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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

(अभिज्ञानशाकुन्तलम् trans. Chandra Rajan)


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Loom of Time

Title: Abhijnanasakuntalam
Author: Kalidasa
Genre: Drama
Written: ca. 400 (Eng. 1989)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Sanskrit
Availability: in The Loom of Time - US
in The Loom of Time - UK
in The Loom of Time - Canada
Sakuntala - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting, but not entirely satisfying

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Chandra Rajan's translation of Kalidasa's Sakuntala appears in the Penguin (India) edition of The Loom of Time, which also includes two of Kalidasa's poems, a lengthy (hundred page) introductory essay, a useful glossary, and notes. The book makes for a good introduction to Kalidasa, but this version of the play itself is less than ideal. (For a more detailed summary of the play, see our review of Barbara Stoler Miller's translation, Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection.)
       Rajan doesn't try to rhyme the verses (as Ryder does in his translation), but does try for a more poetic feel than Miller. His translation is also one of the more expansive ones, as he tries to convey the entirety of the original Sanskrit expressions; it's a worthy ambition, but the result still sounds stilted far too much of the time.
       Even when he conveys meaning better than the other versions, the result often sounds a bit off. Ryder, for example, opts for the far too simple when the king wonders:

Father Kanva lives a lifelong hermit. Yet you say that your friend is his daughter. how can that be ?
       Rajan is much clearer, but his word-choices make for almost comic effect:
His Holiness Kanva has been known to observe perpetual celibacy; how then can your friend be a daughter begotten by him ?
       In a number of places Rajan's more expansive rendering is helpful -- so, for example, in explaining the nature of the curse on Sakuntala at the beginning of the fourth act (that the king won't remember her until he sees some token that will remind him -- i.e. the ring he gave her), perhaps the one place where this translation is clearly superior to the Miller and Ryder versions.
       Overall, however, Rajan's touch with language is not felicitous; the version simply doesn't read that well. Consider the moment when the king wonders what to do regarding the Sakuntala he no longer recognises. Ryder offers the simple and straightforward:
Not knowing whether I be mad
       or falsehood be in her,
Shall I desert a faithful wife
       or turn adulterer ?
       Miller's rendering is even clearer (though without the use of the world "adultery" the tainting the king is worried about may not be as clear to a Western audience not aware of the gravity of this sin):
       Since it's unclear whether I'm deluded
       or she is speaking falsely --
       should I risk abandoning a wife
       or being tainted by another man's ?
       Rajan gets the gist, but the excess words and punctuation (and the confusing Hamlet-(semi-)allusion) don't help any:
Am I deluded, or, is she false ?
this is the question: should I incur
the blame of forsaking my own wife,
or the stain of adultery, alas,
with the wife of another ?
       Rajan does provide some useful notes, and the introductory essay considers Sakuntala at some length and in some depth. Overall, the book makes for an adequate choice, but it's hard to consider it a first choice.

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Abhijnanasakuntala: Kalidasa: Other translations of Abhijnanasakuntala under review: Other works by Kalidasa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Kalidasa (कालिदास) probably lived during the reign of Candragupta II (ca. 380-413). Only three dramas and a few poems of his survive, but he continues to be revered as one of the greatest Sanskrit playwrights and poets.

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