The Ancient Thai Manuscripts Now Available To Read Online - Atlas Obscura
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The Ancient Thai Manuscripts Now Available To Read Online

Thousands of works of literature, law, and history have been brought out of their temple homes.

International literature buffs have a new e-destination—the Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts has put thousands of examples of ancient Thai literature online, the Bangkok Post reports. Previously available only to those who visited the region’s ancient temples, the works—which include law codes, local histories, and a 545-year-old collection of tales of Buddha’s previous lives—are now online, and can be browsed digitally at the project’s website.

Harald Hundius, a Thai language expert and the project’s head digitizer, sewed the initial seeds of this project in 1971. After arriving in Thailand from Germany, he found himself in a situation familiar to most travelers: he didn’t get any of the jokes.

“I still remember the sight of 15 northern people… unwrapping manuscripts, reading for each other, and laughing,” he tells the Post. “I was curious, and tried to read the story.” This led him to spend three years learning the local languages, and then decades more surveying, preserving, and digitizing all the works he could find.

A Buddhist text, written on palm leaves.

A Buddhist text, written on palm leaves. (Photo: Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0)

The manuscripts are “essentially strips of leaves from the palm tree, tied together with string,” reports Digital Journal. Though many have survived for centuries, they are still vulnerable to things like fire, theft, and termites. Hundius hopes that preserving these works online will make them last even longer than they did onleaf, and allow access by interested parties worldwide.

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