The Promise of Love and Life

Review of Sivakamiyin Sabadham Vol I and II; Kalki Krishnamurthy; English Translation by Nandini Vijayaraghavan;

– Shana Susan Ninan

Being the first review of a translated work of Indian Literature, on IBR, I was quite excited to even start reading the two volumes of Sivakamiyin Sabadham, a historical novel by Kalki Krishnamurthy. Written in the early 1940’s, it is a story revolving around the Pallava Dynasty, its kings and foes, the art and culture of the place and times, and of course, the people that made it colourful.

Based abroad, Nandini Vijaraghavan has beautifully translated this work of literature with flair and clarity. I’m sure even non Tamils, and even foreigners would find the books interesting. The first volume takes the reader to Kanchi’s doorsteps. The city was known in ancient days for its forward education and the arts.  This glorious city was famous all over Bharata Kanda, and a young Paranjyothi is seen approaching it with a bikshu he met en route, to study and live here.

When he reaches the city, he sees a commotion – the reason being an elephant running amok. Straight at the famous sculptor Aayanar and his danseuse daughter, Sivakami, who were returning from her arangetram that was stopped midway due to the king Mahendra Pallavar having to leave after hearing some urgent news. He flings his spear at the animal, killing it, and thus protecting the father and daughter.  This naive, young man is sent on a mission, way before he can start his discipleship under the Aayanar, something which he came to the city for, in the first place.

Under the able leadership of the king, art, music and culture flourish here. There had been no wars in his lifetime. But times are changing, foes are and allies are rethinking  their boundaries, with war being imminent. Amid the new developments, the Chakravarthy’s son, Narasimha Mamallar falls for, complicating things further.

In the second volume, Parajyothi returns as the Commander of the Pallava Army. He and Mamallar fight in the Pullalur battle, side by side, and comes back to Kanchi, to be welcomed and garlanded. The massive flood that washed over the city brings together Mamallar and his love, Sivakami. He reassures her that they belong together and that he would even give up his kingdom to marry this sculptor’s daughter. In the scheme of things, much in the limelight often, is Naganandi Adigal, the bikshu who first accompanied Paranjyothi into the city. As the pages go by, we see that he’s not a steadfast follower of the Buddha, and has devious plans in mind. The book end with the seige of the Kanchi Fort, with the forces of the Vatapi army of the Chalukyas fast approaching the city.

There are a few places where English cannot do the job of the vernacular, and some paragraphs seem to fall flat, where it could have been expressed better. Especially the ones describing nature, natural occurrences and Sivakami’s dance performances. But that has more to do with the language’s shortcomings rather than the translator’s disadvantages with the novel. I’ve watched vigorous Bharatanatyam performances and arangetrams live, but when you read it on paper, written in English that too, it lends little charm to the reader, conveying much less of the experience.

In this 4 volume novel, with volumes 3 and 4 coming soon, Nandini has retained certain words in Tamil, letting the poetic nature of some chapters stay intact. Also, prodding the reader to research on the side about them.

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Rating: 9.4/10 (7 votes cast)
The Promise of Love and Life, 9.4 out of 10 based on 7 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 9th, 2012 at 6:07 pm and is filed under Literature, Reviews, Translation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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