Monday, March 10, 2008
Sinhalese palm-leaf manuscripts
In order to better understand the origins of the letterforms of South Asian scripts, I've been searching for the earliest writings and printing samples I can find. In contrast to the calligraphic forms of handwritten Sanskrit, the Dravidian scripts of South South Asia are distinctively curved and don't seem to have been originally created by same writing implement. So I was delighted to find a GREAT article about the creation of palm-leaf manuscripts - and how Sinhalese was written onto the leaves!
" The scribe, usually a monk or a scholar, uses a stylus for writing. The scribe places the leaf strip on the palm of hand, as it is easier to gauge the pressure needed for writing. The letters are written from left to right and the scribe uses the parallel lines of the veins of the leaf to guide him to write straight."
"The letters etched with the stylus are colourless and therefore difficult to read. So it has to be ‘inked’ in a special manner. ... Leaf surface is rubbed with a wad of soft cotton cloth dipped in the resinous oil and ... with charcoal. ... The letters on the palm leaf then appears dark black and the words are distinct and easy to read."
I assume that using more curved forms was the best way to prevent the leaf from cracking along the veins. I'll dig into this further!
Long before papermaking made its journey to India, religious and scientific texts were written on these amazing portable manuscripts. I'm sure you'll see many more here as I begin to track down the origins of other scripts!
Images and other links here!