The Bhagavadgita: A New Translation, Contexts, Criticism.

Author:Patil, Urmila
Position:Book review

The Bhagavadgita: A New Translation, Contexts, Criticism. Tr. GAVIN FLOOD and CHARLES MARTIN, ed. GAVIN FLOOD. Norton Critical Editions. New York: W. W. NORTON & Co., 2015. Pp. xviii + 206.

What could a new translation of one of the most translated religious texts possibly offer? The Bhagavadgita: A New Translation, Contexts, Criticism by Gavin Flood and Charles Martin reminds the readers that no matter how many translations of this influential narrative exist, there is always scope for a fresh perspective, choice of words, style, and presentation. This joint endeavor between a scholar and a poet combines academic and literary sensibilities in the translation, providing novice readers with a reliable and accessible rendition. For those with more advanced interests it supplies commentaries of influential thinkers in history and criticisms from contemporary scholars and thus offers a glimpse into the interpretive and historical aspects of the life of the Gita. This accompanying textual material is an instance of what Gerard Genette calls paratext, a liminal framework that mediates the meaning of a text for the readers. As paratext, the selected commentaries and criticisms act as a commentary that shapes the way the readers understand the text of the Gita. (1) The text and the paratext of this translation complement each other and make this a sound textbook for the study of the Bhagavadgita.

The translators retain the poetic character of the Gita by emulating its principal metrical arrangement, i.e., the sloka meter. Each stanza contains thirty-two syllables, divided equally between four lines of eight syllables each. To achieve this lyrical success, however, the authors acknowledge that they must limit the complexity and the precision of the original. Their self-aware approach is "analogous rather than imitative" and their translation is "not word to word or line for line, but stanza for stanza." New readers and students, the primary audience of this translation, will appreciate the clarity and poetic elegance of the stanzas. Those who know the original Sanskrit work and prefer a more literal approach may notice some imprecision and gaps. For instance, in II. 45 the term niryogaksema ("neither acquiring nor keeping," as Laurie Patton translates it) is left out entirely. Similarly, the translation of the term smrtivibhrama (lit. straying of memory) in II. 63 as "loss of mindfulness" seems to be a stretch. Likewise, the first line of IV. 29...

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