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The British Library has digitised four Sinhalese palm leaf manuscripts, part of the Hugh Nevill manuscript collections, from the British Museum Library and India Office collections, which make up the significant Sinhalese manuscript collections held at the British Library. The project, named ‘Sinhalese Manuscripts Pilot Project’ and generously supported by the Sri Lankan non-profit organisation Paramaththa, will make the digitised images freely available online.
The British Library’s Sinhalese collections are rich and diverse with over 2,100 printed books and over 2,400 manuscripts in a range of formats including paper, palm leaf and copper plates. The palm leaf manuscripts from the Hugh Nevill collection in particular, dated between the 17th and the 19th centuries, cover a wide range of genres and subjects from the greater part of orthodox Buddhist literature in Pali to History, Geography, Ethnography, Magic, Cosmology, Iconography, Astrology and Ayurvedic manuscripts in both Sanskrit and Sinhalese translations. There is also a good representation of Sinhalese classical literature in the collections and Folklore which includes many items not preserved anywhere else making the British Library’s collection one of the most important Sinhalese manuscript collections outside of Sri Lanka.
Aim of the project
The core aim of the ‘Sinhalese Manuscripts Pilot Project’ is to digitise and make available on the British Library’s website the images of four palm leaf manuscripts that are part of the Sinhalese palm leaf manuscript collections held at the British Library. The digitised manuscripts are of both scholarly interest as well as cultural, historical and religious significance to the Sri Lankan Sinhalese Theravada Buddhist community.
What we have achieved so far
Through a generous donation from our funders Paramaththa, we were able to complete the pilot project’s manuscript conservation and imaging, catalogue creation and online presentation in June 2021. The outputs of this project are four detailed and searchable catalogue records and fully digitised manuscripts made freely available here and through our online catalogue. We have digitised in full the following manuscripts:
- Manuscript 1 – Dighanikaya (IO Pali 48)
- Manuscript 2 – Majjhimanikaya (IO Pali 54)
- Manuscript 3 – Mahavamsa Pali (Or 9335)
- Manuscript 4 – Mahavamsa Pali (Or 6605/1)
Paramaththa is a non-profit organisation based in Sri Lanka that is striving to develop and promote research and theological studies of Theravada Buddhism, positioning its secular and religious discourse within the context of contemporary society. Paramaththa is the platform of a forest monastery in North Central Sri Lanka that was established with the aspiration of sharing the sacerdotal Dhamma knowledge of the most venerable forest monks with the wider society.
- The School of Business, Economics and Informatics, Birkbeck, University of London
- Government of Sri Lanka, represented by the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs and the High Commission of Sri Lanka in the UK
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