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The verse I am talking about is this.

kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ
sāṅgopāṅgāstra-pārṣadam
yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyair
yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ

The above verse from Srimad Bhagavatam (11.5.32) was cited by Gudiya Vaishnavas to prove Caitanya's avatarhood (What are the scriptural evidences suggesting Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was the incarnation of Lord Krishna?). Srila Prabhupada translated the verse in the following way.

In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛṣṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.

However, a non-sectarian translation by Ramesh Menon of this verse is this.

During that age, the wise worship the Lord as being black-skinned, but lustrous like sapphire. Mainly, his name is chanted at sacrifices, and his praises are sung.

Another non-sectarian translation by Bibek Debroy is this:

He is dark in complexion, but his lustre is brilliant. Those who are excellent in intelligence generally worship him through sacrifices and collective chanting, worshipping his limbs, his ornaments, his weapons and his associates.

Another non-sectarian translation (the Bhagavat Purana published by Motilal Banarsidass)

It is known to all that highly intelligent and discerning people, through sacrifices mostly consisting of chanting his name and extolling his glory, worship that Lord of dark complexion but brilliant (like Sapphire) in lustre. The Lord who is perfect in every limb, beautified with ornaments (like Kaustubha gem and others), equipped with his weapons and missiles (like the discus Sudarsana) and accompanied by his attendants (like Sunanda and others).

Thus you see that all the non-sectarian translations have more or less the same meaning. However, the meaning gets completely changed in Srila Prabhupada's translation.

The main point of difference is regarding the meaning of the word "kṛṣṇa-varṇam". Others translated it as dark in complexion. However, Prabhupada translated it as "repeating the syllables kṛṣ-ṇa". However, if you look at the context (previous verses), the skin colour of the lord in different yugas is discussed. By the way, one important fact is that Caitanya was fair-skinned.

This is quite confusing to me at least because the versions are diagonally opposite. I do not have any other translations of Srimad-Bhagavatam. I want to know how the other Vaishnava sects interpret the verse. What about other non-sectarian translations (if any)? I want to see all the available translations of this verse. So that I can decide for myself which version makes sense to me based on the majority.

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  • I'm sorry, but Isn't this opinion based? Like you have yourself given multiple translations, then what does it mean by correct? One can also add Swami Tapasyananda and Gita Press Translations, but I don't think it'll make much difference from the Motilal Banarsidass Publication. So my question is, what exactly are you looking for as an answer?
    – Vivikta
    Jul 4 at 8:28
  • @Vivikta Both Prabhupada and others can't be true at the same time. One has to be wrong. These are not different opinions. One can interpret the same thing in different ways. But, here the meaning got changed completely. When someone writes something, that just has one meaning - not two. If I say "I am dark". It just has one meaning - my skin colour is dark. Some people can't say that it means I am fair-skinned - it is his opinion. This is simply wrong. Words carry specific meanings. Black means black. No one can just have an opinion that black means white. That would be madness. Jul 4 at 8:55
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    Okay, So can I give translation from Swami Tapasyananda and Gita Press, will that be ok? Also, Sri Chaitanya's avatrarhood is mentioned in the Bhavishya Mahā-Purāṇa. I can add that too?
    – Vivikta
    Jul 4 at 9:05
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    @Vivikta Yes, please. I want to read as many translations of this verse as possible. I think Bhavishya Purana's quote is not relevant here, as here I am interested in the meaning of that specific verse. Caitanya's avatarhood is the consequence but not the direct focus here. Jul 4 at 9:34
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    Haha. No problem. Actually, my contention was we cannot decide for everyone that one translation is correct while the other is wrong, hence I said itbwas opinion based. But, yes ofcourse you're right in that to each his own. Personal judgment left onto you! :) Now the question is edited better.
    – Vivikta
    Jul 4 at 13:39

1 Answer 1

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The Original Sanskrit Verse is -

कृष्णवर्णं त्विषाकृष्णं साङ्गोपाङ्गास्त्रपार्षदम् । यज्ञै: सङ्कीर्तनप्रायैर्यजन्ति हि सुमेधस: ॥ ३२ ॥

I'm giving the translation from two other sources (which for argument's sake may be considered non-sectarian, if at all).

1. Gita Press translation.

ŚB 11.5.32

  1. It is well-known that (in this age) wise men worship, through sacrifices mostly consisting of chanting the names of the Lord and singing His praises, the Lord who is of a dark colour, though bright by lustre, perfect in all limbs, adorned with ornaments, furnished with His weapons and waited upon by His attendants.

For clarity's sake, one may also access the Sanskrit + Hindi Translation of the same by Gita Press Gorakhpur from here


2. Swami Tapasyananda's Translation:

ŚB 11.5.32

  1. The wise ones then adore Him as black in complexion, but brilliant like sapphire. He is worshipped with all His limbs, decorations, weapons, and His attendants. Recital of His excellences and chanting of His names form the principal part of the worship.

Which translation is correct?

Now, coming to the "correctness of a translation". I think we cannot just have a "majority opinion" here, for it is not how faith works.

For an individual, the correct translation is the one, which is provided by their sect's acharya or guru, and in this case, Srila Prabhupada has a direct disciple lineage descendence from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, thus, for the followers of ISCKON (and Gaudiya Vaishnavas) Prabhupada's translation stands correct, but, not so much for other sects though, who do not subscribe to the Gaudiya theology.

This is further in conjunction with the interpretation of the Brahma Sutras and the four Maha-vakyas by the three Jagadguru acharyas (viz. Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, and Anandtirtha Madhvachrya), all giving varying interpretations for the same set of Brahmasutras as per their own sects.

I think, the interpretation methodology being followed by Prabhupada (त्विषाकृष्णं = त्विष+अ+कृष्णं) is similar to the one employed by Madhvacharya in the interpretation of the famous Mahāvākyam - Tat Tvam Asi where he interprets it as Atat Tvam Asi.

तत् त्वम् असि (That Thou Art) in Madhvacharya's interprtation becomes स आत्मा अतत् त्वम् असि (That Atman, thou art not).

So, for the followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the translation by Prabhupada is correct, both in terms of Sanskrit grammar analysis, and interpretation.


Besides, on a side note, I discuss in this answer, the scriptural evidence for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being an avatar of Sri Krishna, as per the Bhavishya Mahā-Purāṇa.

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  • Amazon Book Info says (amazon.in/Srimad-Bhagavata-4-Swami-Tapasyananda-ebook/dp/…) that Tapasyananda's translation mainly follows Sridhara's interpretation. I do not know who is Sridhara. But, I guess he is from some Vaishnava sect. If that is true, then other sects also do not follow Gaudiya interpretation. Very valuable information for me. Thanks for this reference. Jul 4 at 15:29
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    Well, @AmritenduMukhopadhyay .... as you might be knowing that Srimada Bhagvatam is the Purana with highest number of extant commentaries (see my answer here). Now, Out of all those commentaries, Sridhara Swami's commentary titled Bhāvārtha-dipikā is mostly referred and consulted, it's kind of the most popular commentary on the Bhagvatam. About his sect and lineages, some say he belonged to the Sri Rudra Sampradāya (Vishnusvami) of the Vaishnava order. I think Sridhara Swami was a Vaishnava bhakta with Advaitic tendencies.
    – Vivikta
    Jul 4 at 15:43

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