Sinhalese manuscript containing bi-lingual Aṭṭhakathā (commentaries), which also includes a translation in Sinhalese language of the commentaries in Pāli language to the Tipitaka of Theravāda Buddhism.

The manuscript

The Aṭṭhakathā texts in this manuscript from Sri Lanka are incised on palm leaves, traditionally the most popular manuscript format for Theravāda Buddhist scriptures. Aṭṭhakathā texts are commentaries by early Buddhist scholars that give interpretations of the Pāli Buddhist canon, or Tipitaka. The earliest Aṭṭhakathā texts are thought to have been written down at the same time the first canonical scriptures were compiled, around the last century BCE. Commentaries have played a crucial role in the development of Theravāda Buddhist thought and practice in Sri Lanka and subsequently in Southeast Asia. Translations of commentaries into vernacular languages helped to disseminate the Buddha’s teachings beyond the centres of religious education.

What do the cover illustrations show?

The wooden covers were a later addition made in 1853 to this fragile palm leaf manuscript to provide better protection of its physical condition. Illustrated on the covers are – unrelated to the text in the manuscript – sixteen sacred Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka that are associated with the spread of Buddhism. These include the Buddha’s footprint (Sri Pada) at Adam’s Peak, the Dambulla Rock Cave, Jetavanaramaya Stupa and the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura. More generally, stupas, Buddha’s footprints, Bodhi trees and some caves are regarded as sacred sites. They are popular pilgrimage destinations often with monasteries where pilgrims can make offerings.