David Shulman in The New Republic discusses the sad state of awareness of Sanskrit literature: “The astonishing fact is that cultivated readers of [European] tongues may have never heard of Kalidasa, or of the no less important Bhavabhuti, Bharavi, Magha, and Sriharsha.”
Happily, help has now arrived. In the last decade, a new library of translations from Sanskrit has begun to appear. It is called the Clay Sanskrit [Library], named after the generous donor who has made it all possible, John P. Clay, who took a degree in Sanskrit from Oxford University many years ago. More than thirty volumes have already appeared in this extraordinary project, with another twenty or more in the pipeline. And so, for the first time in English, we have the beginnings of a representative canon of Sanskrit literary works, for the most part well translated and accessible to a wide public.
The Clay volumes are patterned after the justifiably celebrated Loeb Classical Library for Greek and Latin: small, elegant books, beautifully printed, sparsely annotated, and bilingual—the Sanskrit, transliterated into Roman characters in a system devised by the Clay editors, sits on the left page, facing the English translation on the right. This arrangement naturally delights students of Sanskrit, who may dispense, at least temporarily, with their dictionaries and grammar books; but you do not have to know Sanskrit to enjoy reading these volumes. Indeed, their raison d’être is to win for the Sanskrit classics an audience outside India, and certainly beyond the limited scholarly circles that have, for the last two centuries or so, studied these works, produced critical editions and philological commentaries, and sometimes also translated them into Western languages, almost invariably badly.
This is an excellent thing, and I wish these volumes had been around when I was sullenly studying Sanskrit 35 years ago. Thanks, Kári!