Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some Christian Prayers in Sanskrit

The Lord's Prayer in Sanskrit

The Lord's prayer was translated into Sanskrit a long time ago. When I discovered this version on the internet, I at first thought that it was good, simple, straightforward Sanskrit, even though (like any translator) I thought I may well have done it differently.

On looking closer, however, I started to get the same kind of feeling I get when I read the Bible in Hindi or Bengali. The vocabulary, the cadences, the syntax all seem somewhat out of kilter. The word for word comes out more or less correct, but the spirit of the language is missing.

It is possible that this foreignness was a result of a too literal translation by someone with weak knowledge of the language and its literature, or perhaps it was done deliberately.

The apparent awkwardness might have been intended to preserve a kind of "otherness" in the religious language, much in the way that the King James Bible, which today has a rather distant relation to modern spoken and literary English, has a kind of formal elegance that sets it apart from day-to-day language. Had this translation such elegance, I might have though that this is what was happening here.

On the other hand, the translator may have been seeking to deliberately distance this Sanskrit from its traditional Hindu flavors, as a too close cultural similarity might have misled the poor Brahmin-convert to Christianity into thinking that it was just another variety of Hinduism.

Neither of these reasons seems particularly good. Translation is only possible because parallel concepts exists in different languages. Hinduism and therefore Sanskrit abound with subtle religious terminology that could, in my opinion, produce a far more effective version of the Lord's Prayer. To not make use of such potential precision is to fail the translator's task.

The text as given:

भो अस्माकं स्वर्गस्थ पितः तव नाम पवित्रं पूज्यताम्। तव राज्यमायातु।
यथा स्वर्गे तथा मेदिन्याम् अपि तवेच्छा सिध्यतु। श्वस्तनं भक्ष्यम् अद्यास्मभ्यं देहि।
वयं च यथास्मदपराधिनां क्षमामहे तथा त्वमस्माकमपराधान् क्षमस्व।
अस्मांश्च परीक्षां मा नय अपि तु दुरात्मन उद्धर , यतो राज्यं पराक्रमः प्रतापश्च युगे युगे तवैव।

bho asmākaṁ svargastha pitaḥ ! tava nāma pavitraṁ pūjyatām| tava rājyam āyātu| yathā svarge tathā medinyām api tavecchā sidhyatu | śvastanaṁ bhakṣyam adyāsmabhyaṁ dehi | vayaṁ ca yathāsmad-aparādhināṁ kṣamāmahe, tathā tvam asmākam aparādhān kṣamasva| asmāṁś ca parīkṣāṁ mā naya api tu durātmana uddhara, yato rājyaṁ parākramaḥ pratāpaś ca yuge yuge tavaiva |


(1) svargasthah pitah: Technically this is correct, but svarga has too many connotations related to Indra, Apsaras and Nandan gardens. This is most certainly an error that would be quite misleading. The actual meaning of "heaven" is "sky," so even though that is the etymological origin of svarga, I would have gone with "vyoma" or “parama-vyoma,” words used in the various traditions to distinguish their heaven from Svarga. It does not have the sectarian connotations that Vaikuntha or Goloka would have.

(2) tava nama pavitram pujyatam: The attempt to translate "hallowed" with pavitram pujyatam, an unorthodox expression, is weak. If it is "your holy name be worshiped" then it should be tava pavitram nama pujyatam, which is better, except that the translator obviously sought to add meaning for "hallowed" that he felt Sanskrit could not provide. There is no reason why pujyatam alone would not suffice.

(4) At best medinyam seems to lack the proper contrast to svarga. I would go with prithivi-tale, which gives the definite sense of "down here on earth." iccha for "will" seems completely inadequate. sankalpah is the obviously correct word.

(5) svastanam bhakshyam adyasmabhyam dehi : Two complaints: svastanam why “tomorrow’s”? bhakshyam = food, but doesn’t have the same resonance as bread. The obvious equivalent is annam, which is "rice", but also food generically.

(6) vayam ca yathasmad-aparadhinam kshamamahe: Forgive + genitive?

(7) tatha tvam asmakam aparadhan kshamasva: I find the construction of this entire sentence awkward. By switching the clauses around, the effect of the original is weakened. Why not keep something closer to the original construction? asmakam aparadhan kshamasva yatha vayam svaparadhinah kshamamahe

(8) asmams ca pariksham ma nayah pariksham = temptation? Without modification, this is not conventional usage.

(9) api tu duratmana uddhara. duratmanah = evil? dauratmyat is better.

(10) yato rajyam parakramah pratapas ca yuge yuge tavaiva; The introduction of this final sentence with yatah “for” seems disjoined. How is there a causal relationship with what precedes? Some additional link is needed.

Proposed alternative

So here is my proposed alternative translation. I have deliberately used anustup meter, because Sanskrit is a language whose literature largely evolved through metrical rather than prose or conversational usage. Many people would have had the Mahabharata’s or Panchatantra’s verses ringing in their ears rather than spoken prose. Certainly it is the liturgical language.

The use of verse here has entailed a little lengthening of some phrases, but I think this is justified for the rhythms and the additional words that flesh out the meaning of the original.

देव भोः पितरस्माकं परस्मिन् व्योम्नि तिष्ठसि।
त्वदीयं कीर्त्यतां नाम तस्मिन् प्रीतिः सदास्तु नः॥
स्थाप्यतां तव सम्राज्यमत्रैव पृथिवीतले।
भवेह सिद्धसंकल्पो यथासि स्वस्य धामनि॥
अन्नं दैनन्दिनं दत्त्वा पालयास्मान् दिने दिने।
क्षमस्व चापराधान् नो ज्ञात्वाज्ञात्वा तु वा कृतान्॥
यथास्माभिर्हि चान्येषाम् अपराधा हि मर्जिताः।
हे प्रभो न तथैवास्मान् गमयाधर्मवर्त्मनि॥
लोभात्पापप्रवृत्तिश्च दौरात्म्याच्चैव मोचय।
युक्तमेतत् यतस्तेऽस्ति राज्यं प्रभाववैभवं।
अत्र परत्र सर्वत्र अद्य श्वश्च युगे युगे॥

deva bhoḥ pitarasmākaṁ parasmin vyomni tiṣṭhasi|
tvadīyaṁ kīrtyatāṁ nāma tasmin prītiḥ sadāstu naḥ||
sthāpyatāṁ tava samrājyam atraiva pṛthivī-tale|
bhaveha siddha-saṁkalpo yathāsi svasya dhāmani||
annaṁ dainandinaṁ dattvā pālayāsmān dine dine|
kṣamasva cāparādhān no jñātvājñātvā tu vā kṛtān||
yathāsmābhir hi cānyeṣām aparādhā hi marjitāḥ|
he prabho na tathaivāsmān gamayādharma-vartmani||
lobhāt pāpa-pravṛtteś ca daurātmyāc caiva mocaya|
yuktam etat yatas te'sti rājyaṁ prabhāva-vaibhavaṁ|
atra paratra sarvatra adya śvaś ca yuge yuge||

A literal translation:
Lord, you are our father who lives in heaven;
Let your name be sung, and may we have love for it.
May your reign also be established here on earth.
May your will be fulfilled here, as it is in your own abode.
Giving us our daily bread, maintain us day after day.
Forgive us our offenses, which we have knowingly or unknowingly committed,
just as we forgive the offenses of others.
O Lord, do not lead us on the path of irreligion,
and save us from greed, the propensity for sin and evil.
This is all proper, for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
in this world and in the next, everywhere, today, tomorrow and for all the ages.

An important document like the Lord's Prayer requires a precision and deliberate theological profundity in each syllable. Nothing can be wasted and nothing superfluous added. No doubt, this is a feeble attempt by a single individual. Nevertheless, I do feel that it is a considerable improvement on what seems to be the currently approved version.

Hail Mary in Sanskrit

Tim Bruns asked me to do this for Christmas 2007 when I first came to SRSG. (I added a couple of pictures of Swami Veda's pretty sweet marble statue of Mary at SRSG. He recently said, though, that he felt the ashram was missing a temple to a "generic" Mother Goddess.

हा मारीये कृपापूर्णे ईशोऽस्ति तव सन्निधे
धन्यासि विश्वनारीषु धन्यस्ते गर्भज इसुः
नमो पवित्रे मारीये ईश्वरजननि नमः
अस्माकं पापिनामर्थे प्रार्थयस्वेसुसन्निधे
इदानीमप्यन्तकाले च प्रार्थनां कृपया कुरु

hā mārīye kṛpā-pūrṇe īśo'sti tava sannidhe
dhanyāsi viśva-nārīṣu dhanyas te garbhaja isuḥ
namo pavitre mārīye īśvara-janani namaḥ
asmākaṁ pāpinām arthe prārthayasvesu-sannidhe
idānīm apy anta-kāle ca prārthanāṁ kṛpayā kuru

Oh Maria, full of grace, the Lord is by you
you are blessed amongst the women of the world
and blessed is Jesus, born of your womb.
I bow to you, Holy Mary, mother of God, I bow to you,
Pray to Jesus for the sake of us sinners
now and at the time of death, please pray for us.

A couple of NT verses

I gave a paper at the McGill Sanskrit Conference a couple of years ago on bhakti-rasa in Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ." I amused myself by translating a few New Testament verses into Sanskrit.

ईश्वरस्य यत: प्रीतिर्बृहती जगत्यामभूत्।
ततः स्वनन्दन एकः कृपयात्र हि प्रेषितः॥
अथास्मिन् यस्य विश्वासो दृढोऽस्ति नात्र संशयः।
स कदापि न नश्येत शाश्वतं चापि जीवति॥ युहन्न ३।१६

īśvarasya yataḥ prītir bṛhatī jagatyām abhūt|
tataḥ sva-nandana ekaḥ kṛpayātra hi preṣitaḥ||
athāsmin yasya viśvāso dṛḍho'sti nātra saṁśayaḥ|
sa kadāpi na naśyeta śāśvataṁ cāpi jīvati|| yuhanna 3.16

As God had great love for the world
he mercifully sent his one own son
thus one who has strong faith in him, there is no doubt,
he will never perish and will live forever.
(John 3.16)

यदि भुवि दृष्टे ह्यत्र नरे प्रीतिरसंवृत्ता।
तवादृश्ये भगवति प्रेमा सम्भवतात् कथम्॥

yadi bhuvi nare dṛṣṭe atra prītir asaṁvṛtā |
tavādṛśye bhagavati premā sambhavatāt katham||

If you do have love for the man you can see on earth
how can you have love for the God you cannot see?


  1. Nice posting. Do you know about these Sanskrit books?

  2. I'd love to hear an audio file of the lord's prayer adaptation that you made here. :)

  3. I agree, please record your lord's prayer and hail mary adaptations...

  4. Hello--I really like this post. I know a little of Sanskrit (not much!) and I'm curious--how are you declining "Mary" in Sanskrit? Are you using "Mārīyā" as the nominative and then declining it like "kāntā" (i.e. Mārīyā, Mārīyām, Mārīayā, Mārīyāyai, and so on)? Just curious.

  5. Did any of these get recorded and posted?

  6. I believe someone recorded them, but I don't have them. Sorry.