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700 year old Hindu palm leaf manuscript digitally restored

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has digitally restored the 700 year old Hindu palm leaf manuscript - Sarvamoola Granthas. Ten months back this blog had written about RIT scientists trying to digitally preserve the dilapidated palm leaf original Hindu writings in Sarvamoola Granthas, attributed to philosopher-saint Shri Madhvacharya (1238-1317).

The project was led by RIT professors P.R. Mukund and Roger L. Easton Jr. The Sarvamoola Granthas is a collection of 36 works written in Sanskrit and contains commentaries on sacred Hindu scriptures and conveys Shri Madhvacharya’s Dvaita philosophy.

The Damaged Manuscript

Each leaf of the manuscript measures 26 inches long and two inches wide. The leaves are bound together with braided cord threaded through two holes. Heavy wooden covers sandwich the 342 palm leaves, which are cracked and chipped at the edges. In its current condition, the Sarvamoola Granthas is difficult to handle and to read as the result of centuries of inappropriate storage, botched preservation efforts and improper handling. The passage of time and a misguided effort to preserve the manuscript with oil have turned the palm leaves dark brown, obscuring the Sanskrit text, and the aging leaves shed bits of the sacred scriptures every time it is touched. (P.R. Mukund in RIT University Magazine)

Process of Digitally Restoring

Sponsored by a grant from RIT, the team returned to the monastery in June 2006 and spent six days imaging the document using a scientific digital camera and an infrared filter to enhance the contrast between the ink and the palm leaves. Images of each palm leaf, back and front, were captured in eight to 10 sections, processed and digitally stitched together. The scientists ran the 7,900 total images through various imaging processes using Adobe Photoshop and Knox’s own custom software.

The processed images of the Sarvamoola Granthas will be stored in a variety of media formats, including electronically, in published books and on silicon wafers for long-term preservation. Etching the sacred writings on silicon wafers was the idea of Mukund’s philosophy student Pasupuleti. The process, called aluminum metallization, transfers an image to a wafer by creating a negative of the image and depositing metal on the silicon surface.

According to Pasupuleti, each wafer can hold the image of three leaves. More than 100 wafers will be needed to store the entire manuscript. As an archival material, silicon wafers are both fire- and waterproof, and readable with the use of a magnifying glass. No other technology is required to access the information recorded on the wafers. Transferring the Sarvamoola Granthas to silicon wafers is the next phase of the project, pending future funding. (RIT University Magazine)