Holy Qurbana (Divine Liturgy) in Malankara Syrian Orthodox parish
On Tuesday, in Thiruvananthapuram, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first translation of the Bible into Malayalam. Church historians say Philipose Ramban, a scholar from Kayamkulam, translated the Bible from Syriac into Malayalam in 1811 to help believers get a better understanding of the scripture. Claudius Buchanan, a missionary who toured South India in the early 19th century, persuaded Ramban to translate the holy book. Orthodox Church authorities in Travancore gave Buchannan, during his visit to Kerala, a copy of the Bible in Syriac, known in local parlance as Suriyani. Buchannan told them to translate the Syriac text into Malayalam and gave guidance to some local Syriac and Tamil scholars to undertake the task.
For centuries, Syriac was the liturgical language of Christians in Kerala, who believe that St Thomas the Apostle preached the Gospel in Kerala. Dr Daniel Babu Paul, former Additional Chief Secretary and scholar of Christian literature, said that Ramban worked hard at the translation, as he had no model before him to follow, saying, “Four Gospels translated by the Ramban made up the first version of the Bible, which appeared in book format in Malayalam. The translation was completed in 1811 and printed in ‘Kallachu’ (lithographic printing) at a press in Bombay (now Mumbai)”.
The book, composed in a hybrid language of Malayalam and Tamil, was entitled Visudha Veda Pustakam. For many years, believers called it the Ramban Bible. Historians said that translations of the Bible into Tamil and Bengali came out before the Malayalam version appeared. It took two more decades after the appearance of the Ramban Bible for speakers of Malayalam to get a more complete version of the scripture. Dr Paul said that missionary-scholar Benjamin Bailey produced another Malayalam version of the Bible in the 1840s with the help of Chandu Menon, a tahsildar in the Madras Presidency service. Herman Gundert, a German scholar, who compiled the first lexicon in Malayalam, translated the New Testament in the 1850s.
Dr Paul, author of a comprehensive work on Biblical literature, said, “One major difficulty in translating the Bible in the earlier centuries was the absence of an accepted prose literary form in Malayalam. People of various communities used to speak varying dialects in different places. There was a deep influence of Tamil in the early translations”. A book containing a collection of studies regarding the contribution of Ramban, edited by M. Kurian Thomas and titled Kayamkulam Philipose Remban: Vayakthium Sambhavanaum, will be released by Perumbadavam Sreedharan, Chairman, Kerala Sahithya Akademi, at VJT Hall in Thiruvananthapuram, at 11.30 on Tuesday.
24 September 2012