Manmatha Nath Dutt: The lost hero
(From Open Magazine. Link to the complete article given below)
What does the expression ‘Elysium Bower’ remind you of? I wonder how many people will think of John Keats and Endymion, a poem published by Keats in 1818. One of India’s greatest translators was Manmatha Nath Dutt (Shastri), 1855-1912, who translated from Sanskrit to English and did much more. Chronologically, he translated the Valmiki Ramayana (sequentially from 1892 to 1894), Markandeya Purana (1896), Bhagavata Purana (1896), Vishnu Purana (1896), Hari Vamsha (1897), Mahanirvana Tantra (1900), Agni Purana (1903-04), Mahabharata (1895-1905), Kamandakiya Nitisara (1896), several samhitas anddharmashastra texts (1906, 1908-09), Garuda Purana (1908) and Rig Veda Samhita (1906-1912). Compared to Kishori Mohan Ganguli (the translator of the Mahabharata), Manmatha Nath Dutt was much more prolific. (Ganguli did not translate any of the other texts—not Puranas, not Hari Vamsha, not Valmiki Ramayana). But compared to Manmatha Nath Dutt, Ganguli is much more known, probably because the Ganguli Mahabharata translation is available online, while the Dutt one isn’t. (The language used in the two Mahabharata translations present an interesting contrast, but that’s a different story.) Apart from this remarkable body of translation work, Dutt wrote a biography of the Buddha (1901), retold stories from the Puranas (1893-94, the four volumes titled Gleanings from the Indian Classics), retold stories about famous women in Hinduism (1897), wrote a book on Hindu metaphysics (1904) and wrote another book on the dharma of householders (1905). These were also in English. I have not been able to track down anything by Manmatha Nath Dutt written in Bengali, or in any other language. (In compiling a list of his works, I came across a stray reference to a monograph in Bengali known as Banglar Meye (Women of Bengal), but I am not sure what this was.)
The Ganguli translation was funded and published by Pratap Chandra Roy. Thanks to Pratap Chandra Roy and Pratap Chandra Roy’s wife, we know something about Ganguli. (P. Lal compiled an annotated Mahabharata bibliography in 1967). The negative reference to the Dutt translation in this annotation may also have something to do with Dutt receiving less attention than he deserves.) We know almost nothing about Manmatha Nath Dutt and about this amazingly productive period from 1892 to 1912, a period of 20 years. There is a piece written by Shashi Shekhar in The Pioneer in 2011 and there is a German website with some information. That’s about it.