BENGALURU: A handful of Kannada literature stalwarts during a heated debate last year wanted to find out how ‘caste’ figured in public discourse in the 10-12th century Karnataka. One obvious thing for them to do was to dig into Vachana Sahitya, which contains several volumes of short verses in Kannada written mostly in the 11th and 12th century.

Now, it would take several months to read through thousands of verses of vachanas. But author and linguist OL Nagabhushana Swamy and Kannada author Vasudhendra had an idea: they approached Omshivaprakash HL, an open source developer, for help. In less than a year, Omshivaprakash, Pavithra, an information retrieval specialist, and Devaraju K, have helped these litterateurs build a web portal that can help people access and search nearly 25,000 vachanas word for word.

“For researchers, the portal could save 4-8 months of time,” said Swamy. “You can type a particular word and see how it occurs in almost all the vachanas and statistical details of how many times it was used by different vachanakaras (writers of vachanas).” For instance, it could identify how ‘women’ were talked about in ancient times or how ‘caste’ was addressed in ancient days. Researchers could frame deeper questions to find out how each vachanakara used a word or talked about particular things.

The portal ( is modeled on an open source project which has built a concordance of Shakespeare’s Plays and opens up the linguistic heritage of Karnataka to researchers from around the world. The Karnataka government had already digitised the vachanas. However, Omshivaprakash pointed out, they were in different fonts and were not easy to search or reference.

“We had to convert it to Unicode and build a database, and a simple user interface that can be used to search it,” he said. Swamy said the team used only open source material and now Vachana Sahitya, which evolved as part of the Lingayat social movement, is available for any researcher.