Where is the oldest tipitaka kept?


Numerous very sketchy sources say, without sufficient citation IMO, that the oldest complete (this is the kicker here, we want a “complete” canon, not fragments) Pāli Canon is from the 15th century.

Where is it housed?

I will be quite honest in saying that I am skeptical that it exists at all. I have been trying to find tell of it for quite a while. It might be a case of the oldest complete canon being from the 1800s and no one wants to talk about it, fearing that this would somehow make the scriptures “newer” than Mahayana.


Emphasize on last sentence:


Indeed, I am wondering where the oldest complete copy of the canon is housed, though, regardless of what that means about the age of the material in that copy.

I am looking specifically for the oldest Pāli Canon too. Although the Palman Daejanggyeong from the 1200s has a several more-or-less complete śrāvaka sutta-piṭakāni, it is not in Pāli.


Sorry, can you give the source of the quote?

I do not believe there is any complete Tipitaka from as far back as the 15th century. In fact I have not seen any evidence of a complete Pali Tipitaka before the 5th Council edition of the late 19th Century. There may well be earlier complete texts, but in general, even the texts from the 18th and 19th centuries consist of specific manuscripts or sets of manuscripts.

Such surveys as have been done suggest that it was rare for a Theravadin monastery in pre-modern times to have a complete Tipitaka. Presumably the large central monasteries would have had complete collections, but I don’t know if any early ones have survived. If you see the ola leaf manuscripts in the Sri Lankan monasteries, they tend to be just gathered and piled together, not kept in an organized set.

What the quote is, I think, alluding to is the fact that from the 15th century, or better, from the 13th century, we start to have manuscripts that form part of a somewhat coherent manuscript tradition, as opposed to random scraps like the Nepalese fragment. Individually these manuscripts consist of parts of the Pali canon, typically a book of the Vinaya, a nikaya, or somesuch. Taken together they gradually accumulate the whole canon.

In the earliest manuscripts from the 13th/14th centuries, three main texts have been reported:

  • Vinaya Cullavagga
  • Vinaya Mahavagga
  • Samyutta Nikaya

But I have only confirmed the Cullavagga.

From the 15th century onwards, manuscripts of the rest of the texts would gradually appear.


There used to be a very old Pāli Tipiṭaka housed at Aluvihare Rock Temple in Sri Lanka apparently, but it was destroyed during the Rebellion of 1848. It would be a shame if that had been the oldest complete Pāli Canon, from whenever it happened to be from. AFAIK it was never dated.


Oh really, do you have a source for this? (Sorry to keep asking for sources, I’m not doubting you, I just want to follow up!)


A Handbook of Pāli Literature by Oskar von Hinüber


I cobbled that narrative out of a bunch of secondhand sources:

It seems that there was either a) one or more very old tipiṭakas housed there before the fire or b) a tradition of copying tipiṭakas there that would have had a very long history. Either way, the tradition was disrupted, and the monastery burned down. :cry: Who knows how far back it went?


Lol, the Nat Geo source says:

Recorded on palm leaves, it was stored in the temple’s library which was burned in 1848 by British and Ceylonese Burgher troops during the Matale Rebellion. The Pali Canon had to be recompiled painstakingly by hand, and only one volume had been completed by 1982.

I think this is nothing more than a garbled misunderstanding of history. The Mahavamsa records that the Pali Tipitaka was first written down at the Aluviahara in around 20 BCE. The vihara may well have been burned in 1848, and there may well have been manuscripts in it, but this has nothing to do with the ancient manuscripts, which have surely long-perished. Unless there is some specific reputable source, there is no reason to think that any manuscripts that may have existed in Alu Vihara in 1848 had any special antiquity.


Certainly, also this isn’t Nat Geo, it is a random photographer using an image-sharing website that Nat Geo has set up. The blurb accompanying the picture is likely his own, and he probably learned it from someone in Sri Lanka. He also probably presumed that that temple had the “originals” as it were, because it is quite possible that that is a local folktale.

When I speculated as to the manuscripts, I was merely speculating that they were likely very old, and their loss was a loss to history all the same.

What would “special antiquity” mean here though? Given the state of the manuscripts, wouldn’t something from even just 400 years ago count as “special” in such a way?


It would, but unless there is some reason, I wouldn’t assume it had anything that old.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are some relevant essays, including Nyanatusita’s survey of known Pali manuscripts in SL:


I think this post the only one worth answering from your entire posting history.

The Pali cannon from which all others were produced is presently kept at the British Museum.

This is the wrong temple. Perhaps a copy they kept there was burnt but not the original.


The “reputable source” would be the library catalogue at the British museum. It keeps a record where the complete collection was sourced.

The Sri Lankan govt also maintain a list containing more than 4000 manuscripts that include the Tripitaka that are presently kept at the British museum.

The list is presented in this video. Your Sinhala friends will be able to confirm it for you.

I think before understanding the book its probably a good idea to know where Buddha lived.

In which country did the Buddha live?


You believe a dubious story by Marco Polo when his own editors in that book itself were putting in notes to discount his claims.

Its a bit like the lies told to the Portuguese.


You can find documents from the 1700s calling America “Columbia”. It doesn’t mean the US is Colombia.

Marco Polo also thought people from random areas of Asia had the heads of dogs on human bodies. Should we believe him? Or maybe he was just a little bit racist about that other people looked like.


That Adam was born on Adam’s mountain. :rofl:


The page (p290) is attached. The editorial footnotes are there too. Where does the editor discount the claim?

The following editorial remark is found on the previous page (p289) however.

“This is evidently the well-known island of Ceylon, and both the distance and direction are extremely correct”


I think the British hoards antiquties belonging to many conquered countries. They are probably considered “war booty”. This is fair enough.

Although Sri Lanka is different. Sri Lanka was not conqured but administered under a treaty. The treaty specifially mention protection of Buddhism.

I am not a legal luminary. Although a case can be made the United Kingdom did not meet its treaty obligations.

Treaty Obligations

The British Crown takes over the island of Ceylon over a treaty. The agreement between the Kanda Udarata Chiefs and the British Crown is as follows.

The religion of Buddhism is declared inviolable and its rights to be maintained and protected.

Kandyan Convention - Wikipedia

Although the Buddhist history has been distorted. The religious manuscripts, books and other works that forms the the core of the Buddha Dhamma have been taken from the people of the island in violation of the treaty.

More here ->