There are sixty-four Isan manuscripts in the collection listed under the categories below. The overview tab provides a general description of these manuscripts, while the category tabs describe individual items within each grouping of materials.
The Isan or northeast region of Thailand is home to a large ethnic Lao community. Since the 1920s printers in the region have been making modern palm leaf manuscripts.1 The library holds 58 manuscripts from the Lūk Sǭ Thammaphakdī publisher. This publisher has been located at two different addresses in Bangkok depending on the time period (Tanāo Rd. or Khāosān Rd.). The earliest texts are from 1921 (by a different publisher), but many are from the 1960s and 1980s. Over the years different individuals were listed as the publisher: Nāi Som Phūangphakdī in the ‘60s and Nāi Bunchūai Hiranawat since the ‘80s. Currently the Lūk Sǭ Thammaphakdī publisher is still in business printing Thai and Lao manuscripts for those wanting to make merit or to own a traditionally styled manuscript.2
While not as old as other manuscripts in the collection these texts are significant to show how the Tai manuscript tradition evolved in the twentieth century. The texts in this part of the collection are more modern, now commercially-oriented, but at the same time preserve the tradition for future generations.
What sets these manuscripts apart from the rest of the collection is that the texts are no longer hand-written by individual scribes, but are now machine-printed directly onto the palm leaf. The texts are written in the modern Thai script, rather than older, more esoteric scripts, so that now anybody could read them; one does not need specialized knowledge of other scripts. Unlike many manuscripts in this collection many texts now list a compiler or author. This is different than the past when nearly all manuscripts did not name any “author,” much less copyist. In the past there was a widely-held view that the author of the text was not the creator or owner of the resulting work, but that they were transmitting universal knowledge from the ancient past.
Nearly all the Isan texts in the collection (28 of 35) are revisions by the head monk of Ubonrātchathānī province (พระราชรัตโนบลเจ้าคณะจังหวัดอุบลราชธานี) in northeast Thailand. The collection also includes two revisions by Mahā Sīlā Vīravong, one of the leading intellectuals of twentieth century Laos. In fact Sīlā was born in the Isan province Rǭi ‘ēt and sought to become a judge in Thailand before leaving for Laos to join the nascent nationalist movement there, according to his autobiography. He was an important figure in redefining and modernizing Lao literature at a time when printing began to become more widespread within Laos.
These texts are highly valuable to the academic study of the Isan region of Thailand. The Isan texts include many classics of Lao literature, but also famous works of Thai literature too. This part of the collection also has Siamese texts, many of which were revised by Mahā Pui Sǣngchāi of 'Anongkhārām temple.
When viewing these manuscripts one will be struck by the fact that the edges of many manuscripts are marked by red lacquer with gold leaf, making them attractive for prospective buyers as well as protecting them against the humid environment of mainland Southeast Asia. The Lūk Sǭ Thammaphakdī manuscripts show how manuscripts were remade in the twentieth century into commodities for the market. Some manuscripts actually contain advertisements on the front cover to persuade a person to purchase them. Some also claim to be “copyrighted” which would seem to actually discourage copying. This represents a radical break from the tradition which until modern times only survived by generations of scribes copying out texts by hand. It was meritorious act conditioned by the social milieu but it also preserved the texts for the next generation. That value system was inexorably altered in the twentieth century as demonstrated by this part of the collection.