Ancient periods depended more on the manual works rather than upon machinery and it reflected on the ancient literatures as well; prints, being more recent a phenomenon, like many other ancient texts, Bengali books also used to be handwritten. A sharp contrast to the run-of-the-mill trend, these copies were made on demand and required special skills. The handwritten scripts are called pandulipi in Bengali; the material on which they were inscribed was either grey or pale yellow in color. This is one of the reasons behind the name pandulipi, since pandu stands for yellow in Bangla and lipi, for writing. The material used to be specially processed leather, leaves or barks from trees; during the latter times i.
e. the medieval period, paper made from cotton-pulps, hemp, and linseed showed up. This facilitated the making of large sheets, which were then cut to the required size and tied together with strings to give it the appearance of a book, with two firm boards sufficing for covers. The Pnuthis so far discovered in Bengal have Sanskrit or Bangla as the language; those written in Bangla used the old Bangla Script. Inscribed by the professional scribes of yore, they also used to add their personal details at the end of the pnuthi as a kind of an acknowledgement or disclaimer, from which, it was discovered that a lot of Muslims also earn their livelihood through the profession. A good handwriting was the primary criteria and so was accuracy, but without a good knowledge on the language, the first two qualities were considered to be vain.
However, a shortcoming on the latter part proved beneficial in terms of interpolations and textual variants. But a lot of people hold counter-opinions regarding the limited knowledge of the language of certain scribes for denoting the date of the creation in verse riddles instead of numerical figures required a lot of talent and depth. A pnuthi has a certain anatomy; while the chief portion comprised the main body text, the part where the scribe used to flaunt his own wordsmithry comprise of the following parts: Bhonita or pre-amble: Describes the name of the book and the writer; a variant of Pushpika. Pushpika or colophon: Generally found on the first leaf, at the end of the chapter or act, and on the last folio, the Pushpika is a short, composite work made of a brief autobiography of the writer, the name of the puthi, the date of writing/copying and the name of the person who is the provider of the task. When it is on the first folio or at the end of a chapter or an act, the Pushpika contains the names of the scribe and the book whereas in last folio, the former content is placed along with the dates of writing or copying. Being treasures of immense value, nowadays, many of the educational institutions are preserving the original ones and making microfilms out of them; though the act shall preserve these great works of art for many more days to come, nothing can be done now regarding bringing back the scribes, who have now become extinct due to the industrial advancements.
Ostom Ray is a linguist. His website provides information on Indian languages and translation services, Culture, Travel, Outsourcing and more.