Buddhist manuscripts like this one are known in Pali as 'Kammavaca' and are produced and used in present day Myanmar. They contain excerpts from the ‘Pali Vinaya’ religious texts that outline monastic duties and are used in various rituals including ordinations and the gifting of new robes. The earliest of these manuscripts may date to the 1400s yet most surviving examples are from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
It is still customary for young Burmese boys to join the monastery for a period of time. On the occasion of their son entering the monkhood, a family would commission this type of manuscript to be presented as a gift to the head monk. This gift and their sons' involvement with the monastery would earn the family merit.
The rectangular format of this type of manuscript has been inherited from the conventions of Indian palm-leaf manuscripts. Early Burmese manuscripts were also constructed of woven palm leaf. Less commonly, discarded monks' robes or other sacred cloth was used. Later in the mid-18th century cut-sheets of brass and copper easily resourced from local markets came into use.
Irrespective of the base-material, the sheets were covered in a thick layer of lacquer, allowed to dry and then polished. Decoration was then applied to the sheets in a technique known as 'shwezawa'. Gold leaf was applied to the polished lacquer surface and decorative designs were etched into the gold leaf. Red lacquer was then painted into the etched line. The text, read from left to right, top to bottom is written in black lacquer in the square shaped Pali script known as ‘magyi zi’ or tamarind seed script because of its dark colour.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, 2016
Kammavaca [monk's ordination text]
Place where the work was made
lacquer on copper
3.7 x 58.0 x 9.6 cm :
a - wooden front cover, 0.5 x 58 x 9.6 cm
b - folio1 with 6 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
c - folio 2 with 6 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
d - folio 3 with 6 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
e - folio 4 with 6 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
f, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
g - folio 5 with 6 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
h, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
i - folio 6 with 6 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
j - folio 7 with 5 lines of text, 0.3 x 58 x 9.6 cm
k - wooden back cover, 0.5 x 58 x 9.6 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of Dr Leonard and Phyllis Warnock 1999
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 1 exhibition
Beyond Words: Calligraphic Traditions of Asia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 Aug 2016–30 Apr 2017
Referenced in 3 publications
Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Burmese lacquerware, 'Lacquareware objects for religious use', pg. 85-113, Bangkok, 1985, 100-101. Note that this reference is a general text on monk's ordination texts and is not a direct reference to this work.
John Guy and O.P. Agrawal, Palm-leaf and paper: illustrated manuscripts of India and Southeast Asia, Victoria, 1982, 61. Note that this reference is a general text on monk's ordination texts and is not a direct reference to this work.
Noel F. Singer, Arts of Asia, 'Kammavaca texts, their covers and binding ribbons', pg. 97-101, Hong Kong, May 1993, 97-101. Note that this reference is a general text on monk's ordination texts and is not a direct reference to this work.