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Module 8: Indian Traditions of Translation

Lecture 2 – Indian Traditions of Translation -2


1.1: Translation: A Day-to-day Affair in India

1.2: Counterpoint to Western Perspective

1.3: Analogy of Trishanku

1.4: Translation or Transcreation?

1.5: Bhartrhari’s Sphota and Translation

1.6: Theory of Auchitya and Translation

1.7: Navalram’s Theory of Translation and Rasa

1.8: Literal Translation

1.9: A. K. Ramajujan and Translation

1.10: Sri Aurobindo’s Theory of Translation

1.5 Theory of Auchitya and Translation

Avadhesh Kumar Singh, one of the major comparatists of India, has mentioned an approach to translation which
draws on the theory of Auchitya (propriety) propounded by Ksememdra in 11 century. In his book Translation:
Its Theories and Practices (1996), says that auchitya “should mean propriety in the selection of a text for
translation, of methodology and strategy used for translation; and of placing the text in proper perspective, so that
the source writer's / text's intended, not merely articulated meaning finds its proper expression in the target text”.
S Ramakrishna builds upon the concept of auchitya in translation and relates it to the selection of a text for
translation. As is seen earlier, the exercise of translation is not free from its politics and has ideological
underpinnings. Many a time, translations are undertaken to corroborate or subvert a particular ideology.
Ramakrishna gives the example of Premchand’s translation of Anatole France’s Thais in Hindi.

However, auchitya plays an active role at times in the strategy or method of translation as well. It plays a major
role in decision-making during the act of actual translation. As noted earlier, Gideon Toury has dwelt at length
upon this in his theory of Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS). He says, a translator is a social being and thus
consciously abides by the ‘norms’ set by the society for him. He will always try not to contravene these norms
and struggle to locate his translation in the tradition of translation available in his language.
1.6 Navalram’s Theory of Translation and Rasa

The vigorous translation activity in nineteenth century introduced theoretical preoccupations of Western translator
to his Indian counterpart. In addition to this, the hegemony of Western knowledge systems in the colonial times
(and even in post-colonial era) is responsible for the preponderance of notions of equivalence and transparency
in the translations practiced today in India. A hint of this Western influence is witnessed early on in the
theorization of Gujarati writer Navalram who recommends an attitude of “an obedient servant” in his review of the
translation of a Sanskrit work into Gujarati. (Kothari, 2003) This is reminiscent of a translator’s being an intimate
reader who surrenders completely to the source text. T. R.S. Sharma writes “You need to savour the sound and
semantic values of words and to be in love with them. Surrendering to the text in this way means most of the time
being literal-for the 'spirit killeth and the letter giveth life'.”

However, the same Navalram takes an about-turn in methodology when rendering a foreign work (i.e. English) in
his mother-tongue. Somewhat in the manner of Dryden, he classified three models of translation.

(1) Shabdanusar (word to word)

(2) Arthanusar (sense to sense)
(3) Rasanusar (spirit to spirit)

Out of these three, Navalram advocates the third as the ideal method. He advises the translator to contextualize
the alien text to suit the native poetics. Rasa is an important theory of Sanskrit aesthetics given by Bharat in his
Natyashashtra to address the ultimate pleasure derived by a bhavak (reader/viewer) out of a work of art.
According to Bharat, vibhav (emotion stimulants), anubhava (physical stimulants) and vyabhichari bhava
(transitory emotions) collectively contribute to the arousal of rasa or aesthetic pleasure. Rasa is this shaping
principle of a given text and imparts it a distinction as a work of art. “To get at this Rasa, this inner rhetoricity,
working through the text and shaping it, is therefore the first requisite of a translator. When once he gets it right,
he is on the right track. Rasa would give him the overall orientation of the text.” (Sharma) In adopting rasanusar
model of translation, Navalram seems to advocate the ancient Indian theory of translation over its Western

Surprisingly, Navalram here seems to mention two contradictory approaches to translation to suit his ideological
convenience. However, the same convenience has informed some theories of post-colonial translation. Theorists
like Tejaswini Niranjana advocate literalness in the act of translation as a tool to assert post-colonial agenda.
However, such a stand has been contended by quite a few Indian translators and very eminent at that. Given
below is the account of theory of translation espoused by various twentieth century Indian translators.

1.7 Literal Translation

The apparent predilection of the ancient Indian translator for adaptation or appropriation over what Tejaswini
Niranjana calls literal translation or what Sanskrit scholars called chhaya (shadow) or verbatim translation, if
absorbed by modern-day translator rendering Indian regional literature into English, should not be miscalculated
as an obsequious rubbishing of post-colonial agenda of resistance and transformation. Though the medieval
Indian view was primarily to produce a reader-friendly translation, it was never at the cost of what Popovic
identifies as “the invariant core” i.e. stable, basic and constant semantic features of a text, as well as specific
cultural and historical signifiers embedded in the source text because the fundamental motivation behind
undertaking the translation was to be able to understand and enjoy the original rather than to efface it in the
interest of an altogether new work. Niranjana’s radical aesthetic of post-colonial translation draws on Walter
Benjamin and Derrida’s theories of translation which were suitably and exclusively applicable to translation
between connate European languages. Benjamin’s view on the place and role of the reader in the process of
translation borders on cynicism when he posits in “The Task of the Translator” (1969) a typically essentialist
formulation along which he discredits the consideration of reader in the appreciation of a work of art as
hopelessly unproductive and simplistic. Furthermore, more often than not, he observes that it is the original that
houses “the laws governing the translation” and thus translatability of a given text does not so much depend on
extra-textual factors like the nature of relationship between two languages, translator’s bilingual skills and most
importantly the interest and expectations of the readers from the translation as it does on some abstract code
inherent in the text in the form of a “pure language”. He argues, “A real translation is transparent; it does not
cover the original, does not block its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium,
to shine upon the original all the more fully. This may be achieved, above all, by a literal rendering of syntax
which proves words rather than sentences to be primary element of the translator. For if the sentence is the wall
before the language of the original, literalness is the arcade.”

1.8 A. K. Ramanujan and Translation

A. K. Ramanujan, an eminent Indian English poet and a conscientious prolific translator, countered Benjamin’s
position by calling it wholly unsuitable to translation between Indian regional language like Tamil and English
which are far-flung in terms of space and time. He held a unyielding conviction that though a translator
unavoidably shares a relationship of subjectivity with the author of the original, a subjectivity that might oblige him
to the Italian accusation traditore, traduttore (ie. translator is a traitor), he might find a way out of this wild rumour
by pledging conflicting, yet thorough, allegiance to the reader of the translation, the culture and historical context
of the original. Being an ardent supporter of reader’s response theory, Ramanujan firmly believed that the ‘real’ or
‘imagined’ reader of the translated text actively partakes in the process of translation heavily influencing the
decisions made by the translator. The reader’s expectation from the translator, according to him, ranges from
metaphrastic and formal loyalty to the source-text, accuracy in the representation of the language, culture, history
and tradition of the original to finally translation’s subjective claim to being a creative artifact in its own right. While
the translator can satisfy the demands of verbal faithfulness and poetic pleasure when he or she negotiates the
difficulties of metaphrase, the search for inner and outer forms, and the intrusion of poetic desire and subjectivity
that create a tension between representation and appropriation, he or she can fulfill the norm of pedagogic utility
only by stepping beyond the immediate constraints of textual transmission and invoking his or her allegiance to a
phenomenon that stands outside the text and beyond its reader in translation. (Dharwadkar, 2000) The
phenomenon resistant to the boundaries of textual narrative refers to the distinctive elements of culture in which a
source text is embedded and which unmistakably intertwine with an existing web of intertextuality invoked
metonymically by it. Understandably, all the intricate network of such metonymies, unable to be carried over in its
entirety in the textual fabric of the target text, spills over in extra-textual sites in the form of introductions,
glossaries, notes and footnotes, afterwords, and commentaries. This is what Ramanujan means by his strategy
of translating non-native reader into a native one. He goes on to elaborate his position in considerable detail in
The Interior Landscape (1967), “The translations and the afterword (which some readers may prefer to read first)
are two parts of one effort. The effort is to try and make a non-Tamil reader experience in English something of
what a native experiences when he reads a classical Tamil poem.” On a note of utmost caution, it is to be borne
in mind that Ramanujan’s translational aesthetics and ethics ought not to be confused with Nida’s principle of
equivalent effect as both perhaps represent the polar extremes of quality and beauty of the translation.
Ramanujan effort, when he rendered classical Tamil verse into English, was singularly focused on the optimum
translocation of the rich native tradition and historical climate in which the verses were ensconced. In doing so
with the help of translations and paratextual discourse surrounding them, a translator enters into a huge network
of intertexuality covering expressions in diverse genres, media, and methods across a huge stretch of time and
space. The goal of every painstaking translator should ideally be to accomplish a carryover of heterotopias of
time and space in his translation and juxtapose it with creative metamorphosis of aesthetic and textual
dimensions that he has brought about to impart a unique identity to his finished product. In a way, Ramanujan’s
ambitious theory of translation evolves out of tenets of the ancient Indian school of translation and a judicious
negation of hyper-radicality inherent in certain post-colonial approaches.

1.9 Sri Aurobindo’s Theory of Translation

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was a nationalist, poet, philosopher, yogi and a translator all neatly rolled into one. His
insights into the act of translation are expounded in his essays “On Translating Kalidasa”, “On Translating the
Bhagavad Gita”, “On Translating the Upanishads”, “Freedom in Translation”, “Importance of Turn of Language in
Translation”, “Translation of Prose into Poetry” and “Remarks on Bengali Translations”. In his essay The
interpretation of Scripture, Aurobindo has mentioned three levels of a complex cognitive exercise through which a
human being interprets a text i.e. nama (name), rupa (form of meaning) and swarupa (essential figure of truth).
He further juxtaposes these three levels of the text with the three levels of consciousness found in humans i.e.
superconscience, mind and subconscience. In the light of this view of Sri Aurobindo, it can be said that a text can
be analysed linguistically and intellectually at the two levels of word and its form of meaning, but at the highest
level, the analysis can be done only intuitively and perhaps at this level, the actual translation takes place.
(Gopinathan) In his essay, “On Translating Kalidasa”, Aurobindo expects a spiritual evolution in translator to get
at the highest level of meaning. He says, even after the translator has decided on the right form for his text,
“…there will naturally be no success unless the mind of the translator has sufficient kinship, sufficient points of
spiritual and emotional contact and a sufficient basis of common poetical powers not only to enter into but to
render the spiritual temperament and the mood of that temperament…”.

At closer analysis, one finds that though based in the realm of cognitive psychology and mysticism, Aurobindo’s
theory doesn’t go much beyond prescriptions for being a good translator / translation.

References :

Bassnett, Susan and Trivedi, Harish. “Introduction: of colonies, cannibals and vernaculars” in Bassnett et al (eds)
Post-colonial Translation, Routledge: London and New York, 2000, pp. 1-18

Choudhury, Indranath. “Towards an Indian theory of Translation”, Indian Literature 259, 2010, pp.113-123

Derrida, Jacques. Positions, (trns) by Alan Bass, Univeristy of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981, p.33

Devy, G. N. “Translation Theory: An Indian Perspective” in In Another Tongue: Essays on Indian English
Literature. 1993. Madras: Macmillan, 1995, pp.134-152.

Devy, Ganesh. “Translation and Literary History: An Indian View” in Bassnett and Trivesi (eds) Post-colonial
Translation, Routledge: London and New York, 2000. pp. 182-187.

Dharwadker, Vinay. “A. K. Ramanujan’s Theory and Practice of Translation”, Post-Colonial Translation: Theory
and Practice. Eds. Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi. London: Routledge, 1999: 114 – 140

Gentzler, Edwin. “Deconstruction” in Contemporary Translation Theories. Routledge, London, 1993. pp. 144-180.
Gopinathan, G. “Translation, Transcreation and Culture: The Evolving Theories of Translation in Hindi and other
Modern Indian Languages”. http://www.soas.ac.uk/literatures/satranslations/Gopin.pdf

Poonal Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomeusz (eds.) India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and
Performance, University Of Delaware Press (2005)

Spivak, G.C. “The Politics of Translation” in her Outside the Teaching Machine, Routledge, New York, 1993, pp.

Sri Aurobindo. “On Translating Kalidasa”. http://www.aurobindo.ru/workings/sa/03/0028_e.htm


1. What is the primary distinction between the Eastern and Western theories of translation? Which model
is more suitable to Indian condition? Justify you stand with reasons.
2. Make a comparative study of Sri Aurobindo’s theory of translation with that of A. K. Ramanujan. Enlist
the similarities and differences obtaining thereof.

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