Edward T. Pollack Fine Arts

Kammavaca

The Kammavaca is a book of extracts from the Pali Vinaya, the sacred text of Burmese Buddhists. They are usually commissioned as gifts to young men upon their becoming monks, and take more than a month of work by several craftsmen to make. The teakwood covers are lacquered in red and gold-leafed, and designs representing religious figures incised in the lacquer. The pages are made from the cloth of worn robes which have been discarded by monks. These are heavily lacquered in red and gold-leaf so that they become rigid. The first page contains no text but is decorated with elaborate borders and scenes of religious figures. The remaining 31 pages contain decoration and text. The text is written in the Pali language, with the lettering done in black lacquer in an archaic script called Tamarind, because its squared shapes resemble the Tamarind seed. As with so many artifacts which comprise discrete elements, most Kammavaca have been broken up and sold as individual framed sheets, so that well preserved complete books are increasingly scarce.

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