TRANSLATING: BHARTRIHARI 2

translating bhartrihari 2Points Illustrated


1. Difficulties in conveying the quantitative nature of Sanskrit verse.

2. Investigate Hank Heifetz's belief that Sanskrit verse is better rendered by some free verse form, and not by restrictive iambic verse or its derivatives.

3. Breaking the long line into a 4 3 form.

Original

We start with Verse 100 of the Níti Shataka, for which M.R. Kale {1} gives the following prose translation:

A bowl to that Karman by whom Brahmá was confined in the interior of the pot-like primordial egg (there to evolve his creation) like a potter; by whom Vishnu was hurled into the very troublesome intricacy of ten incarnations; by whom Shiva has been compelled to alms, skull in hand, and in obedience to whom the sun ever roams the sky.

With this unpromising material we shall try to:

  1. devise a syllabic verse to accommodate the quantitative Sanskrit metre,

  2. convey/translate the rhythmic and melodic properties of the original, and

  3. make something approximating to poetry.

We start with the Devanagari transliteration:

brahmA yena kulAlavanniyamito brahmANDabhANDodare
viSNuryena dazAvatAragahane kSipto mahAsaMkaTe
rudro yena kapAlapANipuTake bhikSATanaM kAritaH
sUryo bhrAmyati nityameva gagane tasmai namaH karmaNe

The translation is straightforward:

text
before sandhi
dictionary entry
Monier Williams dictionary page and column no.
dictionary translation
part of speech
full translation
brahmA
brahmAH
brahma
738a
Brahma Absolute
m Nom Pl
Brahmá
yena
yena
yena
856b
by whom/which
Ind.
by which
[kulAla
kulAlaH
kulAla
296a
[potter
m
[potter
van
van
van
917b
master desire
 
master
niyamito]
niyamita
niyamita
552b
bound]
 
bound]
brahmA
brahmaH
brahma
738a
Brahma
m Nom
Brahma
ANDa
ANDa
ANDa
134a
egg testicle
n
egg
bhANDo
bhaNDa
bhaNDa
752b
pot vessel
m
pot
odare
udare
udara
184b
interior belly
n
interior
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
viSNur
viSNuH
viSNu
999a
Vishnu
m Nom Sg
Vishnu
yena
yena
yena
856b
by whom/which
Ind.
by whom
[dazA
daza
daza
471c
ten
Nom Acc
[ten
avatAra
avatAra
avatAra
99a
incarnation appearance
m
incarnation
gahane]
gahane
gahana
352
dense impenetrable inaccessible hard to understand
m n Loc. Sg
with hard to understand]
kSipto
kSipto
kSipta
329a
thrown cast
mfn
thrown
mahAsaMkaTe
mahAsaMkaTe
mahAsaMkaTa
801b
very intricate difficult
mfn Loc. Sg
in difficulty
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
rudro
rudraH
rudra
883a
Rudra Shiva
m
Shiva
yena
yena
yena
856b
by whom/which
Ind.
by whom
[kapAla
kapAla
kapAla
250b
skull bowl
n
[skull
pANipuTake]
pANipuTake
pANipuTaka
615c
in the hollow of the hand
m n Loc. Sg
in the hollow of the hand]
bhikSA
bhikSa
bhiksA
756b
act of begging
f
act of begging
TanaM
Tanam
tana
435b
offspring posterity
n Acc Sg
posterity
kAritaH
kArita
kArita
274c
cause to be done
causative of verb Nir
cause to be done
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
sUryo
sUryaH
SUrya
1243a
sun
m Nom Sg
sun
bhrAmyati
bhrAmyat
bhram
769b
wander revolve
Pres 3rd Act
wanders
nityam
nityam
nitya
547b
perpetual
m n
perpetual
eva
eva
eva
232b
just so exactly
Ind.
in this manner
gagane
 
gagana
341b
sky
n Loc. Sg
in the sky
tasmai
tasmai
tasmai
-
to him/ it
Pn 3rd Pers Dat
to him
namaH
namas
namas
528a
obeisance homage
n
homage
karmaNe
karmaNe
karmane
(258b) online
perform
3rd Sg Pres Pass
is performed

The word-for-word translation is therefore:

Brahmá by which [potter master bound] Brahma pot egg interior
Vishnu by whom with[ ten incarnation hard to understand] thrown in difficulty
Shiva by whom skull in the hollow of the hand the act of begging posterity cause to be done
sun wanders perpetual in this manner in the sky to him homage is performed

Metre

In Sanskrit verse the vowels a, i, u and R are short, but made long if followed by M or H, or by more than one consonant. All other vowels are long. We can see that the metre in this case is Bhartrihari's favourite 19 syllable ArdUlavikrIDita, {2} where the caesura comes after the twelvth syllable:

- - - x x - x - x x x - | - - x - - x -

brah mA ye na ku lA la van ni ya mi to | brah mAN Da bhAN Do da re

viS Nur ye na da zA va tA ra ga ha ne | kSip to ma hA saM ka Te


rud ro ye na ka pA la pA Ni pu Ta ke | bhik SA Ta naM kA ri taH


sUr yo bhrAm ya ti nit ya me va ga ga ne | tas mai na maH kar ma Ne

Stage One: Syllabic Verse

Our first task is to write a syllabic verse of 19 syllables, with a caesura after the twelfth syllable. We use the word-for-word renderings generated above, but the order can be somewhat free, provided the verse makes sense.

He, Brahma, absolute in his inceptions, is bound inside the potter's bowl.
In ten, hard-to-understand incarnations, Vishnu thrown in difficulty
Shiva, skull in hollow of his hand, begging of posterity to be done.
And so to him in homage the sun wanders perpetually in the sky.

Not far off: nineteen syllables, though the caesura comes after the eleventh:

He, Brah ma, ab so lute in his in cep tions | is bound in side in the pot ter's bowl 11:8
In ten, hard to un der stand in car na tions | Vish nu thrown in dif fi cul ty 11: 8
Shi va, skull in hol low of his hand beg ing | of pos te ri ty to be done 11: 8
And so to him in ho mage the sun wan ders | per pe tu al ly in the sky 11: 8

The stressed and unstressed pattern is not the ArdUlavikrIDita metre, however, or even regular:

He, Brah ma, ab so lute in his in cep tions | is bound in side the pot ter's bowl
          - - - - x x x x x - x | x - x - x - x -

In ten, hard to UN der stand in car na tions | Vish nu thrown in dif fi cul ty
          x - - x - x - x x - x | - x - x - x x x
          
Shi VA skull in hol low of his hand beg ing | of pos te ri ty to be done
          - x - x - x x x - - x | x x - xx - x -

And so to him in ho mage the sun wan ders | per pe tu al ly in the sky
          x x x - x - x x - - x | x - x x x - x -

Stage Two: Making Sense of the Original

Now we must look more closely at the sense. We have replace the second Brahma with absolute, and pot egg interior with inception and inside bowl, but the result is a long way from poetry, and the meaning still far from clear. Kale in fact says: "The shloka is faulty in many ways as regards the construction and meaning of almost every line." {3} He goes on to enumerate the ambiguities and absurdities, which we can ameliorate but not wholly escape in translation. In general, however, the themes we have to convey are:

1. The fashioning of the world, which Brahmá does as a potter with clay out of the immense vessel of the primordial egg.
2. Vishnu, who was cursed by Durvásas to undergo ten incarnations on the earth.
3. Rudra (aka Shiva) begging with skull in his hand — a somewhat unorthodox story.
4. The regularity the gods impose on the world.

In passing we also note that in difficulty is out of place: it refers to incarnation, and we would do better to employ the alternative meaning of intricate. Brahman also means growth, divine essence, eternal and self-existing — words we could consider working into our rendering more.

So, another stab at shloka 100, still keeping the nineteen syllables and now placing the caesura after the twelfth syllable:

Brahmá fashioning, as a potter a vessel, the eternal existing.
After him, Vishnu compelled to his difficult, ten intricate incarnations,
On the earth Shiva begging of posterity, holding in his hand a skull.
And so the sun wandering in homage to them, perpetually the sky.

Brah má fa shio ning, as a pot ter a ves sel | the e ter nal e xis ting
          - - - x x - x - x x - x | - x - x x - x

Af ter him Vish nu com pelled to his dif fi cult ten | in tri cate in car NA tions
          - x x - x x - x x - x x - | - x x - x - x

On the earth Shi VA beg ging of POs ter i ty | hold ing in his hand a skull
          x x - - x - x x x - x x | - x x x - x -

And so the sun wan de ring in ho mage to them | per PE tu al ly the sky
          x x x - - x x x - x x x | x - x x x x -

Stage Three: ArdUlavikrIDita Metre

Now, with that translation in front of us:

Brahmá fashioning, as a potter a vessel, the eternal existing.
After him, Vishnu compelled to his difficult, ten intricate incarnations,
On the earth Shiva begging of posterity, holding in his hand a skull.
And so the sun wandering in homage to them, perpetually the sky.

The word-for-word rendering:

Brahmá by which [potter master bound] Brahma pot egg interior
Vishnu by whom with[ ten incarnation hard to understand] thrown intricate
Shiva by whom skull in the hollow of the hand the act of begging posterity cause to be done
sun wanders perpetual in this manner in the sky to him homage is performed

and the ArdUlavikrIDita metre, we get:

Brahmá fashioning: bound, but out of the clay, life. Brahmá, divine Absolute.
Vishnu: intricate, also difficult in ten rebirths, and on this earth too.
Skull bowl begging of us, Shiva in his hand held fast the pattern in
Which sun wandering homage pays continually in motion across heaven's arc.

To the extent that stress can mimic quantity, this is accurate ArdUlavikrIDita metre:

Brah má fa shio ning bound but out of the clay life | Brah má, di vine Ab so lute
          - - - x x - x - x x x - | - - x - - x -

Vish nu in tri cate al so dif fi cult in ten | re births on this earth too
          - - - x x - x - x x x - | - - x - - x -

Skull bowl beg ging of us is Shi va in his hand | held fast the pattern in
          - - - x x - x - x x x - | - - x - - x -

which sun wan de ring ho mage pays con ti nu al ly in | mo tion ac ross hea ven's arc.
          - - - x x - x - x x x - | - - x - - x -

But as poetry, or even workmanlike verse, the piece is a total failure. All the exercise demonstrates — or suggests: readers may wish to try their hand — is that quantitative verse, particularly in complicated metres, is not easily brought over into English.

Step Four: Free Verse

Hank Heifetz is not urging a replication of Sanskrit measures, of course, but simply arguing that free verse is better placed to pick up the rhythmic nuances of the original. He is recommending contemporary American speech patterns, moreover, which means that the earlier:

Brahmá fashioning, as a potter a vessel, the eternal existing.
After him, Vishnu compelled to his difficult, ten intricate incarnations,
On the earth Shiva begging of posterity, holding in his hand a skull.
And so the sun wandering in homage to them, perpetually the sky.

will not serve. No one talks like this, or ever did, even in the ornate prose of the 17th century. We have to write something much more idiomatic:

1. Brahmá, our progenitor, was confined inside a pot;
Vishnu was ten times reborn in intricate incarnations;
Shiva begged for posterity, skull in hand for an alms bowl;
In homage the sun wanders the sky continually.

Traditional Verse

That's about the best I can do in a style common today: unobjectionable and fairly close to the prose sense. It's neat — fourteen syllables to the line — but a long way from poetry.

Bhartrihari's shloka is hardly beautiful verse, but he does more than fulfill the metre requirements. Note, for example the alliteration in br, bh and k, the assonance of line endings (long syllables shown in bold):

brah mA ye na ku lA la van ni ya mi to | brah mAN Da bhAN Do da re

viS Nur ye
na da zA va tA ra ga ha ne | kSip to ma hA saM ka Te

rud ro ye
na ka pA la pA Ni pu Ta ke | bhik SA Ta naM kA ri taH

sUr yo bhrAm
ya ti nit ya me va ga ga ne | tas mai na maH kar ma Ne

Also the alliteration through short sections: tas mai na maH kar ma Ne, etc. And the assonance across the lines in syllable 4 and 7, and again in syllable 15 and to some extent in syllable 18.

That being the case, I'd suggest that, as in the Kalidasa example, some type of formal verse would be helpful, as the original is cast in that manner, and draws on those properties for its poignant and epigramatic effects. We might therefore — contra Heifetz — start by introducting rhyme:

Brahmá the boundless, confined as potter to the clay.
Ten troublesome rebirthings Vishnu must assay,
As Shiva held out skull as begging bowl, whereby
Perpetually in homage, sun wanders through the sky.

And then, having pulled the shloka into shape this way, remove the rhyme:

Brahmá the boundless, confined as potter is to clay.
Ten troublesomesome rebirthings Vishnu had on earth.
With skull held out for bowl, Shiva begged for us:
The sun, perpetually in homage, wanders through the sky.

But no one could call these hexameters attractive, however, and they don't echo nuances in the Sanskrit verse (any more than did Hank Heifetz's free-verse renderings). The troubles are 1. the compact nature of Bhartrihari's verse, which makes it difficult to fully capture the content in a line by line translation, 2. the inflexible nature of the English hexameter, and 3. the very nature of quantitative verse, which builds larger and complex verse structures. Clearly, we can a. compress the content (the Jayadeva approach), b. expand the number of lines (the Kalidasa approach), or c. use a longer line. The next step up from the hexameter is the septenary, a somewhat ungainly measure that tends to split into 4- and 3-foot lines and is commonly employed only in the poulter's measure (alternate seven- and six-foot lines). But perhaps we should exploit that split, playing the 3-foot line against the preceding 4-foot by echoing and contrasting the content, making subtle shifts in rhythm, and using the common features of traditional English verse? Such lines will be static, not flowing together, but a good deal of non-European verse is built on such a basis. So:

Brahma is the boundless thrown
                                   as potter turns the clay;
Ten troublesome rebirthings Visnu
                                   undertook on earth;
Shiva in a begging bowl
                                   held out a skull for us;
Perpetually in homage sun
                                   goes wandering through the sky

 

Better, I would have thought. Applied to the previous Bhartrihari poem, we get something like (many variations are possible, depending on what we think the poet is really saying):

 

Half the hundred years of man
                                   is stillness of the night,
And half again but mewling and
                                   the dotage of old age.
In the interval wait illness,
                                   the death of friends, and fret,
And happiness a water bubble
                                   that passes in a breath.


Notes and References

1. M.R. Kale, The Niti and Vairagya Shatakas of Bhartrhari (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1971, 2004), 130.
2. A.B. Keith, A History of Sanskrit Literature (Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), 182, 420.
3. Kale 2004, 2001-2.

 

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