Sunday, February 25, 2007

The language itself has fallen silent

The place of Sanskrit in India today is much like that of Latin in the West. It is part of the bedrock of our history and its words are the root words of our contemporary speech, but it has long ceased to play a role in the commerce of daily life and, like all dead languages, it has become the preserve of priests and schoolchildren. Many of the greatest works of Indian literature are written in Sanskrit, but apart from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, their influence upon us is muted because the language itself has fallen silent.
Now an ambitious new publishing project, the Clay Sanskrit Library, brings together leading Sanskrit translators and scholars of Indology from around the world to celebrate in translating the beauty and range of classical Sanskrit literature. Two dozen volumes of a projected 100 titles have been issued already. Published as smart green hardbacks that are small enough to fit into a jeans pocket, the volumes are meant to satisfy both the scholar and the lay reader. Each volume has a transliteration of the original Sanskrit text on the left-hand page and an English translation on the right, as also a helpful introduction and notes.
Alongside definitive translations of the great Indian epics—30 or so volumes will be devoted to the Mahabharata itself—Clay Sanskrit Library makes available to the English-speaking reader many other delights: The earthy verse of Bhartrhari, the pungent satire of Jayanta Bhatta and the roving narratives of Dandin, among others. All these writers belong properly not just to Indian literature, but to world literature. Sunday, February 25, 2007 This piece on the Clay Sanskrit Library project and on Kalidasa's play The Recognition of Shakuntala appeared yesterday in Mint. Chandrahas, 7:52 AM

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