The day began with Shashi Kiran’s session on appreciating Sanskrit through subhashitas and ended with a wonderful dance performance by Ramaa Bharadvaj titled Mitra, which dealt with the friendship between Krishna and Sudhama. This was followed by a creative appreciation of the dance with the artist having a discussion with Arjun Bharadwaj.
Day 8, Session 1: Mahabharata
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
Dr. Ganesh started his session by speaking about the Bharata-savitri, what can be called the Gayatri Mantra of the Mahabharata. This set of four verses in the concluding portion of the epic gives the vision of dharma. Vyasa clearly points out that dharma is not an absolute value; it is a relative value and it can be seen in human relationships so well. If one wants to take a stand, there are three possibilities – either side with dharma, or against it, or be neutral. If one is merely concerned with one’s own happiness without bothering about another, that is adharma. If one works for the welfare of all, that is dharma. Neutrality is a clever way of avoiding responsibilities and it always ends up supporting adharma. A prime example for this is Balarama. Although good at heart, he never took a stand against adharma, which only helped them.
Recalling the words of V S Sukthankar, Dr. Ganesh said that the composer of the Mahabharata had the wisdom never to simplify life. In the early portions of the epic, we find the story of Vinata and Kadru, sisters who later become co-wives. Their children, the garudas (descendants of Vinata; eagles) and the nagas (descendants of Kadru; serpents) are brothers but fight each other. This is at the level of animals. Now, at the level of humans, the Kauravas and Pandavas, who are cousins, fight each other. And at the level of deities, the suras and asuras, who are brothers, fight each other. Thus this family feud theme is constant in the Mahabharata.
There are several other minor stories enmeshed in the Mahabharata epic: the story of Kacha and Devayani, Savitri saving her husband Satyavan’s life, Ruru saving his wife Pramadvara’s life, the story of Indra and Shibi, etc. All these upakhyanas add value to the great work.
While Vyasa created his characters with so many shades of grey, it is the life of Krishna that will serve as a perfect mirror to reflect all the other characters. Krishna is the ideal against which we can contrast all other characters. The name ‘Krishna’ means ‘one who attracts.’ He is attractive and he offers refinement. Many times, people who are attractive to us might not reform us and those who can bring out a reformation in us may not be attractive, but Krishna is both. It is unfortunate that most of our later writers and poets never saw the human angle of Krishna and altogether ignored the aspect of the rajya-tantra-durandhara. Nobody cried for Krishna and he had nobody to offer him a shoulder. Even a wonderful poem like the Krishnakarnamrtam of Lilashuka is only kalapurna and not paripurna, i.e., it only artistically captures some aspects of Krishna’s life but does not examine all the emotions that he might have gone through. After all, deification distances him from us and places him on a high pedestal, thus dulling human emotions. When we see Krishna as a deity, we become insensitive to his pain and suffering.
He started out his ‘career’ trying to uplift the Yadavas. Those who were pathetic while in distress became arrogant after gaining power. He then set out to help the Pandavas, who ended up becoming self-destructive on so many occasions. His family life was never peaceful and perhaps Arjuna was the only person he loved wholly. But none were there for him even in the moment of his death. Self-illuminating at birth and self-effacing at death. So was Krishna.
Day 8, Session 2: Raghuvamsham
Shashi Kiran B N
Kalidasa’s magnum opus, Raghuvamsham, speaks about the lineage of Raghu, who belonged to the solar dynasty. This grand lineage of twenty-nine kings, built steadily over centuries comes crumbling down like a pack of cards because of one man, Agnivarna, the last king in the lineage, who succumbed to his desires.
The craving for a noble son to carry forward the lineage is a refrain in the Raghuvamsham. Kalidasa’s view is that the children are verily the ananda-granthis of the parents. Dilipa, a king of the solar dynasty and his wife Sudakshina are craving for a son. For this reason, they go to the royal preceptor, Vasishta. It is then made known to Dilipa that long ago when he was returning victorious from a war that he fought for the devas, he passed through a forest where he forgot to pay respects to the divine cow Kamadhenu. It was a transgression on his part. To repent for that, he now had to take care of Nandini, one of the cows of Vasishta. He had to go through a sattvika-pariksha, a test of his mettle. He comes out successful and begets an illustrious son named Raghu, whose might matched even Indra, the god of gods. And while describing Raghu’s dharmavijaya, Kalidasa takes the opportunity to describe the geography of the length and breadth of India. Shashi mentioned that it was not unlikely that Kalidasa himself was a widely-travelled person. Raghu was an epitome of selflessness and valour, amply demonstrated in the episode dealing with Kautsa, the student of Varatantu. When his time came, Raghu handed over the kingdom to his son Aja and went away to meditate in the forest.
Aja married a beautiful damsel called Indumati. In her previous life, she was an apsara from heaven who had been cursed to live on earth for a while. Her time was completed soon and she died an early death. This was a huge blow to Aja, who entered into depression. He leaves the kingdom to his son Dasharatha and goes away to the forest.
In his Kumarasambhavam, Kalidasa explores the theme of Rati-vilapa where the wife laments the untimely death of her husband and in the Raghuvamsham, he explores the theme of Aja-vilapa where the husband laments the untimely death of his wife.
In several places in this mahakavya, Kalidasa describes nature in its breath-taking beauty. Nowhere are these descriptions forced or extrinsic to the plot.
Day 8, Session 3: Influence of the Epics on Theatre, Films, and Culture
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
The Ramayana and Mahabharata have inspired all aspects of Indian life and culture, from literature, music, and paintings to dance, theatre, sculptures, and sports. Several of the sports and pastimes of India have been influenced by these epics, including but not limited to: Snakes and Ladders, Game of Dice, Chess, Hide and Seek, Manonmani-krida, and Gilli-Danda.
Dr. Ganesh mentioned that in the Natyashastra of Bharata, there are 10-11 varieties of rupakas (plays). In Sanskrit, several plays have been composed on themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some of the great playwrights include Kalidasa, Bhasa, Bhattanarayana, Nilakanthadikshita, Vatsaraja, Kulashekharazhvar, and Rajashekhara. We have seen that even films and tele-serials have come out on the theme of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Telugu mythological films of the yesteryear are the finest in this category. Radio plays have also been produced by Akashvani.
There is hardly any facet of life or culture of the Indian people that Vyasa-Valmiki-Kalidasa have not touched.
Day 8, Session 4: Raghuvamsham
Arjun selected the cantos 10-15 from the Raghuvamsha; these deal with the story of Rama. A study of these cantos will show us how Kalidasa looks at the Ramayana. In places where Valmiki has not elaborated or exclusively shed light upon, Kalidasa has taken up for delineation. But at no point did he sacrifice brevity while evoking rasa. In about five hundred verses, he tells the story of Rama, which is over 24,000 verses in the original work of Valmiki. Kalidasa covers in a single verse what Valmiki takes two or three cantos to describe. However, this doesn’t mean that Kalidasa didn’t respect Valmiki. He has the highest regard for the epic poet and he always refers to Valmiki as kavi (poet, seer).
It is interesting to note that in Kumarasambhavam, Kalidasa has a segment in the second canto, where Indra and the devas come to meet Brahma and shower praises on him. Later, in the sixth canto, the seven great seers shower praises on Shiva. In the Raghuvamsham, Kalidasa has a segment when the devas go to Vishnu and praise him. Kalidasa does not see a difference between the tri-murtis (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), for they are but the manifestations of the para-brahman, that is sat-chit-ananda in essence. Here, it is interesting to note that the Shiva stuti by the seven seers is without any expectation of rewards while the other two stutis by the devas is with expectation.
During several instances, Kalidasa shows us how he is a poet who caters to all the five senses. A beautiful example of this is seen in the nature description during the time Vishwamitra takes Rama and Lakshma into the forest. Like in the Kumarasambhavam, where he describes the texture of Indra’s hand while he pats Manmatha’s back, in the Raghuvamsham he describes the texture of Vishwamitra’s hands while he blesses Rama and Lakshmana.
Kalidasa brings in several aspects of the culture and tradition of those times. After the Sita svayamvara, Rama is quite clear that he doesn’t want to get married in the absence of his parents. So he invites them to come to Mithila and only then is the wedding ceremony performed. At this point, Kalidasa makes a very practical observation of how the descent of Dasharatha and his entourage greatly affected the gardens and forests around Mithila, where the Ayodhya folks camped. It shows his sensitive mind towards nature and his remarkable attention to details.
The twelfth canto of the Raghuvamsham has the core of the Ramayana story and in this canto Kalidasa composes around eighty-five verses in the anushtup poetic meter. Perhaps this was his way of paying tribute to the original of Valmiki, which is almost entirely in anushtup. Kalidasa verily understands the heart of Valmiki and respects the dispassionate treatment of the characters by the adikavi. Unlike some of our modern pseudo-writers, Kalidasa wasn’t infected by the social justice virus that is willing to sacrifice art and rasa at the altar of illusionary justice.
Arjun extensively dealt with the Sita-parityaga episode, which Kalidasa brings out brilliantly, showing the tender emotions of the pregnant Sita. She was rejected by her husband, which made even her mother, the earth, suspicious of her, for how could Rama ever err in his judgment! At this juncture, only a compassionate poet could give her solace, and that is precisely what Valmiki did. Later, after the birth of Lava and Kusha, Valmiki teaches the story of Rama to them. Eventually they go to the court of Rama and recite the Ramayana in front of him. Perhaps Valmiki wanted to use this poetic path to unite Rama with his wife through his sons. However, Valmiki was not successful, since Sita decides to give up her life after her paradoxical pronouncement, “If I have been a chaste wife, then let me be separated from my husband!” Rama’s end comes after a conversation he has with the Kala-purusha, the embodiment of Time.
Kalidasa has inspired generations of artists — poets, dancers, painters, etc. For instance, a single line of Kalidasa inspired Jayadeva to write an ashtapadi. Another line from Kalidasa was expanded upon by Bhavabhuti which became the first act of his Uttara-rama-charitam. The image of Rama-pattabhishekam which is enshrined in all later classical paintings was first given by a verse of Kalidasa. Even in the Kumarasambhavam, the image of Shiva meditating is the one that is often and often picturized by later artists.
Cover photo courtesy Chinmaya International Foundation.