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M.A Lakshmi Thathachar's exposition: Home

Lakshmi Thathachar's exposition 01-Mar-2020

On 01 March, 2020, I was part of a visit to Shri M.A Lakshmi Thathachar at Melkote, arranged by some of the sajjanaru at pūrñapramati. We did visit his farm, we did sample organic produce from it.

But first, our gracious host brewed tea. And that was not all he brewed.

If you have a farm in hand or in the pipeline, the last third of this write-up could be useful to you. But if you only have thoughts, you can start right here - you may feel a spray, and that would be from the firehose of philosophy and interesting ideas that was Shri Thathachar's exposition!

His exposition very naturally segued from his pūrñapramati lecture. The idea of eco-friendly, not ego-friendly was a constant refrain. What shone through was that not only has he has been keeping up with the technology landscape, he has also been extending his vision based on what newer technology makes possible. His amalgamated view of tradition and technology would be right up Shri Bannanje Govindacharya's alley.

Sanskrit for memory

This was a reiteration of his pūrñapramati lecture, like:

Raja Ramanna: It is all physics.

in the context of Sanskrit having a scientific alphabet series.

Another concept was that of education being like a weight-lifter's training. Increase the workload or the variety in the workload a little, so that ability increases. Rinse and repeat.

Education-induced interests

A logical conflict is created if you school children in a Western environment but push tradition at home. It raises big questions in young minds unnecessarily, and it is a downward slope if you are not equipped to handle their questions.

Out tradition is oral tradition. Ramanujacharya couldn't read or write - he dictated to scribes! Written, and graphical forms even more, are nowhere near as efficacious. Saankhya philosophy of 5 elements suggest that visual instruction is a baser method. The aural experience is most impactful on the brain and works better [1] [2] .

[1] While tea was brewing, a debate brewed amongst ourselves - what constitues a graphical distraction? Is a movie a distraction, but not a stage drama? Were the mythological TV series of our childhood (only) a distraction?

[2] I have heard of a teacher at Vijaya College teaching math verbally without using the blackboard!

He pointed out that, in Britain, people who send their kids to St.James where they teach Sanskrit (in the oral tradition) are proud that their kids are learning Sanskrit. Here, we largely don't even give kids that opportunity.

Attitudes in academia make it difficult to use academic resources to power Indian-knowledge projects. This is the effect of Macaulay-ian education on the life-long thought process of its alumni. Active efforts of more people outside academia are needed to offset that effect.

Inventive organic preparations

He made us tea with assorted herbs, lemon grass among them. Regrettably, it cannot be sampled from this write-up! Take my word for it - it was w o n d e r f u l.

He showed us mosquite repellant cake made from neem oil, neem oil residue, and some native adherent. Burn time of 80 minutes with a great aroma.

Samskriti foundation

His foundation works on formulating sustainable science and technology along with traditional methods, backed by the knowledge of the scriptures. It is in the percentile of NGO's that actually maintain immaculate accounts and are approved for accepting contributions from outside India.

Transcribing manuscripts

An active area of work is that of transcribing scriptures available only in old scripts like Sharadascript.

In order to support transcription, he commissioned a multimedia training package to teach newcomers Sharadascript. It takes the viewer through the alphabets and some phrases and sentences in Sharadascript, with Devanagiri equivalent and a voice-over by him for guidance.

He also mentioned Granthascript a.k.a vatta yezhuttu. This fills in the gaps in the Tamil alphabet (which only has ka, but not kha or ga, for example) to make it equivalent to Sanskrit. In those times, it was a sign of knowledgability to know Granthascript.

There are also lots of vishishtaadwaita commentaries identifiable by the number of syllables (3000, 5000, etc.) hand-printed in Telugu. Unsurprisingly, printers didn't know Sanskrit and were prone to making printing mistakes. Given their reluctance to take up laborious corrections, the hard task of hand-printing Sanskrit text in Telugu script fell on young Mandyam Iyengar widows! The accuracy of the resulting works is their achievement - there have been calls to build a temple to commemorate their work.

He entreated the techies among us to identify/ideate/implement an OCR system for ancient scripts. He has a well-oiled set-up to take transcribed content forward through corrections and publication.

Knowledge representation in Sanskrit

"Rick Bricks" (?) of NASA endorsed Sanskrit as well-suited to this purpose. Now that an American had said it, it suddenly had credibility and a sciento-religious meeting was put together in India. While the scholars offered the ocean of the scriptures, the scientists wanted them to extract the spoonful that science needed! Shri Thathachar took it upon himself to make a start, and designed a system for semantic exploration of short Sanskrit sentences.

Speech "generation" (synthesis + recognition)

I found this to be the most visionary of his ideas, a force-multiplying formula that can be used to combine training method, transcription and technology.

He is actively engaged with the idea of going to the basics of intonation, and codifying Sanskrit in terms of those basics. For example, only codify ga as a primitive and derive ka from it. Both speech synthesis as well as speech recognition can be based on this codification.

This is not a curio. He sees this as a way to scale the oral tradition. Imagine scriptures backing the above system. The systems reads out a sloka. You repeat it into a microphone, and the system checks if your pronunciations and intonations are correct!

Behavioural science

He moots a database of the characters of the Mahabharata, capturing their individual characteristics and the events in their life. This can be used to derive emergent properties about them [3] . It could be something as simple as their physiological tendency as per Ayurveda - vata, pita or kapha. Or it could be used by HR to fine-tune the distribution of the workforce (to me, that sounds scary - thankfully, it is likely to be very difficult).

[3] This eerily aligns with machine learning, with the added heft of the rich variety and detailed characterizations of the Mahabharata as the "training set".

Modern ideas, the Indian way

'Siribhuvalaiya' by Kumudendu rushigalu is considered by many to be an incomprehensible work. But the claim is that you get the Quran if you read it one way, the Bible if you read it another way, and so on. His idea is to derive encryption methods from it. This could have military applications. He recognizes the need to challenge people to break the encryption.

Metallurgy is another field with vast Vedic-era literature.

Prototyped the recipe for trinetra loha (used in the fabled vimanas of that time?):

Needed ruruka - deer bones. Obtained from Mysore zoo! Overall only 40% successful. The furnace operator didn't cooperate, didn't melt ingredients at their right temperature.


Medicine is useless. Either you are healthy and don't need it, or you are sick but it doesn't work. pathya - diet, preventive medicine - is what works.

Demonstration of a knowledge tree system

Visually simple, but scientifically-appealing representation of Vedic knowledge as a tree of concepts starting from just 1 root, the omkaara. The paths in the tree end at text, audio or video content, or links to content.

Views on the state of agriculture

Mainly, the income that might be sufficient to fund a blue-collar lifestyle is nowhere near sufficient for white-collars.

Farmers have not just addicted themselves to alcohol, but also addicted their land to chemicals. It would pay (my pun) to get currency out of agriculture. A village's worth of cultivated land can be maintained by 4-5 families; so compensate them in kind with the produce, and buy input material and give to them. We must also stop growing export crops.

Scriptures on agriculture

Mantras have been proven to have benefits to germination. This was done by a Japanese scientist! The benefits might be greater if tried with Indian knowledge and pronunciation. Meat-based water, or fish-based water, recommended for irrigation. Somebody avoided promoting meat for this, by using the placenta of a post-partum cow! His book also outlines what was asked about, regarding the nakshatra, etc. under which to plant new seeds.

Experiential wisdom

Do not quit your job and take up agriculture as an equivalent substitute! You cannot make agriculture a livelihood without 5 years of sustained (i.e. not just week-end time) effort. Even then, always have "side-businesses", say mosquito repellant. Oh, and forget about getting rich! The best is to have it as a complementary engagement - have a small plot, very few cattle - that is enough to grow your own food completely. As per the scriptures, Brahmins are only supposed to do cultivation in exceptional situations like drought [4] .

[4] I think there is a drought of organic produce, so Brahmins can do cultivation, can't they!

Ravindra and others asked about salve for cattle wounds, and about pesticides. Regarding pesticides, the idea is to avoid them being needed; use organic pest-repellant - not pesticide - to avoid infestation in the first place, pest-repellent is less efficacious post-infestation. Pesticides are all bad. Take cabbage for instance. He has grown cabbage without pesticides, but most just give in and spray. The stripped outer leaves with the bulk of the pesticides go into cattle mouths, out through their udders and into our mouths!

His financial costs are just for labourers, maybe a little for pest-repellents. Do multi-culture, not mono-culture. Make material inputs yourself. His 14 cattle give him more manure than he needs - he is having to dispose of some amount. He made the mud bricks for his small store-room: the expenditure, including using some compression machinery to press the bricks, was 1.25 lakhs for 350 square feet!

Pick your spot well. Water sources are the biggest criteria (his own farm is downstream of water flow in Melkote). Make watersheds, you can take advantage of undulations in the land for this. Think about what you will plant (e.g. will peacocks raid your crop!) [5] .

[5] This is not a minor factor. Just recently, poppy farmers in Madhya Pradesh faced lot of trouble over parrots getting addicted to poppy pods and relentlessly raiding their crop!

Plant mango in the monsoon; by summer, it can sustain itself without irrigation. Use fish-based gobra, and they can flower in 1 month.

He has had good results by following Kautva's rishi-krishi guideline of only harvesting 50-60% of the crop. His dantina soppu crop was seeded once a long time ago, and has just kept perpuating since. Another key guideline is to be diligent on what seeds takes root in the land. Never let weeds grow until they start growing seeds.

Meat-based fertilizer works very well, fish-based ones even better. Called kuNapa jala.

Cattle salve recipe:

sitaaphala peel. Grind and leave it for a couple of hours, then apply (more details in his book).

Pest-repellant recipe:

paneer patrae, kari lakki, nimbae hullu, pudina, meNsina pudi, arshna. Intuitively, can add camphor too, and hing.

Dry jeevamruta cost-saving recipe:

Instead of kadalae hittu, get wasteage from flour mills. Instead of animal fat, put in dalda(a reputed source of animal fat!). Put in jaggery. Overpowering pungence as it ferments over time (drives insects away). At the time of use, mix 1 kg of it with 5 kg of cow dung and 5 kg of ganjala. Add to 200 litres of water and spray.