One of the major objectives of the Government of Tamilnadu is to work for the development to Tamil and spreading of Tamil Culture. In addition to preserving and the ancient Classics and creating he right kind of intellectual climate for the birth of new works of art, our Government is particularly interested in getting all great writings translated from Tamil into English and from other languages into Tamil. This great task has been entrusted to a committe consisting of experts in the field of translation.
It is rather unusual that an English translation of such an exquisite epic of kamban comparable perhaps to the best of its kind in any language has, somehow, not so far been attempted in full. To straighten out the short coming, the Government came forward to pursue the project and chose Professor P.S. Sundaram, M.A. (Oxon) to undertake this remarkable endeavour. The English version of Bala Kandam was published last years and now we are happy to release Ayodhya Kandam and Aranya Kandam.
Translation is an art as well as a science, and translating poems from one language into another is a particularly difficult task. When the two languages happen to be as different from each other as Tamil and English, the translator' job becomes unenviable. We can never be certain that we have achieved a definitive translation. There will always be scope for improvement and it is good to encourage to be renewed attempts especially when the works happen to be as excellent an epic as the Kamba Ramayanam. But this does not mean the superb rendering by Professor Sudaram who, in his eighties, has set his heart on this labour of love, can ever be underestimated.
Although certain elements of the epic are perhaps disputable, there cannot be any question regarding the please excellence of Kamban which will continue to please generations.
Let me, therefore, congratulate the Department of Tamil Development and Culture and the Translator on their bold attempt to fulfil a long-felt need. I commed the work to all the readers in search of classics of perennial charm.
Both the Tamil Nadu Government and Professor P.S. Sundaram deserve congratulation on the smooth, steady progress of the project begun in 1988 for producing an English version of Kamban's epic.
In translating Tamil poetry into lucid, readable English verse Professor Sundaram has had ample experience and achieved conspicuous success in his renderings of Bharati, the Kural and Andal.
The Tamil Nadu Government acted wisely in entrusting the difficult task to him and the choice has been fully justified by the publication of the Balakandam in 1989 and the now imminent release of two more Kandams. Such expedition is indeed gratifying, especially in a Government project.
Speed has not spelt any failure in quality in this brisk, bright rendering of the highly ornate narrative of Kamban's epic. To cite one example from Balakandam, in the famous quatrain(No. 1081) lamenting comely bridegroom, the last liner reads:
What single creed grasps God entire?
Sundaram's modest aim is to "translate", not adapt or transcreate. IT is thus unfair to compare his verse with Kamban's in Tamil. For one thing, myths and metaphors live and grow and move all hearts in their native element but wither away in the new climate. Again, the translator, caring more for meaning than for music, reluctantly misses out the emphatic initial rhyme of the Tamil lines, the rhythms that rise and fall and the metre that beats time. IT would be foolish to drag in such "suggestions" of high intrinsic value in the original. Why blame a paper flower for lack of fragrance or a photograph for sullen silence?
Even on a comparison with Rajaji's Sahitya Akademi version of Ayodhya Kandam, Sundaram has many points in his favour, as the following passage proves: When Queen Kausalya sees Rama unwashed, unkempt, uncrowned, and learns from him that Bharata, not he, had been chosen for the honour, she calmly, cheerfully accepts the change.
"Not in order but for that
A thrice virtuous soul is he!
Faultless, even better than you"
Said she whose love embraced all four.
Next moment, when she is told that Rama was condemned to spend fourteen years in the forest,
Though still alive, she was feeling then
All the bitterness of death...
She was as one predestined poor
That picks up gold and lets it slip.
Again, when Bharata tells Guha that he had come to take Rama back to Ayodhya and crown him king, the boatman admires Bharata:
"The Kingdom your mother got for you
And your father gave, you have spurned as sin:
O pensive face, Princ past all praise
Can a thousand Ramas equal you?
Finally, Bharata's plea to Rama not to retreat from dharma, but to take the crown as his due and save the helpless younger brother from adharma:
"Through a boon that was improper
?You were put in a place improper.
And I the Proper son of that woman
Who so improperly killed her king
May not do a penance improper?
"If a sinner born to that sinner
Who brought to the world a world of woe
May neither commit suicide
Nor be allowed to do penance.
How then shall L save myself?
One is grateful to Subdaram for avoiding archaisms like thou and the three that encumber earlier fragmentary versions and for preserving so much of the vigour, clarity and naturalness of the great original.
It is better to succeed in the role of a Burns Scott than to fail playing Kamban or Kalidasa in English garb.
The Ayodhya Kandam, the second of the seven cantos of Valmiki's Ramayana (six of Kamban's) is
generally regarded as the most intensely human and dramatic of the epic. Kamban rises nobly to the occasion.
His desire to present Kaikeyi in a good light makes him deal at greater length with Manthara's temptation of her than in Valmiki. He also gives a political turn to 'Manthara's scheming by making her suggest that once Dasaratha dies, the kings desirous of taking her father's lands may not have to fear any opposition from Ayodhya. They may indeed have to fear Janaka from Mithila joining hands with them, if not with Rama's encouragement certainly without his opposition. It is curious that Kamban does not, any more than Valmiki, make any reference through the mouth of either Kaikeyi or Manthara to any promise made by Dasaratha when he married Kaikeyi that she should have "his matchless kingdom as her bride-price" a thing referred to by Rama himself in the original Ramayana,
Any reference to Rama feeling frustrated even once at the way Dasaratha had yielded to Kaikeyi -- which we find in Valmiki 2 -- is of course out of the question as regards Kamban. Rama's perfection as son and man is not to be blemished. Neither is Kau- salya to be made to say -- as she does in Valmiki 3 -- how hard her lot has been in the hands of the younger queen even while Rama was around.
In her reaction to the news conveyed by Rama that Bharata would be made viceregent instead of
"Not in order, but for that
A thrice virtuous soul is he;
Faultless, even better than you",
Said she whose love embraced all four,
Kamban of course throws away not only probability but even commonsense to the winds; does not realise how he is going to make her contradict herself in a couple of minutes (if so much); and makes her not only an unfeeling mother but also a singularly tactless woman. Only a blind admiration for the "Emperor of Poets" can make us fail to see the appalling nature of this stanza.
Kamban's description of the King's counsellers running to six stanzas is his own invention setting forth what a good minister should be. I have not been able to' find where he found that these counsellers were no less than sixty thousand! That Dasaratha reigned for sixty thousand years Valmiki has stated. The number seems to have made a deep impression on Kamban. Dasaratha had also, according to the Tami! poet, sixty thousand counsellers; sixty thousand wives other than the three queens," all of whom cheerfully' immolated themselves in the pyre which consumed the King, so that they could reach the heaven reserved for satis; and the army which went with Bharata looking for Rama had sixty thousand akshauhinis.f Considering that each akshauhini numbered in all 2,18,700 items -- elephants, horses, chariots and men imagination may well boggle at Kamban's figures. Valmiki mentions only three hundred and fifty women as the King's wives apart from the three queens, and there is no mention of anyone falling into the funeral pyre.
Bharata, enumerating the various sinners and criminals whose fate in hell he calls down on himself if
he has been a party to his mother's scheming, is only being true to his counterpart in Valrniki. But Lakshmana's rodomontade as to what he will do to Bharata's army is another piece of Kamban's untramelled fancy. Parts of it have no doubt been influenced by lurid descriptions of battlefields and devils' dances found in earlier Tamil poetry.
We have to be thankful that Kamban does not repeat the series of questions in the Valmiki Ramayana which Rama asked Bharata regarding how he ran the kingdom in Ayodhya -- the sort of thing in the Ramayana which, however admirable as ethics, can become a bore as poetry, and lend justification to the reference to Rama as "Righteous Rama" rather than Rama, the Human.
Kamban excels himself in portraying Kausalya's dilemma when Rama is determined to go to the forest and Dasaratha is unable to prevent him and yet live.
"He is bound to go" she thought of her son;
"He is bound to die", she thought of her husband,
Her heart broken. She thought she would say
To Rama, "Save him", but refrained at the thought
Of her husband's honour -- poor, noble swan!
His depiction both of Lakshmana and Bharata is superb. Bharata's spirited argument with Rama, accusing him of departing from Dharma, Shows the stuff of which he is made. Eama does not exaggerate when he calls him
The towering image of Dharma,
The very linchpin of virtue.
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