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Post Info TOPIC: G. U. Pope’s Translation : What does it Mean to Thirukkural Studies? - Dr.V.Murugan


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G. U. Pope’s Translation : What does it Mean to Thirukkural Studies? - Dr.V.Murugan

G. U. Pope’s Translation : What does it Mean to Thirukkural Studies? - Dr.V.Murugan



G. U. Pope’s Translation : 
What does it Mean to Thirukkural Studies?
DR. V. Murugan
(A Summary)
In order to understand the significance of Pope’s translation, we need to revisit the structure and import of Thirukkural.
Transcending the veil of didacticism and the purely convention-driven invocatory chapter, it is a deliberate literary document seeking to resurrect the glorious pre-vedic Tamil culture. Its author Thiruvalluvar is a rebel, a revolutionary looking to re-present the pristine glory of the indigenous Tamil mores and ethos that had been subjected to invidious assaults and adulterations by alien cultures intruding into the Tamil land most surreptitiously. Again, it is in this extraordinary piece of Tamil literature that we find the earliest stratum of classical Tamil literature and the Tamil mind being reborn.
Look at Thiruvalluvar’s disapproval of :
(i)                  The Sanskritic karma theory (verse 37),
(ii)                supremacy of divinity and fate (55, 619, 620),
(iii)               varna system (972, 973),
(iv)              taking alms (222, 1062),
(v)                resorting, to unrighteous ways in desperate situations (656),
(vi)               Manusmriti’s belittling of agriculture as a low occupation (1032),
(vii)              gambling (931-40),
(viii)            drinking (921-30).
No wonder that Thirukkural is the object of unreserved, spontaneous admiration by some of the best minds across cultures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer and Leo Tolstoy.
It is no overstatement that it is the missionaries and officials of British India of the nascent days of colonial rule who effectively and irreversibly liberated Indian languages and literatures from the suffocating confines of regionalism and vernacularism. These men, trained in modern scholarship and fired by selfless altruistic zeal, have left their deep, unerasable imprint in the rediscovery of Indian languages and their genealogical roots. Again, their translations of Indian classics into European languages opened up a whole new world of enlightened appreciation and enjoyment of these literatures beyond the shores of the subcontinent.
At one end, Sir William Jones, Colebrook and others set up the Asiatic Society of India at Kolkata, the concerted efforts of which culminated in the discovery of Sanskrit as one of the principal branches of the Indo-European family, and the international accessibility of Sanskrit classics in English, German and French translations. European poets and critics hitherto basking in the classical wealth of Hebrew, Greek and Latin saw in Sanskrit a refreshingly new air to breathe in, and the major European universities witnessed a proliferation of Sanskrit studies so much so that Sanskrit studies came to be misconstrued as Indology.
Inevitably then, South Indian languages and literatures tended to be obscured in the international forums in spite of the Dravidian- Tamil culture constituting a weighty component of the composite culture of India. Particularly, Tamil classics suffered neglect, indifference and apathy in the hands of the ruling elite. The following words of G. U. Pope, written in 1810, reflect this state of affairs:
Although the very ancient, copious and refined Tamil language is inferior to none, it is regarded by most people as the vernacular of a people living somewhere in a remote district of Great Britain’s imperial possessions. Neither does our Indian Government nor do our universities fully recognize the value of Tamil literature and so those who spend their lives in the study of the great South Indian classics must resemble men seeking for pearls under water.
While the scholars at the Asiatic Society held aloft the Indo-Aryan languages, particularly Sanskrit, as the principal representatives of the linguistic culture of India, there were Ellis, Caldwell and Pope down South working their way to upholding the claim of Tamil as the ancient co-sharer of the heritage of India. The outstanding efforts of these scholars culminated in the discovery of the
Dravidian family of languages apart from their pioneering industry to render Thirukkural and other classics into European languages. Not only did they successfully draw international attention towards Tamil, but they compulsively and emphatically established the fact of the Dravidian culture as a predominant component of the composite culture of India.
G.U.Pope’s translation of Thirukkural, seen in the above context, remains a towering landmark in the 200 year long history of Thirukkural translations. This work (titled The Sacred Kurral of Thiruvalluva Nayanar with Introduction, Grammar, Translation, Notes, Lexicon and Concordance) incorporates a weighty introduction, notes on its prosody and grammar and an extensive bilingual glossary which together are intended to help its academic learning and research by a wider section of non-Tamils across languages. More importantly, Pope’s translation has done single-handedly for Thirukkural what the Asiatic Society did to promote Sanskrit language and literature beyond the Indian shores. Pope’s characterization of Thirukkural as “one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought”, and its author “as a bard of universal man”, besides his authoritative statement that Thirukkural including its seemingly separable third part on sexual love is the work of one master bear witness to his assiduous equipment for the stupendous task on hand.
Now, what does Rev. Dr. G. U. Pope’s translation mean to Thirukkural studies?
  Pope’s is the first complete translation of Thirukkural by a single author taking the entirety of this extraordinary Tamil classic on to the global stage as early as 1886.
  Pope had a deep understanding of the metrical forms in Tamil which probably led him into rendering the chosen compositions (Thirukkural, Nɑ̄ ladiyar and Thiruvɑ̄ cakam) in the metrical verse form.
  Pope chose the heroic couplet - a pair of rhymed lines in iambic pentameter – for his Kural rendering. Pope appropriately uses the closed couplet in which the meaning is grammatically or logically complete, forming a statement that can stand meaningfully on its own.
   Pope’s translation, coming as it does from the weighty backdrop of his long academic career at the Oxford University, naturally attracted more attention than the other contemporary translations of Thirukkural, which gradually tended to transfer rewardingly on to the Thirukkural text itself. Thus began the Kural’s spread and reputation beyond the constricted bounds of Tamilnadu.
  Pope’s translation does occupy a preeminent place among the English translations of Thirukkural by the sheer weight of his academic scholarship and the amazing breath of his knowledge of Tamil language and literature which compulsively come to the fore also through his other famous metrical translations of Thiruvɑ̄ cakam and Nɑ̄ ladiyɑ̄ r besides his numerous essays and articles on the defining facets of Tamil literature, especially the classical canon, which appeared in the Indian Antiquary and Siddhanta Deepika. We must also make a significant mention of Pope’s translation of the timeless Sangam anthology Puranānūru (selected verses) and the great Buddhist Tamil epic Manimēgalai (incomplete).
Among the translations of Pope, his Thirukkural rendering easily seems to stand the finest and the best. His choice of the heroic couplet as the metrical medium, that comes closer to kuratpɑ̄ metre in Tamil, tends to produce an equivalent effect with regard to the didactic mood, ethical fervour and epigrammatic or aphoristic tone besides reproducing the rhythm in many cases. The success of Pope’s craftsmanship consists mainly in the accomplishment of this equivalent effect which makes Thirukkural translation Pope’s magnum opus (P.Marudanayagam, p 284) and a landmark in the history of Thirukkural translations.
Indeed, Pope’s translation does not only measure up to the golden dictum of Tolkappiyam that translation is to remake in accord with the source language (1589), but also provide ‘a great feast of languages’.
Thanks to Pope’s scholarly understanding of the Kural’s metrical pattern, especially its variety of rhythms, he is able to identify the tone in every one of the couplets. He gives the following couplets as examples of the three types of recitative (ceppalōcai) that Thirukkural employs:
malarmicai ēkinɑ̄ n mɑ̄ ṇaṭi cērntɑ̄ r
nilamicai nīṭuvɑ̄ l vɑ̄ r (3) (tūṇkicai - balanced recitative)
tuppɑ̄ rkkut toppɑ̄ iya tuppɑ̄ kkit tuppɑ̄ rkkut
tuppɑ̄ aya tūum maḷai (12) (olukicai - mixed recitative)
yɑ̄ tɑ̄ num nɑ̄ ṭɑ̄ mal ūrɑ̄ mal ennoruvan
cɑ̄ ntuṇiyum kallɑ̄ ta vɑ̄ ṟu (397) (ēnticai - grave recitative)
However, the heroic couplet with its need for rhyming tends to threaten in certain instances the SL-TL fidelity which is an essential criterion in vertical-semantic translation as of a classical composition. An instance:
aṟivinul ellɑ̄ m talaienpa tīya
ceṟuvɑ̄ rkkum ceyyɑ̄ viṭal (203)
Even to those that hate make no return of ill;
So shalt thou wisdom’s highest law, ‘tis said, fulfil.
‘The crown of all wisdom is...’ rather than ‘so shall thou wisdom’s highest low... fulfil’ may better approximate to the Kural construct.
Perhaps for want of advice and assistance of native scholars and absence of editorial scrutiny at the far-away Oxford, certain semantic and stylistic inaccuracies have also crept into the momentous work of Pope. Here is a glaring instance of such inaccuracy:
aṟattɑ̄ ṟu ituvena vēnṭɑ̄ civikai
poṟuttɑ̄ nōṭu ūrntɑ̄ n iṭai (37)
Needs not in words to dwell on virtue’s fruits; compare
The man in litter borne with them that toiling bear!
There is, again, criticism that Pope’s translation is in the poetic English of the late Victorian era, has lesser currency nowadays, and that it does not speak to a modern readership (Gregory James). Such criticisms border on historical fallacy - a failure to understand that language is a dynamic social institution that keeps evolving keeping with the changing needs of each generation of people.
The historical significance of Pope’s translation must outweigh these of the shortcomings. In conclusion. Pope and other European missionaries and officials of British India learnt the Tamil language for their sheer love of this language and its literature, which in hindsight looks to overshadow their work of evangelization. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain the significance of an epoch-making work like Caldwell’s A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages or the contributions of F.W. Ellis, Ziegenbalg, Fr. Joseph Beschi and several others. The works of these savants, most of which are characterized as labour of love, succeeded in opening the eyes of the Western world to the inimitable excellence of the classical canon of the Tamils, which the academia around the world would do well to turn their attention to.

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