The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Archive for the ‘sanskrit’ Category

The Pandit (काशीविद्यासुधानिधिः)

with 4 comments

The Pandit (काशीविद्यासुधानिधिः)
A Monthly Journal, of the Benares College, devoted to Sanskrit Literature

This was a journal that ran from 1866 to 1920, and some issues are available online. “The Benares College” in its title is what was the first college in the city (established 1791), later renamed the Government Sanskrit College, Varanasi, and now the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.

There are some interesting things in there. From a cursory look, it’s mainly editions of Sanskrit works (Kavya, Mimamsa, Sankhya, Nyaya, Vedanta, Vyakarana, etc.) and translations of some, along with the occasional harsh review of a recent work (printed anonymously of course), but also contains, among other things, (partial?) translations into Sanskrit of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Bishop Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Also some hilarious (and quite valid) complaints about miscommunication between English Orientalists and traditional pandits, with their different education systems and different notions of what topics are simple and what are advanced.

The journal’s motto:

श्रीमद्विजयिनीदेवीपाठशालोदयोदितः । प्राच्यप्रतीच्यवाक्पूर्वापरपक्षद्वयान्वितः ॥
अङ्करश्मिः स्फुटयतु काशीविद्यासुधानिधिः । प्राचीनार्यजनप्रज्ञाविलासकुमुदोत्करान् ॥

The metadata is terrible: there’s only an index of sorts at the end of the whole volume; each issue of the journal carries no table of contents (or if it did, they have been ripped out when binding each (June to May) year’s issues into volumes). Authorship information is scarce. Some translations have been abandoned. (I arrived at this journal looking at Volume 9 where an English translation of Kedārabhaṭṭa’s Vṛtta-ratnākara is begun, carried into three chapters (published in alternate issues), left with a “to be continued” as usual, except there’s no mention of it in succeeding issues.) Still, a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Among the British contributors/editors of the journal were Ralph T. H. Griffith (who translated the Ramayana into English verse: there are advertisements for the translation in these volumes) and James R. Ballantyne (previously encountered as the author of Iṅglaṇḍīya-bhāṣā-vyākaraṇam a book on English grammar written in Sanskrit: he seems to have also been an ardent promoter of Christianity, but also an enthusiastic worker for more dialogue between the pandits and the Western scholars), each of whom served as the principal of the college. (Later principals of the college include Ganganath Jha and Gopinath Kaviraj.) Among the Indian contributors to the journal are Vitthala Shastri, who in 1852 appears to have written a Sanskrit commentary on Francis Bacon’s _Novum Organum,_ (I think it’s this, but see also the preface of this book for context) Bapudeva Sastri, and others: probably the contributors were all faculty of the college; consider the 1853 list of faculty here (Also note the relative salaries!)

Had previously encountered a mention of this magazine in this book (post).

The issues I could find—and I searched quite thoroughly I think—are below. Preferably, someone needs to download from Google Books and re-upload to the Internet Archive, as books on Google Books have an occasional tendency to disappear (or get locked US-only).

https://books.google.com/books?id=Z71EAAAAcAAJ 1866 Vol 1 (1 – 12)
https://books.google.com/books?id=ESgJAAAAQAAJ 1866 vol 1 (1 – 12)
https://books.google.com/books?id=Sr8IAAAAQAAJ 1866 Vol 1 (1 – 12)
https://books.google.com/books?id=JAspAAAAYAAJ 1866 vol 1-3 (1 – 36)

https://books.google.com/books?id=Y78IAAAAQAAJ 1867 Vol 2 (13 – 24)
https://books.google.com/books?id=JigJAAAAQAAJ 1867 Vol 2 (13 – 24)
https://books.google.com/books?id=cL1EAAAAcAAJ 1867 Vol 2 (13 – 24)

https://books.google.com/books?id=g78IAAAAQAAJ 1868 Vol 3 (25 – 36)
https://books.google.com/books?id=eL1EAAAAcAAJ 1868 Vol 3 (25 – 36)
https://books.google.com/books?id=OSgJAAAAQAAJ 1868 Vol 3 (25 – 36)

https://books.google.com/books?id=m78IAAAAQAAJ 1869 vol 4 (37 – 48)
https://books.google.com/books?id=WygJAAAAQAAJ 1869 Vol 4 (37 – 48)
https://books.google.com/books?id=g71EAAAAcAAJ 1869 vol 4 (37 – 48)

https://books.google.com/books?id=vr8IAAAAQAAJ 1870 vol 5 (49 – 60)
https://books.google.com/books?id=eCgJAAAAQAAJ 1870 vol 5 (49 – 60)
https://books.google.com/books?id=24dSAAAAcAAJ 1870 vol 5 (49 – 60)

https://books.google.com/books?id=0b8IAAAAQAAJ 1871 Vol 6 (61 – 72)
https://books.google.com/books?id=nigJAAAAQAAJ 1871 vol 6 (61 – 72)
https://books.google.com/books?id=5YdSAAAAcAAJ 1871 vol 6 (61 – 72)

https://books.google.com/books?id=878IAAAAQAAJ 1872 Vol 7 (73 – 84)
https://books.google.com/books?id=uCgJAAAAQAAJ 1872 Vol 7 (73 – 84)
https://books.google.com/books?id=TrZUAAAAcAAJ 1872 vol 7 (73 – 84)

https://books.google.com/books?id=6ygJAAAAQAAJ 1873 vol 8 (85 – 96)

https://books.google.com/books?id=ASkJAAAAQAAJ 1874 vol 9 (97 – 108)
https://books.google.com/books?id=KMAIAAAAQAAJ 1874 vol 9 (97 – 108)

https://books.google.com/books?id=ICkJAAAAQAAJ 1875 Vol 10 (109 – 120)
https://books.google.com/books?id=CcAIAAAAQAAJ 1875 vol 10 (109 – 120)

[New series]
https://books.google.com/books?id=jHxFAQAAIAAJ 1876 vol 1

https://books.google.com/books?id=A_lSAAAAYAAJ 1877 vol 2
https://books.google.com/books?id=M31FAQAAIAAJ 1877 vol 2
https://books.google.com/books?id=ZQspAAAAYAAJ 1877 vol 2

https://books.google.com/books?id=rgspAAAAYAAJ 1879 vol 3
https://books.google.com/books?id=w31FAQAAIAAJ 1879 vol 3

https://books.google.com/books?id=EA0pAAAAYAAJ 1882 Vol 4
https://books.google.com/books?id=Pn5FAQAAIAAJ 1882 vol 4
https://books.google.com/books?id=gzoJAAAAQAAJ 1882 vol 4

https://books.google.com/books?id=XA0pAAAAYAAJ 1883 Vol 5
https://books.google.com/books?id=jikJAAAAQAAJ 1883 Vol 5
https://books.google.com/books?id=3X5FAQAAIAAJ 1883 vol 5

https://books.google.com/books?id=zSkJAAAAQAAJ 1884 vol 6

https://books.google.com/books?id=vQ0pAAAAYAAJ 1885 vol 7
https://books.google.com/books?id=Oi8JAAAAQAAJ 1885 vol 7

https://books.google.com/books?id=FQ4pAAAAYAAJ 1886 Vol 8

https://books.google.com/books?id=JwopAAAAYAAJ 1887 vol 9

https://books.google.com/books?id=fQ4pAAAAYAAJ 1888 Vol 10

https://books.google.com/books?id=gAopAAAAYAAJ 1890 vol 12

https://books.google.com/books?id=2wopAAAAYAAJ 1891 vol 13

https://books.google.com/books?id=LwspAAAAYAAJ 1892 vol 14

https://books.google.com/books?id=pAspAAAAYAAJ 1895 Vol 17
https://books.google.com/books?id=wdc9AQAAMAAJ 1895 vol 17

https://books.google.com/books?id=BAwpAAAAYAAJ 1896 Vol 18

https://books.google.com/books?id=UwwpAAAAYAAJ 1897 vol 19

https://books.google.com/books?id=1wwpAAAAYAAJ 1898 Vol 20

https://books.google.com/books?id=1g0pAAAAYAAJ 1899 Vol 21
https://books.google.com/books?id=iBNAAQAAMAAJ 1899 Vol 21

https://books.google.com/books?id=Xg4pAAAAYAAJ 1900 Vol 22

https://books.google.com/books?id=MhApAAAAYAAJ 1901 Vol 23

https://books.google.com/books?id=4w4pAAAAYAAJ 1902 Vol 24

https://books.google.com/books?id=Tw8pAAAAYAAJ 1904 Vol 25

https://books.google.com/books?id=vw8pAAAAYAAJ 1905 Vol 27

https://books.google.com/books?id=iBApAAAAYAAJ 1907 vol 29

https://books.google.com/books?id=bQ0pAAAAYAAJ 1908 Vol 30

https://books.google.com/books?id=Bv1SAAAAYAAJ 1908 Vol 30

https://books.google.com/books?id=LNA9AQAAMAAJ 1911 Vol 33 Snippet View
https://books.google.com/books?id=ctA9AQAAMAAJ 1912 Vol 34 Snippet View
https://books.google.com/books?id=3dA9AQAAMAAJ 1913 Vol 35 Snippet View
https://books.google.com/books?id=a9E9AQAAMAAJ 1916 Vol 38 Snippet View
https://books.google.com/books?id=N9E9AQAAMAAJ 1916 Vol 37 Snippet View

Also on HathiTrust:

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008634393
c.1 v.3 1868
v. 2 (1878)
c.1 n.s v.17 1895
c.1 n.s v.21 1899
v. 30 (1908)

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009658676
ser.2 v.1 (1876-77)
ser.2 v.2 (1877-78)
ser.2 v.3 (1878-79)
ser.2 v.4 (1882)
ser.2 v.5 (1883)

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100339588
v.1-3 (1866-1869)
n.s.:v.2 (1877/1878)
n.s.:v.3 (1878/1879)
n.s.:v.4 (1882)
n.s.:v.5 (1883)
n.s.:v.7 (1885)
n.s.:v.8 (1886)
n.s.:v.9 (1887)
n.s.:v.10 (1888)
n.s.:v.12 (1890)
n.s.:v.13 (1891)
n.s.:v.14 (1892)
n.s.:v.17 (1895)
n.s.:v.18 (1896)
n.s.:v.19 (1897)
n.s.:v.20 (1898)
n.s.:v.21 (1899)
n.s.:v.22 (1900)
n.s.:v.23 (1901)
n.s.:v.24 (1902)
n.s.:v.25 (1903)
n.s.:v.27 (1905)
n.s.:v.29 (1907)
n.s.:v.30 (1908)

Written by S

Tue, 2016-03-15 at 14:18:00

Posted in sanskrit

Bhavabhuti on finding a reader

with 8 comments

Bhavabhūti, the 8th-century author of the very moving play Uttara-rāma-carita, has in one of his other works these lines, any author’s consolation that even if your work receives not enough praise today, someday the right sort of reader will come along, who will derive great joy or meaning from it.


ये नाम केचिदिह नः प्रथयन्त्यवज्ञां 
जानन्ति ते किमपि तान्प्रति नैष यत्नः ।
उत्पत्स्यते तु मम कोऽपि समानधर्मा 
कालो ह्ययं निरवधिर्विपुला च पृथ्वी ॥

ye nāma kecit iha naḥ prathayanti avajñām
jānanti te kim api tān prati na eṣa yatnaḥ |
utpatsyate tu mama ko api samāna-dharmā
kālo hi ayaṃ niravadhiḥ vipulā ca pṛthvī ||

Those who deride or ignore my work —
let them know: my efforts are not for them.
There will come along someone who shares my spirit:
the world is vast, and time endless.

This verse has become a favourite of many. It appears already in the first known anthology of Sanskrit verses (subhāṣita-collection), Vidyākara’s Subhāṣita-ratna-koṣa. (It’s numbered 1731 (= 50.34) in the edition by Kosambi and Gokhale, and translated by Ingalls.) Ingalls writes and translates (1965):

Of special interest are the verses of Dharmakīrti and Bhavabhūti, two of India’s most original writers, which speak of the scorn and lack of understanding which the writings of those authors found among contemporaries. To such disappointment Dharmakīrti replies with bitterness (1726, 1729), Bhavabhūti with the unreasoning hope of a romantic (1731). If the souls of men could enjoy their posthumous fame the one would now see his works admired even far beyond India, the other would see his romantic hope fulfilled.

Those who scorn me in this world
have doubtless special wisdom,
so my writings are not made for them;
but are rather with the thought that some day will be born,
since time is endless and the world is wide,
one whose nature is the same as mine.

A translation of this verse is also included in A. N. D. Haksar’s A Treasury of Sanskrit Poetry in English Translation (2002):

The Proud Poet

Are there any around who mock my verses?
They ought to know I don’t write for them.
Someone somewhere sometime will understand.
Time has no end. The world is big.
— translated by V. N. Misra, L. Nathan and S. Vatsyayan [The Indian Poetic Tradition, 1993]

Andrew Schelling has written of it in Manoa, Volume 25, Issue 2, 2013:

Critics scoff
at my work
and declare their contempt—
no doubt they’ve got
their own little wisdom.
I write nothing for them.
But because time is
endless and our planet
vast, I write these
poems for a person
who will one day be born
with my sort of heart.

“Criticism is for poets as ornithology is for the birds,” wrote John Cage. Bhavabhūti has scant doubt that future generations will honor his work. The reader who will arise, utpalsyate [sic], is somebody of the same faith, heart, or discipline, samānadharmā.

Just now also found it on the internet, here (2014) (misattributed to Bhartṛhari):

There are those who
treat my work with
studied indifference.
Maybe they know something,
but I’m not writing for them.
Someone will come around
who feels the way I do.
Time, after all, is limitless,
and fortune spreads far.

Finally, in Sadāsvada, written by my friend Mohan with some comments from me, this was included in one of our our very first posts (2012):

In his play Mālatīmādhava, he makes a point that deserves to be the leading light of anyone wishing to do something of value and is put off by discouragement. Standing beside the words attributed to Gandhi (“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”) and Teddy Roosevelt (“It is not the critic who counts…”), Bhavabhūti’s confidence in the future stands resplendent:

“They who disparage my work should know that it’s not for them that I did it. One day, there will arise someone who will truly know me: this world is vast, and time infinite.”

The quote by Roosevelt is:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

[Note on the text: in Vidyākara’s compilation the verse ends with “विपुला च लक्ष्मीः” (vipulā ca lakṣmīḥ) instead of “विपुला च पृथ्वी” (vipulā ca pṛthvī), but the actual source work Mālatī-mādhava has the latter, as do all quotations of this verse elsewhere (e.g. the काव्यप्रकाशः of Mammaṭa, the Sahityadarpana of Viśvanātha Kavirāja, the रसार्णवसुधाकरः of श्रीसिंहभूपाल), and that is what Ingalls uses: “For lakṣmīḥ, which utterly destroys the line, read pṛthvi with the printed texts of Māl.” Actually, most quotations have “utpatsyate ‘sti” in place of “utpatsyate tu”: “either will be born, or already exists…”.]

Written by S

Tue, 2015-06-16 at 11:16:58

Kalidasa’s Deepashikha

with one comment

(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

Tagged with

Danda-padyam

with 2 comments

Viṣṇu, appearing before Bali as Vāmana, transformed into Trivikrama, filling the universe, covering all the earth and the heavens in two steps.

The verse that opens the Pūrva-pīṭhikā of Daṇḍin’s Daśakumāracarita plays on this imagination, and on the word daṇda / daṇḍin. Here’s the verse (in Sragdharā metre of pattern GGGGLGG—LLLLLLG—GLGGLGG):

May the leg of Trivikrama,
   pole for the parasol that is the universe,
   stem of the lotus that is Brahma’s seat,
   mast of the ship that is the earth,
   rod of the streaming banner that is the river of the Gods,
   axle-rod around which the zodiac turns,
   pillar of victory over the three worlds,
   rod of death for the enemies of the Gods,
favour you with blessings.

brahmāṇḍa-cchatradaṇḍaḥ śata-dhṛti-bhavan’-âmbhoruho nāla-daṇḍaḥ
kṣoṇī-nau-kūpa-daṇḍaḥ kṣarad-amara-sarit-paṭṭikā-ketu-daṇḍaḥ /
jyotiścakr’-âkṣa-daṇḍas tribhuvana-vijaya-stambha-daṇḍo ‘ṅghri-daṇḍaḥ
śreyas traivikramas te vitaratu vibudha-dveṣiṇāṃ kāla-daṇḍaḥ //


ब्रह्माण्डच्छत्रदण्डः शतधृतिभवनाम्भोरुहो नालदण्डः 
क्षोणीनौकूपदण्डः क्षरदमरसरित्पट्टिकाकेतुदण्डः ।
ज्योतिश्चक्राक्षदण्डस्त्रिभुवनविजयस्तम्भदण्डोऽङ्घ्रिदण्डः 
श्रेयस्त्रैविक्रमस्ते वितरतु विबुधद्वेषिणां कालदण्डः ॥

[The Mānasataraṃgiṇī-kāra, agreeing with Santillana and von Dechend the authors of Hamlet’s Mill, considers the “pole” or “axis” motif central to the conception of Vishnu (e.g. matsya‘s horn, Mount Meru as the rod on kūrma, nṛsiṃha from the pillar, etc.: see here), sees much more depth in this poem, and that Daṇḍin was remembering this old motif.]

The translation above is mildly modified from that of Isabelle Onians in her translation (“What Ten Young Men Did”) of the Daśa-kumāra-carita, published by the Clay Sanskrit Library:

Pole for the parasol-shell that is Brahma’s cosmic egg,
Stem for Brahma’s lotus seat,
Mast for the ship that is the earth,
Rod for the banner that is the rushing immortal river Ganges,
Axle rod for the rotating zodiac,
Pillar of victory over the three worlds—
May Vishnu’s leg favor you with blessings—
Staff that is the leg of him who as Trivikrama reclaimed those three worlds in three steps,
Rod of time, death itself, for the demon enemies of the gods.

Ryder, in his translation (“The Ten Princes”), takes some liberties and manages verse in couplets:

May everlasting joy be thine,
Conferred by Vishnu’s foot divine,

Which, when it trod the devils flat,
Became the staff of this and that:

The staff around which is unfurled,
The sunshade of the living world;

The flagstaff for the silken gleam
Of sacred Ganges’ deathless stream;

The mast of earth’s far-driven ship,
Round which the stars (as axis) dip;

The lotus stalk of Brahma’s shrine;
The fulcrumed staff of life divine.

For another verse that fully gets into this “filling the universe” spirit, see The dance of the bhairava on manasa-taramgini.

Written by S

Sun, 2014-08-17 at 23:36:42

Sanskrit and German

with 3 comments

[Originally posted to linguistics.stackexchange.com as an answer to a question by user Manishearth, who asked: “I’ve heard many times that learning German is easier for those who speak Sanskrit, and vice versa. Is there any linguistic basis for this? What similarities exist between the two languages that may be able to explain this?”]

This is an answer not to the part about whether it is easier to learn German after Sanskrit (I don’t know), but rather, a few more assorted points re. “What similarities exist between the two languages”, or even more generally, “Why would people make such a claim?”

As Cerberus [another user] noted, most of these claims come from people whose familiarity, outside of Indian languages, is with mainly English, and perhaps a bit of French (or rarely, Spanish or Italian). So even though many similarities noted between Sanskrit and German are in fact those shared by many members of the Indo-European family, the claim just means that among the few languages considered, German’s similarities are remarkable.

[My background: I have a reasonable familiarity with Sanskrit; not so much with German. For impressions about German I’ll rely on the Wikipedia articles, and, (don’t lynch me) Mark Twain’s humorous essay The Awful German Language — of course I know it’s unfair and not a work of linguistics, but as examples of what the average English speaker might find unusual in German, it is a useful document.]

With that said, some similarities:

Cases

German apparently has four cases; Sanskrit has eight cases (traditional Sanskrit grammar counts seven, not counting the vocative as distinct). As Cerberus [another user] notes, “Sanskrit and German have several functional cases, whereas French/Spanish/Italian/Portuguese/Dutch/English/etc. do not. Those are the languages one might be inclined to compare Sanskrit with”.

Compound words

Although English does have short compound words (like bluebirdhorseshoepaperback or pickpocket), German has a reputation for long compound words. (Twain complains that the average German sentence “is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary — six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam — that is, without hyphens”) He mentions Stadtverordnetenversammlungen and Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen; Wikipedia mentions Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz and Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft. But these are nothing compared to the words one routinely finds in ornate Sanskrit prose. See for example this post. Sanskrit like German allows compounds of arbitrary length, and compounds made of four or five words are routinely found in even the most common Sanskrit texts.

Verb appearing late

It appears that German words tend to come later in the sentence than English speakers are comfortable with. I notice questions on this SE showing that German has V2 word order, not SOV. However, many English speakers seem to find late verbs in German worth remarking on. One of my favourite sentences from Hofstadter goes

“The proverbial German phenomenon of the “verb-at-the-end”, about which droll tales of absentminded professors who would begin a sentence, ramble on for an entire lecture, and then finish up by rattling off a string of verbs by which their audience, for whom the stack had long since lost its coherence, would be totally nonplussed, are told, is an excellent example of linguistic pushing and popping.”

Twain too, says “the reader is left to flounder through to the remote verb” and gives the analogy of

“But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now-very-unconstrained-after-the-newest-fashioned-dressed) government counselor’s wife met,”

and also

“In the daybeforeyesterdayshortlyaftereleveno’clock Night, the inthistownstandingtavern called `The Wagoner’ was downburnt. When the fire to the onthedownburninghouseresting Stork’s Nest reached, flew the parent Storks away. But when the bytheraging, firesurrounded Nest itself caught Fire, straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-stork into the Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread.”

Well, this is exactly typical Sanskrit writing. Those sentences might have been translated verbatim from a Sanskrit text. Sanskrit technically has free word order (i.e., words can be put in any order), and this is made much use of in verse, but in prose, usage tends to be SOV.

Of Sanskrit’s greatest prose work, Kādambarī, someone named Albrecht Weber wrote in 1853 that in it,

“the verb is kept back to the second, third, fourth, nay, once to the sixth page, and all the interval is filled with epithets and epithets to these epithets: moreover these epithets frequently consist of compounds extending over more than one line; in short, Bāṇa’s prose is an Indian wood, where all progress is rendered impossible by the undergrowth until the traveller cuts out a path for himself, and where, even then, he has to reckon with malicious wild beasts in the shape of unknown words that affright him.” (“…ein wahrer indischer Wald…”)

(This is unfair criticism: personally, I have been lately reading the Kādambarī with the help of friends more experienced in Sanskrit, and I must say the style is truly enjoyable.) Now, the fact that this was a German Indologist writing for the Journal of the German Oriental Society somewhat goes against the claim of Sanskrit and German being similar. But one could say: for someone familiar with Sanskrit’s long compounds and late verbs that even Germans find difficult, the same features in German will pose little difficulty.

Adjectives decline like nouns

In Sanskrit, as it appears to be in German, an adjective takes the gender, case, and number of whatever it is describing. (Twain: “would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective”)

Gender of nouns has to be learned

By and large, it is so in Sanskrit as well. Twain notes that in German “a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female — tomcats included, of course; a person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it — for in Germany all the women either male heads or sexless ones; a person’s nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven’t any sex at all”. (He goes on to write a “Tale of the Fishwife and its Sad Fate.”) It does not seem quite so bad in Sanskrit, but yes, gender of words needs to be learned. (In Sanskrit there exists a word for “wife” in each of the three genders.) However this is a feature common to many languages (including, say, languages like Hindi or French that have only two genders) so I shouldn’t list it among similarities.

Spelling

This is something quite trivial, and linguists often don’t even consider orthography a part of the language proper, but spelling seems to be a pretty big deal to Indians learning other languages. The writing systems of most Indian languages are phonetic, in the sense that the spelling deterministically reflects the pronunciation and vice-versa. There are no silent letters, no wondering about a word spelled in a particular way is pronounced. Indian learners of English often complain about the ad-hoc inconsistent spelling of English; it seems a bigger deal than it should be. From this point of view, the fact that it is claimed that for German, “After one short lesson in the alphabet, the student can tell how any German word is pronounced without having to ask” means that that aspect of German is easier to learn.

The harmony of sound and sense

This is extremely subjective and will be controversial, and perhaps I will seem biased, but to me, in Sanskrit, it seems possible to pick words whose sounds match the desired feeling, better than in other languages. I have seen people who knew many languages say the same thing, and also Western translators from Sanskrit etc., so it is interesting for me to see Twain make a similar remark about German. Anyway, this is subjective, so I’ll not dwell on this much.

Non-similarities

There are of course many; e.g. Sanskrit does not have articles (the, etc.) unlike German. It also has very few prepositions (has only a few ones like “without”, “with”, “before”), as the work of prepositions like “to”, “from”, or “by” is handled by case. The difficulty of German prepositions does not seem to be present in Sanskrit.

TL;DR version

Some alleged difficulties of learning German, such as cases, long compounds, and word order, are present to a far greater extent in Sanskrit, so in principle someone who knows Sanskrit may be able to pick them up more easily than someone trying to learn German without this knowledge. However, this may not be saying anything more than that knowing one language helps you learn others.

Written by S

Tue, 2014-07-01 at 20:25:02

Posted in language, sanskrit

Tagged with , ,

The Indian theory of aesthetic appreciation (rasa)

leave a comment »

Here’s a great, simple write-up aimed at a Western audience, from the Clay Sanskrit Library edition of Kālidāsa’s The Recognition of Shakuntala, written by Somadeva Vasudeva:

Imagine that you find yourself going to see a performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” You are in the right mood for the play, no mundane worries preoccupy your mind, you have agreeable company, and the theatre, the stage, the director and the actors are all excellent—capable of doing justice to a great play. Your seat in the theatre is comfortable and gives an unobstructed view.

The play begins and you find yourself drawn into the world Shakespeare is sketching. The involvement deepens to an immersion where the ordinary, everyday world dims and fades from the center of attention, you begin to understand and even share the feelings of the characters on stage—under ideal conditions you might reach a stage where you begin to participate in some strange way in the love being evoked.

Now, if at that moment you were to ask yourself: “Whose love is this?” a paradox arises.

It cannot be Romeo’s love for Juliet, nor Juliet’s love for Romeo, for they are fictional characters. It cannot be the actors’, for in reality they may despise one another. It cannot be your own love, for you cannot love a fictional character and know nothing about the actors’ real personalities (they are veiled by the role they assume), and, for the same reasons, it cannot be the actors’ love for either you or the fictional characters. So it is a peculiar, almost abstract love without immediate referent or context.

A Sanskrit aesthete would explain to you that you are at that moment “relishing” (āsvādana) your own “fundamental emotional state” (sthāyi-bhāva) called “passion” (rati) which has been “decontextualised” (sādhāraṇīkṛta) by the operation of “sympathetic resonance” (hṛdayasaṃvāda) and heightened to become transformed into an “aesthetic sentiment” (rasa) called the “erotic sentiment” (śṛṅgāra).

This “aesthetic sentiment” is a paradoxical and ephemeral thing that can be evoked by the play but is not exactly caused by it, for many spectators may have felt nothing at all during the same performance. You yourself, seeing it again next week, under the same circumstances, might experience nothing. It is, moreover, something that cannot be adequately explained through analytic terms, the only proof for its existence is its direct, personal experience.

[…]

It is, moreover, a blissful experience. The fact that sensitive readers often weep while reading poetry does not mean that they are suffering, rather the tenderness of the work has succeeded in melting the contraction of their minds or hearts.

The non-ordinary nature of such aesthetic sentiments makes it possible for the spectator or reader to derive a pleasurable experience even from what in ordinary life would be causes of grief.

The Indian scholarly tradition has a lot more, including some very thoughtful deliberation and perceptive observation, but it seems good to start a discussion of rasa with an example like this, than to start with the technical details.

[Another good start may be via film. See for instance:
How to Watch a Hindi Film: The Example of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai by Sam Joshi, published in Education About Asia, Volume 9, Number 1 (Spring 2004).
and perhaps (and if you have a lot of time):
Is There an Indian Way of Filmmaking? by Philip Lutgendorf, published in International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Dec., 2006), pp. 227-256.
Previously on this blog: On songs in Bollywood]

Written by S

Fri, 2014-06-06 at 23:46:41

The rest is commentary

leave a comment »

Famous verses appear in many variants. Thanks to Google, it is easy to find many of them. For “paropakāraḥ puṇyāya, pāpāya parapīḍanam”, Google throws up a lot of variants for the first half.

The Vikramacarita has:

śrūyatāṃ dharmasarvasvaṃ, yad uktaṃ śāstrakoṭibhiḥ /
paropakāraḥ puṇyāya, pāpāya parapīḍanam

Other variants are:

saṅkṣepāt kathyate dharmo janāḥ kiṃ vistareṇa vaḥ |
paropakāraḥ puṇyāya pāpāya para-pīḍanam ||Panc_3.103||

or

aṣṭādaśapurāṇeṣu vyāsasya vacanadvayam /
paropakāraḥ puṇyāya pāpāya parapīḍanam //

or

ślokārdhena pravakṣyāmi yaduktaṃ grantha-koṭibhiḥ
paropakāraḥ puṇyāya pāpāya parapīḍanam

Going by the first line gives other verses:

śrūyatāṃ dharmasarvasvaṃ śrutvā caivāvadhāryatām | (or caiva vicāryatām ।)
ātmanaḥ pratikūlāni pareṣāṃ na samācaret ||

[Cāṇakya-nīti, Pañcatantra, Subhāṣitāvalī etc.]

See also:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

prāṇā yathātmano ‘bhīṣṭā bhūtānām api te tathā |
ātmaupamyena gantavyaṃ buddhimadbhir mahātmabhiḥ

तस्माद्धर्मप्रधानेन भवितव्यं यतात्मना ।
तथा च सर्वभूतेषु वर्तितव्यं यथात्मनि ॥ Mahābhārata Shānti-Parva 167:9
(http://blog.practicalsanskrit.com/2013/05/do-unto-others-golden-rule-of-humanity.html)

05,039.057a na tatparasya saṃdadhyāt pratikūlaṃ yadātmanaḥ
05,039.057b*0238_01 ātmanaḥ pratikūlāni vijānan na samācaret
05,039.057c saṃgraheṇaiṣa dharmaḥ syāt kāmād anyaḥ pravartate

As Hillel says, the rest is commentary.

For (some) commentary, go here.

Written by S

Fri, 2014-06-06 at 23:38:30

Posted in quotes, sanskrit, unfinished

A better keyboard layout for typing IAST on Mac OS X (based on EasyUnicode)

with 13 comments

To type IAST (English letters with diacritics, for Sanskrit transliteration) on Mac OS X, perhaps the easiest way, rather than to use transliteration tools, is to get a keyboard layout that does it. Just to be clear, this is the alphabet we want:

a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ e ai o au ṃ ḥ
k kh g gh ṅ
c ch j j ñ
ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ
t t d dh n
p ph b bh m
y r l v ś ṣ s h

In other words, the special characters needed are:

  • Letters with macron above: ā ī ū ṝ ḹ plus it may be occasionally useful to have ē and ō as well
  • Letters with dot below: ṭ ḍ ṇ ṣ (the retroflex consonants), also the vowels ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ, plus ṃ and ḥ (anusvāra)
  • Letters with other marks above: ṅ ñ ś

There is a keyboard layout that does this: It’s called “EasyUnicode”, created by Toshiya Unebe (Nagoya University), and is documented at http://ebmp.org/p_easyunicode.php (“EasyUnicode version 5” it says) (PDF version), and you can download it from http://www.ebmp.org/p_dwnlds.php (EBMP) (=Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project, University of Washington) or also http://www.palitext.com/subpages/PC_Unicode.htm “Pali Fonts for PC and Unicode”. (Page in Japanese.)

This keyboard layout is just like the usual (US English) layout ordinarily, but when you hold down the Alt (Option) key and press a, you get ā, similarly Option+s gives ś, Option+n gives ñ and Option+g gives ṅ, etc. The full mapping is available along with other documentation in the download above.

This is very convenient. One issue with the layout is that also overrides a lot of keys for no apparent reason (Ctrl-A / Ctrl-E etc. stopped working for me), so I got Ukelele from SIL, and wrote my own keyboard layout. I’ve called it EasyIAST, and it is available here for now (NOTE: do not simply click on the link or your browser will try to render as xml and probably display an error; you have to download instead). I plan to add a README etc. and distribute it in some proper way later; for now you can use the instructions from EasyUnicode above. If you find it useful and/or make any improvements, please let me know as well.

If some time is available, it would be good to make a Devanagari keyboard layout along the same lines.

Written by S

Tue, 2013-01-22 at 11:28:55

Posted in sanskrit

Tagged with , ,

Translating metaphor into English: Time and Motion?

with 5 comments

In a book called A History of Kanarese Literature, by Edward Rice (1921), he makes the following comment (p. 106):

The other is that a Kanarese poem defies anything like literal translation into another language. To give any idea of the spirit of the original it would be necessary to paraphrase freely, to expand the terse and frequent metaphors into similes, and to give a double rendering of many stanzas. An example will make this clear. The opening stanza of the Jaimini Bharata is given in Sanderson’s translation as follows:

May the moon-face of Vishnu, of Devapura, always suffused with moonlight smile, full of delightful favour-ambrosial rays—at which the chakora-eye of Lakshmi is enraptured, the lotus-bud heart of the devout expands, and the sea of the world’s pure happiness rises and overflows its bounds—give us joy.

The following is an attempt, by means of a freer rendering, to retain something of the spirit of the original:

When the full moon through heaven rides,
Broad Ocean swells with all its tides ;
The lotus blossom on the stream
Opens to drink the silv’ry beam ;
And far aloft with tranced gaze
The chakor bird feeds on the rays.

So, when great Vishnu’s face is seen,—
Whom men adore at Devapore—
Like to the sea, the devotee
Thrills with a tide of joy ;
Like to the flower, that blissful hour
The heart of the devout expands ;
And Lakshmi Queen, with rapture keen,
Watches with ever-radiant face
For her great Consort’s heavenly grace.
O may that grace be ours !

I’m wondering about this change. Apart from the versification—you know, being an actual poem instead of stilted prose—when it comes to just the idea, is it better? Why? How? Is it more readable? More understandable? Most importantly, does this change better “retain the spirit of the original”?

[Aside: just to be mischievous, we can with the wonders of technology do the following:

moon moonlight rays chakora bird lotus sea
Vishnu’s face smile his grace Lakshmi’s eye heart of the devout world’s happiness

to ruin the poem.]

For one thing, he has changed the metaphor (rūpaka) of the original into simile (upamā).
Probably the reason is that the compressed quality of the original, a prominent characteristic of Sanskrit and other classical Indian literature, is unsuitable for English, whose readers are typically unprepared for it. Is there more to it? Is this a general difference between the two literary cultures?

I’m wondering all this because Daniel Ingalls says something along similar lines in his honestly-written general introduction “Sanskrit poetry and Sanskrit Poetics” (from his translation of the Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa anthology):

As a result, Sanskrit is lacking in what is perhaps the chief force of English poetry: its kinesthetic effect. What I mean can be shown by an old ballad:

Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blow
and shake the green leaves off the tree…

One can feel the leaves shaking, and one shivers in the next line to the “Frost that freezes fell / and blowing snow’s inclemency.” One can find verses that produce this muscular effect in Bengali, and although I cannot speak at first hand of other modern Indian literatures, I imagine that one can find the effect in them as well. But it is only rarely that one finds it in Sanskrit. The powers of Sanskrit are of a different order.
[…]
[The following verse] is by Yogeśvara, an excellent poet who is capable of better things. In it he uses a strikingly elaborate metaphor:

Now the great cloud-cat,
darting out his lightning tongue,
licks the creamy moon
from the saucepan of the sky.

The effect here is gained by intellectual, entirely rational means. The metaphor is complete in every detail: cat, tongue, cream, and saucepan—cloud, moon, lightning, and sky. It is almost like an exercise from a manual of logic under the chapter “Analogy.” Compare the verse with a well-known passage of T. S. Eliot which uses several similar ideas, but uses them very differently:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, …

This from one who is often called an intellectual poet. And yet Eliot gets his effect in every line from the irrational, the strong but imprecise memory we have of fog and cats, the childhood associations of certain words and idioms. Consider the line: “Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.” It brings to sudden flower certain homely and completely natural phrases: “licks his tongue around the bowl,” or “licks his tongue into the corner of the dish.” The idiom is suddenly transfigured by bringing it into juxtaposition with the last three words, “of the evening.” This transfiguration of language becomes impossible without a natural-language basis.

Is there a general point here that English poetry uses vague, fuzzy, but “kinesthetic” effects where Sanskrit (or classical Indian) poetry uses compressed metaphors that paint a precise and detailed picture? I think there is some merit to the idea that, by and large, Sanskrit poetry is “static”, not “dynamic”. It is not a stream in motion; it hasn’t any “flow”. It is more a pearl in itself, that dazzles as you read. If poetry is imagination and the evocation of something other-worldly, it seems to me that Sanskrit poetry in general / at its best, conjures a world that one can calmly dwell in for a while, not an evocative fleeting idea that escapes as you try to grasp it, one which has appeal more in the chasing. Consider the importance accorded ultimately to stability / sthāyī-bhāva in all Indian arts, from poetry to theatre to dance.

This requires more thought and elaboration, but one may as well quote the final lines of Ingalls’s introduction (emphasis mine):

One may argue today, as the Sanskrit critics argued in the past, the relative importance of the various factors of Sanskrit verse which I have discussed. Vocabulary, grammar, meter: these are all necessary. Figures of speech, both verbal and intellectual, furnish delight. Mood is what is sought, though the grand successes of Sanskrit I would say go beyond mood to a sort of universal revelation, to what James Joyce, drawing on the vocabulary of religion, called an epiphany. To achieve this success impersonality is a prerequisite and suggestion is the chief instrument. If I were to single out for admiration one factor above the others in this complex it would be suggestion, not because it is unknown in other languages but because the Sanskrit poets use it with such brilliance and because it seems to me the most intimately connected of all the factors with the excitement, the sudden rushing of the mind into a delightful, calm expansion, that one occasionally derives from Sanskrit poetry and that brings one who has once known it constantly back for further draughts.

Written by S

Sat, 2012-09-29 at 13:09:01

Avadhana

with 6 comments

How many things can you do simultaneously in your head?

Yesterday A couple of weeks ago Nearly three months ago, I attended an avadhana, by Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh. Already (the very next day) my friend Mohan has written about it in great detail, but since I had started scribbling something down then, I thought I should write a post anyway: it is easily the most incredible feat of the human mind I have ever witnessed. (Unfortunately this may not be saying much, for I have not seen, say, George Koltanowski play 34 games of blindfold chess simultaneously. So suffice it to say that repeatedly we in the audience had trouble believing that what we were seeing was really happening!)

The word avadhāna, in common usage, means “concentration” or “attention”. In the specialised sense here, an “avadhana” is a performance of sorts, an exhibition of mental concentration, multi-tasking, literary skill, erudition and wit.

The basic format is this: there is a performer (avadhani) seated on stage, and also with him are several “questioners” (pṛcchakas). The performer has no access to pen or paper or any resources other than his head. The questioners give him various tasks in parallel, and he must answer them all, dividing his attention between them.

And these are no simple tasks! Some are harder than others, but all require great skill and concentration, especially to do them without any secondary memory (like, say, a piece of paper). Some are scheduled to happen in order, some are interrupt-driven, and all require concentration. This was an “Ashtavadhana”, so there were eight questioners/tasks (five of them had to do with composing poetry, and the rest were of a different nature):

1. Nishedhakshara (“letters forbidden”): the questioner gives him a topic on which to compose a verse in Sanskrit, and a metre to compose it in. Already a difficult task for mortals — metres in Sanskrit are to be strictly adhered to in every syllable; there is no amount of permitted variation as in English — but it’s nothing compared to the devilish twist here: the performer must compose the verse interactively, one letter at a time, and after each letter that he announces, the questioner imposes a constraint on what the next letter must not be. Thus for instance, each time the performer appears to be using a word, the questioner can prevent him from completing that word. He must find a way around this constraint, and so on till the entire line is completed.
This is done in four rounds: he composes one line at a stretch (along with the back-and-forth with the Nishedhakshari) in one round, and when the next round arrives, after some 40–50 minutes during which he has been facing other questions, he must pick up where he left off, relying on his memory with no external assistance. (E.g. he isn’t read back what he had composed as the first line.)

2. Samasya-purti: A traditional challenge, in which a line is given, and the performer has to compose a verse with it as its last line. Often the “problem” line will be nonsensical, or wholly inappropriate or even obscene, and the poet has to compose his “solution” poem such that the line makes sense in context. Usually, this involves clever tricks to engineer a radical reinterpratation of the line. Ganesh gave an example from one of his earlier programmes: a line like “Hari-worshipping atheists are numerous” was worked into a poem about music, describing a raga and ending with “Bila/hari-worshipping atheists are numerous”. (Bilahari is a popular raga in Carnatic music.)
In this instance, this round was in Kannada. Also done in four rounds, one line at a time.

3. Datta-pada (“given words”): Poem. Given topic, given metre. The catch: he is given four words that must occur in the poem, but the words are from another language. For instance, here the questioner wanted words like “ape” and “monkey” to appear in each line, and the performer’s task is to compose a poem in Kannada, with the English words occurring as segments of Kannada words. One line per round.

4. Chitrakavya (constrained writing): At the fringe of Sanskrit literature is an incredible body of constrained writing, of everything from palindromes to verses which satisfy difficult constraints on their letters, or which can be re-arranged into certain “shapes”, and so on. Here the performer is asked to compose a poem on a given topic, satisfying the constraint. One line per round.

5. Magic square: At the start of the performance someone from the audience (or the questioner) calls out a number, and the task is to construct a 5×5 magic square — a square of distinct numbers, such that every row, every column, and both diagonals sum to that number. This task is interrupt-driven: at any time during the performance — such as when he is composing a line of some poem — the performer is interrupted by the questioner who asks him for the entry in a particular row and column; the performer must give him a number and return to this task. (So 25 interruptions in all, throughout the performance.) Of all the tasks, this is the only one I feel even remotely confident of doing with a little practice, but it seemed to be the one that impressed the audience the most! Nevertheless, it is not trivial, and is definitely a distraction that can draw one’s full attention for at least a few moments. (Other avadhanas sometimes involve someone who, say, rings a bell at random moments, and the avadhani has to maintain a count of how many times the bell has rung, even as he concentrates on other tasks. A magic square is probably more impressive.)

6. Aprastuta-prasanga: Various meddling distractions and banter. This is interrupt-driven too. This questioner interrupts frequently, asking questions and making comments, and in general needling the performer and pulling his leg. This may include random humorous remarks, or the latest news, politics, celebrity gossip, whatever. The performer comes up with witty replies (well, Dr. Ganesh does, at any rate), deflects the question (or answers it if it’s a serious one), and moves on. I’ve heard it said that while most avadhanis treat this part as something to be endured, Ganesh actually grants this role a big part in the proceedings and even delights in it. This may be a sign of his wit and confidence, or (considering that there will be people in the audience who are impaired in their ability to follow the poetry, and who enjoy this part the most) a generous concession towards the modern-day audience. Either way, this role is a hard task for the questioner as well, and one fraught with danger: apparently, during a previous avadhana of Ganesh that was being conducted at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with (I think) Dr. S R Leela in this role, at one point during the event Mattur Krishnamurthy who was in the audience stood up and yelled at her: “he’s trying to compose a serious poem; why do you distract with such trifles?” — but of course, that is precisely the job. And it appears Ganesh can handle any distraction. :-)
If one imagines the setting of erudite scholarship in an ancient language as a stuffy one, then this sits rather incongruously in that context. So this may serve as “comic relief” from the serious stuff. But actually, I think what this round suggests is that for the avadhani, unlike for us, even arcane metrical composition is at the same level of difficulty as small talk!

7. Ashu-kavitva: Compose a poem quickly. While the other four poem-composing tasks involved composing a single poem, one line in each round, here he is given a topic and must compose a complete poem on it immediately. Ganesh even offered to do it in any metre specified, but as the questioner in this case didn’t specify metres, he picked different metres appropriate to the topic himself. This is one poem per round.

8. Kavya-vachana: Identifying poems. The questioner reads out a poem, which could be from a rather obscure work in the literature, and the performer must identify where it is from. That already requires a deep knowledge of all the literature and a great memory besides, but apparently Ganesh finds that too easy. So what happened here was that the questioner would sing the poem, and instantly, as soon as the singing ended, Ganesh would reply, identifying both the poem and the raga in which it was sung, in verse and in the same metre as the original poem, and singing it in the same raga that was used!

Those are the tasks. So at any given point of time, the perfomer must remember and keep in his head, at minimum, the current state of composition of four poems-in-progress, and the constraints that were imposed on them in the first place, and also the state of the magic square, all the while responding to distractions, and this over a period of several hours — nearly an hour elapsing between working on one line of the poem, and returning to it again.

It is hard to describe how incredible this was to witness in person. For one thing, all the questioners are demanding and trying to trip up the performer, so there’s an elaborate cat-and-mouse game going on. On top of that, when even the audience, who don’t have to do anything but watch, have trouble remembering what has happened in the previous round — even those who have been taking notes — for the performer to resume everything from memory does make one’s jaw drop.

At the end of the performance, the questioners (2), (3), (4) and (7), who had asked for certain poems composed, read out their own creations, that they had composed before the performance at their own leisure. More than once, Ganesh’s compositions created in such a harsh setting were still more beautiful than the ones that had been composed with as much time as desired!

In an age where we’re beginning to feel in the face of technology that perhaps that we’re not so good at multitasking after all, a traditional performance like this feels a bit like the old world turning up in style and showing us how it’s done. Whatever happened to The Magical Number 7±2?

Other notes

* This was in a mixture of Sanskrit and Kannada, but he has given performances that have been entirely in Sanskrit (even the banter), those in which there are eight questioners in Kannada and eight in Sanskrit, etc.

* OK, all this is great, but this must be a once-in-a-lifetime performance, right? The culmination of a life of practice, that happens but once?
Nope. This was Ganesh’s 917th—NINE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEENTH—avadhana. He did another one two weeks later.

* EIGHT people! Four hours! Must be exhausting, and about the limits of what the human mind can do? Nope. He is called “Shatavadhani” because he has at least once performed a Shatavadhana, involving a hundred questioners in parallel rather than eight. Not only that, but he has said he is prepared to do a Sahasravadhana, with a thousand questioners, but it would take over a month to perform, and it is hard to find the people to ask the questions! (And an audience, I imagine.)

* How did he think of doing an avadhana in the first place? What I’ve heard is that he attended one, and felt “I can do this too”. Just like that.

* Of the eight “questioners” (pṛcchakas), only two were professionally related to Sanskrit (they were teachers/professors). The rest were from various fields — software engineers, hardware engineers, teachers of other subjects, and so on — who only pursue their love of Sanskrit in their spare time. (One of them has apparently read through the entire Apte’s dictionary several times, which is an activity I find hard to even imagine.) The audience, too, had a fair number of young people, which Ganesh commented positively upon. (“Gratifying to see a lot of black-haired heads, not just bald or grey-haired ones.”)

* [Other stuff which I had thought of then, but forgot to note down. Will expand if I remember.]

Further reading

* A detailed account of the entire proceedings is in Mohan’s post, as mentioned above. Besides the parallelism and concentration that I have described above, which is the immediately stunning fact to a newcomer, there was a striking beauty in the way he actually handled each of the problems. This is more apparent from Mohan’s post; I have intentionally emphasized the former to (sort of) complement that one. Do go and read it!

* Edit: See this post (“A Modern Day Ashtavadhanam”) by Venetia Ansell. As she notes, “Highbrow Sanskrit arts are far from dead.”
* Another post

* Dr. Ganesh has written a large monograph on avadhana in Kannada, for which he was awarded the first D. Litt. by Kannada University (Hampi).

* If you have trouble believing any of this, there are a few recordings of earlier avadhanas available, and you can try attending the next one.

* Update: The video of this avadhana is now online. The video cannot reproduce the atmosphere, but it’s something:

A few more Avadhanas have been uploaded online, on the Padyapaana YouTube channel.

Written by S

Mon, 2011-12-19 at 01:44:48

Posted in sanskrit

Tagged with , , , ,

ऋष्यशृंग

leave a comment »

The story of the ascetic Ṛṣyaśṛṅga (ऋष्य-शृंग, “deer-horned”) occurs in the Puranic literature. His father brought him up in an atmosphere of innocence, and he had never seen a woman. (Later, in the Rāmāyaṇa, he officiates at Daśaratha’s sacrifice for children, and it is thus through his grace that Rāma is born.) Pollock:

The Ṛśyaśṛṅga episode appears also [i.e, besides the Ramayana] at MBh 3.110-13, PadmP, Bengali recension, Pātālakhaṇḍa, 13 (reprinted in Lüders 1897), Bhāratamañjarī 3.758-95, Bhadrakalpāvadāna 33, Avadānakalpalatā 65, Alambusā and Naḷanikā Jātakas, etc. The episode is clearly of great importance to traditional India…

Here is the story from the Vana Parva in the Mahabharata (taken from GRETIL), accompanied by a pleasant translation in simple rhyming verse, by Arthur W. Ryder. (Scroll horizontally to read the English text and/or compare. Or to read just the English text, click here.)
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by S

Sun, 2011-10-09 at 12:03:39

Posted in literature, sanskrit

Tagged with

The invitation

with 5 comments

Translated from the शार्ङ्गधर-पद्धति by Octavio Paz:

The invitation

Traveler, hurry your steps, be on your way:
the woods are full of wild animals,
snakes, elephants, tigers, and boars,
the sun’s going down and you’re so young to be going alone.
I can’t let you stay,
for I’m a young girl and no one’s home.


Translated from the गाहा-सत्तसई (= गाथा-सप्तशती) by Andrew Schelling:

Mother-in-law
sleeps over there
so does the
rest of the household but
  traveler
    this is my bed
    don’t trip over
    it in the dark

Written by S

Tue, 2011-06-21 at 18:51:21

Sanskrit pronouns and closeness

with 2 comments

Reminded from here.

Unlike English “this” and “that”, Sanskrit has two of each. That is, there are four “degrees” of pronouns, varying by proximity:

1. very close, “this”: etad, एतद् :

m. एषः   एतौ   एते (एतेन, एतस्य, एतस्मिन्)
f. एषा   एते   एताः (एतया, एतस्याः, एतस्याम्)
n. एतत्   एते   एतानि (एतेन, एतस्य, एतस्मिन्)

2. close, “this”: idam, इदम्

m. अयम्   इमौ   इमे (इमम्, अनेन, अस्य, अस्मिन्)
f. इयम्   इमे   इमाः (इमाम्, अनया, अस्याः, अस्याम्)
n. इदम्   इमे   इमानि (इदम्, अनेन, अस्य, अस्मिन्)

3. away, “that”: adas, अदस् (rare?)

m. असौ   अमू   अमी (अमुम्, अमुना, अमुष्य, अमुष्मिन्)
f. असौ   अमू   अमूः (अमूम्, अमुया, अमुष्याः, अमुष्याम्)
n. अदः   अमू   अमूनि (अदः, अमुना, अमुष्य, अमुष्मिन्)

4. in absentia, “that”: tad, तद्

m. सः   तौ   ते (तम्, तेन, तस्य, तस्मिन्)
f. सा   ते   ताः (ताम्, तया, तस्याः, तस्याम्)
n. तत्   ते   तानि (तत्, तेन, तस्य, तस्मिन्)

Then there’s also एनम् etc., which according to MW “Grammarians assert that the substitution of एनम् &c for इमम् or एतम् &c takes place when something is referred to which has already been mentioned in a previous part of the sentence”.

Written by S

Tue, 2011-05-24 at 04:45:50

Posted in sanskrit

“Your monkey did not jump high enough”

with 5 comments

Yesterday, in Futility Closet there was a post:

In Longfellow’s novel Kavanagh, Mr. Churchill reads a word problem to his wife:

“In a lake the bud of a water-lily was observed, one span above the water, and when moved by the gentle breeze, it sunk in the water at two cubits’ distance. Required the depth of the water.”

“That is charming, but must be very difficult,” she says. “I could not answer it.”

Is it? If a span is 9 inches and a cubit is 18 inches, how deep is the water?


The problem is simple enough: if the depth of the water is x inches so that the lotus from bottom to tip is x+9 inches, then x2+362=(x+9)2, which means x=(362-92)/18=135/2=67.5.

More interestingly, as I accidentally recognised (I don’t know how), it is from the Sanskrit mathematics text Lilavati (and also found in the Bījagaṇita) of Bhaskaracharya (Bhaskara II). That entire chapter of Kavanagh is essentially quoting the Lilavati (Kavanagh is written in a somewhat embarrassing tone that perhaps explains why it’s so obscure :p); it’s included later below the horizontal line in this post.

Bhaskaracharya, believed to have lived in the 12th century, is considered the last great Indian mathematician, outside of the Kerala school. Like most Sanskrit texts, the Līlāvati is written in verse, so as to be easier to memorise. Unlike many Sanskrit technical works (or for that matter technical works in any language), however, Bhāskara’s works are not written in the typical dry style, and can veer quite poetic at times. His description of the seasons in one of his astronomical works is one of the few true instances of poetry in the Sanskrit astronomical/mathematical corpus. This particular problem, it happens, is written in the beautiful mandākrānta metre: (If it helps: mandakranta is the metre of the Meghadūta, of “शान्ताकारं भुजगशयनं…”, of “नास्था धर्मे न वसुनिचये…”, etc., and you can listen to a recitation in the Marathi tradition by Ashwini Deo.)

चक्रक्रौञ्चाकुलितसलिले क्वापि दृष्टं तडागे
तोयादूर्ध्वं कमलकलिकाग्रं वितस्तिप्रमाणम्
मन्दं मन्दं चलितमनिलेनाऽऽहतं हस्तयुग्मे
तस्मिन्मग्नं गणक कथय क्षिप्रमम्बुप्रमाणम्

cakra-krauñcākulita-salile kvāpi dṛṣṭaṃ taḍāge
toyād ūrdhvaṃ kamala-kalikāgraṃ vitasti-pramāṇam
mandaṃ mandaṃ calitam anilenāhataṃ hasta-yugme
tasmin magnaṃ gaṇaka kathaya kṣipram ambu-pramāṇam

In a certain lake swarming with geese and cranes,
the tip of a bud of lotus was seen one span above the water.
Forced by the wind, it gradually moved, and was submerged at a distance of two cubits.
O mathematician, tell quickly the depth of the water.


Well, that’s my translation, close to Longfellow’s quoted translation by Taylor and to Colebrooke’s better translation, but I may be wrong, so details for anyone who cares to improve it:

In a certain [kvāpi] pool [taḍāge] whose water [salile] was swarming [ākulita] with ruddy geese [cakra] and curlews [krauñcā],
above the water [toyād ūrdhvaṃ] a lotus-bud-tip [kamala-kalikāgraṃ] at a distance of one span [vitasti-pramāṇam] was seen [dṛṣṭaṃ].
Slowly slowly [mandaṃ mandaṃ] by the wind [anilena] moved [calitam] and forced [āhataṃ],
at a distance of two cubits [hasta-yugme] it got submerged [magnaṃ] in the water [tasmin].
O mathematician [gaṇaka], say [kathaya] quickly [kṣipram] the depth of the water [ambu-pramāṇam].

The structure of the book may be worth remarking on: the general formula for exactly this problem is given first (in more technical terms), and then this problem is given as an example!

Glancing through Longfellow, one finds he’s also written a tiny poem called King Trisanku:

Viswamitra the Magician,
By his spells and incantations,
Up to Indra’s realms elysian
Raised Trisanku, king of nations.

Indra and the gods offended
Hurled him downward, and descending
In the air he hung suspended,
With these equal powers contending.

Thus by aspirations lifted,
By misgivings downward driven,
Human hearts are tossed and drifted
Midway between earth and heaven.

Ho hum (1845 America).

The chapter of Kavanagh below this line.


Read the rest of this entry »

Written by S

Sat, 2011-01-29 at 04:06:14

Posted in mathematics, sanskrit

Us

with 6 comments

  यूयं वयं वयं यूयम्
  इत्यासीन्मतिरावयोः ।
  किञ्जातमधुना येन 
  यूयं यूयं वयं वयम् ॥

yūyaṃ vayaṃ vayaṃ yūyam
ity āsīt matir āvayoḥ |
kiṃ jātam adhunā yena
yūyaṃ yūyaṃ vayaṃ vayam ||

Translated by John Brough (1977):


In former days we’d both agree
That you were me, and I was you.
What has now happened to us two,
That you are you, and I am me?

A simple poem, simply translated, and I was struck both by its simplicity and how popular it seems despite (because of?) it. Here’s the place to mention something trite, like “even the simplest poems can be beautiful”. It’s also an example where word order does matter in Sankrit; rearranging the words wouldn’t give the same meaning.

The poem is attributed to Bhartrhari, which, given the nature of such attributions, may mean we don’t know exactly who wrote it. (It doesn’t appear in all recensions.)

[Ryder, probably translating from the variant reading that has “kiṃ jātam adhunā mitra” (so it’s addressed to a friend specifically), does:

FRIENDSHIP’S END

Yes, you were I, and I was you,
So fond the love that linked us two;
Alas, my friend, for friendship’s end!
Now I am I, and you are you.


Unrelated: Regina Spektor, Us

Written by S

Mon, 2010-09-20 at 07:59:21

Posted in literature, sanskrit

Tagged with

New Number Nine

with 4 comments

What is the largest number?

45 billion? 24?

According to one bit of speculation, at some time, it was 8:

It is important to grasp that PIE [Proto-Indo-European] is not anything like “the first human language”, or even “the original ancestor of our languages”. [..] Nevertheless, PIE is sufficiently old that it may possibly have had properties that would make it seem not just “different” but somewhat “primitive”, if we could encounter it as an actual spoken language today. Nobody would expect PIE to have had words for “television” or “banana” — obviously. But, more interestingly, Mallory and Adams point out for instance that the PIE word for “nine” seems to derive from the word for “new”; they suggest that “nine” may originally have been called “the new number”, implying that having a name for such a big number ranked for PIE speakers as a whizzy technological breakthrough. (In English, the pronunciation of these two words has developed rather differently, but notice that in German “neun” and “neu” are closer, and in French “neuf” has both meanings.)

And Sanskrit has “nava” for both; in Hindi they become “nau” and “nayā”. Of course, the fact that the words for ‘new’ and ‘nine’ are similar or identical to each other in many Indo-European languages only means that the roots in Proto-Indo-European were similar or identical, without necessarily implying anything about the reason for it. (I find the theory implausible anyway; I’d think that larger numbers were already familiar even before the first counting words arose, and numbers probably weren’t treated with sufficient abstraction to consider the newness of a number itself.)


The passage quoted above is from Geoffrey Sampson’s PIE page, which contains a (very) short story in reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, to demonstrate what it (must have probably) sounded like.

English

Once there was a king. He was childless. The king wanted a son.

He asked his priest:
“May a son be born to me!”

The priest said to the king:
“Pray to the god Varuna”.

The king approached the god Varuna to pray now to the god.

“Hear me, father Varuna!”

The god Varuna came down from heaven.

“What do you want?” “I want a son.”

“Let this be so”, said the bright god Varuna.

The king’s lady bore a son.

PIE

To réecs éhest. So nputlos éhest. So réecs súhnum éwelt.

Só tóso cceutérm prcscet:
“Súhnus moi jnhyotaam!”

So cceutéer tom réejm éweuqet:
“Ihgeswo deiwóm Wérunom”.

So réecs deiwóm Werunom húpo-sesore nu deiwóm ihgeto.

“Cluttí moi, phter Werune!”

Deiwós Wérunos kmta diwós égweht.

“Qíd welsi?” “Wélmi súhnum.”

“Tód héstu”, wéuqet loukós deiwos Werunos.

Reejós pótnih súhnum gegonhe.

Several similarities both to Sanskrit and to Latin are obvious. The spelling above is artificially made “simpler” (English-like); the actual one (see Wikipedia page) has features even closer to Sanskrit:

To rḗḱs éh1est. So n̥putlos éh1est. So rēḱs súhnum éwel(e)t. Só tós(j)o ǵʰeutérm̥ (e)pr̥ḱsḱet: “Súhxnus moi ǵn̥h1jotām!” So ǵʰeutēr tom rḗǵm̥ éweukʷet: “Ihxgeswo deiwóm Wérunom”. So rḗḱs deiwóm Werunom h4úpo-sesore nu deiwóm (é)ihxgeto. “ḱludʰí moi, phater Werune!” Deiwós Wérunos km̥ta diwós égʷehat. “Kʷíd welsi?” “Wélmi súxnum.” “Tód h1éstu”, wéukʷet loukós deiwos Werunos. Rēǵós pótniha súhnum gegonh1e.

And by the time you get to Proto-Indo-Iranian, it’s almost entirely readable.

I have been looking at some comparative linguistics lately, and there’s no doubt that the essential features of the PIE reconstruction are more-or-less correct. The old view that “Sanskrit is the mother of all languages”, often repeated in India by non-linguists, is quite hard to believe after even a cursory look at the evidence available. (Note: I am not discounting the “Out of India theory”, that the Proto-Indo-European homeland was in India — my impression on that is that it seems just barely possible, though there’s no special linguistic reason to believe it, and a few not to — just pointing out that Sanskrit, in the form we have today or even in the Vedas, is most definitely the result of quite a few changes from the original PIE and it is impossible to consider it the original language.) Sanskrit is, however, one of the oldest available languages, and has preserved many features of PIE for centuries with unmatched accuracy. In the Indian context, it is the mother of all the Indo-Aryan languages (Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, etc.). And even the Dravidian languages (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam) have borrowed large parts of their vocabulary from Sanskrit, and often modeled their own grammar and literary tradition after Sanskrit.

Written by S

Thu, 2010-05-27 at 14:52:50

Posted in history, language, sanskrit

How not to translate: an example

with 5 comments

In David Shulman’s beautiful article The Arrow and the Poem (reminded via), he gives an example of the “sheer awfulness” of most Sanskrit translation into English:

Sanskrit may always have attracted just the kind of fussy, pedantic minds that make for the worst possible translators. They produced versions of Sanskrit poetry that were hardly likely to entice: “Shall I set in motion moist breezes by (means of) cool lotus-leaf-fans which-removed languor? Or placing thy feet, brown as the lotus, O round-thighed (maiden), in (my) lap shall I rub them soothingly?” That, believe it or not, is another verse from the play by Kalidasa that I mentioned at the start. The translator, Sir Monier Monier- Williams, held the Boden Chair in Sanskrit at Oxford during the second half of the nineteenth century, and he famously produced one of the major dictionaries for the language, still very much in use. But clearly, like most people, he had no idea how to translate.

(The rest of the article is great too.)
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by S

Sat, 2010-05-15 at 16:22:00

Posted in sanskrit

Tagged with ,

Identify

leave a comment »

What’s this?

Statement

Seeing more should help:

If that’s too easy, how about this?

Statement and proof

Both are from Rekhāgaṇita, which is a c. 1720s translation by Jagannatha of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi’s 13th-century Arabic translation of Euclid’s Elements. It seems to be a straightforward translation of the Arabic — it even uses, to label vertices etc., letters in the Arabic order अ ब ज द ह व झ…. The text retains most of the structure and proposition numbers of Euclid, but in fact the Arabic world has considerably elaborated on Euclid. For instance, for the famous first example above, it gives sixteen additional proofs/demonstrations, which are not in the Greek texts.

The first volume (Books I to VI) is available on Google Books and the second volume (Books VII to XV) through wilbourhall.org (25 MB PDF).

Notes on the second: some technical vocabulary — a प्रथमाङ्कः is a prime number, and a रूप is a unit (one). The rest of the vocabulary, like “निःशेषं करोति” meaning “divides (without remainder)”, is more or less clear, and also the fact that as in Euclid, numbers are being conceived of as lengths (so दझ and झद mean the same).

It does sound cooler to say “इदमशुद्धम्” than “But this is a contradiction”. :-)

Written by S

Wed, 2010-05-12 at 21:20:19

Posted in mathematics, sanskrit

Tagged with ,

Snip

with 13 comments

Some random cute or frivolous verses, dumped here so I can close those tabs. (Though inevitably I ended up opening more tabs…)


एकवस्तु द्विधा कर्तुम् 
          बहवः सन्ति धन्विनः ।
धन्वी स मार एवैको 
          द्वयोः ऐक्यः करोति यः ॥

eka-vastu dvidhā kartum
     bahavaḥ santi dhanvinaḥ —
dhanvī sa māra evaiko
     dvayoḥ aikyaḥ karoti yaḥ

Cute and clever! Here, māra is kāma, often depicted with an arrow (as Cupid is). Saw here, see here.
[Edit: Fixed एकवस्तुम् (eka-vastum) → एकवस्तु. ]

If you’re too lazy to click, here’s a rough translation that loses the one-two-many-one-two-one play on words:

To split a single thing in two
     There’s many an archer under the sun—
But Love’s the only bowman who
     Can start with two and make them one.

There’s no “under the sun” in the original; I just couldn’t think of a better rhyme. :P


कमले कमला शेते      हरः शेते हिमालये ।
क्षीराब्धौ च हरिः शेते   मन्ये मत्कुणशङ्कया ॥

kamale kamalā śete, haraḥ śete himālaye,
kṣīrābdhau ca hariḥ śete — manye matkuṇa-śaṅkayā !

kamalā = Lakṣmī (I think, though one source gave it as Brahmā), śete = sleeps, manye = I guess, śaṅkayā = out of suspicion/fear, of matkuṇa = bedbugs :D
Originally saw here,[dead link] so see here or here.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by S

Fri, 2010-04-16 at 21:15:10

Poems

with 2 comments


       But to remember her my heart is sad,
       To see her is to know
       Bewildered thoughts, and touching driveth mad —
       How is she dear that worketh only woe?
       (P.E. More, 1899)

       The thought of her is saddening,
         The sight of her is fear,
       The touch of her is maddening—
         Can she be really dear?
       (Ryder, 1910)

These are both translations of Sanskrit poems, and quite obviously of the same one.1 The difference in style is not entirely due to the 10 years between them. :-)

Following the previous post, which egregiously violated “Show, don’t tell” — with a whole lot of telling and nothing to show for it — here are a couple more random examples of short verses that I feel are successful in translation. [As I started gathering examples, this post started turning into a tribute to Ryder, so I’ve cut that off for another time. What I like is obviously subjective, and I’m easily delighted by a simple rhyme. :-) Of course, most good poems can be translated into prose or free verse and still remain beautiful; the below are merely examples of translations being cleverly coerced into the verse forms of English.] I avoided commentary on the poems — for attempting it would be futile — and only touch on the translation.

This is from Amaru:

     SHE ONLY LOOKED

     She did not redden nor deny
       My entrance to her room;
     She did not speak an angry word;
       She did not fret and fume;
     She did not frown upon poor me,
       Her lover now as then;
     She only looked at me the way
       She looks at other men.

The core of the poem, its sting, is in the last two lines, and it may owe more to the inherent rhythms of the English language than to the skill of the translator that the natural way of expression fits so neatly into metre, but few other translators would have exploited it so well.

Also from Amaru:

     WHEN MY LOVE DRAWS NIGH

     When my love draws nigh,
       When his voice I hear,
     Why am I all eye?
       Why am I all ear?

How simple! As is the next one:

     SIMPLE JUSTICE

   If, maiden of the lotus eye,
     Your anger hurts you so,
   'Tis right you should not let it die,
     You hardly could, you know.

   But once I gave you an embrace,
     To keep it would be pain;
   And once I kissed your willing face,
     Give me that kiss again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by S

Thu, 2010-03-18 at 21:48:37