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The Murthy Classical Library of India initiative was in news recently with many scholars and non-scholars questioning the likes of Prof. Sheldon Pollock heading such an initiative. The crux of the matter was that such an important initiative must be lead by a scholar who is well versed in Indian classical traditions than Professor Pollock is.
True. Translating is a tough art. Particularly so when it is from a language such as Samskrta with a long history, and a tradition of advanced poetics which has lived for thousands of years. The fact that Samskrta does not remain a commonly spoken language does not make the job any easier. These facts have been accepted by scholars and translators such as Daniel H H Ingalls. If you are interested, you can read his essay, “Some Problems in the Translating of Sanskrit Poetry” here.
From the last several years, I have been doing stray translations of Samrkta verses to Kannada. While the difficulty of translation from Samskrta to Kannada may not be as challenging as from Samskrta to English, it is still not very easy. I agree that the brevity of Samskrta, the dual-meanings (shlEsha) it can convey enhancing the beauty of the verse are very hard to match. And as a translator, I believe that a translation has to be as close to the original to create the same mood, not introduce new concepts not found in the original and not miss out what is intended in the original as much as possible. While you can do a word-by-word translation, it is probably not the best in conveying the thought of the original. This is why a translator has to know the language to which s/he is translating to a better extent than the language s/he is translating from. And also know the cultural baggage of both languages, so that the verse makes sense in translation.
In the past few years, I have translated about half of the well known work of Amaruka, known by the name Amaru Shatakam. You can find those translations on this Facebook page of AmaruShatakam. Check it out if you read Kannada.
Although Amaru Shatakam is supposed to contain 100 verses as the name suggests, there are about 160 verses when you consider all the available recensions. Amaru Shataka is considered as one of the finest specimens of Samsktta poetry about marital love. It is a collection of verses, and hence each verse tells a different story and can be read and enjoyed without reading the entire work.
Here is a verse I translated from Amaru Shataka recently:
दम्पत्योर्निशि जल्पतोर्गृहशुकेनाकर्णितं यद्वचः
तत्प्रातर्गुरु सन्निधौ निगदतः श्रुत्वैव तारं वधूः
कर्णालंबित पद्मरागशकलं विन्यस्य चंच्वाः पुरो
व्रीडार्ता प्रकरोति दाडिमफलव्याज्येन वाग्बंधनम्
This verse, (#16 in the western recension of Amaru Shataka) is set in a meter called shArdUlavikrIDita. My translation in Kannada is set in mAtrA mallikAmAle but does not follow prAsa rules.
ಗಂಡಹೆಂಡಿರ ಇರುಳ ಸರಸದ ಮಾತ ಕೇಳಿದ ಮನೆಗಿಳಿ
ಅದನೆ ಹಗಲಲಿ ಹಿರಿಯರೆದುರಲಿ ಚೀರಿರಲು ನಾಚುತ್ತಲಿ
ಕಿವಿಯಲೋಲಾಡುತಿಹ ಕೆಂಪಿನ ಓಲೆಯಿರಿಸುತ ಕೊಕ್ಕಿಗೆ
ನೀಡಿಹಳು ದಾಳಿಂಬೆಯಿದು ಕೋಯೆನುತ ಬಾಯನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿಸೆ
For those of you who don’t understand Kannada, here is a summary of the verse in English:
The pet parrot heard the conversation of the couple ( the Samskrta word used is daMpati, indicating they’re married) and kept repeating those conversations, in front of the other elders in the home the following morning. Blushing in embarrassment, the girl tried giving her ruby earrings to the pet, trying to convince it was a pomegranate fruit so that the parrot would stop its high pitched chatter.
(Picture: An illustration from Tutinama, a work in Persian – Now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Picture taken from Wikimedia)
If you understand Kannada, you may notice that the translation is not word-by-word. For example, the phrase “कर्णालंबित पद्मरागशकलं” indicating an elaborate ruby ear hanging has been translated as “ಕಿವಿಯಲೋಲಾಡುತಿಹ ಕೆಂಪಿನ ಓಲೆ”. The word “प्रातः” (early morning) has been changed as “ಹಗಲಲಿ” (during day time). The word “श्रुत्वा” (heard), does not appear in the translation but it is implied. In spite of these changes, I think the translation keeps true to the mood of the original verse.
Generally, before translating any of these verses from Amaru Shataka, I do read them several times in the original commentaries in Samskrta ( Rasika Sanjeevini of Arujuna Varma dEva and Shrngara Deepika of Vema Bhupala) to understand any intricacies that I may not get easily when I read the Samskrta verse. I also have a prose translation of the work in Kannada, which comes in handy sometimes. And finally there are couple of English translations which I refer rarely – because I find the those translations somewhat contrived and convoluted in structure, not to belittle the efforts of those translators. One of those is the translation by Prof Greg Bailey and published by the Clay Sanskrit Series
Today was one of those rare occasions when I tried to read the English translation of the specific verse I quoted before. I am glad that I did refer to it *after* I wrote my Kannada version, and not before!
Here is how it is translated by Greg Bailey:
Of two lovers chattering in the night
A house parrot heard the conversation
Which, morning come, it utters too shrilly near the young bride’s parents
She placed a piece of ruby – a semblance of a pomegranate fruit – from her ear before his beak.
For sick with shame
She contrives to block his speech.
While the original verse says “husband and wife”, in the translation they become “lovers” (not that a married couple can’t be lovers!). The “elders” referred in the original become “bride’s parents” in the English translation. For anyone knowing anything about Indian traditions, it would be clear that the elders are very likely the husband’s parents and not the wife’s. Finally while the original verse describes the embarrassment of the girl, and probably the blushing of her face to stop the parrot’s chatter, in the English translation she is “sick with shame”!
What has all this to do with Prof Sheldon Pollock’s work ? Suffice to say that he is the General Editor of the Clay Sanskrit Library.
I respect Prof Pollock or anyone in the Western or Eastern world who have worked on ancient Indian works. But that does not mean I should stop calling a spade a spade! I am not even getting into the political overtones and misrepresentation of facts concerning early India in his other writings in this post, but as they say in Kannada, “ಅನ್ನ ಬೆಂದಿದೆಯೋ ಇಲ್ಲವೋ ಅಂತ ಹೇಳೋಕೆ, ಒಂದು ಅಗುಳು ನೋಡಿದರೆ ಸಾಕು” – You just have to check a single grain of rice to see if it’s cooked or not.
And so does stand my opinion against Prof Pollock or people like him heading the Murthy Classical Library or such other Indian cultural initiatives.
For the last few years, I have been translating individual verses from Amaru Shataka randomly. Amaruka Shataka is a Samskrta work from the 8th century.
Although there are some stories about Amaruka, we know pretty little historically about him except for that he must have lived before ~800 AD. However there is no doubt that his verses are considered top-class by the best exponents of Rasa theory.
For those of you interested, her is a recording of a talk I gave recently, about Amaruka’s poetry. Also, I have tried to classify the heroes and the heroines of these verses based on the categorization seen in Bharata’s nAtya ShAstra.
I have used the original verses, and my own Kannada translations in this talk – The talk is in a mish-mash of English and Kannada, and so even if you do not understand Kannada, you might find something interesting in the talk:
ನನ್ನಿ is an interesting short Kannada novel (179 pages), written by novelist Karanam Pavan Prasad, that I read recently.
The characters from the story come quite alive. The story spans about 3 decades (from around 1977-78 to around 2005), and mainly takes place in Kolkata and the outskirts of Bengaluru ( Or what was considered to be “outskirts” during the 80s).The novel runs in two parallel tracks: The life of a Catholic Nun in Kolkata, and the life of a few families belonging to different faiths in a small closely knit community in the outskirts of Bengaluru in the late 70s and early 80s. These two tracks merge into a single track later on in the novel and run together. The characters in the novel are full of life that they seem very real. Many of the incidents in the novel are based in real incidents but the time and space relations have been changed. I was in fact looking for some of the place names in the novel, only to realize the very authentic sounding names were fictitious, but located in a very familiar setting.
The story is told from the view of a Roman Catholic nun. The good, bad and the ugly that goes on in a charitable mission organization, the forced conversions, conversions for monetary benefits, money laundering, property fights that turn into communal riots, and people with different faiths, but with universal human values – all find a place in this story. To the credit of the author, none of this appears forced and the author does not preach an agenda. I don’t want to divulge much more about the story – but I can’t stop from saying one of the characters in the story is “Mother Elisa” who goes on to win a “Peace” award.
The narration switches between first person and third person, but at some places the transitions are not very clear. This may cause some confusion in reading for some readers. There are a large number of typos (which must have resulted because of a last minute change in fonts) that could have been avoided. Given that many of the characters would be speaking in English or Bengali (No, there aren’t any English lines in the book) , some parts appear a bit unnatural in the structure.
Previously, I’d read the earlier novel of Pavan Prasad (ಕರ್ಮ), and I felt the characters in this novel are more truer to life and multi-dimensional than in Karma. The title ‘ನನ್ನಿ’ (truth) is quite apt. The author does not appear judgemental anywhere about any of the characters but would want the readers to make a truthful impression for themselves.
I highly recommend all Kannada novel loving people to read ನನ್ನಿ. It’s very good to see a new generation of novelists coming in Kannada with the likes of Karanam Pavan Prasad and Dattathri M Ramanna (I had written about his ಮುಸುಕು ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ದಾರಿ a few months earlier).
When I saw the book Indus Civilization by Andrew Robinson reviewed and recommended by the good folks at www.harappa.com, I ordered the book immediately to add to few other books which I have on this topic in my bookshelf.
While the reviewers on harappa.com were truthful about this book being the most recent and most comprehensive in giving a good overview of the topic, I was quite disappointed in the end for several reasons that I will explain a bit later.Having read many other books about Indus, I must say that I was expecting a better product!
But I do agree that the book is quite readable for anyone who has no introduction to the subject, and does not drag into too many details for a first time reader (which first time readers on any subject hard to deal with).
Now coming to my major reasons for being dissatisfied with the book:
* Given so much new data is available compared to what was available for Mortimer Wheeler, the white and black pictures in the book are unpardonable in 2016!
* The author completely assumes that the Aryan Invasion or migration (or whatever theory they call it these days) theory as a fact
* The author completely downplays the number of Indus sites, unearthed on the Sarawathi river bed in the 20th century and casually mentions that the shifting of Saraswati river could have had some effect in the downfall of the civilization
* While sticking firmly to the dating of Rig Veda to be post 1500 BC as proposed by Max Muller and Co, the author offers no explanation why the river Saraswati which had already disappeared by 1500BC is mentioned and glorified in Rg Veda, and does not even think twice about the occurence so many “Saraswati” sites
* Other casual errors such as name of Shiva not occurring in the Vedas have crept up in the book
- Well, one may argue the name Shiva is not found Rig Veda, but the word Shiva does show up in Yajurveda as anyone who knows the Rudraprashna can attest
* The author totally dismisses S R Rao’s theory of alphabetical Indus script, without batting an eyelid – Actually he gives it as an example of four deciphering hypothesis totally gone astray
- While I’m with the author if he said the final word about the Indus script is not out, I find it strange that he jumps in with the min-meen equation, and identifying the fish sign as a star
- S R Rao’s hypothesis was that the Indus script was alphabetic and it did assign the phonetic values similar to those for the Semetic script. Let’s for the moment leave aside whether Indus script influenced Semetic script or vice versa. Andrew Robinson says that one can’t apply the phonetic values of an unrelated script/language to a totally different language (such as whatever would have been spoken in the Indus valley), and debunks S R Rao’s hypothesis
- However, we have evidence of the very same thing happening in India! The Brahmi script, (which was used for prAkrtas) was used with the same phonetic (or very similar) values for writing early Tamizh, Kannada etc around 2000 years ago
While this is not a comprehensive review, but hope this is good enough for anyone interested in the topic to read more on this very interesting civilization from India. Sorry folks, it is not South Asia by any means🙂
If you have come this far, you may be interested to read this old posts of mine:
This week, on the occasion of Shivratri, padyapaana asked it’s readers to write verses about the following picture of Raja Ravi Varma.
If you did not know already, the folks running Padayapaana, encourage versification in Kananda and Samskrta using traditional meters by posting a challenge every week. There are also lessons that help newbies understand the concept of versification and writing in such traditional style.
Here are my two attempts for this picture of Ganggavatarana by Raja Ravi varma:
In Bhamini shatpadi:
ನೀನು ದಯೆತೋರುತಲಿ ಮುಡಿಯನು ಹರಡಿ ಲೋಕವನು
ಮಾನಿಸರು ಪೇಳಿಹರು ರುದ್ರನು
ನೀನು ಹೇಗಾದೀಯೆ? ಶಂಕರ ಶಿವನೆ ನೀನೆಂದು!
In mattEbhavikrIDita meter:
ದಿಗಿಲೊಳ್ ಬೇಡಿರಲಾ ಭಗೀರಥ ಮುದಲ್ ಶ್ರೀವಿಷ್ಣು ಪಾದಂಗಳಿಂ
ಭರದೊಳ್ ಬಿರ್ದಿಹ ಗಂಗೆಯಾರ್ಭಟಮನುಂ ಪರ್ಬುತ್ತೆ ನೀಳ್ಗೂದಲಂ
ಹಿತದೊಳ್ ಮಾಣಿಸುತಾಕೆಯಂ ನಲುಮೆಯಿಂ ಕಾಪಿಟ್ಟೆ ಮೂಲೋಕಮಂ
ದಿಟದೊಳ್ ಶಂಕರ ರೂಪಿ ನೀನೆನಿಸಿರಲ್ ನೀ ರುದ್ರನೆಂದೆಂಬರೇ?
The meaning of both the verses is approximately same: When Bhagiratha through his penance, brought the divine river Ganga to the Earth, to save the mankind from the deluge that may be caused by this mighty river, Lord Shiva stopped her and confined her in his long locks of hair. Hence it is befitting to call him Shiva or Shankara (doer of good deeds, blissfull) rather than Rudra (terrible).
Happy Shivaratri to all readers of ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ!