I would hazard a guess that every notable scholarly pursuit in American history began at Harvard. This may be my naiveté or the pain of having paid four years of full Harvard tuition.
The formal study of Sanskrut began in America at Harvard in 1872, when, as the Harvard website says, “James Bradstreet Greenough, a Latin grammarian, began offering courses in Sanskrit and comparative philology as Latin electives. Charles Lanman, who began at Harvard in 1880, was the first to preside over the department of Indo-Iranian Languages, as it was then called. During his tenure, Lanman produced A Sanskrit Reader (1888), a collection of Sanskrit and Indic manuscripts which is still the standard introductory text today, as well as founded The Harvard Oriental Series in 1891. ” ((http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~sanskrit/history.html)
My interest in Sanskrut studies in America began with an email to Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard who in turn introduced me to Professor Sheldon Pollock of Columbia. The work of Prof. Pollock has been described in earlier articles in this blog.
Through him, I came to know about the Clay Sanskrit Library and its project. This project is the first globally important Sanskrit project since the Chinese translation of Sanskrit texts during the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907 CE).
John P. Clay (born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1934 – now resident of our lovely New York City) graduated from Oxford in 1957 with first class honours in Sanskrit, Avestan and Old Persian. He went on to a long career in global investment banking with Vickers da Costa, New York, the London Stock Exchange and then with Clay Finlay, Inc.
In 1999, he decided to give enduring patronage to his real passion: Sanskrut literature. His vision was to create a series that would make all the Sanskrut classics available to the general English-speaking public for the first time.
John and his wife, Jennifer Coutts Clay (an aviation specialist and founder of J. Clay Consulting), co-founded the Clay Sanskrit Library with the goal of introducing Classical Sanskrit literature to a wide international readership. The General Editor of the Clay Sanskrit Library is Sheldon I. Pollock, William B. Ransford Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Columbia University. (http://www.claysanskritlibrary.org)
(John Clay) (Jennifer Coutts Clay) (Sheldon Pollock)
Sanskrut texts are being translated in to English by forty-four leading scholars from ten countries (USA, UK, France, Israel, Canada, Thailand, Australia, Germany, Hungary, Nepal). (http://www.claysanskritlibrary.org/people.php for the list of scholars).
The Clay editions show both the Sanskrit text, written in familiar Roman letters and wonderfully elegant English translations in convenient pocket size books. The books are published jointly by the JJC Foundation and the New York University Press (http://www.nyupress.org).
I do wish that the Clay translations were accompanied by an oral rendition of the text in both Sanskrut and English either on a CD or via the web. Many Sanskrut texts were composed before the invention of writing. So, Sanskrut developed a great natural tradition of “mukhasta vidya” or oral learning and teaching. The sheer beauty of Sanskrut can be felt by hearing it as well as reading it. I still recall the Sanskrut poetry I learned in this way. I love reciting it, I understand the jist and the “ras” of it. Even though, I do not understand every word of it, I still enjoy it.
(Kalidas Smarak at Ramtek) (Postage stamp honoring The Meghdoot by Kalidas)
Kalidas* is widely recognized as the greatest poet of Sanskrut. His play “Abhi-jnan-Shakuntalam” or the Recognition of Shakuntala, was first translated in to English by Sir William Jones, in 1789. When Goethe read the translation, he is supposed to have danced with joy around the room holding the book above his head. You can now share the same joy by ordering the book from the Clay Sanskrit Library. (http://www.nyupress.org or www.claysanskritlibrary.org/order.php)
The three great epics or poems by Kalidas are “Raghu-Vamsha” (The story of the Dynasty of Raghu), “Megh-doot” (The Cloud Messenger) and “Kumar-Sambhav” (The birth of Kumar). I remember reciting the exquisite poetry of the Raghu-Vamsha and Megh-doot as I grew up. But, I had never read the Kumar-Sambhav, judged by many to be the best work of Kalidas. I got the Clay translation of Kumar-Sambhav and read it. It is utterly exquisite.
Regardless of your background, national origin, race, color or gender, I strongly urge you to get at least one of the Clay translations and read it. Then share it with your spouse, children and friends. You will feel as if you have entered a new world of treasure. (You can buy the books from the New York University Press at www.nyupress.org. Go to the “To Order” page of the Clay Sanskrit Library website – www.claysanskritlibrary.org/order.php ). These books can also be great gifts.
As an American, I am proud that this great project is American, both in its conception and implementation. As a New Yorker, I am thrilled about such a momentous project arising out of my great city. As a global Indian or a desi, I am ecstatic and honored both to realize my literary heritage as well as share it with humanity.
The Indian Government bestowed upon the eminent Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin, the prestigious Indian award of Padma Bhushan (see the earlier article on the Tang Dynasty) for his work in Sanskrut. In my humble opinion, the Indian Government should bestow upon both John and Jennifer Clay, the Padma Bhushan for their great gift to humanity.
Editor’s Note: As I have been taught, the three great literary giants from the three globally dominant languages are recognized to be Kalidas- Sanskrut, Omar Khayyam-Persian and Shakespeare-English.
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