Scientists who worked on the Archimedes Palimpsest are using modern imaging technologies to digitally restore a 700-year-old palm-leaf manuscript containing the essence of Hindu philosophy.
The project led by P.R. Mukund and Roger Easton, professors at Rochester Institute of Technology, will digitally preserve the original Hindu writings known as the Sarvamoola granthas attributed to scholar Shri Madvacharya (1238-1317). The collection of 36 works contains commentaries written in Sanskrit on sacred Hindu scriptures and conveys the scholar’s Dvaita philosophy of the meaning of life and the role of God.
The document is difficult to handle and to read, the result of centuries of inappropriate storage techniques, botched preservation efforts and degradation due to improper handling. Each leaf of the manuscript measures 26 inches long and two inches wide, and is bound together with braided cord threaded through two holes. Heavy wooden covers sandwich the 340 palm leaves, cracked and chipped at the edges. Time and a misguided application of oil have aged the palm leaves dark brown, obscuring the Sanskrit writings.
“It is literally crumbling to dust,” says Mukund, the Gleason Professor of Electrical Engineering at RIT.
According to Mukund, 15 percent of the manuscript is missing.
“The book will never be opened again unless there is a compelling reason to do so,” Mukund says. “Because every time they do, they lose some. After this, there won’t be a need to open the book.”
Mukund first became involved with the project when his spiritual teacher in India brought the problem to his attention and urged him to find a solution. This became a personal goal for Mukund, who studies and teaches Hindu philosophy or “our way of life” and understood the importance of preserving the document for future scholars. The accuracy of existing printed copies of the Sarvamoola granthas is unknown.
Mukund sought the expertise of RIT colleague Easton, who imaged the Dead Sea Scrolls and is currently working on the Archimedes Palimpsest. 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, and the team was formed.
The scientists traveled to India in December 2005 to assess the document stored at a monastery-like mathas in Udupi, India. Sponsored by a grant from RIT, the team returned to the monastery in June 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 leaf. 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 image-processing algorithms using Adobe Photoshop and Knox’s own custom software.
Each palm leaf of the sacred Hindu manuscript, the Sarvamoola granthas, was captured in multiple sections, processed and digitally stitched together. Image A shows the condition of an original leaf from the text, stitched together but unprocessed. Image B shows a stitched and processed page after applying modern imaging technologies. Images were taken by Roger Easton, from Rochester Institute of Technology, and Keith Knox, from Boeing LTS, using a Sensys scientific digital camera and an infrared filter.
Original information source: Rochester Institute of Technology