Rajiv Malhotra and his Infinity foundation are well-known names when it comes to promoting a non-western view on Indic cultures, especially Hinduism. He along with Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji who is another polymath has authored Sanskrit Non-translatable.
It’s an amazing work that highlights the importance of Sanskrit words and their original meaning. This book attempts to reverse the gaze by making a convincing case that English is deficient in its ability to express the profound meanings of the shastras for which Sanskrit words are inevitable. There are many words in Sanskrit that have no English counterpart; therefore any attempt of deliberate translation only results in misinterpretations.
The authors have provided lucid explanations of the basic tenants of Sanatana Dharma and have successfully highlighted many distortions that have been introduced by the use of English words that fail to do justice to the original Sanskrit words.
This book makes a powerful argument for what it calls the Sanskritization of the English language by bringing key Sanskrit words into English vocabulary without any translation. This is a novel and innovative approach that must be pursued along while teaching Sanskrit.
After reading few chapters the readers can understand why translations of Sanskrit words into Hindi or any other Indian language can retain much of the original Sanskrit essence but it becomes less effective when translated to English. The non-translatability of Sanskrit is important for the non-digestibility of Indian traditions.
The word Yoga could not be translated into Exercise, Prayer, or Gymnastics. The non-translatability ensures that Yoga is associated with its origin and development and thus preserves the authentic philosophy and cultural practices surrounding Yoga.
Similarly, Ananda is a fundamental and profound concept in Indian philosophy which is often inappropriately translated as ‘bliss’ or ‘happiness’. While bliss would always remain a mundane concept connected with ordinary life, Ananda is a deeper and multidimensional concept with gradation in its meanings.
Authors have emphasized the internal gradation in the concept of ananda with a whole spectrum of meanings. The jivatman in a state free from all suffering and devoid of all activity is called brahmananda. When a jivatman enters the leela of Bhagavan and performs seva it attains a state called bhaktyananda.
The limited joy experienced by a human being in this world is called martyananda. Thus, there are three levels of ananda. When we collapse all the different varieties of meanings denoted by the word ananda into words such as bliss, joy, happiness which do not have gradational structure and profundity, then the very essence of the word ananda is lost in such translation.
In chapter 7 authors explain why Non-violence cannot be regarded as an absolute rule independent of the context. The ideas of ahimsa are derived from the shastras which recognize that total elimination of violence is impossible and unnatural, so there can only be a pragmatic solution like minimizing violence.
Taking appropriate, punitive action against adharma is an act of ahimsa, and an intrinsic part of the Kshatriya dharma whereas inactivity is an act of himsa as Sri Krishna told Arjuna. Therefore Gandhi’s translation of Ahimsa as non-violence is a misinterpretation and a figment of his own imagination.
This book is an attempt to reclaim civilizational ethos against the onslaught of academics who willfully try to denigrate the Indic traditions and undermines the interests of India through manipulation, subversion, and intellectual dishonesty. Anyone who takes pride in the Indic values, narration, and style would find this book indispensable.
Kanishk Shekhar is an educationalist and political analyst. He is teaching at leading Civil services coaching institutes. His articles are published in Daily O. He is also a book reviewer for a literary magazine.