The TST editing interface

If you are looking for the TST editor that was demonstrated at the webinar yesterday, you can find it at


TST editor screenshot


For a basic description of how to use the editor, see the GitHub repository for the project.

Here are some examples of detailed records that have been completed:

You can download any of these files and open them in the editor, to see how it works. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! The editor is evolving as we refine our ideas about what paratexts are and how they work. The more records we have, the better we will be able to describe the variety of manuscript traditions and scribal practices of South Asia (and beyond). Looking forward to learning about the manuscripts that you are all working on!

Architecture, death, & divination

Anyone who has grown up with American horror movies will be familiar with the Indian Burial Ground trope. Typically, a family will move in to a house or a hotel, and then eerie, inexplicable things will begin to happen. The plot thickens, until even the parents — who initially refuse to believe in the supernatural — can no longer deny that the place is haunted. Finally, the cause of the haunting is revealed: the building lies on the site of an Ancient Indian Burial Ground.



Roadside marker in New York State. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


In recent years, scholars reflecting on the culture of late 20th-century America have posited that the popularity of this trope was due to the growing awareness of the atrocities committed by American colonists in the New World; the vengeful spirits of horror films reflect the guilt of a nation built upon the deaths of the First Nations people it conquered. Certainly, more recent satires of this trope seem to bring this connection to the fore.

But the fear of building a house atop the resting places of the dead is perhaps much more fundamental and widespread than this relatively recent cultural meme suggests. At the BnF, a small collection of Sanskrit manuals on architecture, or vāstuśāstra, can give us some insight into how medieval architects and their clients reckoned with the shadow of death lingering in the places where they might choose to build.

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Passing notes in the library

Whereas a scribe or an owner might annotate a manuscript directly, scholars working with manuscripts in institutions, such as the BnF, don’t usually have that luxury. But even if you could write on the manuscript, it wouldn’t be so useful, since you would need to retrieve it from storage each time you wanted to consult your notes.

But sometimes, you might come across some information that you want to pass on to future readers. If you were part of the institution, like Jean Filliozat, then you could update the institution’s own records. Here, for example, is the catalogue of Sanskrit manuscripts at the BnF, with corrections in Filliozat’s hand.


Catalogue sommaire des manuscrits sanscrits

Catalogue sommaire des manuscrits sanscrits by Antoine Cabaton, with corrections by Jean Filliozat. Courtesy of the BnF.


The corrected information would then be preserved and included in future versions of the library’s records, such as the online catalogue. But what if you were just a lowly reader, with no such authority? How might you go about “publishing” your notes on a manuscript?

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A glimpse of Umraosingh Sher-Gil in Sanscrit 1145

Umraosingh Sher-Gil  (1870-1954) is perhaps best known by association, as the father of Amrita Sher-Gil, the avant-garde painter whom the New York Times once hailed as “a pioneer of Indian Art”. But, in recent years, Umraosingh himself has become recognized as an artist in his own right, through his photographs and photographic experiments, chronicling a life spent between Europe and India during the transformative period of the early 20th century.


Umraosingh Sher-Gil

From The Sher-Gil Archive. Courtesy of the Asian Art Archive:

But Umraosingh had always viewed himself as a scholar, rather than an artist. Perhaps it is because of his association with Amrita that his artistic output has been lauded, while his scholarly work has not been studied so far. At the BnF, Sanscrit 1145, a paper manuscript produced by Umraosingh of the Pāṇinīyaśikṣā, a “Treatise on Sanskṛta Phonetics,” gives us a rare glimpse of this oeuvre.

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The bend of the leaf

In the process of preparing manuscripts for digital reproduction, I often become more sensitive to the aspects which cannot be reproduced. High-quality, instantly-accessible images are an incredible boon to researchers around the world, but, inevitably, a representation of a 2-dimensional surface will not be able to capture a 3-dimensional object persisting in and changing over time. Moreover, as a human artefact, it is embedded in a rich cultural and historical context, which is only hinted at through imagery.


Two consecutive folios from Indien 54. All images courtesy of the BnF.

Two consecutive folios from Indien 54. All images courtesy of the BnF.


The interaction between materiality and human culture is captured beautifully in palm leaf manuscripts such as Indien 54, pictured here. Continue reading

TST Webinar 1

Since the online TST workshop (September 21st, 2020) was very fruitful and since it is not clear when the TST members will again meet in persons because of the current pandemic, TST has started a series of monthly webinars.

Metal cover of BnF Indien 113, a multiple-text manuscript containing the Akattiyar Tēvārat Tiraṭṭu — The source this picture of INDIEN 113 is BnF

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Punctuation poetry in MS Sanscrit 616

In India, the 19th century was a period in which manuscripts, lithographs, and printed books were all being produced at the same time. We often imagine a linear sequence in which manuscripts are copied as lithographs, which are then replaced by books, but reality is usually not so straightforward. In fact, manuscripts were sometimes produced by copying lithographs and printed books by hand, for a variety of reasons — for example, see Francis 2017, “The Other Way Round: From Print to Manuscript”.


Sanscrit 616. All manuscript images are courtesy of the BnF.

Sanscrit 616. All manuscript images are courtesy of the BnF.


Sanscrit 616 is a particularly interesting example of this phenomenon. It is a palm-leaf manuscript of the Amarakośaviveka, copied from a lithograph made in 1850 in Pune. Continue reading

A wedding invitation around MS Sanscrit 1868

Pieces of scrap paper are often used as sleeves or envelopes for manuscripts. The re-use of discarded material was also prevalent in bookbinding, where they were employed to line or repair a binding, or as endpapers — for example, see “The Fix: Binding Waste” (Smith 2014). The result is that material that was once considered ephemera — such as newspapers, catalogs, or even medieval manuscripts — are unintentionally preserved.

Paper sleeve around MS Sanscrit 1868. All images courtesy of the BNF.

Paper sleeve around MS Sanscrit 1868. All images courtesy of the BNF.

The sleeve around MS Sanscrit 1868 is a slip of paper folded in half. Continue reading