Folding-book manuscript


Folding-book manuscripts are a type of writing material historically used in Mainland Southeast Asia, particularly in the areas of present-day Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. They are known as parabaik in Burmese,[a] samut thai in Thai[b] or samut khoi in Thai and Lao,[c] phap sa in Northern Thai and Lao,[d] and kraing in Khmer.[e]

Samut thai dam specimen at Wat Khung Taphao Folk Museum, Uttaradit, Thailand

The manuscripts are made of a thick paper, usually of the Siamese rough bush (khoi in Thai and Lao) tree or paper mulberry, glued into a very long sheet and folded in a concertina fashion, with the front and back lacquered to form protective covers or attached to decorative wood covers. The unbound books are made in either white or black varieties, with the paper being undyed in the former and blackened with soot or lacquer in the latter.[1][2]


Along with paper made from bamboo and palm leaves,[3] parabaik were the main medium for writing and drawing in early modern Burma/Myanmar.[4]

There are two types of parabaik: historically, black parabaik (ပုရပိုက်နက်) were the main medium of writing while the white parabaik (ပုရပိုက်ဖြူ) were used for paintings and drawings. The extant black parabaik consist of works of scientific and technical importance like medicine, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, history, social and economic commentary, music, historical ballads, fiction, poetry, etc. The extant white parabaik show colored drawings of kings and court activities, stories, social customs and manners, houses, dresses, hair styles, ornaments, &c.[5] The majority of Burmese chronicles were originally written on parabaik.[6] A 1979 UN study finds that "thousands upon thousands" of rolls of ancient parabaik were found (usually in monasteries and in homes of private collectors) across the country but the vast majority were not properly maintained.[4]

A parabaik depicting a panorama of scenes from the Buddha's life


The monk Phra Malai converses with Indra in heaven

The use of samut khoi in Thailand dates at least to the Ayutthaya period (14th–18th centuries). They were used for secular texts including royal chronicles, legal documents and works of literature, as well as some Buddhist texts, though palm-leaf manuscripts were more commonly used for religious texts.[7][8]

Illustrated folding books were produced for a range of different purposes in Thai Buddhist monasteries and at royal and local courts. They served as handbooks and chanting manuals for Buddhist monks and novices. Producing folding books or sponsoring them was regarded as especially meritorious. They often, therefore, functioned as presentation volumes in honor of the deceased. A commonly reproduced work in the samut khoi format is the legend of Phra Malai, a Buddhist monk who travelled to heaven and hell. Such manuscripts are often richly illustrated.[9]


The paper used for Khmer books, known as kraing, was made from the bark of the mulberry tree. In what is now known as Cambodia, kraing literature was stored in pagodas across the country. During the Cambodian civil war and the subsequent Khmer Rouge regime of the 1960s and 1970s, as many as 80% of the pagodas in Cambodia were destroyed, including their libraries.[10] In Cambodia, only a tiny fraction of the original kraing of the Khmer Empire have survived.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Burmese: ပုရပိုက်; pronounced [pəɹəbaiʔ].
  2. ^ Thai: สมุดไทย, [sā.mùt tʰāj], 'Thai books'.
  3. ^ Thai: สมุดข่อย, [sā.mùt kʰɔ̀j]; Lao: ສະໝຸດຂ່ອຍ; 'khoi books', for those made with khoi paper.
  4. ^ Lao: ພັບສາ; 'folded mulberry paper', for those made with mulberry paper.
  5. ^ Khmer: ក្រាំង, pronounced [kraŋ].



  1. ^ "Figuring out Folds: Conserving a Thai Buddhist manuscript". Chester Beatty. 13 June 2019. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  2. ^ Igunma, Jana (7 June 2013). "A Treatise on Siamese Cats". Southeast Asia Library Group (SEALG). British Library. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  3. ^ EB (1878), p. 556.
  4. ^ a b Raghavan 1979: 4–14
  5. ^ Raghavan 1979: 6
  6. ^ Hla Pe 1985: 37
  7. ^ "สมุดข่อย และคัมภีร์ใบลาน กรุสมบัติจากบรรพชน" [Samut khoi and palm-leaf manuscripts: treasure troves from our ancestors]. Ayutthaya Studies Institute, Ayutthaya Rajabhat University. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  8. ^ Igunma, Jana (2013). "Southeast Asia (2): The Mainland". In Suarez, Michael F.; Woudhuysen, H. R. (eds.). The Book: A Global History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191668753.
  9. ^ Igunma, Jana (29 September 2013). "A Thai book of merit: Phra Malai's journeys to heaven and hell". Asian and African studies blog. British Library. Retrieved 7 November 2021.   This article incorporates text by Jana Igunma/The British Library available under the CC BY 1.0 license.
  10. ^ Sen David and Thik Kaliyann (19 September 2015). "Palm leaves preserving history". The Phnom Penh Post. Vol. 6.
  11. ^ Prof. K. R. Chhem and M. R. Antelme (2004). "A Khmer Medical Text "The Treatment of the Four Diseases" Manuscript". Siksācakr, Journal of Cambodia Research. 6: 33–42.


  • "Burmah" , 'Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. IV, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878, pp. 551–559.
  • Hla Pe, U (1985). Burma: Literature, Historiography, Scholarship, Language, Life, and Buddhism. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9789971988005.
  • Raghavan, V. (1979). "Preservation of Palm Leaf and Parabaik Manuscripts and Plan for Compilation of a Union Catalogue of Manuscripts" (PDF). UNESCO.