High-tech tools to preserve heritage

Published : Jan 14, 2005 00:00 IST

Five years ago, I visited the Bangalore unit of C-DAC to meet the coordinator of a free and popular online course on networking that the Centre had just launched. Throughout my discussion was intrigued to see a dhoti-clad `vadhyar' complete with `kudimi' and `naamam' working engrossed at a computer terminal at the other end of the laboratory. When I asked who he was, I was told he was a C-DAC scientist working to create a computerized rule book for Panini's Sanskrit grammar. I stopped to say hello - and discovered that P. Ramanujam was that rare combination: a Sanskrit scholar and an engineer. Having studied in the traditional `gurukula' system, he went on to obtain a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering and for his MSc (Engg) at the Indian Institute of Science, he was using his knowledge of computers to try and codify the complicated grammatical rules of Sanskrit in a way that lent it self to PC-based automation.

Today Ramanujam coordinates a man team: the Indian Heritage Group at C-DAC Bangalore. Since I met him last, has also been awarded an honorary D.Litt by the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi. He is currently anchoring some half a dozen ongoing projects aimed at harnessing Information Technology tools like optical character recognition, speech processing and synthesis to unlock the wisdom of the Vedas, the Mahabharata and other classical works for the Internet generation.

A key achievement has been the "Desika" NLU systemAnother ongoing project is C-VYASA, a Sanskrit Authoring System - including a Vedic Editorc It helps lay users as well as scholars search for a word or phrase, locating where it occurs, through indexed data bases. The knowledge base of the Vedas is harnessed by way of tools to rendering difficult texts like the Sama Veda and; readers for the Rig Veda and the Yajurveda with the ability to retrieve text detail. Epics like the Mahabharata, and texts like Vishnu sahasranamam are being converted to machine readable form, with research tools like word, phrase, context search using Boolean logic.

Most recently the group has taken up the development of a self teaching system for Sanskrit - "Swadhyaya" . The Bhagavad Gita Reader is already available as a free download from the CDAC web site.

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