Re-telling a historical tale of conflict

Published: 13th March 2013 09:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th March 2013 09:39 AM   |  A+A-

The English translation of C K Venkata Ramayya’s celebrated historical play “Ubhaya Bharati” is now available for those people who would like to read this noted lyrical play. Eminent Sanskrit scholar Dr S Ramaswamy who has edited, translated and written several literary works has made an exemplary effort to translate the great Kannada play into English but fails to bring out the ethos or pathos of Indian tradition and culture in an alien language. In fact, the scholar himself admits in his Translator’s Note that it is pretty difficult to do justice as there are no English equivalents for the idiomatic, provincial sayings and utterances which abounds in the text.

Dr Ramaswami says, “Ubhaya Bharati’s oratory, skill in argument and scholarship in our scriptures cannot find exact equivalents in English. Moreover, the style of presentation of the arguments of Adi Shankara, the greatest exponent of Advaita philosophy and the arguments of Mandan Mishra, one of the greatest exponents of Purvameemamsa, cannot be reduced to just conversational, dramatic dialogue-debate of secular plays.”

A historical play set in the 8th century, it revolves round the famed scholar-debater, Saraswati and in the process, gives a clear insight into the conflict between the Vedic traditions and the emerging Buddhist religion and the efforts made by a few to rejuvenate Vedic religion in those days. The play with its four acts begins with the life of Saraswati who attains the title of Ubhaya Bharati, her yearning and love for a scholarly man whom she has never seen or met. This is followed by her marital life with Vishwarupa (also known as Mandana Mishra), the display of Saraswati’s musical prowess at Madhavi Mantapa of the Royal Garden as well as in the presence of King Sudhanva at Bhattapada’s mansion.

Act three shows the revengeful attitude of the Bauddha Jagadguru towards both Vishwarupa and Saraswati who are saved by King Sudhanva’s soldiers. It is in this Act and at scene six, we finally see the entry of Adi Shankara with his disciples on the banks of River Ganga at Kashi where his transformation from the narrow minded pathway to the realization of the Absolute has been enacted realistically where the Supreme Master appears in the guise of an untouchable. The last few scenes in the fourth Act climaxes in the famous philosophical debate between Mandana Mishra and Adi Shankaracharya with Saraswati acting as the impartial arbiter.

The full length, four act play not only provides a historical insight into the life of Adi Shankara and other characters but also the ongoing conflict with Buddhism. But the central part is played Saraswati who belonged to the tradition of Brahmavadinis like Gargi and Maitreyi. However, the author has created some additional characters which are not found in the original works.

Translating such a lyrical work steeped in Indian culture and tradition has been very tough as it is difficult to find culture specific idioms, expressions and vocabulary. Adds Dr Ramaswamy, “Sri Venkata Ramayya’s Kannada is highly Sanskritized, as it has to be in this play. Indeed, he goes to the extent of quoting directly from Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and makes Ubhaya Bharati sing the stanzas. This is an additional responsibility for an English translator. Nevertheless, after having said all this, I must assert that Ubhaya Bharati is a great lyrical extravaganza and a dramatic, theatrical text that needed to be translated into English to reach an international audience.”

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