The Prem Sagur
of Lallu Lal
translated by W. Hollings
The Prem Sagar was one of the first books published in modern Hindi, written in the Delhi dialect which was eventually adopted as one of the official national languages of India. It is the tale of the deeds of Krishna, the invincible avatar of Vishnu. Based on the tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana, the Prem Sagar, which means 'Ocean of Love,' (one of Krishna's epithets) was composed by Lallu Lal between 1804 and 1810. Lallu Lal's retelling of this traditional cycle of legends of Krishna is distinguished by naturalistic dialog and frank sensuality. The narrative overlaps with the Krishna section of the Vishnu Purana (also at this site). While the Prem Sagar is not considered part of Hindu scripture per se, it is popular because it makes this portion of the Purana narrative accessible to Hindi speakers who don't know Sanskrit.
Krishna is a complex character. His story is a huge mares' nest of archetypes and folklore motifs. He is spirited away to the countryside because of a prophecy of regicide, evading a massacre of innocents. In his youth he is the pastoral trickster, whose stunts eventually arouse the ire of the gods themselves. Part Coyote, Heracles, and Dionysus, the adolescent Krishna becomes the beloved of all of the women of the village, (chastely) consorting with all of them in turn. He battles monsters and demons in epic battles. As his destiny unfolds, he is lured into the city, where he overcomes the evil king in single combat, taking his place. As a ruler, Krishna is a mighty warrior with a plethora of gorgeous wives. However, he remains a man of the people. The royals constantly harp on his cow-herding origins. The mature Krishna showers spiritual and material rewards on his friends regardless of their place in the social hierarchy.
We don't know of any English translations of the Prem Sagur currently in print. There were at least two during the 19th century. This was the only one we were able to obtain. Hollings, who was apparently a British officer, translated the Prem Sagar into clear, modern English, and produced a lively, very readable version. The only minor hurdle for contemporary readers may be his use of ù, u, and occasionally ú to transcribe short a. Thus we get Krishnù for Krishna, Brahmù for Brahma, etc. He also uses ee for long i and oo for long u. In addition, he emulated Hindi's tendency to drop final vowels, which makes some of the names difficult to associate with the Sanskrit equivalent. However, as is the practice at this site, we have reproduced the original system of transcription as closely as possible.