Tripitaka in Pali which seems to have been brought down to Sri Lanka by Ven. Upali Maha Thera during the period of Upasampada in 1753
The proclamation of Tripitaka as a national heritage by President Maithripala Sirisena has been accepted by the Maha Sangha as a move to stabilise the teachings of the Buddha, which before was given verbally to the people.
The Tripitaka brought by Ven. Upali Maha Thera from Siam (presently Thailand)when he arrived for the conferment of Upasampada on monks in the Kandyan Kingdom in 1753 seems to be preserved at the main library of Peradeniya University. This Tripitaka is in Thai language.
Chief librarian Dr. M. Maheswaran found a copy of the document among other Ola leaf tablets stacked in the library. After the library was taken over by Dr. Maheswaran, even unknown to the Vice Chancellor, he used university funds to construct a safe below the main library from where the said document was found. Dr. Maheswara said it was so secure that no book would ever be destroyed from the library.
There is also an Ola leaf tablet that dates back to 1302 and which had been rehabilitated at the Government Archives and sent back to the library. However, this is not clearly readable but still has the original cover.
The library is now in the process of ‘blackening’ Ola leaves which are unreadable. This had commenced last year and continues as there are a vast umber of unreadable Ola leaf tablets in the library.
According to Dr. Maheswaran, there are 25 Ola leaf tablets connected to Tripitaka. He said it was not clear as to how they were connected to Tripitaka brought down to the country by Ven. Upali Maha Thera. He said various projects were initiated by outside sources to take away Tripitaka but the university did not give it to anyone even for research purposes.
At the commencement of the project to blacken the Ola leaves, Dr. Piyatissa Seneviratne of the Peradeniya University Archaeology Faculty said there was no original Mahavamsa in the form of an Ola leaf and that copies were away from the original. Dr. Seneviratne said the entire Buddhist cannon was in Pali.
“Astrologers use Ola leaves for casting of horoscopes. They are very rarely written for other purposes. However, Talipot (Corypha Umbraculifera Linn) is an imposing palm growing to a height of some 80 feet and has a lifespan of 40-100 years.. The leaves for writing are taken from an opened leaf bud which can be brought down. The buds measure between 10 to 20 feet in length and contain 80 to 100 leaflets,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Peradeniya University is to benefit with the visit of UNESCO Director General Madam Irina Bokova under the Memory of the World and Conservation Fund to conserve nearly 5,000 Ola leaf books and documents. This was with the visit of the UNESCO Director General sometime ago. Chief librarian Dr. Maheswaran told Bokova that they were trying to conserve these documents and that cost a tidy sum. Vice Chancellor Professor Upul B. Dissanayake told Madam Bokova that they were scouting for funds for this purpose. Later, Madam Bokova informed the National Commission Chairman of UNESCO in Sri Lanka that they may be able to help this endeavour but perhaps not by granting the whole amount.
Her interest was shown when she wanted one of the documents to be read. Close at hand was Professor Hearth of the Social Science Department when he read part of the Ola leaf book she had in hand.
Chief librarian Dr. Maheswaran told negotiations were already underway with the UNESCO Delhi Office on the Ola leaf project of the university.
The ‘blackening’ of Ola leaves by experts