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Posts Tagged ‘sanskrit literature

Bhavabhuti on finding a reader

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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


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 ।
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

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

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:

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

Written by S

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


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


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 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 his voice I hear,
     Why am I all eye?
       Why am I all ear?

How simple! As is the next one:


   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


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