Murty Classical Library’s Therīgāthā: Poems of the First Buddhist Women

9780674427730-therigatha-3-4-viewA thing of beauty was released into the world today. It was already there, but now more people can read it. The first five volumes of the Murty Classical Library of Indian literature are now published: 2 millennia of culture in bilingual editions of the source language and English, from Harvard University Press.

You know it’s serious when there’s proper discussion devoted to the typography in various scripts. But as with all translations, this is also a political statement, that India has always has been multicultural and multilingual: “Forthcoming works include the Ramayana by Kampan (Tamil), Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi (Sanskrit), Ramcaritmanas by Tulsidas (Hindi), Annadamangal by Bharatchandra Ray (Bangla), Guru Granth Sahib (Panjabi), Ghalib Poetry and Prose (Urdu), and other classical texts in such languages as Apabhramsha, Kannada, Prakrit, and Sindhi,” as the Murty Classical Library blog states.

Therīgāthā: Poems of the First Buddhist Women, translated from the Pali language by Charles Hallisey, Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures at Harvard, is one of the first five volumes out today.

These women lived at the time of the Buddha, and their writings are quite possibly the oldest works written by women in the world. I’ve already read some of their stories in Sallie Tisdale’s Women of the Way, a retelling of the stories of Buddhist foremothers I picked up second hand from the treasure trove that is Massolit Books.

One of them, Dhammadinnā, became a nun when her husband decided to leave her and become a monk. Except he didn’t stick at it, but she did, became ordained, and went on to ordain many other women. Dhammadinnā said:

She whose desire has finally come to rest

Desire that once filled all of her,

She whose heart is not driven by desire anymore,

She shall be called Bound Upstream.

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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