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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).
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!
In an earlier post in this space, I had shared some well known samasya pooranam examples from samskrta and some more examples from Kannada poetry. Later, I had also shared some of my own solutions for samasya pooranam questions posted on Padyapaana. Since there were a few more such verses since the last post, I thought rounding them up here.
The next samasyapooranam is about the five arrows of the Love God, Manmatha. It is said that Manmatha carries a bow made of sugarcane, and has five arrows made of flowers. But the problem given here says that Manmatha carries 10 arrows, and not five.
ಮನಸಿಜನ ಬಳಿ ಹತ್ತು ಬಾಣಗಳಿರುವುದೇ ನಿಜವೈ!
Samasya pooranam involves lot of word play. So it is quite possible to turn one thing into another! I used a fact from Saint Tyagarja’s life to complete this verse. Composer Tyagaraja was an ardent devotee of Rama, but married twice in his life unlike Rama. If such a devotee should marry again after his first wife passed away, it should indeed be because the lord of Love should have had another set of arrows, thus making it ten in total!
ವಿನಯದಲಿ ಜಾನಕಿಯ ಪತಿಯನೆ
ಕನವರಿಕೆಯಲು ಭಕ್ತಿವೈರಾಗ್ಯದಲಿ ನೆನೆದಾತ;
ಕೊನೆಯುಸಿರೆಳೆಯೆ ಮಡದಿ ಪಾರ್ವತಿ
ಮನಸಿಜನ ಬಳಿ ಹತ್ತುಬಾಣಗಳಿರುವುದೇ ನಿಜವೈ!
It is quite possible to write multiple solutions to the same problem in Samasya Poornam. So here is one more solution to the same problem,where I changed the last line a bit keeping the same meaning.
The Love God Manmatha is said to visit Earth during the spring season , but as we know the spring occurs in different times in the northern and southern hemispheres, he then should have two sets of five arrows- and the following verse is written about these ten arrows of Manmatha.
ಚಿತ್ತಚೋರ ವಸಂತ ಕಾಲದ
ಲತ್ತ ಹೂಡುವನೈದು ಹೂವಿನ ಶರವ ಮುದದಿಂದ
ಮತ್ತೆ ಪೋಗುವ ದಕ್ಷಿಣದ ಕಡೆ
ಗತ್ತ ಪ್ರೀತಿಯ ಸೊದೆಯ ಹಂಚಲು!
ಹತ್ತುಬಾಣಗಳಿಹುದೆ ಸೈ ಮನ್ಮಥನ ಚೀಲದಲಿ !
After having spent arrows made of lotus, ashoka, mango, blue lily and jasmine flowers during the spring in the northern hemisphere, if Manmatha has to go to the southern hemisphere he must indeed have a second set of these love arrows!
Another problem given on Padyapaana was to complete a verse that ends in the phrase ಮಳೆಯು ಮುದವಾಯ್ತು. By the time I saw the problem, there were already a bunch of solutions. So I had to look for a different type of shower, a meteor shower in this case:
ಚಳಿಯ ತಡೆಯಲು ತೊಟ್ಟು ಟೊಪ್ಪಿಯಿ-
ರುಳಿನ ಮೂರನೆ ಜಾವಕೆನ್ನುತ ಕಾದು ಕುಳಿತಾಯ್ತು
ಇಳೆಯ ಹಾದಿಯ ಬಾಲಚಿಕ್ಕೆಯ
ಹೊಳೆಯುತಾಗಸ ತುಂಬಿ ಲಿಯೊನಿಡ್ಸ್ ಮಳೆಯು ಮುದವಾಯ್ತು!
Leonids meteor shower is seen during mid November every year, and the solution describes how waiting for the meteor shower in a chilly winter night was fruitful with a fabulous display of the meteors in the sky.
I will end with another samasya pooranam, set in Bhamini shatpadi. This was a question given to the audience in an Ashtavadhana in Puttur a few years ago. The line given was
ಹರುಷದಿಂದರ್ಜುನನು ಸಾರಥಿಯಾದ ಕೃಷ್ಣನಿಗೆ
We all know that Krishna was the charioteer for Arjuna during the Mahabharata war. However this line is stating otherwise – ” Happily, Arjuna became the charioteer for Krishna”. Quite interesting indeed.
I ended up writing more than 30 solutions to this question – some of them relating to the final battle of Karna and Arjuna are posted in this link, but will post a couple of lighthearted ones here:
ತುರಿದು ಕಾಯನು ಘಮಘಮೆನ್ನುತ
ಹುರಿದ ರವೆಯುಪ್ಪಿಟ್ಟು ಮಾಡುವೆ
ತರುವ ಸಮಯವು ಬಾಲಕೃಷ್ಣನ ಶಾಲೆಯಿಂದೆನಲು
ಹೊರಟನರ್ಜುನ ಪುಟ್ಟ ಮಗನನು
ಕರೆದು ಮಾರುತಿಯೊಳಗೆ ಕೂರಿಸಿ
ಹರುಷದಿ೦ದರ್ಜುನನು ಸಾರಥಿಯಾದ ಕೃಷ್ಣನಿಗೆ॥
ವಿರಸ ಬೇಡೆಲೆ ಮಾನಿನೀ ನಾ-
ಕರೆಯಬೇಡವೆ ಮಾಲಿಗೇ ಶಾಪಿಂಗ ನಾ ಮಾಣೆ ।
ಹೊರಡಬೇಕಿದೆ ಮಗನು ಟ್ಯೂಷನ್
ತರಗತಿಗೆ ತುಸು ಹೊತ್ತಿನಲೆನುತ
ಹರುಷದಿ೦ದರ್ಜುನನು ಸಾರಥಿಯಾದ ಕೃಷ್ಣನಿಗೆ॥
In the above contemporary solutions, Arjuna is the dad of a lad named Krishna, and drives the boy in his car. In the second one, he is also trying to avoid going shopping in the pretext of taking the child to a class. :)
Image courtesy: Manmatha Vijaya, on the ceiling of Virupaksha temple, Hampi; taken from http://iiacd.org/murals-south-india/#/hampi-virupaksha-temple-ceiling-paintings-interactive-plan