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On comparing our copies we found that they were very nearly correct. We also were able to compare them with the original now that we were sure of them. I inclose the original copy as made by myself. No. 1 is the front and No. 2 the reverse side.*
I aimed to give every mark, however trifling, even what appeared to me to be slips of the chisel in the engraver's hand, and each stroke in its proper proportion. The first copy was made with a pencil, and traced with ink directly on my return.
The engraved lines were bold and deep-cut, as I have endeav ored to show in the copy. The strokes of the chisel formed a cut with a base more like two right angles than an acute angle. The letters were engraved very near to the edge of the Plate all around, and might give one the impression, on a hasty look, that the Plate had been divided, but I saw no reason for such a supposition, and I examined it carefully with this in view.
The Plate was evidently very old, as it showed signs of wear. Some letters were filled up with much handling, but owing to the color of the metal the form of the letters was in almost every instance readily made out.
The size of the Plate by actual measurement is-length 6, inches, width 24 inches, thickness about of an inch, but not uniform. As to its composition I cannot pronounce with confidence, as we were not allowed to examine it by any test. There are, however, two kinds of metal in it, without doubt. These two metals were first made into plates and then united by welding, not face to face but by their edges. This is the appearance the Plate presents. The line of union is irregular, at times almost disappearing in the perfect union of the metals. The first half of the Plate is dark copper color, but the other half is a much lighter yellow, and I am not sure that it is not gold. I could not tell much by weight as a test, yet it seemed to me at the time to be too heavy for copper, or a composition of any metal having the specific gravity of copper: but I cannot speak with confidence in this matter.
I have examined a list of the alphabets of the East, and while this character resembles none to which I have access, yet it has forms common to a number. The Siamese character for his repeated a number of times. A Hebrew letter occurs here and there. Some forms or parts of whole letters resemble Burmese characters and so on. The division or apparent division of sentences is unlike any system with which I am acquainted. The Burmese system is couplets of short parallel bars before and after a sentence, while this appears to be a single or double cross at the close of a sentence.
* See the appended lithograph.
Further than this I have no light. It may be well to add, that accounts of shell-fish similar to those represented on the Plate enter largely into those traditions of the Karens which relate to their early travels: which fact is a little curious, to say the least.*
Minloungs, or supernatural characters, or rather those supposed by the ignorant Karens to have supernatural powers, have appeared from time to time, and it has been conjectured that some such character, in order to impose upon the Karens and acquire power over them, has devised this plan, and that the Plate is a mere medley of characters, sufficient to inspire awe in the ignorant mind, and having no real meaning in themselves. This may be the fact; but, if it is so, it is beyond the memory of any living Karen, nor do they have any tradition which would favor this suspicion. Rather tradition would seem to point to it as of ancient origin.
It might be well to remark, also, that this tribe seems to be the oldest tribe of Karens known, as they are by far the most civilized. Their works for irrigation, and the changes in the face of the country by agriculture, show this to be true also. Every thing in their country tends to produce the impression on the mind of the traveller that he is among a comparatively old people, who have occupied their position for some length of years.
With reference to the ivory plates,† I may say that I have little doubt of their existence at the same place. In fact, a descendant of the chief who is now with me tells me that such plates are in existence. How many they are or what their character I am unable to find out. The present chief denied having any more plates, but probably from fear that we should ask for a sight of them also. There are also other books, of palm leaf, which I think are of a modern date, perhaps in the Burmese character. I expect to visit the country again next season, and if possible shall get an impression of the Plate in question, and a sight of such other writings or engravings as may be in the keeping of this chief.
If any further particulars are desired which I can give I shall be happy to furnish them. In the meantime, if any progress is made in deciphering this inscription, I shall be glad to be made acquainted with the results.
* See the note to p. 172, above.
The ivory plates here referred to are thus mentioned by Mr. Cross:
"Rev. Quala also states that the Red Karen king, Kai-pho-gyee, who holds this plate, has also in his possession five ivory plates, in shape and size about like the ordinary Burmese palm-leaf-that is to say, each plate is about two feet in length, and two and a half inches in width. These ivory plates are covered with the same characters as the metal plate already mentioned."
THE PALI LANGUAGE
FROM A BURMESE POINT OF VIEW.
BY REV. FRANCIS MASON, D.D.,
MISSIONARY IN FARTHER INDIA.
Presented to the Society May 22d, 1872.
THERE are two schools of Pali. One takes for its basis the Pali derived from the oldest Burmese manuscripts, and the other the language as it now exists in books and manuscripts in Ceylon, condemning everything as irregular which differs from Singalese standards.
The Pali books are said to have been introduced into Burmah A. D. 387, and they appear to have been preserved uninterruptedly to the present time; but preserved by frequent copying, for the palm-leaf, on which they are all written, is such a perishable material, that the oldest manuscripts are supposed by the natives I have consulted to be less than two hundred years old.
However it may have been in the early years of the introduction of the language, since Europeans entered the country, little attention has been paid to its cultivation. Still, it is a constant study in all the Burmese monasteries, and nearly every school-boy makes a beginning on Kachchayano's grammar, few get beyond the first Book. The priest reputed to be the best Pali scholar in Toungoo told me that there was no priest in town, except himself, who had read more than the first three Books; and he was educated at Ava. I have not, however, found his knowledge very profound, although he can repeat Pali in long reaches with marvellous rapidity. When I point out to him a grammatical discrepancy in different manuscripts, his only reply is: "That is not the way I learned it."
Bishop Bigandet writes of the priests: Unacquainted with the rules of grammar, the teachers are incapable of imparting any sound knowledge of the vernacular language to their numerous pupils." This is not quite just to the priests.
All know Pali grammar in part, and there is a little work in the monasteries, written in the vernacular, which gives a very fair elementary view of both Pali and Burmese grammar side by side; and which any Burmese boy of ordinary capacity can easily master.*
The Burmese Pali manuscripts certainly abound in clerical errors; yet, by a careful comparison of independent copies from different localities, a text something like the one originally brought to the country may be supposed to be obtained.
In Siam, the Pali language is studied much more than in Burmah. Annual examinations are held by the king in Bangkok, and prizes awarded to the best original compositions written in the language. It is a quasi university examination, and giving the prizes represents the conferring of degrees. This extensive cultivation of the language, however, has not had a very good effect on retaining the precise forms and language of the old manuscripts.
E. Kuhn has printed the text of Kachchayano's Kâraka, or the Book on Syntax; and, as compared with the Burmese text, it appears like an attempt at an improved edition. Marks of elision are introduced, which must be a modern innovation or derived from the Sanskrit. They are not found in either Burmese or Singalese manuscripts. An additional aphorism has been interpolated, which has nothing corresponding to it in Burmah or Ceylon. There are nearly two hundred different readings, of which twenty-one are words or clauses in Siamese not found in the Burmese manuscripts, and twenty-seven are words or clauses not in the Siamese but found in the Burmese text. There are also numerous transpositions.
Pali is studied by the scholars of Ceylon "almost as their native tongue;"+ "Kings and princes have encouraged its study; nobles and statesmen have vied with each other to excel in its composition; and its laymen and priests have produced some of our most elegant works."
Nevertheless, Ceylon has been dependent for the last two centuries on Burmah for the best Pali manuscripts. This is proved by the concessions of Ceylonese scholars themselves. The Honorable George Turnour was the most distinguished of European Pali scholars when he wrote his principal work, which was the translation from the Pali of the Mahawanso, the early history of Ceylon; and it was from Burmese manuscripts that he corrected his text.
* For example, the book commences thus: "According to Kachchayano, there are 41 letters; according to Moggalayano, there are 43; according to the Burmese language, there are 46; and according to the Sanskrit, there are 51."
Clough's Pali Grammar, p. vi. [?]
+ D'Alwis's Pali Grammar, p. i.
He wrote: "It is from George Nadoris, modliar, that I received the Burmese version of the Tîkâ of the Mahawanso, which enabled me to rectify extensive imperfections in the copy previously obtained from the ancient temple at Mulgirigalla, near Tangalle.
Again, the Singalese had the name of a more ancient historical work, called the Dipawanso; but, not being able to find it, Turnour thought that it never had any real existence, and was only another name for the Mahawanso; but he was convinced of his error by finding the work in a Burmese manuscript. "Some time ago," continues Turnour, "the modliar suggested to me that I was wrong in supposing the Mahawanso and Dipawanso to be the same work, as he thought he had brought the Dîpawanso himself from Burmah. I was skeptical. In my last visit, however, to Colombo, he produced the book, with an air of triumph. His triumph could not exceed my delight."
"Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta, the identification of whose name with the Sandrocottus, mentioned by Greek writers as the most powerful king in India after Alexander's death, gave the first certain chronology to Indian history."† This identification was made from the Burmese manuscript of the Dipawanso to which reference is made above; and Prinsep wrote: "Mr. Turnour has thus most satisfactorily cleared up a difficulty that might long have proved a stumbling-block to the learned against the reception of these Lât inscriptions as genuine monuments of a fixed and classical period, the most ancient yet achieved in such an unequivocal form." And this most valuable of identifications in Indian history, now universally accepted, rests entirely, it should be understood, to this day, on Burmese Pali manuscripts of Ceylonese history, no longer extant in Singalese Pali.
Again, Kachchayano's Pali Grammar was supposed to be lost until its existence was reported from Burmah, where, while European and Ceylonese Pali scholars were writing it down non est, it was found in every library, and was being taught and had been taught from time immemorial in every monastery.
And we have the best of evidence that most of the Buddhist books now in Ceylon are made from Burmese manuscripts, because the original Pali manuscripts in Ceylon were destroyed by Brahmanical rulers. "In the several Solean and Pândîan conquests of this island," wrote Turnour, "the literary annals of Ceylon were extensively and intentionally destroyed. The savage Rajasingha in particular, who reigned between A. D.
* Journal A. S. Bengal, Dec. 1837, p. 1054.
Saturday Review, April 2, 1870.
Journal of A. S. Bengal, September 1837, p. 791, compared with the same, December 1837, p. 1055.