Sunday, January 01, 2006

translating Ramayana and other thoughts

I was searching for the original Sanskrit verse by Valmiki which has been translated with such tenderness by John Brough:

Blow, wind, to where my loved one is,
Touch her, and come and touch me soon:
I'll feel her gentle touch through you,
And meet her beauty in the moon.

These things are much for one who loves -
A man can live by them alone -
That she and I breathe the same air,
And that the earth we tread is one.

When I find the original sanskrit, I will update it here, but so far all I have found is this hilariously abominable translation of a different passage, but on the same theme: Ram's reaction to the loss of Sita.

"Oh, Lakshmana, very evidently demons have either gorged up Seetha, or perhaps abducted her, because she is not returning to me who am whiny indeed for her. [3-62-7b, 8a]

"Indeed these teary-eyed mobs of deer look as if to explain that nightwalkers have gluttonised my lady. [3-62-8b, 9a]

And then a little later, Ram continues to share his true concerns and thoughts with remarkable honesty:

"Those two roundish bosoms of my ladylove which always deserved the application of pleasantly looking red-sandalwood's paste might definitely be unshiny, as they might be bedaubed with muddy blood when they are extricated from her body for devouring. [3-63-8]

And with this brilliant work of translation, high drama is transformed into high farce. And yet, the result is mainly because of a literal translation of the original. Perhaps the Hindutva brigade should consider campaigning for a ban on Ramayana and other classical literature, lest the passions of our young maidens be inflamed, their chaste minds corrupted, and the morality and soul of our nation fall into decay!

Now you know the real reason your grandmother spends all day in the prayer room reading Ramayana and Mahabharata.


The sanskrit originals appear to be as follows:

vaahi vaata yataH kanyaa taam spR^iSTvaa maam api spR^isha
tvayi me gaatra samsparshaH candre dR^iSTi samaagamaH 6-5-6

bahv etat kaamayaanasya shakyam etena jiivitum
yad aham saa ca vaama uurur ekaam dharaNim aashritau 6-5-10

Though it seems that Brough has failed to mention Sita's charming thighs, which Ram refers to in the original. Literal translations given at

“Oh, wind! Flow from the side of my beloved. Touch her and touch me too. It is through you that I get a contact of her limbs. It is through moon that I get a contact of her eyes.”

“It is enough for me, who is passionate, that Seetha with charming thighs and myself are resting on one the same earth and on this fact I am able to survive.”

Ram should surely have been more restrained in the detailed praises he went into of Sita's physical charms, he could have ended up creating lots of rivals in love.