The Guardian of the Flame Sri Lanka Manuscript Collection

The Guardian of the Flame Collection is available for research at the Luhrs Reading Room, Hayden Library 4th floor. A portion of the collection has been individually photographed and described here. The complete collection consists of 390 individual manuscript objects comprised of palm leaves stacked upon each other, placed between wooden boards and tied together with string and buttons or coins. Some wooden boards are ornate, displaying intricate design, carving and/or painting techniques. Writing is applied to the palm leaves by embossing them with a specially designed stylus, and rubbing lampblack into the resulting relief.

The manuscript objects often include multiple discrete texts within them. The consulting scholars were asked to apply the formal title of the predominant text within each manuscript object to each catalog record. Manuscripts with no predominant text were described by the scholars as anthologies or compilations. Cataloging for many manuscripts was complicated by the absence of leaves, or leaves placed out of order, suggesting that the original order of some manuscripts has been disturbed.

Most often texts were written in the hand of one individual, and some of the texts are written in multiple languages. The majority of the collection is written in Pali (the traditional language and script of Theravada Buddhist monasteries), but many are written in Sinhalese or in combinations of Pali and Sinhalese. A few texts are written in Sanskrit. Some of the texts and wooden covers present freehand illustrations.

The texts are predominantly Theravada Buddhist religious texts, some of which can be classified according the taxonomy offered by the Pali Text Society (see Appendix). Some texts present medicinal or astrological information. The textual content originates from as early as the 3rd Century AD, although these copies of the texts date from ca. 1600-1910. The texts were trancsribed by Buddhist monks, who received spiritual honor for copying and thus disseminating the words of the Buddha and his disciples. As a result certain texts are repeatedly presented in several manuscript objects.

Each manuscript object has a four digit number applied for identification. In a few cases the description of a specific text within a manuscript object will display an alphabetical extension to the number for its host object (3965A). The order of numbering appears to be random, and numbers were applied to the collection before it was brought to ASU. In some cases duplicate manuscript numbers appear on more than one manuscript, these have been segregated for identification using numbered extensions (e.g. MSS-3965-1, 3965-2, etc.)

An alphabetical index by Title (English) is available in Appendix II for those manuscripts or predominant texts bearing an identifiable title.

Description by Robert Spindler, Special Collections, ASU Libraries.