Project to Digitize Myanmar Manuscripts
The Myanmar Digital Manuscript Library (MMDL)
New Partnership Between the MMDL and the National Library of Myanmar
In February 2013, work began on taking photos of palm-leaf manuscripts and parabaiks in Myanmar monasteries. The project is being supported by the Pali Text Society, U.K., and by grants from Japan that are raised by Professor Yumi Ousaka, who supervised Dr Sunao Kasamatsu to get several funds. The following generous grants have made it possible to make good progress: Scientific Research B (SRB) by JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences) from April 2011 to March 2014 (Head Investigator: Ousaka); Challenging Exploratory Research (CER) by JSPS from April 2013 to March 2015 (Head Investigator: Kasamatsu); KDDI Foundation from April 2013 to March 2015 (Head Investigator: Kasamatsu); Mitsubishi Foundation (MF) (Head Investigator: Kasamatsu); Scientific Research B (SRB) by JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences) from April 2016 to March 2019 (Head Investigator: Kasamatsu); Chuo Academic Research Institute (CARI) of Rissho Kosei-kai (2017) (Head Investigator: Dr William Pruitt of the PTS. Associate Director Dr Yasutomo Nishi of CARI was very helpful in obtaining this funding.)
Dr Sunao Kasamatsu and Dr Yutaka Kawasaki from Japan and Aleix Ruiz Falqués joined me, William Pruitt, in photographing manuscripts in Thaton and Inle Lake. We were helped by U Aung Moe Oo. Two monasteries with sizeable collections are happy for us to prepare and photograph their manuscripts. At the same time, it is a good opportunity to organize the manuscripts and make sure they are well cared for. In Thaton we were helped by U Nyunt Maung, a retired librarian who was 87 at that time and who is still active and considered the leading expert in the field.
It was decided that we would concentrate on one library at a time, so in August and September of 2013, work continued on taking photos of manuscripts in the U Pho Thi Library in the Saddhamma-jotikā-rāma Monastery in Thaton, Myanmar, which was an earlier Mon capital that was important in the history of introducing Pāli texts in Myanmar. Some 130 manuscripts were photographed. Dr Win Htay, who is the director of the computer university in Thaton, developed a computer program to make it easy to crop colour photos and create a PDF for each manuscript. Professor Yumi Ousaka of SNCT and Professor Masahiro Miyao of the Muroran Institue of Technology have made effective program sets that can compile an electronic book from photos of the palm-leaf manuscripts together with information about the leaves that is automatically added to the book – for example its serial number and its sides (recto or verso), etc. This computer program will save a great deal of time and can easily process hundreds of manuscripts, each of which contains dozens of palm leaves. We can edit these books, depending on how they will be used – for example, to upload them to a Web site in order to preserve the manuscripts in a very clear formate so that they can be studied in the future. U Aung Moe has made PDFs of the manuscripts using Burmese script. By August 2016, all the manuscripts had been photographed.
Thaton is one of the cities in Myanmar where monks go to prepare for examinations, and the Saddhamma-jotikārāma Monastery is the largest centre where they study in Thaton. The monastery is at the foot of the highest mountain in the region, and a long staircase leads up to the Myathabate Pagoda on the top of the mountain.
A wealthy layman named U Pho Thi donated the library that bears his name in the early 20th century in order to aid the monks in their studies. The manuscripts are housed in a magnificent room with a gilded ceiling and gilded cabinets surmounted by devas. There is a beautiful manuscript chest with a Kammavaca manuscript that was made in Mandalay in 1951 in honour of U Pho Thi after he died. Kammavaca manuscripts contain texts of formal proceedings of the monks such as ordination. Some of the manuscripts have beautiful designs worked into the gilded edges. One manuscript is unusual in that it has rounded leaves and a checker-board design on the edges of the leaves.
The head Sayadaw told us the library is open to be used and that he is happy for the manuscripts to be digitized and shared with all. A local group of laypeople in Thaton support the library. After our work there in February and March 2013, they put the manuscripts back in order which was a great help in locating specific texts.
U Nyunt Maung trained the members of the lay group, teaching them the numbering system used in manuscripts. It is based on combinations of consonants and vowels rather than numerals, giving groups of 12 leafs called aṅgas. He showed them the long ribbons with text woven in them used when wrapping the manuscripts. And he also showed them how to apply lemon-grass oil with powdered carbon added to help preserve the leaves and bring out the letters inscribed in the leaves using a metal stylus. U Ye Kyi assisted U Nyunt Maung and helped with taking the photos. He checked the manuscripts to insure that the leaves were in order and helped turn the leaves for the photographs. He is also expert in wrapping the manuscripts.
U Nyunt Maung worked on a new catalogue for the library. At least three catalogues or lists of the manuscripts have been made in the past, but a new catalogue is needed that gives accurate details of the manuscripts and the texts in them. Some manuscripts contain several texts. With a catalogue available on a computer, searches will be much easier. U Nyunt Maung identified approximately 50 manuscripts that contain rare Pāli texts, most of which have not been published. There are also many manuscripts with nissayas, which are word-by-word translations of Pāli texts into Burmese. Many of these could be useful to Burmese scholars.
There are also several white and black parabaiks, which are accordion-style, thick paper manuscripts. The white parabaiks are often illustrated. There are two in the collection with the 32 planes of existence from the highest heavens to the lowest hells, one with medicinal plants, one with royal regalia, and one related to horoscopes. The black parabaiks are written on using soapstone. They rarely contain Pāli texts, and they can be used like a blackboard slate for making notes.
The lay group purchased the material we were using to photograph the manuscripts. They began photographing manuscripts themselves so that all the manuscripts in the collection have now been photographed. Future work could include identifying rare editions of Pāli texts in the collection of printed books.
For the list of manuscripts being digitized in the U Pho Thi Library in Thaton, click on “Digital Data Sample of Myanmar Manuscripts” on the following Web page: http://www.cari.ne.jp/MyanmarPJ/index.html
A PDF version of the U Pho Thi manuscripts that are in Pāli can be downloaded from the Pariyatti website.
100 PDFs of manuscripts from the Bagaya Monastery will soon be hosted on the University of Toronto website. Please click here for a PDF with information about these texts. You may request individual PDFs directly from the PTS until they have been uploaded to the website of the University of Toronto.
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A Short Introduction to the Project "Digitizing Manuscripts in Myanmar"
An Introduction to the Project "Digitizing Manuscripts in Myanmar"
A message from Christoph Emmrich
Associate Professor, Buddhist Studies
Director, Centre for South Asian Studies at the Asian Institute,
Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
Chair, Numata Program UofT/McMaster, University of Toronto)
It is a true pleasure for me to draw your attention to a new online resource for the study of Burmese texts: the Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library (MMDL).
Located at https://mmdl.utoronto.ca/, housed at the University of Toronto, and supported by Toronto’s Robarts Library, the site makes available for public retrieval manuscripts from Burma in digitized form, collected under the direction of the Pali Text Society’s William Pruitt, with the support of Yumi Ousaka from the Sendai College of Technology, and together with an impressive team of scholars, technicians, and volunteers from Burma and abroad. Thanks for making this ongoing digitization project possible go to the Pali Text Society and Rupert Gethin, the Sendai National College of Technology and Sunao Kasamatsu, the KDDI Foundation, the Mitsubishi Foundation, the CARI Foundation, and the JSPS Kakenhi. Further team members include Aleix Ruiz Falqueś, Kazuhiro Fujiwara, Yukata Kawasaki, Professor Miao, U Aung Moe Oo, U Nyunt Maung, Win Htay, and Markus Wörgötter. The University of Toronto and Robarts Library have offered and have helped establish the electronic infrastructure for this archive. Even more importantly, they have created the conditions for the long-term sustainability of this archive, facilitating the dissemination of the results of this unique and impressive effort for times to come. To begin with, this digital archive comprises the contents of the U Po Thi Library, containing some 775 palm-leaf manuscripts and located in Thaton, Mon State. However, as the digitization project unfolds further, it is envisaged that the contents of more Burmese archives will added, increasing further the volume and range of sources and thus the value provided by this site.
MMDL – Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library
Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library
My most sincere words of gratitude for making this site possible go to William Pruitt, without whose vision, work, persistence, and cheerfulness the world of Burma and Pali Studies would not be able to so easily access these treasures. I thank him particularly for the patience with which he has accompanied us at the University of Toronto, offering his advice and support along the lengthy path it took us to make this website accessible to you today. I would also like to thank the team at the University of Toronto and at Robarts Library, most of all Priyadharshini Murugaiah and Sian Meikle, for giving our site a home. I would like to thank Jeffrey Bermejo for creating this site in the first place and for taking care of it as it develops further.
Should you have questions regarding the site, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I will do my best to answer your questions or to redirect them to those colleagues and friends who are more informed than me.
With warm regards,
Announcing a New Partnership Between the Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library and the National Library of Myanmar
Launched in 2019, the Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library (MMDL) is a growing collection of open-access Pali and Pali-Burmese manuscripts available to scholars all over the world. Hosted at the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto but developed through the collaboration of an international cohort of researchers, programmers, librarians, students, monastics, and devotees, the MMDL is honoured to announce a new database of manuscripts from the Bagaya Monastery in Upper Myanmar. This database, developed in collaboration with the National Library of Myanmar in Nay Pyi Taw, contains the first hundred of almost ten-thousand manuscripts that the Bagaya Monastery donated to the National Library in 2016 to ensure their preservation for posterity. This new National Library of Myanmar Bagaya Monastery database is in addition to the MMDL’s U Pho Thi Library database, which contains about a 1000 manuscripts and accordion-style books (parabaiks) from the Saddhammajotikārāma Monastery in Thaton, Lower Myanmar.
Working under Director General Daw Mya Oo, the Assistant Librarian Daw Shwe Nwe Soe and her team digitised this first set of manuscripts from Bagaya Monastery that were copied before 1850. These manuscripts represent a wide range of Buddhist material and textual genres, including the Cūlavagga-aṭṭhakathā-nissaya (BGY0028), a Pali-Burmese glossary on the Pali commentary of the Vinayapiṭaka copied in 1747, the Kavisāra-ṭīkā-san (BGY0047-A), a Pali subcommentary on a metrical work composed in Myanmar, and a Milindapañhā-pāḷi-tō (BGY0006) copied in 1758. Alongside these texts, there are examples of handbooks and compendiums only found in Myanmar, meaning that this database promises to offer insight into local interpretative communities and conceptions of the Tipiṭaka. Indeed, these first hundred entries of the new database represent a critical stage in Burmese manuscript culture before the standardisation of such texts in the Fifth Buddhist Council of 1872.
The mandate of the National Library was not only to ensure the preservation of these manuscripts, but also to make them freely available to scholars and practitioners in both Myanmar and globally. To this end, Daw Shwe Nwe Soe and her team were assisted by Dr. William Pruitt of the Pali Text Society and U Aung Moe Oo, who both shared digitisation techniques developed while working on the first database of the MMDL, the U Pho Thi Library collection. Dr. Pruitt and his team also donated equipment and resources to the National Library, whose staff first restored and preserved the palm-leaves, photographed, and catalogued them. Computer Scientist Dr. Yumi Ousaka from the National Institute of Technology in Japan then trained the library staff to use his specially designed, open-source software to automatically crop and arrange the folios as high-resolution PDFs, which were sent to be stored on the central servers at the University of Toronto for perpetuity.
In Toronto, the effort to store and secure these digital files is overseen by Kelli Babcock, Digital Initiatives Librarian, Robarts Library, and Priya Murugaiah, a Manager of Infrastructure for Informational and Instructional Technology, who are striving to ensure that these digitised manuscripts will have a permanent home at the University of Toronto as the collection continues to grow. On the ground, PhD Candidates in the Department for the Study of Religion specialising in Burmese Buddhism, Rachelle Saruya and Andrew Dade, helped develop the website, have been archiving the new files, and are in the process of creating a Burmese language mirror-site to ensure accessibility for colleagues in Myanmar. The MMDL is curated by Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies, Christoph Emmrich, an expert in Pali and vernacular literatures in South and Southeast Asia.
This next stage in the MMDL’s development is an exciting horizon for the field of Buddhist Studies and beyond, for it is expected that almost ten-thousand new manuscripts might be added in the next few years from the Bagaya Monastery collection, made possible only with the collaboration and generosity of the National Library of Myanmar. We invite all scholars, monastics, and practitioners to share in the opening of this new database and the international collaboration that brought it to fruition.
If you have any questions or want to learn more about the MMDL, please direct all enquiries to Associate Professor Christoph Emmrich at
Outreach and Project Liaison,
Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library
Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto
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