L to R: Professor Sheldon Pollock, Editor MCLI; Dr Rohan Murty; Mr Ranjan Matha, High Commissioner of India to UK; Mr Roly Keating, Chief Executive British Library
When the sage poet Valmiki penned the epic Ramayana more than 2500 years ago, it was written in Sankskrit – a language whose influence spread from Afghanistan, across south and southeast Asia all the way to Bali in Indonesia.
Sanskrit was also the language which gave birth to the Mahabharata and countless other works which have shaped the social, political, religious and aesthetic histories of vast swathes of the world.
Yet, despite its importance – alongside other ancient Indian languages such as Pali and Urdu – Sanskrit barely registers in academic or cultural discourse in the west which remain pre-occupied with Greek and Latin.
Now a fledgling publishing venture is attempting to change that through the expertise of one of the western world’s great academic institutions and the munificence of one of India’s wealthiest families.
The Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) is a collaboration between the Harvard University Press and computer scientist Dr Narayan Murty, an Harvard alum and the son of billionaire Indian tech tycoon Narayana Murthy.
The Library, funded to the tune of $5.2 million by Dr Murty, aims to publish modern English translations of the great literary works of India from the past two thousand years.
MCLI had its official UK launch at India House on 27 March during which it unveiled its first five books which include ‘Therigatha’, a collection of poems penned by a group of Buddhist nuns in 600 BC and considered the earliest known collection of women’s literature; the first volume of the ‘Akbarnama’, the official chronicle of the reign of the Mughal Emperor ‘Akbar; and the extraordinary poetry of the Punjabi philosopher Bulleh Shah.
The Library aims to translate hundreds more works not only in Sanskrit but more than a dozen other Indian languages, including Pali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Persian, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
Digital editions of the translations will also be made available in the future.
The UKAsian caught up with Dr Murty and MCLI’s visionary editor Professor Sheldon Pollock.