“It is not my habit to have my works corrected and recast by others!”—Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās
|Adibhatla Narayana Das
Omar Khaiyâm’s interests extended from poetry, music, philosophy and theology to mathematics, astronomy, geography, mineralogy and meteorology. Nārāyaṇa Dās’ interests extended from poetry, music and musicology, literature and linguistics, dance and acting, philosophy, theology and Vēdik studies (a conglomeration of various branches of theology, philosophy, arts and sciences) to astrology and medicine (Āyurvēda).
Neither of them was properly understood by his contemporaries during his life time. Omar Khaiyâm was seen either as an atheist and hedonist or at the other extreme, as a mystical Sufi poet. In the case of Nārāyaṇa Dās although his proclivity to the Bhakti tradition was never in doubt, his philosophy of humanism might not have been fully understood. While Nārāyaṇa Dās devoted his life to the teaching of ‘Bhakti, Jñāna, Mōkṣa’, he condemned with vehemence some prevailing practices of his time, such as animal sacrifice as unacceptable, as he felt they were at variance with the spirit of Vēdik philosophy.
|The Title Page
Translating from one language to another could be a daunting task because it is not just conveying the meaning of words. A language evolved over time embeds the culture and traditions; beliefs and values; rituals and practices and history and legends of a society in its usages and idioms. If the translator is not proficient in either of the languages, he might miss the meaning altogether or the translation might appear to be artificial like a patchwork quilt. Good translation requires not only proficiency in both the languages but great technical skill to express the idiom of one language in the corresponding idiom of the other. As languages continue to evolve, meanings of words and usages change over time or usages might lose their relevance. Therefore, translating from an ancient language to another classical language requires great scholarship if one were to convey the true intended meaning of the original writer.
|Prayer In Four
He introduced Omar Khaiyâm, the poet and his poetry in three languages, English, Saṃskṛtaṃ and Telugu. He used the introductions to express his deep admiration for Omar Khaiyâm and his poetry. But the introductions were more than that. Nārāyaṇa Dās used them to express his own worldview about his field of work; poetry and poets; literature and literary criticism and the contemporary socio-political milieu. He begins the Saṃskṛtaṃ introduction by describing the qualities a literary critic should possess.
Just as the reasons are understood from a deed, so should a poet be judged by his literary work. A critic should not blindly go by what others say of a poet but must be capable of independent thinking and judging the merit of a work. He should be erudite, having read and imbibed many kāvyās and must be proficient in languages like Saṃskṛtaṃ and Prākṛtaṃ. A critic who is himself a poet or writer would be better equipped to judge the work of others.
On can’t help wonder if he hadn’t read his own qualities (such as an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Vēdās and Śastrās, an exquisite poet, musician, dancer, actor et al.) into the qualities desirable in a critic and in his unstinted praise for Omar Khaiyâm. His description of Nišâpur reflects the literary and cultural milieu of Vijayanagaraṃ. He laments the diminution of ethical and moral standards and corruption of culture, following hundreds of years of alien rule.
The people of this land which came to be known as ‘karma bhūmi’ have lost their independence. They have had to abandon their traditional education and discipline. Having somehow acquired a degree in an alien language they were able to occupy positions of power. Those who do not have a modicum of knowledge of Saṃskṛtaṃ and are incapable of writing anything in Saṃskṛtaṃ or Prākṛtaṃ have come to be celebrated as litterateurs. Thanks to the ambience created by the unenlightened officials and uneducated rich, a wicked person has come to be seen as virtuous and a mountebank is seen as noble.
The introductory essay is rich in the philosophy of Sanātana Dharma and explains the nature of human existence and its relationship with godhead. It expostulates on the need for virtuous living.
The (human) creature is devoid of self-knowledge. Man has no role in determining (his own) weal or woe. It is Īśwara who decides whether he would end up in heaven or hell. A man attains advaita jñānaṃ only by of the grace of Īśwara. It is not possible to realise Viṣṇu without bhakti.
The synonymous use of Īśwara and Viṣṇu in the passage emphasizes the essence of Advaita philosophy as “[T]he identification of the Self with Brahman and the absolute reality of one and only one existence.”
Bhakti is jñānaṃ that combines the following qualities: being happy without ego; not looking for rewards; not craving for anything;
|Typical Double Page
Spread In The Book
Did Nārāyaṇa Dās find a twin soul when he observed that Omar Khaiyâm decried ‘all religious shows and philosophical discussions’ as ‘merely vain and whimsical actions for passing an idle life’? He says Khaiyâm was vexed with the deep chasm between precept and practice of crafty philosophers. He therefore satirized their philosophy. For him pleasing society was true religion and devotion to Almighty was the happiest enjoyment. It was perhaps because of this perception that Nārāyaṇa Dās found in Khaiyâm, a mystic rather than a romantic poet. He feels Khaiyâm’s philosophy was largely misunderstood and his advocacy of ‘wine, woman & music’ should be read as cryptic symbols for ‘divine service, pure mind and meditation’.
Nārāyaṇa Dās translated Omar Khaiyâm’s Rubâiyât when he was well into his sixties and published the book when he was sixty-eight. This was what Sarvēpalli Rādhākṛṣṇan, former president of India, then Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, had to say of the translations in his ‘FOREWORD’:
“[…] was greatly struck by his varied talents, remarkable linguistic equipment, and technical power of versification. […] The Telugu verses are written in what is called Acca Telugu or pure Telugu, which is rather difficult. […] I am tempted to congratulate him on a performance which, taking all things into account, is certainly astounding.”
In a rare honour, The Hyderabad Bulletin, a British era newspaper published from Hyderabad, reviewed the book in an editorial entitled, “A Monument of Scholarship”. Here are some excerpts:
perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of
the learned Paṅdiṭ.
“There are, of
course dozens of translations of the immortal “Rubâiyât”, the most popular and probably the best known
being that of Edward Fitzgerald. Paṅdiṭ Nārāyaṇa
Dās, who frankly
expresses the opinion that Fitzgerald’s work is not a literal translation, has
gone back to the original Persian in order that the letter and the spirit of
Omar Khaiyâm may not be missed.
degenerate days when scholarship has fallen on evil times, it is incredible to
learn that a Hindu, with Telugu as his mother tongue, should have been so
filled with admiration for a Persian poet that, after he had passed his
sixtieth year, he took the trouble to master so alien a language, and translate
the masterpiece not only into Telugu but into another classical language, Saṃskṛtaṃ.
“We find in the
book that while Fitzgerald’s translation is rendered into Saṃskṛtaṃ and into Telugu
of the Kaṅdaṁ metre, the
hardest perhaps in the Telugu prosody, Omar Khaiyâm’s original text is again
translated into Gīti and the
“We are certainly
unaware of any recent instance in India where so much learning has been brought
to bear on what is no less certainly a labour of love, for it is evident that
there are few persons familiar with the Saṃskṛtaṃ language who are
anxious to have a rendering of the Persian original.
“Paṅdiṭ Nārāyaṇa Dās’ erudition is
enhanced by the fact that even in using his own mother tongue, he has selected
what is called Acca-Telugu, a language that only a handful can understand. The
work therefore is not intended for the masses, and the learned author expects
no profits out of his scholarship.
transcends the limitation of language, age and country, and it is most
gratifying that a Telugu writer of the twentieth century should have paid the
most splendid tribute to a Persian Poet of the twelfth century. He has added a
most copious glossary at the end of the book to facilitate an appreciation of
the original, its translation by Fitzgerald, and the author’s own translation
into Saṃskṛtaṃ and Telugu.
“In inviting the attention of H.E.H. the Nizam’s Government to the Paṅdiṭ’s work, we trust that, in consonance with their liberal support of classical scholarship; they will extend their patronage to the Paṅdiṭ, and thus bring about a sympathetic understanding and interpretation between the two classical languages.”
The first edition of Rubâiyât of Omar Khaiyâm was published in 1932 and a second edition by the Sahitya Akademi in 2012. The book in four languages has the original Persian text, its English transliteration with diacritical marks, Fitzgerald’s English translation, Saṃskṛtaṃ and Acca-Telugu translations of Omar Khaiyâm’s original text and Fitzgerald’s translation. It is a veritable collector’s item.
 Old Persian was
an Iranian language which was in use from circa 600 B.C.E to 300 B.C.E. The
next phase in the evolution of the language between 300 B.C.E. and 800 C.E. has
been designated Middle Persian and from 800 C.E. it is known
as Modern Persian or Farsi.
 By Yavana terms
Nārāyaṇa Dās was probably referring to ‘Middle Persian’.
 The gist of Nārāyaṇa Dās’
Saṃskṛtaṃ introduction entitled “Umara Kavipraśaṃsā” is based on the Telugu translation of the Saṃskṛtaṃ part of
the work by Yāmijāla, Padmanābhaswāmi (1982).
 Swami Prabhavananda. (1963). The Spiritual Heritage of India. p. 274
 The year of
publication was not mentioned in the book, but going by the date of Sarvēpalli Rādhākṛṣṇan’s “Foreword” it can be deduced that it was published in 1932.
 A character in Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan (Scene IV) soliloquises: “Now this is what I call workmanship. There is nothing on earth more exquisite than a bonny book, with well-placed columns of rich black writing in beautiful borders, and illuminated pictures cunningly inset. But nowadays, instead of looking at books, people read them.”