Burmese “Kammavaca” Manuscript
This manuscript and the box were made in the year 1960 in honor a senior monk (the Hsayadaw U Zatila). When he died in 1960, his adherents mixed his cremated ashes with the gold paint and painted the leaves and the box, thus letting their teacher ‘ become’ the Law, and since the Law is the Buddha and the Buddha the law, he ‘becomes’ the Buddha. This brings him merit-and even more each time the manuscript is used. These Kammavava Buddhist manuscripts are by far the most ornate of Burmese manuscripts in appearance-gleaming with gold, silver and occasionally mother of pearl inlay.
A Burmese “kammavaca” manuscript. Cremation ashes of senior monks were and still are used to make Buddha images or scriptural manuscripts.
A few calcified fragments of bone are pounded and sifted. The fine powder is handed to the master manuscript maker, who mixes it with liquid lacquer to form a putty called ‘thayo’ (literally meaning “flesh and bones”). This is used to smear over the palm leaves or lacquered cloth pieces to produce a smooth writing surface.
The presentation of “kammavaca” manuscripts to a monastery continues to this day. Many are a set, including the gilt manuscript, wrapped in a cloth bag, wound round with a tablet-woven binding tape (sazigyo) and the whole bundle encased in a decorated box.
Lay people as well as monks can (and do) arrange for their cremation ashes to be used to make scriptural manuscripts. In this sense, they thus ‘become’ the Law, and since the Law is the Buddha and the Buddha the Law, they ‘become’ the Buddha. This brings them merit – and even more each time the manuscript is used.
One would expect to see the names of the donors (the lay persons who commissioned this manuscript) but these are absent. It is strange that any one should miss the opportunity to earn merit, so it is possible that the commissioning was done by a large group of adherents or followers of the Hsayadaw U Zatila.