuscript was written by many hands, namely Anon wrote the beginning part, Chaimongkhon and Ubali wrote the following parts, while Ano wrote the final part. … [Altogether these were] four hands. All of them were novices (sāmaṇera)” (ธัมม์ผูกนี้แต้มหลายมือ แล อานนท์เขียนทังเคล้า ไชยมงคลเขียนถัด แลอุปาลีถัด แล้วอโนเขียนทังปลาย … 4 มือ สามเณรทังมวลแล). The above mentioned text states that the letters were inscribed on the surface of the palm leaves but black soot was not applied on the surface, so the inscribed letters are not clearly visible. Although the colophon states clearly that the fascicle was written by four scribes, it is difficult to determine with certainty which novice inscribed which parts of the manuscript.

Palm-leaf manuscripts titled Maha Patthan (Mahā Paṭṭhāna) (DS_0126_00343_019)

Palm-leaf fascicle written by three scribes

The palm-leaf manuscript titled Buarawng hong amat phuk 7 (Code: DS_0126_00408) was inscribed in the year CS 1227 by three scribes, namely Naratha (Nārada), Thananchai (Dhanañjaya), and Sommana (Samamaṇa), noted in the colophon as follows: “Naratha wrote (almost) all leaves, Thananchai wrote six pages, and Sommana wrote four pages.”

Palm-leaf fascicle written by two scribes

1.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Phraya Khang Khak, fascicle 3 (พระญาคางคาก ผูก 3) (Code: DS_0126_0060_042) was written in the year CS 1215. The colophon following the main text mentions the names of two scribes: Phra Panya (Paññā) and Phra Chaiyawut (Jeyyavuḑḍhi) inscribing the initial respectively the final part of the manuscript. The colophon reads: “We two monks, Paññā Bhikkhu inscribed the initial part, Jeyyavuḍḍhi inscribed the final part.” (ตูข้า 2 ตนเข้ากัน ปัญญาภิกขุ อัตโนริสสนาทังเคล้าแลเจ้าเหย ไชยวุฑฒิริสสนาทังปลาย แล) Although it is stated that two scribes helped each other, we are not able to identify exactly which folios were inscribed by whom.

2.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Suwannasang, fascile 4 (สุวัณณสังข์ ผูก 4) (Code: DS_0126_00265) was written in the year CS 1248 (1886 CE). The colophon at the end of the main text states that the manuscript was written by two scribes: Samanen (Novice) Intha who inscribed the initial part, and Phra (Monk) Teja who inscribed the final part, during their monkhood stay at Wat Ban Hong Luang when Khruba Sommana was abbot. The colophon states: “In CS 1248, a rwai set year, [the writing] was finished. Novice Intha wrote the initial part, Monk Teja wrote the final part. Our handwritings are not beautiful. We wrote [this manuscript] at the time when Khruba Sommana was abbot at Wat Ban Hong Luang, on that very day.” (จุลศักราชได้ ๑๒๔๘ ตัวปีรวายเส็ดแล้ว อินทาสามเณรเขียนทังเคล้า เตชะภิกขุเขียนทังปลายตัวบ่งามหลายแล เจ้าเขียนปางเมื่อปฏิบัติสวาธุครูบา สมมณะวัดบ้านโห้งหลวง วันนั้นแล)

3.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Phraya Khang Khak, fascile 1 (พระญาคางคาก ผูก 1) (Code: DS_0126_00268) was written in the year CS 1230 (1868 CE). The colophon at the end of the main text states that the manuscript was written by two scribes: Phra Sommana who wrote the initial part and Phra Thephin who wrote the final part. The colophon reads: “[The writing was finished] in CS 1230, a poek si year, Phra Sommana wrote the initial part, [Phra] Thepin wrote the final part. [Our handwritinga] are not beautiful at all.” (จุลศักราชได้ ๑๒๓๐ ปีเปิกสี.. สมมณะเขียนทังเคล้า เทพินเขียนทังปลาย บ่สู้งามหลายแล)

4.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Maha Wibak, fascicle 3 (มหาวิบาก ผูก 3) (Code: DS_0126_00276) was written in the year CS 1283 (1921 CE). The colophon at the end of the main text states that the manuscript was written by two scribes: Novice Thammachai who wrote the initial part and Novice Mahawan who wrote the final part. The colophon reads: “We, the principal monastic supporters, Novice Thammachai who wrote the initial part and Novice Mahawan who wrote the final part. (…) wrote at the time when Venerable Mahawong was the abbot of Wat Si Bun Hüang Ban Hong Luang.” (มูลสัทธาข้าพเจ้าเณรธัมมไชย เขียนทังเคล้าข้าพเจ้า เณรมหาวัน เขียนทังปลาย … เขียนปาง เมื่อปฏิบัติสวาธุเจ้ามหาวงส์ วัดสรีบุญเรืองบ้านโห้งหลวง)

5.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Maha Wibak, fascicle 4 (มหาวิบาก ผูก 4) (Code: DS_0126_00277) was written in the year CS 1283 (1921 CE). The colophon at the end of the main text states that the manuscript was written by two scribes: Phra Mahawong who wrote the initial part and Novice Thammachai who wrote the final part. The colophon reads: “Thu Cao Mahawong wrote the initial part. I, Novice Thammachai, wrote the final part. Our handwritings are not beautiful. (ทุเจ้ามหาวงส์ เขียนทังเคล้า ข้าพเจ้าธัมมไชยสามเณร เขียนทังปลาย ตัวบ่งามสักคายแล)

6.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Winai Hòm, fascicle 2 (วินัยรอม ผูก 2) (Code: DS_0126_00338) was written in the year BE 2480 (1937 CE). The colophon at the end of the main text states that the manuscript was written by two scribes: Nan (ex-monk) Chu who wrote the initial part and Nòi (ex-novice) Khong who wrote the final part. The colophon reads: “In [B]E 2480, a müang pao year (…) Nan Chu wrote the initial part, and I, Nòi Khong, wrote the final part.” (ศักราชได้ ๒๔๘๐ ปีเมืองเป้า…หนานชูเขียนทังเคล้า ข้าเจ้าน้อยฅง เขียนทังปลายแล)

7.) The palm-leaf manuscript entitled Suttasom Chadok (สุตตโสมชาดก) (Code: DS_0126_00342) was written in the year BE 2480 (1937 CE). The colophon at the end of the main text states that the manuscript was written by two scribes: Novice Cankaeo who wrote the initial part and Novice Yong who wrote the final part, as is stated in the following text: “In the year BE 2480, Novice Cankaeo wrote the initial part and I, Novice Yong, wrote the final part at the time when Venerable Mahawong was the abbot of Wat Ban Hong, on that very day.” (พุทธศักราช ได้ ๒๔๘๐ ตัวปีแล สามเณรจันท์แก้ว เขียนทังเคล้า ข้าพเจ้าสามเณรโยง เขียนทังปลาย ปางเมื่ออยู่ปฏิบัติสวาธุ เจ้ามหาวงส์ วัดบ้านโห้ง วันนั้นแล)

In general there are very few fascicles of manuscripts written by more than one scribe. The corpus of manuscripts – both palm-leaf and mulberry paper manuscripts – kept at Wat Monthian, Nai Wiang sub-district, Müang district, Nan province, comprising a total of 802 fascicles or volumes has only two fascicles that were written by more than one scribe. One of these manuscripts is entitled Anisong Buat (Benefits derived from ordaining) (Code: DS_0113_00046). This manuscript was written by two scribes named Samanen (Novice) Thòngkham and Phra (Monk) Anurot, according to the colophon: “[The writing] was finished at the time of the sunset drum by myself, Novice Thòngkham and Phra Anurot [who copied] the final part”. The other case is a palm-leaf manuscript titled Lem Luang (DS_0113_00155) where we have only indirect evidence of a collaborative work of more than one scribe. The colophon, written by Monk Bunchün Wannacit, states that “the handwriting is not beautiful and full of mistakes as [we] helped each other to write [the text]”. (ตัวก็บ่งาม หยุ้งเตมธี เหตุช่วยกันเขียน). In contrast the repository of manuscripts kept at Wat Ban Hong Luang, though even slightly smaller than that of Wat Monthian, comprises at least ten fascicles which were the collaborative effort of two, three or even four scribes. It would be a useful effort to study the reasons for the exceptional case of Wat Ban Hong Luang.

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