The Genius who translated Hindu epics
(too old to reply)
and/or www.mantra.com/jai (Dr. Jai Maharaj)
2011-11-11 17:47:21 UTC
Genius who translated Indian epics

By Shashi Shekhar
The Pioneer
Monday, November 7, 2011

There are many who believe that multilingual scholar A. K. Ramanujan,
who is in the news for Delhi University's rejection of his
controversial essay on the many versions of Ramayan for undergraduate
studies, is the best translator. But one cannot ignore the massive
contribution of Manamathanatha Datta who translated virtually every
important Indian epic between the late-19th and early-20th century.

The past few weeks have seen Indian literature scholar A. K.
Ramanujan being described as India's greatest translator. While much
of Ramanujan's translations have been from literary works in Tamil,
Telugu and Kannada it would be a stretch to describe him as the
greatest translator. While the jury may be out on to who else could
be the likely candidate, a possible name is that of Manamathanatha

Little is available in the public domain of Datta's life story. Most
of his works describe him as a Rector at the Keshab Academy in
Kolkata for several years. In a review of Professor P Lal's verse by
verse translation of Mahabharat, Datta is also described as having
been a Rector at the Serampore College between 1895 and 1905. The
closest thing to a biography of Datta can be found on a German
language website on the Ramayana. The website describes his
educational background as an MA and MRAS while going on to speculate
on what was likely a marathon few decades of effort spent on

What makes Datta's candidacy to be perhaps described as India's
greatest translator is the sheer volume of translations he undertook
within his lifetime. Datta's voluminous three-part translation of
Vyas' Mahabharat and five-art translation of Valmiki's Ramayan stand
out. In addition, to Datta's credit are translations of Sayana's
Commentary of the Rg Ved, Markandeya Puran, Agni Puran, Vishnu Puran,
Garud Puran and the Bhagavatam.

It would be a mistake to conclude that Manamathanatha Datta's
translation work was limited to ancient Sanskrit texts of Vedic and
Puranic origin. In fact, Datta to his credit also authored a
translation of Mahanirvan Tantrand a book on Buddha's life, his
teachings and his order, which Datta says in the preface is based on
all extant works in Sanskrit and Pali. In the Gleanings from Indian
Classics Datta profiles the lives of eighteen historical Indian women
ranging from Rani Sanyukta to Meerabai. Other translations by Datta
include the Manu Samhita, Harivamsam, Parashar Samhita, Gautam
Samhita and Kamandakiya Nitisara. He is also described as the editor
of a monthly magazine, 'Wealth of India'.

A criticism of Datta's verse by verse translation of the Mahabharat
is the manner in which he avoids translating verses in the Adi Parva
on two occasions on account of explicitly sexual content. But for
this notable omission Datta's English translation of the epic stands
out for what a translation ought to really be about -- a dry literal
rendition that keeps interpretations to a minimum. In fact, one must
contrast Datta's translation with another body of work from the same
era by K. C. Ganguli to understand the stark distinction in which the
latter injects Victorian English and Christian metaphors into his
narrative. Beyond the criticism of Datta's omissions of sexual
content in certain verses of the Mahabharat, it appears that there
has not been much scholarly appreciation of his translations.

Most of Manamathanatha Datta's work can be accessed digitally through
the Google Books Archive and the public domain Archives website
http://archive.org . It is speculated that his translation of the
Mahabharat spanned a 10-year period between 1895 and 1905 and that of
the Ramayan a five-year period between 1889 and 1894.

The Rgved Samhita translated by him between 1906 and 1912 appears to
be incomplete for unknown reasons. It is unfortunate that not much
else is known of Datta's life beyond his memory preserved within the
mammoth body of translation he left behind more than a century ago,
that today is accessible to a wide population thanks to modern

In this age of ideologically coloured political debates on history
and ancient Indian literature there may not be much space or room for
an unsung translator like Manamathanatha Datta. His dry, literal
translations with limited interpretations don't make for anyone's
politico-ideological agenda.

But for the enlightened reader who is looking to make his or her own
interpretations, Datta's works should serve as a handy English
language reference to Vedic and Puranic age Sanskrit Literature. A
fitting tribute to him would be to undertaken the digitisation
efforts further where the original Sanskrit in Devanagiri along side
English language transliterations and translations are made available
in a web friendly hyperlinked format allowing for cross referencing
and keyword searches. Such a digital platform would take Datta's 19th
century efforts to their logical conclusion.


More at:

Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi
Om Shanti
2011-11-11 20:10:32 UTC
Would he have been banned also by the radical fringe?