Thursday, 20 August 2009

Rihanna's Sanskrit tattoo

Beckham's not the only one who has a Devanagari tattoo that's come under fire. This article reports that Rihanna is getting flack for having a misspelled Sanskrit tattoo.

I decided to see if I could find out how accurate it was, purely in the interests of linguistics of course...

The tattoo is upside down in all the photos I could find, so I rotated it:

This is from the Bhagavad Gita 10.4-5. The whole verse is

बुद्धिर्ज्ञानमसम्मोहः क्षमा सत्यं दमः शमः ।
सुखं दुःखं भवोऽभावो भयं चाभयमेव च । ४ ।
अहिंसा समता तुष्टिस्तपो दानं यशोऽश: ।
भवन्यि भावा भूतानां मत्त एव पृथग्विधा: । ५ ।

4. Discernment, knowledge, freedom from delusion, long suffering, truth, self-restraint, inward calm, pleasure, pain, birth, death, fear and fearlessness;
5. Non-violence, even-mindedness, contentment, austerity, beneficence, good and ill fame,—all these various attributes of creatures proceed verily from Me.

The tattoo starts with the second half of the first line, so
क्षमा सत्यं दमः शमः
kṣamā satyaṃ damaḥ śamaḥ
"long suffering, truthfulness, self-restraint, inward calm"

It's missing the anusvāra (the dot) over सत्यं (satyaṃ), and दम: (damaḥ) looks more like टम: (ṭamaḥ) to me. (The visarga on the last word is there but it's hidden by the clothing.) And the letters म (ma) and य (ya) look pretty much identical.

More important is the next line, which is incomplete. The original is
सुखं दुःखं भवोऽभावो भयं चाभयमेव च
sukhaṃ duḥkhaṃ bhavo 'bhāvo bhayaṃ cābhayam eva ca
"pleasure, pain, birth, death, fear and fearlessness"

In this photo we can see a bit more. It appears to be
भयं चा भय
bhayaṃ cābhaya
So the first half of the line is missing. But presumably the second half of the line is complete, because we know the tattoo ends with च ।।.

So her tattoo reads
long suffering, truthfulness, self-restraint, inward calm, fear and fearlessness
and it is missing
pleasure, pain, birth, death


Glen Gordon said...

It's nice to see that at least this part of her hasn't been bruised beyond recognition by her last rotten boyfriend. Oh dear, did I just say that? My bad. Anyways, it's not a bad message to be tattooed with so good one on her. Sounds like the Sanskrit version of "Life's like a box of chocolates" but more chic.

Lynz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynz said...

I don't know much about Sanskrit, so would you kindly translate "Life is like a box of chocolates" for me? Thank you! :)

Broadway said...

lol I highly doubt the word "chocolate" exists in the sanskrit vocabulary.

Andrew Dumais said...

I think that if you are going to take wisdom out of one of the foremost holy books of Indian culture you should have respect for the text. Spelling the passage correctly and using appropriate grammar should be top priorities, especially with the permanency of a tattoo. Her attempt to express herself through a tattoo of another's expression does a disservice to both her and it. The situation is comparable to the drunk at the bar always misquoting Ezra Pound's Canto 1 at closing time.

Tanuj Gupta said...

@Broadway choclate in sanskrit is Chakleh....and fyi you can't doubt the world's oldest language on vocabulary

goofy said...

None of my Sanskrit dictionaries (Monier-Williams, Apte, Macdonell) have an entry for "chocolate".