Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia are centers for the preservation of local artistic traditions. Chief among these are manuscripts, a vital source for our understanding of Buddhist ideas and practices in the region. They are also a beautiful art form, too little understood in the West.
The British Library has one of the richest collections of Southeast Asian manuscripts, principally from Thailand and Burma, anywhere in the world. It includes finely painted copies of Buddhist scriptures, literary works, historical narratives, and works on traditional medicine, law, cosmology, and fortune-telling. Buddhism Illuminated includes over one hundred examples of Buddhist art from the Library's collection, relating each manuscript to Theravada tradition and beliefs, and introducing the historical, artistic, and religious contexts of their production. It is the first book in English to showcase the beauty and variety of Buddhist manuscript art and reproduces many works that have never before been photographed.
San San May is curator of Burmese collections at the British Library.
Jana Igunma is Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao, and Cambodian collections at the British Library.