Translation by definition always entails some loss of the original substance. Tamil classical literature has entered the mainstream world literature mainly due to the translation device. All translations are sooner or later revealed as imperfect, even in the case of the most exemplary performances. There is no end to translations of a particular text like the Kural. Most of them are provisional.

Some of the translations are classics of all time. In the case of the Tamil language, translations proved to the world that it is the oldest and still prevalent classical language. The Akananuru and the Purananuru anthologies is contained in 2381 poems of 26,250 lines in 18 books. Once the translation of these poems were completed in the 20th century, Tamil got its rightful recognition as a vehicle of profound literature.

In the context of traditional European classical studies, the two classical languages are Greek and Latin. European languages use these two roots to coin new words. Similarly the two classical languages of India are Tamil and Sanskrit. Though Sanskrit is one of the official language of India. It had never been a spoken language of any time. But Sanskrit has provided alphabets and words and literary devices to many Indian languages. Despite this fact, most Indian languages be they from the North or South have the Tamil grammatical systems as their backbone.

A.K.Ramanujan the pioneering translator who crossed a frontier in 1967 when he published the Akananuru translation; The Interior Landscape wrote :

Image : Wikipedia

“Tamil is one of the two classical languages of India, is the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past”.

The same author in his 1985 work-Poems of Love and War : From the eight Anthologies and the Ten Long Poems wrote, “These poems are classical i.e early, ancient , works that have stood the test of time, the following works of a whole tradition. Not to know them is not to know a unique and major poetic achievement of Indian Civilization” – Pages IX – X.

Thirukural offers a challenge to scholars who try their hand in translating the maxims to various languages. There is no uniformity among the translations. Each one to his version, the project brings out new meanings and explanations. The 82 translations of the Kural which are available in most languages of the world is a testimony to the perennial attraction to the learned the Kural holds in its 1330 couplets.

Some of the notable translations of Tamil classical works are:

1 Purananuru George L.Hart 1999
2 Kurunthokai M.L.Thangappah 2010
3 Ainkurunuru Martha Ann Selby 2011
4 Andal Priya Sarukkai Chabria & Ravi Shankar 2016
5 Nammalvar Archana Venkatesan 2014
6 Cilapatikaram R.Parthasarathy 1993
7 Ancient Tamil classic Pattupattu in English (The Ten Idylls) Thamil Academy, SRM University, Kattankulattur 2012
8 Pathinenkilkanakku – Works in Akham theme Bharathidasan University, Thiruchirapalli 2010
9 The Natrinai Four Hundred International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai by Dr.A.Dakshinamurthy 2000
10 Akananuru : The Akam Four Hundred (3 Volumes) Bharathidasan University, Thiruchirapalli – First complete translation : Dr.A.Dakshinamurthy

George L.Hart Prof. of Tamil in University Of California, Berkeley reviewed Parthasarathy‘s translations wrote “Cilapatikaram is to Tamil what the Illiad and the Odyssey are to Greek – it’s importance is difficult to overstate. This is an extraordinary achievement” 13 April 2014.

Dr. Ayyasamy Dakshinamurthy
Image : [CC BY-SA 4.0], Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Ayyasamy Dakshinamurthy (born 10 April 1938) has by his sole effort translated the Akananuru, Natrinai, Kuruntokai and the Pattupattu – all complete editions. A highly praise worthy effort.

Constantine Joseph Beschi
Image : [CC BY-SA 4.0], Wikimedia Commons

The First translations of the Kural in a foreign language was the Latin translation of Fr.Beschi in 1730. It introduced the Kural to European Universities and scholars. He translated only the Aram and Porul sections.

The first English translation of the Kural by two scholars was by William Henry Drew and Lazarus. This edition contained Parimelalagar‘s commentary on the Kural. (1840, 1852)

George Uglow Pope
Image : Wikimedia Commons

The first complete English translation by a single person was that of G.U.Pope in 1886, it contained Beschi’s Latin translation as well as F.W.Ellis translation of 120 Kurals in English which was rendered in 1812.

Categories: Kural

Leave a Reply