PRESERVING 12,743 PALM LEAF MANUSCRIPTS IN LUANG PRABANG

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DREAMSEA, Luang Prabang – The mission to preserve and document endangered and affected collections of Southeast Asian manuscripts is continued on the Mainland. From January to May 2019 DREAMSEA will digitise a large number of manuscripts from the Buddhist monastery of Vat Maha That Rasabovoravihan in the ancient Lao capital Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1995. This recent mission in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is carried out under the leadership of Dr. Khamvone Boulyaphonh, who has been the Director of the Buddhist Archives of Luang Prabang since September 2018.

One of the oldest and interesting manuscript entitled Nithan Phanya Chüang (The Chronicle of King Chüang) was produced in AD 1792.

In its second phase, the mission will digitise at least 12,700 palm-leaf manuscript pages from the collection of Vat Maha That. It includes a collection of ten fascicles of one of the oldest and a most interesting manuscript (DS0011_00519–28) dated Cullasakkarat (CS) 1154,on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth (Lao) lunar month (corresponding to Thursday, 5 July 1792 CE). The manuscript comprising ten fascicles (phuk) bears the title Maha Nithan Phanya Chüang(The Great Chronicle of King Chüang). King Chüang is a cultural hero revered not only by the Lao but by many other Thai speaking (and even non-Thai speaking) ethnic groups in the Upper Mekong valley who is supposed to have lived inthe twelfth century. The king ruled over Lan Na, present-day northern Thailand and is considered by the Tai Lü as the founder king of their own principality, Sipsòng Panna, in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.

Portrait of the Most Venerable Pha Phui Thirachitta Maha Thela (1925–2005) who was a scribe and archivist of manuscripts at Vat Maha That. The photograph was taken probably in the 1950s. Silver gelatine DOP print, collection of Vat Mai Suvannaphumaram, Buddhist Archive No. H1313

Moreover, we found manuscripts containing the intellectual work of the Most Venerable Pha Phui Thirachitta Maha Thera, abbot of Vat Maha That. He was the scribe of at least 64 manuscripts and during his lifetime, the manuscripts at Vat Maha That had been taken good care of and were still in fine order. Because of his work on these manuscripts, the Venerable Abbot is regarded a great contributor and one of the outstanding intellectual monks of Luang Prabang in the twentieth century. Since his death this large and unique manuscript collection has deteriorated due to lack of proper care and insect damage and because of the humid climate of the region. [KB]

 

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