Premi Translates Gitaji with Context || Dr. R L Bhat || LIVE IMAGE

Review of Shriimad Bhagvad Giitaa (Urdu translation)

By  Sarvaanand Koul Premi

Dr. R L Bhat Premiji, as Pandit Sarvanand Koul Premi was lovingly called, was as multidimensional a personality as they come. A poet, a researcher, an educationist, a social activist, a humanist and an intensely religious person, Premiji broke bread with the renowned bard Mahjoor and was martyred in the barrage of intolerance in 1990 that swept Kashmir off its feet, probably for all times to come. When the marauders came, they were hugely unsettled seeing a copy of their holy book, Koran, lying by the side of Gitaji (Giitaajii), on his bookshelf. 

Yet that was hardly a new discovery for the common folks of Kokernag (Kwkarnaag) who were well aware of the secular and humanist concerns of Premiji.

More than the Hindus of the area, it was the Muslim populace there who went to Premiji with their problems, doubts and difficulties and found solution and succor. Why did they kill him and his brilliant son? That is a question the people have been asking without any respite, since that fateful day in April/May, 1990 when the marauders struck.

That question has been asked about martyrs Tika Lal Taploo and Premnath Bhat too, as all of them were known for their secular approach and succoring the needy Muslims. Premiji had dazzling scholarly credentials which he employed to aid, educate and enlighten people of all hues in his native area, without discrimination.

As Urdu translation of Shriimad Bhagvad Giitaa, the book under review shows in ample measure, that killing has cost the literature and scholarship of the state, much. In his preface to the book, Premiji says that he began the Kashmiri translation of the holy book in 1947. That was the time when he was in active contact with Mahjoor.

In his diary entry of 1946, Mahjoor tells that he had taken Premiji with him to meet the then governor to press for Shaaradaa to be adopted as the script for Kashmiri language. Premiji was a choice associate there. 

He was a polyglot. He knew Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Kashmiri and English. He was acquainted with five scripts Shaaraadaa, Devanagri, Nastaaliik, Arabic and Roman. When we read, in the same preface that, in his childhood, he was detailed to graze cattle and had to struggle to acquire a formal education, his scholarly attainments are shown to be as self-acquired as they are stupendous. 

On its back cover, the work under review lists seventeen published and eighteen unpublished works in Urdu, Hindi, English and Kashmiri languages. Premiji was a pioneering writer who brought to fore some of the work of the well-known 18th century Saint Poet, Swami Merza Kaak of Hangalgund. Swami Merza Kaak’s village is almost contiguous with Premiji’s hamlet of Soof Shaali (Supt Shaalii). 

There he had excavated and resurrected the ancient Shrine of Supt Shaaleeshvar, from which the hamlet derives in name. When a work comes from the pen of such a versatile scholar, it becomes a compendium. Sarvaanand Koal Premi’s translation of Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa is a virtual encyclopedia on the whole subject of Bhagavad Giitaa. In fact, the work is divided into two parts. 

The first part, spread over pages, is a comprehensive discussion on anything and everything regarding this holy book. It takes after the work Giitaa Gyaana Pravachan published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur. 

But it must be remembered that Premiji had written this book before 1980. He does not tell when exactly he began his Urdu translation of Giitaajii, though he speaks of having begun the Kashmiri translation in 1947, as mentioned afore. The published work includes views/opinions on the work from two dozen eminent personages including his Guru Mahaatma Goopii Nath Koul, Dr. Karan Singh, Master Zinda Koul, Gulaam Rasool Santoosh, Prem Nath Bazaz, Merzaa Aarif Beeg and Kashyap Bhandu. His multitalented son, Sh. Rajinder Premi, who has been rendering the language, literature and culture of Kashmir a great service by getting his worthy parent’s works published, also showed me another letter from Kashyap Bhandu on the subject. 

Though many of these letters acknowledging Premiji efforts speak of the Kashmiri translation, which is yet to be published, letters from Mahaatmaaji and Bandhuji specifically speak of the Urdu translation.

 Accordingly it is presumed that the translation was completed before 1980’s. That was an era when books were not as easily available as they are today and knowledge about the nuances had to be dredged out with great effort. Premiji’s preface to the work, which would have been appended when the work was ready for print, is dated to the year 1986.

The first part is spread over forty-six chapters. These chapters are filled with dhaarmik (religious), daarshanik (philosophical) as well as cultural information that the student as well the lay reader of Giitaajii would find immensely useful. It is a virtual window on the cultural milieu of this whole country, the subcontinent of India, including Kashmir. It tells of the life of the main personages of not only Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa, but also the great epic Mahaabhaarata. 

Giitaajii, the seminal dialogue between Bhagvaan Krishna and Arjun, on the virtual and spiritual life as well as the due duties of a human being in life, is included in the 18th parva of Mahaabhaarata. In these chapters Premiji tells about the various other poems also designated Giitaa, though four of these are simply the collections of summary shlookas of Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa. 

Here, Premiji also speaks of the Hindu conception of time and counting yugaas (epochs), the philosophical nuances and historical allusions that are relevant to the study and understanding of this one of the most significant holy scriptures of India.

Giitaajii is seen variously as an Upanishad as well as the crux of all upanishadic teaching. Though Giitaajii is not included in the holiest of holy Hindu scriptures, called shruti, which is comprised of Veda, the poem has acquired the stature of a Divine Song by the virtue of its having been uttered by Bhagavaan Krishna. 

As Premiji mentions, Bhagvan Krishna was the most eminent of the ten avataars and is considered shaddakalaa sampurana – the one perfect in all the sixteen attributes – which is the stature of a total Divinity.

That has given Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa the status of a scripture among all the peoms designated Giitaa. It is read by Hindus of all hues. Saints of varied aachaarans from Shankaraachaarya (Advaita), Abhinava Gupta (Shaiva), Raamaanujaachaarya (Vashist Advaita) to Maadhavaachaarya (Duvait), have written commentaries on Giitaajii. That attests to the fact that the appeal and acknowledgement of Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa cutts across callings. In modern times, two signal commentaries by Gandhiji and Radhakrishnan attest to its universality and the enduring appeal.

This wide-spread appeal of Giitaajii, dating at least to early medieval age, disproves the contention of some English writers like Meghanand Desai and Devadat Patnaik that Giitaajii gained acceptance after the oriental scholars translated the Divine Song into English and other European languages. That is true only so far the Europe is concerned. Giitaajii has had a Pan India acceptance, as a universal scripture, since the very days of its being enunciated. That is the reason why Hindus of varied daashanik views have commented on it, as proof of their command as well as the truth of their visions. 

Hindus have been using Giitaajii as the sacred scripture for oath taking all through. Its latest usage in this manner comes from American Congress. That makes the extended discussion on the different aspects related to the main text, given by Premiji in his work, very valuable. And interesting, too. In one chapter Premiji expounds on the usage of epithets Shrii Bhagavaan and Shrii Krishana within the adhyaayas and in the colophon, respectively. 

Such depth of exposition can come only from a scholar who had delved as deep into the subject as Premiji has. He did so in his remote village of Supt Shaali, to reach which Rajinder Premi has to take many detours and change many buses even today, as he puts it.

In one of these chapters Premiji discusses the crucial issue of the number of shlookas in Giitaajii. The sacred book Giitaajii is spread over 18 adhyaayas of Bhishma Parva of Mahaabhaarata, from adhyaayas 25-42 (both inclusive). The epic then gives the number of shlookas in Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa in the 4th shlooka of the next adhyaaya i.e. 43rd adhyaaha of Mahaabhaarata, as 745 with the breakup of 620 shlookaas of Bhagavaan Krishna, 57 of Arjuna, 67 of Sanjaya and one of Dritraashtra.

 However, as Premiji tells the actual number of shlookaas in the adhyaayas 25-42 is the known 700, with the breakup that of 574 of Bhagavaana Krishna, 86 of Arjuna, 39 of Sanjaya and one of Dhritraashtra, the blind king to whom it was recounted by Sanjaya. 

Somehow Premiji does not mention here the Kashmiri version of the shlookas found in the text of shlookaas as given by Raamakanttha and Abhinava Gupta, in their commentaries Sarvatvobhadra and Giitaartha Sangraaha, respectively. There, the text of Giitajii has around 14 and 16 additional shlookas. There is also a difference of 2 and a half shlookaas between the texts of shlookaas given in the commentaries of the two savants of Kashmir.

An additional introductory shlooka, attributed to Arjuna, is sometimes appended to the thirteenth adhyaaya, raising the number to 701. However, this shlooka is not considered original by most commentators, the latest one being Sarvapali Radhakrishnan. The version of Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur, too does not contain this shlooka. The text of shlookas given in Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa Bhaashya of Shankaraachaarya also does not carry this shlooka, giving a text of only 700 shlookas. 

Some people have argued that the shlooka establishes the context for the thirteenth adhyaaya. In the chapter, Premiji reports that his enquiry from Swami Chidbhavananda of Shri Ramakrishna Tapovanan dated 15-2-1971, got the response that inclusion of this shlooka ‘neither adds to not minimizes the trend by its presence or absence’. 

Interestingly, the text of shlookas given by the earliest commentator from Kashmir Raamakanttha, spoken of earlier, does not carry this shlooka while that of Abhinava Gupta carries it. Clearly, the two Kashmiri savants followed different textual traditions. That again tells that there were other commentaries there, antedating these known commentaries.

The first part also carries an interesting discussion on the significance of the number 18, which is the number of adhyaayas of Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa. Premiji links it to various mystic numbers. He points out that the number describes the parvas of the epic, the days the great war was waged, the contingents of army who took part in it etc. These expositions make the study of Premiji’s tome a bewitching experience which once taken up cannot be laid aside till you are through all of them. But, of course, all this is only a prelude to the main work which is the versified translation of Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa in Urdu.

Premiji’s endeavour tells that it was addressed to the particular time he lived in and the place where his audience was i.e. the valley of Kashmir. In 1986, when he wrote the preface, apparently in preparation to getting the work published, there was little hint that the Hindu community of Kashmir would be exiled from the ancestral land. Urdu, as the state language was what all read, and wrote in. Thirty years later, it is only those remnants of the community bred and born in the valley who read Urdu and its Persio – Arabic script. 

Possibly, Premiji had also the majority Muslims in view hoping to take theeternal message of the Divine Song to them, in furtherance of his mission of a wider understanding of the meaning of religion. As it is, Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa is a truly universal scripture that can be read without any specific religious context. Aldous Huxley’s characterization of it as ‘the scripture of the perennial philosophy’ points to that character of Giitaajii transcending all barriers of religion, region and language.

Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa is as inspiring in translation as it is in the original, provided the translator evinces as sufficient a command over the language of translation as in grasping the intent of the original. As a polyglot, with actively working in as many as four scripts and languages, Sarvaanand Koul Premi had that qualification in good measure.

 His simplicity of diction, the compactness of the verse as well as the power to convey the import of the original attest of that. He generally succeeds in conveying even the chhand, which of course comes from his being adept in the art of poesy. As it is, the connotative power of Sanskrit is astoundingly great. The words used in the original have highly evolved as to the import as well as specific implication. 

Conveying the same in a language of limited connotative power, especially in the highly daarshanik subjects dealt in Giitaajii, demands great versatility. And that becomes another dimension of Premiji’s scholarship as he transforms the Sanskrit shlookas into verses in Urdu, almost effortlessly.

Premiji has called his work a unique endeavour. It certainly is so, as long as it is not taken to mean the first Urdu translation. Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa has been translated into almost every language of the world. Before the Urdu translation, it was translated into Persian. Urdu translations both in prose and poesy, are available and many have passed through Premiji’s hands. In the reference section, he lists about a dozen of them including the most well received one by Dil Muhammad, titled Dil Kii Giitaa. He certainly believed that the Divine Song deserved another translation into Urdu and went about it. 

His work tells that he had the scholarship, philosophical insight and literary wherewithal to undertake this task. Apparently the Exile of Hindus from Kashmir and their displacement to diverse lands has not diminished the reach of Premiji’s work. It was successfully serialized last year in Hind Samaachaar, the widely read Urdu paper of North India, over several months. Probably Rajinder Premi can lend the work to be likewise serialized in some Urdu language papers in the South and the East. Premiji’s purpose in investing so much labour in translating Shriimad Bhagavad Giitaa was to take the message to as many minds and visions as possible. That noble mission needs be continued, and may yet being light to the closed minds, wherever they may be sequestered.

Courtesy Rajinder Premi


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September 29, 2021 at 10:24 AM ×

Very valuable review by Dr Bhat of the scholarly work of Pt Sarva Nand Premiji.
May God bless you.

Congrats bro Unknown you got PERTAMAX...! hehehehe...