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Naoko Takagi, Yoriko Chudo, Reiko Maeda (Members of Paper Conservators Asia Unlimited) click on the small images to go to a full page image with caption
During the summer of 2005, the conservation and digitisation of 400 rolled palm leaf manuscripts with clay seals (fig. 01, below) housed at the Asa Archives in Kathmandu was carried out over a period of 6 weeks. The Asa Archives is a public library named after the late Mr Asha Man Singha Kansakar, father of the late Mr. Prem Bahadur Kansakar (1917-1991), a prominent activist, social worker, educationist and Newar writer who had founded several social, cultural, literary and educational institutions. Their personal collections and later additions of the manuscripts became the base of the Archives which opened to the public in 1987. The archives houses more than 6,700 manuscripts, including fig. 01 Buddhist and Hindu texts, medical texts, manuals of magic and necromancy, astrology, astronomy, Vedic, Purana and Tantric text. Land grants written on rolled palm leaf manuscripts with clay seals are unique to Nepal. The Asa Archives is one of the very few institutions in Nepal to have digitised nearly its entire collection of manuscripts. The one exception was the collection of the rolled palm leaf manuscripts which were not digitised because of the difficulty of even opening them without causing damage. An important matter for consideration was in what form the objects should be housed after the conservation. From the conservator¶s point of view, ideally they should retain the original form. However, for easier access to the text and to avoid further damage during the unrolling and rolling, keeping the objects flat was also considered. This problem was solved by digital photography which was to be carried out as soon as the conservation treatment of each roll was finished in order to prevent unnecessary unrolling more than once. The Rolled Palm Leaf Manuscripts ³Since palm leaf is not native to Nepal, one can presume that the tradition of writing in this medium was introduced into the country from the Indian plains probably during the Lichchhavi period (330-879 AD)´ (Pal & Meech-Pekarik, 1982, p. 95). Leaves of Talipot (Corypha umbraculifera Linn) and Palmyra (Borassus flabellifer Linn) were both found among the manuscripts in the Asa Archives. Talipot is far superior as
The shortest complete manuscript was 25. The languages used are Nepali and Newari (Nepal Bhasa) mixed with Sanskrit. the two copies being separated by the fleuron. rather than incised. narrower. 02 ³The agreement was written in two identical copies on the right and the left side of a single strip of palm leaf. longer. The width in the middle varied between 1. The text was normally written on one side only but occasionally codicils.5cm and 5. making it the largest collection of its kind in Nepal. . The oldest tamsukamong the 400 conserved is dated 1337AD (Newari Samvat 457) and they run up to the 17th century. thicker.2cm. A few suffered from mould damage especially around and underneath the seals. below). presumably with a reed pen and carbon based ink.8cm. There are approximately 1000 catalogued and 300 uncatalogued rolled palm leaf manuscripts in the archives. They are land grant documents commonly called tamsuk in both Nepali and Newari (Nepal Bhasa). 05. The natural shape of a palm leaf is generally widest in the middle and tapered towards both ends. lighter in colour with a smooth and supple surface. 02). The tail end is generally cut off a little and folded once. each party was issued with one part´ (Kölver & Shakya. 26). Upon ratification of the agreement. Out of the 400 tamsuk the longest was 1m 27cm excluding the part which was folded several times under the seal. Condition of the tamsuk 151 rolls out of 400 (38%) were damaged to a various extent by mice (figs. corser and tends to become brittle and prone to physical damage. an unfired dark grey clay seal varying in design and in size between 8mm and 2. Unexpectedly only 12 rolls were damaged by insects (fig. This folded line was found to be weak and many were broken off completely. Devanagari and Prachalita. but quite often they were blank. p. At the head of each tamsuk.writing material. fig. below). brief notes or numbers were added on the verso. The average length was 55. whereas the Palmyra leaf is shorter. The scripts generally used are Bhujimmola. is affixed over a knot of palm leaf strips which secured the folded part of the document (fig. 1985.7cm.5cm. 03 and 04. Sometimes there were short texts written here. wider. The text was written on the surface. A few tamsuk show half a design of intricate patterns at either the head or the end of the document.
06 and 07. removing all the previous repair tapes. Many manuscripts suffered numerous vertical cracks. Sometimes the entire surface of the palm leaf was covered with cellotape (figs. It was hoped to find the most suitable storage method for the conserved manuscripts where the fluctuation of the temperature and humidity is significant and no artificial environmental control is a possibility. 04 184 rolls (46%) had previous cellotape repairs. treating mould. . or cracked. consolidating frayed layers and parts and consolidating or joining the damaged clay seals. 03 fig. Surprisingly the condition of the text itself was found generally sound. apart from some smudges or frayed surface making the text illegible. 06 fig. joining and repairing the fragments. below). 05 Conservation Aims fig. fig.fig. stabilising folds by providing support from verso. The clay seals of 175 rolls (44%) were either completely missing. separated from the palm leaf strip on which the seal was partially imbedded. Therefore the minimum intervention was to be carried out for the actual physical conservation which was concentrated on cleaning. and to prepare them for digital photography. folds and tears as the result of the rolls having been pressed down over the years. 07 The aim of the conservation for this project was to stabilise the objects to prevent any further damage.
11.fig. 08. above). 09. 12 fig. A wooden board was placed with weights which were stone mortar and pestles wrapped in heavy Lokta paper for protection (fig.10. They were then transferred and sandwiched between two sheets of Bondina and four layers of blotter. above). above). 300cc of filtered water was added to 6 layers of 55g/M2 local hand made Lokta paper (Daphne bholua). 09 fig. A sheet of Sympatex was placed on top of the Capillary matting. then 9 tamsuk. avoiding the text area. a sheet of Capillary matting was placed over this and another 50cc water added. 13 The both surfaces of the palm leaves were cleaned with cotton swabs moistened with ethanol. above).8 cm to 6cm. it was necessary first to humidify them. the outer two of which were sprayed damp with filtered water (fig. A sheet of glass was placed over the tray. A sheet of Bondina (unwoven polyester) was placed over this. 11 fig. The duration of the humidification was 90 minutes which was found to be sufficient for the tamsuk to be opened without difficulty. The dyes have been used in the British Library . which varied from 1. All the tears were repaired using 100% Kozo fibre Japanese papers of different weights which were toned with Cartasol K dyes (cationic. direct dyes developed especially for predominantly wood-free pulp paper) in various shades. 10 In order to unroll the tamsuk without damaging them. Humidification was carried out in a shallow polypropylene tray large enough to fit nine tamsuk. All the cellotape. masking tape and other old repairs were removed and residue cleaned mostly with acetone (fig. fig. Prior to humidification. The use of Sympatex together with Capillary matting allows the humidity to reach the objects uniformly without the risk of liquid penetration (fig. the measurement of the diameter of each roll was taken so that when the treatment and the photography was finished it could be rolled back to the original diameter. This process was necessary to keep the rolls flat for further conservation treatments and subsequent photography. 08 Conservation Procedures fig.
The vertical folds and creases were also supported with repair paper from the verso (figs. 16 Methyl cellulose was chosen as an adhesive mainly in consideration of climatic conditions in Kathmandu. 14 fig. above). and the same diameter retained as far as possible. The measurements of the length and the width of three parts (head. below). The record of the diameter of each roll prior to the humidification was referred to. 16. below). fig. Cracked or broken seals were repaired using Paraloid B72 in acetone (figs. Photography. two photographic frames were taken and carefully joined together at the editing stage.for quite some time. For palm leaves over 66cm. 17 fig. 19 Completely dried manuscripts were wrapped in 14g/M2 Lokta paper softened by handsqueezing. 12 and 13. . below). fig. 18. The roll was tied temporarily with a piece of twisted Lokta paper cord and left to air dry until next day (fig. Measuring. Record Keeping and Storage The camera used was Fuji Fine Pix 52 Pro with Nikon Lens AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm. where during the summer monsoon months relative humidity stays around 60% or over and the temperature 28-310 C. middle and tail) were recorded before thetamsuk was rolled back in the same way starting from the left seal side so that both the seal and the text could be protected. 18 fig. The photograph of the verso was also taken when there was writing of any kind. 14 and 15. The loose or faulty seal attachments were also strengthened (fig. Separate close up photographs were also taken for each seal which might render further research easier. have shown good colour fastness and are stable. 15 fig.above and 17.
and it is not improbable that this could shed new light on historical. The double wall structure constructed with strong archival board with a tight fit lid should also discourage further attack by mice and other insects.New digital catalogue numbers were recorded on the archival label and pasted on the Lokta wrapping sheet. above). Conclusions Having treated 400 rolls in various unravelled states we had a rare opportunity to observe closely how the structure of the sealed manuscripts was made. he would take a small amount of round soft clay to impress his particular seal over it (fig. economical and social conditions of the period. It is extremely important to provide the safe enclosure which can sustain the stable microclimate especially in countries where there is no other means of controlling the environment of the entire buildings. Inside the lid. fold the head part of the leaf several fig. short or long. Finally. It is hoped that this project will continue for the next two years. reseachers will have a fuller access of the contents of land grants of the Kathmandu Valley. seals and any additional writings on the verso have been recorded. They are all now housed in the archival boxes. 20 times and make a small incision for the palm leaf strip to go through and tie a knot to secure the folded part. What we have now under safekeeping is the collection of rolled palm leaf manuscripts covering a period of several hundred years. 20). from a bundle of palm leaves which must have been carried from Indian plains partly on the backs of men over passes and through jungles. wide or narrow depending on the length of the text he is about to record. . He would then write out the document. 19. When it is finished. When the seal was dry the palm leaf would be rolled tightly for safe keeping. Another label of the same number was also attached inside each compartment of the alkali buffered archival box custom designed and assembled in Japan to accommodate 80 rolls with double outer walls which act as a buffer for the change of temperature and relative humidity in the storage room (fig. The polypropylene coated board keeps out atmospheric pollution and is waterproof. Approximately one third of the collection at the archives was stabilised and future damage and deterioration minimised as far as possible. The project for 2005 was partially funded by the Japan Foundation. The very clear digital images of all the texts. One can imagine the kayasthas (official scribes) in Mediaeval Nepal carefully choosing a prepared and polished palm leaf. a sheet of SHC (Super Humidity Controlling) board is incorporated which acts as buffer for the humidity fluctuation to certain degree as well as absorbing the harmful gasses emitted from the objects themselves.
A. (1992). Saranankara. Losty. Aluvihara Rock Cave Temple. Kandy: Ven. Inamaluwe Nandaratana Thero.co. (1984). & Agrawal. (1988). 13. (1996). (1994). Suryawanshi. 5-7. London: Butterworths. Suryawanshi. Library Conservation News. O. Hong Kong: Ravi Kumar.). Lawson. (2003). Volume X. Masumi Corporation supplied various papers for repairing. Agrawal. V. Pal.com | articles . M. J. References Asa Saphukuthi. D. Publisher. (n. Sales and Mortgages.. 17. Ancient paper of Nepal. Nair. Restaurator. P. Ltd. G. Clariant Japan Co. Palm leaf books and their conservation. O. Kathmandu: The Asa Archives. B. Conservation of manuscripts and paintings of South-east Asia. G. J. Improving the flexibility of palm leaf. 37-46. Patan. & Sinha. P. Documents from the RudravarnaMahavihara. P. Nair. Ltd. 5. London: The British Library. 15. Restaurator. Basic studies on the properties of palm leaf. (1985). & Meech-Pekarik.uk top asianart.d.The following companies kindly supplied the materials at no cost. Dr. 65-78.. Trier. Contact address Paper Conservators Asia Unlimited (PCAU) E-mail: paperconservators03@yahoo. P. specially designed and assembled archival boxes. H. P. Kölver. M. Buddhist book illuminations. D.. supplied Cartasol K dyes. The art of the book in India. Copenhagen: Jutland Archaeological Society Publications. Publisher. V. 1. (1982). Sankt Augustin: VGH Wissenscharisherlag.. (1972). P. Japan Archival Enclosures Co. & Shakya. 16. Publisher. M. J.