30 11 2020
Scholar and linguist Jeffrey Armstrong brings the first decolonized English translation of Bhagavad Gita
Considered as the source of all wisdom and knowledge, Bhagavad Gita is also a literary masterpiece with universal appeal. The book has attracted westerners quite a lot over the centuries and consequence to that love; it has been translated hundreds of times in 75 languages since 1785. However, major hurdle that English translation has seen over these periods has been that the translation has colonial tone as a lot of the concepts which were alien to the western translators were placed inappropriately.
Now that it is time of decolonization of knowledge and concepts, the Vancouver scholar Jeffrey Armstrong has brought in the first ‘decolonized’ English translation of scripture Bhagavad Gita. This has not been an easy job as he says that it took him more than ten years. Nonetheless, this is another dimension which according to him going to contribute greatly in the greatness of Bhagavad Gita which has been the world’s most translated and quite often mistranslated ancient Indian scripture.
Decolonizing the Bhagavad Gita
Since Jeffrey Armstrong is a local Vedic scholar and linguist he knows how important it is for any text like Bhagavad Gita to have its own context, concept and nuances than the ones that are placed by the translators. While doing his research on Bhagavad Gita he discovered that previous western versions had distorted the Gita with concepts, words and theories. According to him these concepts do not exist in Sanskrit or Indian cultures forget the holy text of Bhagavad Gita and then he decided to work on cleansing out those ills with his own translated work.
Nonetheless, for over ten years Armstrong worked on decolonizing the text to capture it accurately in the form of “The Bhagavad Gita Comes Alive: A Radical Translation”. The translated book was released recently on Amazon and according to him it could be the purest because it does not include colonial, Western or Christian distortions.
Purity is important in translation
Translation is not as easy as it is seen by a lot of people, especially when it is about texts like Bhagavad Gita where each Shloka could have a dozen meanings and contexts. Learned and experienced translators can do justice to translation job; however, even they need to spend days and months to read and grasp the content before translating it accurately without losing the context. As Armstrong says there were so many instances where the earlier translators made a lot of mistakes by placing their concepts, they should be avoided.
According to him a few of the Christian words and concepts that he avoided in his translation included God, heaven, hell, soul, and sin. He believes that these words and concepts cannot be used as synonyms for Vedic and yogic words and philosophies. Nonetheless, he firmly believes that he is the one who offers the Gita in its true essence where he kept key Sanskrit words and use English to support their true meaning and intent.