And I Say Let Them Read Books (RELS 348)

Big news out of India today, as reported in “Trickle of the ClassicsMint Asia, 30 January 2015 by Arshia Sattar. The Murthy Classical Library of India is being launched in an effort that she believes will “almost certainly redefine what we consider a “classic”” Indian text. She explains that a group of mainly Western Scholars being lead by Sheldon Pollock, a “polymath of Indic studies”. The use of Western scholars for such a task “perpetuates the traditional… orientalist paradigm where Western scholars interpret [their] texts for [the people of India]”; however, Sattar argues, there simply are not any translators more familiar with, and more devoted to, these tests than these particular men”. She not only approves of the choice but she is also optimistic of what the future of the project holds in terms of opportunities for domestic translators.

The argument against using Western Scholars for the translation is based on several examples in history where works were translated for the benefit of some one in or someone looking to gain power over a group of people. In For Lust of Knowing Robert Irwin discusses numerous instances in ancient times when texts were translated by foreigners and domestic scholars alike. He demonstrates numerous examples of how these translations were used to support or dispute the given beliefs or claims of the texts, and how various leaders supported mass translations much like the MCLI project primarily for personal gain. For example, in the twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, the Abbot of Cluny and “one of the most influential churchmen in Europe” (26) was responsible for the first Latin translation of the Qur’an. Robert of Ketton, an Englishman, did the translation in cooperation with a Muslim man by the name of Muhammad who was “hired to ensure the accuracy of the translation” (26). Irwin states, “Peter had only commissioned the translation of the Qur’an the better to refute it” (26), although they were “also commissioned to translate other works for polemical purposes” (26). In the chapter “An Ancient Heresy or a New Paganism”, Irwin discusses multiple examples of translation being used for both individual and mass benefit primarily between Christian and Islamic leaders.

Sattar is “over the moon” that they are producing translated texts that “go well beyond Sanskrit to texts of the subcontinent in general as well as to texts that fall outside the so-called classical period”. There is a “width of languages and eras” being worked on in an attempt to “break[] the hegemonic idea of Sanskrit as the only classical language from the subcontinent worthy of attention and as the only language capable of producing texts that are deemed classics”, in an effort to produce texts that can be read by anyone who is inclined as opposed to being limited to scholarly study. The books are for “contemporary readers in English” and are meant to be accessible and affordable to those both within and outside India.

More information about the project can be found at:




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s