Locals can enjoy the
ancient story in the national language,A. Azim Idriswrites.
FOR centuries, the famous
Sanskrit literary work Bhagavad Gita
can be read in 75 languages, except Bahasa Malaysia. But now, the ancient Hindu
manuscript has finally been retold in the national language.
For the uninitiated, the Bhagavad Gita, or The Song of God, is regarded as the most popular text in Hinduism.
And although the world's oldest religion does not have a particular dogmatic
scripture, the Gita is viewed as a summary
of all Hindu scriptures.
Briefly put, the Gita chronicles a conversation between
Lord Krishna – who is the avatar of deity Vishnu – and his friend Arjuna. The
era of this conversation is almost pre-historic, a setting some 5,000 years ago
in the north Indian city of Kurukshetra.
The story takes place amid a
power struggle between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and Pandavas, which
culminated in the great Mahabharata War. It was during this time that Krishna
imparted Arjuna with trails of wisdom, answering the latter's questions about a
host of things, including war, family, the soul, rebirth, truth, the afterlife,
and the concept of Karma.
Uthaya explains that being
part of the Mahabharata epic, the Gita is a standalone dialogue or a major
plot within an even larger plot.
Although there is a Bahasa
Indonesia version, the Gita was never
available specifically in Bahasa Malaysia up until now. Uthaya also insists
that his “version” was not a mere translation, but a re-telling of what
transpired during Krishna and Arjuna's exchanges.
What’s more, he explains,
the Gita consumed by Tamil readers
were usually accompanied by commentaries explaining the texts of the story,
which is told in the poetic shloka
Overall, the Gita contained 701 shlokas, which locals here could view as pantun, or poetic verses.
“What’s usually done is that
people will take these poems and add their commentaries. But what I have done
is to take the shlokas and retold it
as a story,” he told The Vibes when met recently.
“I consciously chose to
write in Bahasa because everybody will be able to read my work.”
Objections Before Book Was Published
The first edition of the
book went to press early this month [May 2021], but Uthaya said his re-telling
of Gita had created a mild stir even
before the book was published.
The majority of the Indian
community, however, has been supportive and encouraging of his
Since early March, he had
received a sprinkling of negative feedback for translating the work, especially from among a handful of community
“They said: ‘how can you
translate Tamil text into Malay?’, which is factually wrong because the
original Bhagavad Gita or Mahabharata, or even the Ramayana,
were written in Sanskrit,” he said.
He was also chided by those
who reckoned that he had based his book on commentaries of other groups, which
was untrue. Instead, his work was based on English and Bahasa Indonesia
translations, as well as those in Tamil, Malayalam, and the original
“I’ve read all that and
understand the story and ensured that in my re-telling all the 701 shlokas are included,” said
“It’s not just a re-telling
or the gist of the story. In the book, I make notes on each chapter and each
verse so that the reader can always refer to the original text in any language.”
He added that his book also
furnished readers with background explanation into certain esoteric characters
Not A Preachy Text
And despite the book being
closely related to Hinduism, Uthaya said he did it in Bahasa Malaysia and in a
way that all can enjoy its contents without compromising their faith.
“When I wrote the Bhagavad Gita, I ensured that it is not
a preachy sort of text so that a Muslim, Christian or anyone who is a non-Hindu
believer can still enjoy it as a story.”
Uthaya, who has published
dozens of book in Bahasa Malaysia for more than two decades, said his latest
book stretched over 208 pages and was not printed by any publisher.
“I rely on social capital. Half of my printing costs
are covered by donations received from advance buyers.”
He said those who donated
more than RM50 had their names listed in the book as a sign of appreciation.
The book can be bought
through his blog site [here].
Uthaya, who recently
completed his Masters in University Malaya, said that the text is only
available in hardcopy and not as an e-book.
However, he said he would
consider turning the Gita into an
audiobook, which he narrates and would be accessible to the visually impaired.