The object of a translator should ever be to hold the mirror upto his author. That being so, his chief duty is to represent so far as practicable the manner in which his author’s ideas have been expressed, retaining if possible at the sacrifice of idiom and taste all the peculiarities of his author’s imagery and of language as well. In regard to translations from the Sanskrit, nothing is easier than to dish up Hindu ideas, so as to make them agreeable to English taste. But the endeavour of the present translator has been to give in the following pages as literal a rendering as possible of the great work of Vyasa. To the purely English reader there is much in the following pages that will strike as ridiculous. Those unacquainted with any language but their own are generally very exclusive in matters of taste. Having no knowledge of models other than what they meet with in their own tongue, the standard they have formed of purity and taste in composition must necessarily be a narrow one. The translator, however, would ill-discharge his duty, if for the sake of avoiding ridicule, he sacrificed fidelity to the original. He must represent his author as he is, not as he should be to please the narrow taste of those entirely unacquainted with him. Mr. Pickford, in the preface to his English translation of the Mahavira Charita, ably defends a close adherence to the original even at the sacrifice of idiom and taste against the claims of what has been called ‘Free Translation,’ which means dressing the author in an outlandish garb to please those to whom he is introduced.
In the preface to his classical translation of Bhartrihari’s Niti Satakam and Vairagya Satakam, Mr. C.H. Tawney says, “I am sensible that in the present attempt I have retained much local colouring. For instance, the ideas of worshipping the feet of a god of great men, though it frequently occurs in Indian literature, will undoubtedly move the laughter of Englishmen unacquainted with Sanskrit, especially if they happen to belong to that class of readers who revel their attention on the accidental and remain blind to the essential. But a certain measure of fidelity to the original even at the risk of making oneself ridiculous, is better than the studied dishonesty which characterises so many translations of oriental poets.”
We fully subscribe to the above although, it must be observed, the censure conveyed to the class of translators last indicated is rather undeserved, there being nothing like a ‘studied dishonesty’ in their efforts which proceed only from a mistaken view of their duties and as such betray only an error of the head but not of the heart. More than twelve years ago when Babu Pratapa Chandra Roy, with Babu Durga Charan Banerjee, went to my retreat at Seebpore, for engaging me to translate the Mahabharata into English, I was amazed with the grandeur of the scheme.