Bower Manuscript
The Bower Manuscript is a medical manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

 written predominantly in the Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...


made up of 51 birch
Birch is a tree or shrub of the genus Betula , in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak family, Fagaceae. The Betula genus contains 30–60 known taxa...

-bark leaves, written in an early Indian script.
It is today preserved as part of the collections of the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 in Oxford. The Bower Manuscript in reality is a collection of seven distinct manuscripts, or it may be called a collective manuscript of seven parts.

Section 1 below is an edited extract from A History of Indian Medical Literature by G. J. Meulenbeld (1999-2002), vol. IIa, pp. 3-12.

Bower Manuscript

The Bower Manuscript is named after H. Bower who, being then a
lieutenant, obtained it early in the year 1890, in Kucā, from a local
inhabitant during a confidential mission from the Government of India.
Kucā is the name of one of the principal oases and settlements of
Eastern Turkestan (part of China), on the ancient great caravan route
to China. The MS was found by native treasure- seekers in a stūpa
close to the Ming­ Öi (the "Thousand Houses", a system of rock-cut
grottos with Buddhist shrines) of Qum Turā about 13 (or 16) miles from
Kucā, in February 1890. On his return to In­dia, Lieutenant Bower took
the MS to Simla, whence it was forwarded to Colonel J. Waterhouse, who
was then the President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Colonel
Wa­terhouse exhibited the MS at the monthly meeting of the Society on
November 5, 1890, when also a note from Lieutenant Bower was read,
explaining the circumstances of the discovery. After the meeting some
attempts were made to decipher the MS, but they proved unsuccessful.
However, a German Indologist, G. Bühler, succeeded in reading and
translating two leaves of the MS, reproduced in the form of
heliogravures in the Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Immediately after his return to India in February 1891, A. F. R.
Hoernle began to study the MS. At the meeting of the Society in April
1891, he was able to communicate the first decipherment. The
Government of India sanctioned, in 1892, Hoernle's proposal to prepare
a complete edition of the text, illustrated with facsimile plates, and
accompanied by an annotated English trans­lation. The first part of
the edition appeared in 1893, the second part (in two fasciculi) in
1894-95, and the remaining parts in 1897.

After an interruption of
several years, the Sanskrit Index was published in 1908, and a revised
translation of the medical portions (I,II,and III) in 1909; the
Introduction appeared in 1912.

The Manuscript

The term 'Bower Manuscript' is not strictly correct, since it is, as
to size, a combination of two manuscripts, a larger and a smaller. The
larger manuscript is a complex of six smaller manuscripts which are
separately paginated. The Bower Manuscript is therefore, in reality,
a collection of seven distinct manuscripts, indicated as parts I to
VII in Hoernle's edition.

The manuscript is written on fifty-one birch bark leaves of an oblong
shape, in the form of those of an Indian pothī. The birch bark of the
large portion of the manuscript is of a quality much inferior to that
of the smaller portion. The hole for the passage of the binding string
is placed about the middle of the left half of the leaves. This
placement of the string hole and the oblong form of the leaves point
to an imitation of palm leaf pothīs from Southern India by the scribes
of Kucā. The seven parts of the manuscript are written in an
essentially identical script, the Gupta script, which prevailed in
Northern India from the fourth to the sixth centuries A.D. Some
graphic peculiarities of the Bower MS indicate, according to Hoernle,
that it was written at some time within the fourth century A.D.
Distinctive characters of the script used enabled Hoernle to
distinguish four different scribes, who wrote parts I-III, part
IV, parts V and VII, and part VI respectively. He also arrived at the
conclusion that the writers of parts I-III and V-VII were natives of
India who had migrated to Kucā. To judge from the style of writing,
the scribe of parts I - III originally came from the northern, the two
scribes of parts V-VII from the southern part of the northern area of
the Indian Gupta script. The writer of part IV may have been a native
of Eastern Turkestan. All four writers must have been Buddhist monks,
residing in a monastery near Kucā. The ultimate owner of the whole
series of manuscripts, whose name appears to have been Yaśomitra,
must have held a prominent position in that monastery, for the
bundle of manuscripts was contained in the relic chamber of the memorial
stūpa built in his honour.


The language in which the
treatises of the Bower MS are written is a kind of mixed Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

i.e., a mixture of current literary Sanskrit and a Sanskrit with a
varying proportion of Prakrit forms. The influence of Prakrit
Prakrit is the name for a group of Middle Indic, Indo-Aryan languages, derived from Old Indic dialects. The word itself has a flexible definition, being defined sometimes as, "original, natural, artless, normal, ordinary, usual", or "vernacular", in contrast to the literary and religious...

is far
more pronounced in the more popular treatises on divination and
incantation in parts IV-VII than in the more scientific medical
treatises of parts I-III.


Parts I to III, the three medical treatises of the collection,
comprise a total of 1,323 verses and some prose; ...
It is evident from this familiarity with metrical writing that
the author of the three medical treatises was well versed in
Sanskrit composition. ... The author of parts IV-VII was not conversant with scholarly Sanskrit; these treatises are written, in a mixed type of language.

Part I opens with a flowery description of the Himalayas, where a group of mu­nis reside, interested in the names and properties of medicinal plants. Mentioned by name are the following sages: Ātreya, Hārīta, Parāśara, Bhela, Garga, Śāmbavya, Suśruta, Vasiṣṭha, Karāla, and Kāpya. Suśruta, whose curiosity is aroused by a particular plant, approaches muni Kāśirāja, enquiring about the nature of this plant.
Kāśīrāja, granting his request, tells him about the origin of the plant, which proves to
be garlic (laśuna), its properties and uses ....
A small tract on miscellaneous [medical] subjects follows.
Part II, which opens with a salutation addressed to the Tathāgatas, contains,
as stated by the author, the
Navanītaka, a standard manual (siddhasaṃkarṣa),
containing the foremost formulae of the great sages, made up by them of old ....

Part III is a fragment of a formulary, the contents of which correspond to chapters one to three of part II.

Parts IV and V contain two short manuals of Pāśakakevalī, or cubomancy, i.e., the art of foretelling a person's future by means of the cast of dice. ...

Parts VI and VII contain two different portions of the same text, the Mahāmāyurī, Vidyārājñī, a Buddhist dhāraṇī that protects against snake-bite and other evils. ...

Special features

An important peculiarity of the Bower MS consists of its varying attitude towards the number of the doṣas [humours]. In many instances it accepts the traditional number of three, vāta, pitta, and kapha: 1 15 but in a smaller number of passages it appears to accept blood
(rakta) as a doṣa. ...


... the medical parts of the Bower MS (I-III) constitute
the earliest collections of recipes known. They give evidence
of a long medical tradition, connected with numerous ancient
authorities, and may be based on similar types of medical writings antedating the composition of the saṃhitās of Caraka, Suśruta and others.


Palaeographical studies by Dani (1986) and especially Sander (1987) present compelling evidence for a date of about AD 500-550 for the Bower manuscript.
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