Kālidāsa - 6

This article is part 15 of 18 in the series Poets on Poetics: Literature as Sanskrit Poets See It

Let us proceed to the sixth act of Abhijñānaśākuntala. Duṣyanta has made a painting of Śakuntalā. The vidūṣaka takes one look at it and exclaims: “Madhurāvasthāna-darśanīyo bhāvānupraveśaḥ,” “You have sketched her posture so charmingly that real emotions seem to enter the painting!” (Loose translation.) These words are of supreme significance to aesthetics. Duṣyanta’s brimming love for Śakuntalā has been reflected in the painting and has made it attractive in every aspect. While conceiving a piece of art, an artist should transcend his personal biases and preferences. He should involve with equal love and interest in every small detail of his creation. He should submit himself to it completely. Otherwise, the creation will not be beautiful. The beauty of art lies in the artist’s ability to enter his creation emotionally. The artist should visualize and depict every episode and character with equal love. In a sense, this is like the Creator showering compas-sion on all aspects of creation without a hint of disparity.


Taittirīya-upaniṣad says that Prajāpati created the world and entered it himself: ‘Tat sṛṣṭvā tadevānuprāviśat’ (2.6.6).[1] If the Creator were not to enter the world of his creation, he would have been an external entity to it. He would then have been like a hard-hearted dictator. Semitic cults imagine the Creator in this way, not Sanātana-dharma. In our view, brahma is both the material and efficient cause of the world (upādāna- and nimitta-kāraṇa). The world, its creator, the entity that pervades it – everything is brahma. Consequently, the three cardinal attributes of brahmasat, cit and ānanda—are embedded in the world as well. To grasp this fascinating relationship between brahma and the world, one should be free of personal likes and dislikes.


Compared to Prajāpati’s creation, the poet’s world is tiny. The poet is only an efficient cause. Material cause constitutes language in the form of words and meanings. If a poet thinks it is all right to remain external to his creation because he is only an efficient cause, his creation will not rise to the level of true poetry. Unless a poem is suffused with emotions, it will not have the ability to evoke rasa. To create good poetry, the poet should first become a connoisseur of Prajāpati's creation. He should enjoy the world as he would a poem and experience its rasa within himself. Later, he should conceive of a poem by giving a verbal shape to his surcharged emotions. The poet’s emotional richness is decisive. No less an aesthetician than Ānandavardhana has underscored its importance.[2]        


Later in the play Duṣyanta sees a bee in the painting and recalls the one that had troubled his beloved in the first act. He gets disturbed. Mistaking the painting he has himself made to be reality, he turns frantic. This is an example of a poet identifying too much with his work, leading to emotional disturbance. Indian aesthetics warns us against it.


In this manner, the insights that Abhijñānaśākuntala provides illumine the very heart of aesthetics.


Let us now move on to Kālidāsa’s epic poems. Kumārasambhava does not have many instances that are significant to literary theory. Nonetheless, its flawless aesthetic structure stands as an eternal model for poets. In this aspect it is similar to that other fascinating creation of Kālidāsa: Meghadūta. Indeed, this is true of all the works of Kālidāsa. We have thus far considered three plays whose prologues contained insights into literary theory. Kumārasambhava is an epic. Its structure precludes a prologue. Besides, the poet has begun the work by introducing Himālaya directly. This compels us to read between the lines and grasp insights into literary theory. An event in the third canto provides a wonderful opportunity to grasp such suggestions.  


Pārvatī arrives to serve Śiva who is absorbed in meditation. Manmatha considers her arrival as the perfect opportunity to shoot his floral arrow. Pārvatī readies herself to offer a japa-mālā to Śiva, which is made from the seeds of lotuses that bloom in the divine river Gaṅgā. When Śiva looks at her, a hint of desire sprouts in his heart. The poet says:


हरस्तु किञ्चित्परिलुप्तधैर्य-
श्चन्द्रोदयारम्भ इवाम्बुराशिः।
उमामुखे बिम्बफलाधरोष्ठे
व्यापारयामास विलोचनानि ॥
(३.६७)     


Śiva was stirred for a moment like an ocean at moonrise. He ran all his three eyes over Umā’s berry-like, beautiful lips.


The beauty of this verse cannot be captured in translation. Every word here is awash with poetic suggestion. However, even a simple paraphrase opens a world of meaning-based suggestions. The word vilocanāni used in the plural indicates that even Śiva’s third eye termed jñāna-netra lodged itself on Pārvatī’s lips. The word ‘Hara’ signifying Śiva is also suggestive. The poet says he lost dhairya – mental strength and composure. In this context, the imagery of an ocean rising at moonrise is apt, because the moon controls the mind.


Mahākavi Kālidāsa has here brought down his upāsya-devatā from the pinnacle of perfection for a moment. By this he has succeeded in humanizing Śiva and creating rasa as a result. A moment’s slip from the summit of perfection serves only to remind us of Śiva’s greatness.[3] Characters that do not include shades of gray like this end up being flat; they can never be well-rounded. Classical literature, which prides itself on typification, often provides a free stage to such characters. Only a handful of great poets such as Kālidāsa have steered clear of this problem.

____________________________________________

[1] The prefix anu used both in the mantra and Kālidāsa’s verse is noteworthy. Ānandavardhana explains that every small literary detail can be suggestive (Dhvanyāloka, 2.16). This is a telling example of it.

[2] शृङ्गारी चेत्कविः काव्ये जातं रसमयं जगत्।
स एव वीतरागश्चेन्नीरसं सर्वमेव तत्॥ (ध्वन्यालोकः, ३.४२ परिकरश्लोकः)


The word śṛṅgārī here does not connote a poet who has a penchant for śṛṅgāra-rasa. Neither does it imply that the poet is excessively interested in material indulgence. It simply means an emotionally rich person. If we take the word śṛṅgāra to mean an agency that leads one to the summit of experience, then śṛṅgārī would mean one who has experienced emotions at their zenith. (Yena śṛṅgaṃ rīyate sa śṛṅgāraḥ. For this explanation of the word, refer: Bhoja's Śṛṅgāraprakāśa, p. 453.) This is Ānandavardhana’s intent.

[3] I am indebted to my friend H A Vasuki for this insight.

To be continued.

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

Translator(s)

About:

Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

Prekshaa Publications

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