The idea of preparing a scholarly, readable, and densely annotated translation of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa has fascinated me since the summer of 1969, when J. Moussaieff-Masson and I read through and discussed substantial portions of the epic in the midst of the monkey-haunted forests of Mahableshwar. It struck us then, as indeed it must strike any serious student of the culture, history, or literature of India, that such a translation was one of the prime desiderata of Indological scholarship.
The completion of the critical edition of the poem by scholars associated with the Oriental Institute, Baroda, in 1975 made the need and timeliness of a new English translation all the greater, and it was in the year preceding the publication of that edition that I decided to commit myself to the enormous undertaking.
It was clear to me from the beginning of the project, however, that in view of the size of the text and the translator’s obligation to give his audience the benefit of the varied and copious tradition of Sanskrit commentary on the Rāmāyaṇa, it would be impossible for one person to do the translation alone. I therefore decided to work with a small and dedicated group of scholars expert in the area of Sanskrit epic studies. The plan was to assign each of the epic’s seven books to a different translator, each of whom would be responsible for the accuracy of his or her translation and the scholarship of the annotation. The basic questions of format, conventions, and style were to be decided at regular meetings of the group or consortium, and responsibility for seeing to it that stylistic consistency and general quality did not vary significantly from book to book was to be in my hands as general editor, working closely with the individual translators, the group as a whole, and an editorial consultant. The latter, not a Sanskritist, was to be chosen on the basis of recognized expertise in the area of literary criticism and reputation as an author.
Such was the plan of the Rāmāyaṇa Translation Consortium. Now, some seven years later, I can say with some satisfaction that it has proceeded, despite many problems of logistics and communication, very much as it was first envisioned. When the project was first announced to the world of Indology it met with both considerable enthusiasm and not a little skepticism. Everyone agreed upon the need for a serious translation of the great epic, but some were alarmed by what they saw as a ‘committee translation,’ and felt that the work must end in either a characterless product or in a failure engendered by the impossibility of seven different scholars agreeing on such matters as style, conventions, and so on. How far we have justified either this enthusiasm or skepticism can only be judged by the readers of the work. However, I can say that the work has been and continues to be the most exciting and enriching scholarly interchange in which it has been my good fortune to participate. Those who have participated in the project are convinced that the constant access to the informed opinion of a body of Rāmāyaṇa scholars within the consortium has immeasurably enhanced both the accuracy and style of the translation and the value of the annotation.
As originally constituted, the group consisted of Rosalind Lefeber of the University of Toronto, Bimal K. Matilal of Oxford University, Jeffrey Mousaieff-Masson, then at the University of Toronto, Barbara Stoler Miller of Barnard College, Barend A. van Nooten of the University of California, Berkeley, and me. Leonard E. Nathan, distinguished professor of Rhetoric at Berkeley and well-known poet served in the capacity of editorial consultant.
Over the course of the last five years, in the face of increasing demands in other areas of their work, Professors Miller, Masson, and Matilal have had to withdraw from active participation in the project, even though each of them had contributed enormously to the fundamental decisions on style, format, conventions, annotation, and countless other details. The consortium and the translation owe much to these scholars, and I should like to thank them here once again for their contribution to the project and for their continuing interest, support, and help.
During this same period two additional Sanskrit scholars joined the consortium, Sheldon I. Pollock of the University of Iowa and Sally J. Sutherland of the University of California, Berkeley.
The responsibilities of the members of the consortium as it is now constituted are as follows. I am the general editor and am responsible for the translation of the Bāla and Sundara Kāṇḍas, respectively the first and fifth books of the epic. Professor Pollock has undertaken responsibility for the Ayodhyā and Araṇya, the second and third books of the poem. In addition to his energetic work on these two books, Professor Pollock has been unusually generous with his time and assistance in the preparation of the Bālakāṇḍa for press. He read closely and carefully through the introduction, translation, and annotation, and made countless suggestions for improvement. In addition, he prepared a scholarly essay on the critical edition and the history of Rāmāyaṇa textual studies, which forms part of the introduction to the present volume. All of us involved with the project are grateful for his tireless efforts on behalf of the entire work.
Dr. Lefeber is responsible for the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, the fourth book of the epic. Her meticulous scholarship and attention to both the nuances of meaning and the niceties of style have set a standard for all of us.
Professor van Nooten is responsible for the Yuddhakāṇḍa, the epic’s sixth book. This book, nearly twice the size of some of the others, requires a special degree of dedication. Aside from his own work on this huge volume, his scholarship has contributed significantly to our understanding of a number of important technical terms in the poem.
Dr. Sutherland has performed varied and dedicated service for the project. In addition to her work on the Uttarakāṇḍa, the seventh and last book of the epic, which is her responsibility, she collaborated with me on the annotation of the Bālakāṇḍa and assisted me in the revision, editing, and preparation of this volume. The meticulousness of her scholarship and her extraordinary dedication to all aspects of this enormous project have led to her appointment as assistant editor of the work as a whole. Without her selfless and exhausting work on the notes, the bibliography, and the many complex problems engendered by the use of the UNIX computer system, the present volume could not have appeared in print for several years.
Professor Nathan, too, has given unstintingly of his time, often braving our indignation in his efforts to demonstrate that our cherished ‘solutions’ to various problems of translation must yield to the canons of contemporary literary English style. That he was almost always successful is as much a tribute to his tact, good sense, and human warmth as it is to his superb instinct for the appropriate diction. I should like to thank him for his patience during the many laborious, but frequently hilarious, hours we spent in his home reading aloud over and over again draft after draft of the translation of the present volume.
The work owes, in addition, countless debts to many individuals and institutions whose advice, assistance, and support contributed to its progress. It is with great pleasure that I take the opportunity to thank them here.
First I should like to express my great debt of gratitude to my friend, colleague, and teacher, Pt. T. S. Śrīnivāsa Śāstrī of the Deccan College, Poona, who graciously, patiently, and learnedly read through the entire text of the Bālakāṇḍa and five Sanskrit commentaries on it during 1974-1975, clarifying for me dozens of points that seemed hopelessly obscure. His knowledge of the Rāmāyaṇa is breathtaking, and it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that he knows the text virtually by heart. There is hardly a line of the translation and annotation that has not benefited in some way from his profound learning, deep insight into Sanskrit stylistics, and boundless generosity.
I should also like to express my thanks to Dr. V. W. Paranjpe, Dr. N. M. Sen, and Mr. K. Venugopalan of the Deccan College. Dr. Paranjpe and Mr. Venugopalan read through much of the text with Śrīnivāsa Śāstrī and me, and contributed innumerable valuable suggestions. Dr. Sen was always available to discuss, on the basis of his immense scholarship on the linguistic problems of the Rāmāyaṇa, any difficulties that the text presented.
Special thanks are owed to Dr. U. P. Shah of Baroda who, in his capacity as then general editor of the critical edition and director of the Rāmāyaṇa Department of the Oriental Institute, made available to me both the resources of his institute and the benefit of his enormous learning. My many discussions with him helped clarify a number of points on the history, geography, and ethnology of the epic.
I must also take this occasion to express my thanks to Professor S. D. Joshi, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Sanskrit, Poona University, and to the late Professor V. Raghavan. Both of these distinguished scholars were always ready to draw upon the resources of their scholarship and the institutions with which they were affiliated to assist me with scholarly, material, or logistic problems that arose in connection with this work.
A project of this magnitude and duration requires and will continue to require a considerable amount of support beyond the time devoted to it by its principal participants. We have been fortunate in securing the material and financial support of a number of institutions, support without which it would have been impossible to carry on the work. By far the most generous, consistent, and vital support for the project has been that provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities under its Translation Project Grant program. The Rāmāyaṇa Translation Project has, as of this date, been the recipient of two grants under this program (1977-1979 and 1980-1983), which have been the very lifeblood of the project, providing funds for salary replacement, travel for the all important annual meetings of the consortium members, and support for bibliographical and research assistants. Our special thanks are due to Dr. Susan Mango of the Endowment, the initiator and administrator of this vitally needed program, for her advice, encouragement, and unfailing support.
I must also express my appreciation to the American Institute of Indian Studies, whose Senior Fellowship enabled me to carry out the preliminary stages of my research and translation in India during 1974-1975, and to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, with whose support I was able to intensify my efforts on the translation in 1978-1979.
I should like also to express my thanks to the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies of the University of California, Berkeley, and its director, Dr. Bruce R. Pray, for funding and hosting the first meeting of the consortium and Rāmāyaṇa Conference in Berkeley during the spring of 1976, and to the College of Letters and Sciences and the Computer Center of the University of California, Berkeley, for the provision of computer terminals and a generous subsidy for computer time that enabled us to expedite the revision of the work enormously.
I must also thank Dr. Margaret Case and Princeton University Press for their support and encouragement and especially for their patient recognition that an enormous cooperative project such as this cannot be rushed for deadlines without losing much of its value.
Finally, I should like to express my thanks to a number of individuals whose contributions made the work considerably easier than it might have been. First is Mr. Denis Charles Lahey, whose enthusiasm, ability, and hard work made us aware of and made available to us the tremendously enhanced efficiency of computer text editing and formatting. Without his help in programing and text editing, we might still be trying to dig our way out of an avalanche of the paper used in five drafts of the translation. It is thanks chiefly to him that we have no typist to thank.
Thanks are also owed to Margaret Kane of Harvard University and Pamela MacFarland, Keith Jefferds, Robert Kritzer, Penny Bertrang, Jeannette Flick, and Wayne Surdam of the University of California, Berkeley who worked long hours as research assistants and bibliographers in the service of the project.
Last of all, but certainly far from least, I should like to record here my thanks to Ms. Yvonne Kins, administrative assistant of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, whose ungrudging and expert assistance with the numerous complex problems of applying for and administering the various grants and subsidies mentioned above permitted me to concentrate my efforts on the completion of the work.