The history of Nepali language dates back to the 12th century epitaphs inscribed in stones or metals. Ince then it has travelled some eight hundred years of history. A similar history stretches over time in cases of all the Indo Europesn siter languges. But modern Nepali is a very recent fruit hardly 100 years today. South Asian subcontinent subsumes different lands that share a common past. Irrespective of their diverse geographical landscapes and topographical features, or socio-political patterns, they live a more or less similar life, since the underlying philosophy of life has descended down or inherited as a legacy from the great civilizations of the ancient days that originated in this common land. This cradle of oriental civilization is the Bharatavarsha, which encompasses the lands from the majestic snow-clad mountains in the north to the deep, raging seas in the south and even beyond these physical boundaries. We have had various centres that have given birth to great religious and philosophical doctrines for the Hindus, Buddists, Kiratas and many more faiths and principles unique to our soil, each replete with humanitarian values.
We derived all values and agreat teachings from the legends of the lore, so all credit goes to translation or transcreation. Even the first Nepali epic Bhanubhata’s Ramayana happens to be the trasncreation from the Valmiki Ramayana. Since then the first wave of knowledge intered into Nepali through translation mostly of Sanskrit classics and gradually the contiguois languages of south and north.
This Bharatvarsha is not any political unit that has recorded the story of her perennial glory in the tongues of God, the Sanskrit language, so we virtually share the same philosophy of life—made up of common beliefs, faiths and myths, albeit this is being transformed in different shades. Thus the holiest Gangaji, that is Sanskrit, which is the Mother of all Mothers, has traversed along different rivers like Pali, Prakrit and Apabhramsa before she was distributed into different tributaries like Nepali, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Assamese, etc. These tributaries irrigate various lands we live in today.
In fact our young languages are plants grafted from the ancient trees of four great species; the young trees have now started bearing fruit profusely. Most of the young languages of this sub-continent have a more or less similar history, however. Hindi and Nepali both have the traces of origin between the 9th to 12th centuries, though their literary forms took a visible shape after a long time. In Hindi, it began remarkably with the perennial work of Goswami Tulasidas in the 16th century and with the Ramayana of Bhanubhakta two hundred years later in Nepali. Not surprisingly, Rama Katha has inspired almost all our vernaculars of this continent; and mostly through its translation or adaptation young languages have taken their roots. A study report published by Sahitya Akademi, Delhi has shown how Rama Katha has reached far and wide even to the extreme corners of this continent to Vietnam, Laos, China, Cambodia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, etc. All our old literatures have begun with bhakti tradition, because the then political situation restricted peoples’ freedom, however India, despite being colonised, in the intervening centuries, enjoyed comparatively greater freedom. On the other hand Nepal had to struggle against the despotic rules and utterly darker days until recently.
Modern Hindi began with the pioneering contribution of Bharatendu Harischandra and Nepali with the contribution of Motiram Bhatta whose karmabhoomi had been Benaras. He introduced ghazal, drama, and criticism in Nepali. It’s natural for a young literature like Nepali that many ideas, even genres of writing are borrowed and translated from other languages, mostly from the Indian subcontinent.
Exchange among sister languages
There is a long history of exchange maintained by way of different literary and linguistic activities among the cross border languages or the languages of our contiguous geography. Mainly as an ancient home of wisdom and knowledge, Indian academics has attracted many scholars since time immemorial. Sometimes Nepalese citizens were even forced to evict the country when they learned the languages and literatures of the shelter land, India.
Many Indo-Aryan languages of this region have supported each other to grow themselves. Nepali has borrowed much mostly from Bengali and Hindi. The historical reason behind this is that Nepal remained isolated under a strict dictatorship rule for about a century till 1950 and this dark age prevented her people from earning education and so awareness. During those days, many Nepali writers, rebels, thinkers, patriots and forerunners were either in exile or some kind of expatriation. They made Benaras, Calcutta, Dehradun, Darjeeling and the Eastern parts of India their centres of refuge and learning and other activities. Between 1930 to 1990 hundreds of them had their shelter in India—from Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota to BP Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Ganeshman Singh, Tarini Koirala, Manmohan Adhikari, Pushpalal and many more endured untold suffering in those days. Many people including B P Koirala joined India’s movement for freedom and even suffered imprisonment. It is in one of such dark ages that Motiram Bhatta studied in both Benaras and Calcutta, and came in contact with Bharatendu Harischandra, learnt the long tradition of ghazal composition and introduced it into Nepali.
Gradually Hindi and Bengali literature served as the base for Nepali, especially fiction in the beginning. The picture of exchange among these languages looks strange and complex, because the donor and receiver picture is intricately woven. For instance, Bengali novel is translated into Nepali, Nepali poem into Hindi, Hindi play into Maithili, Maithili epic into Newari (a Tibeto-Burman language spoken mostly in the Valley of Kathmandu) and Newari writings into Nepali, etc. So the mode of analysis requires one to go into areas like genre-wise, language-wise, unidirectional, bidirectional, multidirectional analysis, its age-wise revisit, its present day picture, one's influence upon other etc.
I would like to draw some illustrations of translation activities carried out between the languages of Nepal and India, however, this will present only a glimpse of the situation.
Nepali first translated anonymous works like Gulbakawali, Beersikka, Tota-Maina Ki Kahani and others from Hindi and Bengali before it started with the popular works like Devakinandan Khatri's Chandrakanta, Narendramohini which laid the foundation of Nepali fiction in the first period. Many works were shaped like these when fantasy, horror, mystery and bizarre plots appealed to the simple readers. All short stories have begun like this. There are direct translations, secondary translations, transcreations and adaptations and anonymous works available in these languages. There are samples of autobiographies, stories, novels, poems, plays and miscellaneous writings— from moral, religious and academic texts.
Autobiographical works include those of Mahatma Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Nehru, Rahul Sankrityan, Shankaracharya, etc. Likewise, classical works of Maithilisharan Gupta and Premchanda have influenced their contemporaries in Nepali writing and were translated into it. The first great Nepali short story writer is said to have borrowed the technique of Premchand. Great novelists like Mahasweta Devi, RK Narayan, Himanshu Joshi are translated. Likewise, Hindi epics and poetry are translated from Goswami Tulasidas to contemporary poets of great fame. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ghalib, Umar Khayyam, and Rabindranath Tagore came to Nepali mostly as secondary translations. Recently Haribansa Raya Bachhan’s rubaiyats are translated into Nepali.
Hindi-Nepali translational activities are not one-way, however. Nepali novelists like Diamond Shumsher, BP Koirala, Bharat Jungam are translated into Hindi as well. Some titles of Nepali poems available in Hindi are: Amarjyoti Ki Satya Smriti, Tulsi Diwas Ki Kavitayen, Usi Ke Liye, Nepali Bhanubhakta Ramayan, Birahake Kante Pyar Ke Phool. The former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Mr. Narendra Jain was also a great poet who translated Nepali Kavitayen, an anthology of 74 Nepali, poems into Hindi in 1982. Likewise, Sarbeswar Dayal Saxena edited a volume of 30 Nepali poems titled Nepali Kavitayen the same year. Darjeeling and Nepal both are the centers of translation activities. Institutions like Sahitya Akademi, Nepal Bharat Sanskritik Sansthan, Bharatiya Rajdutabas, Nirala Publication, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Nepal Academy and many other publishing houses have contributed towards the publication of translations. A recent sudy report (Karmacharya (2064) has shown that about one thousand titles are recorded to translated from and into Nepali. This fifure rises quite high when we include activities of areas like Darjeeling, Sikkim and Assam.
The contribution and influence of Bengali literature is immense. It has left a lasting impression upon the first generation Nepali writers. It is still continuing. Several works of Rabindranath Tagore like Gitanjalee, Jivansmriti, Chokher Bali, Natir Puja, Dakghar, etc. are translated into Nepali.
The first generation readers of Nepali gave very high importance to Bengali literature, mostly fiction and poetry. Some authors and their titles worth mentioning here are: Michael Madhusudhan Dutta (Ke Ekai Sabhyata Bole), Bankim Chandraka Kathaharu, Bangalka Shrestha Kathaharu, Rabindra Galpa Gadya, Rabindra Rachanawali, Sharat Granthawali, Heeren Bhattacharyaka Nirbachit Kavitaharu, Satishchandha Das’s Dhruba, Ramesh Chandra Dutta’s Banga Bijeta, Sharatchanda’s Shesh Prashna, Devdas, Darpachurna, Charitraheen, Bankimechandra’s Yuganguliya, Kaalkundala, Anandimoth, Durgeshnandini, Bishatrikshya, and so on.
These served as models for many Nepali creations. Titles like Beersikka and Madhumalati, Gulbakabali, Tota-Maina entered Nepali both from Hindi and Bengali. Hindi/Bengali writings have perennial attraction for the Nepali readers. In the year 2008 itself three works appeared, namely Geetanjali (Tagore's), Andhe Yug (Dharmavir Bharati's) and Agniparba (Himanshu Joshi's)
Likewise Maithili Vidyapati is profusely translated into Bhojpuri and Nepali; Newari has brought Bhisma Sahani's Tamas, Anil Barbe's Thank you Mr. Glad, Sharatchandra's Darpachurna, Sarbeswar Dayal Saxena's poems and many Bengali works. Maithili has translated many Hindi and Bengali works such as Nepali Bhanubhaktiya Ramayan and Muna Madan (the folk epic of Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota) which have undergone multiple translations. These are also translated into Awadhi and Bhojpuri. Likewise there is list of exchange between Bhojpuri and Nepali and other Languages.
There are many unauthorised translations of bestsellers like Taslima Nasrin's fictions, Gandhi Badh Kyon, Shiva Khera's Jeet Aap Ki, from bestseller to many works on health, medicine, yoga, education and so on.
There is a close relationship between the Assamese and Nepali too. Works like Namghare and Bhabesh Shaikiya's Astaraj have been rendered into Nepali by Shanti Thapa. Likewise, Mamuni Rayasam Goswami's Ardhabritta Jiwan Yatra, Akhamiya Nepali Khamaj Aru Sanskritik Ruprekha, Shaiyad Abdul Malik's collection of stories are available in Nepali. Even the biography of Mahapurush Shri Shri Shantadev has been translated by Padam Dhakal. Many Nepali writings from the Ramayana of Bhanubhakta to Muna-Madan of Devkota have appeared in the Assamese as well. All these languages are under the umbrella of Sanskrit, so each of them has drawn heavily from Sanskrit. Multiple versions have appeared in multiple languages from the Sanskirt. About 25% of the titles in each of these languages are the renderings from the Sanskrit, however, I have used only the living languages as reference, nor have I used English from which many texts have appeared secondarily.
Some remarkable points or challenges
There is a serious lack of study and research in this field, but even a cursory glance at such activities reveals that:
1. The exchange tradition however is not reciprocal, and is almost lopsided. Nepali has translated Indian works profusely, Nepali readers are familiar with most of the works and authors of India but this, I guess, does not apply in case of Indian readership or translators.
2. Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Maithili, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Nepali have had a very close relation established culturally, linguistically, geographically and historically since time immemorial.
But now this picture is changing rapidly. In a conference in Shillong I asked a Rabindra Bharati professor why we (Bengali and Nepali) writers are no longer in contact. He answered– Even we are becoming strangers among Indian languages and literatures because of English invasion. His answer to my question was both interesting and surprising.
And this is true of Nepal too. They don’t know Phaniswar Nath Renu or Rangeya Raghab or Dharmaveer Bharati or Sahaya or Singh, or Burma. They better know Jhumpa Lahiri or Arundhati Roy, Manju Kapur, or Aravind Adiga, Kiran Desai, Khushwant Singh or Vikram Seth, or Amitav Ghosh or Chitra Banerjee and their writings because the contemporary generation is more interested in the English medium and is oblivious of their native tongues. For a couple of years big literary festivals are being organised in Kathmandu where Indian writers have represented by Vinod Mehta, Adwaita Kala, Amish Tripathi, Iira Trivedi all writing in English. What is pushing our languages behind?
3. Translational actvities between India and Nepal has come to a stop, we have forgotten the richn tradition that groomed us.
4. Our SAARC languages have started failing to develop a ground for mutual understanding and exchange.
5. This situation may fail our dream of developing this region as a translation area.
5. This situation is most likely to invite the foundation of a common research centre in order to establish an archive, find strategies and facilitate study.
6. The centre should function as a pool of resource which records history, discusses the ways and direction of translation flow among these languages so that this can steer, monitor, control and facilitate our translation activities among these languages and bring our native languages closer.
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