Friday, January 02, 2015

Indian Literature

India has an enormous classical literature, written not only in Sanskrit but in many of the other languages of the subcontinent. Most of this has never been translated into English, and much of it, according to the New York Times,

...While the canon of surviving Greek and Roman classics is fairly small, the literature of India’s multiple classical languages includes thousands upon thousands of texts, many of which, as the writer William Dalrymple recently noted, exist only in manuscripts that are decaying before they can be translated or even cataloged.

A project to digitize and publish much of this literature has been undertaken by Sheldon Pollock:

After the Clay Library’s demise, Mr. Pollock, who had taken over as its general editor, reconceived the project to extend far beyond Sanskrit. He shopped around in India for a new benefactor, to no avail. He then brought the idea to Sharmila Sen, executive editor at large at Harvard University Press, who connected him with Rohan Murty, the son of the Indian technology billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy. (The two men spell their surnames differently.)

The younger Mr. Murty, at the time a 26-year-old doctoral student in computer science at Harvard, put up $5.2 million to endow the new library, which will eventually be digitized, in perpetuity.

The project has a controversial aspect, thanks to it's inclusion of literature other than Sanskrit, it may collide with India's long running language wars.

The library, which will be celebrated late this month at the Jaipur Literary Festival, arrives at a fraught moment in India’s long-running battles over language and national identity. Last month the country’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, declared that the Bhagavad Gita, a Sanskrit religious text, should be designated a “national scripture.” In November, efforts to make the teaching of Sanskrit essentially mandatory in schools for the children of government employees prompted an outcry.

Activists, meanwhile, have sought “classical” status for other languages, including Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam, even as once-vibrant Indian scholarship in the older literature of those languages has withered away.