We have seen the usage of palm leaf as material for writing. The second important material is Bhūrja patra or Birch bark in English. The botanical name of the tree is Baetula utiles or Baetula bhoj-patra. The tree is very commonly grown in Himalayan slopes (above 30000 feet high). The tree is also called as “Lekhan”.
The inner bark consists of several thin layers (40to 50 layers). The white or pinky white layers are separated with care. The will have knots and horizontal lenticels. After separating the sheets, the sheets are treated with oil and will be polished with a smooth stone. The sheets will be cut into double the required size and folded into half.
The sheets won’t be stitched or bound. They will be kept as loose sheets. Some stitched specimens are also available. Two wooden boards will be kept on both the sides.
Letters will be written with ink. The writing will be parallel to the lenticels.
QUOTATION FROM SCRIPTURES
Arthaśāstra quotes the bhūrja patra along with Palm leaves. (Tāḍa-tāḍī-bhūrjānām patram). Amarakośa gives the synonyms of the tree.
भूर्जपत्रे भुजो भूर्जो मृदुत्वक् चर्मिचर्मिणौ।
Kumāra sambhava mentions Bhūrjapatra that are used for writing love letters among the vidyādharas.
The word of clown from Vikramorvaśīya too mentions this material.
After the wide usage of paper, Birch bark lost its place and went out of course of time. Tantra śāstras mention that Bhūrja are very holy and should be used for writing mantras.
SOME SPECIAL MANUSCRIPTS
The well known Dhammapāda written in kharoṣṭi script and in Prākṛta is the earliest available specimen of this material. It was discovered in Khotan and dated as 2nd – 3rd CE.
A copy of Samyuktāgama sūtra is also dated as 4th CE.
The Bower collection has 56 leaves which are dated as 425 CE. The Bakshali collection too has a manuscript which is dated as 8th CE by some scholars and 12th CE by others.
Bodlean library has a manuscript of 5th CE.
The National archives of India is said to have a copy of Bhaiṣajya guru vaiḍūrya prabhā sūra which is dated as 5-6th CE. There are three manuscripts including the copy of Atharvaveda are deposited in German libraries.