Pune Institute’s Online Courses On Indian Heritage Aims Knowledge Available Without ‘Narrative Attached’

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By Education Today

Posted on October 10, 2022


4 min read

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A Pune-based institute is offering online courses on India’s rich heritage and knowledge system with an aim to provide authentic information to people without any narrative attached to it, say its senior officials. Topics like religion, literature, philosophy, governance and policy-making, astronomy, mathematics, sciences, medicine, art, architecture, history and culture are covered as part of the courses offered by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) through its online learning platform ‘Bharat Vidya’, they say.

When these topics are taught in schools and colleges, only the given syllabus is taught and a large part of the topic remains unexplored. So the idea is to provide expertise and resources to educational institutes, 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 on a subscription basis.

The online learning platform is getting a good response as people from different walks of life are enrolling themselves in its courses, officials said. The premier institute, set up in 1917 for Indology and Asian studies, is home to more than 28,000 manuscripts and 1.53 lakh rare books and is a favourite haunt of academicians and researchers. In 2004, activists of the Sambhaji Brigade had ransacked the institute for allegedly sharing content with an American author who made some objectionable remarks about Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in his book.

The institute launched its online learning platform recently to take this treasure trove of knowledge to people across the country and the globe. The platform offers free as well as with-subscription resources and courses on India’s rich civilisational heritage and Indian knowledge system, said Bhupal Patwardhan, the Executive Chairman of BORI. Mr Bhandari said that BORI has been working on the digitisation of manuscripts and books for the last few years. “In 2019, we started 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 intervened around the same time,” he said.

During the pandemic, the institute started online courses, starting with a course on Indian heritage which received a good response. But many of the subscribers lived outside India and were working professionals, which gave rise to issues related to different time zones or paucity of time, Mr Bhandari said. “We figured out that people needed permanent access to the material. Putting the course content on YouTube was not practical, so to resolve these issues we undertook a dedicated project on online learning program offering short-term courses,” he said.

Thus the online portal www.bharatvidya.in came into being, Mr Bhandari said. Within a few days of the launch of the platform, more than 600 people opened accounts and more than 100 enrolled on these courses. Among the subscribers, Mr Bhandari said, the largest demographic was persons between 25 and 40 years old, mostly working professionals, trainers, coaches, engineers, professors and doctors. “In short, Bharat Vidya online project is receiving good responses from people from diverse fields,” he said.

All the courses are pre-recorded and their length varies from 10 hours to 20 hours. Besides videos, reading material, summaries and links to relevant books or articles from the digital library are also embedded in the online course, Mr Bhandari said. Talking about the objectives of the projects, he said the founder of BORI Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and other scholars worked towards taking its treasure trove of resources to the people, so the primary goal was to take the vision of these founders and the tangible heritage to the masses in a simple and digestible manner.

“The other objective is to make authentic information, without any sort of narrative attached to it, available to the people. When there are so many conflicting narratives about the topic which are of this nature such as Indian history and heritage, we are able to offer very authentic, primary source-based information which will bring out the reality of that particular epoch,” he said. BORI is planning to launch 15 to 18 more online courses covering subjects like Buddhism, Jainism and the History of Dharmashastra, Mr Bhandari said.