Poet Bharati’s classic Panchali Sabatham gets translated into English as Panchali’s Pledge

On the 130th birth anniversary of Subramanya Bharati, Panchali’s Pledge — an English language translation of the poet’s classic Panchali Sabatham — by Usha Rajagopalan was launched by the Chennai Chapter of the Association of British Scholars (ABS).

The book attempts to translate the many poems that culminate in Panchali’s pledge when she was disrobed at the Kaurava court. “I grew up listening to Bharati’s songs in films and kutcheries, and always went into a trance. I couldn’t understand the songs, and I decided I would learn enough Tamil to translate this book into English,” says the author. “I had earlier translated a few of Bharati’s poems. I began with four or five that I really liked, and as I dug deeper, I discovered more gems. Then, for a few years, I was obsessed with Bharati. The translations of 52 of his select poems were published as a book a while ago.”

Panchali’s Pledge keeps shifting between the two main characters, says Usha. “Most parts of the book are about Duryodhana, even though its essence is Panchali. When Duryodhana is vocal, Draupadi is nowhere in the picture, and the other way around. But this book is for not just people who don’t know the source language, but also for those who do. I has taken me eight years to finish this book,” she says.

A timeless classic

The author’s biggest challenge was to not stray from the original composition. “When we launched it during the Bharathi festival, people who had read the book told me there were parts that fit the original exactly. There cannot be a bigger compliment,” says Usha. “Bharati is a classic and he will live as long as his characters remain poignant in society.”

Translation becomes necessary as society evolves, she says. “Even though Bharati wrote his poems for the common man, his writing has now become difficult because language and people have evolved over time. With my other book, I had a neighbour who was a Tamil writer and who helped me analyse the poems. But for this book I had to read a lot, analyse the poems, meet his granddaughter and bring about my translation. It took time to understand some of his more abstract poems.”

(Panchali’s Pledge is available at leading bookstores for Rs. 350)