Interview: Digitalizing heritage for the coming generation
We all praise about the rich heritage of India. We know that India had the most ancient university in the world and a well developed knowledge system. Even though we have treasures covered in our old knowledge system, except a few home remedies, we seldom look back to our rich heritage for today's requirements.
But, there are few visionaries who think about this seriously. They do attempts to connect our 'ages old' knowledge and wisdom to modern day technologies. Dr. Narayanan Kannan is one among them. Doctor Narayanan Kannan (South Korea) along with Ms.Subashini Kanagasundaram (Germany) and Doctor .Kuppusamy Kalyanasundaram (Switzerland) founded an organization to preserve old heritage in digital format for the future generations. Started in August 21, 2001, Tamil Heritage Foundation entered into 10th year now.
Bhashaindia team has got a very rare opportunity to have a chat with Dr.Narayanan Kannan, President of Tamil Heritage Foundation. Currently working as Program Manager, APEC Marine Environmental Training, Doctor Narayanan Kannan was in Coimbatore to do a presentation on Tamil Heritage Foundation. Here are the excerpts from his interview -
Question: Tamil Heritage Foundation is often quoted by media for its 'first of its kind' activities in Indian scenario. Can you please tell something about Tamil Heritage Foundation?
Answer: The basic motto of Tamil Heritage Foundation is to serve Tamil and Tamilians across the world. But, its focus is wider. At Tamil Heritage Foundation, we engage in the digital preservation of Indian Heritage Materials. With the rise of modern technologies, we tend to forget our ancient knowledge and heritage related information. With the help of the same modern technology and digital technology, we retrieve and preserve our heritage. We evolved over the years the technical know-how for preserving heritage materials such as ancient palm leaf manuscripts and old books in electronic forms that are easily readable in CD ROM and in the web. This provides not only the freedom of information but assures democracy as well. By web enabling our ancient scripts that were mostly read and understood by particular section of Tamil Society, we make it available to all sections of Tamil society, International students of Tamil language and culture and to scholars in general.
Question: What all are the materials you collect and digitalize?
Answer: We have collected materials from four different sections. Four sections are Language, Art, Sciences and History. We think most of the heritage materials will be covered under these sections. Grammar, information and education will be sub-heads under language. Art will contain sub-heads like music, performing arts and Koothu. Under Sciences we cover Medical - Siddha, Ayurveda, Yunani - mathematics and other sciences. Inscripts on stone and metal plate, archeological material, temple or old palace structures are covered in the section history
Question: It is a fact that ancient generation had in-depth knowledge about many sciences. Siddha, Unani and Ayurveda are examples. Have you come across any knowledge treasures when exploring old manuscripts or palm leaves?
Answer: Our ancestors had a well-placed knowledge system. When we explore and digitalize old manuscripts or palm leaves, our 'ages old' knowledge system unfolds in front of us. When we go further into exploring and digitalizing more heritage materials, I am sure that it will bring in a paradigm shift in the Indian psyche from a heavily conditioned colonial mindset to a self confident, vibrant Indian mindset. We aim to digitize millions of palm leaf manuscripts still unpublished from various sources. This includes manuscripts dealing with indigenous medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering (ship building etc.,) architecture, literature, music and arts. We plan to bring forth the forgotten scientific, medical traditions, evaluate them in the light of modern science and encourage new discoveries and patents.
Question: What all are the plans of Tamil Heritage Foundation in the coming years?
Answer: We have extensive plan to digital cataloguing of various manuscript catalogues that are currently available in print form and bring-in new entries. One of the other plan is to acquire manuscripts for digitization, digital preservation, critical reading and editing; publishing. Developing methods of electronic discussion across borders and generate worldwide interest that stimulate new discoveries, inventions, patents, patent protection are also in the future plans.
Question: You try to preserve culture and language by digitalizing or archiving it. In a way, it enriches language computing efforts happening in the world. Bhashaindia is also actively involved in helping language computing front, especially for Indian languages. How do you see Bhashaindia's initiatives?
Answer: I have always praised Bhashaindia’s efforts in language computing front. It caters to language experts and at the same time, it creates awareness among common people about the happenings of the front. I wish all the best for Bhashaindia and its team. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to explain Tamil Heritage Foundation’s initiatives to Bhashaindia's readers.