Religion W4205: love, translated: hindu bhakti

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Jack Hawley. Spring, 2014. 4 credits.

Wednesdays 4:10-6:00. 80 Claremont, room 101.

Instructor information

Office hours: Thursdays 4-6, 219a Milbank, and by appointment.


Catalogue description

Hindu poetry of radical religious participation—bhakti—in translation, both Sanskrit (the Bhagavad Gita) and vernacular. How does such poetry/song translate across linguistic divisions within India and into English? Knowledge of Indian languages is welcome but not required. Multiple translations of a single text or poet bring to light the choices translators have made.

Course Rationale

Great swaths of Columbia’s core curriculum—certainly the entire Asian component—rest on acts of translation, but just how was this banquet prepared? To begin to answer that question in part, and as a contribution to Barnard’s Center for Translation Studies, this course focuses on a range of influential Hindu texts in the realm of bhakti (devotion, participation, love of God) as they have been rendered into English. Students conversant with the source languages will be able to track the translators’ choices and approaches firsthand, but that is hardly a prerequisite. Others—including in many cases the instructor—will get at such questions by comparing a range of translations that have been made into English and other European languages they may know.

Translation internal to India is also at issue, where the following sets of questions arise. What is involved in rendering Sanskrit into a vernacular language (as in the case of the Bhagavad Gita in the Gita Press edition for Hindi or, from the other side, Surdas in relation to the Bhagavata Purana)? How do various bhakti poets effectively—or even explicitly—translate from one vernacular language into another? What translation networks are hidden behind such acts? How does the musical medium in which these poems are typically experienced influence the sense of what “translation” means for a bhakti poem? If a set of poems has been illustrated, is that too an act of translation? Finally, is there a line that separates translation from commentary, and if so, where does it fall?

Course Requirements

(a) Reading and class participation. Students are expected to attend all class sessions, and to participate vigorously in class discussion on the basis of a thoughtful reading (and sometimes seeing and hearing) of the assigned materials.

(b) Weekly reading responses. Short weekly postings in response to our common readings must be made to Courseworks in weeks 2-13. These are due at 5:00 p.m. each Tuesday on the discussion board as MSWord attachments—at least 300 words, no specific maximum. Please check spelling and syntax, paginate, and double-space. In units II and III, two weekly postings may be omitted, provided they do not fall in the same unit.

(c) Seminar project proposal. A project proposal 5 pages in length, plus a draft bibliography, is due by midnight on February 28. The purpose here is to forecast in some detail what your seminar project will be, and to do so in a way that makes clear how it relates to what you have learned by studying translations we have considered so far including, necessarily, the Bhagavad Gita.

(d) Seminar projects. The course culminates in a seminar paper (15 pages), which can be a consideration of any issue relevant to the course—historical, literary, performance—or art-oriented or comparative. Translation projects are also welcome, provided that they include an analysis of the writer’s own translation process. These papers are due on April 26 (at midnight), posted to the discussion board of Courseworks. An oral presentation, anticipating seminar discussion, follows in the last two weeks of the course.

Evaluation The instructor provides regular feedback to students’ responses week by week. A collective grade for these and the class discussions that follow is given twice before spring break, in week 4 (after Part I: 15%) and in week 12 (after Part III: 15%).

The seminar project proposal and translation analysis due February 28 counts for 20%.

Responses and participation for Parts III-IV: 20%.

Term paper and oral presentation: 30%.

Late work Except in case of serious medical or family emergencies, late work will be downgraded one-half letter grade per day.

Learning Outcomes

1. Students will engage with each of the questions raised under the heading of “Course Rationale,” seeing what is involved in the act of translation from Indian languages to those of Europe, especially English. Our primary attention will be on the present and recent past, but especially in the case of the Bhagavad Gita we will take a longer view.

2. Students will evaluate some of the most celebrated translations of Hindu bhakti with respect to their historical and social context and their literary style. They will also learn to assess the social and literary contexts of the originals, asking in the course of that whether the “original” is in fact original.

3. Students will encounter and evaluate some of the most best-known translators of Hindu texts, coming to their own conclusions about what makes them stand out—or not stand out—and what makes them different from one another. They will be encouraged to explore a range of translations not on the syllabus itself.

4. As anticipated in the GER in Literature, students will emerge from this course able to:

  •  Recognize a range of rhetorical strategies employed in translating Indic texts and analyze their success as representations of the original and contributions to literature in the “target language”;

  •  Describe the contexts and distinctive features of the various literary traditions from which these Indic texts are drawn;

  •  Articulate their own distinctive approach to the task of translating a bhakti text into English or other Indian language.

5. Students will emerge from the course being able to evaluate the consequences of translators’ assumptions about who their readers will be, especially as regards the matter of whether Hindus or others—or a combination of both—are imagined as the audience for translated Hindu texts. Students will take positions on whether the hurting—or enhancing—of “religious sensibilities” (a term that makes its way into Indian civil law) is a proper concern for literary translators of bhakti texts.

Course Readings--Texts

The following books are required reading for the course, and are available for purchase at BookCulture. Copies are also available on reserve at the Barnard College Library.

Barbara Stoler Miller, tr., The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War (New York: Bantam, 1986).

Laurie L. Patton, tr., The Bhagavad Gita (New York: Penguin Books, 2008).

A. K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Siva (London: Penguin, 1973).

Archana Venkatesan, The Secret Garland: Antal’s Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirumoli (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Tirupati [by Annamayya] (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Arvind Mehrotra, Songs of Kabir (New York: New York Review Books, 2011).

Robert Bly and Jane Hirschfield, Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004).

John Stratton Hawley, The Memory of Love: Surdas Sings to Krishna (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Course Readings—General Resources

Sheldon Pollock, ed., Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

Andrew Schelling, ed., The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature (Delhi: Oxford, 2011).

Lawrence Venuti, ed., The Translation Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2000).

John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer, trs., Songs of the Saints of India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004 [1987]).

J. S. Hawley, Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Time and Ours (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012 [2005]).

Academic Integrity

Approved by the student body in 1912, the Barnard College Honor Code states:

We, the students of Barnard College, resolve to uphold the honor of the College by refraining from every form of dishonesty in our academic life. We consider it dishonest to ask for, give, or receive help in examinations or quizzes, to use any papers or books not authorized by the instructor in examinations, or to present oral work or written work which is not entirely our own, unless otherwise approved by the instructor. We consider it dishonest to remove without authorization, alter, or deface library and other academic materials. We pledge to do all that is in our power to create a spirit of honesty and honor for its own sake.

The complexities of technology and of our cognition sometimes make it difficult to determine what constitutes plagiarism (e.g., Did I come up with that idea myself or did I read it somewhere? Was that sentence something I cut and pasted from the internet and intended to reformulate later but never got around to?). Please feel free to consult me if you encounter ambiguous situations in the course of your work.

I gratefully acknowledge that I have plagiarized the paragraphs appearing immediately above from my colleague Beth Berkowitz, who composed them as a part of the syllabus for her course Introduction to Talmud Text Study (Spring, 2014).

Course Syllabus

Key: No asterisk Mandatory, available at BookCulture or through CLIO online.

* Mandatory, available on Courseworks: E-reserves or Files & Resources > Class Files.

** Optional. Partially available on Courseworks: E-reserves or Class Files .

Week 1: 1/22 Introduction: What is bhakti and what is translation?

* J. S. Hawley, Introduction, A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 1-14.

* Sheldon Pollock, “Philology, Literature, Translation,” in Enrica Garzilli, ed., Translating, Translations, Translators from India to the West (Cambridge: Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, 1996), pp. 111-129.

I. Sanskrit: The Bhagavad Gita as Global Text

Week 2: 1/29 Two influential translations (Miller, Patton)

Launch: Subrina Singh

Barbara Stoler Miller, tr., The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War (New York: Bantam, 1986).

Laurie L. Patton, tr., The Bhagavad Gita (New York: Penguin Books, 2008).

Give close attention to a comparison of the introductions and teachings/discourses 1-2, 11, and 18.

** The Gita Press edition, in Sanskrit with English translation, is available at:;

Week 3: Thurs. 2/6 The Gita as “biography” [No class on 2/5: I’m out of town.]

Guest: Richard Davis, Bard College

Richard H. Davis, The Bhagavad Gita—A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming).

** Swami Kripananda, tr., Jnaneshwar’s Gita: A Rendering of the Jnaneshwari (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), introduction, chapters 1-2, pp. xi-32.

Week 4: 2/12 Translating the Gita from 1785 to the present

Launch: Cole Rainey. Forecast in closing: Laura Quintela

Common reading:

Charles Wilkins, The Bhagvat-Geeta Or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon in Eighteen Lectures, revised and improved by G. P. C. (Calcutta: Bengal Superior Press, 1845 [1785]).;view=1up;seq=3.

A Kindle edition of the 1875 version apparently also exists:

* Edwin Arnold, tr., The Song Celestial or Bhagavad-Gîtâ (Boston: Little, Brown, 1904 [London, 1885]), dedication, preface, books 1-2, 11.

* A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, tr., The Bhagavad Gita as It Is (New York: Macmillan, 1968). Now advertised “with bonus DVD” at:

Also, locate one additional translation (or translation of a translation) that interests you and bring it with you—in whatever form is appropriate or possible—to class.

Supplementary resources:

** W. M. Callewaert and Shilanand Hemraj, Bhagavadgītānuvāda: A Study in Transcultural Translation (Ranchi: Satya Bharati Publication, 1983).

** Aiah Rachel Wieder, ed., with Edwin Arnold, The Song of Krishna: The Illustrated Bhagavad Gita (New York: Abrams, 2010). Produced with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

** Lars Martin Fosse, The Bhagavad Gita: The Original Sanskrit and an English Translation (Woodstock, NY: YogaVidya, 2007). Note that this recent translation is in prose.

II. The South: A Bhakti Sampler

Week 5: 2/19 Kannada: The Virasaivas

Launch: Sohini Pillai.

A. K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Siva (London: Penguin, 1973), especially. pp. 11-90, 111-142 (on Basavanna and Mahadeviakka).

* K. V. Zvelebil, The Lord of the Meeting Rivers: Devotional Poems of Basavaṇṇa (Delhi: Motial Banarsidass and Paris: UNECSO, 1984), pp. 1-49: scan for comparisons.

Sherry Simon, “A. K. Ramanujan: What Happened in the Library,” in Judy Wakabayashi, ed., Decentering Translation Studies: India and Beyond (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009), pp. 161-174.

* Vinay Dharwadker, “A. K. Ramanujan’s Theory and Practice of Translation,” in Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, eds., Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 114-140.

** “Varieties of Bhakti,” in Vinay Dharwadker et al., eds., The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 324-331.

** A. K. Ramanujan, Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Viṣṇu by Nammālvār (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), Afterword, pp. 103-169.

** Julia Leslie, “Understanding Basava: History, Hagiography, and a Modern Kannada Drama,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 61:2 (1998), pp. 228-261.


Week 6: 2/26 Tamil: Antal

Launch: Zoe High.

Special guest: Shiv Subramaniam

Archana Venkatesan, The Secret Garland: Antal’s Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirumoli (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 3-146 (the Tiruppavai).

* Vidya Dehejia, Antal and Her Path of Love: Poems of a Woman Saint from South India (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), pp. 43-71.

* A. L. Becker, “Silence Across Languages,” in Beyond Translation: Essays toward a Modern Philology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), pp. 282-294.

NB: Project proposals are due on the Courseworks discussion board by midnight, February 28 as MSWord attachments, double-spaced and paginated.

Week 7: 3/5 Telugu: Annamayya

Launch: Chris Evans.

Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Tirupati [by Annamayya] (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), entire (138 pp.).

* William J. Jackson, Songs of Three Great South Indian Saints (Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1998), pp. 36-68.

** Adapa Ramakrishna Rao, Annamacharya (New Delhi: Sahitya Academy, 1989).

** A. K. Ramanujan, Velcheru Narayana Rao, and David Shulman, When God Is a Customer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). [Three copies are in the Columbia library system, including one that does not circulate, in the South Asia Reading Room.]

Week 8: 3/12 Marathi: Tukaram

Launch: Aditi Deshmuch.

* Dilip Chitre, tr., Says Tuka: Selected Poetry of Tukaram (New Delhi: Penguin, 1991), introduction, pp. 1-112, 179-206.

* Arvind Mehrotra, ed., Arun Kulatkar: Collected Poems in English (Highgreen, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2010), pp. 304-326.

* Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar, trs., The Revolutionary Abhangs of Tukaram [in manuscript]. Browse.

** Manuscripts relevant to Tukaram in the British Library’s “Endangered Archives” program ( EAP023/1/1/249: Tukarama Gatha Abhang 77-996, EAP023/1/1/267: Abhangas of Tukaram, EAP023/1/1/27: Abhanga-Pade Ekanath Tukarami [1931], EAP023/1/1/9: Bhaktalilamrita (tukaram Charitra) [Sake 1768].

III. The North: Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas in Hindi

Week 9: 3/26 Kabir via Linda Hess and Shabnam Virmani

Launch: Prabhleen Kaur

Linda Hess and Shukdev Singh, The Bījak of Kabir (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002 [1983]), entire (131 pp.). Available for a mere $5 in 219 Milbank.

Shabnam Virmani, filmmaker, Chalo Hamara Des (Come to my Country), at

* Linda Hess, “Translator of Poetry and Theorist of Translation: Can They Inhabit the Same Body?,” paper delivered to the Association for Asian Studies, Philadelphia, March 27, 2010.

* Purushottam Agrawal, “’Something Will Ring…’: Translating Kabir and his ‘Life.” in Maya Burger and Nicola Pozza, eds., India in Translation through Hindi Literature: A Plurality of Voices (Bern: Peter Lang, 2012), pp. 181-194.

** Linda Hess, Singing Emptiness: Kumar Gandharva Performs the Poetry of Kabir (London: Seagull Press, 2009).

Week 10: 4/2 Kabir via Tagore, Ghose, Pound, Bly, and Mehrotra

Launch: Jake Goldwasser. Forecast in closing: Siddhartha Shah

Arvind Mehrotra, Songs of Kabir (New York: New York Review Books, 2011).

* Robert Bly, Kabir: Ecstatic Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), brief selections, and the afterword by J. S. Hawley, “Kabir and the Transcendental Bly.”

* Andrew Schelling, ed., The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature (Delhi: Oxford, 2011), pp. 106-115, 123-128 (translations by Ezra Pound and Robert Bly).

Laetitia Zecchini, “Contemporary Bhakti Recastings: Recovering a Demotic Tradition, Challenging Nativism, Fashioning Modernism in Indian Poetry,” Interventions 16:2( 2014), 257-276.

** Tony K. Stewart, “In Search of Equivalence: Conceiving Muslim-Hindu Encounter through Translation Theory,” History of Religions 40:3 (2001), pp. 260-287. Also:

** Francesca Orsini, “How to do Multilingual History? Lessons from Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century North India,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 49:2 (2012), pp. 225-246.

Week 11: 4/9 Mirabai and her suitors

Launch: Sahaj Patel. Forecast in closing: Bo Campot.

Robert Bly and Jane Hirschfield, Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), with an afterword by J. S. Hawley.

*Andrew Schelling, tr., “Mirabai,” in Schelling, ed., The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature (Delhi: Oxford, 2011), pp. 137-148.

* J. S. Hawley, "Devotional Poetry of Medieval North India," in Barbara Stoler Miller, ed., Masterpieces of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe), pp. 78-93.

Also, locate an additional translation of Mirabai, compare it to those above, and bring it to class to share your insights with others.

**A. J. Alston, The Devotional Poems of Mīrābāī (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1980). This volume is especially helpful in providing a relatively literal translation of Paraśurām Caturvedī’s widely used Mīrābāī kī Padāvalī (Allahabad: Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, 1976), which I believe stands behind much of what we read in the Bly/Hirshfield and Schelling translations. This is the only Hindi entry in the bibliography of the book from which Schelling excerpts in his anthology. Bly and Hirschfield commit themselves to no original.

Week 12: 4/16 Surdas via Jack Hawley

Launch: Seher Agrawala

John Stratton Hawley, The Memory of Love: Surdas Sings to Krishna (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), introduction, chapters 1-2, 4, 7-8, and relevant notes.

* Rupert Snell and Aruna Kharod, Sur Sorahi: Sixteen Padas from the Sursagar (Austin: Hindi-Urdu Flagship, University of Texas, 2014). Accessible online at:

* J. S. Hawley, “A Raft on Sur’s Ocean: In Memory of Aditya Behl,” paper delivered to the Association for Asian Studies, Philadelphia, March 27, 2010.

* Krishna P. Bahadur, The Poems of Suradasa (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1999), pp. 1-14, 100-107 (vinaya), 213-214 (the poem analyzed in The Memory of Love, pp. 31-40), and 241-245 (by which time in the book most translations are given in prose rather than poetry).

** K. C. Sharma, K.C. Yadav, and Pushpendra Sharma, Suradasa: A Critical Study of His Life and Work (Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, 1997), chapter 4, “The Poet,” pp. 65-154: browse only, focusing on some 10-12 pages.

** Brajbhasa originals for the poems translated in The Memory of Love, comprising the critical edition prepared by Kenneth E. Bryant, are posted on Courseworks as “puddles” with numbers corresponding to those that appear in The Memory of Love.

Week 13: 4/23 No class. Your papers are due on Saturday April 16 at midnight.

IV. Student Presentations

Week 14: 4/30 and Week 15: 5/7. The latter is followed by dinner at my house, at 7:00. It’s 380 Riverside Drive, 3H, with the entrance being on 110th St. The home number is 212 749 9882, if you need it.

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