The Story of Golden Corpse translated by Yeshi Dhondup.
The book under review is an excellent example of the Tibetan culture as reflected in its folk tales. Culture denotes a complex concept. Culture as defined by Mathew Arnold in his well known essay "Culture and Anarchy" is right knowing and right doing; a process and not an absolute. Culture is generally related to prevalent view of life and as a corollary, reflects aesthetic, social and moral judgments which are closely interrelated. Culture, as stressed by Ramond Williams, reflects the whole way of life and cannot be confined to a its particular aspects. Culture is reinterpreted and thus renews itself with the passage of time.
As correctly observed by the translator in his foreword to the book, the folk tales act as a bridge between the elder and the new generation and thus maintains the continuum of cultural heritage which plays an important role in the development of children's moral sense and acquaints them with the cultural values of their society, not much emphasized in modern education.
The Golden Corpse stories were originally composed by the great Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna in Sanskrit. They were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. Subsequently they have been translated into many other languages. In this collection of Golden Corpse stories a boy happens to meet a saint who finds him diligent, determined and honest. He assigns him the task of fetching the corpse called Ro Ngodrup Gyatso from the mountain cemetery. There is one condition attached. The corpse would tell him many tales of wonder, magic, intrigue and romance and the boy must listen to the corpse in complete silence till he reaches the saint. In case he speaks out something the corpse would desert him and go back to it's original place and he would have to go there again to fetch it. The boy fetches the corpse which rides on his back and regales him with stories of heroes, villains, ugly witches, murderous demons, smart tricksters interspersed with Tibetan humour, songs, riddles, jokes and sayings in the backdrop of Tibetan farmers, nomads, kings and magical figures. The boy is so enthralled and mesmerized that he forgets the condition and often exclaims with wonder in praise of the story. The corpse gives him thrashing and flies back to its original abode. The boy has to repeat his arduous labour like Sisyphus but eventually he succeeds.
Most of the tales in the book under review depict the Tibetan life with gala gathering, dancing, drinking and pleasures of nomadic and pastoral people of Tibet. Every story conveys a moral, a lesson in truthful, uptight and compassionate life. For instance, the girl in "The Fortunate Girl" breaks the pledge taken with her mother to keep the stock of rice at home intact till summer arrives. A saint happens to visit her house and she feeds him. It is her compassion for the hungry visitor that motivates her to break the pledge. She earns the merit and is amply rewarded.
In the story "The King Returns from Death" it is the girl's kindness to various people while going to the castle that saves her. In "The Wise Prince Tests His Wife" the youngest of the three daughters can marry the king because she is more intelligent and kind than her two elder sisters. In "The Wondering Merchant" the poor merchant becomes a seer with his clairvoyant powers through good luck. It is his act of seeking mercy for the wrongdoers- the thieves,- from the king that eventually puts him on the throne. It is again the mercy shown by the half-blind prince in the story with the same title which helps him to inherit the kingdom. There is a boy who never ells a lie in the story of the same title. It is his commitment to truth that ultimately helps him to marry a princess and inherit a part of the kingdom.
In "The Intelligent Minister" it is he minister's intelligence and kindness to the dull prince that helps him to marry a princess and inherits his father's kingdom. In "The Girl Langa Langchung and the Rooster" the girl is rewarded because of her good karma. In "The Foolish Girl Who killed Her Mother" the girl is rewarded with marital alliance with a king on account of her innocence. In "The Snake and the Tortoise" the boy is saved from the demon and becomes a king owing to his good karma. In "The Kind Elder Brother and His Sister" it is the kind heartedness of the brother that saves him and his sister, foolish and shortsighted as she is, has to pay with her life. Similar are other stories in the collection. Thus, every story conveys some moral, some value system-kindness, truthfulness, compassion, innocence, good karma and so on- that really matter in life and help in day to day affairs.
Translating a folk tale is an arduous task. The translated version often loses the original flavour and looks to be a pale shadow of the original. However, the job done by Yeshi Dhondup in translating the Tibetan folk tales into English is remarkably good. While reading the book one does not get the impression that one is faced with a translated version. It gives the impression of being original.
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|Publication:||The Tibet Journal|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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