muthu lakshm's A FEW QUESTIONS

Ashok Aklujkar aklujkar at UNIXG.UBC.CA
Sat May 13 15:59:47 UTC 2000

The phrase "satya.m ;siva.m sundaram" does not seem to be of Indian origin,
although all the ideas it expresses were dear to traditional India and have
found ample and beautiful expression in pre-modern Indian literature,
especially Sanskrit. The phrase is most probably one of those rare
instances of translation of concepts which succeed perfectly. For "Truth,
Goodness and Beauty" Sanskrit happened to have exact or almost exact
equivalents, which, when put together, formed a short and alliterative
triplet (a triplet with more 'punch' and beauty than the original, at least
to my ears). The individual words of the triplet happened to be parts of
common vocabulary in all literary languages of India. There was already a
widespread tradition, especially in Bhakti literature (and there too
particularly in Bhakti literature concerning ;Siva), of bringing the ideas
of Truth, Goodness and Beauty together (especially the first and the
third). As a result, I would guess, when someone on the Indian scene (in
the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century?) used the phrase
'satya, ;siva and sundara' to capture a European philosopher's way of
thinking (a profound insight and philosophy of life in itself), the phrase
was taken over by Indian intellectuals as if it had no foreign origin.
Something of which all ingredients were present in Indian thinking and
languages simply came to the forefront as a new and powerful combination.

Durga Bhagwat (= Bhagavata), in a Marathi article of hers (included in one
of the collections of her essays, to which I cannot provide a precise
reference at present), has tried to trace the origin of satya.m ;siva.m
sundaram. As far as I recall, (a) she does not come to a definite
conclusion other than the one with which my preceding paragraph began,
namely that the phrase is most probably a translation, and (b) she does not
offer the speculation I have offered as to why the phrase was so quickly
assimilated into Indian thinking.

One of the most revealing and enjoyable instances of the use of the phrase
is V. Raghavan's verse: dharmo brahma raso naama ;siva.m satya.m ca
sundaram / yaa tridhaa tattvam uuce taa.m sa.msk.rta-pratibhaa.m numa.h //
(a verse printed at the back of the early issues of the periodical
Sa.msk.rta-pratibhaa, which Raghavan used to edit for the Sahitya Akademy
of India; this periodical is still published and is one of the better
avenues for publication of modern Skt literature).

Given Rabindranath Tagore's general philosophy of life, I would guess that
he played a significant role in the popularization of "satya.m ;siva.m
sundaram". (Could Tagore have been the one who translated the
concept-triplet for the first time?) However, I have no competence to
follow up on this guess.

>1. who translatead Arabian Nights into Sanskrit?< Please check V.
>Raghavan's writings on modern Sanskrit literature, the list in M.
>Krishnamachari's _History of Classical Sanskrit Literature_, etc.

Ashok Aklujkar

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