This decorated wooden chest for a Kammavaca manuscript dates back to the 19th century and was made in north Thailand.
What was the chest made for?
The purpose of manuscript chests as well as larger cabinets was to provide a safe storage facility for manuscripts containing important Buddhist scriptures. This wooden chest was custom-made for one particular manuscript, most likely a Kammavaca manuscript containing ritual texts for monastic ordination. A thick layer of red lacquer on the inside was applied in order to protect the manuscript from damage by humidity, dust and insects. The decorative design on the outside of the chest is unique, which would also have helped to locate the manuscript contained in it if it was held in a larger monastic library.
What do we know about the decorations?
Manuscript chests like this were usually commissioned together with a similarly decorated manuscript as an act of merit. The ornaments in northern Thai style were carved in the wooden surfaces of this chest and then decorated with red lacquer, gilt and mirror glass inlay. Each long side is divided in three panels displaying floral designs with rabbits and deer. One short side has a panel with floral designs, the other short side has a panel with floral designs and a bird. The manuscript chest was acquired from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection.
View images of the entire item via our Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Article by:
- Ms Jana Igunma, San San May, Burkhard Quessel
- Buddhism, Illuminated texts
British Library curators Melodie Doumy, Jana Igunma, San San May and Burkhard Quessel explore some of the illuminated and illustrated Buddhist manuscripts in the Library's collection.