Experiments with Translation

Translating life's journey in poetry, prose and pictures

śatakatrayam 1.31: jātiryātu rasātalaṃ (let caste go to hell!)

जातिर्यातु रसातलं गुणगणस्तत्राप्यधो गच्छतां
शीलं शैलतटात्पतत्वभिजन: संदह्यतां वह्निना ।
शौर्ये वैरिणि वज्रमाशु निपतत्वर्थोऽस्तु न: केवलं
येनैकेन विना गुणास्तृणलवप्राया: समस्ता इमे ।।३१।।
नीतिशतके

let caste go to hell!
let good qualities sink even lower!
let morality fall from the mountain top!
let nobility be burned by fire!
let indra emasculate our bravery!
money is the only thing that matters,
without it, all these qualities
are as insignificant as blades of grass.||31||
nītiśataka

śatakatrayam 1.30: siṃhaḥ śiśurapi (a lion, although young)

सिंह: शिशुरपि निपतति मदमलिनकपोलभित्तिषु गजेषु।
प्रकृतिरियं सत्त्ववतां न खलु वयस्तेजसां हेतु:।।३०।।
नीतिशतके

a lion, although a child,
pounces upon elephants
whose temples are streaming with rut.
this is natural for the mighty.
their courage comes from within,
not because of their age. ||30||
nītiśataka

śatakatrayam 1.29: yadacetano’pi pādaiḥ (if an insentient sun-stone)

यदचेतनोऽपि पादै: स्पृष्ट: प्रज्वलति सवितुरिनकान्त:।
तत्तेजस्वी पुरुष: परकृतनिकृतिं कथं सहते ।।२९।।
नीतिशतके

if an insentient sun-stone,
bursts into flames when grazed by
the sun’s feet (~rays),*
then will a brilliant person
tolerate being humiliated by others?
nītiśataka

Some information that might be helpful in understanding this poem: *This verse puns on the word, pāda, whose most common meaning in the Sanskrit language is ‘foot.’ It also means a ray of light. In the South Asian context, it is considered disrespectful to touch someone with one’s foot. It is natural for the sun-stone to burn when exposed to the sun’s rays. Here this natural reaction is poetically imagined to be an expression of the sun-stone’s anger at being disrespected by the sun (~touched by its rays / feet). Then, the poet asks –if a sun-stone which is insentient (acetana) reacts in this manner, then how can a brilliant / upright / courageous (tejasvī) person tolerate insult from others?

śatakatrayam 1.28: varaṃ prāṇocchedaḥ

वरं प्राणोच्छेद: समदमघवन्मुक्तकुलिश-
प्रहारैरुद्गच्छद्बहुलदहनोद्गारगुरुभि:।
तुषाराद्रे: सूनोरहह पितरि क्लेशविवशे
न चासौ संपात: पयसि पयसां पत्युरुचित:।।२८।।
नीतिशतके

it would have been far better
had himālaya’s son died
when he was mercilessly clobbered
by arrogant Indra’s thunderbolt
that was emitting balls of fiery flame!
alas, at the moment of
his father’s great suffering,
he instead jumped into the ocean
to save his life!
totally inappropriate! ||28||
nītiśataka

This poem is also based on a story found in Sanskrit literature. According to this narrative, mountains were once believed to have wings and went around flying. At one time, Indra cut off their wings with his thunderbolt. No mountain was spared. Maināka, the son of Himālaya, was the only one who escaped by diving into the ocean. In this verse, the poet is chastising him for his cowardice. Had Mainaka chosen death when his father was suffering, it would have been far better. Note also the use of the Sanskrit term ‘ahaha’ (meaning, alas) in this poem. This expression occurred in the previous verse in the anthology as well. In that case, it meant ‘wow.’

śatakatrayam 1.27: vahati bhuvaṇaśreṇiṃ śeṣaḥ (the thousand-headed snake śeṣa)

वहति भुवनश्रेणिं शेष: फणाफलकस्थितां
कमठपतिना मध्येपृष्ठं सदा स च धार्यते ।
तमपि कुरुते क्रोडाधीनं पयोधिरनादरा-
दहह महतां नि:सीमानश्चरित्रविभूतय: ।।२७।।
नीतिशतके

the thousand-headed snake śeṣa,
bears a multitude of worlds
on his expanded hoods.
he is in turn eternally carried
on the tortoise-lord kūrma’s back.
with utter disregard the waters of dissolution
drowned the latter too in its lapping waves
until the cosmic boar came to his rescue.
wow! there is no limit
to the greatness of the great. ||27||
nītiśataka

Comprehension of this verse depends on familiarity with several figures and myths of the sanskritic univese, but chiefly that at the time of dissolution, when all the worlds and all the the beings in were drowning in the ocean, Viṣṇu descended in the form of a boar and saved the earth. Below, a 19th century painting that illustrates this myth. For more on the painting’s style, see1398511703