Technology of yore | Daily News

Technology of yore

Historical annals reveal that every ancient civilization before the emergence of symbols and letters for generations continued to carry their, world views, religious beliefs, primitive cult practices, mythology and incantations through memorization.

Later on this oral tradition was replaced by writing. Long before the invention of paper, the scribes of ancient civilizations had made use of a wider diversity of material in committing to writing what was conveyed by the oral tradition. Clay tablets had been used for writing in Mesopotamia where writing originated and papyrus an aquatic plant species had been extensively used in writing in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome for a period of more than 3500 years. In addition, ‘vellum’ made out of hides of animals were also found among other material used in ancient writing.

The Fifth Buddhist Council was held at Alu Vihara Rock Temple, Matale and the monks who gathered at the temple spent several years to transcribe the ‘ Tripitaka ’ which they had memorized into Ola Leaf Manuscript using the ancient language of Pali which was one of the languages used in Buddhist scriptures. Scholars believe that manuscript writing using ola leaves originated in Sri Lanka from the 1st century BC since the day of transcription of Tripitaka at Aluvihara Temple.

Paper as a writing material was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1620 and before that ola leaves were used in all types of documentation. Over the years, the Art of Ola Leaf Writing gradually spread across South Asia and South East Asia. National Library of Sri Lanka has a rare collection of Ola Leaf Manucripts written on Buddhist Scriptures, Ayurvedic Medicine, Sinhala Literature, History, Ancient Arts and Crafts, Astrology, Jataka Stories,

According to mythology prevailed in India and Sri Lanka relevant to Astrology , it was believed that more than 3000 years ago , seven Rishis of India ( Sages ) had written their forecasts on every human being’s pre-destined fate , past , present and future on Ola Leaf Manuscript. According to Caleb Simmons of the University of Arizona, one of the best Ola Leaf Manuscript Library on Siddha and Ayurvedic Medicine is found in the Madras University Campus in Chennai, India. One of the oldest Ola Leaf Manuscripts on Shaivism written in Sanskrit found in Nepal is among the collection of Ola Leaf Manuscripts in the Cambridge University. Talipot palm trees grow in the wet zone and still found growing in shrub jungles and home gardens fat Alawwa , Sri Lanka. Sometimes Talipot palm trees are found grown rarely even in isolated locations in other provinces as well.

Talipot palm tree has a long life span of nearly 100 years and dies after the bloom of the huge flower on the crown of the tree.

Nowadays, these palm leaves are used in turning out numerous handicrafts such as baskets, bags, boxes and fans used by the Buddhist monks. In other Asian countries young leaves are used in making white umbrellas.

Tender leaves obtained from the crown of the Talipot Palm ( Corypha Umbraculifera Linn ) and Palmyra Palm ( Borassus Flabellifer Linn ) after the removal of the midrib are rolled and packed huge pots made out of clay or metal . Raw leaves of Papaw ( Carica Papaya) , Pineapple leaves and Keppetiya ( Croton Lacciferus) are added into the pots filled with water. Using firewood the huge pots are heated to the required temperature for nearly 3 hours. Afterwards the boiled ola leaf rolls are removed and washed thoroughly several times and kept outside for four days in the sun until the stripes are properly dried..

Sarath Manchanayake (44) who lives in a hamlet, a few kilometres away from Alawwa is one of the chief producers of Ola leaf in Sri Lanka, who supplies the processed quality leaves to all the Ola Leaf Writers in the country. He said even in this digital age, ola leaf had a very big demand from Astrologers, Buddhist Monks, Ayurvedic physicians and Antique dealers. All his family members could be seen dedicatedly engaged in processing the ola leaves, boiling, drying, and rolling and make the ola leaves ready for the market.

Several tall Talibot palm trees growing in the adjoining gardens of the village have facilitated Sarath Manbchanayake in leaves of Talipot Palm in the production of quality ola leaves. Upali Fernando is an expert well versed in every aspect of Ola Leaf Processing and in the traditional Art of Ola Leaf Transcription in Sinhala and English.

He was felicitated as Kalabooshana in 2014 for the service he had rendered on the preservation of the Traditional Palm Leaf Writing Art in Sri Lanka. He has already compiled several Ola Leaf Manuscripts on Buddhism in English. Upali Fernando who hails from Polwatta, Ambalangoda had been employed as a guide lecturer in the National Museum which laid the foundation for him to pay his attention on Ola Leaf Books and the Art of Ola Leaf Writing. He kept on doing research on Ola Leaf Writing for a period of over 20 years and as a result he could enrich his knowledge in every aspect of Ola Leaf Writing.

In order to gain practical knowledge he visited Ola Leaf Writers found scattered in several districts of Sri Lanka.

Ven. Naotunne Sumanarathana Thera happened to be his teacher who provided him all the guidance in Ola Leaf writing. Upali Fernando revealed it was Ven. Sumanarathana Thera who gave instructions to have a cut of thumb nail of the left hand to keep the ‘ Stylus ’ the tool used in inscribing stable while writing on the ola leaves.

Using wooden rods the Ola Leaves are polished and cut into the required measurements and perforated two holes on both sides of the leaves to be used as the pages in inscribing.

Upali Fernando explained a highly complex procedure of preparing a resinous oil to be used mixed with charcoal powder in inking the letters inscribed. Charcoal powder is made out of dried wood of ‘Gaduma’ ( Trema Orientails) and mixed with ‘dummala’ and ‘Kekuna’ oil.

According to Upali Fernando, there is a mythological background for the resinous oil. This oil used in the making of the special ink was known as ‘ Varuni Yatra’ a prehistoric distilling method used in the era of Ravana’s reign in Sri Lanka. The inscription done on the ola leaf is not distinct and to make it visible inking has to be done. Rice husk powder is applied to remove the extra ink on the inscription.

The special ink made out of charcoal mixed with the resinous oil improves the flexibility, the preservation and emanates a pleasant smell which prevents insect attacks on the ola leaf manuscripts. Talipot Palm Trees providing raw material for writing are fast diminishing affecting the ancient art of Ola Leaf or Palm Leaf Writing in Sri Lanka. So far no effective measures are taken by the government in replanting programme of Talipot Palms in the country.

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