Verse from the Veda for the Day with Brahma

Horace Hayman Wilson is said to have translated the Rigveda from Sanskrit to English in the 1800's

Horace Hayman Wilson is said to have translated the Rigveda from Sanskrit to English in the 1800’s

The various hymns and verses of the Rigveda have been translated by many translators around the world, but there are very few of the entire book, or books of the Rigveda. It is commonly separated in ten books or Mandalas, or eight sections or Ashtakas (the Sanskrit word ‘Ashta’ means eight). The first English version is attributed to Horace Hayman Wilson, and it was published in parts by Max Muller over a period of twenty-four years, 1849-1873.

The literature says that the H. H. Wilson translation is based upon a previous Sanskrit version and commentary by the Fourteenth Century Scholar named Sayana, or Sayanachara, which Max Muller had previously published. Sayana had several books attributed to him, but his major accomplishment was the Vedartha Prakasha, the aforementioned commentary on the Rigveda. After Sayana’s Sanskrit version of the Veda was published, Muller wanted to publish an English version, and asked Wilson to supply the translation. Even though the Rigveda is the Rgvedaschool’s field of expertise, no one looked into the validity of Wilson’s major accomplishment until now. It seems innocent enough, but thinking about the likelihood of that, something is fishy.

There is a short biography of Wilson on the Internet where a person can discover that he studied medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital in England before traveling to India and becoming an assistant-surgeon for the British East India Company in Bengal in 1808. Shortly after arriving, he became interested in the ancient literature of India, and translated Kalidasa’s Sanskrit poem, the Meghaduuta, into English. In 1819, he published a Sanskrit-English Dictionary, largely based upon native scholars.

It turns out that Wilson authored numerous books, books on the ancient literature of India, the dictionary, books on medical and surgical practices, books on the history of British India, an English translation of the Vishnu Purana, and so on, but interestingly, a major accomplishment of translating the Rigveda, the version published by Max Muller, is not mentioned.

It is a major accomplishment for a person could not translate the Rigveda in a lifetime. As an example, Basanta Kumar Ganguly translated Book One of the Rigveda published by the Asiatic Society in 2004. Ganguly started his translation after retirement in 1973, and said that he devoted most of every day to translating the verses. He died in 1999, so he spent most of twenty-six years translating the first of the ten books comprising the Rigveda. Based upon the time I have spent translating the Sacred Texts, it would take that long to complete such a task. He translated the first of the ten books, about an eighth of the Rigveda. Therefore, to translate the whole text is eight times twenty-six, two hundred and eight years, or about three or four lifetimes.

There were a few translations of the Rigveda produced by westerner’s around the same time as Wilson’s, such as that by Hermann Grassmann, Hermann Oldenberg, Alfred Ludwig, and Karl Geldner. However, if you search the Internet with Rigveda, Rgveda, or Rig-Veda, you will frequently come upon the English translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith from 1889, a bit more poetic than the Wilson version, but based upon Sayana. The Wilson translation is difficult to find, but a version published by N. Trubner and Company in the 1860’s can be found along with many other translations at the Internet Archive, a vast library of eBooks and texts.

The translations produced by westerners are similar in following the version of Sayana, and he was not a very reliable source. There are, of course, translations by easterners, and therein, a person will find more insight, more originality. Translations by Shyam Ghosh, Swami Dayananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Basanta Ganguly are my favorites; nevertheless, they all miss the core philosophy of the Rigveda.

Even though Wilson is given credit for a translation he really could not have done, he really did something monumental, and before he died, he gave all of the research material for his dictionary to Sir Monier-Monier Williams, who published a Sanskrit-English Dictionary in 1899. It is an astounding piece of work. If you are interested in knowing what the ancient spiritual texts of the world have to say, I suggest you become acquainted with it. You will find that while “scholars” haggle over the understanding of the ancient texts, the knowledge is contained in the dictionary.

Here is a mantra from the Veda for the Day with God.

The righteous are benevolent and favor the heavenly wind descending upon them to be abundant with for devotion, and through devotion to attain an everlasting life of friendship with God.

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