Published On: Sat, Feb 18th, 2017

Swami Vivekananda’s Unpublished Transcription and Translation of the ‘Tri-Madhu’ Verses – Part 1

An original handwritten artifact of Swami Vivekananda, containing the English transcription and translation of the Sanskrit verses called ‘Tri-Madhu’, has been recently found. Through scientific inquiry, many facets of these profound verses of the Rig Veda associated with some events of Swamiji’s life are being presented here. I found this artifact among the papers, notes, and other collections of Miss Emma Thursby atthe New York Historical Society. Miss Emma Thursby was a student of Swamiji, who attended Swamiji’s Green acre lectures and New York classes during 1894–6.

There is no signature or date on the paper.The artefact has three distinct sections. Section one, the top four lines, is written in elegant hand-writing, section two is in free hand, and section three, the last three lines, is the Bengali alphabet. Section one of the artefact reads:

madhu vata Ritayate’ madhuksaranti Sindhavah
madhvirgavo Bhavantu nah
madhumaggum vanaspati
madhumaggum parthivaggum Rajaha.
madhu naktam ivoshashi
madhu dvowrastu nah pita
madhu madhu madhu.


Section two of the artefact reads:

The breeze is blowing bliss, the oceans rain bliss
Our cattle be full of bliss—the dust of the earth is bliss
The morning brings bliss
so does the night our father heaven is bliss
Bliss Bliss Bliss
Shanti Shanti Shanti Harih Om


Section three of the artefact is the Bengali alphabet. I recognised that section one was the transliteration of the ‘Tri-Madhu’ verses of the Rig Veda, followed by its translation in section two. ‘Tri-Madhu’ is the triad of three well-known verses of the Rig Veda. Each verse begins with the word madhuand each contains the word madhu three times. The word madhu here means nectar-like sweetness or absolute bliss.

Glancing at the translation, I recalled that the text had a striking resemblance to Swamiji’s words noted by Sister Nivedita in her journalas the ‘fragments of the great benediction after mourning’. Also, the fact that the artefact was found with Miss Thursby’s papers ignited a strong intuition in me and led me to hypothesise that the artefactis in Swamiji’s handwriting. The idea was very convincing, but it had to be verified.

I approached Schaffenberger, a well-known handwriting examiner. Upon examination of Swamiji’s other handwritten samples Schaf-fenberger concluded: ‘The handwriting appear-ing on the subject document sectiontwo can be identified as being by the hand of Swami Vivekananda. Section one, although is of similar genre, there is no standard writing that replicates what is found in this section and so cannot be identified as being by the hand of Swami Vivekananda.

Simultaneously, upon my request, Dr Deba Prasad Saha, a Bengali litterateur, analysed the artefact, prepared an exemplar of Bengali alphabet and English writings from Swamiji’s published handwritings, and observed many resemblances to the artefact. Based on these facts and his holistic approach to the research, Dr Saha is certain that Swamiji has written this entire artefact.

Thetwo partially differing opinions make the study of the artefact even more interesting. Upon reflecting on the results, I felt that it is not only the science of written letters that help to identify the writer but what is in between the words is also important; the space that the writer breathes in, the environment that it paints, and the effects that it creates are vital factors because they whisper to us the real story of the writer. In addition, considering other ancillary factors such as the artefact’s origin in 1890s; its location in New York preserved amidst the notes of Swamiji’s classes; the writer’s evident knowledge of Bengali and Sanskrit; the profound Vedic content of section one; and the other two sections out of the three proven to be written by Swamiji, led me to infer that the artefact indeed is written by him.

If we do not have so far a sample of Swamiji’s writing in combined cursive-print style, then I am happy to say that now we do have it, in section one of this artefact! What circumstances might have prompted Swamiji to write on this paper? Let’s imagine being in Swamiji’s class! The class has just ended. A few students are still around Swamiji. Perhaps they are asking about the words and meaning of the Sanskrit verses that he had recited during the class. In response, Swamiji hums and keenly scribes; he pauses in between, and then completes the writing with the meaning.

As I intently observe the paper in hand, the left side writing depicting sa, śa, andṣa, awakens the corresponding sounds! The soundśaas found in the wordśānti, might have prompted Swamiji to share a famous Bengali proverb about the three kinds of letters with the same ‘sha’ sound: ‘Je shoishe roi;je na shoi she nash hoi, meaning “Those who forbear, live; those who don’t perish.”

’Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘In the Bengāli alphabet no three letters are alike in sound except the three sibilants (Sa, sha, and sa), all meaning‘forbear’, ‘forbear’, ‘forbear’. This shows that even from our childhood we are made to learn forbearance in our very alphabets. The quality of forbearance is of the highest importance to every man.’

Also written on the paper are the four ‘da’ sounds:da, dha, ḍa, andḍha. Swamiji may have demonstrated how to pronounce the dha soundin the words madhuandmadhvi in the given verses. Similarly, he must have shown the difference between na andṇa. When comparing this artefact with the original verses from the Rig Veda, one notices that the sequence of the verses is different in Swamiji’s writings. Also, a few punctuation’s, words, and stanzas are missing. It is likely that his original intention was to provide the words and the meaning of the Tri-Madhu, but that may have led him to teach the ‘awareness of the phonemes’ in these verses. Imagine, he is pronouncing and writing the words like madhumaggum, parthivaggum for his Western students.

This content is taken from the magazine Prabudha Bharat.

To Be Continued

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