17 Mar 2021

The Bhagavad Gita in Bahasa Malaysia

While the Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world (almost ten times the length of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined), the Bhagavad Gita which is a small part of the grand epic has long become a stand-alone sacred text.

In a nutshell, the Bhagavad Gita has Krishna (the avatar of Lord Vishnu) giving his spiritual teachings directly to Arjuna, right before the great war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in Kurukshetra.

The Bhagavad Gita has been translated into more than 75 languages worldwide. In English alone, there are reportedly over 300 different versions.

Taking yet another road less traveled, what Uthaya Sankar SB is working on a retelling — not a translation — of the Bhagavad Gita. The original epic is presented in the form of 700 slokas (Sanskrit poem) but Uthaya has decided to retell in prose (story).

[Buy the book here]

“I really want the multiracial Malaysian community to be able to read, understand, and enjoy the Bhagavad Gita. It is already widely available in English and Tamil, but I would love to see Malaysians appreciating a Bahasa Malaysia version,” says Uthaya who spent 25 days to prepare the manuscript [read here].

Another week was used solely to edit the complete manuscript. Uthaya literally single-handedly typed the manuscript; something he has been doing since a freak accident in 1994 caused a wrist-drop to his left arm.

While the original Bhagavad Gita is more of a monologue — with around 600 of the 700 slokas belonging to Krishna — this Bahasa Malaysia retelling gives Arjuna more space to express himself.

“The Bhagavad Gita is considered a religious text by many. While staying true to the original content and teachings of Krishna, I took the liberty to slip in another character and made a slight twist in the retelling,” Uthaya cautions with a smile.

Uthaya was introduced to the Bhagavad-gita: As It Is — the official Hare Krishna version — when he was growing up in Taiping, Perak. Since then, he has read and listened to, and pondered over, numerous versions in English, Tamil, Malayalam, and Bahasa Indonesia.

“Malaysians are familiar with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Those epics have been adapted into the local milieu since Hinduism set foot on our shores long ago. But the Bhagavad Gita still holds a strong sacred status and is not usually discussed openly among our multiracial society,” says Uthaya who has written and published Thirukkural dan Megha Duta (2018), Ramayana dan Mahabharata (2019), and Vetalam dan Vikramaditya (2020) in his effort to introduce Indian classics to the Malaysian readers.

When Uthaya casually mooted the idea of retelling the Bhagavad Gita on Facebook in January 2021, many friends came forward to support this significant project.

“As a full-time (read: poor) writer, I have to depend on social capital and pre-orders to cover my printing cost. The initial support itself was so overwhelming that I was very motivated and therefore managed to complete the Bhagavad Gita manuscript in less than a month,” says Uthaya who has been self-publishing his books since 2000.

His latest book is expected to be ready by June 2021 but because of its rather religious nature, Uthaya’s retelling of the Bhagavad Gita in Bahasa Malaysia would only be sold online [details here].

There are already objections towards this project as some Hindu and Tamil fanatics do not want the content to be made available in Bahasa Malaysia for non-Hindus.

The book’s progress is updated regularly on Facebook and on Uthaya’s blog. He could also be contacted at 011-11411952 (WhatsApp preferred) for a chat over a glass of teh tarik.