Three Hundred Verses: Musings on Life, Love and Renunciation (Hardcover); Bhartrihari (Author), A.N.D. Haksar (Translator); Penguin Random House India;
Pp 336; Rs 599
The ethical and philosophical view of Hindu life in a nutshell is Shataka Trayam, perhaps the most popular and widely translated scripture on Hindu ethics after the Bhagavad Gita
Ganesh Krishnan R
The Shataka Trayam i.e. the three centuries, comprises of Niti Shataka, Shringara Shataka and Vairagya Shataka, is an
anthology of profoundly beautiful Sanskrit verses on life, love and renunciation by the great sage, poet and Maharaja of Ujjain, Bhartrihari. The basic themes on which the scripture has been written, symbolically represent the ultimate goals which a human being should thrive for in his mundane life, following the Hindu way of life, i.e. Purushartha (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha). The ethical and philosophical view of Hindu life in a nutshell is Shataka Trayam, perhaps the most popular and widely translated scripture on Hindu ethics after the Bhagavad Gita. With Penguin publishing the present volume, Three Hundred Verses: Musings on Life, Love and Renunciation, this poetic marvel will hopefully reach out to the new generation readers who long for relishing the grandeur of Sanskrit poetry in contemporary modern English.
Nostalgia (Paperback); M.G. Vassanji; Penguin Random House India; Pp 272; Rs 399
From one of Canada's most celebrated writers, two-time Giller Prize winner Moyez Vassanji, comes a taut, ingenuous and dynamic novel about a future where eternal life is possible, and identities can be chosen. This entertaining novel opens in the vein of Conrad, alludes to Mary Shelley, and works in aspects of The Bourne Identity and the drama of Patty Hearst.
Sell: The Art, the Science, the Witchcraft (Hardcover); Subroto Bagchi: Hachette India; Pp 256; Rs 499
In his new book, Sell – the first book on the subject by an Indian practitioner of business – bestselling author and inspiration to generations of entrepreneurs, Subroto Bagchi presents the concepts of selling and salesmanship from his unique perspective. Elaborating on the essential skills required to be a successful seller Bagchi crystallises his on-the-ground knowledge about salesmanship through stories and anecdotes. A comprehensive and contemporary treatise on the art, science and ‘witchcraft’ behind selling, Sell will redefine the meaning of salesmanship.
The Ancient Science of Mantras (Paperback); Om Swami; Jaico Publishing House; Pp 486; Rs 450
The mystical energy of mantras is as intact today as it was thousands of years ago. All you need to know is how to invoke a mantra. In a never-before attempt, veering from the ancient tradition of guru-disciple secrecy, Himalayan ascetic and bestselling author Om Swami bares all the essentials and fundamentals of invoking the timeless mantras for material and spiritual fulfillment.
Thick as Thieves: Tales of Friendship (Paperback); Ruskin Bond; Penguin Random House India; Pp 208 Rs 199
The book is a compilation of 25 selected short stories and essays taken from various books of Ruskin Bond. Bond's free-flowing writing style, simple and very good English, funny or touching themes, nostalgia about his childhood spent in Dehradun and Shimla, and a great sense of humour make the stories delightful to read. By his profound love for everything Indian, Bond proved to himself and his readers that he is an Indian at heart and in mind and soul.
In forests, or in battlefields
Midst foes, in fire, or the water
Of oceans deep, on mountain peaks,
While asleep, drunk, or in danger,
Blessed deeds, done in the past,
Guard and give protection
(Niti Shataka (93) by Bhartrihari)
Among many verses of this profound anthology of Bhartrihari, which I passively picked up in my boyhood hearing my father render it in his sublime voice, the above quoted 93rd verse of Niti Shataka left a distinctive mark on my memory. As I firmly believe, even though the religious faith of a person is shaken at any juncture of his life, he or she can never be disillusioned by the essential philosophy underlying in these four lines, the quintessence of Hindu ethics.
The Shataka Trayam has left a deep impression on Indian poetry and philosophy over generations. Though various scholars term it as ethic-erotic-ascetic, a careful reading of each Shataka manifests the integral view of Hindu life where each phase of life is carefully interwoven with another. For example, unlike other erotic poetries such as Rubaiyat, Song of Solomon, etc, Shringara Shataka never leaves an impression that it is an ecstatic praise of hedonism or a mere pursuit of mundane pleasures. Take for instance, the hundredth verse of Shringara Shataka:
There can be, the poet says,
One god: Keshava or Shiva;
One friend: a town or a forest;
And one bride: a beauty or a cave.
In Vairagya Sataka, the forty-fourth verse, as given below, comprises all the elegance of the Shataka.
Night comes again, and then the day,
But knowing this, do senseless creatures
Still run about as they did before,
Repeating works done previously,
For things already sought and gained,
And condemned by everyone:
Of our delusion,
We, alas, are never ashamed.
In the introduction the present volume, the translator has hinted that he mainly relied on Kosambi’s Bhartrihari Viracitah Satakatrayadi Subhashitam Samgraha. As seen in many ancient Sanskrit scriptures, there are many apocryphal verses added to Shataka Trayam. There are around 377 different manuscripts which altogether provide 852 individual stanzas. So finding the original 300 verses out of this total of 852, is not an easy task. The present work includes all 200 verses of Kosambi’s first group. The other 100 verses are taken from the second and third group found in the Subhashita Trishati, an 18th-century compilation by Ramachandra Budhendra. The order of the verses has been altered all the way through in order to maintain the flow and coherence of each century and make it self-contained.
It becomes pertinent to take a glimpse of the version of DD Kosambi, which the translator relied upon as the fundamental text. In the introduction, the translator talks about Kosambi’s inferences over the life and works of Bhartrihari. Like most of the works of Kosambi who left no major genre of social science and literature untampered. Ruling out the popular belief that Bhartrihari was the king of Ujjain, Kosambi was in a pursuit of seeking the alternate legends outlined by supplementary hypotheses. Quoting some sources, he says that Bhartrihari was a Buddhist grammarian. In another, Bhartrihari was a ruler of Malva region and a king who renounced the kingdom and accepted the asceticism from the order of Gorakshanatha. In Bhartrihari Viracitah Satakatrayadi Subhashitam Samgraha, Kosambi termed the celestial poetry of Bhartrihari as ‘poetry of frustration’! His skewed reading of Shataka Trayam, one of the most magnificent philosophical treatises, prompted him to put it blatantly that it ‘provides at most an escape, but no solution.’ All these conclusions and deductions proposed by Kosambi with little supportive evidence should be critically reviewed in order to separate the wheat from the chaff.
While translating the ancient Sanskrit text into English, it is very difficult to retain the flamboyance and crisp of original Bhartrihari. Having said that, the translator did a commendable job of rediscovering Bhartrihari in modern parlance for the next generation of readers. Translating Shataka Trayam into modern English is a challenging task which the translator undertook successfully. A full page is dedicated for each verse with each page carrying six or eight lines, rarely up to ten-twelve lines, and more white space. The simple layout with less text content provides a very pleasant reading experience and enhances both the readability and legibility. If the compilation integrated the original Sanskrit verses along with the English translation, it would have been more comprehensive. It would have also helped the reader to cross-check the translated stanzas with the original verses, since umpteen versions of Shataka Trayam are available.