In the southern province of An Giang, west of the Mekong Delta between the Tien and Hau rivers in Viet Nam and sharing 100km of border with Cambodia, prayer-books written on the palm-like leaves of sach tra trees are being preserved in some Khmer-style pagodas.
The XvayTon pagoda is renowned for the quality and quantity of its collection of sach tra leaf prayer-books. The oldest ones are over 100 years old, according to Chief monk Chau Soc Pholly, and the most recent were written in 1963 by a monk named Chaoty.
Sach tra trees are now very rare in An Giang, and the technique to produce sach tra books is complicated. Artisans have to choose young leaves, which are flat, cut them down and press them with wood boards to make them appropriately thin. The leaves are then sun-dried. Artisans then cut the leaves into 6cm wide, 60cm long strips that are joined together.
The leaves of sach tra prayer books are folded
and bound between wood boards.
Writing on sach tra leaves is very similar to the engraving process. “Artisans had to use sharp iron pens to carve scripts on leaves then rub ink on the scripts, clean the ink and preserve the books. Only senior monks can read the old scripts on these books,” Chau Soc Pholly said.
Books on sach tra leaves can weigh up to 1kg, and each leaf is comprised of five lines of script. An artisan could write a “page” each day.
The sach tra leaf is strong and hardy and sach tra books have been preserved for over 100 years. They have the chemical advantage of not being subject to attack by book worms. Not even the squiggly kind.
The XvayTon pagoda, located in the town of Tri Ton, in An Giang province, is recognized by the Vietnam Record Book Centre as having the highest number of prayer books on sach tra leaves in the country, and was recognized as a historical site in 1986.
Story and images from VietNamNet.