Reading the Yoga Sutra in Colonial India Público

Valdina, Peter Michael (2013)

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This dissertation examines a group of nineteenth-century English and Bengali translators of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (c. 200 C.E.), a classical Sanskrit text on yoga philosophy and practice. These translators, based in and around colonial Calcutta (contemporary Kolkata, India), were the first to publish English and Indian vernacular-language editions of the text. The study examines the context in which this community of translators worked and analyzes how local and cosmopolitan contexts influenced the reception of the Yoga Sutra before Swami Vivekananda's interpretation of it as a central and universal scripture of Hinduism (1896). The community of translators I analyze consisted of British scholars of Sanskrit associated with the formation of colonial India, British missionaries who were at times in tension with those scholars, and indigenous Sanskrit intellectuals who sought new audiences by translating the Yoga Sutra into vernacular languages (principally Bengali, although also Hindi) as well as English. The process of translating the Yoga Sutra when viewed in the context of colonial Calcutta represents of a diversification of the interpretation of Patanjali's increasingly canonical text to engage a set of vernacular concerns. In this respect, translation served as a kind of continuation of precolonial practices that localized the Sanskritic in various contexts. Through an examination of the reception of the text by this translation community, I argue that the work of these translators expanded the semantic range of interpretation for subsequent commentary on yoga. The study shows how a community of translators in a colonial context interpreted a precolonial text, using translation as a means of commentary to address processes of religious transformation.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Translation, Commentary, and Yoga Traditions 1
The Sources of Modern Philosophical Yoga 12
The Yoga Sutra as Text 18
Yoga and the History of Religions 28
Dialogic Translation 36
Citation Practices and Translation 38
Overview of the Chapters 40


Interpretive Foundations 51
Framing the Debates 51
Colonial Translation and Orientalist Historiography 53
In Translation, a Troubling Equivalence: Epistemic Rupture 56
Rethinking Rupture through Translation 65
Interpretive Chasms in Reading the YS 75
Indological Accounts of Patanjali: Patchwork & "Excessive Dissection" 78
The Integrity of the Text and the Question of Authorship 82
"Classical Yoga" and its Relation to Buddhism, Samkhya, and Modern Postural Yoga 93
Translation as Commentary 102
Translation and the Afterlife of Sanskrit 103
Benjamin and the Fragment 107
Anuvada and Commentary 113
Chapter Conclusions 118


"Of What Avail are the Books of the Pandit?": Orientalist Translations of the YS 120
William Ward and the first English translation of the YS 124
Ward's Background 132
Ward's Publications 137
Ward and Translation 140
Proto-Ethnography, Elevation of Texts, and Missionary Strategies 142
Analysis of Ward's Patanjali: Translation and Oral Exposition 145
Ward's Style of Translation 154
Colebrooke: Original Yoga as Samkhya-Yoga 158
Colebrooke's Background 158
Colebrooke's Treatment of Yoga 160
Colebrooke's Style of Translation 165
Horace Hayman Wilson: Practice and Patanjali 165
Wilson's Background 165
Wilson's Treatment of Yoga 168
Wilson as Summarizer of Yoga 172
James Robert Ballantyne and the Second Translation of Patanjali's Text 173
Ballantyne's Background 173
Ballantyne's Translation as Commentary 177
Conclusions 184


Vernacular Yogas: The Pandits of Bengal 187
Introduction: Writing Yoga in Colonial Bengal 187
"In the absence of a practical teacher": Bengali Translation as Commentary 197
The Bangabasi Environment 199
The Vanishing Pandit: Shashadhar 209
Shashdhar's Background 209
Text and Translation 215
Pandit Kalivar: Shastra as Progress 221
Kalivar's Background 221
Text and Translation 223
Mahescandra Pal: Commentary and Social Criticism 227
Pal's Background 227
Text and Translation 233
Conclusions 237


Vernacular Cosmopolitan Translation 240
Chapter Background: Cosmopolitan Vernacular Translations of the YS 240
Rajendralal Mitra 249
Mitra's Background 249
Mitra's Translation 255
Mitra as Intermediary 258
Kshetrapal Cakravarti: The Myth of Patanjali in the Public Sphere 260
Background 260
Treatment of Patanjali 270
Patanjali, Postures, and the Quest for Pure Language 278
Conclusions 281


Conclusions: From Ward to Vivekananda, through Serampore and Calcutta 283

Appendix: Chronological List of Selected Translations of the YS 302

Bibliography 303

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