Detail of palm-leaf manuscript, Pali MS 9
Behind the scenes Photography Short read

Digitising the Sinhalese Palm Leaf Manuscripts 

Rylands, Paramaththa and ICTB UK have digitised thirty-two Sinhalese Manuscripts to open up access to the collection

The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Paramaththa and the International Centre for Theravada Buddhism UK (ICTB UK) have digitised thirty-two Sinhalese Manuscripts and made them freely available online

Copyright ⓒ 2022 Sinhalese Palm Leaf Manuscripts Digitisation by International Centre for Theravada Buddhism UK. All Rights Reserved. 

In this video produced by ICTB UK, Rylands Senior Photographer, Jamie Robinson, talks about how these often fragile and difficult to handle manuscripts were digitised to open up access.  

The Collection

The Library holds over seventy manuscripts from Sri Lanka, the majority of which are in the Pali language in Sinhalese script. The collection primarily concerns Theravada Buddhism, but texts cover a range of subjects.

The manuscripts date from the 17th-19th centuries and include some unusually complete copies made by Sri Lankan scholars for the scholar T.W. Rhys Davis. Most of the Pali manuscripts are written on palm leaves, but there are also manuscripts written on paper. 

Such palm-leaf collections record important Buddhist scripture and early indigenous knowledge of medicine, literature, agriculture, astrology and the arts. They are the primary historical sources that chronicle the linguistic, cultural and technological development of Sri Lanka and its people and are of both anthropological and theological value.

The Rylands collection includes a significant number of manuscripts attributed to the Theravada canon and many have been published by the Pali Text Society. There are exceptionally complete manuscripts of the Pattāna Prakarana and Nettipakarana, which are rare even in Sri Lanka.

The digitisation project 

Digitisation of these manuscripts ensures access to primary sources for the Theravada canon, contributing to contemporary theological and historical discourse. 

Digital images of the manuscripts are now freely accessible to anyone in the world through the Library’s Digital Collections platform. 

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