Artifact Spotlight–Palm Leaf Manuscript

Tamil Palm Leaf Horoscope Manuscript

This original Tamil manuscript from India is estimated to be over 100 years old.   It is written on palm leaves and was purchased for the university in 2004.

Tamil Language:

The Tamil language is a Dravidian language spoken mainly in India, and is the official language of India’s Tamil Nadu state and territory of Puducherry, otherwise known as Pondicherry.  It is also spoken in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, and South Africa.  The language has been recognized for its ancient origin, independent tradition, and considerable amount of ancient literature.  There are approximately 66 million Tamil speakers in the world today (Krishnamurti).

Processing the Palm Leaf:

Manuscripts such as this one were made from palm leafs.  In order to prepare the leafs to be written on, the ripe leaf would be cut from the tree and dried in the sun until there was no moisture left.  It would then be boiled, and the leaf’s ribs would be removed.  The separated leaves would then be cut and put into bundles according to their size.  A hole would be cut in the end of the bundle, and a cord would be put through the hole to keep the leaves together (Samuel).

Scribes and Preservation:

These manuscripts are not made to last for a long time.  Even when properly cared for, they generally do not last more than 300-400 years.  Most of the palm leaf manuscripts today are copies of the originals, with the original words being copied onto new leaves (Samuel).

Content:

Palm leaf manuscripts contain everything from poetry, astrology, art, medicine, folklore, and architecture.  Most of the remaining manuscripts tell of traditional science and folk literature (Samuel).

Sources:

Krishnamurti, Bhadrirjau. “Tamil Language.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 25 July 2011. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Samuel, J. G. “Preservation of Palm-leaf Manuscripts in Tamil.” IFLA Journal 20.3 (1994): 294-305. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

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