Culture

The Scholar Whom Audrey Truschke Cites Finds Her Tweet ‘Shocking’

Robert Goldman and Audrey Truschke.
Snapshot
  • Prof Robert Goldman, whose translation of the Ramayana Audrey Truschke has cited to defend her claim that Sita called Lord Rama a “misogynistic pig”, says Truschke “is in no way quoting our translation but giving her own reading of the passage in her own highly inappropriate language”.

On 19 April, Audrey Truschke, Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University, Newark, US, posted the following tweet:

Hundreds of aghast and angered people protested and challenged her to provide a basis for this outrageous claim – which were the exact Sanskrit verses in the Ramayana, where Sita had made such statements?

In response, she provided a reference to “3.43 and 6.103 respectively, of the Sanskrit critical edition”.

The next day, however, she admitted that this was incorrect, and tweeted:

The 'Goldman' she is referring to is Professor Robert P Goldman, Catherine and William L Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South and Southeast Asian Studies, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, The University of California at Berkeley. He is one of the foremost Sanskrit scholars in the United States and translator of the Ramayana.

So, Venkat Vaikuntanarayanan, a senior IT professional based in Florida, decided to write to Prof Goldman. Below is the relevant part of his mail:

Dear Professor Goldman,

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I am writing this email with respect to Twitter posts by Dr Audrey Truschke of Rutgers University.

Dr Truschke has said in these posts that in the Ramayana, Sita basically "tells Rama he is a misogynist pig”, and seems to have based these on her reading of the "critical edition" of the Ramayana, by which I think she means your translation of the Ramayana, with critical commentaries. Her actual posts are:

For anyone unfamiliar with these episodes, in Valmiki’s telling (I’m loosely translating here): During the agnipariksha, Sita basically tells Rama he’s a misogynist pig and uncouth.

Folks, I provided the citation to the Sanskrit critical edition. If the accusation is that I did not put a scan of the text up here, well, as a professor I can live with the accusation that I didn’t do your homework for you. #Ramayana #AcademicTwitter

On page 53 of the translation of the Yuddha Kanda, you write: “Wiping her tear stained face, she replies to her husband with calm and reasoned dignity, defending her honor, asserting her loyalty, and criticizing him for harboring feelings of misogyny. She accuses him of giving way to anger like some common man...”

In your view, can this be the basis for saying that in the Ramayana, Sita called Rama a misogynist pig? Would that be a fair characterization of the interaction between Rama and Sita towards the end of the Yudha Kanda?

I appreciate your taking the time to read this email, and would greatly appreciate your comments.

With best wishes,

Sincerely,

Venkat Vaikuntanarayanan

Below is the full text of Prof Goldman’s reply, in which he says that he finds the episode “extremely disturbing”, called Truschke’s language “highly inappropriate”, and says that what Truschke is saying has “nothing to do with our translation”.

Dear Venkat,

Thanks for your message. I find it extremely disturbing but perhaps not unexpected to learn that AT (Audrey Trushcke) has used such inappropriate language and passed it off as coming from Valmiki. Neither the great poet nor we used anything like such a vulgar diction and certainly Sita would never have used such language to her husband even in the midst of emotional distress. Nowhere in our translation of the passage do we use words such as you mention AT as using.

When she refers to the "critical edition” she is referring to the Sanskrit text of the Ramayana as reconstructed by the scholars at the Oriental Institute of Baroda. We have, of course translated the whole text but she is in no way quoting our translation but giving her own reading of the passage in her own highly inappropriate language.

Sita is, or course distressed by Rama’s words when she is first reunited with him after her captivity. But her speech is dignified and moving. We have tried to capture her level of diction in our translation which nowhere uses either an anachronistic term like “misogynistic” or the utterly vulgar and wildly inappropriate term “pig”. Quite shocking, really. It seems as if she is superimposing her own feelings on the poetry of the Adikavi. It has nothing to do with our translation.

For your information I am attaching a copy of our published translation of the relevant passage.

With all best wishes.

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Dr R P Goldman

The following is the text that Prof Goldman has provided, and which Audrey Truschke is citing to defend her claim:

23. ‘‘Or, Sita, set your mind on Sugriva, lord of the monkeys, or on the raksasa lord Vibhisana, or on whomever you please.

24. ‘‘For surely, Sita, once Ravana had seen you, so enchanting with your heavenly beauty, he would not long have left you unmolested while you were dwelling in his house.’’

25. When Maithili, who deserved to hear only kind words, had heard those cruel words of her beloved after such a long time, she shed tears and trembled violently, like a vallari creeper struck down by the trunk of an elephant lord.

The end of the one hundred third sarga of the Yuddha Kanda of the Sri Ramayana.

Sarga 104

  1. When Vaidehi was addressed in this cruel and horrifying manner by the furious Raghava, she was deeply wounded.
  2. Hearing those cutting words of her husband words such as she had never heard before in the presence of that great multitude, Maithili was overcome with shame.
  3. Pierced, as it were, by those verbal barbs, the daughter of Janaka seemed to shrink within herself and gave way to bitter tears.
  4. Wiping her tear-stained face, she replied softly to her husband in a faltering voice:
  5. ‘‘How can you, heroic prince, speak to me with such cutting and improper words, painful to the ears, as some vulgar man might speak to his vulgar wife?
  6. ‘‘I am not as you think of me, great-armed prince. You must believe in me, for I swear to you by my own virtue.
  7. ‘‘You harbor suspicion against all women because of the conduct of the vulgar ones. If you really knew me, you would abandon your suspicion.
  8. ‘‘If I came into contact with another’s body against my will, lord, I had no choice in this matter. It is fate that was to blame here.
  9. ‘‘My heart, which I do control, was always devoted to you. But I could not control my body, which was in the power of another. What could I have done?
  10. ‘‘If, my love, you do not truly know me despite our long-nurtured love and intimacy, then surely I am lost forever.
  11. ‘‘When you dispatched the hero Hanuman to search for me, why, heroic prince, did you not repudiate me then, while I was still being held in Lanka?
  12. ‘‘No sooner had I heard your words to that effect, heroic prince, than, abandoned by you, I would have abandoned my own life right before the eyes of that monkey lord.
  13. Then you would not have had to risk your life in a useless effort nor would your allies have had to suffer hardship to no purpose.
  14. But now, tiger among men, you have given way to anger like some lesser man, taking into account only that I am a woman.
  15. ‘‘Since my name is derived from Janaka, you failed to take into account the fact that I was born from the earth itself, nor, though you are an expert judge of conduct, have you given due consider- ation to my virtuous conduct.
  16. ‘‘Moreover, you do not weigh the fact that, as a boy, you firmly clasped my hand while I was but a child. My devotion, my virtuous conduct you have turned your back on all of that.’’
  17. As she was speaking in this fashion, Sita turned, weeping, to Laksmana, who stood there, despondent and brooding. Then she spoke, her voice choked with tears.
  18. ‘‘Build me a pyre, Saumitri, the only remedy for this calamity. I cannot bear to live tainted by these false allegations.
  19. ‘‘Rejected in this public gathering by my husband, who is not satisfied with my virtues, I shall enter the fire, bearer of oblations, so that I may follow the only path proper for me.’’
  20. When Laksmana, slayer of enemy heroes, had been addressed in this fashion by Vaidehi, he was overcome with anger and closely studied Raghava’s face.
  21. But, sensing Rama’s intentions, which were betrayed by his facial expression, mighty Saumitri, obedient to Rama’s wishes, built the pyre.
  22. Then Vaidehi slowly and reverently circumambulated Rama, whose face was downcast, and approached the blazing fire, eater of oblations.
  23. After making her obeisance to the gods and the brahmans, Maithili cupped her hands in reverence and, in the presence of Agni, said this:
  24. ‘‘Since my heart has never once strayed from Raghava, so may Agni, the purifier, witness of all the world, protect me in every way.’’
  25. When she had spoken in this fashion, Vaidehi reverently cir-cumambulated the fire, eater of oblations. Then, with complete detachment, she entered the blazing flames.
  26. The vast crowd assembled there, filled with children and the aged, watched as Maithili entered the fire, eater of oblations.
  27. As Sita entered the fire, a deafening and prodigious cry of ‘‘Alas! Alas!’’ arose from the raksasas and monkeys.

The end of the one hundred fourth sarga of the Yuddha Kanda of the Sri Ramayana.

Thus, the very translator whose work Audrey Truschke is citing to make her claims, is calling her behaviour “quite shocking”. “(S)he is in no way quoting our translation but giving her own reading of the passage in her own highly inappropriate language.”

“…(O)ur translation… nowhere uses either an anachronistic term like ‘misogynistic’ or the utterly vulgar and wildly inappropriate term ‘pig’. Quite shocking, really. It seems as if she is superimposing her own feelings on the poetry of the Adikavi. It has nothing to do with our translation.”

How will Ms Truschke respond now?

(Swarajya is grateful to Roopen Roy for giving us access to the e-mail exchange.)

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