Feast of Krishna, August 26
Feast of Krishna, August 26
Mahabharata by William Buck, introduced by B A van Nooten, illustrated by Shirley Triest, a 4th printing of the 1981 paperback from University of California (Berkeley) Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“In 1955 Bill Buck discovered an elaborate nineteenth century edition of The Sacred Song of the Lord, the Bhagavad-Gita of Lord Krishna, in a state library in Carson City, Nevada. Immediately captivated, he plunged into a study of Indian literature which has resulted in this rendering of the Mahabharata, one of the Ramayana, and an unfinished manuscript of Harivamsa—unfinished because of the death of Bill Buck in 1970 at the age of 37.
His discovery of the Bhagavad-Gita moved Bill Buck to read the Mahabharata, and he would be satisfied with nothing but the full translation, an eleven volume set of which was then being reprinted in India. So determined was he that he subsidized the reprinting when it became apparent that the publisher had insufficient funds to complete his task.
Midway through his reading of volume 3, Buck decided the Mahabharata should be rewritten for a modern English-speaking audience. In his own words, ‘Mahabharat was about 5000 pages, and Ramayana much shorter. When I read these translations I thought how nice to tell the story so it wouldn’t be so hard to read. We talk about all the repetition and digression of the originals, but as you read all that endless impossible prose a very definite character comes to each actor in the story, and the land and times are most clearly shown. I wanted to transfer this story to a readable book.’
To this end, Bill Buck began years of reading and rereading the translations, studying Sanskrit, planning, and writing. One of his approaches to his task was to decipher all the elaborate appellatives used for heroes and gods, kings and princesses which were used in the original text, often in place of names. These were qualities related to the characters, of which Buck compiled lists. He later used the adjectives interlaced with descriptions to preserve the mood and meanings of the characters in his own renderings. He also read all available English translations and versions of the two great epics, later saying of them, ‘I have never seen any versions of either story in English that were not mere outlines, or incomplete, except for the two literal translations.’ He was always aware that the epics were originally sung, so reading aloud both the original translations and his own work became part of the Buck family life. But the writing was done in seclusion, many hours at a time, with only the finished chapters presented to the family.” — from Publisher’s Preface
Arjuna in the Mahabharata: Where Krishna Is, There Is Victory by Ruth Cecily Katz, a 1989 hardcover in the Studies in Comparative Religion series edited by Frederick M Denny from University of South Carolina Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“This book is a thorough study of the great Indian hero, the Achilles of India, Arjuna, as portayed in the epic poem Mahabharata, including its world famous subsection, the Bhagavadgita. Attempting to portray Arjuna as ‘a Hindu, involved in Hindu culture, might see or have seen him on the basis of the epic as passed down through the centuries more or less in its current form,’ the discussion focuses in turn on three ‘levels’ of Arjuna’s character, tracing their ebb and flow throughout the text: Arjuna’s semi-divine heroism; his humanization in the face of debilitating dilemmas; and his transcendence of the human condition by way of devotion to the god Krishna. In consideration of earlier and contemporary scholarship regarding the Indian epic tradition, in particular the respective works Georges Dumézil and Madeleine Biardeau, this study locates the Mahabharata, and Arjuna with it, in the context of two thousand years of Indian religious texts, from the Vedas to the Puranas. More broadly, Arjuna is compared with Indo-European/Semitic heroes from outside the Indian tradition, such as Achilles himself, Gilgamesh, Rustam, Cuchulainn and, finally, Jesus. The complete Mahabharata story is retold for the reader’s convenience as the discussion proceeds. An appendix on the names (epithets) of Arjuna concludes the study.” — back cover