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Murty Classical Library of India will reintroduce classical texts written in more than 17 regional languages through English. S Mallik reports
It isn’t regular English translation of Bulleh Shah’s sufi lyrics or Surdas’ poems. Here, with every turn of the page one will come across the original text in Punjabi and Devnagari script. The translations are simple to understand and reflect the mood and essence of its origin. Three more books belonging to various timelines in Indian classical literature have been translated by scholars of Harvard University Press for Murty Classical Library of India, the brainchild of Rohan Murty.
The library will be the first-of-its-kind in the country to reintroduce Indian classical texts to readers. “The longest, most continuous multilingual literary history in the world is produced in India. Most of them are not available anymore or have been made available in more than 17 regional languages. The task of Murty Library will be to make those texts available in the best possible way,” said Sheldon Pollock, general editor of the library.
Rohan, an obsessive reader, found it difficult to come across meaningful translations of classical Indian texts and that led to the formation of the library. “The motivation behind our project is to show the world that the definition of the classic is much bigger than what people think. Classic is just not Greek, Latin and English but also these languages. I hope that through this endeavour we will rediscover some parts of our collective past and the series will help in understanding parts of our glorious civilisation,” he said. It took around eight years to come up with the first five translations and scholarly translators have taken every care possible to keep the spirit of the texts intact.
The editorial board constitutes of Pollock along with Monika Horstmann, professor Emerita of Modern Indian Studies, Heidelberg University, Sunil Sharma, associate professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature, Boston University, David Shulman, Renee Lang professor of Humanistic Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Pollock added that the board has been very sensitive in dealing with the texts because they are ancient and deserve to be told in the way it was written.
“Often during translations, people tend to go astray but here we have first tried translating a sentence to its very letter. If the literal translation made sense, we went ahead with it. So what you read is almost exactly what the text says,” he said.
Murty library will primarily focus on three distinct sections of the reading population — general readers, students and scholars. According to Pollock, general readers in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, South East and central Asia are interested in glorious texts. The library will give them good and reasonable translations. “The second and most important segment is students. We are trying to provide every possible resource in the books so that the works are easily understandable. The standardised translation might interest them in learning the classical language.” The three other translated books are The story of Manu by 16th century poet Allasani Peddana from the Telugu script, the first volume of The history of Akbar by Abu’l Fazal from Persian script and Therigatha, poems of the first Buddhist women from Pali.
The storytelling does not end at five books. Their forthcoming books include the Ramayana by Kampan (Tamil),Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi (Sanskrit), Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas (Hindi), Annadamangal by Bharatchandra Ray (Bengali), Guru Granth Sahib (Punjabi), Ghalib Poetry and Prose (Urdu) and other classical texts in languages like Apabhramsha, Kannada, Prakrit and Sindhi.
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