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Special || Kalidasa: Interweaving Nature and the Feminine

Kalidasa

Greatest of all ancient poets and dramatists, ‘Kanisthikadhisthita’ Kalidasa is not only a source of inspiration for connoisseurs of Sanskrit literature but for aficionados of Indian Literature in general. His ornate, matured but at the same time, youthful poems appear to stem from his heart like spontaneously sprouting springs of rainy season that bears the potential to make the world content.

Nature and women were two favourite subjects of the poet’s community wherein their collective poetic wisdom would wander in search of poetic stimulation. But unlike other poets, Kalidasa has not only depicted nature in alamban, uddipan, or alankarika forms and women as only a feature of the meeting-separation (sanyoga-viyoga) form. The poet’s actual skill lay in showcasing the interwoven nature and woman. Kalidasa’s poems are full of interrelations between women and nature, whether woman is depicted as a companion of nature or vice versa. Kalidasa has sometimes portrayed this interrelation using figure of speech, at times he has shown the catalytic form of the same and somewhere its calm attitude has been depicted. At times, a woman has been correlated with nature and at others, nature has been associated with women.

Among all seven works of Kalidasa, two – ‘Ritusamharam’ (Description of the seasons) and ‘Meghadutam’ (Cloud Messenger) have chiefly described the myriad hues of nature and the consequent changes they tend to bring in terms of human behaviour. In ‘Ritusamharam’, as is already clear from the name itself, one can find pleasantly lyrical descriptions of the six seasons (Grishma, Varsha, Sharat, Hemanta, Shishira, Vasanta) found in India, along with perceptive descriptions of the change of human attitude and behaviour, especially that of the young lovers during these six seasons. The poet’s most illustrious verses is to be found in the lyrical poem ‘Meghadutam’ in which he has masterfully painted the transformation in human behaviour as governed by the nature in transition. Kalidasa reaches a genuine zenith of delectable artistry which is widely regarded to be unique in world literature while portraying the cloud (Megha) as messenger (dutam) who intonates the images of romance involving Yaksha and his lover. The famous western scholar Horace Hayman Wilson, the first to translate the poem into English, has said “My own thought is that we don’t have any classical or modern poems whose descriptions are more delicate and pleasing than this one” (‘Meghadutum’, Editors – Dr. Sansarchandra and Pt. Mohandev Pant, Publisher – Motilal Banarasidass, 1979).

METAPHORICAL RELATION

Painting: Nana Joshi

Alankaar is of two types- ‘shabdaalankaar’ (beauty of sound) and ‘arthaalankaar’ (beauty of meaning). Kalidasa has used ‘arthaalankar’ more than the former. He is renowned for his metaphors (upamaa). Using Upamaa and Utpreksha (simile), he has sharply and beautifully woven a common thread tying nature and women.

In ‘Meghadutam’, while describing the path to Alaka, Yaksha tells the cloud about the white, lofty mountain Kailasa. Yaksha says, “While wandering at will, you shall not then fail to see the city of Alaka, resting in the lap of her lover, Kailasa, with her silken robe, the Ganges, a little awry. At the start of the rainy season she bears on her tall mansions, a head dress of moist clouds like that of a fair damsel all strung with the white pearl.”

“Tasyotsange pranyin ev strastgangadukulam
Na twam dristwa na punaralkam gyasyase kaamcharin.
Ya vah kale vahati salilodgaarmuchchairvimana
Muktajaalgrathitmalakam kaminiyabhravrindam.”

 (Works of Kalidasa – C R Devadhar)

In Uttarmegha, the Yaksha describes his beautiful wife to the cloud –

“There (in Alaka) resides my wife, the Creator’s prototype of a luscious women, slender and youthful, with pointed teeth and lips red like bimba fruit, a thin waist and a glance like that of a startled deer; she has a deep navel, with a measured gait owing to the weight of the hips and she is slightly stooping from the weight of her bosom.”

In the drama Abhijnanashakuntalam (Act I), the King describes Shakuntala with the following words –

Painting: Nana Joshi

“Truly, her (Shakuntala) lower lip glows like a tender leaf, her arms resemble flexible stalks. And youth, bewitching like a blossom, shines in all her lineaments.”

“Adharah kislayragah komalvitapanukarinaw bah
Kusummiv lobhniyam yawvanmangesu sanadhham.”

(Works of Kalidasa – C R Devadhar)

Shakuntala has such personal an equation with the creepers and other green inhabitants of the forest that they understand each others’ deepest emotions. In Abhijnanashakuntalam it has been described that nature not only echoes the feelings of the persons and even the progress of their thoughts – but actively partakes of man’s joys and sorrows and gives a foreboding of the approaching catastrophe. (Works of Kalidasa, Editor: C R Devadhar).

UDDIPAK (CATALYTIC) RELATION

Nature and Women in catalytic form has been a trope employed by poets since times immemorial. Kalidasa’s poems (Kavya) is full of such uses. In ‘Ritusamharam’, there have been described six seasons and the effect they (seasons) have on women’s state of mind.

“In the rainy season, the wives of wayfarers stand disconsolate with their charming sultry cherry-like lips wetted by tears trickling from their lotus-like eyes and renounce flowers, ornaments and unguents.”

“Vilochanendivirvaribindubhi
Nirsiktbimbadharcharupallawah.
Nirrastmaalyabharnanulepanaah
Stithah niraasah pramadah pravasinaam”

(Ritusamharam, Works of Kalidasa- C R Devadhar)

Painting: Nana Joshi

“The majestic Rainy season of ‘Ritusamharam’ puts with its rainy fingers leaves and blossoms on the forest, while distant slow-moving lotus-like clouds sadden melancholy hearts of lonely women. The Hemanta season of ‘Ritusamharam’ perfectly acts as uddipak. The young Kalidasa was supremely concerned in faithfully depicting how youth reacted to the changing moods of the seasons.” (Works of Kalidasa, Vol.I, Editor: C R Devadhar).

Like these, ‘Meghadutam’, ‘Kumarsambhavam’, ‘Raghuvansham’ etc. are full of such evoking actions of nature on women.

In ‘Abhijanashakuntalam’, nature cares for Shakuntala and vice versa. When Shakuntala was leaving the ashram she asked her father and friends to care for her sisterly creepers and when her beloved female antelope shall safely deliver, they should send her someone to communicate the happy news. Even the little fawn stands in the way of Shakuntala. (Works of Kalidasa, Vol.I, Editor: C R Devadhar)

PEACEMAKING RELATION

In Kalidasa’s creation nature not only acts as evoker, but also acts as a harbinger of peace for women. In ‘Meghadutam’, the suffering women find pleasure in the first drops of the rain.

“Nakhpad sukhanprapya varsagravindu”

(Purvamegha, Meghadutam)

OTHER RELATIONS

Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Verma

Kalidasa had great skill in creating a resonance between women’s body and natural artifacts. Kalidasa has established a relation between the ripe bimba-fruit and red lips of a woman several times-

Nivibandhochhvasitshithilamyatrabimbadharanaam

Uttarmegha, Meghadutam

Umaamukhebimphaladharosthe

Kumarsambhavam

In Meghadutam (Uttarmegha), Yaksha tells his wife that he can detect a little of her form in supple vines, her glances in the eyes of a startled doe, her face in the moon. (Works of Kalidasa, Editor: C R Devadhar)

UNIFICATION OF NATURE AND WOMEN

Far from the clamour of town, Shakuntala grew in the divine lap of nature and when she was leaving the asharam of Kanva to go to Dusyanta, nature decorated (did shringaar) her, gifting from her endless bounty some choice articles that Shakuntala would treasure:

“One tree bore fruit, a silken marriage dress
That shamed the moon in its white loveliness;
Another gave us lac-dye for the feet;
From others, fairy hands extended, sweet
Like flowering twigs, as far as to the wrist,
And gave us gems, to adorn her as we list.”

(Complete Translation by Arthur W. Ryder)

This way women’s beauty is unified with nature in a unique turn of poetics.

Not only decorative unification has been attempted but emotional unification can also be seen in various texts of Kalidasa. The cooing cuckoo bids farewell to the departing Shakuntala

(Act IV, Verse 9).

“The trees are answering your prayer
In cooing cuckoo-song,
Bidding Shakuntala farewell,
Their sister for so long.”

(Complete Translation by Arthur W. Ryder)

When Shakuntala is leaving, Priyamvada tells Shakuntala that she is not the only one to feel sad at this farewell – the whole grove feels at her parting from them.

“The grass drops from the feeding doe;
The peahen stops her dance;
Pale, trembling leaves are falling slow,
The tears of clinging plants.”

(Complete Translation by Arthur W. Ryder)

Kalidasa is rightly considered as the greatest poet of ‘shringaar-rasa’ (romance, beauty etc). There are two aspects of ‘shringaar’ – sambhoga (the romance of being together) and vipralambha (sorrow of separation). Kalidasa dabbled in both with equal aptitude. Meghaduta is replete with vipralambha. Kalidasa has also used ‘alankaar’, especially ‘upamaa’ delicately and beautifully and at the precise places. In Kalidasa’s works, the beauty of nature is depicted with an assiduous elegance of metaphor (upamaa) that remains a shining exercise of the arts, peerless in world literature.

Kalidasa was a profound observer of nature. He has beautifully depicted serene ashrams, gorgeous river banks, elegant animals such as the deer etc. He has also proved his mettle as far as understanding women’s psychology is concerned. He had mastered in expressing emotions through actions. Kalidasa’s extraordinary imagination holds in perfect fusion the two elements, natural beauty and female emotions, and what he creates out of the two is nothing short of timeless and magical.

References:

    1. Works of Kalidasa, Editor: C R Devadhar
    2. Meghadutam, Editor: Sansarchandra and Pt. Mohandev Pant, Publisher: Motilal Banarasidass, 1979)
    3. Abhijanashakuntalam, Editor: Subodhchandra Pant. Publisher: Motilal Banarasidass, 1970)
    4. Ritusamharam, Editor: Vyankatacharya Upadhyaya and M R Kale, Publication: Motilal Banarasidass, 1997)
    5. Meghaduta, Translation by Leonard Nathan
    6. Complete Translation by Arthur W. Ryder []

      First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue Two: November 2015

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