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“Satyagraha” and braille in Sanskrit

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When you think of braille, what first comes into your mind? A series of raised dots, representing printed words? Someone reading a book using only the sense of touch?

How about a libretto for Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha in Sanskrit?


Well I’m here to tell you that it exists and that the NLS Music Section is lucky enough to have a copy for interested opera fans or musicians.

Gandhi at his spinning wheel aboard ship enroute to London. Copyrighted in 1931
Gandhi at his spinning wheel aboard ship enroute to London. Copyrighted in 1931

Origins of Satyagraha

Philip Glass wrote his opera Satyagraha for the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and the opera was premiered in that city in September of 1980. The opera chronicles Mahatma K. Gandhi’s time in South Africa from 1893-1914, where he worked to overthrow the constrictive and immoral “Black Act” (as he called it), enforced by what was then the Transvaal Colony. This Act required Asians in the Transvaal to be registered with the Registrar of Asiatics or risk deportation without a trial or right to appeal. Gandhi, emboldened by this unfair discrimination of Asians (including himself), developed his notion of Satyagraha or “truth force” while advocating passive resistance and civil disobedience, and simultaneously working non-violently to repeal these prejudiced laws.

Glass co-wrote the libretto with Constance DeJong, an American artist. Much of the text is adapted from the sacred Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita, which is in Sanskrit.

Braille Sanskrit

Gandhi arrives in England Photo. Photograph copyrighted in 1931

Our version of the libretto has been adapted from a 1985 recording from CBS Records. Much different than English Braille code (now Unified English Braille, or UEB), which is what most English-speaking braille readers know, Sanskrit is written in Bhartati braille code, which is the collective code used by all the languages of India. In addition to our libretto in Sanskrit, we have an English version, and a combined version that shows the English translation with the original Sanskrit.

If you are interested in learning more about this opera, we also have a Digital Talking Book that discusses the details of Satyagraha, and also has select musical examples. This book, DBM 03213, is part of our Let’s Go to the Opera series, narrated by Ann Thompson.

The braille librettos of this opera can be directly ordered by number BRM 35790 from the NLS Music Section by eligible patrons. Please visit our catalog to find the items mentioned here, as well as other available music materials!

Are you familiar with Satyagraha, Bhartati braille code, or the life of Gandhi? If so, comment below!


Blogger’s note: The sentence that discusses the braille code for English was rewritten to reflect a more accurate description of English braille readership.

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