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300,000 dollars needed to restore rare palm leaf manuscripts on Hinduism

Several newspapers had earlier reported about the efforts of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to restore a rare 700-year-old palm leaf manuscript on Hinduism. But the project is facing financial difficulties. BBC carries an exhaustive report on the restoration process including the financial angle missed in the earlier reports.

The manuscript being restored is Sarvamoola Grantha - a collection of 36 erudite commentaries was written in Sanskrit by Sri Madvacharya (1238-1317 AD).

The collection includes commentaries based on the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Puranas, Brahma-sutras, Mahabharata, independent philosophical tracts, a commentary on daily rites, and several hymns in praise of Gods.

The manuscripts were stored at Phalimaru Matha near Udupi and Dr PR Mukund, a professor of electrical engineering at RIT saddened by the deterioration of the manuscripts took up the project.

The challenges in restoring

The 700 years that have passes has had its toll on the palm leaves most of them are dark brown in color which makes it hard to read. The leaves have cracked in several places and some of the parts are missing. Lack of proper maintenance has led to the palm leaves staining, splitting and sticking to each other.

The technique

First several high resolution images of a particular palm leaf are obtained. Each image is then joined to make a complete palm leaf. The images are then processed to make the text readable. The images are also etched on the silicon wafers. Silicon wafer is a thin, circular disk of extremely pure, crystalline silicon, typically six or eight inches in diameter. 

The team has plans to restore 800 more palm leaf manuscripts but the main concern is finance. Dr Mukund says they will at least $100,000 dollars a year for the next three years to complete the entire project.