Piedmont Yoga Studio News March 2009 | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga

Piedmont Yoga Studio News March 2009

The last time we checked in we were in India in the last quarter of the 18th century, with the British East India Company (EIC) serving as much of the country's governing body. Unfortunately for India, like most businesses-except Piedmont Yoga of course-the EIC was in business to make money, and when that aim conflicted with good government-surprise!-making money won out. When a severe drought hit India and food shortages threatened, despite plenty of early warnings the EIC sat on its collective hands and did nothing...nothing that is except allow merchants to RAISE the price of foodstuffs, thereby exacerbating an already catastrophic situation. The result was predictable: uncounted millions of Indians died of starvation. The British Parliament, already uneasy about the EIC's governing methods, went ballistic and soon passed laws compelling the Company to clean up its act. This included appointing a Governor-General to take charge of running the country, and the position fell to Warren Hastings, an old India hand, an accomplished scholar, and by all accounts a relatively honest, hard-working
Hastings decided that, in order to better understand and manage the Indian legal system, key EIC employees should be schooled in local languages including the granddaddy of them all, Sanskrit. The first Englishman (though not the first European) to master this "perfected" tongue was Charles Wilkins, a printer by trade, who had a facility for languages: by the time he picked up Sanskrit, Wilkins had already learned Persian and Bengali. One of his first projects was to translate the Mahabharata into English. Now in case you don't know, this epic poem is reputedly the longest in the world, with 1.8 million words, estimated to be 10 times longer than the Greek Iliad and Odyssey combined. It tells the story of five brothers and their on-going conflicts with their 100 cousins (big families were apparently the order of the day) over succession to the Indian throne.
Wilkins never completed this Herculean task, but along the way he translated a short episode-a mere 700 verses of the Mahabharata's 100,000-which recounted the heart-warming story of a little talk between a reluctant warrior and his loyal charioteer on the eve of the epic's final apocalyptic battle between the armies of the brothers and the cousins. When Wilkins showed this work to Hastings, the Governor-General was mightily impressed and immediately petitioned the EIC to subsidize Wilkins' translation, which it did mostly in the hope of improving its public image. And so from the tragedy of the Indian famine came the first English translation of a Sanskrit text, which we know today as the Bhagavad Gita.
It took a few years for Europeans to notice the Gita, but when they did, like Hastings they were amazed by its teaching, and soon translations of all kinds of Indian literature were showing up not only in English but in German, French, and even Latin. Is that a misprint? No, a French scholar, Antequil Duperron got his hands on a Persian translation of 50 Upanishads-a story for another newsletter-and after trying French and not liking it, decided to render the texts into a kind of hybrid Latin. Critics of time trashed the translation, but at least one prominent philosopher, German Arthur Schopenhauer, was powerfully influenced by the Hindu teachings. It's said he even named his dog Atman.
It was only a matter of time before these translations made their way across the Atlantic and into the hands of Americans. The first Sanskrit work published in this country was the opening act of a play by the "Indian Shakespeare," Kalidasa (maybe Shakespeare was the "British Kalidasa"), in an 1805 issue of a literary magazine edited by Ralph Waldo Emerson's father. And once again the question arises: what has all this got to do with Yoga? Tune in next time to find out.

Receive a Heartfelt, Inspired Newsletter with Special Features, Seasonal Updates, and Coupon Codes for Use with Our Yoga Downloads.