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Reading the ‘Kavi Kesari’

JAN 07 -

The title ‘Kavi Keshari’ was conferred upon him by HM King Mahendra. His statue now stands on the very junction that once had a bust of King Mahendra. Chitta Dhar Hridaya was not an ‘anti-monarchist’. He actually was incarcerated for six years for being pro-monarchist and anti-rana during the anti-rana movement culminating in BS 2007 Jana Kranti (AD 1950 People’s Revolution). The vagaries, ironies and misconception of time appear to have dealt a misplaced blow!

His literary works were however never misplaced. Be it the very poignant Mi Manhna Pau (The Unburnt Letter) translated into English by Kesar Lal as’The Letter that was not Burnt’ or the more recent Oxford University publication Sugata Saurabha painstakingly translated into English by Todd T. Lewis and Subarna Man Tuladhar.

I say ‘painstakingly’ because I am also reading the original version, of what may be called a magnum opus in Nepal Bhasa, on the life of Sakyamuni Gautam Buddha. While Tuladhar explained the language to Lewis, translating not only literally but also bringing out the nuances of the language and the deep feelings inherent in the tale, it must have been what we in Nepal say “daant bata pasina jharne kaam”—that which makes the teeth sweat— or as is said in Newari—”hi chaati pyahan waigu”—that which makes the blood and sweat come out. A bit roundabout but more descriptive than ‘painstaking’ and well deserved too!

The way I have attempted to read, and am reading Chitta Dhar Hridaya’s Sugata Saurabha is simple and comical. I sometimes open the Newari version, read a few pages and then open the English version. And at other times I do just the opposite. This gives the pleasure of reading both books and also allows comparing and comprehending, perhaps more fully because some words used by Chitta Dhar in his Newari original are beyond me. The title ‘Sugata Saurabha’ itself was beyond me until I read the explanation in the translation. Professor Nirmal Man Tuladhar of CNAS, a proud relative of the Kavi, admitted that he too could not understand some words and therefore sentences. Incidentally, he was the one who gave me the Newari original.

The work cannot and therefore should not be read in one sitting. Take your time.

Surely, you don’t have a bus to catch and in any case you cannot read it in a bus. Remember the story is about the life and times of some twenty five hundred years ago.

The ‘Kavi Keshari’ truly loves nature. His description of the garden of Lumbini is meticulous in detail and intimate in feeling.  Dawn, birds and bees, plants and flowers, deer and doe, all flow out from the poet’s pen. On such a tranquil backdrop he introduces humans who are serene, amiable, amicable and beautiful also. Listen to the soft tinkling of bangles and bracelets amidst the delightful chirping of birds and the soft humming of bees as you read. It is indeed very delightful!

As he penned the poetic tale while in prison during the mid 1940s, Chitta Dhar Hridaya obviously could not have gone to Lumbini. Yet, this does not stop the Kavi Kesari from taking the reader into a most pleasant tour of the birthplace of the Lord Buddha. This is very typical of him. He never went to Tibet and yet his account of the place in his other story ‘Min Manha Pau’ is enchanting—it was not without reason that the prestigious title was conferred upon him. The translation in English by Lewis and Tuladhar may have missed the actual flavour and spice of the original, as is to be expected, but it is true in spirit and presents the essence. Professor Lewis’s ample knowledge and experience in religious studies must surely have been a most valuable asset and tool in the rendering of this epic poem into an international language. It is possible to imagine the conversations of Lewis and Tuladhar with the poet and also between themselves as they read through and translated from Newari and sifted through the English vocabulary and idioms searching for the precise word and phrase. Why is Newari always said to be of Tibeto—Burman origin? Professor Lewis asks the same. Yes! I am aware that many years ago, some linguist said so. Could he have been mistaken? Some scholars say that the Newars migrated to Nepal from ‘Nayyar Desh’ in South India. Very far from Tibet and Burma I would add. Chitta Dhar’s community thrived and prospered on trade with Tibet but the languages are totally different. In any case that will be a topic for another research.

Coming back to Sugata Saurabh, as the poet is of Newar birth and breeding, his descriptions of life and style, art and architecture can only reflect his native character. This cannot and should not in any way be considered against him or his work. The Buddha has been, still is and will be depicted in a myriad of ways across the world and over the thousand of years and the years to come. Witness the statues of the Buddha in Japan, China and India as examples. Stories of the life and times of the Tathagata as well as images of him will certainly reflect regional dialects.

While writing this piece, I consulted Molliniere’s dictionary of Sanskrit and English. Lewis and Tuladhar have translated the title ‘Sugata Saurabha’ quite correctly. ‘Saurabha’ means fragrance and ‘Sugata’ is one of the many names of the Buddha. Of the many fragrances spread by Sugata during his lifetime, the canto on ‘Dispute over Water’ is an eye opener for modern times. The Sakya and Koli clans were on the verge of a violent confrontation over river waters when the Sakya Rishi arrives, and smiling at the assembled combatants, first admonishes them gently and then guides them to a peaceful solution. Peace is in essence, the fragrance of ‘Sugata’.  Note that the vocabulary of the title is Sanskrit and not Newari.  Sanskrit is a very refined and precise language. The vocabulary is extensive and sometimes multisyllabic. Newari abounds in monosyllabic words.  The context and intonation during speech, determines the meaning of the word. The Newars take pride in the fact that their one word can mean many things! I have reminded my Newari friends much to their chagrin, that it also indicates the vocabulary is not extensive!

So why do I read Chitta Dhar Hridaya simultaneously in Newari and English or vice versa? Is it to see how the nuances of the

monosyllabic Newari language has been captured and rendered in the English? Is there a budding desire in me to try and better the presentation of Lewis and Tuladhar? I will have to consult my friend Professor Nirmal Man Tuladhar. Remember we are fluent in Newari and English, but it will be a ‘hi chaati pyahan waigu jya’… ‘ daant bata pasina jharne kaam’ Should I be that bold? I have lost some of my pearly whites more to carelessness than age and if my teeth started dripping with sweat, my dentist would howl with laughter. Till then to the duo of Lewis and Tuladhar, “Jeen Subhaya Lhana”.  I speak words of praise!

Posted on: 2011-01-08 09:35


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