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Translation of Mahabharata

A.R. Rajaraja Varma


Article wriitten on the occasion of the completion of the Malayalam translation of Vyasa Mahabharata by Kunhikkuttan Thampuran.

Mahabharata is a rare work renowned in the world as the fifth veda in authority, as a treatise with hundred thousand versus, as encyclopedic in extensive treatment of subjects, and as universally applicable in utility.

There is no book anywhere else on the face of earth which may said to be equal to this in quality. Mahabharata is considered as a book compiled for blessing of the world by the sage Sri Veda Vyasa after classifying all the Vedas and simplifying the important essential elements in them in a manner to be easily understood by illiterate people. In this book, history of Pandavas has the place of a thread equal that of one used by a child to prepare a garland of flowers of varied fragrance. The principles of all doctrines are presented in this book with relevance. The Upanishads such as Bhagawad Gita and Sanat Sujatiya are only some Ghats of Bharata. Western scholars confounded by the unparalleled greatness of this book propose that this may not be possibly the creation of a single poet.

Mahabharata is a great ocean full of sound. During certain auspicious times and others, some dharmic souls can enter this ocean at some particular Ghats and perform bath and other rituals; otherwise this is not suitable for water games and similar activities. It contains certain parts near to the shore, troubled by sound and fury of waves; it also has pleasant and stately middle portions. Clouds of poets grab topics from this, beautify and then shower their essence of verses. This is an eternal treasury of numerous jewels of whose value can not be estimated. Who is not astounded by the greatness and stature of this similar to that of an ocean?

Just as a great soul was born to contain an ocean similar to this, in a small container, gulp it and spit it out, a great man is born amongst us to understand this Bharata in his heart and emit it in the form of a translation. If it was the sage Agasthya, the stopper of the growth of the great ranges of Vindhyas who drank the ocean, the Bharata was translated by the respected Kodungallur Kunhikuttan Thampuran, the jewel in the headgear of poets who instantaneously create tasteful poetry ( sarasadrutakavikiritamani).

While it may require many a year even to complete one reading of Bharata, it is not possible for any poet other than Kunhikkuttan Thampuran to translate it metre by metre and word by word within a limited time. It is doubtful whether any single person has even copied this colossal book. Even Veda Vyasa had requested the assistance of a good 'writer' since he was unable to compose, condense and write it simultaneously! When the sage asked Sri Parameswara about some one who cannot forget what is dictated once and then write it sequentially without any mistake, that Deva had recommended his son, the great Ganesha! But Ganesha had put forth certain conditions to be fulfilled if he was to take up the position of the 'script writer'. If the poet will not repeat what is told once at all, the writer after writing a verse will not wait for the poet to think and compose the next verse. If the composer dictates without any break, the writer will write without any break. Even though Veda Vyasa hesitated a bit on this condition, he accepted it. Ganesha should be furnished with sufficient material for writing. That is all? Vyasa proposed a counterpoint to this: For a scholarly writer it is not a matter of pride just to record what he hears without understanding the meaning. Hence Vyasa opined that Ganesha will be writing after understanding the meaning. Ganesha concurred as well. The author and the scribe commenced their task. If the sage encountered anywhere any difficulty to think and compose, there he will incorporate as required a very tough verse or phrase or word whose meaning is not at all clear to anyone. The Deva will get confused without any clue for the meaning. By the time the meaning is revealed to him, the poet will be able to complete the composition of verses beyond. In this manner the situations in Mahabharata where 'Ganesha's teeth are crushed' are called Ganapatikuttanam. It is clear that this legend was a meaningful argument constructed to create a reason for several hard and tough verses found scattered in Mahabharata and to extol the overall greatness of the work. Still it is clear from this that our ancestors thought that even copying Mahabharata once is a hard task for a common man.

For composing an abridged Bharata in Malayalam, using some verses without head or tail, based only on the continuous Kuru-Pandava story and rejecting the numerous auxiliary subjects which come up depending on situations, we celebrate Ezhuttacchan to such a great extent! As if all these celebrations are not enough; some people demand some memorials as well! At this rate will it be enough for the Keralites to carry on their head, Kunhikkuttan Thampuran who translated the complete text to our language without leaving a single letter? It is not for nothing that Kalidasa 'complained' that
Puranamityeva na sadhu sarvam
Na capi kavyam navamitavadyam.

Like there is no meeting for the cakravaki bird in the night, the woman named fame also has a curse. She comes of age with all youthful pleasure, romantic beauties and the rise of good fortune and luck during the late years of her lover. How deplorable is this situation? Should women experience prosperity after becoming widows? The contemporaries of Ezhuttacchaan accused and harmed him. We the descendants, on realizing his greatness, are trying to install memorials for him. Hence, even though the moderns may not appreciate the Mahabharata translation appropriately, Thampuran has no scope for even a bit of sadness. The creeper of the fame of his translation of Mahabharata has just sprouted. In due course of time it will grow with numerous branches and spread all over Kerala.

Even though the author has completed the translation, commenting on the translation is inappropriate, since the complete text has not been printed and published at this juncture. Otherwise, regarding this book, it need not be thought in this manner. Even if the complete text is available on hand, there may not be many who are capable of reading completely once and criticizing it. It is certain that this author will not be able to do this task. Hence regarding Bharata, the logic of Sthalipulaka is totally dependable and to be followed. From a vessel in which four or five measures of rice are being cooked, cooks take a spoonful as sample and judge the extent of cooking for the entire contents of the vessel. Based on this logic it is to be agreed that the translation is found to be completely suitable to the original without any deficiency in the meaning. If there is no noticeable poetic beauty for most of the parts of the original text, the translator is not responsible for that. But there are many portions in the Bharata which are decorated by natural beautifications. Before asking the question that is it not possible to increase the quality of translations of such portions by a degree at least, many issues such as the comparison of the power of two languages, the poet's pledge of translation by metre by metre, speedy movement, the bulkiness of the book etc., together seal the mouth of the questioner. Wherever commentary is required for the original, the translation also demands it, it can not be considered as a deficiency.

The ability to compose verse is an inborn talent of Kunhikkuttan Raja. As usually stated in the case of the English Poet Pope, 'if required he can crack jokes in verse'. If the issue is about the knowledge of Sanskrit, it is well known that even the columns of Kodungallur Palace are experts in Sanskrit. There is nothing to ask about the purity of Malayalam language; the language of Kodungallur Region, which is middle Kerala is considered as the best in vogue. The poet was with the Venmani Poets during his childhood. Considering all these together, the tongues of people like me are not capable of pronouncing an opinion regarding the translation of Bharata. Let this great work which is the subject of the current review decorate all the libraries of Kerala always; Let this great poet become the object of the gratitude of the people of Kerala with similar efforts such as this which are impossible by others; I wish as such.


Translated by A. Purushothaman
16th September 2004