The Description of The Materials of Ancient Manuscripts

In the previous discourse, I confessed that most of the oldest manuscripts of eastern India demolished by the adverse situation of the climates and the assault of the enemies; however, there are a very few of those ancient jewels are still conserved in the National Museum of Delhi, Indian Museum of Calcutta and in the Bharat Kala Bhavan of Varanasi.


In this episode, I am about to define the materials of those ancient manuscripts and the structural variation based on the spiritual communities stated above and the locations. Undeniably we astonished to observe the artistic sense that even reflects the modernism in the art of those oldest manuscripts. Indeed it is noticeable that Indian art never recognized the form that meets with the outer part of the object.  In my previous discussion related to the Indian grammar of painting, I clarified how Indian art always have tried to reform the outer world in its artistic vision and why did Indian artists do so.


Now, we have to find out the significant factors of the manuscript art that also related to the materials. First, we see that all the oldest manuscripts have written in the black ink. How it was prepared? It came from the black smut formed by the fire. They normally hold a metal plate over the fire lamp for a while and the black smut grasp under the plate. In the next, they mixed some oil with the smut gently. It’s also the oldest process to get the collyrium used to make the eye more pleasant. After mixing the oil, it prepared as a liquid writing ink, and they used the reed as a pen. It made wonderful calligraphy with square type fonts on both sides of the paper, left and right. Who comprehends the Sanskrit language, will be able to read it clearly out of any disturbance. It looks like the engraving font on the paper. 

Here I used the word “Paper”, however, it was not a paper. It’s a leaf of the palm or Palmyra used as a writing paper. Below is a demo of a manuscript wrote on a palm leaf by using the shaivism[1] language.

Ancient palm leaf manuscript of the 9th century discovered in the Nepal. Attribution - ಶ್ರೀ [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In eastern India, it was known as “Teret” paper. There was another material to write on, known as cotton Paper came from Nepal. But the ‘Teret’ paper was popular because of its durability. All the papers sized horizontally in several pieces. In most of the cases, it was 90 centimeter in wide and the height was 7 ½  centimeters. The row of writing was along with its length. In each paper, the number of rows composed in minimum 5 to maximum 7. The manuscripts without illustration, written by obtaining a little gape of the hole of bookbinding located at the edges of the manuscript. In the manuscripts with illustration, the author wrote the script by obtaining a square blank space for illustration and after completing the scripture; another artist composed all the illustrations where necessary. It means a manuscript with illustration, completed by the artist along with the author. In another discourse, I found a piece of evidence where stated, the work of writing and illustrating a manuscript was too hard. It described as, - broken shoulder, tiny throat, depressed face, and grasped palm. Those segments of words affirmed us how tough it was.  It also suggested in each manuscript, how to retain the manuscript carefully as it is your duty to respect the dignity of this manuscript.


In both sides of the wide, there were two holes to put the yarn, however, in some of them, the hole was also located in the middle. It used to bind the manuscript. In each manuscript, there was a bit of caution for the users, how to maintain it, do and don’t etc. In some of the oldest manuscripts, the writing has done on both sides (front and back) of the pages.

Usually, there were three paintings demonstrated in each decorated pages of the manuscripts; one of those was in the middle and rest of two were on both edges of the manuscripts. However, exceptionally we can see one large size painting in the middle or sometimes just on both sides of the manuscripts. In a few of those, we can see some beautiful ornamental decoration illustrated in the blank space of the ending page. Illustrations also composed in both sides of the cover pages as necessary, however, most of the cover pages of those oldest manuscripts wrecked since it was the fashion to make worship of those ancient manuscripts and therefore, cover illustrations tattered by the layers of water, sandalwood, rotten flowers, and minium. Below, I demonstrated an ancient illustrated manuscript of Kalpa Sutra[2].

Kalpa Sutra, a Jain scripture.

The decoration we are observing here made in several colors that they prepared from different resources. Yellow made from natural turmeric, blue came from stones, red, they prepared from red iron mixed with stone dust, white came from lime and black produced from the smut of the fire lamp as I stated above. If we tend to concentrate our mind on the letters of those manuscripts, we will see that the manuscripts of eastern India and Nepal written in the dark black, however, in Jain manuscripts, the darkness of black have gotten fade in some places of the manuscripts, because it was necessary to write the manuscript in gray color in order to keep the corresponding value with illustration.


will continue in next episode


 1. Shaivism is one of the major traditions within Hinduism that reveres Shiva as the Supreme Being. The followers of Shaivism are called "Shaivites" or "Saivites". It is one of the largest sects that believe Shiva — worshipped as a creator and destroyer of worlds — is the supreme god over all. The Shaiva have many sub-traditions, ranging from devotional dualistic theism such as Shaiva Siddhanta to yoga-oriented monistic non-theism such as Kashmiri Shaivism. It considers both the Vedas and the Agama texts as important sources of theology. The origin of Shaivism may be traced to the conception of Rudra in the Rig Veda.


2. The Kalpa Sūtra (Sanskrit: कल्पसूत्र) is a Jain text containing the biographies of the Jain Tirthankaras, notably Parshvanatha and Mahavira.  Traditionally ascribed to Bhadrabahu, which would place it in the 4th century BCE. it was probably put to writing only after 980 or 993 years after the Nirvana(Moksha) of Mahavira.


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Last updated on - 25.09.2023