Wednesday, April 22, 2009

David Godman introduction to Guru Vachaka Kovai

Sri Muruganar Photo
David Godman - In the late 1920s Muruganar, an accomplished Tamil poet who had lived with Bhagavan for several years, began to collect the verbal teachings of his Guru, Ramana Maharshi. He recorded them in four-line Tamil verses. No questions were recorded, just the answers and statements on a wide variety of spiritual topics. By the late 1930s, Muruganar had completed over 800 of these verses, virtually all of which recorded a direct teaching statement that Bhagavan had uttered. In 1939 a decision was made to publish these teachings in book form.
Bhagavan then asked Sadhu Natanananda, a Tamil scholar and devotee, to arrange the verses
by subjects since there was no particular order or sequence in the material that Muruganar had amassed. After Natanananda had done this work and shown it to Bhagavan, Bhagavan himself thoroughly edited the work, modifying the sequences and adding many revisions. In addition to making these textual corrections, Bhagavan also composed new verses that he added at appropriate places in the text. Because of the care and attention that Bhagavan put into checking and revising these verses, we can be sure that their contents have his full approval.

Many of Bhagavan’s verbal teachings were recorded during his lifetime, but few of them were reviewed and edited by him. Guru Vachaka Kovai is the biggest collection of Bhagavan’s spoken
teachings that was thoroughly checked and revised by him during his lifetime. As such it has a unique place in the Ramana literature. A second edition of the Tamil work was brought out in 1971. This contained many additional verses that Muruganar had composed since the first edition of the book came out in 1939. This new edition of the work contained a total of 1,284 verses, 1,254 composed by Muruganar and the remaining twenty-eight by Bhagavan himself.

Muruganar passed away in 1973. In 1980 Sadhu Om, Muruganar’s literary executor, brought out a new edition of Guru Vachaka Kovai in which he rendered the original Tamil verses (which are often very difficult to decipher unless one has a good knowledge of Tamil literary conventions) into Tamil prose. He also added explanatory comments to many of the prose renderings. This book is the basis of the version I am including on this site.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Michael James and Sadhu Om worked together on a translation of Guru Vachaka Kovai. Although all the verses were translated, along with many of the commentaries, the work was never published since Michael was not satisfied with the accuracy of some of the verses. In a conversation I had with him many years ago he told me that he wanted to revise many of the early verses since he felt that some of them were somewhat loose paraphrases of the text, rather than literal translations.

After Sadhu Om passed away in 1984, Michael suspended work on his translation of Guru Vachaka Kovai and switched his attention to other projects, such as bringing out the unpublished works of Muruganar and Sadhu Om. His manuscript of Guru Vachaka Kovai has therefore not been revised for almost twenty years. Over the years I have shown Michael James’ and Sadhu Om’s version of Guru Vachaka Kovai to several people, and everyone has appreciated its rigorous literalness. Only one version of Guru Vachaka Kovai has ever appeared in English before, the one by Professor Swaminathan that was initially serialised in The Mountain Path and later published by Sri Ramanasramam.
Professor Swaminathan’s version attempted to retain the poetic element of the original, but in many places this resulted in a diminution of accuracy. Sadhu Om and Michael James decided that, since the verses recorded philosophical statements by Bhagavan, a literal translation would be of more interest to readers and devotees since an accurate rendering would fully reveal all the nuances of Bhagavan’s teachings on many different subjects.

A few months ago I asked Michael if I could post his translation on my site since it appeared very unlikely that he would get round to making a final version in the near future. Michael agreed and asked that it be billed as a ‘work in progress’, not a completed work. I wish here to express my gratitude and appreciation to Michael for allowing this incomplete work to be given a public airing.

The manuscript I worked with had many oddities and rough edges, most of which I have left untouched. I don’t want to impose my own editorial red pencil on Michael’s endeavours; I just want to express a wish that he one day complete the work and bring out a final, definitive version. I have, however, standardized some of the spellings and added attributions to the notes that follow many of the verses. Both Muruganar and Sadhu Om have written commentaries
on Guru Vachaka Kovai. When these have been utilized, I have added the appropriate names at the top of the notes.
When there are no published Tamil sources for the notes, I have attributed them to Michael James. However, since Michael worked closely with Sadhu Om as he was preparing these notes, I think it is safe to say that most of them represent supplementary verbal comments by Sadhu Om that Michael added in order to clarify the original text. Finally, Michael wishes to make it known that anyone is free to use this material. However, this does not mean that he is giving
away any of the rights to this work. He intends to complete the editorial work one day and to bring out his own edition of the work.
David Godman official site is here
Michael James official site is here

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