Q1. Why do you print the Sanskrit in Roman script (as opposed to one of the traditional Indian scripts)? (editorial policy, criticism)

A1. For two reasons. The more important is that we want to make it easier for people to learn Sanskrit. We expect the great majority of our readers to use only the translations. But we know that every year in western universities, particularly in North America, many people take a first-year Sanskrit course, but only a tiny number go on to do a second year. Why? One reason must be a shortage of materials suitable for those who know just a little bit of Sanskrit. Our volumes can help such students, whether they are studying with a teacher or by themselves.

All Sanskritists know that there are two difficulties in learning the language, and unfortunately both occur at the beginning. The first is the need to learn a script unlike those most westerners have seen before. A particular difficulty of the script for beginners is that in most cases it does not mark the boundaries between words. The second difficulty is sandhi: the fact that the ends (and sometimes also the beginnings) of words change according to what follows (or precedes). This means that when words occur in sentences, the beginner is often unsure where the word boundaries occur, and so cannot identify the unit to look up in a dictionary. The sandhi problem for beginners is aggravated by the use of a script which allows little scope for punctuation marks.

Already in his pioneering work Teach Yourself Sanskrit (now in its 17th edition) Michael Coulson transliterated Sanskrit into Roman script and devised a system of punctuation to go with it which made most cases of sandhi transparent. All we have done is slightly to extend his system so as to cover all cases.

Our second reason is that for most of its history Sanskrit has been written in the local script. The common belief that there is some peculiar link between Sanskrit and the devanāgarī script is mistaken. Pali, the canonical language of early Buddhism, is an ancient Indian language directly derived from Sanskrit. Throughout its history it has been written everywhere in the local script. Thus in Sri Lanka it is written in the Sinhala script, in Thailand in Thai script, and in the West in Roman script. In fact Pali was first printed in the West, and from that day to this Pali printed in the West has been in the Roman script and no one has ever thought to object.

Until recently, Sanskrit in India was written and even printed in the local script. Even within living memory, those taking a degree in Sanskrit in Calcutta University – where the medium for the course was Sanskrit! – read and wrote their Sanskrit in the Bengali script. The same goes for other parts of India. Devanāgarī is the script used, in several different versions, for Hindi and Marathi. The printing of Sanskrit took off in the latter half of the nineteenth century in Bombay, where a form of devanāgarī is the local script, and that is why people have become accustomed to seeing Sanskrit printed in that script, but there is nothing sacrosanct about this recent development. In fact, none of the texts we are printing was originally written down in devanāgarī!

Q2. Why do you write Sanskrit names and terms in two different ways, such as Mahābhārata and “Maha·bhárata”? (editorial policy, language, criticism)

A2. As we say on our homepage: “For many interested readers access to this vast treasure store has been hindered by an unfamiliar language and a difficult script. The new Clay Sanskrit Library makes everything easier.”

On the Sanskrit side of the page, we transliterate with the system universally recognised by students of Sanskrit, e.g. Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa.

On the other hand, the series is not intended for specialists alone. In fact, the majority of readers are non-specialists, who are likely to read only the English translation and notes. For such readers it should not be necessary to learn the transliteration of the Sanskrit alphabet. Therefore, our Anglicised system makes Sanskrit names and words far easier for them to read and pronounce by doing three things.

First, we both do away with diacritics (to dispense with fine tuning) and insert -h- (to remove ambiguity): e.g. anga for aṅga, Champa for Campā (lest we pronounce *Kampa) and Vishnu for Viṣṇu (not *Visnu).

We also mark stress accent in words with three or more syllables so that everyone will know where the accent falls. For example, we print mándala for maṇḍala, to prevent the common pronunciation *mandála. Similarly, Himálaya (Himālaya), not *Himaláya.

The third feature is the use of the dot (·) in subdividing polysyllabic compound words. So devanāgarī is rendered deva·nágari and Saptaparṇapura reads Sapta·parna·pura.

Despite our best efforts, there is no way of making it visually clear that the letter ph in Sanskrit is never pronounced as in English f. Therefore, we recommend to non-Sanskritists that they familiarise themselves with the basic pronunciation of Sanskrit. The guide to pronunciation and our transliteration systems are covered in the CSL Front Matter (printed at the front of each CSL volume), which is available for download here.

Q3. Why don’t you use the critical edition of the Mahābhārata? (editorial policy)

A3. For many years Chicago University Press have been publishing an English translation of the critical edition. In 2001, when we had to decide what to do ourselves, they were about halfway through. The sensible thing seemed to be to collaborate, so we suggested it: that we pay for the volumes remaining to be translated, and in return they let us include the volumes already published in our series (with the addition of the text, of course). This is the very arrangement that we came to with Princeton University Press for the Rāmāyaṇa. But Chicago were not interested.

We therefore decided not to duplicate Chicago’s enterprise, but to translate another version of the text. While the critical edition is a remarkable feat of scholarship, some scholars find it unsatisfying, in that it differs a good deal from all extant versions. Some of the best known quotations from the Mahābhārata are actually not in the critical edition at all!

We chose as our basic text the version used by the most famous commentator on the text, Nīlakaṇṭha. Even this version, which has been printed several times, contains many variants. It seemed in harmony with the whole spirit of the epic tradition that we should encourage our translators to follow their own inclinations in choosing readings, provided that they follow the principle that the text should not be gobbledygook. The webpage for each volume will allow the translators to show where they have chosen to depart from the commonest reading.

Q4. Will there be volumes for children? (CSL projects, resources)

A4. We do not plan to produce special children’s editions, but that does not mean that our books cannot be enjoyed by children. In fact, one reader of What Ten Young Men Did wrote to us with the following comment:

“I am most struck by how well the translation itself reads. I can picture myself easily peasily reading it aloud to a ten year old. Very few translations stand up to that and that’s my criterion.”

Stories from Five Discourses on Worldly Wisdom (Pañcatantra) and the Friendly Advice (Hitopadeśa) are well-known the world over in their borrowed reincarnations in Ibn al-Muqaffa’s Kalīlah Wa Dimnah, The Arabian Nights, La Fontaine’s Fables, Aesop’s Fables, and even the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, and are widely enjoyed by children and adults alike.

We believe that our volumes are useful for not only entertaining children but teaching them Sanskrit too. It is our aim to cultivate readership among all generations. To that end, we have created a page dedicated to children, where we reflect the voices of young Sanskritists. 

Q5. Where can I find the full introduction, extensive annotation and bibliography mentioned in the Ramáyana introductions? (resources)

A5. The list of all online material on the Ramáyana and other CSL volumes can be found on Book Extras page. For the Ramáyana we currently offer the online material in its entirety for the first three Books. Extended bibliography is also available for Books IV and V on the same page, with other files coming shortly. Material for Books VI and VII will follow in tandem with the publication of the printed volumes.