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Swift Family Collection of Palm Leaf Manuscripts
University of California, Berkeley
The Bancroft Library
by Hudaya Kandahjaya
Evaluated & Revised by Professor Peter Skilling
December 2005

Lloyd Wesley Swift, a 1930 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, donated 
a collection of 16 sets of palm leaf manuscripts and one paper manuscript.  This gift is 
generally known as The Swift Family Collection. Some of this collection of Buddhist palm 
leaf manuscripts from the mainland Southeast Asia figured prominently in "The Written Word 
Remains". This exhibition was a display of manuscripts and rare printed books from South 
and Southeast Asia assembled from libraries, faculty and private collectors. The exhibition 
was carried out in the Main Library from March to June 1977. After the exhibition, the 
collection of totally 23 manuscripts was eventually stored at the South and Southeast Asia 
Library. In 1997, some of them were displayed again in "A Hundred Harvests: The History of 
Asian Studies at Berkeley" Exhibition. The whole collection was sent to the Library 
Preservation Department in 2001 to be individually treated and boxed. The process of 
identification of each manuscript for the purpose of cataloging started in October 2002 and 
the results are presented here.
I. The Origin of Swift Family Collection

The manuscripts were originally in the estate of Josephine Hall Bishop (1841?-1917) of 
San Francisco, wife of Thomas Benton Bishop (1840-1906), a well known and very successful 
attorney. Mrs. Bishop, a world traveler, collected and maintained her own private museum 
on Washington Street in San Francisco. Her father, Professor James Hall (1811-1898), an 
outstanding geologist and paleontologist, directed the New York Geological Survey and 
was the first director of the New York State Museum at Albany. After his death, Mrs. Bishop 
brought much of his papers and personal property to San Francisco. In due time part of the 
Hall and Bishop material went to Mrs. Edward Bishop (1887-1951), widow of Edward Bishop, 
son of Josephine and Thomas, and then to Clara Bishop Swift (1905-1964), wife of Lloyd 
Wesley Swift, and upon Mrs. Swift's death to Lloyd Wesley Swift.

It is likely that Rev. Samuel R. House sent several manuscripts to Professor James Hall 
directly from Siam, via his friend Rev. Stephen Bush when the latter went back to New 
York in 1853.  Rev. Samuel R. House (1817-1899) himself was a native of Saratoga, New 
York and was one of the founders of Christian missionary to Siam and Laos. He went to 
Siam in 1847 and worked there for thirty years.

In any event, it appears that Josephine Hall Bishop handled, and perhaps displayed, 
the manuscripts. The small, red-bordered labels found on some are in her handwriting. 
Parts of the manuscripts are wrapped in attractively colored handmade mats. Some brown 
wrapping paper with notes was together with the manuscripts. Descriptive notes on white 
paper appear on the inside of the panels of some manuscripts. Lloyd Wesley Swift was 
unable to identify the writer, but the writing in ink on some of the exterior wrapping 
paper he credited to a scholarly nun in San Francisco, who saw the manuscripts and, 
apparently, could read the text.

II. General Description of the Collection

From all 23 manuscripts, four manuscripts are written in folded paper. The rest are 
written in palm leaves. Their complete physical description is yet to be measured 
and described. Some of those manuscripts have a wooden title marker. This bookmark 
may or may not have the name or the date of the manuscript.

There are 15 manuscripts written in a variant of scripts belonged to the family 
of Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts. Three manuscripts are written in Devanagari 
script, two in Khmer, and one each in Burmese, Tamil, and Thai. Those written in 
Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts are likely collected from different regions, 
as their numeric characters belonged to a range of script variants, e.g., Mon, 
Yuan, and Lu. The scripts are often not easily identified, because they do not 
exactly match with the regular Northern Thai or Laos Tham scripts available in 
todays' publications.  These scripts frequently follow some characteristics 
akin to the Mon script. 

Some of those manuscripts have a date in their colophons. The earliest identified 
so far is dated 1782 CE (1144 Culla Sakka) and the latest one is dated 1898 CE 
(1260 Culla Sakka). However, the provenance and some titles of these manuscripts 
are yet to be identified.

The collections have a wide range of textual samples from the Buddhist Tripitaka 
as well as from the Hindu scriptures. A number of manuscripts from the Abhidhamma 
Pitaka and the Vinaya (the Mahavagga and Cullavagga sections) as well as Sutta 
Pitaka (Majjhima-nikaya, Anguttara-nikaya, and Jatakas) represent the Buddhist 
canonical texts. The Hindu title scriptures are represented by, for example, the 

III. Individual Description

The following gives a physical description of each manuscript. The number in front 
of the title of the manuscript is the sequence number of the manuscript. This number 
is written on top of the archival box, in which the manuscript is stored.
1. Abhidhamma
Cloth wrapper. Black wooden covers. 6 bundles. Gilt edges with black stripe in the 
middle. Tham script. Very tidy. Pali mixed with Northern Thai. 

Contains: Puggalapannati, Vibhanga, Kathavatthu, Mahapatthana, Dhatukatha

2. Namasap Culavagga
Northern Thai language, Tham script, 18 bundles. Handwritten label on inside cover in English.

3. Milindapanha
Tham script, Northern Thai language. 2 roughly hewn plain wooden covers. 6 bundles. Decorative 
designs at some places such as around string holes of front and last pages. Handwritten card in 
English, laminated.

4. Kammavaca
Silk wrapper with bamboo ribbing. 
2 fine wooden covers - gilt lacquer rondels with vegetal motifs on red background. 
Leaves have gilt edges. 
Lanna script - 5 lines per leaf. Good hand. 
Pagination ka-kah, kha-khah, ga-gau. Folio ki missing. 
Kammavaca formulas in Pali with some Lanna Thai at end. 
Handwritten ink label on inner back cover: 
"Kammavacam The formulas used in the ordination of a Buddhist monk or Bikkku (sic). 
Palm leaf MS. in Laos Pali characters. 
Farther India

5. Abhidhamma, Vohara, Vibhanga Sutta
Cloth wrapper. 4 bundles. Northern Thai language. Tham script. Handwritten label in English 
on inside of wooden cover: "Vohan Petaka tang sam commentary on Tripitaka."
Contains: Vibhanga Sut, Vibhanga Sut Patimok, Vohar Anisong Pitok, Abhidham

6. Katha Sipphaguna

Northern Thai language mixed with Pali. Tham script mixed with Burmese for Pali. 
End leaf: Phra chao bhavana nai…
Buddha bodheyyam mutto mocaiyam ti tinno taleyyam
Label in English: "Verses of ten precepts. Written in Laos Pali characters. Indochinese." 

7. Anguttara Nikaya
2 plain red gilt wooden covers. 
Palm leaf with gilt edges. 
7 bundles (phuk) 
Lanna script; Pali and Lanna languages. 5 lines per page. 
Contains several bundles with title "Anguttara Nikaya" in left margin. 
Text is in Lanna Thai. Two bundles are in Pali. These may be other texts. 
One bundle bears Cula Sakkaraja date. 
Gilt lacquer title marker with Lanna Thai inscription and same date. 1239 = 1877 (?)

8. Sip Jat = Ten Jatakas
Tham script, Northern Thai language. Cloth wrapper. Gilt edges of leaves. 
Handwritten label on inside cover in English.
2 bundles: 1) na tap klao sip jat… 2) na tap pay phuk ton 

9. Kammavaca

This manuscript is written on palm leaves. Except for the first leaf, which measures 16 
by 2 ¼ inches, the rest are 24 7/8 by 2 ¼ inches. Two lacquered wooden boards cover these 
leaves. Except for the first leaf, the leaves and the boards each have two holes. A brownish 
cord, which goes through those two holes, binds all of the leaves and the boards together.

There are 27 leaves in this manuscript. Only leaf number 5 up to leaf number 25 are inscribed. 
The written leaves are marked sequentially, starting with the letter 'ka' and ending with the 
letter 'khau'. Each leaf usually has five full lines of text. Exceptions are leaves number 5, 
20, and 25, which have only 5 lines in the middle in front; 1 line in front; and 4 lines in 
front and 1 line in the back respectively.

Leaves 5 up to 20 are written in Pali with Tham script. The rest are written with Northern 
Thai script.

10. Narada Jataka
Cloth wrapper with bamboo slit ribs. 
2 fine gilt lacquer wooden covers - ornate motifs on red background. 
3 bundles - leaves have gilt and red lacquer edge. 
Lanna script and language. 
5 lines per page. Good hand. 
Bundle 1 opens "narada phuk ton lae sakkara dai 1190 tua." 
Handwritten label on inside cover reads "The three volume MS Laos Indo-China Name: Nadara 
(sic) Jataka Birth Story of Buddha."

11. Vessantara Jataka
Fine and well-preserved cloth wrapper with bamboo ribbing. Geometric motif. 
Gilt lacquer wooden title marker with inscription in Lanna script and language on one side 
(reverse side blank red lacquer). 
Gives title "Mahavesantara; (sic) and Sakkaraja date. 
2 plain red covers. 
Leaves have gilt and dark lacquer edges. 
Lanna language and script. 5 lines per page. Good hand. 
Phuk in discorder - seem to be 13? 
Chapter titles in left margins - Sakkapan, Vannapavet, Kumarapan, etc. 
Includes "anisong" (with grey string) 
Handwritten label on inside cover: "The sixteen volume MS Laos, Indo-China Name: - 
Vessantara Jataka. The birth story of Gotama Buddha describing his incarnation as 
King Vessantara."

12. Namasap Mahavagga
Gilt lacquer wooden title marker with one inscribed side (reverse plain wood). 
2 wooden covers with gilt floral motifs on red background. 
24 bundles. 
Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. Fine hand. Date in Culasakraj 1228 tua = 
1866 (?) 
Label on inside cover - handwritten in ink "The Vinaya Pitaka Mahavagga Palm leaf M.S. 
in Laos Pali characters. Farther India."

13. Vohar Mahosatha Jataka, Candakumara Jataka
Wooden title marker - gilt lacquer with inscription in Lanna script and language on 
one side, plain black on reverse - carved "handle." 
Gives titles "Mahosatha" and "Candakumara." 
2 plain red wooden covers. 
Leaves have gilt edges with central red stripe flanked by pair of red stripes. 
11 bundles. 
Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. Date. ??? tua 
8 phuk - vohan Mahosatha 
3 phuk - vohan Candakumara 
Label on inside cover, written in ink in longhand: "Sutta Pitaka. 
Mahosatha Jataka and Candakumara Jataka. Palm leaf M.S. in Laos Pali characters. 
Farther India."

14. Phra Dhammapada-atthakatha kambujjakaksara-nvat (?), phuk 8
1 bundle in Khom script.
Thai writing on cover page: Origin Thailand.
Khom script, Pali language, 5 lines per leaf. Good writing, tiny interlinear notes in 
Thai. Some loose leaves.
Note: 1 stray leaf of illustrated MS of Ramayana from Orissa or South India. Very fine.

15. Kammavaca
Wooden title marker. Red lacquer inscribed in Lanna script and language on one side, 
verso plain red. 
2 gilt wooden covers with floral motifs, inlaid with mirrors. 
Leaves have gilt edges. 
Lanna script in Pali language, 5 lines per page. 
Title leaf reads "Kammavaca." 
Final leaf has colophon of 2 lines in Lanna language with names of persons involved 
(?) and date, ending "nibbana paccayo hontu (sic) no. 

16. Majjhima Nikaya
Wooden title marker. One side gilt lacquer inscribed in Lanna script. 
Verso plain black. 
2 very fine wooden covers, gilt with floral motifs drawn in black. 
4 or 5 bundles. 
Leaves have gilt edges. 
Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. 
Label on inside cover, written in long hand in ink: 
"The Sutta Pitaka 
Majjhima Nikaya 
Palm leaf M.S. in Laos Pali characters. Farther India."

17. Tamil
7 lines per leaf. 2 string holes. Very fine and tidy hand.

18. Abhidhammavatara patha (Pali language)
Red lacquer cover and edges. Burmese script. 9 lines per leaf. Good writing but faint.

19. Phra Abhidhammatthasangaha Pariccheda
BE 2416 = CE 1873.  Sponsored by Khun Mae On.
9 bundles - complete. Thai language, Khom script.

20. Phra Mangaladipani-atthakatha mangala sutra
2 new boards. Khom Pali script. 5 lines per leaf. Good writing.
Thai note on title page: "tan laew."
2 bundles: phuk 39 and 40 from "ban plai."

21. Rajavidhanasarah
Wooden cover, inside, has 3 paintings of green Buddha in vitarka mudra flanked by 2 
images of eyes, eyebrows, urna and 'om' symbol. Text - black letters on yellow paper 
with red pigment between dandas.
Opens: Sriganesaya namah //
18 leaves. Complete. 

22. Srimadvisnupurana 
Printed paper folding book in Nagari type and Sanskrit language. 
Opens: "Atha satikam srimad-visnupuranam prarabhyate. 
Verso of title page has black and white picture of Visnu on the serpent Sesa. 
Title of Tika is "Vaisnavakutacandrikatika. 
Colophon gives printing details (Ainapura in Mumbai) and date Saka 1824. 
Paper fragile.

23. Visnudharmottara
Printed paper book in Nagari type, Sanskrit language. 
Title page; red and green ink: 
"Atha Visnudharmottara-mahapurana-prarambha" has table of contents (visayanukramanika). 
Printed in Mumbai by Khemaraja Srikrsnadasa at Sri Venkatesvara Steam Press. 
Samvat 1969, Saka 1834. 
Paper in better condition than No. 22. 
This is an edition from the famous Sri Venkatesvara Steam Press in Bombay. 
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