An annotation positioning system in MS Sanscrit 612

In Sanskrit manuscripts, marginal annotations are often followed by a number, indicating the line where that annotation applies (counting either from the top or from the bottom). But in the Amarakośa manuscript that forms part of Sanscrit 612, the scribe takes a different approach.


Sanscrit 612, folio 1v

Sanscrit 612, folio 1v. All manuscript images are courtesy of the BnF.


This paper manuscript in Bengali script takes a familiar form, mimicking the shape and size of palm leaves. The text of the Amarakośa, a popular Sanskrit lexicon, is written four lines to a page, surrounded by a generous margin on four sides. In this manuscript, the scribe has taken the opportunity to fill the margins with a commentary on the text. However, as in this folio, the commentary is much too dense for the line-numbering system usually employed for marginal annotations.

Moreover, the commentary has not been written in a linear fashion; comments on a word in the text may appear anywhere in the margin, in any order. So instead, this scribe uses the candrabindu character (ँ), rotated in different directions, in order to point towards the corresponding commentary.


Sanscrit 612, folio 1v, candrabindus used as pointers

Sanscrit 612, folio 1v, candrabindus used as pointers.


Here the text reads দিবিষদো লেখা diviṣado lekhā. The compound diviṣadaḥ has been split, so that there are three comments on this passage: on divi, the candrabindu points up, indicating that the comment is in the top margin; on ṣada, the candrabindu points down, indicating that the comment is in the bottom margin; and on lekhā, the candrabindu points left, indicating that the comment is in the left margin.


Sanscrit 612, folio 1v, commentary

Sanscrit 612, folio 1v, commentary.


Moreover, the candrabindu is not only rotated in four ways; in many instances, it is rotated to point towards a particular part of the margin, for the eye to follow. In this example, commenting on the word স্বর্ svar, the candrabindu points right into the centre of the manuscript, where space has been left for a stringhole. The comment quotes Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.1.37, স্বরাদিনিপাতমব্যযম্ svarādinipātam avyayam, explaining that words like svar are indeclinable.

The result, as you can see, is a beautiful, messy, non-linear pile of text upon text, a concrete poem before its time.

3 thoughts on “An annotation positioning system in MS Sanscrit 612

    1. Charles Post author

      I just noticed that the use of the candrabindu as an annotation marker has been described by Thibaut d’Hubert in “Chézy et l’étude du sanskrit à partir de manuscrits en caractères bengalis,” in Petit, Jérôme, & Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, 2019, Le sanctuaire dévoilé: Antoine-Léonard Chézy et les débuts des études sanskrites en Europe, 1800-1850, Paris: BnF. He notes the placement of the candrabindu above or below a word to mark a note (153), but doesn’t mention the rotational aspect. He also notes the number at the end of the note to indicate the line number referred to.

      It seems that, in manuscripts with sparser annotations, the candrabindu usually just indicates whether a note is in the top or bottom margin. Perhaps in the case of the extreme density and non-linearity of annotation in Sanscrit 612, the candrabindu-with-line-number system was inadequate.


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