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Jaipur Literature Festival 2015: Sheldon Pollock talks about finding one's 'not self' through modern translations of ancient Indian scriptures

Sheldon Pollock was in conversation with writer-actor Girish Karnad and noted translator-author Arshia Sattar.

Prajakta Hebbar | imsopraj

Updated:January 24, 2015, 5:09 PM IST
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Jaipur Literature Festival 2015: Sheldon Pollock talks about finding one's 'not self' through modern translations of ancient Indian scriptures
Sheldon Pollock was in conversation with writer-actor Girish Karnad and noted translator-author Arshia Sattar.
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Jaipur: The tall, bearded professor looked like any other Caucasian erudite personality. But after listening to him for a minute, one can get dazzled by the eloquence with which he quotes ancient Indian scriptures, shlokas and mantras.

On a chilly Saturday morning, noted Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock was in conversation with writer-actor Girish Karnad and noted translator-author Arshia Sattar on the third day of the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival.

Pollock chiefly spoke about his latest project, The Murty Classical Library of India, a translation project aimed at making classical Indian literary works accessible to a global audience.

"These books will provide English translations of classical works alongside the originals in the appropriate regional script," told Pollock to an attentive audience.

"What we know as Indian literature today is constituted by multiple languages, each of them drawing from a vast pool of literary practices," explained Pollock. Translated into English by scholars, the series features classics in languages such as Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Pali, Panjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

While discussing the lineage and the usage of Sanskrit, Karnad had an interesting question for Pollock. "Can you go into the political potential of this," he asked. Karnad was referring to the politicisation of them myths, legends, scriptures and philosophies by politicians and political parties.

"Well, I'd like to say definitely, that despite whatever has happened over the last 300 years, Sanskrit has always been a great maker of bridges for the people of Bharat. It was not used for division," answered Pollock.

Noting an interesting phenomenon about the ancient scriptures and their relevance to modern India, Pollock noted, "Once you start reading them, you'll get to meet your 'not self' through them. And that's a journey worth undertaking."

Pollock is Arvind Raghunathan Professor of Sanskrit and South Asian Studies at Columbia University. He was educated at Harvard, where he received his A.B. in Classics (Greek) (1971) and his Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies (1975).

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