Guide to the Palm-leaf manuscripts, ca. 1853-1862 | MC094

Summary Information

Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library
Smith, Benjamin Burleigh, 1820-1873
Palm-leaf manuscripts
ca. 1853-1862
5.0 Items
Five manuscripts of Shastras, sacred Hindu texts, inscribed on palm leaves which were collected by Benjamin Burleigh Smith, a Free Will Baptist missionary who lived in India during the mid 19th century.

Preferred Citation

Palm-leaf manuscripts, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College.

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Historical Note

The Freewill Baptist missionary Rev. Benjamin Burleigh Smith was born in Sandwich, New Hampshire on March 20, 1820 to John and Elizabeth (Webster) Smith. Before becoming a foreign missionary, Smith completed theological studies at Whitestown Seminary in Oneida County, New York. In the summer of 1851 or 1852, he married Dorcas Folsom and the couple sailed for India shortly thereafter, arriving in Calcutta six months later.

Smith established a church in Balasore, on the east coast of India in the Orissa state, building the structure from bricks he made himself. The couple and their son, Edwin Augustus Smith, remained in India for nearly a decade before returning to the United States in 1862. During this sabbatical, Smith traveled around New England giving lectures on behalf of the "Christian Society" and helped his parents on the family farm in New Hampshire. He returned twice to India, serving three more years as a foreign missionary. He died in Balasore on November 22, 1873.

Scope and Content Note

The collection is composed of five full or partial palm leaf manuscripts of Shastras, sacred Hindu scriptures usually written in a declarative style to prescribe proper behavioral norms for social life. The manuscripts were presumably collected by Benjamin Burleigh Smith, and are drawn with a steel stylus on palm leafs, most with black ink rubbed over them to highlight the letters. They are in the Oriya script, and probably in either the Sanskrit or Oriya language.

Some or all of the manuscripts were copied by Smith's Brahmin pundit, or philosopher-teacher, between 1853 and 1862. In the Hindu cast system, a Brahmin is the highest ranking of the four varnas, responsible for performing priestly functions, studying and teaching the Vedas, and acting as an advisor to rulers. According to Smith's granddaughter, the pundit was so devoted to Smith that despite releasing him from his duties before Smith left India on his sabbatical, the pundit was still waiting for Smith on the porch upon his return eight years later.

One of the manuscripts (#4) may be of the Ramayana, a literary text that was considered to be a shastra (a guide for proper conduct) in 19th century India.

ARCHIVIST'S NOTE: I wish to thank Steven M. Vose, Ph.D. candidate in South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania for his assistance in identifying the manuscirpts.

Organization and Arrangement


Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

70 Campus Avenue
Lewiston, Maine, 04240

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

The collection is the physical property of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library. Bates College holds literary rights only for material created by College personnel working on official behalf of the College, or for material which was given to the College with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication or other purposes that exceed fair use.

Acquisition and Custody Information

Gift of Benjamin Burleigh Smith. Accession No.: xx-064.

Processing Information

Additional descriptive information provided by Steven M. Vose, Ph.D. candidate in South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, 2009.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Free Will Baptists (1780?-1911)--Missions--India

Personal Name(s)

  • Smith, Benjamin Burleigh, 1820-1873


  • Hindu literature, Oriya--Archival resources
  • Hinduism--Sacred books
  • Palm-leaf manuscripts

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Collection Inventory


  Unidentified manuscript. The manuscript is complete and intact, although the nature of the text and the language (whether it is Oriya or Sanskrit in Oriya script) is unidentified.   

  Unidentified partial manuscript. This is a large fragment of an unidentified text. Some of the leaves are out of order, although all are numbered.   

  Unidentified manuscript fragments, containing some of the missing leaves from MC094-02. The leaves of this manuscript are out of order.   

  Unidentified manuscript. Unlike the other manuscripts in the collection, this one does not have ink rubed over the leaves. The text appears to be written in verse, indicated by consecutive numbers in the lines of the text that seem to be counting verses. It may be the Ramayana (possibly in Old Oriya, probably not Sanskrit), a literary text that was considered to be a shastra (a guide for proper conduct) in 19th century India.   

  Unidentified manuscript fragment.