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What is Bharat and why should you care?

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Bharat (the original name of present-day India) should be on KM’ers radar screens for several reasons. In the ancient Sanskrit language, bharat means “in search of light and knowledge.” One of the earliest known Sanskrit literary works is the Mahabharata (Great Bharat), an historical account of India’s founding as a civilization. It also serves as a guide in humankind’s never-ending quest for truth.

In the 18th century, the British changed the country’s name to India, derived from the Indus River. Like many previously colonized nations that have regained their independence, India is taking steps to reinstate its original name. I’ll use the name Bharat here, anticipating the name change and in deference to its long history. With that backdrop, let’s take a quick tour, through our KM lens, of Bharat past, present, and future.

Bharat past

It all began many thousands of years ago. Exactly when, nobody really knows. It was a time when knowledge blossomed, but in ways totally different from today. Wise “seers” called rishis were closely attuned to nature and expressed their observations and discoveries as deep knowledge, not presented in symbolic form, but chanted as hymns. Each verse of a hymn had three distinct aspects: 1) an observer (the rishi), 2) an object of observation, and 3) the process of observation. This resulted in something similar to a double-loop learning cycle.

By discovering something about nature, all three aspects—the observer, observed, and process of observation— would undergo a slight change. New knowledge would sequentially unfold and evolve. Many thousands of years later, Einstein used this same thought process when he asked himself, “What would it be like to ride on a beam of light?” The beam of light was the object of observation, and he was the observer, recording his observations and then observing and thinking about what he just wrote. He continued iterating back and forth until he eventually formulated his special theory of relativity.

Returning to the ancient rishis, much of their knowledge has been meticulously preserved, eventually being recorded in a voluminous collection of Sanskrit writings known as the Vedas. These are well-organized texts, containing valuable knowledge about a wide variety of disciplines spanning mathematics, the physical sciences, astronomy, agriculture, medicine, architecture, education, management, and governance. These are not separate, but are tightly woven together as an integrated whole. KM’ers take note: This is a perfect example of why knowledge preservation is critical. By passing down this ancient knowledge through the ages, including the “crumb trails” (who, what, why, and how), the custodians of the Vedas provide a solid foundation upon which present and future generations can build. This avoids having to waste resources attempting to rediscover lost knowledge. Knowledge should always be considered as accretive, not something that’s “here today, gone tomorrow.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Bharat is revitalizing and extending this ancient body of knowledge today and into tomorrow.

Bharat present

After gaining independence in 1947, education was placed at the forefront of Bharat’s long-term vision and strategy, including the eventual establishment of the Indian Institutes of Technology, Management, and Medical Sciences (IIT, IIM, and IIMS). This network further expanded in 2020, when the Ministry of Education established the Indian Knowledge Systems Division (IKS; https://iksindia.org) with nearly 100 research initiatives and with centers in dozens of locations. Like the Vedas, these initiatives cover a wide variety of critical areas such as sustainable agriculture through organic microbes and fertilizers, fighting infectious diseases in humans and animals, advanced metallurgy and materials science, and much more, including research into human and machine deep learning and consciousness. 

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