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German scientist's karma

Julius Reubke, scientist, has translated the Bhagavad Gita into German. He plans to translate the Tirukkural too.


RIGHT FROM the time of Max Mueller, the Germans have evinced interest in India. What attracted German Indologists first were the philological similarities between German and Sanskrit (there are similarities between the Rig Veda and Zend Avestha, the holy book of the Parsis).

Although Max Mueller never came to India, he worked on Sanskrit texts, in Germany. The tradition continues to this day.

Julius Reubke, a German scientist, has translated the Bhagavad Gita into German, though the manuscript is yet to be published. His association with the Waldorf Schools brings him to India frequently.

Educated in the Waldorf tradition, Reubke grew up on Rudolph Steiner's anthroposophy. This broad instruction gave him an insight into India and he became interested in its culture. He started to read about India at the age of 12. He first visited India as a tourist in 1975 and also to see his sister who has married an Indian and has lived in Chennai since 1959. On that trip, he visited a number of places of natural and heritage interest. Since then, he has been visiting India frequently.

An organic chemist who worked with Bayer, Reubke had his first tryst with the Bhagavad Gita when his father procured a copy in 1966. His interest also stemmed from anthroposophy, which is a spiritual science. "I have read most of Steiner's books and lectures," he says. His fascination with the Gita gained ground and he studied the translations. Not satisfied with the translations, he began to read the original text. "It is difficult to understand if one does not know the old language. The ways of expression are unique," he says.

So with the aid of dictionaries and other books, he embarked on the study. Aurobindo's work on the Gita too inspired him. By spending a few hours every evening for a little more than seven years, Reubke finished translating the sacred book. During the course of this work, he sought the help of Professor Berger, an Indologist.

Was it difficult to reconcile spirituality and science (as he is a scientist)? "No. But I found it difficult to understand the translations. Also, the interpretations by the ISCKON publications had little relevance to the original text. So I found it difficult to understand this."

Being a scientist helped him adopt a systematic and methodical approach to study the Gita. Although he has translated it into German, he is yet to publish it. He has circulated it amongst his friends and interested people in Germany. "I have't got it published because I feel I need to work more on it."

Any difficulty in translation?

"It is difficult to retain the essence of the original," Reubke says. "The revelations of the Bhagavad Gita have eternal value. The text assumes more relevance in this age of globalisation. It has useful tips on the art of living."

Opinion is divided on the chronology of the scripture. Some feel different portions of the text date to different periods. But Reubke endorses the view that the text was written as a whole circa 8th Century B.C.

A polyglot, Reubke is now reading the Rig Veda. "It is not easy," he says. He has read Patanjali's Yogasutra and has started reading the English translations of the Puranas.

Seven years ago, Reubke came to India, with some students of Waldorf Schools in Switzerland and Germany, to visit a bio-dynamic cotton farm near Indore. Since then, he has been visiting the farm every now and then, educating farmers and students.

He cherishes his meeting with Rajagopal, founder of a people's movement, Ekta Parishad.

"It is not a political party, syndicate, trust or a legal forum but a people's movement supported by NGOs."

They were conducting a yatra in Chattisgarh and I went there to participate. "I wanted to learn more about tribesmen. And there I got an opportunity to interact with villagers and understand their problems. I have also attended the youth camps organised by Rajagopal, who motivates people to unite."

Reubke has met the Todas, Kurumbas and the Baigas.

"Tribal cultures seem to have been affected by the Indo-Aryan wave of civilisation. Hence, I've always had an interest in studying about tribal culture. It opens an window to world civilisations."

Reubke plans to translate the Tirukkural. "I am trying to learn Tamil."

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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