A Pune-based institute is offering online courses on India’s rich heritage and knowledge system with the aim of providing authentic information to people without any narrative attached to it, its senior officials say. Subjects such as religion, literature, philosophy, governance and policy-making, astronomy, mathematics, science, medicine, art, architecture, history and culture are covered under the courses offered by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) through its e-learning. ‘Bharat Vidya’ platform, they say.
When these subjects are taught in schools and colleges, only the given curriculum is taught and much of the subject remains unexplored. So the idea is to provide expertise and resources to educational institutions, Chinmay Bhandari, coordinator, Digital Initiatives, told PTI. Currently, the platform offers six courses: Ved Vidya, Darshanas, Digital Sanskrit Learning, Introduction to Mahabharata, Kalidas and Bhasha, and Fundamentals of Archaeology. The Spoken Sanskrit course is free while others are available by subscription.
The online learning platform is getting a good response as people from different walks of life are signing up for its courses, officials said. The first institute, established in 1917 for Indology and Asian Studies, houses over 28,000 manuscripts and 1.53 lakh rare books and is a favorite haunt of academics and researchers. In 2004, activists from the Sambhaji Brigade ransacked the institute for allegedly sharing content with an American author who made objectionable remarks about Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in his book.
The institute recently launched its e-learning platform to bring this treasure trove of knowledge to people across the country and the world. The platform offers free and subscription-based resources and courses on India’s rich civilizational heritage and Indian knowledge system, said Bhupal Patwardhan, Executive Chairman of BORI. Mr. Bhandari said that BORI has been working on the digitization of manuscripts and books for some years. “In 2019, we launched our digital library, and to complement it, we thought of creating a parallel learning platform where people with diverse interests can explore the resources available with the institute and interact with each other. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic came around at the same time,” he said.
During the pandemic, the institute launched online courses, starting with a well-received course on Indian heritage. But many subscribers lived outside India and were working professionals, which gave rise to issues related to different time zones or lack of time, Bhandari said. “We understood that people needed permanent access to the material. Putting the course content on YouTube was not practical, so to solve these problems we undertook a dedicated project on an e-learning program offering short-term courses,” he said.
This is how the online portal www.bharatvidya.in came into being, Mr. Bhandari said. A few days after the launch of the platform, more than 600 people have opened accounts and more than 100 have registered for these courses. Among subscribers, Mr. Bhandari said, the largest demographic was people between the ages of 25 and 40, mostly working professionals, trainers, coaches, engineers, professors and doctors. “In short, the Bharat Vidya online project is getting good responses from people in various fields,” he said.
All lessons are pre-recorded and their duration varies from 10 hours to 20 hours. Apart from videos, reading materials, summaries and links to relevant books or articles from the digital library are also embedded in the online course, Bhandari said. Talking about the goals of the projects, he said that BORI founder Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and other scholars were working to bring his treasure of resources to the people, so the main goal was to convey the vision of these founders and the heritage material to the masses in a simple and digestible way.
“The other goal is to make authentic information available to people, without any sort of narrative attached to it. When there are so many conflicting accounts on the subject that are of this nature like history and the Indian heritage, we are able to offer very authentic information, based on primary sources, which will bring out the reality of this particular era,” he said. BORI plans to launch an additional 15-18 online courses covering subjects such as Buddhism, Jainism and the history of Dharmashastra, Mr Bhandari said.
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