In the wonderland of literature, world of translation literature is indeed unique!

I am happy to share with my esteemed viewers  a paper that I presented in an International Conference.



27th and 28th December 2014

Paper presented by N V SUBBARAMAN, CHENNAI



(Abstract: Welcome-Language:  origin and purpose: World languages- Indian languages:  What is literature?: Different forms of literature: World literature – Indian literature:  World is resplendent with literature of the                           highest order. Need for translation:  A medium through which the literature of different people   of different languages are enabled to reach all and make them enjoy the literature in full. Role and responsibilities of a translator:  Cannot be overemphasized or exaggerated, spirit, language, involvement, knowledge, consciousness.   Means and Methods of translation:  Varied and intense.  Translation is Trans-creation!  Translation is something much more than finding    equivalents! It is indeed Trans-creation! Famous Translated literature- World and Indian: Bible, Tirukkural, Ramayana, Shakespeare’s, Gitanjali of Tagore, Bharathiyar’s etc. Conclusion)

Distinguished delegates,

Hearty  WELCOME!

I join the organizers to extend a hearty welcome to you all for the festival from all over the globe to this famous capital of the “GOD’S OWN LAND”.

The    gathering here exemplifies the core Indian philosophy of “VASU                     DEIVA KUTUMBAKAM”- the entire universe is one family.  I am sure you are enjoying the salubrious climate, people, food and this festival- festival for the poets, writers and scholars of the world so meticulously and painstakingly organized by the IICCA along with the Indian Ruminations, Kerala, Kerala Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and Shruthi-the school of music, Assam.

I am sure you will enjoy this paper too!


Man- the roof and crown of creation- alone has the privilege and capacity to communicate and converse through languages- written and spoken. The history of the evolution of human beings will show the gradual growth from the pre-historic age to the modern age of advanced Information Technology. We are too well aware of the facts on the gradual growth of languages along with the growth of the human beings- four dimensional development of the human beings viz physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual.

How the language was born, how it grew, got refined, improved in all forms- spoken, written and body is a part of human history. It is just as old and ancient as culture and civilization.   We have very ancient and rich languages all over the globe and just dialects all over! That is indeed paradoxical!   Language is a medium of communication   and hence is evolving one. It is a method of human communication. It is said that language as a medium of communication came to form well back 1, 00,000 years. Probably, the first spoken form of language hasn’t still accounted and don’t exist in the world, since ancient language don’t have written script. Justifying first language of the earth may be impossible. Even accounting first language is difficult, but we can find some of the treasure language of the earth. Civilization developed along with this classical language of the world.

World is always fond of 7, the most powerful 7 classical language of the world. They are treasure of the world. Everyone has a duty to protect the treasure of world. Some of the early existed language even before these classical languages got extended form over the world.


It is said there are thousands of languages all over the globe and in India there are 780 languages. These numbers may include spoken and written languages.   Many may be only spoken without any scripts which are called ‘dialects’. Body language!?!?!? Psychologists will write volumes and volumes and we the trainers of behavior science speak for hours!

Well developed languages of the world over a period of centuries have developed and refined their scripts, improved various aspects of grammar and created enormous volumes of immortal literary arts of work.  Languages go on growing. None can say thus far and no further! There are languages with all the characteristics of a well developed ones and yet they are not in practice or very rarely spoken and called colloquially as a “dead language”!

A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley, linguist George L. Hart, it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature.

Thus classical languages tend to either be dead languages, or show a high degree of diglossia, as the spoken varieties of the language diverge further and further away from the classical written language over centuries.   Some languages in India have been accorded the status of “ancient language”- “classical language”-depending on the age, grammatical excellence, literary richness etc. making them eligible for further enrichment by sanctioning special funds for deeper research and study. Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Persian, Chinese, Sanskrit and Tamil are treated as classical languages.   Twenty two languages in India have been declared as official languages.


Can we say literature is the reflection of the society? Can we take It that it depicts the culture, civilization, intellectual and spiritual attainments of the times and the society? Are they immortal writings of the intellectuals of the society of the day?

Can we say literature is the index of the language?  Answer obviously is “YES” for all these questions.

Literature is of different genres. Literature is a broad term used to different forms: Prose, poetry, drama –literature takes different forms with different people all aiming to ennoble and enliven the community.  Again, literature is the index of the times and society.

Every country in the world, every developed language in the globe can be proud of hoary literature of the highest order.

Now in the fast changing society, we have one more form or genre of literature and that is “TRANSLATION LITERATURE”. We shall look into some of the aspects in brief in the light of limitation of time and words!


Yes; we have already seen there are thousands of languages all over the globe and most of the world languages have contributed richly fo the world of literature. There are enormous works of literary values in every developed language. It is very difficult and almost impossible even for the multi-linguists to read, enjoy and appreciate the world literature available in abundance.

To enable the literary lovers of various languages to read and enjoy the literary works of different languages to be rendered in different other languages and the process is called “translation”.  In fact it is a medium through which the literature of different people of different languages are enabled to reach all and make them enjoy the literature in full.

This has assumed, in the course of decades, a very important role to play in the boundless world of literature.  Though a lot of grounds have been explored in this, it throws open more and more avenues for further study and research and more and more students take to this for their Ph.D. thesis in various universities!

In fact this is the only means to carry the fine literature of one language to millions of literary lovers knowing languages other than the language in which the original work is created. Hence this art and science of translation has got to be learnt and practiced in greater and higher scales.

Let me share some thoughts on the need for translation based on the views of two of the greatest poets of Tamilnadu.

Literary world may be aware of one Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar (1882-1921). He was a great national patriotic poet who by his patriotic writings made the people rise in revolt against the British rule. He is a multi linguist, a great speaker, writer and poet. He was extremely proud of his nation and its languages, literature and culture, hoary past and the glory of the Indians/Tamils and their in exhaustive literary treasures.   He was equally enamored of world literature and he was of the firm view that Tamil literary works must be translated to other languages and the treasure of other languages must be made to the Tamils through translations.

To quote him:

பிறநாட்டு நல்லறிஞர் சாத்திரங்கள்

தமிழ் மொழியில் பெயர்த்தல் வேண்டும்;

இறவாத புகழுடைய புதுநூல்கள்

தமிழ் மொழியில் இயற்றல் வேண்டும்

மறைவாக நமக்குள்ளே பழங் கதைகள்

சொல்வதிலோர் மகிமை இல்லை;

திறமான புலமையெனில் வெளிநாட்டோர்

அதைவணக்கஞ் செய்தல் வேண்டும்.

Great literary works of other countries should be translated into Tamil; immortal literary works must be done in Tamil; there is no glory in talking about our work within ourselves. If it is really masterly, scholars of other countries should acknowledge and respect.

Echoing the same sentiments, Barathiyar’s disciple –Bharathi dasan- says:

கைத்திறச் சித்திரங்கள்

கணிதங்கள் வானநூல்கள்

மெய்த்திற நூற்கள், சிற்பம்

விஞ்ஞானம், காவியங்கள்

வைத்துள தமிழர் நூற்கள்

வையத்தின் புதுமை என்னப்

புத்தக சாலை எங்கும்

புதுக்கு நாள் எந்த நாளோ?

தாயெழிற் றமிழை என்றன்

தமிழரின் கவிதை தன்னை

ஆயிரம் மொழியிற் காண

இப்புவி அவாவிற் றென்றே

தோயுரும் மதுவின் ஆறு

தொடர்ந்தென்றென் செவியில் வந்து

பாயுநாள் எந்த நாளோ?

Yes; look at his yearning and thirst for books born out of his passion for creating and sustaining literature. Books on arts, arithmetic, astrology, science, literature and so on in Tamil must be found in all the libraries all over the world he says and he is waiting for that golden day! (This is possible only if all these literary works in Tamil should be translated into various other world languages.) He proceeds to say that the world must yearn to seek all poems in Tamil be translated into thousand languages of the world and he is looking for the happy day when he hears that voice of honey!

At this I would like to touch upon some of the translated literary pieces from Tamil to English.


Of all the poets, writers, scholars and thinkers of the world, it was Thiruvalluvar , the divine poet who dealt with every aspect of human life. 1330 Thirukkural couplets have been translated into more than 90 languages in the world and have the first place among all literature of the world.     This is one of the top most translated literature to most of the languages- next only to the Holy Bible and the HOLY Quoran”. That indeed indicates the universality of the contents of this magnum opus.

Dr. Albert Schewitzer has compared the life assertion of Thirukkural with the “nishkamya karma yoga” of Bhagavat Gita and has come to the firm conclusion that the contribution of Thiruvalluvar to the human thought is certainly advancement over Bagavat Gita and hence a milestone in the history of human thought.

2300 year old piece of Tamil literature-THIRUKKURAL- has come down the stream of ages absolutely uninjured. In value it outweighs the whole of the remaining Tamil literature and is one of the select numbers of great works which have entered into the very soul of a whole people and which can never die.

According to Sir A Grant, “humility, charity, forgiveness of injuries are not described by Aristotle. These three are everywhere forcibly inculcated in this work by this Tamil moralist.

Rev. G U Pope (1820-1908) is one of the fine translators of this work of Thiruvalluvar and he says:” The Kural owes much of its popularity to its exquisite poetic form. The brevity rendered necessary by the form gives an oracular effect to the utterances of the great Tamil Master Sentences”.  They are the choicest of moral epigrams. Their resemblance of gnomic poetry of Greece is remarkable as to their subjects, their sentiments and the state of society when they were uttered. Something of the same kind is found in Greek epigrams, in Martial and the Latin elegiac verse.  There is a beauty in the periodic character of the Tamil construction in many of these verses that reminds the reader of the happiest efforts of Propertius.”  Besides several scholars, Kaviyogi Sudhdhanandha Bharathi has beautifully translated the entire Thirukkural. I have also translated 500 couplets of Thirukkural in the haiku format 5-7-5 syllables in three lines and first and third lines rhyming.

Mahakavi Bharathiyar, one of the greatest of the national poets has three epic poems to his credit and one of the three is very famous and popular epic poem is ”குயில் பாட்டு” that has been translated into English by several poets including me. Mine is available in the Kindle publications of in their Select Book section and their library.

Bhagwan Ramana , the Saint of Thiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu, India has a number of spiritual books to his credit and one important piece of literature is “Akshara mana maalai”- that is “Fragrant garland in alphabets” and that has been translated by me into English in Haiku format with brief explanation on each of the 108 couplets  and again is available as e-publication – in the Kindle publications of in their Select Book section and their library.

Rabindranath Tagore who’s “GEETANJALI” won the Nobel Prize for literature originally written in Bengali was translated into English by Tagore himself is a classic example of Translation Literature!

In deference to the desires of Mahakavi Bharathiyar, numerous pieces of literature in world languages have been translated into Tamil by eminent scholars.

Translations are emerging as the new big story in Tamil publishing. Polemical political writing to self-help guides to classics from other languages, Indian and European, are now being translated into Tamil.

Major publishing houses like Vidiyal, which brought out the Hitman book, Uyirmai, Kalachuvadu and Bharathi Publications, are all looking to push translations in a big way. Of course, books like A P J Abdul Kalam’s “Wings of Fire” and many self-help or career guidance volumes have always done well. The Tamil translation of ‘Where There Is No Doctor’, a popular health care guide published first in Spanish in 1970, has so far sold over 50,000 copies and Adaiyalam, its publisher, is readying the third edition. A team of doctors working on different sections of the book translated it into Tamil.

Similarly, ‘Confessions of an Economic Hit-man’, a polemical tome on neo-liberal economic policies, turned out to be a successful venture for its publisher, Vidiyal. Translations of Oxford University Press’s “A Very Short Introduction” series on topics such as linguistics and post-colonialism won the publisher, Adaiyalam, much praise.

A welcome spin-off from the trend is that publishers are willing to do even literary classics. For instance, Kalachuvadu has 100 translated works, 80 of these from foreign languages, in its publishing list.

Not just the Russian greats like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but modernists like Kafka and Camus to contemporary greats like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Saramago, Mario Vargos Llosa, Murakami and Orhan Pamuk are available in Tamil today. So are iconic writers in languages like Malayalam and Kannada, Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer and U R Ananthamurthy. Even the young Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer, whose “Night of the Curfew”, an internationally-acclaimed memoir about the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, has now a Tamil version.

B Jeyamohan, the renowned author, says the trend picked up steam in the past five or six years. In the past, writers like Kaa Naa Subramaniam would publish abridged versions of classics just to introduce them to Tamil readers. “In the 1940s and 1950s, there existed a scenario in which translators in Tamil could live off their work. After the Kalki era, translations lost commercial value. Now in the age of TV, when readership itself has dwindled, Tamil translations don’t have the same prestige. But in the last five to six years, there is a small wave of translations happening in the language. With the publication boom since 2000, houses feel the compulsion to add translations to their home library at least for the prestige value, while some publications like Kalachuvadu do it out of their own interest in the language,” says Jeyamohan.

The numbers are small in the case of classics, of course. “My Name is Red”, a modern classic by the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, has sold only over a 1,000 copies. Publishers, however, indicate that is not a small number since Pamuk is a serious readers’ writer.

What is even more interesting is that increasingly translations from French and German, are being made directly from the mother language to Tamil, and not via English, which is the case in most Indian languages. V Sriram, who translated classics like “The Little Prince and Albert Camus”,’ “The Outsider” into Tamil directly from French original, sees the process as an exchange between cultures. “It is an interpretation of a culture. The Tamils look at things differently and so do the French. But ultimately everyone is human,” he says. G Kuppusamy, who translated good books “My Name Is Red” and John Banville’s “Sea” into Tamil is himself a short-story writer and says that it is only recently that the translations have started to become more authentic. “There is a steady increase in readership. Translators like V Sriram and R Sivakumar are meticulous and therefore deserve praise,” he said.

However, many publishers are intimidated by the rights issue. Rights to translate novels and works of non-fiction into Tamil haven’t been always easy to get. Most of the great literary works of eminent poets and writers have been nationalized and hence rights, permission etc. for translation do not arise.

Great Indian epics –Ramayana and Mahabaratha in Sanskrit have been translated into different Indian languages and some foreign languages also enabling the people all over the world to know the greatness of these epic creations.


Having translated more than a dozen books- English to Tamil and vice- versa, I feel this literary work is interesting, inspiring, challenging and tough! Many a time I use to feel “why this translation work, we can as well go in for our own fresh creations!” But then translation is also a thrilling work and an exciting pastime!

It requires concentrated reading of the original, understanding the words and spirit, concept and purpose, visualizing the thoughts that would have flown in the original author. He and his translation must be fair and honest to the original author and his work. He cannot place his own ideas, thoughts and concepts into the mouth of the author and there should not be any exaggeration. Translator should wholly identify himself with the original author, heartily involve himself with the work undertaken, his attitude must be absolutely positive towards his mission. In the process of translation, one has to read the matter minutely and intensively. That itself will be a rewarding experience. Language used should be as simple and straight as the original lest it may lose its original charm.


Translator must always be conscious of his limitations in his vocabulary, grammar, presentation etc. and hence must be constantly improving the same. No age is too much for learning and development!

In translation more than the words spirit plays an important role, but at the same time one should not be over enthusiastic and fall into the trap of “exaggeration”.


Penning his preface to one of my translations – Bharathiyar’s “KUYIL PAATTU”- Cuckoos Song- Dr A Padmanabahan  a great literary personality and former Governor of Mizoram wrote as follows:

Bharathiyar’s poems have been translated into English and other languages by some scholars. Poet N V Subbaraman has now joined these select scholars and translated Bharathiyar’s “Kuyil Pattu” into English. This is a welcome and worthy step.

Translation of Tamil poems and literature into English and other languages has been a long-felt need in order to make them available to Non-Tamil readers. To portray the feelings and the nuances, the music and melody of Tamil poems into English or any other language is a difficult task. To catch the timbre, temper and tone of the original in the translation is almost impossible. Translation from a source language to the target language, it is said, is a creative exercise and a transcreation.

Poet Subbaraman’s ‘attempt’ to use his own language, is a bold and laudable ‘attempt’. He is an outstanding poet. He has been editing and publishing “Young Poet” for young poets to arouse their poetic talents. He has authored several books and has received numerous awards for his literary and poetic prowess. With such a distinguished background, it is but fitting that he has chosen to translate Bharathiyar’s “Kuyil Pattu” into English. His translation or transcreation reflects careful study of the original in Tamil, choice of apt and crisp vocabulary, orderliness, depth and scholarship. His flow of language is smooth, steady, and absorbing following as far as possible the original Tamil poem.

To read Bharathi’s work is a delight. To read Poet Subbaraman’s “Kuyil Pattu” in English is a double delight, since it reaches wider audience instead of confining Bharathi and his works in the golden cage of Tamil and Tamilians. This is what Bharathi wished for. Bharathi’s domain is the world and his message universal. By rendering Bharathi’s “Kuyil Pattu” in English, Poet Subbaraman has done an admirable job and enriched world Parnassus.

Some of my other translated works:

From Tamil to English

1 Thiruvalluvar Aathichoodi –Saint Thiruvalluvar’s axioms on life and living/ Published/

2 CRR at the Peak (A biographical work in prose) /Published/

3 Voice of Valluvar – Research papers on Thiruvalluvar/Published/

4 Chitragupta – History of Chithragupta-Personal Assistant to Lord Yama

5 Universe- A chariot on the Move –Poetry on the subject of space, sky, light and earth. /Published/

6 Voice of Ramana –His poetry translated in HAIKU format /e published/

7 Cuckoo’s song- Epic poem of Bharathiyar in free verse./e published/

8 500 Thirukkural couplets in Haiku format /published in poetic journal-POET/

From English to Tamil

1 நம்பிக்கையின் நீண்ட பயணம் –A biographical sketch of a great astrologer

2  மனித நலனில் ரெய்கி- Reiki in human welfare-essays

3 விண்வெளி விபத்து- Poetry work titled COSMIC ACCIDENT/Published/

4 எனது பார்வையில் ரவீந்திரரின் கீதாஞ்சலி- Tagore’s GEETANJALI

5 தண்ணீர் இசை- Poems of Japanese poet Daisaku Ikeda /Published/


I know the futility of bringing out a great topic such as “TRANSLATION LITERATURE” within a frame of 3500 to 4000 words. Yet I have made an honest attempt to present a paper based purely on my personal experience as a translator to this august audience drawn from different parts of the globe. I hope  you will find something worthwhile out of this. I thank you all for your patience and the organizers for having given such a wonderful opportunity to present this to you.

Wishing you and your family members a very happy and healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year 2015!

Thank you!


For what it is worth, though may be a repeat for a few of my esteemed viewers:

My fancy for Translation Literature attracted a literary organization- “The South Indian Social and Cultural Academy”, Chennai and they    in an impressive function held here in Chennai Hotel Palmgrove on 26/12/2015,  honored me with the title “மொழியாக்கச் செம்மல்” (An accomplished Translator). Retd. Madras High Court Judge Hon’ble Pon. Bhaskaran handed over the trophy.












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