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Aramaic Way of Thinking- LOST IN TRANSLATION : Dr. Joseph Palackal, CMI.

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AP 327E - Aramaic Way of Thinking- LOST IN TRANSLATION : Dr. Joseph Palackal, CMI.
Call Number

AP 327E

Part Number Part I - Syro Malabar Church
Title Aramaic Way of Thinking- LOST IN TRANSLATION : Dr. Joseph Palackal, CMI.
Duration 6m:37s
Place of Recording Denha Lecture at DVK Bangaluru
Date of Recording 2014
Youtube URL
Video Segment (s)


Excerpts from the DENHA Endowment Lecture at Dharmaram Vidya Kshethra, Bangaluru (2014).

Use the Syriac text as a reference point : JOSEPH J. PALACKAL, CMI

Now, let us turn to some not-so-good news. Forty-two years after the Syriac liturgy was translated into Malayalam, we are still struggling to transfer the Aramaic way of thinking into the vernacular. This requires the transference of ideas and concepts that originated in the cultural context of a particular people in West Asia to the people who went through a different history in South India. Therefore, it is time to delve deep into the roots of the problem of transferring a way of thinking, as opposed to translating words from one language to another, from one cultural setting to another.

Let us examine a few words in the prayer vocabulary of the Syro Malabar Catholics. The prayer vocabulary is the common man’s encyclopedia of theology. What I am attempting in the next few pages is to show how we have failed to transfer the Aramaic way of thinking into the vernacular. To do so, I shall highlight certain Syriac words and expressions that were disregarded during the process of translating the liturgical texts. I am going to take examples from the Malayalam and English versions of Qurbānā. I am not familiar with the versions in other languages like Hindi. I would like to argue in favor of adopting some of those words and terms into the vernacular.

In every language there are words that define themselves by their sounds, i. e., the sound of the word itself is its meaning. Such words emerge out of the corporate wisdom of the speakers of a language accumulated over an extended period of time. Usually, these words are understood in exactly the same way by all the speakers of the language. The most familiar example from India is the Sanskrit term, śānthi. The very utterance of the word creates the effect and the affect. It is understood by the listener instantly; interpretations are unnecessary. One such example from the Aramaic lexicon is the word ruḥ, which literally means “breath.” The utterance of this word requires a special use of air and energy that explicates the meaning. Ruḥ is pre-language, even pre-word; it is pre-OM. It is the raw material with which words and meanings are constructed. In the beginning, was the ruḥ, ruḥ was with God, ruḥ was God. Our Proto-Dravidian or Tamil-speaking forefathers in Kerala adopted the word into their prayer vocabulary. Even after Syriac literacy declined considerably, they retained this word. Our parents’ generation recited the minor doxology as Bāwākkum puthṛanum ruhādaqqudiśāykkum sthuthiyāyrikkaṭṭe. They did not try to translate ruhā into Tamil (or, if they did, we do not know about it). In the 1960s, however, the word ruh was translated as ātmāw (meaning, “soul,” that which sustains life) or arūpi (“that which is formless”). Thus, currently, we say the minor doxology as Pithāwinum puthṛanum pariśudhātmāwinum sthuthi. Both words, ātmāw and arūpi are insufficient to convey the original sense of the word ruḥ or rūhâ; both words lack the magic that comes from the combination of sound and sense. The first, ātmāw, is a synonym, and the second, arūpi, is a derivative. One might wonder whether our forefathers were smarter than our generation.
An example from the lyrics of a Malayalam movie song by a famous poet might support this argument. Shri Vayalar Rama Varma (1928-1975) wrote a Christian prayer song for the film, Makane Ninakkuwēnṭi. The song starts with the minor doxology, Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The song starts thus: Bāwākkum puthranum pariśudha ruhāykkum sthuthiyāyirikkatte, eppōzhum sthuthiyāyirikkatte. Mr. G. Devarajan (1924-2006) composed the melody, which was recorded in the voice of the popular playback singer, P. Susheela. Shri Vayalar, a Hindu, was well-versed in the Christian folklore of Kerala. The film was released in 1971, nine years after the Syro Malabar Church translated the liturgy into Malayalam. The minor doxology, by that time, was already on the lips of every Catholic in Kerala as Pitāwinum puthranum pariśudhātmāwinum sthuthi. Instead of following the popular version, Shri Vayalar decided to retain the Aramaic word rūḥâ. Both words pariśudhātmāw and pariśudhārūpi would have been a perfect fit for the melody. Vayalar knew, however, that both ātmāw and arūpi had accumulated different connotations, and might detract the listeners from the sense of the original Aramaic word rūḥâ. He knew that words carried not only particular meanings but also collective memories of the speakers of the language. In retrospect, one can only appreciate the wisdom of Shri Vayalar Rama Varma.

Keywords : #SyriacHeritage #Aramaic #josephpalackal #SyriacIndia #SyromalabarChurch #SyriacChants #Aramaic#SyromalabarChurch#josephpalackal

User comments

  • Thank you for your outstanding research and documentaries to link our Chaldean and Indian native heritage together. Wonderful effort and worth sharing with the world and future generations. God bless you Dr. Joseph Palackal. CHALDEAN HERITAGE FOUNDATION - Chaldean Heritage, May 2023

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