Literary Shelf

Diamonds on the Diadem

Essays on Regional Language Fiction in India
in English Translation  – 1


Literature has several functions and creative writing takes many forms called genres. Each genre has slightly different norms for criticism. Literary Translation has come to assume great importance in the context of translation being recognized as a genre. The need for expanding horizons of understanding between various language communities demands literary translation into and from many languages.

Literary translation evolved independent of formal training as an academic discipline. All renowned translators went to literary texts in all languages to import or export literary works in a different language. They did so without any formal training and without the basis of any theory of translation. The translators took the texts they adored and translated them. They forged ahead rendering unto their readers what they thought worthwhile in a language they thought best, to the best of their ability. A new genre “Literature in Translation” came into being.

Literary Translation is not often as formidable a task as it has often been made to appear from a reading of the works of theoreticians and academics on translation theories who are not always translators themselves. In the context of the much needed but unusual spurt in translation activity, it is essential for translators to have something like a set of guiding principles, if not a full-fledged theory in itself. In the absence of a universally valid and accepted theory, translators necessarily follow their own strategies in practice. Though there is nothing like a theory which is immediately applicable to policy, ever since literary translation came to be important in the 20th century context of promoting international understanding, literary translations have been getting reviewed. It would be possible to deduce some principles, which ultimately may yield a complete theory. But it should be borne in mind the theory has to envisage principles to suit each set of source language and target language texts.

If putting an idea into language is one kind of ‘translation’ activity, translating that into another language is another, more difficult, process. In the first instance it is less complex but the second translator poses several problems. In creative writing there is a special significance intended in the use of vocabulary and expressive devices. Aesthetic considerations play a crucial role. This leads to complex problems very frequently. There are so many ways in which a literary text can be rendered into another language. This is not the case in factual, informative writing where the purpose is comparatively narrow and limited. Poetry, for example is imaginative writing, which, usually, lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. The translator needs to be very clever trying to make his translation as variously suggestive and as variedly communicative as the writer of the original text.

Sahridaya is essential for the appreciation of a literary text and it is no less a prime requirement for the appreciation of a translation. For a translator too it is as essential a prerequisite, for he or she has to put across the seen/imagined/felt beauty into the target language. The translator-‘transcreators’ who have ‘rendered’ the texts, for example, into Telugu from Sanskrit centuries ago, were great imaginative artists themselves. They have minds and hearts that could get into that creative frenzy to come up with a version that had been their own in many ways. Their capacity to envision and intuit has earned for them laurels, which they never imagined to accrue to them at all. They must have felt their work a way of redeeming what they believed was rishirina

Literary Translation can only be an enthusiast’s craft and can not be a dilettante’s profession. There is no way a person can be knowledgeable of any theory readily applicable for use for a particular individual text. There is no particular theory for the enthusiast to follow. There are great literary translations which have stood the test of time. But there is none who propounded an all inclusive theory. None has come up with any thing like a prolegomena for any theory of literary translation.

A vast country like ours with twenty-four languages (2007) in our constitution cannot take into its ken all the regional variants of those. Our bhashas, languages of all the states and regions have a veritable treasure strove of literatures. Indian literatures are not just those in the language listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. There are variations not only in language and speech. People’s life styles, customs, food and clothing and, most significantly, all literatures are not the same. To take different literatures into a common and widely known, used and loved language like English, we need a battery of literary translators to put across the beauties of literary artifacts into other languages, and more importantly in English. It is not possible for all to know more than two, three or four regional languages. One has to depend naturally on the widely known and diversely spread English to read and understand more regional languages which is necessary for widening thought and imagination. Polychromatic phantasmagoria is not just a phrase of praise for our literatures in various languages. It is the truth of the essence of our regional literatures.

Regionalism subsists in Nationalism for the regional variants of custom, behavior, tradition and ethos. Regional language novels are unique in the way they depict lives of characters and incidents in the regions of the state. The sad and disturbing conditions of women, the restrictions and constraints imposed in families, areas and regions are given particular emphasis. Poverty, lack of education, backwardness in a number of other things are noticed and treated in depth and detail in our regional language novels. Even ‘modernity’ with its unsavory aspects attracts the attention of the creative writer in our regional writing.

The hegemony and the hierarchies in different classes and castes are shown in depth and detail in our regional fiction. These are provocative, inspiring, painful or pride-giving in the works of writers in regional languages. Literary translators of these have to be very sensitive and understanding of these aspects while rendering vernacular language writing into English.

Out of the twenty-two languages in the Eighth Schedule, novels in only twelve languages are chosen for inclusion in this book. The numbers of the speakers of different languages are taken into consideration. Twelve languages are included in this volume with fourteen essays. Two items in Tamil and Telugu find presence here because of my personal liking of the novels. All other languages like Bodo, Dogri, Kasmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Manipuri, Nepali, Sanskrit, Santhali and Sindhi would be taken up in the next volume. It would take some time to get the translated English versions of the novels in these languages. There is time constraint for my goal is to bring out the book in the present year, 2012. Then there is constraint on the length of the book.

This is not a book of literary criticism or literary assessment. Just as there are pre-views for films, there can be pre-reads for books. Here are good samples of fiction in our regional languages. The pre-views in his work are good reads for those who cannot read the novels in the regional languages. The articles can be like appetizers to the interested readers to taste and promote understanding of the languages in our country. This attempt is to enhance our activities for national integration.

Washing Away Stains
Gurgling Gushes Forth the Brahmaputra

Don’t panic. Taking life is not easy.
Those trying to wipe out this bloody ritual
must be prepared to sacrifice their own blood
’. (p.153)

Man is God’s creation. Man has many a thing to learn from
animals. Only when men and animals live in harmony will
the world become a paradise
’ (p. 180)
- Chinnamasta Jatadhari

The Man from Chinnamasta, a translation from Indira Goswami’s Asomiya novel Chinnamastar Manuhto translated by Prashant Goswami, is one of the finest of the gems in Goswami’s oeuvre. Fondly called Mamoni Raisom, and widely known as agreat Assamese litterateur, among many other occupations and achievements, Indira Goswami goes down the history of highly renowned personalities.

The novel The Man from Chinnamasta is many things in one. Primarily a tale of the way animal sacrifice has come to an end in the widely worshipped temple of the goddess Kamkhya, it has the traits of historiography, hagiography, humanism, faith and devotion besides painting ignorance and superstition. The British rule around 1930s is the time of the novel. Faith and devotion to the goddess, the festivities and worship of the goddess on Kamagiri, called Nilachal, are one aspect of the narration. Kamakhya temple is of Sakta cult. The place is one where Sati Devi’s yoni fell to earth after her self-immolation at her father Daksha’s sacred fire in the Yagna gunda. The foreign rulers who never interfered with the worship or the maintenance of the temple left them to the chief priest without the interference of their officers.

There are multifarious hues and myriad rays of this work of fiction also considered ‘temple literature’ and ‘Kamakhya lore’. [1] The readers are shown incidents of deep faith and devotion. There a vivid portrayal of asceticism, besides the lasciviousness, cruelty and ignorance of characters, both native and colonialist. Animal sacrifice is a widely prevalent expression of devotion to the hill goddess. With the advent of education and new mindsets, animal sacrifice came to be realized both as inhuman and a matter of blind and ignorant faith.

The most important protagonist, the one who thought that the blind belief has to be given up, is Chinnamasta Jatadhari, an ascetic. He leads a veritable crusade against the mindless cruelty towards animals. Many people believe that the practice is part of the aspects of worship to the goddess, revered as Ma, laid down in the scriptures. Jatadhari appears to the people a riddle. He belonged to Trihut in Bihar. Once a student of history in Banaras Hindu University, he had initiation as an ascetic. He roamed around North Kashi, and later went into meditation in a cave in the Vindhyas. He lives at one with nature.

An English woman Dorothy, wife of Henry Brown, principal of Cotton College returns from London where she goes for treatment for infertility. She finds her husband has been having illicit relation with a Khasi woman. She is upset and restless and for peace of mind approaches Jatadhari with the Munshi Vipinchand to talk and attempts to have an audience with the ascetic. When told that she is a Christian and the ascetic says ‘Ask her to speak in front of everyone. In her heart sits the king with the crown of thorns.’ [2] (p.13) He knows what devotion and faith are and since highly educated knows the king with the srown of thorns, Jesus Christ. Devotees come trickling in and sit in rapt attention. When asked what she wants she tells him that she wants peace of mind and is told no one has it. The hermit from Torso who comes there suspects that the acetic wants to touch Dorothy’s yoni for his experiments. Jatadhari gives Dorothy a mahashankhmala made with the bones taken from the forehead of the human skull – the bridge between the nose and the eyes – known as mahasankha and gives her rudraksha explaining ‘When Shiva saw the cruelty on the earth, he wept. Trees sprouted where his tears fell. The seeds from those trees are called rudraksha or god’s tear drops. It is said that those who wear these beads need no longer weep because Shiva weeps for them’. [3] (p.23)

Jatadhari lives in a cave and many come there seeking his help, advice and guidance to be saved from curses, ailments and their own sins. The ascetic does not go by Kalika Purana which lays down animal sacrifice and blood to worship the goddess with. Once Jatadhari tells a woman who comes to him with her apprehensions and fears:

‘Mai, believe me, these are the ancient writings and beliefs. You can no longer smell sacrificed limbs burning in their sacrificial fires, can you? Can anyone today stand for a whole day and night before the Mother, holding an oil lamp in the severed head of a sacrificed buffalo? The sacred bowls in which blood and lotus flowers were offered to the Mother have all disappeared. Today this terrible history has been confined to the deep recesses of dark caves. We will bury this past in a tomb of flowers.’ [4] (p.26)

Brown, Dorothy’s husband, dreads to see Jatadhari. He feels that his wife’s absurd decision to go and live in Darbhanga House is not only a slap on his face but an affront to the Empire, their business, their heritage. Here is the conversation between the Henry and Dorothy:

‘The buggy is waiting Dorothy. Stop this nonsense and let’s go.’ He grabbed at her hand as she tried to shut the window. “Come on”.

Dorothy’s face came down on his hand. She tried to bite herself free from her husband’s vice grip. ‘I’m not going back. Your Khasi woman is pregnant.’ She hissed
‘So that rascal’s put on a spell on you. You slut! Mother of all whores! That’s what you came for? To fornicate with that godman fellow?’ [5] (p.35)

Dorothy is kind, compassionate and sensible. When the drummer Palu goes to her on a kind man’s advice seeking her help to save his son suffering from tuberculosis by getting him medical treatment, she asks him to take all the silver coins that roll down when she takes out a bag from the trunk under her bed.

After the tussle between the wronged woman and her ferocious and hot headed husband, the narrative gushes gurgling like the river Brahmaputra, the only river with the appellation of a male. More incidents, more characters and more problems crop up. The novelist brings in nature with its multitudinous creatures, where men and women cruel and kind, devout and faithless, sage like and brutish, trees, birds and flowers along with incidents with alacrity and gumption.

Ratnadhar, son of Manomohan and Bishnu Priya, is a devout young man who had a disease of screaming fits treated by Jatadhari. He is the ascetic’s right hand man helping him to secure signatures of all in a memorandum to be presented to the chief priest for the stopping of animal sacrifice. He is a painter whom Jatadhar helps giving him instructions as to what is to be painted. The young man paints pictures of great personalities and the events related to the temple areas. The young man falls in love with Bidhibala, the eleven year old daughter of Singhadatta Sarma. He sees her first in Kumari Pooja. Ratnadhar has deep affection for Dorothy who seeks Jatadhari’s guidance in matters spiritual. He takes a silent oath to protect the lady. As a devout disciple, he takes the duties of securing signatures in secret for the memorandum and organizing rallies to present the memorandum to the chief priest of the Kamakhya temple. Animal sacrifice is inhuman bloodshed and requires to be done away with at whatever the cost. This is because of real faith and devotion and education too which brings a change in the mindset of the devout, especially the knowledgeable in spirituality and the young.

This kind of change and the efforts of Jatadhari are not liked by the less tolerant and the ignorant. The hermit from Torso is an example. He croaks skulking behind the shrubbery ‘The curse of Chinnamasta Devi will blast you to oblivion. Your endeavours will come to naught. The very plan you are hatching to stop animal sacrifice will turn on you like a sword of slaughter. Your blood will flow on the sacrificial altar.’ [6] (p.55) Arguments between the believers in Kalika Purana and bloodshed and those who wish to show devotion with flowers and sindhur go on. Trident in one hand and a garland of blood red hibiscus in the other, the Jatadhari strides towards the temple.


Dorothy wants her friend Williams of the Shipping Company to prepare a will to convey her property to the Khasi woman’s child by Henry. When her friend tells her that Henry has not married the Khasi woman, Dorothy gives an emphatic reply. ‘I shall still make the will even if the child is a bastard.’ [7] (p.65)

After this there is an assault on Dorothy and an attempted rape. She defends herself courageously when the man who throws her down and mounts her. She scratches the cheek of the man and his gauged skin remains embedded in her finger nails. The police bring several suspects and she happens to be the very first English woman who goes to the police station. A number of nincompoops are brought in and one after another are produced. They produce even Palu whom she knows. She ridicules the police and asks them ‘Where is the culprit? I tore his cheek. I shall recognize him at once.’ [8] p.(72) After this the hermit from Torso disappears. Jatadhari takes Dorothy away for safety to an undisclosed destination promising Ratnadhar that they would return in time for Deodhwani. The young man is given instructions about collecting more signatures and planning the memorandum. Then comes the time for Ambubachi, an Utsav when the goddess is not to be seen owing to be in her periods.

An important incident happens. The buffalo which Singhadatta Sarma brings for sacrifice disappears. Bidhibala’s wedding is fixed. The groom to be is about forty (for the eleven year old girl) with five granaries and two wives. Bidhibala sees the buffalo grow and is very unhappy that it would be sacrificed. She does not agree to marry the old man.

As their wont the tantriks and the ignorant old timers support and animal sacrifice to be practiced. ‘Deliverance comes only when sacrifice is offered. Sacrifice will lead you to heaven.’ But an old woman cries: ‘A little while ago it was eating grass and leaves. Why did you kill the helpless soul? It was alive. See, see how it voided its bowels in fear. O You blood thirsty goddess, take my head as well.’ [9] (p.93)

People in the temple town have strange notions, wild beliefs and extraordinary practices. A talk goes round that the Godddess Chinnamasta has manifested herself in the white woman, Dorothy. For Ambubachi festival Singhaddatta and family come to the temple. Ratnadar has been asked to show Darbhanga House of which he has the key to Bidhibala.
Ratnadhar shows his paintings to her. He covers only one for some reason but the girl insists on seeing it. He is importuned to show it. It is the picture of a buffalo sacrifice. Bidhibala requests Ratnadhar to save the buffalo whose growth she has seen and he takes the animal down the shortcut.

Ratnadhar gets busy taking signatures and planning the procession for presenting the memorandum. For Kumari Pooja the prostitutes come. Bidhibala goes into their camp and is hidden there with the help of an old woman who does not allow the one searching for the goddess-like girl. The women bring along with them bags of dust from the doorsteps of the prostitutes. Ratnadhar knows that the bags contained the dust. Ratnadhar explains to his friends: ‘Besides the other essential offerings for Durga Puja, the five sacred articles from the cow, rain water, dew drops, water from a conch shell, water from eight pitchers, water from the hoof print of the ox, water from a golden pot, dust from a prostitute’s door step is also required.’ [10] (p.110) It is also explained that young girls from the brothels, who have not reached puberty , also take on the mantle of the Almighty Mother during Kumari Puja.

Before Deodhwani crowds of devotees swell in front of Chinnamasta temple. Different kinds of people with different hopes and aspirations, also differently dejected, lost or dazed. A group comes from Safa Khanor from the tributary Manah of the Brahmaputra. A girl from a village engaged to a boy refuses to marry the boy and the fellow stops eating. Jatadhari is believed to solve the problem since once he revived a dying marriage. Some come to win the case for their land when the other party threatens to eliminate them seeking Jatadhar’s help. A devotee rubs his hands and feet reciting shlokas of subjugation. It is believed by some that there are still powerful ascetics like Kumaril Bhat who can inflict disease with the Bhagandar shloka. One regales the people around him with this advice: ‘“Take some dove-droppings, oil extracted from seeds of the bitter gourd, a donkey’s bones and the root of the mayur creeper. Grind them to a paste. Apply it on your enemy’s forehead. Wait and see – your enemy’s face will shine like the ten heads of Ravana.’ The audience burst into laughter. ‘If you want to turn your enemy into a cat, put some seeds of the era plant in a black cat’s mouth and plant those seeds in black soil. Once it grows, pick the seeds and grind them to a paste. Apply it on your enemy’s face and it will change into a cat’s face.’” [11] (pp.124-26) Incidents like these reveal the intent of the author to pooh-pooh stupid beliefs and misleading faith.

Singhadatta Sarma upset when his buffalo is said to have disappeared shrieks in alarm and roars that he would bring ten buffalos for the ten armed Mother selling his land and everything. He takes his children to the priests at the temple of Mahadev during Deodhwani. Dorothy and Jatadhari return from their secret sojourn.

It is in this context a devotee comes to see Jatadhari and speaks about the 16th century tantrik text of Yogini Tantra which describes the rituals for Shakti worship in Kamakhya and the other sacred places in Kamrup. The scripture recommends flowers are higher than blood in the worship. Readers are given the history of the temple and the kings who maintained or nearly destroyed the places of worship.

Singhadatta pounces on Ratnadhar. He is convinced that the young man is responsible for Bidhibala’s disappearance. He kicks, punches and beats him till the boy is covered with blood. Just then Jatadhari comes and pulls the young Ratnadhar from the Brahmins deadly grip. He tells him that he has seen Bidhibala in the boat along with the prostitutes from North Shekadhari. He lifts the boy’s limp, unconscious body and marches off, his disciples following suit.

Students are agitated that Jatadhari’s life may be in danger but are told: ‘Do not panic. Taking life is not easy. Those trying to wipe out this bloody ritual must be prepared to sacrifice their own life.’ The inspired students chorused: ‘Yes. Those trying to stop blood being spilled must not be afraid to sacrifice their own blood.’ [12] (p.153)

The old woman who saves Bidhibala when people come searching for beats her forehead on the holy ground of Kamkhya saying: ‘Oh Ma! Forgive me for this great sin.’ She broke into a high pitched lament. ‘Mother, she would eat neither a morsel nor drink a drop of water the past month. We are prostitutes from Shekhadari – but we did not force her into our trade. She came to us herself. She just cries over and over again, “My buffalo has been sacrificed. My buffalo has been sacrificed.”’ [13] (p.154)

Ratnadhar discharged from the hospital sees and sits by the sacrificial altar and sits weeping. He cries bemoaning her death: ‘Bidhibala is dead! Bidhibala is dead! Who killed her?’ The altar was wet with the blood of animals recently offered to the Goddess Manasa. Ratnadhar struck his head against it, “Bidhibala, they made a sacrifice of you instead of the buffalo,” he wailed’. [14] (p.156)

On the last day of the Deodhwani Dorothy chatters on to the student gazing into the sparkling waters of the Brahmaputra. “The jatadhari read tantras to me while we travelled north to North Shekadhari. He read me some lovely stories too. I can read the Asomiya script now. Did you know that in some bygone era the nymph Mahoharu, who was also known as Kunkawati, a celestial courtesan, was cursed and sent down to earth. Her descendents, the Soumars, once ruled over Kamrup … Now I can read them myself. Have you heard the tale of conceit?” [15] (pp.169-70) The student from the tol listens with astonishment. This has great significance since these are almost her last words. The student takes her up the hill for a secure location to watch the dance of the deodhas. Dorothy stands under a wood apple tree. A shot rings out from the forest down below.

We are told “Like a vandalized minaret, Dorothy Brown’s bullet ridden body roles down the slop. The bullets rippled mercilessly into the branches of the wood apple trees.” [16] (p.174) The writer’s use of language and figures of speech are mastery and extremely suggestive. The British woman no longer breathing is a minaret (not a Hindu construction) and vandalized (destroyed with all her beauty and worth broken into smithereens). Her body is dragged into the Darbhanga House by the student and in no time the murder is solved. It is the act of destruction and sacrilege by the villainous husband who went the previous evening practicing shooting fiercely.

Very soon the petition is presented as a memorandum by students who go to the chief priest in a procession. Those standing there look daggers at the presenters but the chief priest shows his composure raising his hand now and then. Jatadhari keeps his dignified silence. A priest in red robes asks with relish, ‘You have said that if it is blood that is required, devotees should offer their own. Haven’t you?’ Once again there was silence. “Since you speak of blood, let us see some proof here and now,” he said in a dialect from Upper Assam.

The other tantriks in his band chorused. “The goddess is satiated for a thousand years with one human sacrifice. Devotees can earn the same benefit by offering their own blood. Now let the act commence.” … All the tantriks shrieked their hysterical agreement. [17] (p.185-86)

Jatadhari’s goes forward to stand five yards from the chief priest at the sacrificial altar. The writer expresses the protagonist’s condition in frenzied imagination. “Like the mighty Ravana who grew in strength with every wound in battle, he drew a razor from his waistband for all to see, sliced a piece of his own flesh from below his navel. Holding his bleeding flesh in one hand, he called, “Ma! Ma!” [18] (p.186)

Within a few seconds hundreds of devotees begin to cut flesh from their bodies. The sacrificial altar gets drenched with blood until after midnight. It rained in the night and not a single bloodstain remained. That is the end of bloodshed and animal sacrifice. Now the evil practice is a thing of the dark and forgotten past.

Amritjyoti Mahanta’s afterward appended at the end (with pages not numbered) says:

“What is remarkable about this novel is that the author presents various aspects around Kamkhya temple with effortless ease.” He also writes that Dr Prafulla Kotoky, in his preface to the original Assamese edition Chinnamastar Manuhto refers to it as a successful example of ‘temple literature.’ Commenting about this work listed under the genre of novel in the strict sense of the term, he prefers to call it ‘Kamakhya lore’.

It is for today’s reader to decide for one’s own self whether this is a temple novel or a work belonging to the Kamakhya lore. It is not fair to this work of fiction a limited appreciation. It is a beautiful picture of humanism and everlasting devout thinking and real faith

Works cited

  1. Goswami Indira, The Man from Chinnamasta (Translation of Assamese Chinnamastar Manuhto by Prashant Goswami), Katha, New Delhi, 2006, Afterword by Amritjyoti Mahanta.
  2. p.13
  3. p.23
  4. p.26
  5. p.35
  6. p.55
  7. p.65
  8. p.72
  9. p.93
  10. p.110
  11. p.124-26
  12. p.153
  13. p.154
  14. p.156
  15. p.169-70
  16. p.174
  17. p.185-86
  18.  Ibid.

Continued to "Many Dreadfuls" 


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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