MAHABHARATA, thousands of years after it was composed continues to attract attention and excite the mind of the readers. It has been published in several languages in various forms, been experimented with in theatre and serialised on television. In the latest, well-known economist Bibek Debroy has started the task of translating into English the entire text of Mahabharata.
The translator himself poses the question, why another translation and goes on to answer that because unabridged translation of Mahabharata in English are rare. In fact there have been only five till now, by four Indians and one by foreigner, though there are any number of translations of abridged versions. “However the primary reason for venturing into yet another translation is not just the vacuum that exists, but also reason for dissatisfaction with other attempts. Stated more explicitly, this translation, I believe, is better and more authentic – but I leave it to the reader to be the final judge.)” It is for Sanskrit scholars to authenticate the claim.
The translation itself is lucid and written in an easy prose. Here is the description of Karna, when he entered the scene of weaponry display by the princes of the Kuru dynasty, after their education. “The spectators, eyes wide with wonder, made way and Karna, the conqueror of enemy cities, entered the large arena. He was clad in his natural coat of armour. His face was radiant with his earrings. His bow was in his hand and his sword was tied. That destroyer of enemy armies was great in fame and wide of eyes. Karna was born from Pritha when she was a virgin, from a portion of the Sun whose rays are sharp. His strength, valour and prowess were like that of a lion, a bull, or a king of elephant. In radiance, beauty and splendor, he was like the sun, the moon and the fire. He was tall, like a golden palm tree. He was a youth who could slay lions. Born from the sun, he was handsome and possessed countless qualities.”
Debroy has made a few sweeping observations in his introduction about the authorship of the epic with which one cannot readily agree. That Mahabharata was not written by one person, that this epic preceded Ramayana and that the latter has more ‘authenticity’ than the former etc. These are largely conjectures. The exact or even approximate time of the composition of Mahabharata has become irrelevant now. The epic is part of our smriti and there have been several scientific attempts to date the events mentioned in the epic, with the use of indicators like eclipse and other natural and celestial events. It is the deep and abiding faith of the Hindus that it was dictated by Rishi Vyasa and penned by Lord Ganesha.
This is the first of the ten volumes. The first volume covers the scenes upto the point when the Pandavas acquire Khandavaprastha. His translation is based on the critical edition of the epic prepared between 1919 and 1966, by a board of scholars of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune. This has become the standard recension of the epic. The epic has 100,000 shlokas. Debroy explains in the introduction the classification of the text into chapters and parva. A laudable effort that offers the reader the second best way to read the great epic. Not all can be blessed to read it in the original. Penguin needs to be appreciated too, for its contribution.
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