From maths to the wandering mind: What IKS centres are studying

Over 50 IKS centres have come up across education institutions and non-profits to lead research on the Indian Knowledge System.

Infertility Project at IIT Mandi. (Image: IIT Mandi)Infertility Project at IIT Mandi. (Image: IIT Mandi)

Shradha Chettri | March 21, 2024 | 06:08 PM IST

NEW DELHI: A portal on an understanding of health derived from over 250 non-Ayurvedic Sanskrit texts; research on management of infertility through Ayurveda and yoga, while employing machine learning and AI to predict treatment outcomes; showcasing the impact of yoga on mental health and cognitive functioning; and a study of mathematical concepts derived from the Puranas – the repository of Indian Knowledge System (IKS) being build in higher educational institutions of the country will include these and more.

“Bharatiya Jnana Parampara Vibhaga” – IKS division – an important project of the ministry of education, was launched in October 2020. A one-day workshop on research in Indian traditional knowledge in March that year had led to its creation.

Housed in premises of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the division first invited proposals from educational institutions for establishing IKS Research Centres (Gaveshana), IKS Teacher Training Centres (Shikshaka Prashikshanam), and IKS Bhasha Kendras to conduct research.

Later, the University Grants Commission (UGC) drafted guidelines asking educational institutions to start IKS courses and permitted 5% of the credits at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels to be earned on these IKS courses.

Now, two years after the grants were made, several institutions received research grants and many are ready with their projects.

IKS Research Centres

Twenty-nine institutions were selected as research centres, including non-educational institutions such as Institute for Science and Spirituality, Delhi, a part of ISKCON Delhi; Samskrita Bharati, Telangana, a non-profit that aims to revive Sanskrit as spoken language; and Samvit Research Foundation, Bengaluru, another non-profit with focus on research in school education.

The topics of research being conducted range from “Kalaripayattu (an ancient sport in Kerala) and Siddhar Tradition”, to IKS approach to deep ecology integrating sacred geography and sustainability, Kalamkari art, and others.

Amrita IKS Centre for Ayurveda, Vyakarana and Darshana (Ayurveda, Sanskrit grammar and philosophy) is at Amrita Vishwapeetham, Kollam, in Kerala.

“Primarily our IKS centre is focussed on Ayurveda. There are three components. The idea is that for all Indian Knowledge Systems, there is a darshana background and vyakarana, that is, language. There is a saying that without the background knowledge of Sanskrit and Darshana, we cannot understand any discipline of IKS. We are presenting Ayurveda, Vyakarana and Darshana as a triangle and a formula for survival of IKS,” said P Rammanohar, principal investigator (PI) at the centre. He is also research director at Amrita School of Ayurveda.

The Ayurveda aspect is focused on the belief that “India had a healthy culture”.

“We call it Arogya Samskruti, which means that in our old tradition there was a lot of awareness about health, so much so that non-ayurvedic Sanskrit literature is a storehouse of health information. If we talk of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Raghuvamsa kavya, there is health information in such scriptures. We have screened around 250 such texts covering all aspects of Sanskrit literature and we have developed a database, which shows that around 30-40 major health related topics are covered in this literature. What we have found interesting is that a lot of health information not available on Ayurvedic texts are found in non-Ayurvedic Sanskrit literature,” said Rammanohar, who also highlighted the need to look at regional literature to expand the database further.

With this database, the institution is developing an information portal on public health, which focuses more on health, wellness, and prevention rather than treatment of diseases.

“This is the public health approach which was followed in ancient India. We are developing courses, educational programmes, webinars, spreading information and exploring how this can be embedded into the modern health system. We are planning on integration, not opposition,” he added.

Along with this, they are also developing a critical and authentic version of Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Ashtadhyayi is a Sanskrit treatise on grammar written in the 6th to 5th century by Indian grammarian Panini.

The centre is a collaborative project of Amrita School of Ayurveda and Amrita School for Spiritual and Cultural studies and they had received a grant of Rs 39,40,000. It has also selected 22 interns.

IKS centre at IIT Mandi

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi’s centre is called Indian Knowledge System and Mental Health Application (IKSMHA) and aims to bridge the gap between “ancient wisdom and modern science”.

“Our centre is a vibrant community of over 34 research scholars, 26 affiliated faculty members, two post doctorates, and two staff members, engaging in various activities,” said Varun Dutt, associate professor and chair, IKSMHA.

One research project explores how yoga can mitigate academic stress and enhance well-being among college students, demonstrating the practical applications of ancient practices.

“The centre is also making strides in women’s health, specifically in the management of infertility through Ayurveda and yoga, while employing machine learning and AI to predict treatment outcomes. A postdoctoral fellow is pioneering the development of a mathematical model to understand mind wandering during meditation,” added Dutt.

Ritu Khosla, a senior project scientist at the centre has developed a non-invasive glucometer for diabetes detection. “This project stands as a testament to the centre’s dedication to integrating technological advancements with traditional health methodologies,” added Dutt.

The centre is also conducting education and outreach activities by offering courses covering subjects such as ancient Indian dance, yoga sutras, Indian astronomy, and Ayurveda for both UG and PG students. It’s not the first IIT with an IKS centre. In 2022, IIT Madras launched one as well.

Teacher training, bhasha centres

Seventeen institutions were selected as teacher training centres and seven as Bhasha centres. In case of teacher training, it is again a mix of educational institutions and non-profits, most developing courses for faculty development.

Delhi University’s Aryabhatta College is one of the two colleges which is functioning as a teacher training centre. The other is Trinity College of Engineering, Kerala.

“We had applied for two projects – one for ancient Indian mathematics and astronomy. We got it for both and the main agenda of the centre is about connecting to the roots and remembering the old wisdom which we have forgotten,” said Priti Jagwani, PI of the project at Aryabhatta. The centre, called “IKS Shikshaka Prashikshana Kendram for Ancient Indian Mathematics and Astronomy”, is also drafting the syllabus for these fields for undergraduate students.

“We will also be conducting a faculty development programme. Those who will teach the subject will be trained.

In mathematics, we have drafted a complete syllabus with experts from Pune University and IISER [Indian Institute of Science Education and Research] Pune. UGC has started taking NET in IKS so our syllabus is tailored to that,” said Jagwani. “

The syllabus looks at Shulba Sutras, theories of Nilkantha Somayaji, Aryabhatta.” Jagwani is also an associate professor of computer science at the college. The centre was alloted the project in September 2023 and will have to complete it by September 2025.

“This is the need of the hour. I was amazed to see that many of the concepts which Indians had developed in our Puranas and old texts were ignored or forgotten. For instance, Pythagoras theorem is named after Pythagoras but the concept was given in our Shulba Sutras,” said Jagwani.

The focus for other IKS training centres is on developing materials on Indian psychology, chemistry, material science and metallurgy, promoting maritimity and temple knowledge traditions.

The bhasha centres for which grant has been provided include Gujarati, Telugu, Odia, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Sindhi and Tamil languages.

Also read After NEP 2020, scholarship and research fellowship funds declined by over Rs.1500 crore

UGC guidelines on IKS

The UGC now requires all UG and PG students to be encouraged to take credit courses in IKS, amounting to a maximum of 5% of the total credits earned. At least half the IKS credits should come from courses related to the major discipline and should be accounted for the credits assigned to the major discipline.

Even AICTE has mandated IKS courses for engineering students and faculty development programmes.

Earlier, the autonomous colleges in Maharashtra had shared concerns and said that most colleges have integrated yoga and value education as part of study of IKS.

Some universities have formed committees to frame the curriculum. For instance, Delhi University teachers are already worried as this course will be in addition to already-running value addition courses (VAC) and skill enhancement courses. Under VAC, papers like Vedic mathematics, yoga philosophy and practice are already
being taught.

Meanwhile, the IKS division has also launched several courses on the SWAYAM portal. The courses include studying different levels of spoken Sanskrit, foundational courses for engineering, science and humanities students, courses run by IIT Gandhinagar on approaches of Ayurveda on health and diseases, principles and applications of vastu shastra and others.

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