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Indian-American scientists restore Hindu scriptures
Suman Guha Mozumder in New York | October 25, 2006 20:38 IST
A team of scientists has digitally restored a 700-year-old palm-leaf manuscript containing key aspects of the Dvaita philosophy in Hinduism.
The team, led by P R Mukund and Roger Easton, professors at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, were working on the Sarvamoola granthas, a manuscript attributed to 13th century scholar Madvacharya. The collection of 36 works had been damaged over the centuries by inappropriate storage, botched preservation efforts and degradation because of improper handling. It contains commentaries in Sanskrit on sacred Hindu scriptures and conveys Madvacharya's Dvaita philosophy, which addresses the meaning of life and the role of God.
"It was crumbling to dust, literally at my guru's matha (monastery) in Udupi, India," said Mukund, the Gleason professor of electrical engineering at the university, who studies and teaches Hinduism informally outside the university.
The story began last year when Mukund visited his longtime guru in Udupi and was told of the decrepit condition of the invaluable scriptures. "My guru had vaguely heard of some restoration work of some other ancient Hindu scriptures by some American university. He wanted to know if I could come up with any solution," he said.
Mukund felt it a vital request to address. "I started saying to myself, 'Let me try and do something before these invaluable scriptures are totally disintegrated,"' he said.
Once he was back in New York, Mukund sought the expertise of his colleague Easton, who had imaged the Dead Sea Scrolls and is currently working on the Archimedes Palimpsest. In turn, Easton a professor at RIT's Chester F Carlson Center for Imaging Science, brought in Keith Knox, an imaging senior scientist at Boeing LTS as a consultant. Mukund added Ajay Pasupuleti, a doctoral candidate in microsystems at RIT.
Once the team was formed, the scientists traveled to India in December last year to make preliminary assessments of the documents. "Helped by a grant of $20,000 by the RIT, of which we have spent $18,000 for expenses, we went to Udupi in June for about a week to image the document," Mukund said.
The scientists used a scientific digital camera and an infra-red filter to enhance the contrast between the ink and the palm leaf. Images of both sides of each palm leaf were captured in eight to ten sections, processed and digitally stitched together.
Easton, who also traveled to India with the team, said he was happy to be part of the project. 'This has also been one of the most enjoyable projects in my career since the results will be of great interest to a large number of people in India,' he said.
The processed images of the scriptures that was completed last week will be stored in a variety of media formats, including electronically, in published books and on silicon wafers that are both fire-proof and water-proof, for long term preservation.
Mukund said he and Pasupuleti would go to India next month to give printed and electronic versions of the scriptures to the monastery in Udupi at a public ceremony in Bangalore. "We feel we were blessed to have this opportunity to do this. It was a fantastic and profoundly spiritual experience and we came away cleansed," he said.
For now Mukund is looking forward to funds to image other Dvaita manuscripts in the Udupi region written since the time of Madhavacharya. There are some 800-odd palm-leaf manuscripts, including some in private collections, in the region, and they all came from the Dvaita school of thought, he said.
Mukund said the team was now trying to raise some $300,000 to employ one scholar in the US and another in Udupi so that the work can be done without the cost of travel.
"We hope that with generous help from Indian Americans we can completely digitise the whole thing. After all, these manuscripts are repository of great knowledge."