8 BURMA, PAST AND PRESENT.
are in the Pali language,* in copying which recourse is had to the vernacular alphabet, the ancient square Pali character being seldom adopted, except in one instance, in which it is invariably used, and that is for the sacred Kaynbhawaor rules to be observed at the ordination of priests. These ordinances are supposed to have been promulgated and sanctioned by Gautama himself, and are held in profound veneration by all Buddhists.
Burmese books are composed of leaves X of the Palmyra palm, through the ends of which a string is passed, and are bound between a couple of wooden covers, gilt, and lacquered in coloured devices. The letters are engraved on the leaves with an iron stylus, held nearly perpendicular by the two forefingers and thumb of the right hand, and steadied
* It has long been a disputed point whether the Pali or the Sanskrit is the most ancient language. The Buddhists hold that Pali is the root of Sanskrit, and the primitive language from which all others are descended. Whereas their rivals, the Brahmans, declare that it is a derivation from the Sanskrit ; but polluted like cow's milk in a dog's skin by the unholy contact of Buddhist heretics.
European philologists appear generally to agree that Pali represents one of the oldest Prkritic dialects of Northern India, which has been handed down to us, and was the popular dialect of Mgadha and Central India at the time of Gautama ; and if not a derivation from Sanskrit in an early stage of its development, that the two dialects were contemporaneously evolved from a kindred source, the traces of which cannot be discovered at the present day. See Muir's " Sanskrit Texts," pp. 53a103, vol. ii. ; Lotus de la Bonne Loi. App. Burnouf.
f I have in my possession two very beautiful manuscripts of this work in the old square Pali character ; one written in letters of gold on ivory leaves, and the other on gilt, and highly varnished palm leaves.
The process of preparing these leaves has been given in the preceding chapter.A The process of preparing these leaves has been given in the preceding chapter.