As of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. In India alone, the translations of Ramayana have been done in (but are not limited to) almost 22 languages. Add on global languages, and there may be 300 different adaptations of the epic!
Languages are complex and have many nuances. However, these often get missed by the public in general. For example, Telugu is a language in which every word ends with a vowel sound. For Telugu speakers, ‘Ram’ does not read right and for them ‘Rama’ works better. More than that, the expanse of Indic texts is vast. It is difficult to translate word to word from one Indic language to another Indic language or in any other language as a matter of fact.
Jumbaya’s Ramayana is in a read-along animated storybooks format. We take all efforts to ensure that we provide the correct spellings and diction for our young readers.
So, is it Ramayana or Ramayan?
Accompanied by transliteration symbols, Ramayana is written in the following manner:
Here, the symbol on ‘a’ indicates the prolonged sound of the vowel as ‘aa’. The usage of an ‘a’ without the symbol is done to complete that particular alphabet. The dot below ‘n’ represents the letter ‘ण’.
In Sanskrit, a sound or ‘varna’ is made by mixing a vowel or ‘swara’ with a consonant called ‘vyanjana’.
म varna (sound) = म् vyanjana (consonant) + अ swara (vowel)
Transliteration signs are not popularly used and especially for an adaptation that is meant for children, it is not the best idea to use them. This is not unusual, even Amar Chitra Katha follows a similar pattern in spelling out Indic words.
The author of Ramayana The Journey of Sita and Rama, Mallika Ravikumar, explains this phenomenon and shares a lot more about the beauty of the epic in a video below:
Translating an epic
The version of Ramayana by the sage Valmiki was not in the written form. In fact, Valmiki’s Ramayana is called a composition because it is in the form of a kavya or a poem. Translating a poetic work in other languages is a monumental task. The rules of literary devices, grammar, syntax and vocabulary go for a toss while attempting such translations. Hence, no matter how good the stranslation is, it cannot do complete justice to Valmiki’s original composition of the Ramayana.
Everyday language has also evolved. Imagine reading “thees”, “thous” and “wherefores” without knowing their context and meaning.1 Similarly, several metaphors, similes etc. do not translate to or compare with how we know languages today. For example, in Valmiki’s Ramayana Rama is often described as ‘a bull among men’, however when adapting it in a conceivable language, we would say ‘Rama was very strong’ or ‘Rama’s strength was unmatched’. Doing this enables us to flatten the Sanskrit usage into common English. Bibek Debroy, author of the Translated Valmiki Ramayana (translated in English in three parts), talks about this extensively in a blog.
1Translator’s Note in Arshia Sattar’s Valmiki’s Ramayana