Friday, February 18, 2005

Sri V. Subrahmanya Sastri a great scholar-translator

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Sri V. Subrahmanya Sastri a great scholar-translator

Having affirmed that Sri V.Subrahmanya Sastri's translation of many classics is the best as well as the first in English, let me write a bit on this.

I have in my personal collection many books in Sanskrit, Telugu, Hindi and English, some of which have never been published and are available in manuscript form, some very old books which have haven't been reprinted again, and of course, books by modern authors. I have taken great pains in acquiring these books,manuscripts etc and taken still greater interest in studying these. My unbiased assessment of modern translations is that they are hopelessly lagging behind in comparision to the earlier translations by Sri V. S. Sastri.

Infact some seem to be bad imitations or at times even plagiarism done by people who seem to be neither scholars of astrology nor Sanskrit or even good at English! A man who combined great scholarship in astrology and samskrita with an excellent command over English is the late Sri V. S. Sastri. What I am writing here is not based on any direct knowledge or acquaintance with this scholar (as he belonged to a distant generation) but is what I could piece together from his works.

Son of the late Sri S. Venkatarama Sastriar, panditabhushana Sri V. S. Sastri retired as Asst Secretary to the Govt of Mysore and dedicated most of his life to translating classics of astrology. Most of his translations are more than mere translations as he often included copious explanatory notes and *some* examples too. His notes are fit to be caled a commentary, though he never claimed them to be so. In comparision we have *some* modern authors who write unimpressive comments (in even more unimpressive English), comments
that betray their ignorance of the Sanskrit language as well as their pseudoscholarship (I am not writing off all translators, but some). Writing commentaries and translating a classic is not for all. Such translations with unimpressive commentaries(?) have unfortunately been the only source for long for our generation of English speaking astrologers with nearly no knowledge of Samskrtam. It may be a good idea to trace Sri Satri's descendants and reprint these excellent works again.

A lesser known fact is that Sri M. Ramakrishna Bhat, whose works like the 'Brhat Samhita', 'Prasnapadavi or Essentials of Hoarary Astrology' and 'Fundamentals of Astrology' are reasonably popular, actually assisted Sri Sastri in some of his translations. Though Sri M. Ramakrishna Bhat is a sanskrit scholar (having worked as lecturer in Sanskrit & Superintendent of Indian languages, St. Joseph's college, Bangalore and retired as HOD, Sanskrit Dept, Hindu college, Delhi University), he is not an astrologer in the sense that Sri Sastri is.

Between 1915 and 1950s, Sri V. S. Sastri brought out many works and their revised editions. To my knowldge only his 'Jataka Parijata' is reprinted now, by Ranjan publications. His self-published books are of better quality print and paper! The edition of Brhat Samhita that I have is of 1929 and stilllooks and feels better than many newer books, not to speak of the contents. He had translated most classics except the BPHS & Jaimini Sutras. For various reasons, he chose to translate the 'Jataka Parijata' when he had to choose between translating JP and BPHS. Some of his translations/commentaries are:

Brihat Jataka
Brihat Samhita
Phala Deepika
Uttara Kalamrita
Jataka Parijata
Jataka Tattva
Jatakadesa Marga
Jataka Alankara
Sanketa Nidhi

Someone from Bangalore should try to trace his descendants and urge them to republish these books. Or perhaps a publisher looking for high quality translations could also do this, instead of publishing plagiarised works or bad imitations or books by 'ghost' authors whose very existence is in doubt!

Satya Prakash

Brihaspati Gayatri, Vishwamitra/Gaathina Rishi Rig Veda 6.62.6