Views of Indian Scholars on Translations of the Vedas


Compiled by London swaminathan

Article No.1901; Dated 31 May 2015.

Uploaded at London time: 18-18

“The Rigveda is not only the oldest and hoariest religious text of the oldest living religion in the world today- Hinduism, but also the most authentic record of the Vedic Hindus.

The entire text was kept alive over a long period, almost without change of a tone or a syllable, in oral form recited and memorised from generation to generation. A text which is alive in this manner, as part of a living tradition, cannot be analysed without reference to what that tradition has to say about it”.

About twenty foreign scholars tried their hands on translating the Vedas into European languages from Sanskrit. All of them failed miserably. Indian scholars are able to identify the blunders in foreign translations. Since the foreign “scholars” were not sons of the soil, they could not understand the culture. They came with a motive to undermine the country and Hindu religion. And they believed that the world was created at 9 am on 23rd October 4004 BCE!!!

To understand the foreign psyche, one must read the estimate of Indian scholars:

P Subrahmanya Aiyer, Sanskrit Curator, King’s Library, Bangkok, Siam (Thailand)

Today when the Vedic literature, though venerable as ever, has ceased to offer solace and inspiration to suffering millions, ignorant as they are of its language; when the western scholarship alone – all honour be to them – have taken the trouble of explaining our religious scriptures , imperfectly of course owing to their lack of faith in it , and still more because of their defiance for such accredited scholars as the great Sayana and others; when the weight of controversial religious literature and meaningless babbling for reforms embarrass every sensible man , your translations of a  religious literature which needs no expatiation upon it, marks, I swear with truth, a red letter day in our national history.

(Sent on the occasion of publication Vidhyanandatirtha Maharishi’s Translation of Rig Veda into Tamil, Year 1937).

Following extract is taken from The Rigveda- A Historical Analysis by Shrikant G.Talageri :–

About B K Gosh: The first Mandala falls naturally into two parts: the first fifty hymns have the Kanvas as authors like the eighth Mandala……

Actual fact: 1-1-12, 24-30 (nineteen hymns) are by Viswamitras

1-31-35 (five hymns) are by Angirases

1-12-23, 36-50 (26 hymns ) are by Kanvas

About D D Kosambi: The principal Vedic God is Agni, the god of fire; more hymns are dedicated to him than to any other. Next in importance comes Indra”

Actual fact: The ratio between number of hymns and verses to the two gods, by any count is Indra: Agni=3:2

About Maurice Bloomfield: Under the title “Untrustworthiness of Anukramani statements shown by the repetitions”, Bloomsfield remarks that the statements of sarvanukramani….. betray the dubiousness of their authority in no particular more than in relation to the repetitions………………….

However, the repetitions do not disprove the authenticity of the Anukramanis. The repetitions in the Rigveda are representative of a regular phenomenon in classical and liturgical literature throughout the world.

About Rajesh Kochar: There is even an extreme lunatic fringe which would like to suggest that the Ganga and Yamuna of the Rig Veda are rivers in Afghanistan. A political ‘scholar’, Rajesh Kochar, as part of a concerted campaign to show that the events in the Ramayana took place in Afghanistan, transfers the entire locale of the epic to Afghanistan: Ravana’s Lanka can be a small island in the midst of River Indus…by Vindhyas is meant Baluch Hills, and by sea the Lower Indus. He does this under the cover of examining the geography of the Rig Veda.

mahati vedapatasala

About Griffith’s blunders

Jahnavi is another name of River Ganges. Griffith translates it as as Jahnu’s children (1-116-19) and the house of Jahnu (3-58-6)

The evidence, however, admits only one interpretation. It is River Ganga.

In RV 7-5-3, Griffith mistranslates the name of the River Asikni as dark hued people, thereby killing two birds with one stone: the people of Askini become the dark hued races, thereby wiping out the sense of direction inherent in the reference, while at the same time introducing the racial motif.

Griffith again mistranslates names of the tribes as “armed with broad axes” and the word “praca” as “forward”

(In my post “Conspiracy of Foreign Scholars”, posted on 18th April, 2015, I have given more details of T H Griffith’s mistranslation of the word Arya in Valmiki Ramayana)

Griffith in his foot note to RV 6-61-2, suggests that perhaps Sarasvati is also another name of Sindhu or the Indus.

Griffith, in his footnote to 10-75-5, takes pains to suggest that the poet addresses first, the most distant rivers.  Actual fact is the Eastern most river (Ganga) is the first river.

Bhagwan Sing in his book “ Vedic Harappans”

“No commentator or translator of the Rigveda can be relied upon blindfold; this is more so because both traditional and modern scholars have committed serious blunders in determining the socio- cultural milieu of the Rigveda which had a great bearing on the correct interpretation of a passage. Traditional commentators, working in an age when the social position of merchants had played a hegemonistic role. Western translators could not get reconciled to the fact that a civilization we meet in the disruptions of the Rigveda could have prospered at such an early period. They therefore started with  reductive interpretations—a mistake which was not rectified even after the discovery of Harappan civilization.


Marxist View of Indian History

The trouble with some of the Marxist scholars was that they lifted abstract and absolutist theories from Marxist text books and thrust them on the Vedic society without attaching any importance to the specific character and exclusive features of that society. Before lifting extracts from Morgan and others it should have been seen how many tribal societies governed by chiefdoms had created and cared to preserve in bulk a literature approximating the level of the Rigveda or how many of them had cared to remember the poets of each of the compositions popular in their society, or how many of them living on predatory enterprise had evolved a moral code in which a theft, violence, aggressiveness, arrogance, dependence on unearned income, lying, immodesty in speech and behaviour including even the sins contemplated but not committed, are condemned in the most disparaging terms and propitiated by conscientious persons.

No doubt the Vedic language is terse and almost fossilised. But its terseness is more due to misconceived notions in regard to the cultural level of its authors. If Max Muller wanted to read “the first beginnings of our society” and “the earliest deposit of the Aryan speech” in it, he had on the one hand to treat it as a product of early childhood of our society which it is not, and on the other to eulogize it –“few understand children and still fewer understand antiquity” – and finally to hold that “large number of the Vedic hymns are childish in the extreme; tedious, low, commonplace” as well as “ dead letter to us”.

An overdose of poetry in history can ruin the charm of both. But we do agree with Max Muller when he says that, “No translation in any modern language can do them justice”, and adds that translation in a foreign tongue, and more so in metrical limitations, can compound the plight by new dimensions to inaccuracy.

But the Rigveda is neither a dead letter nor a living word one has to grapple with the text with the help of Sayana and modern translators, though both of them fall short of  our requirement as we have stated at the outset. We find even key words like Devata and Rsi to have been misinterpreted by scholars like Macdonell who had also translated the Brhatdevata in which the terms have been defined.

yajur veda

According to Saunaka, he who speaks in a dialogue is rsi of that verse. In other words Rsi is not necessarily the poet but the character, whether human or sub human or superhuman who is made to utter the dialogue.

Likewise Devata is not a divinity but the subject of the verse, and so it could be a deity, or an action, or an object, or even a vice. That is why we have such entities in the list of rsi names as Indra, Garuda, Vaisvanara, Sarama the dog, Vrsakapi, Indrani, Masa, marbles for gambling, Panis, Atma or soul, Jara or paramour, rivers, fish, Yama, Yami Saptarsi, Snake/sarpa, Sarparajni/chief  female snake, Soma etc. likewise we find in the list of Devatas such objects as Isu/arrow, Jya/bow string, Varma/armour, Grava/pressing stone, Ulukhala/mortar, Musala/pestle, Krsi/agriculture, Dhanu/bow, Asva/horse etc.

If Macdonell mistook them for divinities or gods, we can well understand the state of Vedic studies and the limitations of modern scholars. Likewise, we find in Griffith translating Samudra as ‘flood’ even in contexts where it clearly means ocean, ‘sena’ as host and bhisag as leech. We can imagine how misleading the translations may be, if we do not our selves read the original carefully.

In most of the studies, scholars ignore information which is inconvenient to them lest their thesis gets demolished. Sometimes they dismiss an entire development in one sentence without going into its merits.

So reconciliation of all the crucial points is the real challenge and there lies the key to correct conclusions.