February 15, 2020
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On The Racks

On The Racks
The Bhagavata Purana
Translated By Bibek Debroy

If we mix philosophy, theology, poetry, astrology, astronomy, metaphysics, applied sciences, meditation, yoga, and everything else from the branches of knowledge, in a blender, will a wormhole appear to teleport us into a time or place when/where we and the things around us, or known to us, were created? If that is too much of a task, we recommend reading the Puranas, Hinduism’s oldest religious text. Not an easy task either. The Puranas are 18 volumes with more than four lakh shlokas, and all in Sanskrit—the language of our ancestors and the sages, which only a few can speak and read today and only a handful have the mastery to translate. Bibek Debroy is one such master translator, who wears the twin title of economist and Sanskrit scholar, doing equal justice to both. After translating the Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Harivamsha, and Valmiki Ramayana, he picked The Bhagavata Purana, the most popular and philosophical of the Puranas which deal with the exi­stential question of creation that has befuddled humans since millennia. The answer is in the text—hidden, waiting to be prized out of the layers of fables tethered to an engaging, interactive narrative. Debroy simply translates verbatim, wisely sidestepping the mystifying nuances and interpretations that have been/are subjects of unceasing debates; thus, leaving space for every reader to seek the truth in his own way. So here is a Purana and its expressive shlokas in plain simple English, the language of our keyboards. From the smallest anu to the infinite brahmanda, it gives a peek into our feats and follies through characters and stories: Prahlada’s devotion, Dhruva’s austerity, Daksha’s conceit, Narada’s persuasiveness, Vyas’s intellect and, in the true Vaishnava tradition, Vishnu the protector. “Therefore, use your intelligence to distil out their gist (Chapter 1, The Bhagavata Purana).” 

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