This answer lists several methods translators/commentators may adopt when they decide to translate the Vedas or write commentary on them.

Is it possible to tell from an English translation of the Vedas (saṃhitas or brāhmaṇas) on how the mantras are interpreted?

Are there any telltale signs of the method used in a certain translation? Are there any key verses which are interpreted widely differently by different translators?

E.g., which method did Ralph Griffith and Max Müller use in their translations?


1 Answer 1


In the introduction of "Hymns of Rig Veda" Griffith says that he had mostly followed Sayanacharya.

My translation, which follows the text of Max Müller's splendid six-volume edition, is partly based on the work of the great scholiast Sayana who was Prime Minister at the court of the King of Vijaynagar - in what is now the Madras District of Bellary - in the fourteenth century of our era. Sayana's Commentary has been consulted and carefully considered for the general sense of every verse and for the meaning of every word, and his interpretation has been followed whenever it seemed rational, and consistent with the context, and with other passages in which the same word or words occur."

Therefore, his interpretation of the Vedas is not different from Sayana's and which is "ritualistic" as this answer states.

And the Wiki page of Sayana Acharaya states that Max Muller also did the same.

Sayana was a Sanskrit-language writer and commentator.[5] His major work is his Vedartha Prakasha (literally, "the meaning of the Vedas made manifest"), or commentary on the Vedas. His commentary on the Rigveda was translated from Sanskrit to English by Max Müller, 1823-1900. His works were also used as a basis by Griffith, Muir, Wilson and other European indologists. His continues to be one of the six commentaries on the Vedas that modern day Vedic scholars read

  • Yes, going thru Introduction of the translation is one way but I'm also interested in how certain key verses/hymns are translated differently depending on the method you choose. Jun 17, 2019 at 20:14
  • What I meant was largely they have followed Sayana.. Now to determine whether they have not followed him for some particular mantras is a huge task @sv. We have to go through all mantras individually and tally more than one translations for each such cases
    – Rickross
    Jun 18, 2019 at 17:22
  • No, what I mean is, if I picked up a random translation of Rigveda, I should be able to tell which method was used by looking at 1 or 2 main verses that are bound to be interpreted differently. Where does Sayana's commentary/translation differ from others? Which verses in particular? Think on those lines. Jun 18, 2019 at 18:58
  • That is not difficult in certain cases. For e.g. In the spiritual translations you will find the various equipment and utensils used in Yajnas are translated spiritually instead of translating them as the objects they are .. they use etymological variations for such translations. Durgadas Lahiri, Aurobindo have translated in that manner.
    – Rickross
    Jun 19, 2019 at 7:14
  • If you have R.L.Kashyap's books on Vedas then you may have read how the Aswamedha mantras can be spiritually translated. Sayana takes aja to mean goat for e.g. where as Kashyap takes it to mean unborn. The westerners followed Sayana. They obviously do not have the courage or conviction to go against the traditional viewpoint of Sayana and interpret Vedas like Aurobindo or Kashyapa has done. @sv.
    – Rickross
    Jun 20, 2019 at 6:15

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