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Purushottama Lal

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Purushottama Lal
Born(1929-08-28)28 August 1929
Kapurthala, Punjab. British India
Died3 November 2010(2010-11-03) (aged 81)
Kolkata, India
OccupationWriter, academic, translator
EducationM.A. in English
Alma materSt. Xavier's College, Calcutta, and the University of Calcutta
GenreIndian classics
Notable worksTranscreation of Mahabharata, Upanishads in English
Notable awardsPadma Shri, Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Western Maryland College
SpouseShyamasree Nag
ChildrenAnanda Lal, Srimati Lal

Purushottama Lal (28 August 1929 – 3 November 2010), commonly known as P. Lal, was an Indian poet, author, translator, professor and publisher. He was the founder of publishing firm Writers Workshop in Calcutta, established in 1958.[1][2]

Life and education[edit]

Born in Kapurthala in the state of Punjab, Lal studied English at St Xavier's College, Calcutta, and later at the University of Calcutta.[3] He would later teach at St. Xavier's College for over forty years.[4] A friend of Fr Robert Antoine, he aspired to be a Jesuit when young, and that haunted his entire oeuvre and life.[5]

P. Lal was Special Professor of Indian Studies at Hofstra University from 1962 to 1963, and held Visiting Professorships at many colleges and universities throughout America. These included University of Illinois, Albion College, Ohio University, Hartwick College, Berea College, and Western Maryland College.[6]

He married Shyamasree Devi in 1955, and had a son, Ananda Lal, and a daughter, Srimati Lal.


He wrote eight books of poetry, over a dozen volumes of literary criticism, a memoir, several books of stories for children, as well as dozens of translations from other languages, chiefly Sanskrit, into English. He also edited a number of literary anthologies.[7] He was awarded the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in 1969.[8]

He is perhaps best known as the translator and "transcreator" of the epic poem Mahabharata in English. His translation, which was published in an edition of over 300 fascicules since the early 1970s, was republished in a collated edition of 18 large volumes. His Mahabharata is the most complete in any language, comprising all the slokas. His translation is characteristically both poetic and swift to read, and oriented to the oral/musical tradition in which the work was originally created. To emphasise this tradition, he began reading the entire 100,000-sloka work aloud in 1999, for one hour each Sunday at a Calcutta library hall.

In addition to the Mahabharata, his translations from Sanskrit included a number of other religious and literary works, including 21 of the Upanisads, as well as plays and lyric poetry. He also translated modern writers such as Premchand (from the Hindi) and Tagore (from the Bengali).

Since his founding of Writers Workshop, he published over 3000 volumes by Indian literary authors, mostly in English, including poetry, fiction, educational texts, screenplays, drama, "serious comics," and children's books, as well as audiobooks. Writers Workshop has published first books by many authors including Vikram Seth, Pritish Nandy and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.[9]

His publishing enterprise was unusual in that he personally served as publisher, editor, reader, secretary, and editorial assistant. The books were also unique in appearance, hand-typeset on local Indian presses and bound in hand-loomed sari cloth. Writers Workshop continues to publish, under the direction of Lal's family members.

Some of the last works he was engaged in publishing were Holmes of the Raj by Vithal Rajan, Seahorse in the Sky by G Kameshwar and Labyrinth by Arunabha Sengupta.

The Mahabharata Transcreated English Verse Translation[edit]

This is the most complete translation to date. The Harivamsa Parva is still left to be "transcreated" and translated but it is not considered a part of the Mahabharata although it is considered an appendix to the Mahabharata. There are no plans for the Harivamsa Parva at present. The Mairavanacaritam is a part of Ramayana rather than the Mahabharata.

Volume Number Volume Title Sub-Parva Pages Price (INR) Translator and "Transcreator"
01 Adi Parva (The Beginning) 001–019 1208 2000 P. Lal
02 Sabha Parva (The Assembly Hall) 020–029 491 600 P. Lal
03 Vana Parva (The Forest) 030–050 1400 2000 P. Lal
04 Virata Parva (Virata) 051–054 303 400 P. Lal
05 Udyoga Parva (The Effort) 055–066 813 1000 P. Lal
06 Bhishma Parva (Bhishma/Tenacity) 067–070 797 1000 P. Lal
07 Drona Parva (Drona) 071–078 1383 1200 P. Lal
08 Karna Parva (Karna) 079 932 1000 P. Lal
09 Shalya Parva (Shalya/The Pike) 080–083 628 1000 P. Lal
10 Sauptika Parva (The Sleeping Warriors) 084–085 138 200 P. Lal
11 Stri Parva (The Women) 086–089 141 200 P. Lal
12 Shanti Parva (Peace) 090–091 (volume 1)
092 (volume 2)
1969 = 900 + 1069 4000 = 2000 + 2000 P. Lal (volume 1) Pradeep Bhattacharya (volume 2)
13 Anushasana Parva (The Instructions) 093–094 1256 3000 Pradeep Bhattacharya
14 Ashvamedhika Parva (The Horse Sacrifice) 095–096 417 300 P. Lal
14 Jaiminiya Ashvamedhika Parva (Jaimini's Version of The Horse Sacrifice) 095–096 488 500 (Flexiback), 800 (hardback) (US$70 outside India) Shekhar Kumar Sen (Editor: Pradeep Bhattacharya)
15 Ashramavasika Parva (The Hermitage) 097–099 147 150 P. Lal
15 The Jaiminiya Mahabharata (Sahasramukharavanacaritam) (The Life of the 1000-Headed Ravana) ? 805 1100 Shekhar Kumar Sen and Pradeep Bhattacharya
16 Mausala Parva (The Clubs) 100 41 150 P. Lal
17 Mahaprasthanika Parva (The Great Journey) 101 16 150 P. Lal
18 Svargarohana Parva (The Ascent to Heaven) 102 29 150 P. Lal
19 (Khila) Harivamsa Parva (The Genealogy of Hari) 103–105 ? TBA TBA

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The City Diary
  2. ^ "P. Lal | The Economist". The Economist.
  3. ^ Professor P Lal passes away Archived 25 May 2012 at archive.today
  4. ^ The City Diary
  5. ^ Lessons
  6. ^ Professor P Lal passes away Archived 25 May 2012 at archive.today
  7. ^ Writer's Workshop @ fifty
  8. ^ "Official list of Jawaharlal Nehru Fellows (1969-present)". Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund.
  9. ^ Writer's Workshop @ fifty

External links[edit]