The Mahābhārata’s summary within the anonymous Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ (Collection of Histories and Tales) constitutes one of the earliest known translations of an Indic epic text into Persian. The Mahābhārata was one of the two great Sanskrit epics, first written down between 300 BCE and 300 CE. The story revolves around a near-world war between two sets of cousin-brothers, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The basic storyline of a version of the Mahābhārata popular in Sindh was translated into Persian in 417/1026 and survives in a historical work, the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ, that was completed roughly a century later.
The translation that appears in the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ went through three stages. First, prior to 1026, a man named as Abū Ṣāliḥ ibn Šu‘ayb ibn Jāmī translated an “ancient Indian book” into Arabic. In 417/1026, Abu al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad al-Hablatī, keeper of the City Library of Jurjan on the Caspian Sea, rendered the Arabic translation into Persian for the benefit of a Dilemite chieftain. The Persian translation was then quoted and summarized in a twelfth-century work primarily devoted to pre-Islamic Persian history, the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ. (Chatterji 1958, p. 50) We do not possess original manuscripts of the first two steps of the translation, but the process is outlined in the beginning of the twelfth chapter of the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ (Harshe 1941 pp. 314-15; Reinaud 1845, p. 1).
The Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ reports that the original Arabic translation of the Mahābhārata was made from an “Indian language” (zabān-i hindawī). Based on the forms of Indian names in the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ, prior scholars have suggested that the original “Indian language” of the source text was not Sanskrit but perhaps Prakrit or a literary vernacular such as Apabhramsha (e.g., Chatterji 1958, p. 51). This conclusion is possible but hardly proven given that oral transmission was common in renderings of Sanskrit epics into Persian and often resulted in Sanskrit words appearing in more vernacular pronunciations. Additionally, there is a general tendency to garble Sanskrit-origin terms in Persian-language translations of the epics.
The outline of the Mahābhārata story appears in chapter twelve of the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ, along with some preceding material about the pre-Mahābhārata history of Sindh and some comments on later rulers and events in India. The translators inserted some Islamic details in the summary within Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ, such as noting that Indians are descended from Ham (Chaterji 1958, p. 54). The author also distances himself from the historicity of the events he reports, comparing the Mahābhārata to the Kalila wa Dimna tales and reminding his readers that, regarding the truth of such matters, “God knows best.” Manuscripts of the Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ attest that the text was read for centuries after its composition (Weber and Riedel 2012). Possible transmissions of this Mahābhārata summary in later texts have yet to be established.
Editions: Mojmal al-tawāriḵ wa’l-qeṣaṣ,
Muḥammad Taqī Bahār, ed., Tehran. 1939. Eine persische Weltgeschichte aus dem 12. Jahrhundert,
Seifeddin Najmabadi - Siegfried Weber, ed., Edingen-Neckarhausen, Deux Mondes, 2000.
French translation: Reinaud, J. T. Fragments arabes et persans inedits relatifs à l’Inde, anterieurement au XIe siecle, Paris, 1845, pp. 1-54.
English translation: Elliot, H. M. - Dowson, John, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. Vol 1. London, Trübner, 1867, pp. 100-112.
English translation: Harshe, R. B., “Arabic version of the Mahābhārata Legend”, Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, 2, 3/4, June 1941, pp. 314-324. [English]
Chatterji, Suniti Kumar, 1958, “An Early Arabic Version of the Mahabharata Story from Sindh: And Old Sindhi Literature and Culture,” The Indo-Asian Culture, 7, 1, pp. 50-71. Harshe, R. B., 1941, “Arabic version of the Mahābhārata Legend,” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, 2, 3/4, June 1941, pp. 314-324. Weber, Siegfried and Dagmar Riedel, 2012, “Mojmal al-tawāriḵ wa’l-Qeṣaṣ,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, available online at: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/mojmal-al-tawarik.
Truschke, Audrey, , 2019, "Mujmal al-Tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.,available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/mujmal_al-tawarih.
|Main Persian Title:||Mujmal al-tawārīḫ wa al-qiṣaṣ|
|English Translation of Main Persian Title:||Collection of Histories and Tales|
|Approximate period of composition:||1126-1131|
|Place:||Central Asia, Middle East|