[INDOLOGY] earliest translations of Sanskrit or other Indian-language works?

Will Sweetman will.sweetman at gmail.com
Tue May 30 08:50:42 UTC 2023

Thanks to Shankar and Christophe for mentions of my work. I've only now
caught up to this discussion - I don't have much to add on these earliest
translations to what is in the works of mine already cited.

However, it might be of interest to note what I believe to be one of the
earliest direct translations from an Indian language text to English,
namely the translation by John Marshall (an EIC factor) and Madhūsudhana (a
Bengali Brahmin) of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa into English in 1674-77. The
manuscript, which I believe to be a first draft, provides fascinating
evidence to suggest that Marshall and Madhūsudhana followed the same method
as the Mughal translators of Sanskrit texts into Persian studied by Prof.
Nair and others - that is, oral translation from Sanskrit to an Indian
vernacular and only thence to the final language (English or Persian). I
think this method was very widely used by early modern European "readers"
of Indian texts and accounts for much of the deviation from the "original"
texts which we find in early European renderings of Indian texts.
Marshall's work is, in my view, unduly neglected. After his death
his translation of the BhP (and another work which purported to be, but
certainly was not, the Sama Veda) was sent to Marshall's former teacher at
Cambridge, John Covell. It was shown by him to John Locke, who offered to
arrange publication in Churchill's Collection of Voyages and Travels.
Covell wanted to add his own notes and reflections to the text before
publishing and it never appeared. The texts may also have been shown to
Henry More, another teacher of Marshall and much interested in

Marshall's may also be the first translation of any Indian religious text
NOT by a missionary. It is refreshing for the almost total lack of
derogatory comment directed at Hinduism, even though it translates episodes
from the Krishna līlā and more (for instance, the version of Bhagīratha's
birth which makes him the result of intercourse between two women found in
the Kṛttivāsa Rāmāyaṇa).

Ngā mihi


On Wed, 17 May 2023 at 07:48, Shankar Nair via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> Thank you for this additional information, Prof. Vielle. I at last tracked
> down my source, which is another Will Sweetman contribution, "Reading
> Jesuit Readings of Hinduism," in *Jesuit Historiography Online* (Brill).
> The details I provided were slightly off, so better to consult Prof.
> Sweetman's own words:
> "In 1558, a text called *Anādipurā**ṇ**a* was seized from the house of a
> prominent Hindu during the festival of Divali. The following year, a
> Brahmin who had converted and taken the name Manuel d’Oliveira stole a
> collection of books from another Brahmin living in the hinterland of Goa.
> Copies were sent to Europe, together with translations made by d’Oliveira.
> The copies extant in Europe include texts in both Marathi and Konkani,
> mostly episodes from the Mahābhārata and Rāmayāṇa, as well as the
> translations into Portuguese. These texts, together with the *Anādipurā*
> *ṇ**a*, became important sources for the Jesuits in Goa. As well as being
> put to use in Goa in sermons against the Brahmins and as sources for the
> accounts of Indian religion in Jesuit histories by Alessandro Valignano
> (1539–1606) and Sebastiam Gonçalves (1555?–1619), they were also used for
> vocabularies like those composed by Diogo Ribeiro (1561–1635) and Miguel
> d’Almeida (1610–83 or 1687) and as models for Christian works in Marathi
> like Thomas Stephens’s (1549–1619) *Discurso sobre a vinda de Jesu
> Christo* (1616)—the so-called *Kristapurā**ṇ**a—*and Etienne de la
> Croix’s (1579–1643) *Discursos sobre a vida do Apostolo Sam Pedro*
>  (1629)."
> Best wishes,
> Shankar Nair
> Associate Professor
> Department of Religious Studies and
> Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures
> University of Virginia
> On Tue, May 16, 2023 at 3:26 PM Christophe Vielle <
> christophe.vielle at uclouvain.be> wrote:
>> About Shankar Nair's reference to a "mention (I believe by Will
>> Sweetman) of an *Anādipurā**ṇ**a *that a Brahmin convert to
>> Christianity, Manuel d’Oliveira, partially translated into Portuguese via
>> Marathi/Konkani, ca. 1558 (mostly episodes from the *Mahābhārata* and
>> *Rāmayāṇa*)".
>> More precisely, dating from that early time (1558-60),  there remains two
>> Portuguese *summaries* (not real translations) of this Anādipurāṇa (ascribed
>> to Namdev), both in manuscripts. One is to be found in a Portuguese
>> (Evora) manuscript referred to by W. SWEETMAN  “The Absent Vedas”, JAOS 139/4,
>> 2019, p. 783 fn. 8; the other summary is in a similar ms. in Rome (ARSI Goa
>> ms.) where there is also to be found a Portuguese adaptation of the 13th
>> chapter of the Marathi Jñāneśvarī, and the Livro de Datatraia or
>> Hiogirazatalicu, viz. an adaptation of Amr̥tānanda's Yogarājaṭiḷaka,
>> again a Marathi work. (on the contents of these two, similar,
>> manuscripts, see Panduronga S. S. PISSURLENCAR, “A propósito dos primeiros
>> livros maratas impressos em Goa”, Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama 73,
>> 1956, pp. 59-61:
>> http://memoria-africa.ua.pt/Library/ShowImage.aspx?q=/BIVG/BIVG-N073&p=75
>> ). See here attached the article of J. WICKI, “Old Portuguese Translations
>> of Marathi Literature in Goa: c. 1558- 1560“, Indica 12, 1975, pp.
>> 22-26, who unfortunately was not able to edit, as promissed (at the end of
>> this article), these early translations/adaptations.
>> Le 16 mai 2023 à 18:18, Shankar Nair via INDOLOGY <
>> indology at list.indology.info> a écrit :
>> Dear John,
>> It's a good question that could have different answers depending on your
>> "parameters" -- particularly the question of direct vs. mediated
>> translation. Anquetil-Duperron's translation of the Upaniṣads, for
>> instance, as Prof. Lindquist just mentioned, was translated from the
>> Persian version of Dara Shikoh.
>> A more extended case of such mediation could take us back to the Middle
>> Ages, when the *Pañcatantra *was translated into Latin via Pahlavi and
>> Arabic (there under the title *Kalila wa Dimna*). From Latin, the *Pañcatantra
>> *quickly found its way into numerous other European languages: according
>> to Edgerton (1924), it was certainly extant in Greek, Spanish, Italian,
>> German, English, Slavonic languages, etc., before 1600. Olivelle (2009)
>> offers a general trajectory of Sanskrit --> Pahlavi --> Arabic --> Syriac
>> (10th/11th c.) --> Greek (11th c.) --> Latin; there is also another
>> fascinating trajectory from Sanskrit --> Pahlavi --> Arabic --> Persian -->
>> Spanish (ca. 1251) and Hebrew (12th c.) --> Latin (between 1263-1278). The
>> life of the Buddha has a comparable trajectory, eventually becoming the
>> story of *Barlaam and Josephat* via Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, and other
>> languages.
>> In the vein of Abraham Rogerius, early Christian missionaries were of
>> course active from the early 16th c., particularly the Jesuits. It's
>> well-known that they were translating in the other direction (translating
>> Christian materials into Indian languages), but I'm just not familiar
>> enough with the materials to know about the earliest translation in the
>> other direction. The 1610 (and onwards) Portuguese translations that Prof.
>> Vielle mentions are certainly noteworthy in this vein. I have encountered
>> mention (I believe by Will Sweetman) of an *Anādipurā**ṇ**a *that a
>> Brahmin convert to Christianity, Manuel d’Oliveira, partially translated
>> into Portuguese via Marathi/Konkani, ca. 1558 (mostly episodes from the
>> *Mahābhārata* and *Rāmayāṇa*).
>> Adding a different kind of ambiguity to your question is when Europeans
>> would themselves patronize translations into *Persian*, which would then
>> later find their way into European languages. Rosanne Rocher (1983, pp.
>> 48-72) tells us of Warren Hastings' commission of a Persian translation
>> of the *Vivādārṇavasetu*, then translated into English by Halhed as *A
>> Code of Gentoo Laws* in 1776. This is just one of numerous
>> European-commissioned translations in this time period that were mediated
>> by Persian (see Carl Ernst, "Muslim Studies of Hinduism?," 2003).
>> Hope this helps,
>> Shankar
>> Shankar Nair
>> Associate Professor
>> Department of Religious Studies and
>> Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures
>> University of Virginia
>> On Tue, May 16, 2023 at 9:53 AM Nemec, John William (jwn3y) via INDOLOGY <
>> indology at list.indology.info> wrote:
>> Dear Indology Colleagues,
>> Speaking with a colleague, recently, who is not subscribed to this list,
>> a question arose as to the first works translated from an Indian language
>> into a Western one (including Dutch, Portuguese, Latin, French, English,
>> Italian, Spanish, German, etc.).
>> I am of course aware that Charles Wilkins rendered the *Bhagavadgītā* into
>> English at a relatively early date, I believe in 1785.  I found
>> reference to 1789 for William Jones's translation of the
>> *Abhijñānaśākuntala*.  Before these there was a rendering (into Dutch
>> and not first into Latin, though there was a dispute evidently over this
>> fact) of Bhartṛhari's poems by Abraham Roger/Abraham Rogerius, posthumously
>> in 1651.
>> Could anyone provide more and/or better information about the history of
>> the translation of Sanskrit texts and works of other Indian source
>> languages into Western/European languages?
>> Thank you.
>> Sincerely,
>> John
>> ______________________________
>> John Nemec, Ph.D. (he, him, his)
>> Professor of Indian Religions and South Asian Studies
>> Editor, Religion in Translation Series (Oxford University Press)
>> 323 Gibson Hall / 1540 Jefferson Park Avenue
>> Department of Religious Studies
>> University of Virginia
>> Charlottesville, VA 22904
>> 434-924-6716
>> nemec at virginia.edu
>> https://virginia.academia.edu/JNemec
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>> –––––––––––––––––––
>> Christophe Vielle <https://uclouvain.be/en/directories/christophe.vielle>
>> Louvain-la-Neuve
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