Manasollasa is arguably the oldest Indian encyclopaedia

For those who keep off from Wikipedia or still cherish the prized Britannicas in their bookshelves, there may be an amazing, little-known truth waiting to be unveiled: ancient India too had such compilations of knowledge nuggets.

Two encyclopaedias in Sanskrit, both written by kings who lived about 500 years apart in today’s Karnataka, will soon be available in Kannada, Mallepuram G. Venkatesh, Vice-Chancellor, Karnataka Samskrit University, who has edited the books, said.

One of them, Manasollasa, is arguably the oldest Indian encyclopaedia and dates back to the 12th Century. Also called Abhilasitartha-chintamani (the wish-fulfilling magic stone), it is said to reflect extraordinary insights into the world around the author nearly 900 years ago.

The compendium talks about soopashastra (making of vegetable soups and other cuisines); climate science (vayushastra), costumes and cosmetics, medicine, ecology, carpentry, healing of trees (vrukshaayurveda), metallurgy and even politics and law. It also deals with over a hundred interesting themes that could be still relevant, he said.

The five-volume Manasollasa was authored by Chalukya king Bhulokamalla Someshwara III, who ruled over today’s Karnataka-Andhra regions between 1126 and 1138.

About 8,000 slokas have been translated with notes, foot notes and the original text. The university expects to complete the translation of the first volume soon and publish it in February or March 2014. Each volume runs into 500 pages, Dr. Venkatesh told The Hindu.

The university is also working on Sri Shivatatva Ratnakara, a 17th Century work of Basavaraja of Keladi in modern Shimoga. It would be its first print edition in India.

The first two volumes have been published; the third is due to be out in December and the last two in April next year.

Dr. Venkatesh said encyclopaedias came only from the West was a common misconception.

The forthcoming books would help spread the fact that Kannadigas were at the forefront of compiling some of the early encyclopaedias with rich details of the world around those authors.

They would also help understand traditional sciences and arts in a modern context.

They would attempt to showcase the secular aspects of ancient Sanskrit literature, which many wrongly believed was only about religion and spirituality, he said.

The university is also planning to come out with an English version and has sought the State government’s approval.

More In: Karnataka | National | Books