“The Book of Mormon in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu,” Ensign, Feb. 1983, 78–79
Translation of the Book of Mormon into languages spoken throughout the world has reached another milestone. Recently this latter-day testament of Jesus Christ was published in three of the most widely spoken languages in India, the second most heavily populated country in the world.
The 224 million who speak Hindi as a primary language, and the many others who speak it as a second language, now have access to a translation of the complete Book of Mormon. Translations of selections from the latter-day scripture are also available to the 55 million who speak Telugu and the 55 million who speak Tamil.
“Translation of the Book of Mormon and the other standard works of the Church, along with other Church-related materials, upon approval of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, is one of the most effective ways of opening doors to peoples of other cultures who need the gospel,” says Eb Davis, director of the Church’s Translation Division. As soon as the scriptures and other Church materials have been translated and printed in a particular language, people who speak that language begin clustering around them. Soon they and many others with whom they come in contact become converted to the gospel.
Already the Church has a number of Indian members, some in Samoa, England, and Fiji. The Church is not now actively proselyting in India, however, and missionary work is therefore primarily one of preparation and pioneer effort.
Languages spoken in countries such as India are relatively new to the Church, which has brought about a need for Book of Mormon Selections in some cases instead of the full translation. “Book of Mormon Selections is a compilation of different parts of the book that have been approved by the Quorum of the Twelve,” explains Lowell Bishop, one of the supervisors of the Emerging Languages section of the Translation Division. The selections relate the basic story of the Book of Mormon and include chapters that deal with the Atonement and other major teachings of the Church.
In some of the languages in which the Church has just begun work, translators as well as members are few, making the translation process a rather difficult and lengthy one. The full Book of Mormon generally has taken anywhere from five to ten years to complete, including the time required for printing. Selections can be produced much more readily and allow for feedback and revisions more easily than the full book. Until a complete translation is made available, the approved selections make it possible for new members and investigators to gain access to the Book of Mormon’s basic teachings of the gospel.
Groundwork for the Hindi translation was laid in the mid-1970s. Upon approval from the Brethren, Vijendra Sharma, a nonmember linguist living in Fiji, was asked to help with a translation of the Book of Mormon and he began his work in 1975. The text was then reviewed by several others and the polished translation, completed early in 1980, was typeset sometime later in New Delhi, India. Three thousand copies were printed in 1982 in Hong Kong, where most of the copies are stocked at the local Church distribution center.
Daniel K. Shanthakumar, a member of the Church from Coimbatore, India, was asked in 1979 to translate the Book of Mormon into Tamil for Selections. After the text was reviewed in 1980, it was prepared for typesetting and printing in Sri Lanka, where it came off the press in mid-1982. Copies of this translation are stocked in Sri Lanka.
The Telugu translation was one of “spontaneous effort,” according to Brother Davis. Translation of Church materials into Telugu was approved in 1980, and by early 1981 the entire Book of Mormon had been translated into that language by Reverend P. Sreenivasam, an ordained Baptist minister. The reverend became aware of the Book of Mormon after his daughter Elsie became interested in the Church and was baptized with her husband, Dharmaraju Edwin, in early 1977 in Western Samoa. Although eighty-two years of age and seriously ill, Reverend Sreenivasam felt a strong urge to translate into Telugu what he felt was a book of great value, and he began to do so immediately—at the rate of a little more than one page per day.
As soon as the translation was completed, Brother and Sister Edwin typed the 700-page manuscript and delivered it to the First Presidency in March 1981. The text was then reviewed by others, and selections from this translation were approved by the First Presidency. These were taken to Osmania University Press in Hyderabad, India, for typesetting, after which the typeset pages were returned to Salt Lake City, where the Telugu Selections was printed. This translation is available through area Church distribution centers.
Because of Brother and Sister Edwin’s devotion to the gospel, more than twenty of their own family members are now members of the Church in India. At the time of their baptism, Brother Edwin, a government scientist, was stationed in Apia, Western Samoa, to help local agriculture experts control tropical insect pests.
Prior to teaching their family members in India, the Edwins sent them by air cargo almost 500 pounds of Church materials—among them copies of the Book of Mormon, Bibles, hymn books, pamphlets, and tapes. The materials were donated by friends in Western Samoa. Ralph G. Rogers, Jr., Regional Representative for Samoa, at that time, coordinated the effort.
In December 1977, several months following their baptism, the Edwins returned to India to celebrate the marriage of their daughter Lata in Hyderabad. Here they had the opportunity to talk to family members about the Church and distribute copies of the Book of Mormon. Their families took an active interest and wanted to know more.
Upon their return to Apia, Samoa, the Edwins began receiving letters from their families in India asking for more information about the Church.
Several months later the Edwins were called, much to their surprise, to go to India as the missionaries they had requested for their families. They were set apart 22 October 1978, and Brother Edwin was given the authority to baptize and ordain to the Aaronic Priesthood and to organize small units of the Church. The Edwins arrived in India around the middle of December of that year and immediately began teaching their families. By December 28, Brother Edwin had baptized twenty-two family members and later ordained four to the Aaronic Priesthood. Soon after, a branch of the Church was organized in Hyderabad, with Victor David as branch president.
Members of the Church in India are, like Brother and Sister Edwin and their five children, very faithful. About half of the members there are of Indian extraction. According to Brother Edwin, the Church’s strong belief in the family and its strict standards concerning total abstinence from alcohol will help the Church to be accepted in India. The people of that country are known for their strong family ties, for their preference for simplicity in living, and for their deep devotion to religious principles.
Both Dharmaraju and Elsie Edwin feel that their part in the Telegu translation is their “greatest, single humble contribution to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in India.” Brother Edwin has emphasized that “we just cannot visualize the impact this book will have on the more than 40 million people living in Hyderabad State [alone]. … Whatever work we did in India is just a minute droplet in the ocean. … There is a vast potential for the Church in India.” (History of the Telegu Translation, photocopy in the Translation Division, pp. 6, 7.)
With the full Book of Mormon in Hindi and Selections in Tamil and Telugu, translations of the Book of Mormon into languages spoken around the globe now number fifty-two. Still others are in process. The Indian translations of this latter-day testament of Christ are bringing about an even greater opportunity for Church members to realize more clearly than ever that the gospel is universal in its nature, and the scriptures worldwide in their scope.