Grants:IEG/palm leaf digitalization

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
statusnot selected
palm leaf digitization
summaryPreserve the knowledge entrapped within priceless palm leaf manuscrips for the future genarations. Most of those antique treasures are in highly vulnerable and endangered condition. To digitize the content with through high quality imaging is the only solution. And we are just not too late for that, right now.
targetMalayalam wikipedia, Wikisource & Wikimedia Commons
strategic priorityimproving quality
themeoffline outreach and partnerships
amountUS $ 19800
contact• tonynantony(_AT_)
this project needs...
created on17:22, 30 September 2014 (UTC)
2014 round 2

Project idea[edit]


For a basic idea of Palm leaf (known as താളിയോല thaaLiyOla in Malayalam language) as an ancient Indian medium to record information, please see Narayam. (Narayam is the special kind of stylus that was used to scribe in Palm Leaves. Incidentally the predecessor of ULS tool we use in Wikimedia projects was named as Narayam, a local language input method editor tool that originally emerged from our own community i.e. Malayalam Wikipedia community. As of now, 'Palm leaf' itself does not have an article on English WP. We shall soon be creating an authentic and detailed article on En WP on Palm Leaf Manuscripts too.

Palm leaf scribed pages are made from the systematically prepared and dried leaves of Asian palmyra palm with utmost care in order to ensure a long life. However, like every other organic material, with time, they too gets their tear and toll, especially with the harsh and undulating tropical weather and the poor means of storage facilities available in South Indian region.

In Kerala, most of the traditional knowledge were preserved by aristocratic families, palaces, temples and churches. Until some 1850 or so, we did not have a public library or museum culture. The total of all knowledge were either maintained through vocal renderings or through such palm leafs. In the course of history and with intermittent absence of value-awareness among the custodians, archives in most of those aristocratic houses, palaces, temples and churches have gone wane or completely ruined. What we are trying to recover and salvage is in fact only a tip of a lost iceberg. Nevertheless, this is still valuable and this is the only chance we get. The opportunity can not wait any longer as the preservation attempts of even the available lot are quite in an apathy.

What is the problem you're trying to solve?[edit]

During the search for potential sources to be added to the Malayalam Wikisource, we have come to notice the availability of hundreds of Palm leaf manuscripts and books under the custody of several ancient families, trusts and libraries in Kerala. Most of these are in a decomposing stage. These priceless collections have been kept in very vulnerable conditions. Most of the custodians are either not aware of the value of these works or not able to afford to preserve or digitize the same for the future generations. Realizing their own helplessness, they have agreed to allow us to digitize these volumes and upload to the Wikimedia servers with proper licenses.

What is your solution?[edit]

We would like to protect and preserve these collections by digitizing the contents and uploading to the Wikimedia servers with appropriate licenses. Most works are already in public domain as their age spans a few centuries. In return to the benefits to Wikisource, we may also reciprocate this good gesture from the custodians by providing minimal support to keep the works in a better condition.

The availability of these collections will add much value to the Wikimedia Commons and Malayalam Wikisource since most of the manuscripts / books contain knowledge-oriented information such as Indian Medicine, Oriental Astronomy, South Indian architecture, dance and music etc. They will help bridge many gaps in the history and epistemology of Kerala and South India by way of reference.

Project goals[edit]

To digitize ancient palm leaf manuscripts and collections of books in public domain and make them available to the whole mankind through Wikimedia servers. Also to help preserve the sources in better conditions with minimal aids, in return to the courtesy extended by their custodians.

Project plan[edit]

Broad plan[edit]

The first and major lot of the palm leaf collection that we plan to obtain and digitize particularly belongs to an ancient family who continued to practice the Indian medicine w:en:Ayurveda. This family is one among the so called Eight Schools of Ayurvedic medicine from Kerala. The members of this family have been kind enough to offer to us an otherwise difficult access to the palm leaf collection that they hold (provided we maintain 'ultreme' care to handle the precious objects while executing the image acquisition). We are confident enough to follow those conditions as we have the in-house expertise from within the community as well as a few external specialists.

The exact quantity of the first lot is not enumerated as of now. This can be possible only when we can access the collections directly which requires a positive assurance and commitment that we will indeed execute the project. An early estimate runs into several hundred volumes of these books each contains 100+ leaves. In fact, however less in number they may be, the value of each leaf can not be underestimated considering just their rarity and hitherto unexposed status. Apart from Malayalam, the volumes may also contain Sanskrit and Tamil, languages which were often scribed in Grantha Script.

Similarly, the precise level of antiquity of the collection is yet not determined. This may be a mixed lot from circa 1600 till 1900. We expect that the scripts themselves could provide the age through the content it exposes during digitization.

Apart from the above collection, we have started exploring additional material of the same class from other sources. While this could be a laborious task, we are hopeful that the combined efforts of our community, especially through another dedicated team who is pursuing a complimentary IEG grant project, should add enough volumes that will justify the cost-benefit advantage of this grant. In addition to the palm leaves, we will be using the equipment, expertise and manpower to also digitize paper books of antiquity that will be added to the Wikimedia repository under appropriate free licenses.

As for the co-operation of other institutions, we are looking forward to create new (as well as re-enforce existing) connections and relations with several government, non-profit and volunteer organizations. We have already initiated contacts and expressed an interest to work together with Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development, Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, IT@School Project, Swathanthra Malayalam Computing, various departments of the Government of Kerala etc. As we progress towards a successful approval of the grant, most of these entities are anticipated to collaborate with this project.

We plan to procure the necessary image acquisition systems, mainly two sets of contact-less high speed high resolution scanners and back-end computers for storage of the images, image processing and uploading. We have already identified a few models suitable for this type of work. Selection of the exact brand and model of the equipment and its procurement will be done as the project gets approved.

These equipment will be stationed at two different and mutually distant locations within the state of Kerala. If necessary, the equipment will be transported to the sourcing site and taken back as the acquisition work there is concluded. The equipment will be normally kept securely within a small rented office room where the grantees and volunteers will also work and continue the remaining part of work, i.e. processing the images, uploading them to servers and organizing them properly.


  • Procure and set up the equipment
  • Prepare logistics and schedules
  • Collect the palm leaf manuscripts and books from sources.
  • Prepare the palm leafs for digitization (Clean, organize and catalog)
  • Digitize the sources and then return them safely to their owners.
  • Process and optimize the images
  • Upload to Wikimedia Servers with proper licenses
  • Organize, categorize and link up the content as needed.
  • Review the project, report and appraise
  • Create manuals on best practices for large scale digitization at local level.


Sl Item Description Rate (INR) Total Qty Amount (INR) Amount in US $
1 Equipment 1 High speed High resolution Planet Scanners 100,000 2 200,000 3,333
2 Equipment 2 Desktop Workstations 50,000 2 100,000 1,666
3 Equipment 3 UPS, Power Extensions etc. 15,000 2 30,000 500
4 Internet Connection DSL/Wimax 12,000 2 24,000 400
5 Manpower Salaries and allowances for Grantees & volunteers
(per month x 6 months x 4 persons)
20,000 24 480,000 8,000
6 Preservation
of sources
Shelves, binding, weatherproofing etc. (lump sum) 72,000 1 72,000 1,200
7 Allowances Travel, food and local conveyance for grantees and volunteers to
the source sites (4 persons x 4 trips x 4 weeks x 6 months)
500 384 192,000 3,200
8 Office Rent, Energy, furniture, stationary etc. (per month x 6) 6,000 12 72,000 1,200
9 Miscellaneous Telecom, liaison, correspondence, stationary etc. (lump sum) 30,000 1 30,000 500
Total ₹ 1,200,000 $ 20,000

Community engagement[edit]

  • Sourcing and supplying manuscripts
  • Guide and assist in image acquisition
  • Organize schedules and workload
  • Uploading the contents
  • Digitizing / converting the scanned documents to other formats


Once the major target of the project is accomplished, the equipment will be moved to the library facilities of some compatible non-profit like-minded organizations. (These organizations themselves have public domain or CC-SA license-able collections. We intend to allow their staff to use the equipment for harvesting these work). They will act as responsible custodians of the equipment. A suitable set of Wikimedia personnel (to be finalized later: either a few volunteers elected from the Malayalam community or a new user group or the SIG of Wikimedia India Chapter) will take over as the actual owners. An ownership agreement will be signed between the custodians and these owners. The equipment will be then made available to any community teams for future digitizing projects.

The experience obtained from this project will be used as a continuing resource to help ml Wikimedia programs to grow further. The team will ensure their co-operation with Wikimedia community to develop more efficient and productive projects. Guidelines and manuals will be created within Wikimedia space for new volunteers who ventures into similar projects.

The team, along with more volunteers from the community, will continue to convert the whole of collected image content into other formats including searchable text and print-ready volumes.

The program will remain as one of the earliest models for such large volume digitization in the local community space.

Measures of success[edit]

  • Acquisition and uploading of at least 20,000 pages of manuscripts and books which are either in public domain or licensed as CC-SA.
  • Noteworthy media publicity (press, air and online) about the efforts of Wikimedia in retrieving and preserving ancient works and old books in digital form.

Get involved[edit]


Tony Antony is an experienced history teacher from Kerala. Apart from being a Resource Person and faculty of the IT@School project, he is also an active Wikipedian contributing to various projects within Malayalam community. His prime activity in Wikimedia projects has been to harness, motivate and assist school children in working with Malayalam projects. Along with Sreejith Koiloth and other colleagues, Tony's team managed to convert more than 15,000 pages into text format within a month during the Malayalam Wikisource Digitization campaign in January 2014. Tony is in direct contact with several high value original sources, owners of which are normally hesitant to provide the same to others due to a fear of damage to the collections.
A Malayalam teacher from Wynad District, Sreejith is another important Resource Person to the IT@School project under the Department of Education, Kerala. Like Tony, he too harnessed and coordinated hundreds of school children to contribute to Malayalam Wikisource project in the past few years. His digitization skills and volunteer organization talents were well-proven when he managed to acquire and upload the Malayalam en:Mahabharata, a massive work of Kunjikkuttan Thampuran that run into 18 huge volumes.
  • Digitization Supervisor / staff - 1(To be recruited / identified from the community)
  • Digitization Supervisor / staff - 2(To be recruited / identified from the community)

Collaboration with another Project team[edit]

This project intends to complement and collaborate with the Digitization Drive for Malayalam Wikisource (DDMW), another IEG-initiated project. While the other project will arrange to harness as much sources as possible from potential archives, this project will help digitize those material in addition to the already identified collections. By such collaboration, we hope that both projects will maximize their output by mitigating the efforts in an efficient manner.

The following two persons who are active partners for the DDMW will be associated with our project as interface and collaboration co-ordinators.

Manoj, an engineer by profession, is a long time administrator and outreach evangelist for Malayalam Wikisource and Wikipedia. A reputed nature photographer, he is also an avid contributor to the Wikimedia Commons. Manoj was the chief co-ordinator for the highly successful ML Wikisource digitization contest in January 2014.
Sugeesh is one of the most prolific contributors and outreach spokesperson among Malayalam Wikipedians. His role in coordinating students and others to contribute to Wikisource and Wikipedia was well recognized during the past few years. He is also one of the regular graphic designers for Malayalam communities outreach workshops and media releases. His team has been instrumental in bringing some of the oldest ever printed books in Malayalam to modern limelight.


  • Technical help as well as volunteering in digitization Balasankarc (talk) 11:22, 1 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Technical & Project planning adviser ViswaPrabhaവിശ്വപ്രഭtalk 13:04, 1 October 2014 (UTC)

Community Notification[edit]

  1. Community support/Consensus at Village Pump of Malayalam Wikisource
  2. Community support/Consensus at Village Pump of Malayalam Wikipedia


Do you think this project should be selected for an Individual Engagement Grant? Please add your name and rationale for endorsing this project in the list below. (Other constructive feedback is welcome on the talk page of this proposal).

  • Support Support--Sivahari (talk) 11:18, 2 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support--ViswaPrabhaവിശ്വപ്രഭtalk 11:58, 2 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support--ShajiA (talk) 13:30, 2 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support--‌Arunravi.signs (talk) 19:08, 2 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support --Vssun (talk) 23:30, 2 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support--Manuspanicker (talk) 11:08, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support--Shaji (talk) 16:25, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support ----Rsrikanth05 (talk) 11:49, 7 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support -- This will be very useful Arkrishna (talk) 22:14, 9 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support-- Important Project for cultural Heritage preservation and digitization. This digitization and preserving knowledge documented in palm leaves is an important resource for historians, language experts and people in kerala . Considering the volume of works spread across various palm leave archives , libraries and personal archives , this work is the first community effort to document it . I hope the project team will tag each scans and collection with relevant keywords ensuring future access to the digitized version in future AniVar (talk) 04:46, 10 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support-- Manojk (talk) 15:27, 12 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support -- So happy to see a GLAM related IEG proposal from India. This project is likely to become an important resource for those interested in history, digital humanities and literature. This project will also attract various governmental and non-governmental agenices to fund similar projects involving preserving and documenting the traditional wisdom engraved on the palm leaves. --Netha Hussain (talk) 09:21, 13 October 2014 (UTC)
  • There are not many digitisation initiatives in Indian languages, let alone one such as the present proposal articulates. I extend my whole-hearted support. Tniranjana (talk) 10:57, 17 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support - A good initiative. Would be valuable if lessons learn can be shared as an extended report, including details such as scanners, standards, and digital preservation techniques used. Will be used for other similar projects. --Natkeeran (talk) 20:48, 17 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support --Visdaviva (talk) 11:57, 27 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support -- విశ్వనాధ్.బి.కె. (talk) 15:06, 27 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Support Support - Sayant Mahato (talk) 04:48, 20 November 2014 (UTC)