Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Worn or nicked?

The link above will take you to the highly interesting report submitted by Haraprasād Śāstrī to the relevant authorities in 1911. This paragraph on page 5 caught my attention:

When the manuscript [of the Haramekhalā] was first shewn to me, the unusual thickness of the last leaf roused my suspicions. I dipped it in water, and with a little manipulation found that two leaves were glued together into one. The glued pages contained a panegyric on Pratāpa Malla. The inference was irresistible that some one stole the manuscript and, to prevent detection, glued together those pages which would reveal the name of the real owner.

Let us consider another irresistible inference: sure, the first and last folios are the first to go on account of wear and tear, but how come the rest of many manuscripts are in a surprisingly good condition? Could it be that the last folio was sometimes conveniently lost together with the name of the scribe/owner?

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Blogger Dan said...

Dear PSz,

To judge from Tibetan texts, the first and last folios are very likely to wear out, not just because these are the pages most likely to be handled, but also because they are often rubbing directly against the wrapping cloth and the wooden covers, even when the books remain wrapped. Knowing this, the first pages of woodblock prints are often simply doubled. Front and back manuscript pages are often fortified by fastening two or more sheets of paper together, and I've seen examples in which older texts have been used for this purpose (a manuscript volume from the collected works of Zhang G.yu-brag-pa that had pages from an old Prajnaparamita incorporated into its cover pages... for example).

I'm thinking that something like this might explain the instance in question? Worth considering?


6:49 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Dear Dan,

Yes, that's a very good example (and very interesting for me, since I was not aware of this codicological fact). But Shastri says that this last folio was part of the same work (and not recycled 'geniza' material).

As you said, wear and tear do seem to be the most common factors. Nevertheless, I found Shastri's point entertaining and it is something to keep in mind (although we'll probably never be able to prove decisively whether a last folio was 'dropped' to conceal nefarious ways to ownership).

All the best,


8:19 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Hi again PSz,

I've seen manuscripts with the names of the patrons partly or very nearly rubbed out. It happens, especially if it is a 'political' person no longer in power. That's my theory at least. I saw such a colophon just a few weeks ago. The attempted erasing was done to the three syllables of what is very probably supposed to represent a Chinese name in Tibetan letters. (I wonder if erasing the name cancels the merit of making the manuscript?) So trying to get rid of colophon information is entirely possible. I won't deny it.

11:39 pm  

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