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Indian Kavya Poetry on the Far Side of the Himalayas - Translation, Transmission, Adaptation, Originality - Dan Martin

Indian Kavya Poetry on the Far Side of the Himalayas - Translation, Transmission, Adaptation, Originality - Dan Martin

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Published by: indology2 on Feb 11, 2012
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Indian Kåvya Poetry on the Far Side of the Himålayas
— Translation, Transmission, Adaptation, Originality Dan Martin
Version: Dec. 21, 2004
The lake filled with Jinendra's liquid knowledgethe skillful workers churned, and born of their churning, the sun;the sun a blazing hood-ornament of a cobra from whichthe sign of killing the benighted ones' darkness,the swaying tendrils entwining the sword of insight, came,the sword that will and must protect us.
IntroductionThe opening homage verse, borrowed and translated fromBod Mkhas-pa's 1678
commentary on Daˆ
, is offered here for the same reason it was offeredthere, as a homage to the sources of inspiration and a hopefor insight. At the same time it supplies a relatively simplesampling of the types of problems commonly confronted inattempts to transmit Tibetan poetry of the Indian kind inEnglish medium. For the time being, I will not attempt toexplain every facet of this culturally complex verse by anauthor who is widely considered to be the most lucid and
Because the page is missing in Bod Mkhas-pa (1972), I have used another version of the same text in
Kåvya Texts from Bhutan
(1976: 282). Tibetanreaders may judge whether I have rendered this originally four-line verseaccurately enough. The 's' alliterations in my rather free translation arepartially justified in the 's' sounds in three of the verbs in the original (theverbs for 'churning,' 'killing' and 'protecting'), but they also seemed to gonicely with the image of the snake.
rgyal dbang mkhyen pa'i chu mtsho legsbyas kyis // bsrubs skyes nyi ma 'bar ba'i gdengs ka nas // rmongs pa'i mun pa gsod rtags shes rab kyi // ral gri'i khri shing g.yo ba des srungs shig.
Inmy footnotes I have attempted to balance the needs of Tibetologists,Indologists and non-specialists who might want to follow up on, criticize, or develop upon these research efforts, but with no pretense of completebibliographical coverage.
eloquent Tibetan interpreter of Daˆ
in, except to supply themost basic keys to understanding it. Having no way of knowing how much of it made sense to you already, Iassume that many English readers will not recognize that,as so often in homage verses, the divine object of invocation is indicated through metonymy. The sword (wemight think of this as an 'emblem') wielded in the right handof Mañjußr¥ ('Gentle [Voiced] Lord') stands in the place of the whole divine form of this compassionate, andregardless of the sword by no means militant, Bodhisattva.Mañjußr¥ is a focus of human aspirations in the realm of oral and literary arts generally, with more specific links tothe insight (
) and memory (
) that figureiconographically in the sword and book to His right and left.Bod Mkhas-pa's homage prayer in fact continues for a fewpages, with most of it devoted not to Mañjußr¥, but rather toSarasvat¥, His feminine counterpart in the inspiration of language arts. Sarasvat¥ is often more specificallyconnected to musicality and poetics (symbolized by the
held in Her lap), and sometimes grammar, too.Although the first line makes reference to the Buddha's(here called Jinendra, 'Lord of Victors') knowledge, most of the imagery is drawn from a relatively well known (toTibetans) non-Buddhist account of the creation, or rather cosmic renewal, of the universe in the myth of the churningof the ocean of milk — gods on one side, demons onanother, playing tug of war with a snake wrapped aroundthe churning stick formed by the cosmic mountain. Thisscene is most impressively displayed in statues outside theeastern gate of Bayon Temple near Angkor Wat, as well ason reliefs on the walls of the circumambulatory of the maintemple of Angkor Wat itself.
The snake wrapped aroundthe churning stick (the cosmic mountain) is poeticallyequated with the tendrils entwining the sword. Images of world-creation, Buddhist enlightenment, and literarycreativity are thus intertwined and condensed in a culturallyrich and creative way. This tendency to engage imagesfrom non-Buddhist mythology, or to refer to things known in
I speak from personal experience, based on my recent visit to Cambodia,although those who require a published source may see Bhattacharyya(1959), or any one of a large number of illustrated guides to the ruins thathave been published in recent years.
India but absent in Tibet — Well, how many home-boundTibetans could have ever seen a live cobra? — is aconstant in Tibetan traditions of 
. These types of alienyet somehow and in some degree naturalized Indiancultural images, which seemingly fill the repertoires of somany Tibetan poets, make it difficult to present literaryrenditions of their poetry without weighting down each linewith one or more superscribed footnote numbers. Over-explanation, as is only too well known, may spell death toliterary appreciation.Perhaps the greatest obstacle in making Tibetan literatureknown to a larger academic audience is precisely this useof Indic literary conventions. Tibetologists are sometimesforced to think their way through two cultures, and scholarswho are truly and equally conversant with Indian andTibetan cultures and their languages are rare, the potentialpitfalls many, the amount of unfinished work daunting. Itwould perhaps be foolhardy to expect non-specialists, or even specialists on one side or the other, to follow all theconvoluted calculations and attendant complications thattake place when translators from Tibetan look backward toIndia before going forward to the modern target language.This demands proficiency in three literary culturesembedded in at least three difficult languages.In literary as well as other aspects of Tibetan culturalhistory, we are often compelled to take sides. We either keep our feet rooted in Tibetan soil, looking down on India,perhaps even trying to ignore India altogether, or standsquarely in India, looking up at Tibet, with an interest to findthere only what is relevant to India, perhaps ignoring therest of Tibet altogether. The Himålayas would seem to befar too high a barrier for us to 'straddle the fence.' Tibet iseither a conservative storehouse of Indian literature, aculture of calque translators and cultural copycats, or, quitethe contrary, Tibet is a self-contained studio filled withcreative artists, crafting their own language in their ownspecial styles. All I can suggest for now is that the truesituation is to be located somewhere in between or aroundthese alternative, and for myself at least, bewilderinglyalternating, points of view. We stand anxiously on the sideof the road, looking one way and then the other, hoping to

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