2 January 2023
Photo: De Gruyter
The new volume of SMC is the first to attempt a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary analysis of the manuscript cultures implementing the pothi manuscript form. Focusing on colophons, it presents a historical and comparative investigation of the links connecting several manuscript cultures.
The new volume of the series Studies in Manuscript Cultures (SMC) studies colophons as they emerge from the investigation of Indic manuscripts. As such, it ‘programmatically sits at the centre of a number of blatant contradictions’, as the editors of the volume declare right at the start. For one thing, there is no consensus which written cultures fall within the scope of the term ‘Indic’. In the issue at hand, the term refers to a broad geographical area including South, Southeast, and Central Asia which, needless to say, contain a high variety of languages, scripts, and traditions that characterise their manuscript cultures. Moreover, many of these manuscript cultures do not even have a word for ‘colophon’. Although many of them have terms that refer to similar phenomena, none of them is perfectly equivalent with the term we have inherited from the European traditions.
Nevertheless, the recently published anthology The Syntax of the Colophon: A Comparative Study across Pothi Manuscripts sets the stage for an ambitious codicological enterprise. The volume is the first to attempt a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary analysis of the manuscript cultures implementing the pothi manuscript form. A pothi is a stack of folios, for instance palm-leaves, paper sheets, or birchbark sheets, crafted in an oblong rectangular shape of different lengths and flipped upward (such that the writing on the verso would be upside down if the folios were to be flipped sideward). In Tibet, South India, mainland Southeast Asia, and Bali, the pothi has been the most widespread manuscript form until modern times; it has also been very common in North India and Central Asia. Still, there has not yet been a systematic scholarly approach or narrative that encompasses these regions and their pothis.
The present volume begins to draw a bigger picture in which the similarities and differences, continuities and innovations in the various manuscript cultures of the Indic world finally become visible. For this purpose, colophons are the expedient of choice. Colophons are paratexts that can contain a wealth of information about a given manuscript: they reveal who wrote it, when and where, and often also provide further details about the circumstances of the production of a manuscript. As such, they are valuable sources for holistic study of written artefacts that deals with the production, transmission, and preservation of manuscripts in a cultural context.
This issue stems from the workshop entitled ‘The Syntax of South, Southeast and Central Asian Colophons: A First Step Towards a Comparative and Historical Study of Manuscripts in the Pothi Format’ that was held at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) in Hamburg on 11–13 October 2018, and which was sponsored by the ERC project ‘NETamil’, the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris), and CSMC. The editors of the volume are Nalini Balbir (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris) and Giovanni Ciotti (CSMC, Hamburg). Like all previous volumes in the series, The Syntax of the Colophon is available as open access; all contributions can be downloaded from the publisher’s website.