Modern English translations of classical works across a vast array of languages from India across two millennia, have been made available for global readers through the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI), launched here today.
Set up by Harvard University Press with the help of a personal endowment in 2010 by Rohan Murty, son of Infosys founder Narayan Murthy, the library aims to publish as many as 500 books over the course of the century.
Nobel Laureate economist, philosopher and author Amartya Sen was chief guest at the launch function, which saw personalities ranging among others the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Alhuwalia.
A set of five books brought out by the MCIL was handed over to Singh by Narayan and Sudha Murthy as well as Rohan.
"The shaping of India's future depends on understanding its past," the Nobel Laureate said.
Sen had in his address refereed to "a variety of ideas" provided by an ancient language like Sanskrit and said, "To reduce Sanskrit to a language of priests is a disaster."
"If I were to ask which is grand memorial of a building which memorises the mother of the first translator of the Upanishads, the answer would be Taj Mahal. Aurangzeb's brother Dara Shikoh was the first to translate the Upanishads into Persian from Sanskrit. A mughal prince had translated a Hindu text," Sen said.
The series of translations are spread across a vast array of Indian languages, including Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Pali, Marathi, Punjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
The five initial books offered by the library are "Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women", "Sufi Lyrics", "The History of Akbar: Volume 1", "The Story of Manu" and "Sur's Ocean."
"These books are as good as books can get," Pollock said.
Meanwhile Rohan Murty who made a contribution to his alma mater Harvard University when he was a doctoral student there said, "I am very excited about the series. When people refer to classics I want them to know it is more than just the Greek and Latin ones."
"This series should make it possible for the next generation of Indians to have access to the best of our classical literature."
The books have been printed with text in regional script alongside translation. Introductions, explanatory commentaries, textual notes, and clear, contemporary translations are provided.
Asked whether the library would be digitised, Murty said, "We are very much in active discussion to produce digital versions of these works. I would love to see these digital version possibly even free if we can in a sense sustainable so we could expect it."
Pollock who envisions himself as a "tech dreamer" said, "It will take time but the day will come when all the communal problems of the script will be resolved with a button."
"The MCLI's reach and its guiding mission of making works accessible to students, scholars, and general readers around the globe render it exceptional," Pollock said.