Myanmar (Burma)

Burmese orchestra with dancers
Illustrations of royal entertainments (detail). Or. 16761, f.7r

We have manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, early printed books, newspapers and periodicals, and modern research-level publications in the humanities and social sciences.

About the collection

Manuscripts

The British Library holds around 1,800 manuscripts from Myanmar. Most 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. As well as Burmese works, there are many Pali canonical texts and also works written in Arakanese, Shan and Mon. The collection is particularly strong in historical, legal and grammatical texts, and in illustrated material. It includes:

  • the John Murray collection (Add.12237-12260), acquired in 1842, in which there are several manuscripts from Arakan dating from the 1740s
  • the Sir Arthur Phayre collection (Or.3403-3480) acquired in 1886, collected and used by Phayre for his History of Burma (London 1883)
  • the Royal Mandalay collection acquired in 1886
  • the Henry Burney Collection

Highlights include:

  • Maunggan gold plates, one of the oldest Buddhist texts from Southeast Asia, Pali in Pyu script, gold leaf, 5th century
  • Or 14004 Illustrated Buddhist cosmology manuscript, Burmese, parabaik, 19th century
  • Or 14297 & Or 14298 Scenes from the life of the Buddha, Burmese, parabaik, mid-19th century
  • Or 4762 Scenes from the life of the Buddha, Burmese, parabaik, 19th century
  • Or 14405 Scenes from the life of the Buddha, Burmese, parabaik, c. 1875
  • IO Man/Pali 20IO Man/Pali 21 Collection of rules for Buddhist monks and nuns, Pali with Burmese script, palm leaf, 19th century
  • Or 12010 J The first sermon, Pali with Burmese script, silvered palm leaf, 19th century

Printed Books

The printed book collection includes rare examples of early Burmese printing, many acquired under the Press and Registration Books Act from 1867 through to the 1930s. The British Library also holds printed books in Pali and in other languages of Myanmar including Shan, Karen, Mon, Kachin and Chin. There is an important collection of books, serials and ephemera from the 1980s relating to the Pro-Democracy Movement.

What is available online?

Manuscripts

The British Library's online catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts includes a large part of the Myanmar (Burma) manuscript collection. Published catalogues and handlists include the full collection. Consult the Myanmar (Burma) Help Guide to find material.

60 manuscripts in Burmese, Arakanese, Shan, Mon and Pyu have been digitised so far. For a full list see Digital access to Burmese manuscripts.

Further digitised material can also be found in the Endangered Archives Programme, which includes the Fragile Palm Leaves project, the Pa'O manuscripts project, as well as the Ahom manuscripts project and the Mizoram records project. All of these manuscripts are fully digitised and searchable via Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

The Asian and African Studies blog contains short research articles on selected items from Myanmar.

Books

The British Library's online catalogue Explore the British Library includes all books and periodicals in the collection. Some early printed books have been digitised and are accessible via the catalogue through 'Available online (beta)' search. Consult the Myanmar (Burma) Help Guide for further information on how to find material.

Early printed books from the British Library are also available on the Southeast Asia Digital Library.

Visual material

The Visual Arts collection holds photographs, prints and drawings relating to Myanmar. These can be searched via Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Hundreds of digitised photographs relating to Myanmar are available on Explore the British Library catalogue through 'Our website' search.

The Endangered Archives Programme includes the Myanmar photographic negatives project with thousands of digitised photographs available ranging from 1940s-1980s. These photographs can be searched via Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

The British Library's Maps collection includes some early maps from Myanmar. These can be searched via Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Images relating to Myanmar can also be viewed on British Library images online and the British Library’s Flickr account.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

All manuscripts and printed books can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room with a Reader's Pass. Some printed books which are stored at Boston Spa in Yorkshire may take up to 48 hours to be made available.

Self-service photography is allowed for most material.

What is available in other organisations?

Digital Collections

Major Collections

UK and Ireland

Overseas

Myanmar

Further information

On the British Library's collections

On collections in other libraries

  • Bechert, Heinz et al., Birmanische Handschriften = Burmese Manuscripts, 7 volumes (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1979-2010). (Vol. 6 and vol. 7 available online)
  • Catalogue of Pali and Burmese books and manuscripts belonging to the library of the late King of Burma and found in the palace at Mandalay in 1886 (Rangoon: Office of the Supt. Govt. Print., 1910).
  • Godakumbura, C.E. Catalogue of Cambodian and Burmese Pali manuscripts (Copenhagen: Royal Library, 1983).
  • Frasch, Tilman, A Preliminary Survey of Burmese Manuscripts in Great Britain and Ireland, SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 2004).
  • Hla, Nai Pan, Eleven Mon Dhammasāt Texts (Tokyo: Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, 1992).
  • Isaacs, Ralph, Woven miniatures of Buddhist art, sazigyo: Burmese manuscript binding tapes (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2014).
  • Kaung, U Thaw, U Nuynt Maung et al., Palm leaf manuscript catalogue of Thar-lay (South) Monastery: Thar-lay village, Inlay lake, Shan State, Myanmar (Yangon: Yaung-zin Press, 2006).
  • Mong, Sai Kham, ed., Shan Thammasat manuscripts (Tokyo: Mekong, 2012).
  • Nyunt, Peter, A descriptive catalogue of Burmese manuscripts in the Fragile Palm Leaves collection, ed. by Claudio Cicuzza, 3 volumes (Bangkok: Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation, 2014-2015).
  • Pruitt, William and Roger Bischoff, Catalogue of the Burmese-Pāli and Burmese manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (London: The Wellcome Trust, 1998).
  • Pruitt, William, ed., Illustrations of Myanmar: manuscript treasures of the Musée Guimet (Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2019).
  • Pruitt, William, Yumi Ousaka, and Sunao Kasamatsu, The catalogue of manuscripts in the U Pho Thi Library, Thaton, Myanmar (Bristol: The Pali Text Society, 2019).
  • Senmai: Shan Buddhist lik‘̐ lūṅ‘ manuscripts in UK and SE Asian collections
  • Terwiel, Barend Jan, ed., Shan manuscripts (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2003).

Blog posts

The Nomadic Chemist: Alfred Sercombe Griffin (1878-1943) and Burma

Monday, May 30, 2022

Griffin in the doorway of his Weston-super-Mare pharmacy after his return from Burma. Griffin family archives. The Burmese collection at the British Library has recently received two donations of fascinating memorabilia that belonged to Alfred Sercombe Griffin. He is known...

Transcribed from the boundary wall of the universe: Early Dhammasattha manuscripts in the Burmese collection of the British Library

Monday, November 15, 2021

The British Library’s Burmese collection holds some of the earliest extant dhammasattha manuscripts in the world. The dhammasattha, or “treatise on the law” is a genre of Buddhist literature prevalent in mainland Southeast Asia, written in Pali and in a...

Kālāma Sutta and the premise of free thinking

Monday, September 20, 2021

Tipiṭaka or the ‘Three Baskets’ forms the canon of the teachings of the Buddha written in Pāli. The second ‘Basket’, Sutta Piṭaka, contains five Nikāyas or ‘collections’ of thousands of discourses attributed to the Buddha and his disciples. The Aṅguttara...

The Burmese Harp: (3) Heaven and Earth

Monday, February 15, 2021

In my two previous blogs on the Burmese harp - (1) Seduction of the Senses and (2) Matters of the Heart - I gave examples of how the Burmese harp or Saung was incorporated into Jātaka stories (stories of the...

More blog posts

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Stunning publication on illustrated Buddhist manuscripts from Southeast Asia.

£50

Exhibition catalogue for the Buddhism exhibition at the British Library, 2019.

£25

A print from a Burmese Buddhist cosmology manuscript

£25