Making history accessible

Print edition : June 21, 2019

M.M. Kalburgi. Photo: V Sreenivasa Murthy

M.M. Kalburgi in a 2013 photograph. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Krishna Kolhar Kulkarni, director of the Adil Shahi translation project. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A translation project, involving 21 volumes written in medieval Persian on the Adil Shahi dynasty of the Bijapur sultanate, which M.M. Kalburgi was heading before his murder, has been completed.

When the Kannada scholar M.M. Kalburgi’s life was suddenly and brutally ended by a gunman on August 30, 2015, he left many projects unfinished. The senior researcher was primarily known for his iconoclastic interpretation of the Lingayat credo, embittering conservative believers. But his work went beyond this, and he had versatile interests. As an epigraphist, he was keenly interested in the history of Karnataka. At the time of his death, he was supervising the translation of Persian manuscripts into Kannada from the time of the medieval sultanate of Bijapur, when the Adil Shahi dynasty (1489-1686) ruled the region.

The Adil Shahi Sultanate was one of the five kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the implosion of the Bahmani Empire. The Adil Shahis ruled a vast area from the city of Bijapur, and at its peak the boundaries of the Bijapur sultanate stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. It took the might of the Mughal Empire to finally defeat this kingdom in 1686. During the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah II (r. 1580-1627), Bijapur was one of the leading urban centres of the Indian subcontinent, rivalling the majesty of Mughal administrative and cultural centres of northern India such as Delhi, Agra and Lahore. The population of Bijapur was around 10 lakhs at the time, and this exceeded the population of other royal Indian towns. The kings of the Adil Shahi dynasty left their mark on this town, which is littered with a variety of monuments, the most famous being the Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah (r. 1627-1656).

The largest chunk of the Bijapur sultanate, including its capital Bijapur, lay in what is now modern Karnataka. Hence, an understanding of the sultanate’s history adds significantly to the understanding of the history of medieval Karnataka. Kalburgi’s translation project was staggering in its scale; it involved the translation of 21 volumes written in medieval Persian, forming most of the primary source material on the Adil Shahi dynasty. The material was a treasure trove for historians working on the region but had remained inaccessible because it was not available in Kannada.

A translation like this had never been done in Kannada and was only possible under the fervid leadership of Kalburgi. According to people close to Kalburgi, he was excited about this project as he felt that the history of Karnataka would have to be rewritten after the publication of these volumes. The first volume came out in 2014, the year before he was killed. He lived to see a few more volumes published, but the bulk of the project was finished after his death. The final volume was published only in 2018.

The provenance of the project can be traced to the early 2000s, when Kalburgi was the Vice Chancellor of the Kannada University at Hampi. He had reached out to Krishna Kolhar Kulkarni, a historian of Bijapur, to present a bibliographical essay on the Adil Shahi dynasty at the university. “Along with this, he encouraged me to translate at least one book from Persian to Kannada,” recalled Kulkarni, 79, in a chat with Frontline. Kulkarni, who is originally from the village of Kolhar near Bijapur (now Vijayapura), spent 11 years in Bombay (now Mumbai) as a telegraph employee. He became fluent in Marathi during those years. “The book that I chose to translate was the Basateen-e-Salateen, a nineteenth century account of the Adil Shahi dynasty by Ibrahim Zuberi. It had been translated into Marathi from Persian, and I relied on that translation to bring it out in Kannada,” explained Kulkarni.

Encouraged by the success and quality of this initial translation, a project proposal, “the Adil Shahi Literature Translation Project” was readied in 2011 under the aegis of the Dr. P.G. Halakatti Research Centre of the Bijapur Lingayat District Educational Association (BLDEA). The aim of the project was to translate the entire corpus of Adil Shahi literature into Kannada. The proposal received the support of M.B. Patil, a senior politician from Vijayapura who is known to take a keen interest in the heritage of his city. The Kannada and Culture Minister at the time, Govind M. Karjol, a native of a neighbouring district, approved the project, and Rs.75 lakh was sanctioned for this purpose in 2012-13. The translation was carried out by a committee under the chairmanship of Kalburgi and under the direction of Kulkarni.

“The first task that I did was to identify and acquire the primary Persian texts of the Adil Shahi era. This I did from several libraries all over the country as they were not located in one place. I got photocopies of original Persian texts from places like the Salar Jung Museum and the Andhra Pradesh Archives and Research Institute in Hyderabad. In Maharashtra, I visited the archives in Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad, apart from using material available at the Bharat Itihas Sanshodak Mandal in Pune. Finally, I also had to visit the National Archives of India in Delhi for some rare material,” Kulkarni said.

After this, translators were identified and the work began in earnest. As the project had to be completed soon, several translators were identified for the purpose. Each translator was allocated a different text, and in some cases where the text was voluminous, different parts of the same text. Many translators worked in teams of two people, with one person more competent in Persian and the other in Kannada. Thus, a 2,626-page tome like the Tarikh-e-Farishta, which is a chronicle of Muslim history in the subcontinent written by Farishta, a courtier in Bijapur, was translated by eight translators.

As the director of the project, Kulkarni acknowledged that using multiple translators was not the most rigorous way to translate a text, but he explained how he made it work: “Once the translations came to me, I would work on them further to provide clarity and stylistic uniformity.” Kulkarni also acknowledged that while some texts were directly translated from Persian and old Deccani with the help of scholars like M. Rahman Madani of Vijayapura, many were translated from Urdu and English. So these were translations of translated texts. Some of the other texts that were translated were the poem Ibrahimnama of the Saraswati-venerating-monarch Ibrahim Adil Shah II, containing 712 stanzas, and his Kitab-e-Nauras, the Book of Nine Rasas. Chronicles of kings of the ruling dynasty like Mohammed Adil Shah and Ali Adil Shah II, Sufi texts from the era and compendiums of fatwas constitute the other volumes in the translated set.

It is evident that there is some arbitrariness in the way in which the translations have taken place, and a philologist may not approve of this. A historian specialising on the Adil Shahi dynasty who spoke to Frontline on the condition of anonymity said: “The quality of the translations is not up to the mark as they have not carried over the nuances of the Persian original.” While this may be true, the 21 volumes open up the world of medieval north Karnataka to modern researchers working in Kannada. Kalburgi’s dream of adding a great new source material to the understanding of the history of Karnataka has come true.

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