The leaf-books of Khmer monks

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23 September 2007 (Vietnam News, courtesy of chlim01) – The art of inscribing text on leaves used by monks in Cambodia is in danger of being lost as the sole monk with the skill takes a two-year break without finding any successor. The Cambodian version of the art is not old – only about 100 years old – but similar ancient traditions are found elsewhere in the region, for instance by the Cham in South Vietnam (see related story at the end of the post). I wonder if there’s a regional tradition of writing texts on leaves. Further south in Bali and Java there are copies of king-lists written on palm leaves. It occurs to me that the Malay word “buku” is a corruption of the English word “book”, but ancient texts surely existed before European contact. Today, virtually all textual sources of ancient Southeast Asia is based on carved inscriptions on stone. However, I would not be surprised if this region had a rich textual culture based on leaf-books such as the ones mentioned here.

Monks await next in line to record history [Link no longer active]
by Trung Hieu – Vien Du

On a quiet, peaceful afternoon, in a large, airy chamber of an ancient Khmer pagoda, two yellow-robed monks – one wrinkled, one fresh-faced – study a large Buddhist prayer book.

They must turn each page carefully, for the book doesn’t contain ordinary paper. Rather, its pale yellow pages are made of a special type of dried leaf, on which prayers and descriptions of historical events are etched in delicate Khmer script.

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