Most of the Translators Are in Hell.

Ursula Sims-Williams writes about “When Akbar commissioned a Persian take on the Mahabharata,” and a fascinating read it is, with gorgeous illustrations, but I can’t resist excerpting the same passage from Badāʼūnī’s Muntakhab al-tavārīkh that Trevor quoted in his e-mail when he sent me the link:

Collecting together the learned men of India, His Majesty directed that the book Mahabharat should be translated. For some nights His Majesty personally (had it) explained to Naqib Khan, who wrote out the resultant text in Persian. On the third night His Majesty summoned me and ordered me to translate it in collaboration with Naqib Khan. In three or four months out of the eighteen chapters (fan) of that stock of useless fables… I wrote out two chapters. … Thereafter Mulla Shiri and Naqib Khan completed that section, and one section Sultan Haji Thanesari ʻMunfaridʼ brought to completion.

Shaikh Faizi was then appointed to write it in verse and prose, but he too did not complete more than two Chapters (fan). Again, the said Haji wrote out two sections and rectified the errors which were committed in the first round, and fitting one part with another, compiled a hundred fasciculi. The direction was to establish exactitude in a minute manner so that nothing of the original should be lost. In the end upon some fault, His Majesty ordered him (Haji Thanesari) to be dismissed and sent away to Bhakkar, his native city, where he still is. Most of the interpreters and translators are in hell along with Korus and Pandavs, and as for the remaining ones, may God save them, and mercifully destine them to repent…. His Majesty named the work Razmnaama (Epic), and had it illustrated and transcribed in many copies, and the nobles too were ordered to have it transcribed by way of obtaining blessings. Shaikh Abul Fazl… wrote a preface of the length of two quires (juzv) for that work.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    “Most of the interpreters and translators are in hell”

    Personally I would nominate … well, maybe not. Translation is a venial sin.

  2. SFReader says

    I suppose translators in hell end up somewhere here:

    The Eighth Circle. Fraud. The Tenth Trench
    Falsifiers of Persons, Money, and Words

  3. Yup, that must be the place.

  4. But these South Asian translators got there specifically for work with Polytheism sources?

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    I think it’s true to say that the learned Abd-al-Qader was not fully on board with Akbar’s project. Hardly surprising, given that he was a straight-down-the-line Sunni, and Akbar … wasn’t. He seems to have lost out personally as a consequence, which perhaps explains a bit too.

    Scrolling down to an item on road traffic deaths, I was struck by the fact that it gives the rate of worldwide traffics deaths per annum as 12.5 lakh. I was aware of lakhs, but I must say I didn’t realise that they are used in this way in English, where a Western source would quote the figures in millions.

  6. Not only do they use lakhs in Indian English, they write large numbers differently (e.g., 100,000 as 1,00,000).

  7. Yeah, the English-language Indian press makes consistent use of lakhs and crores.

  8. His attitude was far from unusual. I can see where some of Modi’s and his followers’ venom comes from.

  9. I’m pretty sure they are in hell because of shirk, not translation.

  10. Huh. I thought that “lakhs” and “crore” was used exclusively for money.

  11. Paul Clapham says

    No, Indian programmers posting on English-language programming forums will sometimes use lakh and crore to refer to e.g. quantities of computer memory or database records.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    That is altogether excellent. I hope they also have gigalakhs and megacrores (but that may be too much to hope for.)


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