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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:
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!
It’s been a common occurrence in Indian poetry, to compare exemplary humans Mount Meru. Even in current news reports, you may see the usage of this word to mean “great”, “of a tall order” etc.
Going back a few centuries,in a well known composition in Raga Mayamalavagoula, Tyagaraja calls Rama as Meru samana dheera, meaning Rama’s valor and majesty to that of Meru mountain. You can listen to an equally majestic rendition of the composition here by none other than Sri BMK. In his composition in raga Lalita, Syama Shastri calls out to the divine mother Parvati as “Sumeru madhya nilaye” , one who dwells in the great mountain of Meru. Given that Parvati is the daughter of Himavan, and wife of Shiva, who dwells in Kailasa, I think it was common practice to associate Mount Meru to be somewhere in the Himalayas. By the way, you can listen to an epic rendition of nannu brovu lalita here, by LGJ.
But where is Meru, exactly? If you believe the Wikipedia, it could be anywhere from the Himalayas to Tibet to Central Asia to Tanzania! But is it that difficult to identify it if it were so intertwined with our history?
The Mahabharata (in Bheeshma Parva) describes Mount Meru as a globular mountain made of Gold. Surely a poetic description, but not something that would help in identifying a geographic location. The Bhagavata too has several references to Mount Meru ( 5th Skandha), but that too leaves us with poetic descriptions that tell us it is “somewhere to the north of Bharatavarha”, “surrounded by the ocean”, “golden mountain” etc.
However, no need to despair. In addition to poets such as Vyasa or Kalidasa may have had colorful descriptions, but we are lucky have had people like Aryabhata and Varahamihira, who in spite of being a little fanciful, gave descriptions that would help us identify Mount Meru,
In the Golapada section of Aryabhateeyam, Aryabhata (5th century AD) says the following:
मेरुर्योजनमात्रः प्रभाकरो हिमवता परिक्षिप्तः
नन्दनवनस्य मध्ये रत्नमयस्सर्वर्तोवृतः ||११ ||
“In the center of the Nandana forest is the bright Mount Meru that’s a yojana in size, that is full of precious stones, and surrounded by the Himalaya Mountains” – Sure, this is as poetic as the description in the Bhagavata or Mahabharata. Not much use here.
स्वर्मॅरू स्थलमध्ये नरको वडवामुखश्च जलमध्यॅ
अमरामरा मन्यन्ते परस्परमधस्स्थितान्नियतम् || १२||
“At Meru Mountain, at the center of the landmass, live the devas; At Vadavamukha, at the center of water live the asuras. Now each of them think that the others are situated below them”
Again, not much help here – How does it matter where the devas and asuras live to identify Mount Meru? You are bound to ask me.
Thankfully, in the 16th verse in the same chapter, Aryabhata spills the beans!
देवाः पश्यन्ति भगोलार्धमुद्न्मेरु संस्थितास्सव्यं
अपसव्यगं तयार्धं दक्षिणावडवामुखे प्रेताः || १६||
“The devas situated on Mount Meru see half of the starry sphere, and the departed souls on the south end, see the other half of the starry sphere”.
Now this is a very good description of how the sky is seen from the Earth’s two poles. At each pole, only half of the starry sphere can be seen, and the halves are mutually exclusive. This implies that the Mount Meru should be located at Earth’s North pole, and Vadavamukha, at the South pole. However, it must be pointed out that that the shloka does not plainly say that Mount Meru is at the North Pole. For that, we must visit the work of Varahamihira (6th century AD).
In verse 34 of the 12th chapter ( titled भूगोलाधिकारः ), of Surya Siddhanta, a work of Varahamihira, we find the following description:
अनेकरत्न निचयो जाम्बूनदमयो गिरिः
भूगोल मध्यगो मेरुरुभयत्र विनिर्गतः
“Filled with different types of precious stones, the golden Meru mountain goes through the center of the globe onto either side”
This is as close as it gets to saying that the Mount Meru is on Earth’s axis. Note that the reference here is not to Jambu Dweepa (or India) but to “jAmbUnadamaya”. As per the dictionary, this term means “of Jamboonada gold, or of golden etc. Narayana Pandita’s Gudharthaprakashika commentary to Surya Siddhanta also adds a shloka to show how “Jambunadamaya” implies gold. It probably refers to gold panning in river waters.
The next verse (35) goes on to say the Gods live in the top of the Meru and the demons at the bottom of the Meru. Now compare it with the description by Aryabhata that I cited earlier in this post, and you will find that they are exactly talking about the same thing! What does go through the “center of” Earth’s globe and project to both ends? It’s nothing but the earth’s axis. Underneath all the glittering gold, and being the abode of devas and asuras being spoken about in the shlokas, we see the truth plainly told – that Meru refers to nothing but the earth’s axis. The top of Meru is the North pole, and the bottom of the Meru at is the South pole.
Then in the next few verses, Varahamihira talks about 4 (fictitious, although the text doesn’t explicitly say so) cities which are separated by 90 degrees on the earth’s equator. Incidentally one of these is called “Lanka” and is in Bharatavarsha – at a distance of one fourth the circumference of the Earth, due south of Meru’s top end. This implies the Surya SiddhantaKara knew that Bharatavarsha was close to the equator. However, the “city” which he calls Lanka can’t be in India because it is due south of Ujjain and on the equator, and falls in the Indian ocean and not on land. We can only assume that he made up these “cities” to be able to describe the globe, and the movement of the globe.
And later verses tell how at the top of the Meru there is a 6 month day, which there is a six month long night at the bottom of the Meru( verse 68). In verse 72, he says as you travel towards the Meru, in either direction, the altitude of the Pole star keeps increasing – This is a very direct way of saying that Meru (or the northern end of it) is nothing but Earth’s North pole.
So where is Meru? All these references confirm that Meru meaning nothing but the Earth’s axis. Leaving aside the stuff about the imaginary cities ( even there, the astronomy of these points, are accurately described) and Gods and demons living at either end of the Meru mountain, other astronomical descriptions are quite accurate.
Why didn’t I write down all the verses here? Because, there is nothing as gratifying as finding it in the source. If you are interested to read the verses I cited, click on the the PDF file in the link below:
http://www.wilbourhall.org/pdfs/suryasiddhanth035839mbp.pdf Check page 286 for the shlokas and the commentary.
Now it should leave you with no doubt about the identity of Mount Meru!