Read Thailand's ancient palm leaf manuscripts online for free

Read Thailand's ancient palm leaf manuscripts online for free

Monk reads palm leaf manuscript on the manuscript website.
Monk reads palm leaf manuscript on the manuscript website.

At the new Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (DLNTM) you can read northern Thai folklore, history & religious texts in original palm leaf manuscript form.


Read Thailand's ancient palm leaf manuscripts online for free

Pichaya Svasti

Prof Hundius checks a palm-leaf manuscript dating to 1471 at Wat Lai Hin in Lampang.

Ancient palm leaf manuscripts are an important part of Thai history and culture.

For hundreds of years before books, people in Thailand recorded important things on the leaves of palm trees and then bundled them together into a book.

Local history, religion, law, astrology, folklore and folktales were all made into palm leaf books (palm leaf manuscripts).

These northern Thai (Lanna) palm leaf manuscripts are now available for everyone to read free of charge on their own computer, tablet or even mobile phone.

The new Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (DLNTM) or can be found in English here and Thai here).

The Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts is available here.

These ancient palm leaf manuscripts for the first time will now be widely accessible to everyone over the internet.

Northern Thai literature can be studied in its original form by students in schools around the country. 

This online library is also a solution to the big problem of disappearing manuscripts.

Over the years, many manuscripts have been destroyed by fires and termites. Manuscripts being borrowed but never returned is another problem.


There are many topics one can read about and study in the new library.

Religion, history, literature and law are the subjects commonly found in the manuscripts

The North's oldest palm-leaf manuscript is included in the library and dates to 1471. The original manuscript is located at Wat Lai Hin in Lampang. It tells the Jakata stories of Lord Buddha's many previous lives as humans and animals, as well as about the Five Precepts and Eight Precepts of Buddhism.

King Mengrai's law code is the most famous of northern Thai law texts.

Local historical chronicles such as the Chiang Mai chronicle and many local legendary historical chronicles (Tamnan) abound (see free works by French expert François Lagirarde on Buddhist history here, here & here).

Jataka stories (Chadok) and folklore are also common subjects found in manuscripts.  

Especially interesting are the are so-called Paññāsa Jātaka (Apocryphal Birth Stories, Panyasa Jataka) known in Burma as the Zinme or Chiang Mai Jataka (read paper by Pali scholar Peter Skilling on the different kinds of Jataka here & read some of the Chiang Mai jataka here & an online thesis on them here).   


Manuscripts in the Pali language, the ancient Indian language of Buddhist sacred scriptures (Tripitaka) are also common.   

So-called Nissaya (inter-linear translations) have Pali with a Thai or Burmese translation to help monks study the scriptures and prepare sermons for lay people. Pali scholar Justin McDaniel of the University Pennsylvania did his PhD dissertation on this very topic.

Some of the most important histories of northern Thailand were written in Pali.

"The Camadevivamsa (ตำนานจามเทวีวงศ์, Legend of Queen Cama) is a Pali chronicle composed in the early 15th century by the Lanna Buddhist monk Mahathera Bodhiramsi (พระ โพธิรังษี มหาเถระ). The chronicle, dated to c. 1410, is a semi - historical story of the founding of the Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya in the mid-sixth century by Queen Jamadevi and her establishment of a royal lineage destined to rule Haripunchai for the next 500 years. The manuscript ends with King Adittaraja's discovery of a sacred relic of the Buddha in the eleventh century that became central to the Theravadan Buddhist culture of Haripunchai and is still enshrined in Wat Phradhatu Haripunjaya (Wat Phra That Hariphunchai) in present-day Lamphun, Thailand."

The chronicle opens with the story of the Buddha's past visit to Haripunchai and tells about his prophecy that a relic will be found there centuries later by King Adittaraja. Jamadevi, a Mon princess builds a walled, moated city out of the jungle. Jamadevi is made Queen. The chronicle then tells the story of the battles between Jamadevi's new city and the surrounding Lawa ethnic group ending in a victory for Haripunchai. The Lawa were the animist Mon-Khmer people who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Mon. After the victory, Jamadevi arranges for her two sons to marry the two daughters of the defeated Lawa chief, bringing all of the surrounding peoples under the subjugation of Haripunchai (taken from Wikipedia here).

The Jinakālamālī (ชินกาลมาลีปกรณ์; The Sheaf of Garlands of the Epochs of the Conqueror) is a Chiang Mai chronicle written in Pali that is mostly about religious history, and contains a section on early Lan Na kings to 1516/1517.

There are also palm leaf manuscripts in Burmese in the new library because northern Thailand (Lanna) was ruled by the Burmese for hundreds of years.

The palm leaf books of Shans (Tai Yai) will also be found in the library.

The history and literature of the Tai Lue people of what is now Sipsongpanna in Yunnan, China and the Tai Kheun people of the far eastern Shan states in Burma, just north of Maesai, Thailand also have their own chronicles. The Shan scholar Sao Saimong Mengrai translated the Tai Kheun chronicle of Chiang Tung (Keng Tung, Jeng Tung) into English. The French Chiang Mai-based scholar Anatole-Roger Peltier has also done much to preserve Tai Kheun literature (see here & here). You might also like to read a new article about the beautiful golden Shan (Tai Yai) manuscripts in the British Museum here.

Old manuscripts at Wat Sung Men in Phrae.


The new digital library consists of a vast collection of manuscripts from northern Thailand, a total of 4,274 manuscripts that are up to 500 years old. More will be added to the library eventually bringing the total to around 7,000 manuscripts.

These often centuries-old manuscripts come from many different  temples (wats) in northern Thailand: Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong in Chiang Mai; Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Duang Dee in Chiang Mai, Wat Sung Men in Phrae and Wat Lai Hin in Lampang.


These digital libraries are the end result of the Preservation of Northern Thai Manuscripts Project (PNTMP) and the subsequent digitisation of manuscripts funded by the German government since 1987 contributing €730,000 in total.

A team led by Prof Hundius microfilmed manuscripts at Wat Sung Men in Phrae in 1987. Currently, Wat Sung Men has a Manuscript Museum and two manuscript libraries for storing the Tipitaka and many other manuscripts. The Manuscript Conservation Association plans to help the temple submit a proposal for listing the temple's palm-leaf manuscripts on the registry of the Unesco's Memory of the World Programme in the future.


These digital libraries are the result of over four decades of hard work by German academic and Pali scholar Prof Harald Hundius.

Back in 1970s, Prof Hundius applied for a scholarship from the German Research Foundation to study Thai manuscripts for three years. He went to the North of Thailand and studied the Lanna language with local scholar Singkha Wannasai, a guru of the northern language, in Lamphun every day. In the third year, he was able to read northern Thai manuscripts.

The first comprehensive survey of Lanna manuscripts in the eight northernmost provinces of Thailand was conducted from 1971 to 1974 by Prof Hundius within a project financed by the German Research Foundation. Prof Hundius was a professor of Thai and Lao languages and literature at the University of Passau, Germany, from 1993 to 2004. He has been implementing manuscript projects at the National Library of Laos since 1992.

"I still remember the sight of 15 northern people sitting at Wat San Rim Ping, unwrapping manuscripts, reading for each other and laughing. I was curious and tried to read the story. Finally, I understood the story after half-a-year. The script was very difficult. I wanted to study more and more," the 77-year-old Prof Hundius recalled.

In 1974, the professor returned to Germany and brought back records of 1,300 manuscripts from Thailand for studies. Between 1982-1985, he helped set up a master's degree programme in the northern language at Chiang Mai University. He initiated and participated in the Preservation of Northern Thai Manuscripts Project (PNTMP) which began in 1987. In 1990, he completed his post-doctorate research in northern Thai literature.

During 1987-1991, another 400-plus rolls of microfilm containing about 4,200 primary sources of the Lanna tradition were produced. Microfilming was conducted with documents stored at 53 selected temples throughout Thailand. All photographic work took place in the temples and no manuscripts were removed. After microfilming, they were carefully rewrapped and put back into their original storage. The whole process of preparing and microfilming the often extremely fragile documents was also used for providing training for local volunteers who engaged in these works.


There are still many manuscripts left to digitise. The project has microfilmed or digitised only 40,000-50,000 of about 2 million fascicles (phuk in Thai) of manuscripts in Thailand, so there is a lot of work left to do.


Dr. John Canti and Professor Peter Skilling (Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation Founder) talk about buddhist sacred scriptures, originally written on palm leaf, and their history.

Learn from listening

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  • abound: to be present in large numbers or amounts - มีมากมาย
  • accessible: that can be reached, entered, used, seen, etc - ที่สามารถเข้าได้
  • ancient: very old - ที่เก่าแก่ ที่โบราณ
  • astrology: the study of the movements and positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars, and the skill of describing the expected effect that these are believed to have on the character and behaviour of humans - โหราศาสตร์
  • available: that you can get, use, find or buy - มีอยู่, หาได้
  • battle: a fight between two armies in a war - การสู้รบ
  • borrow: to take and use something that belongs to somebody else, and return it to them at a later time - ยืม
  • bundle: a number of things tied or wrapped together - มัดหรือห่อ
  • century: a period of one hundred years - ศตวรรษ
  • chronicle: a written record of events in the order in which they happened - บันทึกเหตุการณ์, บันทึกเรื่องราวมตามลำดับเวลา
  • code: rules of proper behaviour for a particular job, organisation, etc. - มาตรการ, กฎเกณฑ์, ระเบียบ
  • collection (noun): a group of objects, often of the same sort, that have been collected (gathered together over period of time) - สิ่งของที่รวบรวมไว้, การสะสม การเก็บรวบรวม
  • common: ordinary; not unusual or special - ที่เกิดขึ้นทุกวัน, ธรรมดา
  • commonly (adverb): ordinarily, generally - อย่างธรรมดา
  • composed: written -
  • consist: to be made of or formed from something - ประกอบด้วย
  • contribute: to make a regular payment -
  • culture (noun): the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organization of a particular country or group - วัฒนธรรม
  • destined: certain to do something,or certain to happen in the future - ซึ่งมุ่งหน้าไปทาง, ซึ่งถูกกำหนดไว้ล่วงหน้าแล้ว
  • destroy (verb): to damage something so badly that it no longer exists, works, etc - ทำลาย
  • digital: using a system of receiving and sending information as a series of the numbers one and zero, showing that an electronic signal is there or is not there - ซึ่งรับส่งข้อมูลด้วยการใช้ตัวเลข
  • digitisation: changing some system so that it uses data on a computer readable (digital) format -
  • digitise: make into a form that can be used on computers, after scanning it, for example -
  • disappear: to no longer exist; to no longer be in use - หายไป, สาบสูญ, สูญหาย
  • discovery: an act or the process of finding somebody/something, or learning about something that was not known about before - การค้นพบ
  • dissertation: the written presentation of research done to obtain a PhD or doctorate degree - ปริญญานิพนธ์, วิทยานิพนธ์
  • enshrined: when a sacred object is put in a place, such as a relic of the Buddha put inside a jedi or pagoda -
  • establishment: the process of starting or creating something - การสถาปนา, การก่อตั้ง, การจัดตั้ง
  • ethnic group: a group of people with the same language, culture and history, usually a minority, not the largest group in the country - กลุ่มชาติพันธุ์
  • eventually: at the end of a period of time or at the end of a process - ในที่สุด
  • expert: someone who has a particular skill or who knows a lot about a particular subject - ผู้เชี่ยวชาญ
  • folklore: the traditions and stories of a country or community - คติชาวบ้าน,ความเชื่อหรือขนบธรรมเนียมประเพณีของชาวบ้าน
  • form: the particular way something is, seems, looks or is presented; a type or variety of something - รูปแบบ, รูปทรง
  • founding: starting an organisation, company, political party, etc. - ก่อตั้ง
  • free of charge: free, can get without paying money -
  • fund: money provided for something - เงินทุน กองทุน
  • historical: about history; about events that really happened in the past - เกี่ยวข้องกับการศึกษาประวัติศาสตร์
  • history (noun): all the events that happened in the past - ประวัติศาสตร์
  • history (noun): the set of facts that are known about somebody's/something's past; a record of something happening frequently in the past life of a person, family or place; facts about someone's past illnesses - ประวัติเฉพาะราย, ประวัติคนไข้,
  • jungle (noun): a thick tropical forest, a place with many trees and wild animals and few people - ป่า
  • lay people: people who are not a monk; laymen; laity; lay Buddhists - ฆราวาส
  • leaf: the small green things hanging from trees - ใบ
  • legend: a story from ancient times about people and events, that may or may not be true; this type of story - ตำนาน
  • legendary: mentioned in stories from ancient times - ซึ่งเป็นนิทาน,ซึ่งเป็นตำนาน
  • library (noun): a place with books that can be borrowed to read for a period of time and then returned - ห้องสมุด
  • lineage (noun): the series of families that somebody comes from originally - เชื้อสาย, สายสกุล, สายเลือด
  • literature (noun): pieces of writing that are valued as works of art, especially novels, plays and poems (in contrast to technical books and newspapers, magazines, etc.) - วรรณคดี, วรรณกรรม
  • local: in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about - ท้องถิ่น
  • manuscript (noun): the original copy of a writing , usually written by hand - หนังสือที่เขียนด้วยลายมือ, เอกสารเขียนด้วยมือ, ต้นฉบับที่เขียนหรือพิมพ์
  • moat: a deep wide channel that was dug around a castle, etc. and filled with water to make it more difficult for enemies to attack - คูน้ำรอบปราสาทหรือเมือง
  • original: the first of something - เดิม, แบบฉบับ
  • palm (noun): a straight tree with a mass of long leaves at the top, growing in tropical countries - ต้นปาล์ม
  • prepare (verb): put in order, get ready - เตรียม, เตรียมตัว, เตรียมพร้อม, จัดเตรียม, ตระเตรียม
  • present-day: the present time; now; this time, happening now, happening currently - ปัจจุบันนี้
  • princess (noun): a female member of a royal family who is not a queen, especially the daughter or granddaughter of the king or queen - เจ้าหญิง
  • prophecy: a statement that something will happen in the future - การทำนาย, การพยากรณ์
  • record: a written account of something that is kept so that it can be looked at and used in the future - การบันทึก, รายงาน
  • relics: the bones of someone who has been cremated - อัฐิ
  • return (verb): to give/take something back to someone/somewhere - คืน
  • rule: control over the government of a country - การปกครอง
  • sacred: considered to be holy - ศักดิ์สิทธิ์
  • scholar: someone who studies a particular subject and knows a lot about it, especially a subject that is not scientific - นักวิชาการ
  • scriptures: the holy writings of a religion - คัมภีร์
  • semi-: partly; half - กึ่ง, ครึ่ง
  • sermon: a talk on a moral or religious subject, usually given by a religious leader during a service - การเทศนา
  • so-called: used for saying that a particular word is usually used for referring to someone or something - ที่เป็นที่รู้กัน
  • solution: a way of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation - วิธีแก้ปัญหา
  • subject (noun): a thing or person that is being discussed, described or dealt with - ตัวหลัก, ผู้รับบท, หัวข้อ, ผู้รับการทดสอบ
  • subsequent: happening or coming after something else - ซึ่งตามมา
  • surrounding: all around a place - บริเวณรอบๆ
  • termite: a small insect that eats wood and paper - ปลวก
  • thesis (noun): a piece of written research or work that a student produces as part of their degree program at a university - วิทยานิพนธ์
  • topic: a subject that you talk, write or learn about - เรื่อง, หัวข้อ
  • total: including everything; being the amount or number after everyone or everything is counted or added together - ทั้งหมด
  • translation (noun): words that have been changed from one language to another; the process of changing something that is written or spoken into another language - การแปล, การแปลเอกสาร การแปลโดยทั่วไป
  • treasure: something very valuable - ของมีค่า
  • vast: extremely large in size or amount, etc. - มากมาย
  • wall: any of the vertical sides of a building or room; a long vertical solid structure, made of stone, brick or concrete, that surrounds, divides or protects an area of land - ผนังห้อง; กำแพง
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