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Palm-leaf manuscripts

Identifier: MC094

Scope and Content Note

The collection is composed of five full or partial palm leaf manuscripts of Shastras, sacred Hindu scriptures usually written in a declarative style to prescribe proper behavioral norms for social life. The manuscripts were presumably collected by Benjamin Burleigh Smith, and are drawn with a steel stylus on palm leafs, most with black ink rubbed over them to highlight the letters. They are in the Oriya script, and probably in either the Sanskrit or Oriya language.

Some or all of the manuscripts were copied by Smith's Brahmin pundit, or philosopher-teacher, between 1853 and 1862. In the Hindu cast system, a Brahmin is the highest ranking of the four varnas, responsible for performing priestly functions, studying and teaching the Vedas, and acting as an advisor to rulers. According to Smith's granddaughter, the pundit was so devoted to Smith that despite releasing him from his duties before Smith left India on his sabbatical, the pundit was still waiting for Smith on the porch upon his return eight years later.

One of the manuscripts (#4) may be of the Ramayana, a literary text that was considered to be a shastra (a guide for proper conduct) in 19th century India.

ARCHIVIST'S NOTE: We wish to thank Steven M. Vose, Ph.D. candidate in South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania for his assistance in identifying the manuscirpts.


  • ca. 1853-1862


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research. As the materials are in delicate condition, Archives staff may assist researchers wishing to view items.

Use Restrictions

The collection is the physical property of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library. Bates College holds literary rights only for material created by College personnel working on official behalf of the College, or for material which was given to the College with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication or other purposes that exceed fair use.

Historical Note

The Freewill Baptist missionary Rev. Benjamin Burleigh Smith was born in Sandwich, New Hampshire on March 20, 1820 to John and Elizabeth (Webster) Smith. Before becoming a foreign missionary, Smith completed theological studies at Whitestown Seminary in Oneida County, New York. In the summer of 1851 or 1852, he married Dorcas Folsom and the couple sailed for India shortly thereafter, arriving in Calcutta (now Kolkata) six months later.

Smith established a church in Balasore, on the east coast of India in the Orissa (now Odisha) state, building the structure from bricks he made himself. The couple and their son, Edwin Augustus Smith, remained in India for nearly a decade before returning to the United States in 1862. During this sabbatical, Smith traveled around New England giving lectures on behalf of the "Christian Society" and helped his parents on the family farm in New Hampshire. He returned twice to India, serving three more years as a foreign missionary. He died in Balasore on November 22, 1873.


5 items

Language of Materials



Five manuscripts of Shastras, sacred Hindu texts, inscribed on palm leaves which were collected by Benjamin Burleigh Smith, a Free Will Baptist missionary who lived in India during the mid 19th century.

Organization and Arrangement


Acquisition and Custody Information

Gift of Benjamin Burleigh Smith. Accession No.: xx-064.

Processing Information

Additional descriptive information provided by Steven M. Vose, Ph.D. candidate in South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, 2009.

Guide to the Palm-leaf manuscripts, ca. 1853-1862
Edited Full Draft
Kat Stefko
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in: English
Edition statement

Repository Details

Part of the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library Repository

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