The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Joshi writ runs for manuscripts

Chennai, March 10: Many words, one language.

From the Yajurveda Samhita that records a number series — eka (one), dasa (10), sata (100) and so on — to Aryabhatta, whose time saw Indian mathematics take a quantum leap, the posters seemed to speak in one voice — that of Murli Manohar Joshi.

It was no BJP meet or VHP yuva morcha. It was the inauguration of a national workshop-cum-seminar on ‘Manuscriptology, Palaeography and Ancient Technical Sciences’, jointly organised by the New Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), which falls under Joshi’s ministry, and Madras University’s Sanskrit department.

The ambience at the Oriental Research Institute’s auditorium here suggests that “Joshi winds” are blowing again in Chennai after the recent undersea discoveries in the Gulf of Cambay that the human resources development minister claims are proof that India was home to the world’s earliest civilisation.

Not quite. As scholars and researchers got down to business, after health and education minister S. Semmalai kicked off the meet, it turned out to be an attempt to dispel the belief that Sanskrit as a language of religion and philosophy was nothing but full of “superstition and voodoo practices”.

The meet was to drive home the point that Sanskrit literature contained astonishing knowledge about various sciences and mathematics, including even management theories and aircraft technology.

“How do we decipher this stupendous past of knowledge and information contained in thousands of manuscripts written in a variety of scripts'” asked Professor G.C. Tripathi, who recently took charge of the manuscript division of the IGNCA.

Sources say the National Manuscript Mission, launched last year by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has given a new thrust to this effort to train a new generation of people to read these ancient scripts.

Professor Krishnamurthy, former professor of history of Indian mathematics at BITS, Pilani, in Rajasthan, begins with a query. “Do you know that the ancient Jains had a fascination for large numbers'” he asked, then went on to add: “That there are different kinds of infinite number series, which we now attribute to the mathematician Cantor, was already known to the Jains.”

Professor M.D. Srinivas, of the Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, said the Arab scholar, Al-Kawarizmi, took the ancient Hindu system of calculation to Europe which later got “corrupted” into ‘algorithms’.

But the source of many of these developments never saw the light of day as “there was no motivation to publish them”, he added. “We must begin to computerise the manuscripts to start with.” There are about 3.5 million manuscripts in Indian languages of which one lakh “are in jyothisha (astrology) alone”, Srinivas said. The IGNCA has microfilmed one lakh manuscripts, he added.

Tripathi dismissed as unfounded the impression that these activities were getting an impetus because of the ruling BJP’s “pro-Hindutva bias”. He said the programme to train youths to read and decipher manuscripts was started during the Congress regime. “In the interest of knowledge, any government would do these things, though Mr M.M. Joshi gives us a lot of encouragement,” he said.

Vijaya Shanker Shukla, research officer at the IGNCA, said the centre’s objective was to “train a group of young scholars in the field of manuscriptology, namely to read and decipher ancient scripts such as the Sharada script of Kashmir, the Granth script of south India, the Newari script of Nepal and several other regional scripts in which our great national literature are retained”.

The training programme was started in 1994, with workshops being held in places like Delhi, , Mysore, Calcutta and Thiruvananthapuram, said Shukla. At the Chennai workshop now, 25 young scholars would be trained to read manuscripts during the 10-day programme. They will be trained in the Gaudi (script of eastern India), Granth and the Telugu scripts, he added.

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