Sept. 19, 2006 Contact:
Susan Gawlowicz (585) 475-5061 or
Restores 700-Year-Old Sacred Hindu Text
RIT scientists travel twice to India to work
on damaged manuscript
NOTE: Images of the palm leaf manuscript are
Please see the suggested caption at the end
of the press release.
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
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.
“This is a very
significant application of the same types of
tools that we have used on the Archimedes
Palimpsest,” Easton says. “Not incidentally,
this also has been one of the most enjoyable
projects in my career, since the results will be
of great interest to a large number of people in
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 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.
Mukund and Pasupuleti
will return to India at the end of November to
give printed and electronic versions of the
Sarvamoola granthas to the monastery in Udupi in
a public ceremony in Bangalore, the largest city
in the Karnataka region.
“We feel we were
blessed to have this opportunity to do this,”
Mukund says. “It was a fantastic and profoundly
spiritual experience. And we all came away
Based on the success of
this project, Mukund is seeking funding to image
other Dvaita manuscripts in the Udupi region
written since the time of Shri Madvacharya. He
estimates the existence of approximately 800
palm leaf manuscripts, some of which are in
Caption: 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.
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