Identify antique text/document
September 22, 2010 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Could anyone identify this antique document written in an unknown script (Kashmiri?) and perhaps comment on its purpose? (Pictures inside)

The item is of considerable age. It consists of several hundred loose sheets within two wood covers, and is handwritten. Can anyone identify the script, the function of the object, and any gist as to what it says? Perhaps similar in function to a prayer scroll? Or a family history? Many thanks in advance.

Photos - one, two, three, four.
posted by Petromyzon to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My initial guess: Sanskrit or some other language written in a Devanagari script. Religious book such as the Rig Vedas or Upanishads, for use by a priest to study or read from during a puja (prayer ritual). I'll ask my mom when she wakes up from her nap.

posted by brainwane at 12:06 PM on September 22, 2010

That looks like a bit like a palm leaf manuscript, of the sort that once came into me at National Library of Scotland. If I remember the ones I saw came from Orissa, but it doesn't have the holes I'd expect, so I could be wrong.
posted by Flitcraft at 12:08 PM on September 22, 2010

A friend has one - she says that it is the teachings of the Buddha - the Tripitaka if I recall correctly.

See a similar one here or here. They were originally printed on palm leaves bound between wooden covers.
posted by foobario at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2010

Best answer: I agree with brainwane that it's likely a Devanagari text (here's a link to a sutra in Devanagari); Burhanistan's on the right track as regards the sutra format but it's not Tibetan (that script is derived from Siddham IIRC, a close cousin of Devanagari in the Indic family, so looks similar if you don't read either) going off the first and last images (foobario's second linked image is of a Tibetan sutra and if you look closely you should be able to spot the differences).
I did study Tibetan but not any of the languages that used the Devanagari script, so that's about what my twopenn'orth is worth.
posted by Abiezer at 1:12 PM on September 22, 2010

Best answer: My mom, who can read Sanskrit, says this is a script similar to and related to Devanagari. There are some Sanskrit letters, so this might be really old Sanskrit or Nepali or Kashmiri. She thinks it's really old Sanskrit.

The dot-in-the-middle-of-the-star-and-circle is an Indian symbol: the basis of Sri Chakra, a puja we do to invite "shakti" (energy).

"Satya Namaha" shows up in the upper left hand corner of Picture 3. "Satya" is a Sanskrit word meaning "truth," and "Namaha" is a Sanskrit word meaning "I bow (to)."

More soon!
posted by brainwane at 2:37 PM on September 22, 2010

Best answer: (You have the pages in picture #4 upside down, by the way.)

Picture #3 features a few more Sanskrit words and phrases.

The upper right hand writing in photo #3 also includes "Sam.," abbreviation for "samputta" or "volume number" in Sanskrit -- possibly #886. So this would be the 886th volume in a series.

Then the next legible line is "Sampradattam pusthakam": another Sanskrit phrase. Idiomatically, it means "someone gave this book with love" or "somebody gave this book with blessings."

On a line underneath that is "Asharavadi," a Sanskrit word meaning "blessings" or "begging for blessings."

One of the lines written vertically across the page has "prarthaya," a Sanskrit word for prayer.

Hope this helps!

I am still curious: where did the book come from?

My mom knows a guy who is apparently one of the top 20 people in the world in Sanskrit (he spoke in Sanskrit at my dad's funeral this summer) so let me know if you'd like to get in touch with him.
posted by brainwane at 2:52 PM on September 22, 2010

Best answer: My mom thinks the title of this volume is "Asharavadi." (Note that of course transliteration here will be debatable.)
posted by brainwane at 2:54 PM on September 22, 2010

Palm leaf books with wooden covers were common across all of Indian influence Asia. They're usually pierced through with two cords so that the leaves stay together and in order when the book is opened up, but the book can still be closed and wrapped tight with the cords when not in use. I've seen examples from afar afield as Yogkakarta and Mumbai.

The text is applied with a metal stylus to a green palm leaf, and then the leaf is allowed to dry. Once it has, the text stands out in black against cream as it does in yours.

They're still made with Pali text in Khmer script as a training exercise for young monks in Cambodia (and probably also by senior monks copying important texts but I haven't actually seen that myself). The training books are often sold to tourists to raise funds for temples.

Where's yours from?
posted by Ahab at 10:04 PM on September 22, 2010

D'oh. "Yogya..."
posted by Ahab at 10:09 PM on September 22, 2010

PDF about the production of Indian palm leaf manuscripts here. Describes two or three methods other than the one I mentioned.
posted by Ahab at 7:07 AM on September 23, 2010

Response by poster: A very big thanks for all your contributions - especially to brainwane and her mom!!

Some of you asked about provenance - the manuscript turned up at a recent estate sale I attended and I was sufficiently intrigued, by it's mystery and obvious age, to put in a bid or two!
posted by Petromyzon at 2:43 PM on September 23, 2010

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