Kalidasa’s Meghadutam        
      No, No, No this is not your regular column. We will have a Subject Moderator for Literature and Poetry  
    in the near future. But till then … it would be a real shame to launch India without Poetry. OK ?  
       So where do we begin ?     
    Let me take you to the 4th Century A.D. The Gupta dynasty was at its height. Chandra Gupta II reigned   
    with a new name Vikramaditya. It was a time of peace and prosperity. Culturally India was influencing  
    lands as far away as Bali and Sumatra. The city of Ujjayini was a place of splendour unequalled in the  
      Sometime then an orphan Brahmin boy grew up to be a very handsome youth. His devotion to the  
      goddess Kali earned him the name KALIDASA. He probably lived in Ujjayini and became a creative  
      writer of awesome prowess.  
      This month we will take a look at his beautiful poem Meghadutam, the Cloud Messenger. I'm giving you  
    Chandra Rajan's translation as the backdrop. It's in modern English. Easy to grasp and lovely in  
    texture and feel. I'm sure you'll love it.  
    The Monsoon and Rain Clouds. That's the setting for Kalidas's love poem. It's an endorsement of the  
    prime Indian season for lovesickness, introspection, pathos and fantasy. While the West has always  
    glorified Spring, because it breathes new life after a wintry death; India revels in the Monsoon. The  
    rains bring life back after the dry death of Summer. It is The SEASON but not for the reasons that the  
    West loves the Spring for.  
What were Rabindranath Tagore's feelings on the Monsoon?
He felt that Spring was sweet and like all sweets, the palate
cannot handle too much of it. The multidimensional element
of the Monsoon poses a greater challenge to the spirit of Man,
which Spring with her one-dimensional joy, cannot compete
with. Spring is about running outdoors where the mind travels
to many directions. Monsoon is about staying in. The mind is
in one Space Time element where it introspects. I want joy
in Spring. I want to explore my soul in the Monsoon. The
Senses come alive in Spring. The Self takes charge in the
Monsoon - the subconscious need to Be, to feel my deepest
longings, my desires for all the unstated wants that constitute
my being, my core existence.
    Tagore takes this a step further and argues that in the Monsoon this element of the self, searching for  
    fulfillment, for identity, for form - creates far greater pain in lovers, separated and yearning for each  
    other, than at any other time. My need to fill up my soul's emptiness creates a heightened desire for  
      my soul companion, whose absence can become intolerable.  
      So Kalidas sets his story in the Monsoon. Where separated lovers pine in anguish more than in any  
      other season.  
      He uses a thin story line drawn from a little known tale of a Yaksha who incurred the wrath of Kubera,  
    the God of Wealth. Yakshas and Yakshis were manifestations of the Spirit of Nature. They protected  
    groves and pools. They could be mini Gaias. They had wisdom, grace and divinity. You may  
    remember the intellectual battle Yudhistir in the Mahabharat, had with a Yaksha guarding a pool. The  
    water from which he could drink only if he replied correctly to all the questions asked by the Yaksha.  
    Well, our Yaksha happened to be very lovesick and neglected his duties of guarding Kubera's beautiful  
    groves and gardens. In his absence Indra's celestial elephant Airavata ravages the gardens and  
    destroys the golden lotuses of the holy lake Manasa.  
    Kalidasa has a fascination for passionate obsessive love that overrides everything including one's  
    duty. In both Meghadutam and Sakuntala he uses this situation to explore the seeds of tragedy that  
    seem to be ingrained in love obsessions.  
      The Yaksha is banished by Kubera and separated from his loved one.   
      It 's here that our poem begins.   
      Written by Kalidasa in the difficult Mandakranta metre for 114 stanzas. A near impossible poetic  
    journey of many intellectual dimensions.  
The lost, lonely Yaksha is at Ramgiri in the Vindhya          
mountains. He is both passion filled and passion ridden.        
His anguish at being separated from his love is intense.         
He is desperate to reunite with his Yakshi and in his lovesick         
state he seizes upon the idea of making a rain cloud his         
“ The sight of rain clouds makes even happy hearts         
stir with restlessness;         
What then of one far from her who longs         
to hold him in close embrace.         
………Indeed the love sick, their minds clouded,         
confuse the sentient with the insentient.”         
    The cloud becomes the Yaksha's alter ego. It is him in spirit and thought. He invests in it  
    his love messages for his beloved. He exhorts the cloud to travel to the Himalayas where  
      his love waits for him, in anguish and pain.  
 home     The cloud's journey is seen in the Yaksha's mind's eye and this is really what the body of the poem is  
 prologue     about. The different terrains. The variety of sights. The beauty of Nature in all her glory as the cloud  
 welcome     travels from the Vindhya mountains to the Himalayas. And of course throughout the journey there is  
 contents     love play, passion, love play and passion. Because that is the dominant thought controlling the love  
 subject moderators     sick and lonely Yaksha's mind.  
          “…the unalloyed fulfillment of a lover's desire,
          tasting Vetravati's sweet waters as a lover her beloved lips.
          …the hill loudly proclaims through grottoes
          exhaling fragrances of pleasure,
          passions unrestrained of the city's youth
          dallying there in love sports with courtesans.
          …prolonging the piercing cries of love maddened saras cranes
          Refreshing to the tired limbs of women
          After passion's ecstatic play, it removes
          Their languor like an artful lover
          Playing with his love with amorous entreaties.
          ….For who can bear to leave a woman, her loins bared,
          Once having tasted her body's sweetness?”
 social landscapes      
 pot pourri      
One of my favorite stanzas, because it makes me laugh in amusement, is the instruction        
on behavior given to the cloud when it encounters women going to secret assignations.        
Here it is and do remember that it was written 1700 years ago!           
“ Young women going to their lover's dwellings at night        
set out on the royal highway mantled        
in sight-obscuring darkness you could pierce with a pin;        
light their path with streaked lightning        
glittering like gold ramp on a touchstone,        
but do not startle them with thunder and pelting rain        
for they are easily alarmed.”        
      And it gets better and better. There are myths relived in the poetic telling. Of ancient battles fought.  
      Heroes of the past come alive. Alliterative passages bring back memories of forgotten tales. Tales  
      like Indra cutting off the wings of mountains so that they stopped flying and creating havoc.  
      And the clouds which really were the cut off wings, always gravitating to the mountains. Don't they  
      even today? Kalidasa uses alliterations and subtle references to myths without detailing. Because  
      detailing would have clogged the narrative flow.  
      He compares his woman to various aspects of nature and yet cannot measure the parts to her  
      entirety. Only the totality of Nature can fulfill that fantasy.  
    The importance of Nature as a feminine entity and as an influence on our psyche, our soul and our  
    spirit is today's story of Eco-Feminism and Eco-Psychology. New subjects in a world grappling to  
    free itself from Post Modernism. So how did Kalidasa figure it all out in 500 A.D.? And how come we've  
    lost it for so long?  
    The cloud carries us to Mahakala. We witness Shiva's cosmic dance and the ethereal.We remember the  
    churning of the ocean and the drinking of poison. Then to Alaka described lovingly as the celestial  
    version of Ujjayini.  
    The alter ego meets up with the lovely Yakshi, waiting for her man and finding Time impossible to  
    live through.  
“Wasted by anguish          
She would be lying on her bed of loneliness          
Drawing herself together on one side,          
Seeming like the last sliver          
Of the waning moon on the eastern horizon.          
By my side her nights flew by          
On winged moments in rapture's fullness;          
Now they drag on heavy with her burning tears.”          
      And what of the end? Where does Kalidasa go after 110 stanzas? Not a reunion but a slice  
    of Hope because we live, travel and survive on Hope. Don't we?  
    We pay for our joys with penance. We earn our ecstasies with sufferance. Great upward surges of the  
    spirit and the senses rest upon the pillars of anguish and pain. Pleasure delayed is pleasure  
    multiplied. A message, Time's corrosive touch cannot erode.  
“…my curse shall be ended; closing your eyes               
make the four remaining months go by;               
then on autumnal nights bright with moonlight               
we two shall taste together every desire               
eagerly imagined when we were apart.               
…the lack of pleasure makes the craving intense               
for what is desired, piling it up into love's great hoard.”               
Ta, Love,               

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