The Materiality of South Asian Manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania MS Coll. 390 and the Rāmamālā Library in Bangladesh
material manuscript literacy
South Asian scripts
Library and Information Science
Reading and Language
South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies
The codex has become ubiquitous in the modern world as a common way of presenting the materiality of texts. Much of the scholarship on the History of the Book has taken this endpoint for granted even when discussing pre-modern writing and manuscript cultures. In this essay, I would like to open the discussion to other possibilities. I will draw on my research on medieval South Asian religions and from my hands-on work with manuscripts in two collections: the Rāmamālā Library in Bangladesh and the Indic collection at the University of Pennsylvania. Drawing examples from these two collections as well as noting broader patterns within them, this essay reflects on what South Asian manuscript traditions can contribute to our understanding of the materiality of texts. First, I consider how different articulations of orality, memory, ritual, and aesthetics in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism helped to shape the development and formation of manuscript traditions in South Asia with dynamics that might differ from medieval manuscript traditions shaped by Christianity in the West. Then, I turn to specific insights into the materiality of South Asian manuscripts in relation to the task of cataloguing, preserving, and digitizing materials in the Rāmamālā library.