Bibek Debroy has launched himself into the arduous task of translating Mahabharata
There have been a number of English translations of Mahabharata – the greatest of the Hindu epic – by eminent scholars and erudite persons. From Rajagopalachari, K.M. Ganguly to other lesser known personalities Mahabharata has greatly influenced people's thinking and, indeed, their way of life. Joining the list of translators is Bibek Debroy, an accomplished translator and a well-known economist-cum-journalist. Which only goes to show that this mammoth discourse continues to sustain the interests of a cross section of people – ranging from academics, judges, religious scholars to serious minded economists and of course journalists who dabble in almost everything.
But is another translation relevant now? Debroy justifies saying most earlier translations have been of abridged versions but he has taken upon himself the mammoth task of translating the unabridged version – comprising close of 90000 slokas! The author points out that though there have been numerous scholarly commentaries and interpretations of the abridged versions, translations of unabridged Mahabharata have been extremely rare. Curiously three earlier well known translations have all been penned by Bengalis (Ganguly, Dutt and Lal) and that Debroy feels – himself being a Bengali – he is perhaps ‘pre-eminently suited' for the job! Indeed, judging by his knowledge and effort he is not in vain and has only spoken the truth.
That Debroy has found time to indulge in this massive exercise itself is praiseworthy and it shows in his scholarly work, part one of which has recently been released by Penguin India (Rs.550). There are several more volumes to come and one wonders how he will be able to find time to fulfil his mission.
The epic, much bigger than the venerable Ramayana, and perhaps more ancient, is not just about the routine triumph of good over evil, a pet theme of many a Bollywood movie. In fact, the author even likens Ramayana to a ‘clichéd Bollywood film' which is not the case with Mahabharata. While the condensed versions of the epic usually refer to Kouravas as bad and Pandavas as virtuous, that is hardly the truth. In fact, the text in many places has several pro-Kourava stance and even anti-Krishna stance.
The epic has plots, sub-plots and intrigues and every human emotion comes into play.
This volume deals with Adi Parva (there are in all 18 Parvas in the epic), and tells us as to how the Mahabharata came to be narrated and covers the birth of Kouravas and the Pandavas, the main bunch of characters around whom the whole discourse revolves, Draupadi's marriage and Pandavas finally gaining access to kingdom. The role of Guru Dronacharya is also dealt with in detail. Arjuna's pre-eminence and Pandavas's conquest of the world, and their banishment, will all follow in the subsequent volumes.
The first thing that appeals to one is the simplicity with which Debroy has been able to express himself and infuse the right kind of meanings. The book is an easy read and the easy un-confusing flow of words is laudable. Considering that Sanskrit is not the simplest of languages to translate a text from, Debroy exhibits his deep understanding and appreciation of the medium. For a man, who has also translated the Vedas, the Puranas, Upanishads and the Gita, such an effort only betrays his undying passion and abiding interest in the Hindu philosophy.