It used to be joked that tourist guides in Mamallapuram would elaborate on the romance between Pallava prince Mamalla and dancer Sivakami, and listeners would lap it up, because for those who had read Kalki’s ‘Sivakamiyin Sabadam’, the fictional character Sivakami seemed as real as Mamalla.

Racy read

The whispered romantic nothings of Mamalla and Sivakami, the artistic obsessions of Aayanar, the burden of duty weighing on King Mahendra’s mind, the scheming Naganandi, ingenuous Paranjothi -- Kalki wove all these into a story that was racy and yet touched an emotional chord in the reader.

For someone who has read the original umpteen times, expectations from a translation are high. While a translator might not be able to capture the flavour of the original in full, the translation should at least be a good read, even as a stand alone book, because the purpose of a translation is to get the story across to those not familiar with the language of the original.

But Nandini Vijayaraghavan’s translation of is unappealing. Literal translations, without getting into the soul of the story, result in awkward phrases and lifeless prose. Completely wrong sentence constructions add to the lack of quality in the translation.

Sample this: “Paranjothi unambiguously realised at that instant his life’s mission, just like lightning illuminating the path for a traveller who had lost his way at night.”(p202) And then again there is a sentence on page 47, which strikes you with its oddity: “I will now seek the wish I desire from you.”

The tense is often mixed up and this leads to a lack of clarity about the sequence of events.

For example, if one were not familiar with the story of Tirunavukkarasar’s conversion from Saivism to Jainism and then back to Saivism, one would not be able to make sense of the account of his conversions, (Vol I, p27) because of the confusion in tense.

In addition, there are unpalatable literal translations. For example, ‘piragu enna’ becomes “Then what?”! ‘Veerargal Munnaal vandhu’ becomes “Guards came in front of them.”!(Vol I, p155)

When “idaya parivarthanai” is translated as “bartered their hearts”, as if one were talking of a mere business transaction, all the tenderness suggested in the original is lost. The words “city police” (Vol I, p34) are incongruous in a story about the Pallavas.

Sengattankudi is repeatedly transliterated as ‘Sengattukudi.” Kaada, a measure of distance, is given as kadu. Satyasraya was a title, which both the Badami Chalukyas and Kalyani Chalukyas had. In this translation, Satyasraya is given as Satyacharya and Satyachariar.

The least a translator can do is to write correct sentences, and eschew errors in transliteration, but even this is lacking in the translation under review.

Suganthy Krishnamachari

Sivakamiyin Sabadam (Sivakami’s oath)

Volumes I and II: An English translation by Nandini Vijayaraghavan;

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