Italian author Roberto Calasso frustrated by lack of Vedic translations

Last Updated 29 January 2010, 05:55 IST

The "Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India" author, whose association with mythology has been several years old, says shortage of translated material make things difficult for people venturing out to study the vast subject.

"It's very frustrating that there is not a single complete translation in English of the Rig Veda. It's a difficult task for someone like me, you need introductions, commentaries and its very tough task," Calasso said.

In India to attend the just-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, Calasso said the best translation of the Rig Veda was done by a German scholar and even that is not easily available as it was published a long time ago in the States.
Calasso, however, said his love with Indian mythology continues to sustain itself, and he keeps retuning to this country to explore the vast subject.

"India had been always a passion in my life. After initially working on subjects of Greek mythology I felt like researching the Indian myth, so that was when I worked on 'Ka' which lasted seven years," the 68-year-old author said.
"But its not finished yet and I am coming back all the time to study further...their might be another book one day."

Calasso, who is now looking forward to the Malayalam translation of his 1996 book 'Ka', said his fascination with gods started at a very young age but it became a part of a book only 20 years back when he wrote "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony" in which he retells the myths of ancient Greece.

"The first form of literature is the stories of the gods, and they are everywhere -- be it Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, or South America. A great scholar once said people without fables are dead," he said.

Asked if he believed in that proverb, he said, "Yes as mythology is a sort of the element which one needs physiologically."
Dwelling in detail on the lack of sufficient and reliable translations of Vedic scriptures, which have been the main source of his research, Calasso said it was ironical but true that the bulk of the great translations have been done by French, German, American or English scholars.

"... Though there are some Indian scholars who are also working on it, for instance Swaminathan is doing a new translation of Sathpath Brahmana," he said.
He also said some of the available material was unreliable and sometimes too less to suffice.
"In book shops you find a short anthology of some hymns which is very good, but you know its 1028 hymns in the Rig Veda and the anthology is may be 100 hymns or so," he said.

"There is a treasure of great works done by Western scholars, since 1870 till now, many of them are out of print, but if you really want to manage, you have to travel to book-sellers, libraries for the works you really need," Calasso said.
Asked if there was one mythological character that he fell in love with, he said it was difficult to pick one.

On why he felt some of the available translations of the Vedas were unreliable, he said "Many a times, the translators do not know what they are saying.
"For instance, in Vedic tradition there is a word called 'tapas' which means energy or something burning inside the body, but it has been at several places referred to as meaning penance."

(Published 29 January 2010, 05:00 IST)

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