Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lost in Translation

I recently came across a translation of a verse from Atharvaveda when browsing through a book on Hindusim by A. L. Herman [1]. Herman cites Maurice Bloomfield [2] as the source of this translation.

As the best of the plants thou art reputed, O herb: turn this man for me to-day into a eunuch that wears his hair dressed!
Turn him into a eunuch that wears his hair dressed, and into one that wears a hood! Then Indra with a pair of stones shall break his testicles both!
O eunuch, into a eunuch thee I have turned; O castrate, into a castrate thee I have turned; O weakling, into a weakling thee I have turned! A hood upon his head, and a hair-net do we place.
The two canals, fashioned by the gods, in which man's power rests, in thy testicles . . . . . . . . . . . . I break them with a club.
As women break reeds for a mattress with a stone, thus do I break thy member.

There is no surprise that Herman refers to these verses as "grisly incantations" that were used against an enemy by specially requesting a priest who was aware of both the whereabouts of this magical herb and the exact procedure of casting this spell.

A similar grisly translation, although with a slightly different interpretation can be found in the book by Griffith (which is freely available [3]):

O Plant, thy fame is spread abroad as best of all the herbs that grow.
  Unman for me to-day this man that he may wear the horn of hair.
Make him a eunuch with a horn, set thou the crest upon his head.
  Let Indra with two pressing-stones deprive him of his manly strength.
I have unmanned thee, eunuch! yea, impotent! made thee impotent, and robbed thee, weakling! of thy strength.
  Upon his head we set the horn, we set the branching ornament.

Griffith decodes this verse as being used by a woman to curse an unfaithful lover.

A translation of the Atharvaveda to Hindi by the modern-day Hindu saint Shriram Sharma also follows this line of interpretation and roughly goes as follows (I am paraphrasing this from Hindi [4]):

O herb, you are the best of all herbs! Render my rival impotent, turn him into a eunuch. 
O herb, turn our enemies into eunuchs. May Indra crumble their organ of manliness and cause the hair on their heads to grow long like a woman. 
O enemy, through this ritual we have turned you into a eunuch, and dressed you up like a woman. We break the veins that go into your testicles. Just as women break weeds and reeds with a stone, we break the effect of your testicles.

Finally, let us look at Dayananda Saraswati's interpretation of the same verse in his Hindi translation [5] which I paraphrase below:

O medicinal herb, you are supreme and renowned! Please turn this weakling into a useful man for me. 
Turn the weakling into a useful man, make him active and hardworking.
And O powerful doctor! Break the illness in this man's testicles with two mighty rock-like weapons.
O debilitating illness, I have rendered you ineffective! I have rendered you powerless. We place ornaments and the strength to work on this man's forehead, who has been treated of his disease.

The first three translations seem to agree more or less, but this last one is a mysteriously distinct interpretation!


The original in Sanskrit is as follows.

त्वं वीरुधां श्रेष्ठतमाभिश्रुतास्योषधे ।
इमं मे अद्य पूरुषं क्लीबमोपशिनं कृधि ।।
क्लीबं कृध्योपशिनमथो कुरीरिणं कृधि । 
अथास्येन्द्रो ग्रावभ्यामुभे भिनत्त्वाण्ड्यौ ।।
क्लीबं क्लीबं त्वाकरं वध्रे वध्रिं त्वाकरमरसारसं त्वाकरम् । 
कुरीरमस्य शीर्षणि कुम्बं चाधिनिदध्मसि ।।
ये ते नाड्यौ देवकृते ययोस्तिष्ठति वृष्ण्यम् । 
ते ते भिनद्मि शम्ययामुष्या अधि मुष्कयोः ।।
यथा नडं कशिपुने स्त्रियो भिन्दन्त्यश्मना । 
एवा भिनद्मि ते शेपोSमुष्या अधि मुष्कयोः ।।


[1] A. L. Herman, A Brief Introduction to Hindusim, Westview Press, 1991.
[2] M. Bloomfield, Translation of the Atharva-veda, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 42, 1897. Retrieved from
[3] Ralph T. H. Griffith, Hymns of the Atharvaveda, 1895. Retrieved from
[4] Shriram Sharma, Atharvaveda Samhita, Yuga Nirman Yojana, Mathura, India, 2005. Retrieved from
[5] Dayanada Sarasvati, ``Atharvaveda Bhashabhashyam,'' c.a. 1975. Retrieved from

All links last accessed on August 18, 2012. 

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