Mss collections

 The vast majority of the manuscripts collections of northern Thailand belong to local monasteries (wat). Their conservation is under the responsibility of the chief abbot (chao awat) and the surrounding community of devotees often represented by local lay “scholars ”.  Original lists of titles were sometimes written down on palm-leaves  (see manuscripts 038_005 and 038_007 called Sen Tham in this collection) but they remain very rare and do not give us a clear idea of ​​the constitution of the collections in the historical Lanna period.

The first lists of titles belonging to the Northern Thai literature appeared in the Banchi 1916 (Catalogue of Books in the Vajirañāṇa Library, BE 2549 or Banchi rueang nangsue nai ho phra samut watchirayan ph. s. 2459, see Skilling and Santi 2004). They were echoed in 1917 by the famous 200 pages article by Louis Finot « Recherches sur la littérature laotienne », then by Cœdès and Lafont articles and catalogues.

The development of conservation projects by the Chiang Mai University, which began in 1980, has prevented the abandonment and dispersion of the collections left in situ. In 2001 the project had surveyed 410.775 of manuscripts from 525 monasteries in the eight northern provinces. From that moment catalogues have emerged, and with them an almost total inventory of Northern Thai literature not only Buddhist (75% of the collections) but also profane (pharmacopoeia, law, astrology, poetry, etc.).

Collections used to be kept in traditional libraries — repositories — that were small and elegant buildings devoted solely to the conservation of manuscripts. At the end of the twentieth century there were around one hundred ancient libraries in Northern Thailand, called ho tham (หอธัมม์  house of the Dhamma) because they are dedicated homes to Buddhist scriptures. These libraries are integrated into the monastic site (the wat) of which they embrace the organization and architectural style. They are also called ho pitaka or ho pidok (หอปิฎกะ a house for the basket of the scriptures), ho trai [pidok] in the rest of the country and piakaghara in Pāli.

Two collections in particular have received considerable attention from scholars and students in the field of Pāli studies and Thai studies. The first one, in Lampang province, can be found on the grounds of Wat Lai Hin, a small and quiet village monastery where the most ancient Pāli manuscripts have been found (dating from the 15th century). The second one is located in Sung Men, in Phrae province, and holds the largest collection of manuscripts (about 15,000 bundles).