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Burmese language collections

The British Library's Burma (renamed Myanmar) collections consist of approximately 1,800 manuscripts, the majority in Burmese, or Pali in Burmese script. There are also significant numbers of manuscripts in Shan, Mon and Arakanese. We hold approximately 20,000 Burmese printed books, including early Burmese printing and many other early editions.

Elephant

Details from `The fabulous region of Himavant' from a nineteenth century Burmese Buddhist cosmology. Or. MS 14004 ff.34-35. Copyright © The British Library Board

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Manuscripts

The majority of the manuscripts are written on palm leaf, but there are also many paper folding books (parabaik), and texts written on diverse materials such as gold, silver, copper and ivory sheets in the shape of palm leaves, and manuscripts on European paper. The collection is particularly strong in historical, legal and grammatical texts, and illustrated manuscripts depicting such subjects as the life of Buddha, the Jataka stories and scenes from court life. 

A high proportion of the collection consists of Buddhist canonical works and commentaries. It also includes astrology, chronicles and inscriptions, cosmology, history, language and literature, law and medicine.

In 1842 the British Museum Library acquired the John Murray collection, which includes several manuscripts from Arakan dating from the 1740s. These are the earliest manuscripts in the whole collection. 

The Sir Arthur Phayre Collection was acquired in 1888. The India Office Library’s collection of Burmese manuscripts began with the Royal Mandalay Collection, acquired in 1886 after the Anglo-Burmese war, and a collection of official documents formed by Henry Burney, which was probably presented to the library by Henry Burney himself.

Phayre Collection

These manuscripts were collected and used by Sir Arthur Phayre to produce his History of Burma (London, 1883). The collection was acquired by the Library in 1888 and consists of about 80 manuscripts in Burmese, Pali (Burmese script) and Mon. They fall into three categories: palm leaf manuscripts, paper folding books (parabaik) and manuscripts on European paper. 

The collection includes several portions of the chronicle on palm leaf, and a full text of the Glass Palace Chronicle copied on to European paper and bound in eleven volumes. The majority of the texts are historical or legal works, but some are also literary. Content dates range from 1752 to 1862 AD.

Sir Arthur Phayre (1812-1885) was the first Commissioner of British Burma (1862-1867). In 1846 he was appointed assistant to the Commissioner of the Province of Tenasserim, Burma, and in 1849 he was made Commissioner of Arakan. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, he became Commissioner of Pegu. In 1962 Sir Arthur Phayre was made first Chief Commissioner for the entire province of British Burma. He left Burma in 1867.

For the catalogue, see:

Patricia Herbert, 'The Sir Arthur Phayre collection of Burmese manuscripts'. The British Library Journal, Vol.1, no.1 (1975), pp.62-70.

Mandalay Collection

This is a collection of some 176 manuscripts, including the Vinaya-pitaka, Sutta-pitaka and Abhidhamma-pitaka, and works on history, grammar and doctrines. It belonged to the King’s Library at Mandalay, and was acquired in 1886 after the Anglo-Burmese War. The manuscripts are in Pali and Burmese, and some in both Pali and Burmese.

For the catalogue, see:

V. Fausböll, Catalogue of the Mandalay manuscripts in the India Office Library (London?) Pali Text Society, 1897.

Burney Collection

This collection consists of about seventy black paper parabaik, as well as meeting records and official letters to the Burmese government.

Colonel Henry Burney was Resident Minister at the Court of Ava from 1829 to 1838 under the terms of the treaty of Yandabo, which ended the first Anglo-Burmese war of 1824-6. He had previously been Deputy Commissioner of Tavoy in the province of Tenasserim.

For the catalogue, see:

Thaung Blackmore, Catalogue of the Burney parabaiks in the India Office Library. London, British Library under the auspices of the British Academy Oriental Documents Committee, 1985.

Printed books

The collection is strongest in printed works in Burmese published between 1838 and 1940, which were acquired under the Press and Registration of Books Act from 1867 through to the 1930s. It also includes a collection of books, serials and ephemera relating to the Pro-Democracy Movement in Burma (requests to use this restricted collection should be made in writing to the curator).

Periodicals

The Burmese periodical and newspaper collection contains about 300 titles.

Catalogues

Manuscripts 

‘Classed Inventory’ in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, listed under Burmese, Pali, Peguan (Mon) and Shan. ORC.GEN.MSS.15 & 16

Thaung Blackmore, Catalogue of the Burney parabaiks in the India Office Library. London: British Library under the auspices of the British Academy Oriental Documents Committee, 1985. ORC.BUR.MSS.2. 

Fausböll, Catalogue of the Mandalay manuscripts in the India Office Library. [London]: Pali Text Society, 1897. ORC.BUR.MSS.3

Patricia Herbert, ‘The Sir Arthur Phayre collection of Burmese manuscripts’. The British Library Journal, Vol.1, no.1 (1975), pp.62-70.

Patricia Herbert, ‘The making of a collection: Burmese manuscripts in the British Library’. The British Library Journal, Vol.15, no.1 (Spring 1989), pp.59-70.

IOL Burmese manuscripts in the British Library, compiled by San San May. ORC.BUR.MSS.4

Pe Maung Tin, ‘Burma manuscripts in the British Museum’. Journal of the Burma Research Society, Vol.14, part 3 (1924), pp.221-46. ORC.BUR.MSS.1

Printed books

For Burmese printed books and periodicals acquired from 1960, see Explore the British LibraryALA-LC romanization tables are used in Explore the British Library. Books in western languages on Burma can also be found in Explore the British Library.

For books and periodicals acquired before 1960, see the catalogues below. These are available in the  Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

L.D. Barnett, A catalogue of the Burmese books in the British Museum. London: 1913. (About 2,500 items, including Pali texts with Burmese glosses) ORC.BUR.PBS.1

Catalogue of Pali Books.ORC.PALI.PBS.2

Catalogue of the Pali printed books in the India Office Library, ed. by T.C.H.Raper and revised by M.J.C.O’Keefe. London: The British Library, 1983. (Includes editions in Burmese script.) ORC.PALI.PBS.1

Kenneth Whitbread, Catalogue of Burmese printed books in the India Office Library. London: H.M.S.O., 1969. ORC.BUR.PBS.2

Contact  

San San May, Curator, Burmese Collections
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7655

E-mail: sansan.may@bl.uk