Kammavaca Manuscript Set (Leaves & Covers)
length: 54.5cm, width: 9.8cm
This lavishly gilded and red and black lacquered kammavaca manuscript set comprises two wooden covers with shwe zawa work on the outer faces, and twelve pages. The pages have been fabricated from palm leaf and then lacquered. (Later examples of kammavaca leaves tend to be made from lacquered textile, ivory, copper and brass sheets.)
The covers are decorated in gold leaf and red lacquer with six roundels against scrolling vegetal backgrounds. The roundels of one are filled with
Karawaik bird motifs, and with open lotus flowers for the other. (Almost identical covers are shown in Singer (1993) – these also are attributed to the 18th century.)
Each leaf holds five lines of Pali script (later
ie 19th and 20th century examples have six or seven lines of script) written in square Burmese script in black magyi zi lacquer made from tamarind seed, between intertextual hatched (yazamat) borders that are also filled with leaf sprays and occasionally, small bird motifs (characteristic of late 18th century motifs). Each leaf is numbered in Burmese script in red lacquer on one side only.Kammavaca manuscripts were presented to novice monks and typically contained the rules and instructions of the monastery. Commissioning and presenting such manuscripts earned the laity merit and often were presented to mark important life cycle events such as an important birthday, marriage or birth. The manuscripts are read horizontally, from left to right. Each page is turned away from the reader once it has been read. The sets were handled with reverence and care.
The condition of this example is very good, particularly given the fragile nature of the pages, being lacquer on palm leaf. There are some losses to the edges of some pages and to the lacquer but this is relatively minor. Overall, the condition unusually fine for an eighteenth century palm leaf
Singer, N., ‘Kammavaca texts: their covers and binding ribbons’, Arts of Asia, May-June 1993; Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Lacquerware, White Orchid Books, 2000; Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994; and Isaacs, R., & T.R. Blurton, Burma and the Art of Lacquer, River Books, 2000.
Inventory no.: 786
Detail showing the use of small bird motifs between the lines of text.