Pothana's Bhagavatham in English
Jul 26,2013 , 12:20 AM IST
Bommera Pothana's Bhagavatham is very dear to Telugu people. Pothana translated or transcreated Sanskrit Bhagavatham into Telugu in such a way that many of the beautiful poems in it are even now recited by lovers of Telugu poetry. The original Sanskrit Bhagavatham was said to have been authored by Vyasa. Vyasa is the author as well as a character in the great Hindu epic, Mahabharata. He is considered to be the author of the Vedas and supplementary texts such as the Puranas. Hindus believe that Vyasa categorized the primordial single Veda into four. Hence he came to be known as Veda Vyasa or 'splitter of the Vedas'. The word Vyasa means split.
The Bhagavatha Purana, also known as Srimad Maha Bhagavatham, is one of the 'Maha Puranic' texts of Hindu literature. Its primary focus is on bhakti (devotion) to the incarnation of Vishnu particularly 'Krishna'. The Sanskrit text comprises 12 skandas (cantos or books) and some 1800 shlokas. Like all Puranas, Bhagavata too is a product of oral tradition. The text itself credits Veda Vyasa with its authorship.
Bommera Pothana lived in a village called 'Bammera', 40 km away from the present Warangal. Literary historians are divided about the exact period in which Pothana lived. However most historians believe that he might have lived between 1450 and 1510. Dr LSR Prasad, who translated Telugu Bhagavatham into English, says, "Pothana's Andhra Bhagavatham is popularly known as Pothana Bhagavatam, is the jewel in the crown of Telugu Literature. There was a time when even illiterates in Telugunadu memorized some of Pothana's poems from Bhagavatatam.
As Prof Kovela Suprasannacharya says in his foreword, Pothana's Bhagavatam was the most popular classic in Telugu literature, recited, sung and chanted at rituals particularly on Janmastami (the birthday of Lord Krishna). Pothana was known as a Sahajakavi, a natural poet needing no teacher. His poetic style was easy, lucid, rhythmical and musical. Because of this easy flow of his verses, it was easy for readers to learn them by heart.
Dr Lanka Siva Rama Prasad, popularly known as Dr LSR, is a cardiothoracic surgeon and author of many books and essays. He is a poet, a novelist, a short story writer, an essayist, a columnist and a translator. Between 2002 and 2012, he wrote more than 35 books of different genres, including 'Sankhya Sastram' (Numerology) and 'Swapna Sastram' (Interpretation of dreams). He also translated Homer's Iliad and Odyssey for the first time into Telugu. His other translations include John Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress' Virgil's "Aeneid" and Dante's "Divine Comedy".
His translation of Shankaracharya 'Saundarya Lahari' won laurels. His translations from Telugu to English include Kovela Suprasannacharya's "Samparayamu', Ramachandramouli's 'Fire and Snow' and Ampasayya Naveen's 'Raktha Kasaaram'. He is a senior member of Indo-Asian Poetry Society. Dr Prasad undertakes difficult tasks, works hard to complete them within a stipulated time. His decision to translate Pothana's Bhagavatham into English had surprised many of his friends. As Prof Suprasanna says, "A translation of a poem of epic scale like Telugu Bhagavatham is an adventure. Normally poetry is cherished mostly by its style, vocabulary and music. To translate into English is an impossible task but Dr Prasad has done easily".
One basic quality of Pothana's verse is its rhythmic beauty and alliteration. It is easily adaptable to music. To bring this basic quality into English is almost impossible. So Dr Prasad didn't try to go for word to word translation. Dr Prasad tried to convey the basic ideas and theme in Pothana's verses. Here are some excerpts from the English version:
Book 7 of Pothana's Bhagavatham tells the story of Prahlada, the son of demon king Hiranya Kashyap. The famous poems in this book like " Mandara makaranda madhuryamuna thelu" reads in English as:
" Can any bumble bee go near Datura
Once it tastes the nectar from mandara flowers
Can any royal swan swim in surging rivers
Once it experiences its stay in the celestial Ganges
Can any cuckoo taste the leaves of polygonum
Once its savours the sprigs of sweet mango tree
Can any bartaelle chataka bird approach dense fog
Once it enjoys the full moonlight rays
The mind intoxicated with ambrosia
Reflecting the radiance of Lotus feet
How can it ponder over other frivolous thoughts
Oh highly landed one, why thousand words more".
Another famous poem in the same book 7 is: "Kamalakshu narchinchu karamulu karamulu" reads in English as:
"The hands that worship the Lotus-eyed One are the real hands
The tongue that speaks Srihari's language is the True Tongue
The looks that absorb the protector of the worlds are the right and precise eyes
The head that bows to the sleeper on the snake bed is the great head
The ears that hear Vishnu, the all-pervading one, are perfect ears
The feet that guide one to the almighty are the truthful feet
The thought that revolves around Him is the noblest thought
The day that praises the Lord of Lords is the best day
The studies that reveal the wheel holder is the true learning
The teacher who tells about the master of the earth is the real teacher
The father who bids his son to reach Hari is the perfect father".
The book 8 of Bhagavatha tells the story of Gajendra Moksham (King Elephant) and how it was saved from the clutches of a mighty crocodile. The famous poem in this canto is: "Lavokkinthayuledu". In English it reads like:
"Let my power and abilities, strength bellowed and shaken
Fortitude fickle, vital airs lost their lodgings
Faint is on its way, body tired, fatigue is overpowering me
Except You I know none ! oh God! Bless this downcast
Oh Lord of Lords! Save me, protect me, Oh propitious soul"
Another very famous poem of Pothana like "Evvaniche Janinchu" reads in English as:
"Every little bliss of this universe is designed by whom?
And in whom is it present? Absorbed in whom?
Who is that supreme Being? Who is that root cause?
The beginning, the sustenance and the end is who?
Who is the whole and the complete? In him I take my refuge"
One more poem that haunts us even today is :"Sirikincheppadu Shankha Chakrayudamun Chedoyi Sandinpadu". It is translated into English as:
"Even without informing Siri, His consort
without his weapon duo – conch and wheel
Without his retinue or his vehicle Garuda, the bird King
Without even adjusting the wavy hair falling over His face
Without leaving the Selvage of his Spouse's sari
On the enthusiasm of saving his devotee in distress"
These are some of the specimen poems of Prasad's famous translation of Pothana's Poems. We may not find the beauty of Telugu vocabulary, alliteration and musical elements of the original in English translation. But the essence of Telugu original is very well brought out.