The Lumber Room

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Kalidasa’s Deepashikha

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(Another example of good vs bad translations from Sanskrit. Previously see here and here.)

One of Kālidāsa’s famous similes is in the following verse from the Raghuvaṃśa, in the context of describing the svayaṃvara of Indumatī. The various hopeful suitors of the princess, all kings from different regions, are lined up as she passes them one by one, her friend doing the introductions.

संचारिणी दीपशिखेव रात्रौ 
यम् यम् व्यतीयाय पतिंवरा सा ।
नरेन्द्रमार्गाट्ट इव प्रपेदे
विवर्णभावम् स स भूमिपालः ॥ ६-६७


saṁcāriṇī dīpa-śikheva rātrau
yam yam vyatīyāya patiṁvarā sā |
narendra-mārga-aṭṭa iva prapede
vivarṇa-bhāvam sa sa bhūmipālaḥ || 6-67

Only today did I discover a decent translation into English. It’s by John Brough (1975/6):

As if a walking lamp-flame in the night
On the king’s highway, flanked with houses tall,
She moved, and lit each prince with hopeful light,
And, passing on, let each to darkness fall.

Every other translation I have seen really falls short. Witness the misunderstandings, and the killing of all feeling.

Here is Ryder (1904), who is usually good:

And every prince rejected while she sought
A husband, darkly frowned, as turrets, bright
One moment with the flame from torches caught,
Frown gloomily again and sink in night.

The idea is there, but requires too much effort to understand.

This is P. de Lacy Johnstone (1902):

Now as the Maid went by, each suitor-King,
Lit for a moment by her dazzling eyes,
Like wayside tower by passing lamp, sank back
In deepest gloom. …

Anonymous prose translation:

Every king, whom Indumati passed by while choosing her husband, assumed a pale look as the houses on a high way are covered with darkness in the absence of lamps.

M. R. Kale (1922):

Whatsoever king the maiden intent on choosing her husband passed by, like the flame of a moving lamp at night, that same king turned pale, just as a mansion situate on the highway, is shrouded in darkness when left behind (by a moving light).

Desiraju Hanumanta Rao

67. pati.m varA sA= husband, selector, she – she who has come to select her husband, indumati; rAtrau sa.mcAriNI dIpa shikha iva= in night, moving, lamp’s, [glittering] flame, as with; ya.m ya.m= whom, whom; [bhUmi pAlam= king, whomever]; vyatIyAya= passed by; saH saH bhUmipAlaH= he, he, king – such and such a king; narendra mArga= on king’s, way; aTTa= a turret, or a balustrade; iva= like; vi+varNa bhAva.m= without, colour, aspect – they bore a colourless aspect; prapede= [that king] obtained – that king became colourless, he drew blank.
Princess indumati who came to choose her husband then moved like the glittering flame of a lamp on a king’s way, and whichever prince she left behind was suffused with pallor just like a turret or balustrade on the king’s way will be shrouded in darkness and becomes dim when left behind by the moving light on the king’s way. [6-67]

And this is representative of the average quality of Sanskrit-to-English translations, and how much beauty is lost.

Written by S

Mon, 2015-02-09 at 20:04:42

Posted in sanskrit

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One Response

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  1. The Brough translation is very crisp indeed, and he has managed to rhyme too. Translators often sacrifice one for the other, and some sacrificed both.

    royalagentveeru

    Sat, 2015-06-20 at 02:40:40


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