Friday, January 25, 2013

Mahabharata Vol.6 - A Note on the Footnotes

A Note on the Footnotes

To say that I like **this** particular series among the translations of the Mahabharata would not be wholly accurate, since this is only the first complete translation of the Mahabharata that I am reading, though I have read excerpts from Kisari Mohan Ganguly and am also reading Ashok Banker's Forest of Stories, part one in a dramatized retelling of the Mahabharata. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Bibek Debroy's series are the footnotes that appear on almost every page. In some cases they serve to identify characters in the narration that may not be apparent because of the use of pronouns in the shlokas. For instance, where the translation states, "He was severely wounded...", the footnote clarifies this to be "Dhrishtadyumna". To refer to the person by name may not be accurate, since the Critical Edition's text may itself be using the pronoun, and therefore to substitute it for the proper name would not be, err, proper.

In other cases, when a word in the translation appears as "rakshasas", a footnote clarifies that the "The text uses the word kshanadachara, which means a walker of the night."

"With all our soldiers, we are now being submerged in this trifle that is Drona's son." [Ch 170, Drona Parva] The footnote states "text uses the word goshpada: This literally means the mark of a cow's foot in the soil and the small puddle of water that fills up such a mark, that is, a trifle."

In some cases, the footnote serves to clarify a point that is meant more to be inferred from the Critical Edition's text, but which has not been explicitly stated. For instance, the translation goes like this - "There is no doubt that what they mean to you, are also what they mean to me." The footnote clarifies it thus - "That is, both vows are equally important."
Or this one - "The roudra muhurta arrived and Savyasachi was seen." - which requires this long-ish footnote: "A muhurta is a unit of measurement of time and is equal to forty-eight minutes. Some muhurtas are good, others are bad. The rudra or roudra muhurta is generally bad or inauspicious. While the precise timing of a muhurta depends on when the sun arrives, the roudra muhurta starts at around six in the morning."
Or this very interesting clarification of the sentence - "Sever the root of these evil-souled ones and let the avabhritha of this enmity be completed" as "Avabhritha is the most important final component of a sacrifice, characterized by the taking of a bath. As the last bath of life, avabhritha also signifies death. The battle is thus being compared to a sacrifice."

There are a few instances where the Mahabharata resorts to puns - "He was delighted that the enemy Alambusa had been slain, like a ripe alambusa fruit." The footnote clarifies, "Since alambusa is only a medicinal plant or herb, with small berries, this is only for the sake of the pun."

The Critical Edition is not infallible. Leaving aside the complaint that it has excised some of the most popular stories around certain events - like Krishna using (yogic) maya to make it appear that the sun had set, or Urvashi cursing Arjuna - there seem to some inaccuracies in the Critical Edition. Errors of omission, when certain shlokas have been excised, or when there seems to be an error in translation itself.

When the text states, "It has a large army of elephants and Rukmaratha is at the forefront", the footnote wonders, "In Section 67, Abhimanyu killed Shalya's son, Rukmaratha. Unless this is a different Rukmaratha, there is an inconsistency."
Or more specifically, when a footnote states, "There is probably a typo in the Critical Edition. It says purananam param, which leads to the duplication of ancient and supreme. It should probably read parananam param, in which case, the translation would be - you are the supreme deliverer."

And then there are those instances when the author - translator, to be correct - lets out some of his wicked sense of humour. When the translation reads, "Have peace with the Pandavas before the great-souled Parthas kill one hundred of your brothers in battle..." The footnote gleefully notes, "In a pedantic sense, ninety-nine brothers. To be even more pedantic, fewer, since several of them have already been killed." A faithful translation can still assert its individuality, as this instance proves.

All this means that these footnotes are copious. The sixth volume, for instance, has more than nine hundred footnotes, averaging almost two a page.
Book classification as per Penguin:

Published by: Penguin Books India
Published: 24 Nov 2012
Imprint: Penguin
ISBN13: 9780143100188, 0143100181
Book Format: Demy
Extent: 560pp
Rights: World
Category: Non-Fiction, Translation, Religion, Epic
Binding: Paperback
Language: English

  Kindle Excerpt:

--> © 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.