The Bower Manuscript - Birch-mark Manuscript collecton of Buddhist Sage Yosamitra

November 15, 2012

The fragmented manuscript collections of Buddhist monk Yosamitra, dates back to the fifth or sixth century AD.
It is known as the Bower Manuscript, named after its discoverer, Lieutenant H. Bower, who bought it in 1890 from a local treasure hunter in Kuchar, in Eastern Turkestan. Turkestan is an extensive region of central Asia between Siberia in the north and Tibet, India, Afghanistan, and Iran in the south: formerly divided into West Russian Turkestan and East Chinese Turkestan. The manuscript was found buried in the relic chamber of the memorial stupa built in honor of Yosamitra at the Ming-oi of Qum Tura in Kuchar, on the great caravan route of China. It is today preserved as part of the collections of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

On his return to India Bower took the manuscript with him to Simla. In September 1890 he forwarded it to col. J. Waterhouse who was the then president of Asiatic society of Bengal. In February 1891, it was taken over by the famous epigraphist and Indologist Hoernle who was the secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. After the completion of its translation and editing, Hoernle returned it to Bower in 1898. He took it to England where it was purchased by Bodleian library Oxford in 1898.

The Bower Manuscript in reality is a collection of seven distinct manuscripts written on fifty one birch bark in a combination language of Prakrit and Sanskrit. It is written in Indian Gupta script. But unfortunately the more important portion of it, Parts I- III, which deals with medicine, is incomplete.

After detailed study of the manuscript Hoernle came to the conclusion that the scribes of Parts I- III and Parts V-VII were Indian Buddhist monks. The use of birch-bark for writing shows that they must have come from Kashmir or Udyana. Hoernle concluded that they passed the manuscript to the scribe of Part IV, who seems to be a native of Eastern Turkestan or China. But the ultimate owner of the whole series of manuscripts was Buddhist monk Yasomitra.  The collective manuscript was found in the relic chamber of the memorial stupa built in his honor at the Ming-oi of Qum Tura which indicates that he must have held a prominent position in that monastery.

The beginning of the first treatise in this manuscript is forty three verses, in ornate poetic language, about the mythical origin and medicinal uses of garlic. It describes eight different methods of using garlic as a medicine. The medicinal passages in the manuscript are quite similar to various Samhitas; most probably copied from these early Sanskrit works. The large medical treatise called Navanitaka forms the second part of the Bower manuscript. Navanitaka quotes numerous formulae from the Cikitsita-sthana (treatment section) of Charaka's Compendium. As the date of the Navanitaka manuscript is somewhere in the second half of the fourth century A.D., later than the Charaka Samhita, Hoernle held the view that it was compiled before iCharaka Samhita was revised and completed by Drdhabala, who lived several centuries later.

The first part of the edition published in 1893, second part in 1894-95, and third part in 1897. This completed the edition of the text and translation. After an interruption of seven years the Sanskrit index of the Bower manuscript was published in 1908 and a revised translation of its medical portions in part one two and three in 1909.

Resources:
Block, Eric Garlic and Other Alliums RSC Publishing, Cambridge UK 2010
Hoernle, August Friedrich Rudolf, Studies in the Medicine of Ancient India, Oxford at Clarendon Press 1907

Hoernle, August Friedrich Rudolf, The Bower Manuscript published by the order of the government of India 1893

Wujastyk, Dominik(Trans. Editor)The Roots of Ayurveda Penguin Classics; 0003-Revised edition 2003

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN