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Sanskrit: ॐ श्री परमात्मने नमः

Discussion in 'Indo-Iranian Languages' started by Au101, May 11, 2012.

  1. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Hello, I was wondering if anybody could help me with the translation of the following Sanskrit sentence, which appears in some copies of the Bhagavad-Gita, prior to the first chapter:

    ॐ श्री परमात्मने नमः
    (Om śrī paramātmane namaḥ)

    My translation of this would be something like:

    "In praise of the Supreme Spirit"

    But I wonder if anybody could confirm?

    Many thanks,
  2. drkpp

    drkpp Junior Member

    Mumbai, India
    India - Marathi, Hindi, Sanskrit
    It means "A salutation to Supreme Spirit"
  3. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Perfect :) Thank you drkpp, I was going for a poetic translation, but I really appreciate the confirmation of its literal meaning :)
  4. marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    In these translations ''OM'' has remained untranslated. Is there any way to translate OM (and since I've noticed dear Au101 is online (auM), in this context?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2013
  5. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Hi :)

    Well, I don't think so for two reasons: Firstly it is very much the representation of a sound. What I mean is, it is a sound of high liturgical importance and very much a sacred and important part of the religious tradition, but it is simply to be read as the sound [õː] (exact pronunciations vary). It is more an intonation (if one of symbolic importance) than a word. Secondly, as I say, it is a very important symbol. You could write a footnote in your translation briefly explaining what the oṃkāra is and what it's used for, but one couldn't really translate it and it is of importance that it be recognised by a reader for what it is and read as Oṃ. Sir Monier-Williams, in his dictionary, simply gives the translation: "ind. the sacred syllable of the शूद्रs".

    To get round this problem, I can think of a few solutions. It is possible that some authors have managed to find more ingenious solutions. I suppose, since it's used to mark the beginning of a recitation or religious text, one coud use an approximate English equivalent (linguistically and/or culturally) but it would be difficult to convey the appropriate religious elements. For example, in English texts it's common to mark the beginning of a text with a large drop cap, as in newspapers, and in Christian religious texts in European traditions, manuscripts often begin with an ornately decorated initial letter (e.g. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Mainz_psalter_detail.jpg). This is a vague approximation of the idea of symbolically marking the start of a religious text, but it obviously has none of the theological intricacies of the oṃkāra and your reader would likely not realise what you were trying to represent. And of course, it's important to stress that the oṃkāra is supposed to be read out at the start of the text. So, as far as I can see, the only real options (apart from omitting it, which is perfectly reasonable as it contributes nothing to the meaning, even if it is an important symbolic part of the original) are to transliterate the oṃkāra or use ॐ. As ॐ is a symbol that's likely to be well-understood by your target audience, I think I would probably do the second, but there might be good reasons to transliterate it, such as font compatability, or simple consistency.

    You might be interested to know that the translators of the Bible had a similar problem and I bring it up as an interesting example of how an analagous situation is handled in other publications. Obviously for the translators of the Bible, fidelity was of great importance, and they could not make do with approximate solutions. In the Psalms of the Old Testament, there is a Hebrew word Selah (סֶלָה) which seems to roughly indicate that a pause is called for in the reading of the psalm. It is a very tricky word to translate. In the King James Version, I know that they simply transliterated the word when it appeared. In the New Internation Version I believe they give a footnote at the end of the verse explaining that the Hebrew original has this word giving a very short discussion about its use.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2013
  6. marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Indebted for the reply, as ever. You have mentioned the Bible, would ''logos'' be appropriate to ''translate'' auM or to put it in a footnote?
  7. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    That's an interesting thought, and it's a possibility. I would have two concerns, firstly: the ॐ is, as I say, a specific religious and cultural symbol with very specific connotations and functions and a pronunciation unique to itself that is intended to be read aloud but also is a way of beginning a text. It is, therefore, very difficult to find an analogous word/symbol/form, but even if you could do so, it would not have the correct connotations and pronunciations and could be misleading, or even offensive. To my mind, it would be similar to translating Kāmadeva as Cupid. Although they are analagous deities, they are not different names for the same thing, in the same way that पुस्तक is a different name for book, which is a different name forكتاب and so on. To adopt another example, Allāh is almost always left untranslated in English, even though (in this case) God could be considered an acceptable translation. But in the case of Oṃ, it is even worse, because there is really no good approximation in English that I am aware of and many English speakers (especially those reading Sanskrit texts) are likely to be vary au fait with the ॐ.
  8. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    ^ I agree with all you have said about ॐ. It is a symbol with a unique sound which for Hindus is nothing short of linking man's soul with his creator. With this significance, it should be left untranslated.

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