Showing posts with label Sanskrit & Telugu Translations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sanskrit & Telugu Translations. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Rubâiyât of Omar Khaiyâm

“It is not my habit to have my works corrected and recast by others!”Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās 

Adibhatla Narayana Das
Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās learnt Persian when he was about thirty years old. When he was about sixty, he chanced upon a copy of Edward Fitzgerald’s translations of the Rubâiyât of Omar Khaiyâm. As he glanced through it, he felt that Fitzgerald’s translations did not do justice to the eleventh century Persian poet-philosopher’s original verses. Understanding Persian was one thing; but to be able to translate it into Saṃskṛtaṃ and Telugu required a far greater linguistic proficiency. He therefore set about to polish and master the language at the ripe old age of sixty and translated the work c1930. Maharāṇi Lalitā Kumari Dēvi of Vijayanagaram was so impressed with it that she felt it should be presented to the literary public. She sent the manuscript to Sarvēpalli Rādhākṛṣṇan who was then Vice Chancellor of Andhra university with a request to write a foreword to it. The book was published in 1932. In a rare honour, The Hyderabad Bulletin, a British owned newspaper reviewed the book in an editorial entitled A Monument of ScholarshipThe Sahitya Akademi published a second edition of the book in its ‘Rare Books’ series in 2012. The Sanskrit Academy, Hyderabad, affiliated to the Central Sanskrit University brought out a special edition of the Sanskrit portion of the book in August 2023.   

The reason that attracted Nārāyaa Dās to Omar Khaiyâm could perhaps be a shared worldview towards life and religion. Both of them were Sun-worshippers and polymaths. In his English introduction to the Rubâiyât of Omar Khaiyâm, Nārāyaa Dās says “Omar Khaiyâm commences his verses with the word “Khurshīd”, which means the Sun; because I presume, he was a sun worshipper…” 

Omar Khaiyâm’s interests extended from poetry, music, philosophy and theology to mathematics, astronomy, geography, mineralogy and meteorology. Nārāyaa 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 Nārāyaa Dās although his proclivity to the Bhakti tradition was never in doubt, his philosophy of humanism might not have been fully understood. While Nārāyaa 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
Nārāyaa Dās used to absorb knowledge from his environs just as a sponge absorbed water, and improve upon it. After coming into contact with the Hindustāni musician, Mohabbat Khān at Vijayanagaraṃ, he cultivated the Hindustāni genre of music to develop a Karṇātik-Hindustāni hybrid timbre. Similarly, when he was thirty-seven, he came into contact with a Maulvi, he utilized the opportunity to pick up rudiments of Arabic and Persian from him, obtained books on their teaching and began developing his knowledge of the two languages. His interest in Persian grew when he observed that ‘Old Persian’[1] has some resemblance to Prākṛtaṃ, considered to be the colloquial form of literary Saṃskṛtaṃ. This could well be the case because ‘Old Avestan’, the precursor of the Iranian languages, was closer to what linguists call Indic Saṃskṛtaṃ, whereas ‘Young Avestan’ was closer to Persian. In fact, both ‘Old Persian’ and ‘Middle Persian’ were written left to right like Prākṛtaṃ unlike their modern-day version, which adapted the Perso-Arabic script, written right to left. In his Saṃskṛtaṃ introduction to Rubâiyât of Omar Khaiyâm Nārāyaa Dās observed that although there were Yavana[2] terms, much of the Rubâiyât, Omar Khaiyâm wrote was in ‘Old Persian’, which in his view was closer to Prākṛtaṃ. 

Over time, Nārāyaa Dās developed a great admiration for the Persian philosopher-poet. When he read Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation of the Persian quatrains, he felt they were not true to the original. It is now known that not only Fitzgerald’s translations were not literal but he also mingled the quatrains. Fitzgerald’s translation has about three hundred verses. Of these Nārāyaa Dās selected a hundred and ten and their original Persian quatrains and translated the original and their English translation into Saṃskṛtaṃ and Acca-Telugu. 

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
The book opens with a prayer in four languages, Persian, English, Saṃskṛtaṃ and Telugu. The poem was written in the Kaṅdaṃ metre, one of the toughest prosodies in the Telugu language. Writing a poem in difficult prosody, with each line in a different language is an expression of Nārāyaa Dās’ penchant for accomplishing the formidable. 

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. Nārāyaa 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.[3]     

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 Viṇu without bhakti. 

The synonymous use of Īśwara and Viṇu 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.”[4] 

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 
In his English introduction, he expresses the view that ‘an original writer’ should take ‘pride in having his works published as they are so that critics might see him in his true colours’. It was for this reason, he says, “It is not my habit to have my works corrected and recast by others”. He laments the propensity of literary critics to judge the work of writers based more on their outward appearance than a true evaluation of their literary work. Could Fitzgerald’s impression of how Omar lived his life have coloured his translations of the poet’s immortal verses? 

Did Nārāyaa 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 Nārāyaa 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’.  

Nārāyaa 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 Rādhākṣṇan, 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: 

“[A] careful perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of the learned Padi.


“There are, of course dozens of translations of the immortal “Rubâiyât”, the most popular and probably the best known being that of Edward Fitzgerald. Padi 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.


“In these 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 Bhujangi metres.


“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.


“Padi 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.


“But literature 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 Padi’s work, we trust that, in consonance with their liberal support of classical scholarship; they will extend their patronage to the Padi, 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[5] 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.[6]

[1] 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.

[2] By Yavana terms Nārāyaṇa Dās was probably referring to ‘Middle Persian’.

[3] The gist of Nārāyaa Dās’ Saṃskṛtaṃ introduction entitled “Umara Kavipraśaṃsā” is based on the Telugu translation of the Saṃskṛtaṃ part of the work by Yāmijāla, Padmanābhaswāmi (1982).

[4] Swami Prabhavananda. (1963). The Spiritual Heritage of India. p. 274

[5] The year of publication was not mentioned in the book, but going by the date of Sarvēpalli Rādhākṣṇan’s “Foreword” it can be deduced that it was published in 1932.

[6] 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.”