Dialogue  January-March, 2011, Volume 12 No. 3


Vaada-Anuvaada-Samvaada: Translation as an                             Inter/IntraCultural  Action in the Indian Contexts**                       

Sudhir Kumar*


Vaada: Anuvaada: Samvaada In Indian Contexts:

In any social and cultural context, call it Indian ,  global  or what you will, anuvaada or translation may be considered as  an inter- as  well as intra-cultural action involving the agency of existing networks of (political)  power that largely  mediates the transfer or carrying across of the singnified (artha) from one language system (source language) to another (target language). The purpose of the  present essay is  to critically examine the process of anuvada or translation as a form of cultural action (sanskritik karma) in the Indian/global contexts in which through ‘anuvada’ a connecting cultural link is established between discourse or vaada and dialogue or samvada both intra- and inter-culturally. One may conveniently understand how the Indologist, the Orientalist, the colonialist and the so-called post-colonialist trajectories of translational politics were the different processes of the above-mentioned inter-cultural/intra-cultural  transfer of “arthas or meanings” called “anuvada or translation” that necessitates a proper understanding of the political and economic  power-structures that supervise (d) and regulate (d) the  translational projects.

We may begin with the analysis of some of the basic terms of reference here:  the process of anuvaada presupposes the existence or prevalence of vaada (discourse) first. Generally speaking, any text available to a translator (anuvadaka) in the source language may be called vaada which is to be transferred to the target language in which it will be called a “anuvaadit or translated text” and this process may be  called “anuvada or translation”. But the point is that neither the text-for-translation nor the translator as a human agent nor even the translation-process exists or can exist in a cultural– political vacuum. Etymologically, vaada comes from Sanskrit root ‘vad1 that stands for:- to say, to  speak, to utter, to tell, to report, to speak to, to address, to adjudicate, to adjudge, to indicate, to proclaim, to announce, to foretell, to allege, to affirm, to raise the voice, to utter a cry, to mention, to communicate, to name, to dispute about, to contend, to lay claim to, to cause to speak, to make much ado about oneself, to recite, to rehearse,, to desire to speak, etc.2 Suffice to say here that in Indian tradition, the root of translation or anuvada, that is “vada”  is loaded with meanings that largely cover most of the  aspects of communication (oral or written) between, at least, two or even many cultures or subjects  in which “bhasha or language” plays an important part .

From “vada” emerges “vaada” that  signifies, inter alia, :- to speak about, to cause to sound, speech, discourse, talk, utterance, statement, to mention, a thesis, a proposition, an argument, a doctrine, a discussion, a controversy, a contest, a quarrel, an agreement, a demonstrated conclusion, a result, an accusation, an exposition, a report, a rumour, etc., ( MW, pp. 939-40).

Thus, in the Indian tradition, the transformation of “vada’ into “vaada” does not only refer to the semantic or shaabdik change, it also obviously connotes the possible transmutation of human statements, discourses, conversations and all modes of oral/written/aesthetic communications into some crystallized forms of what  is today called “ism” or “ ideology” or “rhetoric”, or “discourse in the Foucauldian sense, or a kind of “poorvagraha or bias” or even a vivada or controversy. This is in sharp contrast to the etymological journey of the word-”translation” – the Indo-European root (ter3) of which suggests only the process of “carrying or crossing over” of meaning from one domain to another. The lexical meaning of “translation” may also suggest the repetition or imitation of meaning in another target language. But the kind of subtle semantic, semiotic, cultural and political implications suggested in vada and its cognate vaada in the Indian contexts , are conspicuous in the etymological make-up of “translation” in the western/English tradition.

From “vaada” arises “anuvaada” with the addition of prefix-  "anu” (after, along, near to, under, with etc.,). Now anuvaada (MW, pp. 939-40), in the Indian tradition, has  certain startling significations which are absent in the entire ecology of the word “translation” itself. Anuvaada refers to “saying after or again, repeating by way of explanation, reiteration with corroboration,   explanation with illustration, explanatory reference to something already said, slander or reviling”.

Analyzed thus, anuvada involves the transfer of meaning  from one source language to another target language or the repetition or re-statement or re-placement of a  statement or an utterance in other words in any intra-cultural or inter-cultural /multi-cultural contexts.

Thus, the possibility of an event of samvaada (dialogue or conversation) between two subjects or cultures necessitates an enactment of anuvada – a process which involves the  interplay of various social, cultural, political and economic  forces that are  at times hidden in the semantic and semiotic commerce taking place between the “source” culture/language and the “target” culture/language. This samvaada may also result after or even before a vivada                         (controversy) or even give rise to prativada (counter-discourse) in the interface/ encounter  between two or more cultural communities. Thus, a culturally vibrant space (a family, or a group, a society, a nation-state or a region), specially in the contexts of multiculturalism and massive influx of populations in the wake of globalization,is marked by the recurrence of such cultural actions as vaada, anuvaada, vivada, prativaada and samvaada at all times.

It is worthwhile to mention here that the apparently innocent usage of such adjectives as “source” and “target” in defining the process of translation as an “action” and “event” seems to be demonstrably grounded in the epistemology/vocabulary of war-mongering in the western traditions.

The point is that in the existing critical theories/frameworks being used in the “teaching machines” in the departments of literary /cultural studies situated in India, the very absence of Indian perspectives/theories is a standard practice. Similarly, in the field of translation-theories, no effort is made to postulate and study the Indian perspectives on anuvada - ruling out the possibility of a constructive and equal samvaada (dialogue) between Indian and Euro-American or even other theories of translation.  It is only through this enabling and constructive inter-cultural dialogue with other knowledge-traditions that the Indian intellectuals can attain a sort of “ mental decolonization” in the face of oppressive dominance of Euro-Americo-centric theories in the departments of literary/cultural studies in India. Ironically enough, now we can no longer blame any “colonizing power” for our prevailing pitiable self-generated intellectual and cultural amnesia. We have no choice but to engage with the theoretical tools available in our own languages/ traditions through anuvaada and samvaada in order to understand “who we are” and talk to others in the world  with self-respect and confidence. Understanding the dynamics of anuvaada as a cultural action is a pre-condition  to understand the “meanings of India”- given our multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious contexts.

The second part of the essay deals with the proposition that the process of anuvaada is also grounded in the poetics of purushartha (four cardinal principles of life) – the representation of which is performed through either writing or translating a literary text.

Anuvaada and Poetics of Purushartha: Shabda, Artha, Purushartha:

Shri Ramesh Chandra Shah is one of those eminent writers in contemporary Hindi literature whose oeuvre including  novels, poetry, criticism, and non-fictional prose works underlines a unique feature of  Indic culture in which  the coordinates of Saundarya and Sahitya  (the Aesthetic and the Literary) have always been grounded in the purusharthas, (that is, the four cardinal principles of life- namely- dharma or the moral/ethical duty, artha or the creation of wealth/political economy, kama or desire and moksha or spiritual liberation- subsuming  social, cultural, economic and political freedoms). One may fairly easily quote either Bharatamuni (Natyashastra) or Bhartrihari (6TH Century A.D.-Shatakatriyam) or Mammata (Kavyaprakash) or Acharya Vishwanath (Sahityadarpana) to see that the objectives of art/literature and those of human life are identical in as much as art as well as human existence is only a means to attain true freedom or moksha through the ethically-oriented (dharma-sapeksha, not nirapeksha) performance of  kama (desire) and artha (pursuit of wealth and power). Likewise, the poetics of Premchand and Muktibodh is also rooted in an integrated vision of life in which representations in art or literature are tied to the inseparable dyad of aesthetics and ethics-in-action. Needless to say, let us save sahitya or literature from the onslaught of so-called specialized theory that reduces and reifies a literary text as an object of esoteric conversation that involves a few specialists-insulated from the larger civilizational-social concerns. By locating a sahityik-kriti (a literary text) on the purushartha-axis, a reader may well rediscover in it newer and newer significations pertaining to sanskriti (culture), samaj (society), dharma (ethical conduct), artha (political economy), kama (desire) and moksha (liberation).

In other words, all kinds of representations in arts and literatures should help us attain true ananda (aesthetic bliss) by highlighting the significance of  the pursuit of dharma (moral–ethical conduct), artha     ( power and wealth) and kama (desire) for the realization of true liberation (moksha). So much so that Bhartrihari, the sage-poet castigates those who live out their existence without any  “taste for music, art or poetry”. Ramesh Chandra Shah aptly translates the sage-poet thus:-

“Men with no taste for music, verse or art/Like beasts in jungles play their senseless part./Save horn and tail and herbage as repast/ Their lot’s in every respect with them cast.”(p.27).

One is immediately reminded of how Matthew Arnold (Culture and Anarchy) in his (in)famous notions of the Barbarians and the Philistines, in respect of the “modernity” of the dominant British culture, echoes Bhartrihari. Driven by the (post-)modern ideas of a highly secularized life-world hemmed in from all sides by the spectacles of techno-modernity and media-manufactured images, the (post-)modern human may end up  being reduced to sakshatpashupucchavishanahinah (a true beast-human without horn and tail). That’s why T.S. Eliot, like Gandhi, lamented the loss of the spiritual (which he calls the supernatural in the following quote) in modern, secular civilization of the west:-

“What I do wish to affirm is that the whole of modern literature is corrupted by what I call secularism, that is simply unaware of, simply cannot understand the meaning of the primacy of the supernatural over the natural life; of something which I assume to be of our primary concern.” (Selected Prose of T.S.Eliot, London, Faber & Faber, 1975, pp.104-105).

Even the so-called postmodernist Salman Rushdie seems to be in agreement with  the so-called modernist Eliot on this point. In his recent interview published in The Hindu (“Literary Review” 4 July 2010, pp.1-2)- Religion and the imagination, he writes:-

“But when I’m writing books, something weird happens. And the result is that these books clearly do contain a large amount of what you would call supernaturalism. And I find that as a writer, I need that in order to explain the world I am writing about.”

Vis-à-vis western modern, secularized literature, the entire range of Bharatiya sahitya together with its aesthetics derives its sustenance from the spiritual/ethical/ mythical/magical /supernatural aspects of life–  which Eliot and Rushdie both fondly call the supernatural. Eliot would have agreed with the following observation made by Anamika, the contemporary Hindi poet-novelist-critic) on the characteristic features of Indic civilization that have always inspired the writers and artists in India:

“We have a unique composite culture, a unique moral geography of our own where gods and ghosts, animals and birds, the flora and the fauna, even the tiniest insects live together in a strange amity… Despite caste and class divides, supernatural and human elements here emerge as one family. (from Anamika’s “Interview”, June1, 2006, Poetry and the Good Girl Syndrome, Poetry International Web).

In this way, a true sahitya (union/harmony/solidarity/togetherness) between the secular and the sacred, which are inseparable in Indian traditions, is a remarkable feature of Indian sahitya (literature). Therefore, an Indian writer at any point of history, never seems to be self-consciously striving, like so many so-called post-modern writers today, for  the tricks of “magical realism”- as the “real”/the surreal ,the magical/the mythical , the temporal/the eternal always  are blended  in her/his creative imagination or kalpana.

Similarly, Ramesh Chandra Shah, commenting on the non-dualistic (advaitic) poetics that characterizes the form and content of Bhartrihri’s Shatakatriyam,  rightly says:

“This is something, which could not have happened if the poet had not had a direct, unmediated experience of oneness with the  Universal spirit where all dualities- even the duality of Man and woman- dissolve and disappear”. (“Preface” to Thus Spoke Bhartrihari, Ramesh Chandra Shah, p.11).

Even Muktibodh, the avant-garde Hindi poet-critic concurs with Ramesh Chandra Shah’s views on the significance of the “value-based” literature/art:- "By “the literature of the people” is meant  a  kind of literature that establishes the values and ideals of and for the people and inspires them to follow the path of mukti or liberation. This “liberation” includes the political freedom  and the freedom from ignorance also.”4

The structural poetics of Bhartrihari’s work is advaitic (non-dualistic) in as much as it integrates the four purusharthas in the textual space. Thus, the verses on the right or proper kind of  niti (that means  conduct, behavior, management, policy, strategy, political economy, suitability, plan, political wisdom etc.) to be adopted and practiced by human beings  for attaining worldly success and fame lead  the reader to the verses on the analysis of the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh that  underlines an important aspect of human life. Thus, “Nitishataka” (one hundred verses on the ethical conduct) and “Shringarashataka (one hundred verses on the pleasures of the flesh) foreground the three purusharthas, namely, dharma, artha and kama (or trivarga) whereas the section on Vairagyashataka (one hundred verses on the gradual withdrawal from life leading to renunciation) focuses on the fourth purushartha, that is , the realization of liberation or moksha (or the spiritual pursuit).

Similarly, anuvada or translation is also an act of propagating/disseminating or carrying across (etymological meaning of translation) “artha” (or meanings) from one culture to another. In Indic aesthetic traditions, arthas or meanings present in the  field or space of a text or its translated text are always anchored in the ever desirable four purusharthas of human existence. Hence, anuvada as a cultural-ethical project fortifies the above-mentioned four cardinal values/principles of human life. One may, however, add that anuvada always emerges and emanates from vada or discourse- both etymologically and epistemologically. If the samvada or dialogue between two cultures is determined by the discourses or vada  of caste, class, race, gender, colonialism, slavery etc., the resultant anuvada will inevitably carry the traces of the dominant/ master discourse or vada. The Saidean narrative of Orientalism (1978) is an example of this kind of vada-anuvada-samvada happening between the colonizing and the colonized cultures.

Even an eminent poet-critic Anamika in her poem “Translation” reinforces the notion of translation as an ethical action whereby the poet-narrator justifies her existence:- "I translate this space/ not as ‘breathing space’/ but ‘outer space’/ because I sent my flying saucers out”. (Anamika, -Poetry International Web).

Applying Anamika’s above-mentioned notion of translation as a metaphor of transferring the meaning from the inner to the outer cultural spaces of life to Ramesh Chandra Shah’s translational poetics, one may say that  Ramesh Chandra Shah through his translation of Bhartrihari’s immortal work carries across or communicates the meanings of Bhartrihari’s text from the inner “breathing space” available to an insider of the Indic tradition to the outer space available to an insider of the English or western tradition. Suffice it to say that the insider/outsider positions are only relative and mutually transferable, and therefore, translatable. This process of anuvada happening between two subcultures within one culture or between two different cultures may rightly be termed as sahitya (harmonious co-existence, togetherness) between the Sanskrit and the English languages.

Purushartha in Bhartrihari’s Poetics:

According to Ramesh Chandra Shah, Bhartrihari as a poet “must have known the extremes of pain and pleasure, displeasure and exultation, sophistry and conviction, indulgence and detachment…..he must have seen it all: the unabashed voluptuary, the remorseful  moralist and the exultant ascetic — all did inhabit the self-same body and did share the same mechanism of sensibility” (Preface, p.10):-

“Enough of empty logic: I have found/Two goods in life: — either in amorous moods/With carnal pleasures let thy bed abound/Or seek the Peace of jungle solitudes.” (Shringarashataka, p.51)

Bhartrihari presents vada (discourse) and prativada (counter-discourse) in the lovable ambivalence:-

“Pursuit of pleasures only ends in pain,/ Still do our bodies pamper we with zest./They curse the flesh all day, but then again/Voluptuous passions sway their feeble breast.” (p.51)

Ramesh Chandra Shah through his anuvada brings out how well Bhartrihari “deconstructs” the image of woman as abala or weaker sex  in a humorous manner:- "Poets who say—women are weaker sex/Are either fools; or willfully obtuse./The wiles that even in trance a yogi vex/No masculine strength can resist or refuse.” (Shringarashataka, p.53)

Niti or nripaniti (the political/economic strategies of the ruling power) may be disguised in all kinds of hypocritical forms to win over the masses:- “How diplomacy can itself disguise/In many shapes e’en as a harlot does it can be true or false, foolish or wise./Selfish or generous, sweet or venomous.”(Nitishataka, p.37).

Long long ago in India , when there was no possibility of either Marx or his “ism”, it was Bhartrihari who underlined the political economy of the rich and powerful in his Nitishataka:- “He who has wealth, his shall it be to win/The glamours of high birth and learning’s weight./All sorts of virtues strive to dwell within/ The man of gold and not of spirit great.” (p.33). This may well explain how the multinational corporations  at present hegemonize the so-called sovereign under-developed nation-states and justify the ways of exploiting their resources. Bhartrihari seems to roundly criticize the intellectual impostors of today who  may display the  loads of learning without any trace of ethics. These impostors must be shunned by all:- “Avoid the polished man of heart deformed/Immersed though he in depth of learning be./ We meet some snakes with jewel-embellished head/Does it then mean- they are from poison free?” (Nitishataka, p.27). Bhartrihari  exposes the fickleness of those who are obsessed with the gratifaication of lust:- "The lady whom I always contemplate/ Has given her secret love to another man;/ And lo! He on another lass does wait./ Curse be on Cupid, myself, her, the man.”( Nitishataka, p.21). Ramesh Chandra Shah ably brings out  in his angrezi-anuvada the evocativeness of Bhartrihari’s epigrammatic utterances  on the division of humans on  scale of goodness/villainy, choosing right words in right order:-

“Selfless souls who live for others are of this wide earth the cream, /Those regarding self, still doing good to others next thou deem, / Monsters they, who ruin their fellow  out of motive self centred; / What shall we but call the motiveless villain of crimes  abhorred!” (Nitishataka, p. 43). Thus the humans, on the basis of their conduct, can universally be categorized as satpurushas (good humans), samanya purushas (ordinary people), manava-rakshasas (human-monsters) and the unmentionably wicked humans.

In Bhartrihari’s Vairagyashataka  - verses  the sublimation of sexual passion has been hailed as a necessary condition for the attainment of true knowledge and vairagya (renunciation) in his Nitishataka and Vairagyashataka. Shah beautifully translates the verse:-

“The joy companionship of women brings/ End in despair and disillusionment./Self-knowledge is the only certain good/Leading to calm of mind, all passion spent” (Vairagyashataka, p.99).

The sensual should give way to the spiritual- only then the human beings may experience the Shanta. A Yogi (integrated human) has a remarkable equanimity and equipoise of mind and heart:-” The Yogi walked; they started and beheld; /All sorts of idle sneers on him hurled;/ All this he heard and smiled and heeded not./ He —  master of himself and all this world.” (Vairagyashataka, p.91). The heady yet consumptive spell of “desires” is well recognized by the saint-poet in this oft-quoted verse- “Bhogo na bhukta vayameva bhukta…” which appears equally telling in Ramesh Chandra Shah’s  excellent anuvada:- “The spring of Life knows dying not a bit/ But we are too worn-out to taste of it./ Time hath killed us, nor we it, as we thought/ Life dwindles; but Desire!—Not a whit.” (Vairagyashataka, p. 77). Lost in the ways of the world, the human beings fail to see the divine spark in life:-” Drunk with Delusion’s ever-tempting wine/We mortals fail to see the spark divine./Caught in the vicious whirl of nights and days /never stops to think of its decline.” (Vairagyashataka, p.75).

Upasamhara or Conclusion:  Anuvada as an Intercultural Activity

When published first in Yojana and The Aryan Path, Ramesh Chandra Shah’s anuvada of Bhartrihari’s timeless verses won admiration from a fastidious Sardar Khushwant Singh, the editor of Yojana and even more fastidious Sophia Wadia, the editor of The Aryan Path. Ramesh Chandra Shah does not translate the text literally as was done earlier by such pastmasters as B. Hale (Londone, 1886), C.H. Tawney, Sri Aurobindo, Barbara Stoler Miller (1988) and Dharnidhar Sahu (2004). His anuvada is less of an anukriti (copy) and more of a samvada (creative dialogue) with the original text. Thus through his creative anuvada, Ramesh Chandra Shah succeeds in establishing a constructive samvada or dialogue between two languages cultures.  Contrary to AK.Ramanujan’s much quoted comment on translation as cultural action5, Ramesh Chandra Shah makes an honest attempt to translate the native cultural vada or discourse of “purushartha” (cardinal principles of life) into  the non-native language culture. In the process, he also manages to “Sanskritize” (in the sense of giving it a new sanskara or impression) the English language.


     1  See Sanskrit-Hindi Kosha, ed. Vamana Shivarama Apte, Delhi, Motilal Banarasi Das, 1997, pp. 893-94. Subsequently referred to as Apte in the text with page numbers in parentheses.
     2  See Monier Monier Williams (Ed), A Sanskrit English Dictionary, Delhi, Motilal Banarasi Das, 2002 (F.P.1899),p.916. Subsequently cited in the essay as MW with page numbers in parentheses.
     3  See The New Book of Knowledge, Vol. II, Massachusetts, Houghton Mifflin Company,1981, p. 1545-46. Subsequently cited in the essay as TNBOK with page numbers in parentheses.
     4  “Janata Ka Sahity Kise Kahate Hain?”, Muktibodh Rachananvali, Volume 1, (Ed. Nemichand Jain) New Delhi,Rajkamal,1998, p.76.
     5  AK.Ramanujan in his “Translator’s Note” added to his translation of U.R.Anantha Murthy’s Samskara, says :- “A translator hopes not only to translate a text, but hopes ( against all odds) to translate a non-native reader into a native one.” (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004). Ironically enough, what Ramanujan forgets is the fact that it is not the non-native reader who becomes a native reader through anuvada, the non-native only co-opts the translated text into her/his own already existing (often) dominant cultural fold. The non-native (often a European/American) reader reads/interprets the translated text through the translated signifiers peculiar to her/his own culture. Paradoxically, the cultural conversion of a native reader into a non-native one through translation is the established fact of colonialism and postcolonialism! To illustrate the argument further, it may be asked how many non-native English or European- readers learned Kannada or other Indian languages as translated native readers! Ramesh Chandra Shah’s anuvada, like most of  other  acts of translations from Indian into western languages, makes a bilingual native reader an outside critical observer of her/his own cultural productions .

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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