Thursday, October 8, 2009

Palm leaf inscription – Digital version

Apart from coin collections, ancient, old, and new coins and currency notes of various countries, my prized possession with some real antique value is a bundle of palm leaf inscription. I don’t know the origin from where and how did it come to my house and all, I am quite sure its from my great grand parents, but all that I can say is that in our childhood days these palm leaf bundle was our playing cards for me, my brothers and sisters. But then we were kids and never knew the value of this master piece.

Now, nearly after 40 years, it’s with me well preserved and protected. Now I know the value of these and did a research even on that by contacting many scholars and found that the inscription is all about Hindu religion and practice. From the script even the scholars couldn’t determine as how old it is!!

In ancient days, oral transmission was the only means of spreading knowledge. Later, when knowledge in all fields diversified and also to store these vast amounts of knowledge for the future generations, the need for recording arose and different types of easily available materials were used for recording purposes. Palm leaves were the traditional inscribing materials of India. Leaves of two species of palms were in use. Borassus flabellifer.linn and Corypha umbraculifera.linn there were indigenous techniques to produce and preserve such materials.

The instrument used for inscribing on palm leaf sheaves is an iron spike of various lengths, shapes and weights. Some are about 24cms long and weighing nearly 500 grams.

Fine soot from traditional firewood burned hearths is rubbed on to the inscribed surface to highlight the text. Palm leaf books are of various sizes, as small as 10 cm to 60 cm and the usual length is 45 cm. The palm leaf books will remain intact for many years by proper preservation techniques.

The word, Palm Leaf, was chosen as it was a popular medium of writing in India for almost two thousand years. Letters were written on a dried, smoothed, smoke treated leaves of palm trees using a stylus. These were then blackened with vegetable juice and lamp black. Major literary works like the Mahabharata were originally inscribed on palm leaves. Even the later copper plate inscriptions were first etched on palm leaves.

It is Interesting to note that more than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions, about 55,000, found by the Archaeological Survey of India in India are in Tamil language, my mother tongue.

Through these images you can see on this photolog the Digital and electronic version of those palm leaves.

The Images are my own and posted a few of them in Flickr too.

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