A Note on Translation and Transliteration

Sprinkled throughout Interpreting Ramakrishna are quotations from Bengali, Sanskrit, and French as well. All translations that appear in this text are our own, except those that are included in quoted material.

This part of the "Note" is the easiest. Transliterations are another matter altogether, for there are few tasks more maddening or seemingly capricious than that of transliteration. While we have used the standard international system for transliterating Indic words into the Roman alphabet, there is no standardized method for deciding which Sanskrit and Bengali words are to be transliterated and which are not. The author(s) must therefore create their own rule book and stick to it, informing the reader their reasons for having the text appear the way it does. Authors and publishers have their own peculiarities; ours belong to us alone. It is the scheme that we found worked best for the material presented here.

We have arbitrarily chosen the year 1800 C.E. as our line in the sand: there are no diacritical marks used in names of individuals who lived after 1800. Mythological figures such as Kālī, Viṣṇu, etc., are placed in diacritical marks as well as the names of ancient personalities such as Rāma and Kṛṣṇa (who may or may not be historical, depending on whom one asks) as well as Śaṅkara, Caitanya, etc. Thus we have the devotee Ramchandra Datta who revered Rāma, and Kali, Ramakrishna's disciple, who bowed before the goddess Kālī, and Narayan who reminded Ramakrishna of Nārāyāṇa himself. On the other hand, we have not used diacritical marks for Sanskrit words that have entered the general English vocabulary such as avatar, chakra, kundalini, etc.

Diacritical marks have not been used for any geographical names. However, the spelling of geographical locations, particularly cities, has become a truly vexing problem due to recent changes in the accepted spelling of their names. While we would have liked to have kept one standard spelling for "Kolkata/Calcutta," this has proved impossible. If, for consistency's sake, we had used a uniform spelling of "Calcutta" throughout this book, then the book would be dated before its publication, since the city officially changed its name in December of 2000. On the other hand, we cannot change quoted material. Thus we will state that the early years of Ramakrishna's life were spent in Kamarpukur, a village geographically near yet culturally distant from Kolkata, while Partha Chatterjee will remind us that Ramakrishna "was a frequently discussed personality in the schools, colleges and newspapers of Calcutta." For this mildly schizophrenic usage, we can only apologize in advance in the hopes that forewarned is forearmed, and the reader will understand why such usage was necessary.

As for transliterated lines of Bengali script, we have tried to approximate the standard spoken language as much as possible. Hence we will indicate bhāb, jogi and koro rather than bhāva, yogi and kara. Again, to approximate the spoken language, the "a" sound generally (but not always) is transliterated as "o", whereas the "long a" sound has been transliterated with the standard "ā." For the sake of consistency, we have kept the spelling of proper names uniform and have used the most common form of spelling. We have used diacritical marks with Sanskrit religio-philosophical terms such as Vedānta, Vaiṣṇava, sannyāsa, bhāva, etc., though some of our decisions may appear arbitrary as well: we use "Tantric" to refer to the word's adjectival form (as in a Tantric form of worship) and when used as a proper noun we use "Tāntriks" to refer to the person who is a practitioner of Tantra. Diacritical marks have also been used when we refer to Sanskrit or Bengali texts, such as the Rāmāyaṇa, Kathāmṛta, Līlāprasaṅga, etc.