Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ali Baba and Forty Thieves - in Sanskrit

A good friend of mine, today passed on a link to an amazing book - "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves".

Before you wonder what has this got to do with Sanskrit, this is a translation in the reverse direction.

So far, I had heard of Sanskrit works being translated in other languages from thousands of years, going to Persia, then to Europe - be it the Pañchatantra, Hitopadésha, Upaniṣhad-s, or the Bhagavad-Gītā, Rāmāyaṇa or Māhābhārata.

The story of Ali Baba and Forty Thieves from Arabia was translated in Sanskrit in 1934 by Shrī Govind Krishna Modak, a Sanskrit teacher at New English School, Puṇé.

Even back in 1934, there were enough good Sanskrit scholars, even at school level, who could translate the whole story, even if it was from a non-Indian background. That implies that Sanskrit does have the ability to express modern topics, alien landscapes, contrary to many who believe that the language is not growing any more, and it cannot grow anymore and is good only for ancient topics. Sanskrit was fully vibrant and alive in lower academic institutions as well.

From the preface of the book –
“In the hands of Mr. Modak, the language becomes a wonderfully facile and fluid instrument of expressing the thought in the simplest and most natural way. The language is simple, flowing and chaste.”

The book opens with a salutation to the divine (namo bhagavaté tubhyam vāsudévāya dhīmaté, नमो भगवते तुभ्यं वासुदेवाय धीमते) as is the tradition in India.

In the style of Hitopadésha, Pañchatantra etc. the author also brings in existing famous Nīti shloka-s and uses them in context in the book. Here are some examples –

Page 8:
puṣhpam-puṣhpam vichinvīta, mūlach_chhédam na kārayét |
mālākāra ivārāmé, na yathāṅgārakārakaḥ || 3 || (IAST)
puShpam-puShpam vichinvIta, mUlach_chhedam na kArayet |
mAlAkAra ivArAme, na yathA~NgArakArakaH || 3 || (ITRANS)
पुष्पंपुष्पं विचिन्वीत मूलच्छेदं न कारयेत् |
मालाकार इवारामे न यथाङ्गारकारकः ||
That is, “Pluck flowers without destroying the roots, like the garland maker, and not like the coal-maker.”
The coal-maker destroys the who tree, but the garland maker plucks only the flowers, so the tree keeps giving more. Like the golden goose!


kāka-tālīya_vat-prāptam dṛiṣhṭvāpi nidhim_agrataḥ |
na svayam daivamādatté, puruṣhārtham_apékṣhaté || 4 ||  (IAST)
kAka-tAlIya_vat-prAptam dRiShTvApi nidhim_agrataH |
na svayam daivamAdatte, puruShArtham_apekShate || 4 || (ITRANS)
काकतालीयवत्प्राप्तं दृष्ट्वापि निधिमग्रतः |
न स्वयं दैवमादत्ते पुरुषार्थमपेक्षते ||
That is “Even if pure luck (Crow on a Palmyra tree maxim) one sees treasure lying in front, destiny will not give it your hands, effort [to pick it up] is expected.”

The thieves used a cave whose door opened with a magic chant – “Open Sesame” (or “khul jā sim-sim” in Hindi). How do you translate this into Sanskrit work, so that it looks original to the target language, and not as if it is coming from another tongue? Well, it has to be made into an invocative mantra, of course! And that is what Shrī Modak does on page 10.

skanda-rāja namasté’stu chaurya-pātava-déshika |
dasyu-déva dvāram_idam, vivṛitam kṛipayā kuru || 8 ||  (IAST)
skanda-rAja namaste'stu chaurya-pATava-deshika |
dasyu-deva dvAram_idam, vivṛitam kRipayA kuru || 8 || (ITRANS)
स्कन्दराज नमस्तेऽस्तु चौर्यपाटवदेशिक |
दस्युदेव द्वारमिदं विवृतं कृपया कुरु ||
That is, “O king of tormentors, O teacher the skill of stealing,
O lord of the dacoits, salutations to you, please kindly open this door.”

and the rock would slide and show the cave entrance!

And the story goes on!

Those with interest in Sanskrit, should try this book, no matter what your expertise in Sanskrit, as long as you can read the script. Very interesting read!

The link to the book is here -

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
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  1. Nice work.keep it up.
    Good luck

  2. Joshi Saheb! i thopught clicking on the pic and other links gonna take to the .PDF as in RBSI posts. I was disappointed.

  3. mahAdeva-ji, the very first line has the link to the pdf :) :)

  4. Joshi ji, the link is not working

  5. I have already read the book downloaded from Kavyamala series. I found the same very interesting. Actually I could not resist the temptation of reading at least ten pages a day. The slokas there were also very interesting and not very difficult to grasp the meanings.

  6. I have already read the book downloaded from Kavyamala series. The story was told very captivatingly and the slokas were easy to understand. All those who know sanskrit may be benefited by reading the book.


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