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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.
According to Indian mythology, the spring season personified as Vasanta is a friend of Manmatha, the God of Love. Manmatha arrives along with Vasanta during the spring season to Earth. Manmatha carries a bow made of sugarcane, and arrows of five types of flowers, that are abundant during the season. How can any one hit with these arrows not fall in love?
Spring has been the inspiration of poets for ages. Here are a few Samskrta verses from Bhartrhari’s Sringarashataka and Kalidasa’s Rtusamhara, which have translated to Kannada:
ಕುಸುಮಿಸಿಹ ವೃಕ್ಷಗಳು ಕೊಳದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಮಲಗಳು
ನಸುಗಂಪು ಗಾಳಿ; ಜೊತೆ ಬಯಸುವೆಣ್ಣುಗಳು
ಮಸುಕು ಸಂಜೆಯ ನಲಿವು ಹಾಯಾದ ಹಗಲುಗಳು
ಎಸೆದಾವು ಮಿಗೆ ಗೆಳತಿ ಹಿತ ವಸಂತದಲಿ!
ಕೆಂಬಣ್ಣದಾ ಚಿಗುರ ಹೊತ್ತು ತಲೆಬಾಗಿರುವ
ಕೊಂಬೆಕೊಂಬೆಗೆ ಹೂತ ಮಾಮರಗಳೀಗ
ತಂಬೆಲರಿನಲಿ ತೂಗಿ ಹುಟ್ಟಿಸಿದ್ದಾವು ಮಿಗೆ
ಹಂಬಲವ ಹೆಣ್ಣುಗಳ ಮನದಿ ತವಕದಲಿ
ಹೊಮ್ಮಿರುವ ಮಾಂದಳಿರ ಮೊನಚು ಬಾಣಗಳನ್ನು
ಚಿಮ್ಮಿಸಲು ದುಂಬಿಸಾಲಿನ ಬಿಲ್ಲ ಹೆದೆಯ
ಹಮ್ಮುಗೊಳಿಸುತ ಯೋಧ ಬಂದಿಹ ವಸಂತನಿವ-
ನೊಮ್ಮೆಗೇ ಪ್ರಣಯಿಗಳ ಮನವ ಪೀಡಿಸಲು
ವಸಂತದಲಿಂಪಾದ ಕೋಗಿಲೆಗಳ ಗಾನ
ಮಲೆನಾಡ ಗಿರಿಗಳಲಿ ಸುಳಿವ ತಂಗಾಳಿ
ಅಗಲಿ ನೊಂದವರ ಜೀವವನೇ ಸೆಳೆದಾವು
ಕೇಡುಗಾಲದಲಮೃತವೂ ಆದಂತೆ ನಂಜು!
(Srngarashatakam – 38)
ಬೀಳ್ವ ಮಂಜನು ಬೀಳ್ಕೊಡುವುದಕೆ ಋತು ವಸಂತನು ಬಂದಿರೆ
ಹೂತ ಮಾಮರದಲ್ಲಿ ಮೆಲ್ಲಗೆ ಕೊಂಬೆರೆಂಬೆಯನಲುಗಿಸಿ
ಕೋಗಿಲೆಯ ಸವಿದನಿಯ ಹಾಡನು ದಿಕ್ಕುದಿಕ್ಕಲಿ ಪಸರಿಸಿ
ಮಂದ ಮಾರುತ ಹೃದಯಗಳನೂ ಜೊತೆಯಲೇ ಸೆಳೆದೊಯ್ದನೆ!
p.s: Just noticed that I had a post with the same title a few years ago!
(Found this text of a speech I gave at my Toastmasters club (named “Innovators”, sometime in 2011, when I was organizing folders on my PC. Posting as is)
I come from India. If you did not know already, India is a land where you’ll find people speak hundreds of language and there are at least 30 languages with more than a million speakers. It is not hard to find people who can speak more than one Indian language. Typical of many urban Indians, I can speak in several of Indian languages too.
But there is one language that I can’t claim to speak, but I can understand quite well. This language is Samskrta. It is the oldest known language of India, and possibly one of the oldest surviving languages of the world. This language has influenced every other language in India to a varying extents, and has a literature that spans over four millennia. Even though it is not claimed as a mother tongue by any, due to the antiquity, and the influence it has on the vocabulary on Indian languages, it is still one of the 22 official languages of the country. Till the time of the colonization of India by the British in the 18th century, it was in fact the pan-Indian language for communication among the educated class. A great number of texts about yoga, Ayurveda (or the science of medicine), Jyotisha (or astronomy) and Ganita (Mathematics) etc are written in this language.
When I was in my elementary school, my parents enrolled me to Samskrta classes. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to go to those classes, and I don’t know if I had any other opinion, it would have mattered! It was not a language that was taught in my grade school. These classes were held throughout the year, without even a summer break! What this meant was that I had to wake up early, take a shower, go to the class, come back home and then head out for my school. Sometimes, there were additional classes in the evening too. Going to these classes were the routine for me from the time I was in my kindergarten to about my junior year in high school. Since I lived in a small town, I could walk or bike to the classes quickly, so that was not a big problem. But I had to be always aware of these extra two hours needed in my day, when it came to preparing for tests or other work at my school, because I could never use the last couple hours before school to finish up anything!
Over the years, I passed through several levels in these Samskrta language classes. The classes were grouped based on the level, and not on the age. Since I started out early, I was almost always the youngest student in my class! Since Samskrta is not really a widely spoken language, there wasn’t much thrust in learning to speak the language, but the emphasis was on understanding the structure of the language, grammar and and appreciating literary texts. Some texts, specifically poetry had to be memorized too. As we all know, things that are committed to memory at a young age generally remain with us till much later in my life. Although I stopped going to my Samskrta classes during mid-high school, I still remember those verses memorized years ago.
Luckily, my interest in this language did not wane even after I stopped going to those classes. About five or six years ago, I tried to translate some poetry from Samskrta, to Kannada, my mother tongue; generally I started out by those poems that I knew by heart, from my age old classes! I started a blog to post these translations, and the positive comments from readers encouraged me to try out more. Then I had to look for other poems that I did not know before. Now that I am not that young anymore, and and can not commit these verses to memory, it was indeed a good idea for me to try translating whenever I found a new verse that sounded good to me!
To make a long story short, sometime back I was asked if I would like to publish a collection of my selected translations, and a book was published this year! The book is titled “Hamsanaada” and it is in Kannada. It got some favorable reviews in the press too.
As the verse on the opening page of my book says, needless to say translated from an age old Sanskrtit saying – “Start your kids on good things, when they are really young. The pictures etched on a wet mud pot will stay even after you use it for cooking for a long time!”
Dear Innovators, start off your kids to some good things – be it sports,or arts like music and dance, or learning a new language, or whatever else that they can grow up with, and take into their adulthood. With the current life styles, it may be a hard choice to put kids into many activities, and the kids may even resent them now. But I am sure you can find one or two activities apart from the regular schooling, that they’ll like or at least lean to not hate! I’m sure they will be thankful for what you did for them, later in their adult life, because the pictures etched on a wet mud pot, indeed stay forever!
In my post a few months ago, I had written about why Indus Valley Civilization be better termed as Saraswathi-Sindhu Civilization, and it’s relation with the people who composed the Vedas.
Recently, I listened to a lecture of Dr R Ganesh on the topic of the Myth of Aryan Invasion – A myth that was the brainchild of colonialists of the 19th century to best suit their beliefs of those times – but unfortunately carried down even to this day, when all the scientific evidence shows otherwise.
This lecture was held at Rasadhwani Kalakendra, Benagluru, and I thank the organizers for agreeing to share the recording. The lecture is in Kannada and runs for about two hours.
Here is a link to to download the lecture for your listening pleasure. : The Myth of the Aryan Invasion of India by Shataavadhani Dr R Ganesh
If you have Google Chrome Apps such as DriveTunes or TwistedWave, you can listen to the lecture online as well from the same link.
You can get in touch with the people at Rasadhwani Kalakendra at email@example.com, or by going to their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/rasadhwani.kalakendra) for information about their future
events and lectures.
Here is a video link for the lecture:
An android app for my book Hamsanada, a collection of my translations from Samskrta verses is available on Google Play, thanks to the good folks at Saaranga Infotech:
You can download this free app on your android device from the following page. Once you go to the install page, you can choose between a Unicode version or a baraha/nudi version for devices that don’t support Unicode.
With this app, you can read many of the translations included in my book on your phone.
However if you’re a bibliophile like me, and prefer to read stuff from a book, I strongly recommend getting a hard copy of the book from Akruti Books web store.
Happy reading! I look forward to get your feedback.