Tuesday, 21 June 2011

celebrity Sanskrit tattoos

Celebrity Tattoo Artists Urged to Get Their Sanskrit Right!

Just how wrong are these famous Sanskrit tattoos?

Beckham's tattoo is sometimes described as Sanskrit and sometimes described as misspelled, but it is neither.

Rihanna's Bhagavad Gita tattoo is reported to contain misspellings, but as far as I can see any mistakes are very small - although it is missing some words.

Gillian Anderson's wrist tattoo is the only serious mistake I've found. She says it means "every day", but it looks to me like प्रत्याहार pratyāhāra "Drawing back, marching back, retreat; Keeping back, withholding; Restraining the organs; Dissolution of the world" etc. I think it was meant to be प्रत्यह pratyaha "every day".

Jessica Alba's ink looks fine, altho it's upside down in all the pictures: पद्म padma "lotus".

Esha Deol has the gāyatrī mantra on her back - with added pluti.

Katy Perry and Russell Brand recently got the same Sanskrit tat on their right arms. Everyone is saying it's "Anuugacchati Pravaha", which apparently means "go with the flow".

However, the tattoo is actually अनुगच्छतु प्रवाहं anugacchatu pravāhaṃ. Let's look at the words separately.

The first word is the third person singular imperative of anugam "to follow" - etymologically "to go after" (anu is "after" and gam is "go"). anugacchatu might translate as "let one follow". I guess "let one follow the current" is a good translation of "go with the flow". This writer says the word should be अनुगच्छति anugacchati, but that's third person singular present - "he follows". It seems to me that anugacchatu "let one follow" is better.

It seems to me that the second word is a mistake, albeit a very small one. It should be प्रवाहम् pravāham, the accusative form of pravāha "stream, current". प्रवाहम् pravāham becomes प्रवाहं pravāhaṃ only if there is a following word that triggers sandhi. There is no following word, so I think the phrase should be अनुगच्छतु प्रवाहम्.

(anugam "to follow" is related to juggernaut, come, adventure, acrobat.)


Glen Gordon said...

I guess it's high-time we create a decent Sanskrit-English iPhone app then. That will settle things... or maybe not.

displayname said...

You're right, प्रवाहम् would be better than प्रवाहं, but in practice the two are read identically, and the rule about when to use the anusvāra (as in प्रवाहं) is not strictly maintained today. I'd say अनुगच्छतु प्रवाहं (as tattooed) is acceptable, at least orthographically. Whether "follow the flood" is idiomatic Sanskrit or translationese is another issue. :-)

Modern writing even of Sanskrit (but especially other languages) tends to use the anusvāra wherever possible. Thus today one sees पंडित much more often than पण्डित, and मंदिर much more than मन्दिर, similarly शङ्कर is very unusual relative to शंकर, and चंचल more common than चञ्चल, to pick a few random examples. And of course, since Hindi drops the final a in words, forms ending in म् and the like are uncommon. One should be thankful the tattooist didn't write प्रवाहम and expect it to be read as प्रवाहम् / प्रवाहं as in Hindi. :-)

Lynz said...

I want to get the same Sanskrit tattoo that Katy Perry has, so what would you suggest? अनुगच्छतु प्रवाहं or अनुगच्छतु प्रवाहम् ?

displayname said...

As an aside, putting the phrase in the verb-at-the-end order more typical in Sanskrit, would give प्रवाहमनुगच्छतु, pravāham anugacchatu. This has 8 syllables which fit the common śloka metre, so it's very tempting to "complete" it to a verse, like (to use the first thing that comes to mind):

शान्तिमिच्छन्नरःप्राज्ञो प्रवाहमनुगच्छतु ।
यद्यद्भव्यम् भवत्येव चिन्तया किम्प्रयोजनम् ॥
śāntim icchan naraḥ prājño pravāham anugacchatu.
yad yad bhavyam bhavaty eva cintayā kim prayojanam?
A wise man who wishes peace of mind
ought to go with the flow.
Whatever will be will be;
what's the use of worry?


goofy said...

Lynz, I'm not a Sanskrit expert. But you can see my opinion and displayname's opinion.

displayname, that's awesome.

Lynz said...

That's alright. I'm not any good at all. Thanks though. :) Much appreciated.


Nicole & Fady said...

What can you do to ensure that the words you are putting on your body mean what you think they mean?
I wanted to put: faith, trust, loyalty, duty.

So far this is what I have found.
श्रद्धा विश्वास निष्ठा
I cannot seem to find a word for duty.
Can anyone help?


goofy said...

Nicole, I'm not comfortable helping you with your tattoo. My advice is to get a tattoo in a language you understand.

Pranesh said...

Very good analysis of the tattos. Here is my two cents from my Sanskrit education:

- Your reading of the tattoo "Pratyaahaar" is not correct. In the photo it looks like प्रत्याहार (pratyaahaar) but if you look closely, it actually reads प्रत्यान्हम (pratyaanham meaning every day).

- अनुगच्छतु प्रवाहं is absolutely right because it means "(You!) Flow with the flow". It is imperative in nature, sort of instructing. If you make it अनुगच्छति प्रवाहं, then it means "(He/She) Flows with the flow", which is a sort of description of what one does.

- Both प्रवाहं and प्रवाहम् are acceptable in Devanagari written for Hindi. But प्रवाहम् is correct for Devanagari written for Sanskrit. In Sanskrit writing system, a word never ends with the dot on top of a consonant. It has to be written completely with a bar at the bottom.

- There is a great Sanskrit app for iPhone. It is called the Sanskrit Primer.

- When using google transliterate for typing into Devanagari, you should choose "Sanskrit" as the input language and not "Hindi" or "Marathi" or "Nelpali". Because they all use the Devanagari script, but have different spelling systems.

I would be glad to answer any other questions.

goofy said...

Pranesh, I looked closely at Anderson's tattoo, and I still think it's प्रत्याहार. I don't see how it can be प्रत्यान्हम.

Pranesh said...

- @Goofy: I looked at the tattoo closely too, and I have to admit that you are right and I was wrong. It indeed reads "Pratyaahaar". Good job correcting me!

I think she must have wanted "pratyaahnam", and the "ahn" cluster looks very much simple "h", so the tattoist must have made the mistake.

Great blog you have here!

- @Nice and & Fad: Duty would be कर्त्तव्य , i.e. Kartavya (or more correctly Karttavya, literally meaning 'that which should be done').

Riannaht said...

Hi everyone,

it looks like there are a lot of experts here, so I have a question:
What is the Sanskrit sentence for: Be Yourself ?

I found one on the internet but I'm not sure if it's spelled correctly.
thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

It's kartavya for duty

Abhishek Chauhan said...

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य् गलार्निभवती भारत
अभियुत्थानामधर्मस्य् तदातमानं र्सजामयं ।।