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Germany: In early May, Rabindranath’s birth anniversary will be celebrated with just routine fanfare. The big anniversaries are over: 150th birth anniversary (2011); the centenary of the English Gitanjali (2012); and the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel Prize (2013). Seminars have been conducted all over the world, many funded by the Indian government, at least two dozen anthologies collecting the speeches and essays of Tagore experts have been published, Tagore’s works have reprinted to an extent which amazes everyone. His works also have seen a good number of new translations from Bengali. My own book, Rabindranath Tagore: One Hundred Years of Global Reception, co-edited with Imre Bangha, attempted an overview of the poet’s standing in the world today.
Now that the Tagore Season has been completed with a good measure of success, it may be the time to take stock. What have I achieved as a translator of Rabindranath’s poetry from Bengali to German which I see as my main contribution?
German translation of Rabindranath began almost as early as English translation. While the English Gitanjali appeared in 1912 in London, the German Gitanjali followed in 1914. Yet, these two translation ventures had a totally different cultural significance. In Great Britain, Rabindranath was a poet from the colonies using the language of the colonizers who succeeded in expressing himself on the level of literature. In Germany, the German translation carried no such ideological and political baggage. In the German perception, Rabindranath was not the poet of a colonized nation speaking to the colonizers; rather, he was a voice from the mystic east speaking to the mysticism — and mysteries-seeking West.
He was seen in the context of German Indology which began in the early 19th century simultaneously with and inspired by German Romanticism. German Romanticism had discovered India as a land of philosophy and wisdom. Hence, the German public of the early 20th century saw in Rabindranath an exponent of the philosophy and wisdom of India, not primarily a poet. More importantly, the sympathetic German public saw in Rabindranath a fellow-Romantic and considered his Romanticism as the entry point through which to understand and appreciate him.
Thus, translating Rabindranath from Bengali to English and translating him to German are two very different exercises. In Anglo-Saxon countries, Rabindranath Tagore is a poet of renown because he did write in English and did receive the Nobel Prize for a book written in English. He is part of the colonial and post-colonial discourse, and his literary work can be viewed in the context of Commonwealth literature.
Such contexts do not exist in Germany. Moreover, in present-day Germany, the romantic mould has become somewhat suspect after an excess of misguided emotions during Hitler’s Third Reich. Tagore, the mystic poet, is still alive in the memory of elderly people who were told to read him by their parents. These parents had witnessed the enthusiasm surrounding the Indian poet in Germany in the 1920s. This lack of a contemporary cultural context makes it an arduous task to create a new — truer, more genuine — image of the Indian poet through translations from the Bengali original. The one valid claim for his rediscovery is that he is a figure of world literature. So far, the translations done from the English to German did not substantiate such a claim. Hence, in German such a claim had to be established and proven anew through philologically correct and literary satisfying translations from the Bengali original. This has been my task during the last twenty years in which six volumes of my poetry translations from Bengali to German have appeared in Germany.
I have done all my translations, without exception, while living at Santiniketan which I call my Indian home since 1980. It was clear to me that I could do them only in Bengal, not outside, certainly not in Germany. Here at Santiniketan, I have the atmosphere and the social environment with its emotions and habits, its nature and its sounds which provide the backdrop of many of the poems and songs that I have translated. This helped me to first understand and then re-create the deeper intuitions and the emotionality of these poems. Further, Santiniketan provides me with the expert help I need in order to know every shade of meaning and get the interpretation of the poems and songs just right.
On the one hand, I am here enjoying good Tagorean fellowship. But on the other hand, I am alone and lonely as a translator into German. No one in Santiniketan can understand and appreciate my translations. West Bengal, therefore, has neither expert praise nor expert criticism for me. The academic community here hardly knows that for the last twenty-five years I have been translating one poem after another, filling six volumes. The community neither joins in my ecstasy that my work gives me, nor comforts me when I am faced with what I call the ‘tragedy of translation’.
Let me, very briefly, give you some details of my translation predicament. In contrast to German, the Bengal language can dispense with the definite and indefinite articles as well as with certain pronouns which instead can be expressed through endings. Auxiliary verbs, too, are incorporated in the verb endings. This makes Bengali curt, compressed, often wonderfully sententious encapsulating one dictum within a few syllables. Try to translate Gele hata in just two words! In English as well as in German it needs a full sentence with an auxiliary clause. German does not have the same gift of brevity. Translating a Bengali line of verse often needs two lines in German. Hence, if you want to fashion a Tagore poem into a German poem, certain judicious compromises regarding the wealth and exactitude of meaning must be admitted.
The claim to create a new poem demands from the translator to deconstruct all the components of the Bengali poem into a “mass” of meaning, rhythm and moods and then rebuild the German poem from that same material. Each line and each sentence needs to undergo the same slow transformation in the mind of the translator. If this progresses happily and that means, if my mind becomes fully attuned to the mind of the creator, Rabindranath, then there is nothing more fulfilling, more intoxicating, than translating poetry. This is what I referred to as the ecstasy which a translator enjoys.
The tragedy is that a translation is never finished. A poem may be complete and perfect, but never the translation of a poem. The translation has to be truthful to itself, as a German poem, and truthful to the original, a Bengali poem. This is walking a tightrope from which I may fall off on the right or the left any moment, sometimes without noticing it.
A special challenge is the translation of rhymed verse-endings. In Bengali, rhyme comes easy as only few endings exist, while rhyming in German language is more demanding as the endings are more in number and more varied. Rhyming had once been the norm in German poetry; modern poetry uses it, too, but less frequently. However, when translating Rabindranath, I cannot abandon rhyme altogether. For example, translating a poem like Sisu without rhyme would mean missing the point — the fun, the banter, the childlikeness — of the poem altogether. Even many Gitanjali poems will be only half as enjoyable and effective without rhyme, as with rhyme. This means that rhyme has to be made a part of the translation effort. This is a tremendous challenge. Rhyme must come naturally and easily, without twists in the sentence structure. But that is not too easy either, otherwise a verse might degenerate into a mere pun on words, a Kalauer. The need for rhyme drastically reduces the freedom of choice of words and increases the need for compromises regarding the wealth and exactitude of meaning. I see the work of a translator of poems as a special call. You must be something of a poet yourself to be excellent. At least, you should rise to become a poet in the process of translation, assembling the elements of the Bengali poem into a new resplendent and self-confident structure. Often I felt an extraordinary union with the poem and with its creator, Rabindranath. In these moments I was aware that translating Rabindranath’s poems means communicating with the poet’s imagination and spiritual persona in a more intense, more intimate way than merely reading his poems. In such moments I feel an almost aching happiness that I am not a mere reader but a translator of Rabindranath’s poetry.
My translations are done. I now devote my time to my own writing which is clearly suffused by the philosophy and poetic vision of Santiniketan’s Gurudev. In a certain manner, my writing is a continuation of my translation work. It is a contemporary interpretation of Rabindranath’s universe of ideas and emotions for modern German society.
The writer is a German scholar based in Santiniketan. His last book is Anubhave anudhyane Rabindranath; Karigar 2016.
Kerala is a land of many good things. It has an abundance of nature, culture, art, and food. It is also a place of legend and myth, and is known for its popular folklore, the legend of Yakshi. This is not a popular tale outside the state, but it is common knowledge for travellers, especially those who fare through forests at night.
The legend of the yakshi is believed to be India's equivalent of the Romanian Dracula, except of course, the Yakshi is a female. Many Malayalis believe that the Yakshi wears a white saree and had long hair. She has a particular fragrance, which is believed to be the fragrance of the Indian devil-tree flowers. She seduces travellers with her beauty, and kills them brutally.
Yakshi idol in Veroor, Sri Dharamashastha temple Image source: wikimedia commons
The Yakshi is believed to live in a palm tree which can appear like a palace. Victims are taken here before they are killed. Travellers on highways are often advised not to stop near heavily forested areas, or speak to anyone who closely resembles a Yakshi. Some believe she can change form, while other hold to the belief that she doesn't. after securing her victim, the only trace left behind is body parts like hair, nails, and teeth.
They say, like other ghosts, a Yakshi's feet will not touch the ground. This is something to look out for. Mysterious deaths have been reported across the rural areas in Kerala, and all these have been attributed to the legend.
Keywords: Legends, Yakshi, Urban legend, Ghost, Kerala, Myth, Vampire
The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others. In India LGBTQ+ community also include a specific social group, part religious cult, and part caste: the Hijras. They are culturally defined either as "neither men nor women" or as men who become women by adopting women's dress and behavior. Section 377 of the India Penal code that criminalized all sexual acts "against the order of nature" i.e. engaging in oral sex or anal sex along with other homosexual activities were against the law, ripping homosexual people off of their basic human rights. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a portion of Section 377 unconstitutional on 6th September 2018.
But the question is, "was India always against homosexuality"? Has the concept of homosexuality being unnatural existed forever? No, in Indian history and Hinduism homosexuality has never been an offense, in fact in several instances it has been depicted how people embraced their identity, be it sexual identity or gender identity. Section 377 was brought to India by the British in 1862, while India was colonized. Even after the Independence, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled it as irrational and illogical.
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Homosexuality in Ancient India
When Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India, there was an uproar about it being a western ideology and liberalism. But in reality, homosexuality has existed since the time of the Vedas. The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) researched and discovered that it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as "Tritiya Prakriti", or the third nature. Ancient India not only made mentions of homosexuality but accepted it as well.
Hinduism is the most vastly followed religion in India. Hinduism does not explicitly mention homosexuality however it does contain a homosexual theme and characters in its text. There have been various instances in our scriptures and texts that have introduced us to LGBT+ characters such as the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati Ardhanariswara meaning "the half-female lord". One of the most popular and ancient texts on sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment of life, "Kamasutra" has a complete chapter dedicated to homosexuality and homosexual sex. Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities.
Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities. Facebook
Our Mughals were Queer
Mughals are often seen under the light of cruelty, rigid ethics, nobility, and polygamy. Simultaneously, Mughals are also the ones credited for the emergence of Sufism, abolished jizya tax, love beyond religion, classes, and gender.
In the Baburnama written in memoirs of our very first Mughal ruler Muhammad Babur, several instances documented Babur's infatuation and affection towards a teenage boy named Baburi. We also have multiple Persian couplets as evidence of Babur's affection for Baburi. Mughals engaged in homosexuality and pederasty, and they believed that later was a form of "pure love".
But as time passed homosexuality was suppressed more and more though people practiced it in secret if revealed they were punished. According to the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri Sharia-based text of the Mughal Empire, there is a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.
British Raj and Independence of India
In 1862, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex came into force. Even after Independence in 1947, the section remained a part of the Indian Constitution. There were protests all over the country to give people of the LGBT+ community basic human rights but it was not until 2018 that The Supreme Court of India ruled the portion of Section 377 has unconstitutional and struck it off. One judge said the landmark decision would "pave the way for a better future.". With Section 377 gone are LGBT+ people allowed to fall in love freely? No, people are still afraid to love because of the stigma in our society when it comes to homosexuality; they are seen as lesser humans.
ALSO READ: Significant Support for Rights for LGBTQ+
Although the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexual activities, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country. Homophobia is still prevalent in India, and homosexual children would rather commit suicide than come out to society with their true identity, that's how harsh of a world we live in. Lacking support from family, society, or police, many gay rape victims do not report the crimes. In 1977, writer and Indian mathematician Shakuntla Devi published "The World of Homosexuals". It was the first study in the Indian context; the book contains interviews with homosexual men set in the years of Emergency. She wrote, "rather than pretending that homosexuals don't exist it is time we face the facts squarely in the eye and find room for homosexual people." We've had small victories in our fight against homophobia and getting LGBT+ community the rights they deserve as humans, but we still have a long and exhausting fight ahead of us.
The Mysore kingdom became a popular tourist destination after India became an independent country. The Wodeyar dynasty who succeeded Tipu Sultan are still royalty, but they do not rule the state. Their heritage and culture have become what Karnataka is famous for.
Among the many things that Mysore offers to the state of Karnataka, the Mysore Peta is one. In north India, various cultures have their own headgears. They wear their traditional outfits on the days of festivities and ceremonies. Likewise, in the south, especially in Karnataka, the Mysore Peta is worn.
Made of the traditional Mysore silk, the Peta is usually a white turban decorated with a gold silk thread. It is worn by the Maharaja of Mysore during Dasara, or any other public appearance. This tradition has been preserved and is used all over the state by prominent leaders.
Politicians who want to appease older, more experienced politicians, offer a peta as a sign of honour. International guests are welcomed into the city with a peta and silk shawl. In universities, the peta is worn as a replacement to the black caps, as a sign of graduation and scholarship.
Even today, in the court of Mysore, petas are worn and given out as tokens of honour. The peta of the king varies from the ones a courtier wears, and even among them, there is a difference according to status. Petas are made by a particular family and passed down from generation to generation.
Keywords: Mysore kingdom, peta, silk, Wodeyar