Unique writing on “Buong” leaves of Khmer people hinh anh 1“Buong” leaf scriptures preserved at Soai So Pagoda in An Giang province (Photo: baoangiang.com.vn)

Hanoi (VNA) - The People’s Committee of the southern province of An Giang has approved a project on preserving and upholding cultural values of “Buong” leaf scriptures of the Khmer ethnic group by 2030.

The project is significant to conserving cultural heritage in general and intangible cultural heritage in particular in An Giang province.

Unique “Buong” scriptures

According to the State Records and Archives Department, the Khmer people first carved scripts on “Buong” leaves, known as Satra, in the 19th century to record Buddhist teachings, folk stories, descriptions of festivals and folk games, and lessons.

More than 100 Buddhist scriptures, written in ancient Khmer or Pali language on “Buong” leaves, are now kept at 30 out of 65 Khmer pagodas in Tri Ton and Tinh Bien districts.

Each “Buong” leaf prayer book comprises 20 to 60 leaves, with five lines containing 150 words on each leaf. A book weighs less than one kilogramme and its thickness depends on the content.

The scriptures have technical and art values, and play a significant role in the spiritual and religious life of Khmer people.

The manuscripts on “Buong” leaves are carved with an iron stitch, then absorb a mixture of coal and turpentine through a sheet of cloth. Thanks to the leaves’ durability and the writers’ skills, manuscripts can be written on both sides of the leaves.

Monk Chau Ty, head of Xvay Ton Pagoda in Nui To commune, Tri Ton district, said young leaf sprouts are chosen and pressed between two boards for three to five months before being exposed to the sun until they are withered.

Writing prayers on leaves is not an easy job, as it requires patience and must be performed by those who master Buddhist teachings and have a tranquil mind, he said.

It takes artisans several months to complete each prayer book, said Chau Chenh from Co To commune, Tri Ton district, who used to join the writing.

With its unique value, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2017 recognised the art of writing on “Buong” leaves as national cultural heritage.

On the verge of oblivion

Through ups and downs, the “Buong” scriptures have been on the verge of oblivion. Currently, only Monk Chau Ty knows how to write the ancient Khmer language on “Buong” leaves. He is striving to pass down the art to Khmer monks and nuns in the region.

Due to wars, only a small number of Buddhist scriptures have been preserved at large ancient pagodas. This preservation work has also met a wide range of difficulties given environmental impacts.

Previously, the writing was passed down to the best monks and nuns. However, the teaching is now expanded to other groups, helping to promote the art.

Moreover, it is now not as easy to find “Buong” leaves as it was in the past, says Monk Chau Son Hy from Sa Lon Pagoda in Luong Phi commune, Tri Ton district, An Giang province. “We have to buy materials collected from Cambodian forests.”

An Giang’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism has established a provincial management board to preserve and promote the “Buong” scriptures of Khmer people.

Digitized scriptures

The project on preserving and upholding intangible cultural values of writing on “Buong” leaves of the Khmer ethnic group by 2030 is necessary and matches policies and guidelines of the Party and the State regarding traditional culture preservation and promotion.

Under the project, from 2022 and 2026, An Giang will focus on researching, collecting, verifying, classifying and restoring this heritage.

It will also digitize the “Buong” scriptures, and make variants of some books to serve educational and tourism services, thus promoting the heritage to attract more resources in the preservation work.

Meanwhile, during the 2028-2033 period, the province will build a dossier on the “Buong” scriptures, seeking recognition of the Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific./.