Knowledge Management for benefiting from Ancient Indian Knowledge
 By V T Sampath Kumaran, Hon. Technical Director, Advaita Sarada Project, Bangalore.

Defining knowledge  

Knowledge can be defined as knowing something with familiarity acquired through study, association or experience.  

Only a part of Knowledge, whether ancient or modern, is available in the form of books, which contain information about facts, hypothesis, experimentation and experience. Books give us only a fraction of the total knowledge. Much of what constitutes 'knowledge' is available in the minds of scholars and experts. Therefore, one cannot hope to gain knowledge entirely by reading books. An erudite teacher or a guide is required. It is they who transfer their knowledge to us. Books and periodicals then become a supplementary source of information. In technology-enabled knowledge management of the present day, the vast amount of knowledge that is in the minds of people is called 'Tacit knowledge'. Knowledge stored in other tangible media like books, CDs is called 'Explicit knowledge'. 

Externalisation of tacit knowledge, which involves identifying the knowledge contained in people's minds and making it available in a form that can be stored and accessed, thus making it explicit, is a major challenge for those working in information and communication technology. The enormity of this task is compounded in the case of ancient knowledge, for, only a few people still possess this tacit knowledge and fewer still are in a position to teach, guide and pass on this knowledge to us. 

Defining Knowledge Management 

Knowledge Management is the act of collecting information, which may be in the form of books, audio recordings or video recordings, and efficiently creating out of them a knowledge storehouse, also known as a knowledge repository or a knowledge base.  

Contents of a knowledge base will be useful only when they can be inter linked in such a way as to make it possible to retrieve them, contextually. Creation of such a link is a complex task as it requires prior knowledge of how people seek information and how information within the knowledge base can be contextually linked in a meaningful manner.  

The knowledge base must then be published so that people can access it in an instant, at any time. The knowledge base will have to be kept updated as and when new information is available or as and when different teachers, scholars and experts are available for interaction.   

The Advaita Sarada Project - an example of knowledge management of ancient Indian knowledge 

A unique project in knowledge management, known as the 'Advaita Sarada project', has been launched by Sri Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharaya Mahasamsthanam, Sri Sarada Pitham, Sringeri, Chikkamagaluru District, Karnataka. 

Sri Sarada Pitham, founded about 1200 years ago by Sri Adi Sankara, the great Indian philosopher, is a renowned centre of learning. His Holiness Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswami, the present Sankaracharya and 36th Pithadhipati, a sage of great learning, has been imparting knowledge contained in ancient Indian literature to all seekers who come to him from many parts of the world. His Holiness, on becoming aware of the potential of information and communication technology, desired to make this knowledge available to all those who wish to learn, wherever they are, in any part of the world where information and telecommunication technologies can reach them.  

The Advaita Sarada Project, conceived and blessed by him, seeks to create a knowledge base from more than 25,000 Granthas or books available in Sringeri and from audio and video recordings of classroom proceedings, Vidvat Ghoshtis (scholarly debates) and the like that are regularly conducted in this village. 

The Sri Sarada Pitham library 

Many of the more than 25,000 granthas in the libraries of Sri Sringeri Math date back a few centuries. The granthas are available in the form of ancient tala patras (palm leaf manuscripts), kadatas (a form of manuscript made from a long piece of cloth, conditioned by smearing on it powdered tamarind seeds and charcoal, and then folded into pages), paper manuscripts, and printed books. The subjects/ topics they deal with include Vaidika Dharma, philosophy, logic linguistics, science, mathematics, medicine, stories from the puranas and itihasas, literature, arts and many other subjects, and are in many Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi. However, it is not uncommon to find transcripted books - that is, the language of the text of the book and the script in which it is written are different. An example is Bhaskaracharya's Lilavati, the Sanskrit slokas or verses (containing mathematical problems) of which are written in Telugu script.  

Scope of the Advaita Sarada Project 

The objective of the project is to create a universal, free-to-read, digital library on the Internet that can be accessed by students and scholars alike. In addition to the books which, we now know, provide explicit knowledge, the Advaita Sarada Project has set a goal of providing tacit knowledge by making it possible for the seekers to interact with scholars, experts and teachers. This interaction known as 'socialization' in modern knowledge management terms will help students gain a correct understanding of granthas. 

In addition to the above, informed Tippani (annotation) will be written and created at the book level and at the section/chapter level.  These annotations will guide the student about contents of the book, its relative importance in the gamut of literature available on the subject of study, profile of the author, pre-requisites for studying the book, and also suggest related and advanced books on the subject. 

The granthas are scanned using a high performance scanner, and its pages stored as images in a powerful computer system, known as the knowledge server, using a modern Database Management System (DBMS). The DBMS has the capability to store images, audio and video recordings as well as texts (words and sentences that can be understood by computers and hence can be processed, that is, indexed, searched, located and retrieved). DBMS also has the capability to serve hundreds of users simultaneously with the information they want, without interfering with one another. 

Knowledge management of the grantha bhandara - a brief introduction to conceptual modelling  

In order to design a knowledge base that can be represented and stored in modern DBMS, it is necessary to conceptualize the knowledge base, which in this case consists of granthas, audio and video recordings. A model is a mental picture of the concept; therefore, the knowledge base model is a mental picture of it. 

While modeling a knowledge base, we see it as consisting of various entities about which we want to know something. Examples of entities that we can see as associated with the knowledge base under discussion are: 

· Books (granthas) in various physical forms (palm leaf manuscript, paper manuscript, kadata, printed books etc);

· Authors, who are associated with the grantha as its creators, or as persons who have written commentaries on it, or as those who have edited and brought out a critical edition of it.  

These entities about which we want to know are known as 'Objects' in computational terminology. Examples of a few more objects are: taxonomy, which represents a hierarchical categorization of various subjects (or disciplines of study); sub divisions of a grantha into sections/chapters (eg: kandas, parvas, prakaranas or adhyayas). 

So far we talked about 'objects' about which we want to know something. We can now ask what do we want to know about them? Details that we want to know about various objects are known as the 'Attributes' of those 'objects'. We certainly do not want to know every detail about an 'object' - only those details that we think are relevant for our purpose. For example, in the case of books, we may want to know its name, author, language, subject etc. Similarly, about an author, we may want to know his name, period and a brief profile of his. 

All 'objects' that share common properties and that exhibit similar behaviour are classified together into what are called 'Classes'. Therefore, 'classes' consist of 'objects' that are similar and an 'object' becomes an example of a 'class'. Bhaskaracharya's book on Mathematics, Lilavati, is thus an example of a 'class' called 'Book' and Bhaskaracharya is an example of a 'class' called 'Author'. 'Objects' of a 'class' may be interrelated with other 'objects' in another 'class'. In our knowledge base,

1. Books are interrelated with Authors, as it is they who have created the Books.

2. Subdivisions of a Book are related to Books.

3. Books are related with other books on the same subject. 

In conceptual modelling, to put it in a simple manner, we are concerned with identification of 'Classes', 'Objects', their 'Attributes' and their interrelationships. There are many other aspects as well, which however is not required for our understanding of a model as far as this discussion is concerned. It is said that Indian Logic (Tarka) also sees the world around us in terms that are similar to what is used in modern knowledge management, though in a more elaborate manner. 

A vital challenge for Indian Knowledge Management 

Since the granthas are captured as images, for a detailed search of the contents in the Library, the page images should converted into 'Texts' that can be understood, or 'read', by the computer. A technology called 'Optical Character Recognition (OCR) converts the images of lines of a book into a series of words or texts. An OCR technology for Sanskrit and other Indian languages is still being perfected.  

Unlike English, where each word is distinct, in Sanskrit - and many Indian languages - words can be combined (sandhis and samasas). Any OCR software, which reads the picture of words in a line, should also be able to determine whether the words have been combined and if so how?  Only then can these words or phrases be indexed for facilitating links and retrieval. A person who can develop effective OCR software for Sanskrit should necessarily have some knowledge of its grammar to know how words can be combined so that they can be split individually, keeping the meaning in tact.  

The scope of the Advaita Sarada Project goes much beyond the scope of this lecture, which, basically is to tell students why it is important to learn Sanskrit and how this learning can be relevant to Science and Technology.  Knowledge Management of ancient Indian knowledge provides both opportunities and challenges to those who are interested in learning from our past so as to be a step ahead of their peers in the future. For, only persons or a group of persons who are well versed in both Sanskrit and Technology can build a suitable solution that will enable millions to mine profitably the knowledge in our ancient texts.