SPL Hand Coloured Rare Book Collection Featuring Norman R Bobins

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Burmese Manuscript. 19th century.

Kammavaca is a Pali term describing an assemblage of passages from the Tipitaka – the Theravada Buddhist canon – that relate to ordination, the bestowing of robes, and other rituals of monastic life. A Kammavaca is a highly ornamental type of manuscript usually commissioned by lay members of society as a work of merit, to be presented to monasteries when a son enters the Buddhist Order as a novice or becomes ordained as a monk.

Burma, 19th century.
John Falconer, and others, 'Myanmar Style Art, Architecture and design of Burma', Hong Kong, 1998, p.177 - "Kammavaca Texts: Their Covers and Binding Ribbons", Arts of Asia, 23 May-June 1993.
Burma, 19th century.

16 leaves (5 x 22 inches), each lacquered in red with elaborate overall decoration in gilt, 14 leaves with lines of black/dark brown text in square script (known as 'magyi-zi') recto and verso, two leaves with text on one side only. Unbound as issued between a pair of red lacquered teak boards, gilt decoration on outer surfaces, covers, and text leaves with a single hole for tying. All are housed within a modern dark red morocco-backed box, with raised bands in gilt to spine, ruled in gilt, in several compartments with a repeat gilt motif, and lettered in gilt in the second compartment. Kammavaca is a Pali term describing verses from the Vinata that outline various rules and rituals of monastic life and ordination. Young men in Burma are expected to spend at least some of their youth in a monastery as either an initiate or an ordained monk. The families of these newly ordained men often commissioned the creation of a 'kammavaca' to present to the monks as an act of merit upon their son's entrance into the monastery. Kammavaca are volumes of one, five, or nine extracts from the Theravadin 'Vinaya,' each relating to specific ceremonies associated with monks. Noel F. Singer writes that "the earliest kammavaca consisted of folios made of plain palm leaves, each of which had four lines of square-inked script on a gold or silver background" "In the 17th century, folios began to be made of pieces of cloth coated with lacquer and painted with cinnabar, and the square letters were written in thick, black lacquer. On rare occasions, folios were ivory. Designs in gilt, which had been reserved for ends of folios, endpapers, and wooden cover boards, now began to appear between the lines of text. By the end of the 19th century, the lines of script on the folio increased to six or seven, and sheets of brass or copper were introduced as folios."