TRANSLATING JAYADEVA 1

translating jayadevaJayadeva

In Jayadeva's Gitagovinda, Sanskrit poetry reaches its greatest perfection, marrying sound and content beyond what is possible in European languages. Jayadeva was one of five great poets adorning the court of the last Hindu ruler in Bengal, Maharaja Laksmanasena (1175-1200), and the poem celebrates Krishna as lord of herdsmen and his wives. It was sung every year for centuries at his place of birth, and gave rise to many versions and commentaries.

The poem is in twelve parts, each a complex interweaving of hymn, narrative and song. The songs express the feelings of the characters, and are closely choreographed. Some idea of the structure can be gained by looking at Part One, which first sets the scene and follows with a three-verse invocation setting out the claims of Jayadeva and his fellow poets. Then appears the first of the 24 prabandhas (songs): an eleven-verse hymn to the ten incarnations of Vishnu, which ends with a summary of Vishnu's accomplishments. Then appears the second prabandha: again a hymn honouring Vishnu's incarnations. A following stanza asks for Krishna's blessing. The third song tells how Rádhá's friend spoke to her in the spring, and continues with eight stanzas describing Krishna dancing with the cowherdesses. The next stanza again mentions what Rádha's friend heard. The fourth song describes the women flocking to Krishna. Two stanzas of recitation follow, and the canto ends with Rádhá submitting to Krishna.

Lines end with syllable repetitions (yamakas) and repeated words in a continually varying pattern. The texture is equally varied, both simple constructions and long compounds. Despite its singing quality, the metre is complicated by classical Sanskrit measures being interwoven with measures allowing substitution of a long syllable by two short, and vice versa. {1}

Previous Translations

There have been eighteenth- and nineteenth-century translations in book form by Sir William Jones, Christian Lassen and Sir Edwin Arnold, and a good many since. {2-15} Excellent material can also be found on the Internet. {16-32}

If we look at three translations of the fourth song (Part One), we see very different approaches:

His black body sandal-bedecked, clad in yellow, begarlanded, with his earrings dancing on his cheeks as he sporteth, smiling ever, Hari here midst the band of loving maidens maketh merry in the merriment of their sport. One of the maidens claspeth Hari fast to her throbbing heart, and singeth in the high Pañcama key. Yet another doth stand deeply dreaming of the Madhusúdana's lotus face, whose sportive glances have caught and won her heart for his own. {1}

Yellow silk and wildflower garlands lie on dark sandaloiled skin
Jewel earrings dangling in play ornament his smiling cheeks.
Hari revels here as the crowd of charming girls
Revels in seducing him to play.

One cowherdess with heavy breasts embraces Hari lovingly
And celebrates him in a melody of love.
Hari revels here as the crowd of charming girls
Revels in seducing him to play.

Another simple girl, lured by his wanton quivering look,
Meditates intently on the lotus face of Madhu's killer.
Hari revels here as the crowd of charming girls
Revels in seducing him to play. {11}

He, whose sapphirine-bluish body is bedaubed with sandal paste, clad in ochry silks, and garlanded with a garland of basil leaves and flowers, and whose both cheeks are embellished by the sways of his gem-studded knobby ear-hangings, while he is romping, he that gleeful Krishna is now amidst a coterie of ravishing and coyly damsels, in a rapturous ronde...

Someone, a milkmaid, eager to ease the weightiness of her bosomy bust is cleaving to Krishna in a overarching manner, and then in a heightened octave she is singing melodiously, in tune with his fluting, hence, he that gleeful Krishna is now amidst a coterie of ravishing and coyly damsels, in a rapturous ronde...

Even someone, a meekish damsel, for being an inexpert in romancing she is helpless, but caused is the passion in her mind, by the romantic gesticulations of Krishna and even by his slanting and sliding glances of his verily flustered wide eyes, thus she at once started gazing at the beautiful lotus like face of the eliminator of demon Madhu, namely Krishna, and fixatedly contemplating on that face, thus, that gleeful Krishna is now amidst a coterie of ravishing and coyly damsels, in a rapturous ronde… {22}

The first has used a rather old-fashioned style (maidens maketh merry in the merriment, etc.) to reproduce the yamakas. The second is fairly literal (see below), though missing out 'the high Pañcama key' and making the sense clearer than is the original. The third has tried to convey all that's implied by the words, swelling out the text considerably.

Draft

We need, as always, to refer to the original: {33}

candana carcita      nIla    kalevara pIta    vasana   vana         mAlI
sandal    smeared   bluish body      yellow  clothes  abundance garland

keli   calan    maNi kuNDala maNDita gaNDa yuga smita   zAlI
sport moving jewel earring   adorned cheek  pair  smiling distinguished 1.38

Harir iha   mugdha vadhU   nikare : vilasini vilasati  keli  pare
Hari  now  artless   woman in group playful sported play at further Refrain

pIna  payodhara bhAra  bhareNa      harim  parirabhya sarAgam
large breast       burden with bearing Hari    embraced   impassioned

gopa        vadhUr anugAyati   kAcid       udañcita pañcama rAgam: Harir
herdsman woman along-sings someone elevated fifth         note      Hari 1.39

Harir iha   mugdha vadhU   nikare : vilasini vilasati  keli  pare
Hari  now  artless   woman in group playful sports   play at further Refrain

kApi                  vilAsa         vilola      vilocana khelana janita       manojam
someone even   appearance rolling     eye       play       produced mind

dhyAyati mugdha vadhUr adhikam   madhu sUdana vadana sarojam :
thought   artless   woman additional Madhu  slaying  face     lotus 1.40

Harir.
Hari

Harir iha   mugdha vadhU   nikare : vilasini vilasati  keli  pare
Hari  now  artless   woman in group playful sported play at further Refrain

One vital element is the ecstatic rhythm of the dance, which is best conveyed with an octosyllabic line. So, using assonance for yamakas:

With sandal smeared the bluish body,
garlanded, with yellow clothes.

With jewelled earrings on the cheeks,
to and fro the smiling roves. 1.38

How happily the women play.

One has pressed him to her breast,
sings in elevated key:
Hari. 1.39

How happily the women play.

Yet another, young and artless,
dreams of Krishna's rolling glances:
Hari. 1.40

How happily the women play.

Assessment

A loose translation where we have lost abundance, sport, moving, adorned, pair, distinguished, in group, fifth, face, lotus and woman. In the academic world the omissions would be censured, but we should weigh gains and losses. On the debit side, these in the original are redundant: adorned, pair, distinguished, lotus. These are missing but implied in our translation: abundance, group, moving, sport. Missed altogether is fifth, herdsman/woman and Madhu-slayer, the latter replaced by Krishna. A great loss? Not if we can work cowherdess or its like into another stanza for European readers — Indians do not need this information. On the credit side is a simple rendering that echoes the original's rhythmic complexity.

In place of yamakas we have used assonance. If we show yamakas at line-endings in red and internally in green, we have:

candana carcita   nIla    kalevara pIta  vasana   vana    Mali

keli   calan    maNi kuNDala maNDita gaNDa yuga smita   zAlI

Harir iha   mugdha vadhU   nikare : vilasini vilasati  keli  pare

pIna  payodhara bhAra  bhareNa   harim  parirabhya sarAgam

gopa   vadhUr anugAyati   kAcid    udcita pcama rAgam: Harir

Harir iha   mugdha vadhU   nikare : vilasini vilasati  keli  pare

kApi   vilAsa  vilola   vilocana khelana janita   manojam

dhyAyati mugdha vadhUr adhikam  madhu sUdana vadana sarojam : Harir.

Harir iha   mugdha vadhU   nikare : vilasini vilasati  keli  pare

The corresponding assonance in our translation is:

With sandal smeared the bluish body,
garlanded, with yellow clothes.

With jewelled earrings on the cheeks,
to and fro the smiling roves.

How happily the women play.

One has pressed him to her breast,
Sings in elevated key: Hari.

How happily the women play.

Yet another young and artless,
Dreams of Krishna's rolling glances: Hari.

How happily the women play.

Not as rich or closely woven as the original, but the same animal, as far as English allows.

There, as a first stab, I shall leave the translation for the moment, returning as time allows to see if the approach will serve for other sections. In other Sanskrit pages we have aimed for textual fidelity, but here we focus on the spirit, the rhythmic joyousness of the piece.

One Line or Two?

I have now translated the entire first part of Gita Govinda, and subsequently obtained a copy of Barbara Stolles Miller's Love Song of the Dark Lord, {34} to see how a noted translator has dealt with the problem above: should we render a single line of Sanskrit verse as one line or two? The two lines of Verse 1.38 in our example are rendered as four lines, but Verses 1.39 and 1.40 are rendered in two apiece. In fact, Miller has used the one line model in this instance, writing an extended free-verse line, but made the refrain into two lines. I did not have the Miller rendering when translating the first chapter of Gita Govinda, but simply followed my own inclinations, which were to 1. render one Sanskrit line by two English lines if the content demanded it, 2. use an octosyllabic line where possible for the songs, and a pentameter for the other sections of Gita Govinda 3. aim for a musical rendering but not consciously employ rhyme or pararhyme. The results can be seen in the rendering to date, where the above becomes:

With sandal smeared the bluish body,
garlanded, with yellow clothes.
With jewelled earrings on the cheeks,
to and fro the smiling roves.

Carelessly the women play.

Burdened there by heavy breast,
one embraces passionately.
And here another, simple herder,
sings in elevated key.

Carelessly the women play.

Yet another, young and artless,
dreams of Krishna's rolling glances.
Sees in Madhu's slayer's gaze
the beauty of a lotus face.

Carelessly the women play.

This answers some of the objections over words missed out, but there are still serious problems with the translation, as indeed with any Gita Govinda translation, which I look at in a further page on Jayadeva.

The author's full (and free) translation of Jayadeva's Gita Govinda is published in pdf format by the Ocaso Press.

References

1. A. Berriedale Keith, A History of Sanskrit Literature (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1928/1993), 190-198.
2. Exchange of Asiatic Poetry and its Commentaries. Sir William Jones. (reprinted 1986, Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi)
3. Gita govinda jayadevae poetae indici drama lyricum. Christian Lassen. (1836, Koenig et van Borcharen)
4. Gita Govinda Sir Edwin Arnold (reprinted 1990, New Humanity Books, Australia)
5. Le Gita-Govinda, pastorale de Jayadeva traduite par Gaston Courtillier (1904).
6. The Chandraloka of Shri Jayadeva. With the Rakagama commentary by S'ri Gaga Bhatta. With a foreword by Pandit Batuk Nath Sharma. Edited with introduction, etc. by Pandit Ananta Ram Shastri Vetal. (1938, Banarasa Siti).
7. Les amours de Krishna: Shr Jayadeva. Emile-Paul Frères. (1957, Edition paul-Emile, Paris)
8. The song of divine love, Gita-Govinda. Jayadeva. Duncan Greenlees. (1962, Kalakshetra Publications, Madras).
9. Gita Govinda (los amores del dios Krishna y de la pastora Radha) Fernando Tola. (1971)
10. The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva Jayadeva. Monika Varma. trans. (1974, Writers Workshop, Calcutta).
11. Love Song of the Dark Lord, Jayadeva's Gitagovinda. Barbara Stolles Miller. ed. and trans. (Princeton Univ. Press, 1977).
12.
Gita Govinda. Jayadeva. A cura di G. Bocali, saggio DI M. Yourcenar (1982, Milano)
13. In Praise of Krishna: Translation of "Gitagovinda. ISBN 8170185467. Durgadas Mukhopadhyay. Ed. and trans. (1990, BR Publishing Corporation, Delhi).
14. Gita Govinda - Los amores del rios Krishna y la pastora Rad. ISBN 8470307096 (2000)
15. Gita Govinda by Jayadeva. Jose J. Olañetaita. Ed. and trans. (2001, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid).
16. Historical Perspective of Saint Poet Sri Jayadev. Ajit Kumar Tripathy. Jan. 2004. http://orissagov.nic.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/jan2004/englishpdf/chapter4.pdf NNA.
17. Gita Govinda: a multimedia presentation. http://ignca.nic.in/video/about_gg.asf
18. Jaydev. Banglapedia. . http://banglapedia.search.com.bd/HT/J_0088.htm
19. Sex and Desire I: Sexuality in the Gitagovinda. Gerda Wever-Rabehl. Suite 101. http://anthropology.suite101.com/article.cfm/sex_and_desire_i NNA.
20. Radha in the Erotic Play of the Universe. David C. Scott. 1995. http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=146
21. Jayadeva revived deification of feminine power: Experts Excelsior article. 27. Mar 2006. http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/web1/03mar28/national.htm#4 NNA.
22. Gita Govinda: Word for Word transliteration. Desiraju Hanumanta Rao. 2003. http://www.geocities.com/giirvaani/gg/title_gg.htm NNA. Very useful, though I have generally gone back to the dictionary for the root sense.
23. Classical Indian music and literature. http://sai.aros.net/
25. Sanskrit Document Repository. http://www.granthamandira.org/details.php?image_id=195&mode=search&sessionid=d83996788cd894dc2b92fdfa69b5ec1d# NNA.
26. Sanskrit Web. Excellent resources. http://www.sanskritweb.net/index.htm NNA.
27. Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon. http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/indologie/tamil/mwd_search.html. Based on the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, with 160,000 main entries.
28. Capeller's Sanskrit Dictionary. http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/indologie/Tamil/cap_search.html. 50,000 entries, input governed by Harvard-Kyoto convention.
29. Apte Sanskrit Dictionary Search. http://aa2411s.aa.tufs.ac.jp/~tjun/sktdic/ NNA. Based on The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary of Vaman Shivaram Apte.
30. Gérard Huet's Sanskrit-French dictionary. http://pauillac.inria.fr/~huet/SKT/sanskrit.html NNA. Free to use online or download.
31. Online Sanskrit Dictionary. http://sanskrit.gde.to/dict/. Cologne University's Sanskrit dictionary, plus a good listing of others.
32. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. Charles Wikner. http://sanskrit.gde.to/learning_tutorial_wikner/index.html. Excellent guide to getting the most from the Monier-Williams dictionary.
33. Gita Govita Kavyam. http://www.ignca.nic.in/sanskrit/gita_govinda.pdf. Full text in PDF and HTML formats.
34. I have also modified reference 11 as a result: the original reference was to an unattributed rendering, and covered verses 1. 39 to 41: the best I could do at the time.

 

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