Writing Material

Writing Material substances used in writing, eg paper, pens, ink. Before the introduction of paper, ancient people used stone, copper plate, palm leaf, birch bark (Bhurja patra), cloth fabric, jute pulp paper and parchment as writing materials.

Stone It is very difficult to ascertain exactly when the stone began to be used as a writing support. A stone inscription was recovered from Mahasthan, Bogra, belonging to the king Ashoka of 3rd century BC and was written with Brahmi-lipi and probably the earliest stone inscription in Bengal. In Bangladesh, proto Bengali and Sanskrit inscriptions on the surface of turrets, at the base of stone sculptures and on the entrance of temples are occasionally seen. On top of these, Persian and Arabic inscriptions are seldom found in a calligraphic form on sandstone and basalt at the entrance of a few mosques. The occasional writings on marble stone are still continuing. Varieties of stone inscriptions are kept in different museums of Bangladesh bearing the witness of the use of stone as a writing material. There are two types of writing on the stones, which are (i) engraving, and (ii) writing with a brush.

Copper plate specially made polished copper material of suitable size used for writing the important facts of the people of ancient Bengal. It does not mean the utensil. Before the introduction of paper, copper plate was one of the main supports for writing particularly in India and Bengal. Thus, many copper plates of bangladesh national museum are bearing facts of the past. A copper plate was discovered in the village of Dhanaidah of Natore district at the time of digging a pond. It belongs to the period of first Kumargupta of 433 AD, containing land donation letter in Sanskrit and can be regarded as the earliest. The technique of writing on copper plate is interesting. Probably the text to be narrated was first written by piece of charcoal on the copper plate. An expert of this kind engraved letters one with a sharp chisel. After engraving, a paste made of charcoal dust mixing with oil or juice of plant, was rubbed over the text and wiped off the excess, which made the writing clear and distinct.

Palm leaf a thick cluster of large palmate or pinnate leaves at the top of a palm tree used as a symbol of victory or success and as a writing support. Before the introduction of paper, palm leaf was one of the main supports for writing and painting particularly in south and southeast Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and Kampuchea. For several centuries it remained by far the most important support. It is difficult to say exactly when the palm leaf first began to be used for writing.

A fragment of the text of a 2nd century Indian drama, discovered at Turfan in Central Asia, is perhaps the earliest known palm manuscript. It is almost certain that the earlier manuscripts have been completely destroyed owing to the tropical climate of India and Bangladesh. The palm leaf manuscripts of 4th, 6th, and 7th century have been discovered in different libraries and museums but they are also in fragments. Many old manuscripts written on palm leaves are being preserved in different old libraries and museums of the country including the national museum. A lot of palm leaf manuscripts of Dhaka University and Bangladesh National Museum are of 10th to 12th century. So, it may be said that palm leaf was used as popular writing support during Pala and Sena dynasty. Two types of writing such as incision and writing with pen or brush are found on palm leaves. These manuscripts also had illustrations, either incised or painted with a brush. The palm leaves could not be bound like a book. These were stored between two wooden panels that were slightly larger in size than the leaves. These wooden boards were sometimes painted or decorated with ivory and mother of pearl inlay work.

Bhurja Patra (Birch Bark) any tree or shrub of the genus Betula, comprising species with a smooth, laminated outer bark and close-grained wood. In Bangladesh no information is available on Bhurja patra (birch bark) used as a writing material but examples on Bhurja patra applied for preparing mantra are found. According to the Greek historians it was very popular in India as writing material. The oldest Bhurja patra manuscript known so far belongs to the 2nd or 3rd century AD. It is found in fragments that described Dhammapada written with Kharosti script. The use of Bhurja patra as writing material continued upto the Mughal period. Later, paper replaced both palm leaf and Bhurja patra. However, Bhurja patra, which is supposed to be very sacred writing material in India, is used till today for writing religious books as well as for preparing sacred mantras.

Cloth fabric a fabric formed by weaving, felting, etc from wool, hair, silk, flax, cotton or other fibre used for garments, upholstery and many other items. Cloth fabric was one of the writing materials but it is very difficult to mention when it first started to be used because it is perishable material in our climatic condition. Cloth fabric has always been and still is an important support for painting throughout the world and also in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh there was a tradition of preparing royal documents and invitation letters on cloth fabrics, which were kept in scroll. In the last part of the nineteenth century, artists of Bengal (present Bangladesh) used canvas as supports for oil painting and that continue till today. Besides these, nowadays banners and commercial advertisements are prepared on cloth fabrics.

Parchment heavy paper like material made from the skin of sheep or goats and used for writing on. Parchment was never a popular writing material in Bengal or India not even during the Muslim period. But the academic certificates of Calcutta University and sanads of Viceroy of India from 1886 to 1934 AD were written and printed on the coated parchment and some of them are preserved in Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka.

Jute pulp paper fibre from the outer skin of certain tropical plants used for making paper. The early technique (before 1876) of paper manufacturing process of the different parts of Bengal was more or less same. Such a process where jute was used as the chief raw material was widely adapted in Bogra and Sirajganj districts, Bangladesh.

Paper substance made in thin sheets from wood pulp or rags and used for writing, printing or drawing on, or for wrapping and packing things. Presently it is the most popular writing material and also used for many other purposes. [Md Saber Ali]

See also paper.