Caturvidhābhinaya in the Kumārasambhava - Part 2 - The Himālayan āhārya

This article is part 2 of 9 in the series Caturvidhābhinaya in the Kumārasambhava

Kālidāsa designs his epic poem as though to bring out the philosophical journey first from the wholly material to the absolutely spiritual. The poem then tapers back to the material, but now bolstered by the spiritual. In other words, the poem begins with the most expansive elements of animated āhārya, moves on to the finer and personal elements of āhārya, proceeds into highs and lows of āṅgika and vācika and culminates in sāttvika. Bolstered by this sāttvika, the rest of the vācika, āṅgika and āhārya in the remaining part of the poem find their true meaning and place in the worldly framework.

Kumārasambhava Sarga 1

The Himalayan āhārya

The grand narrative of the epic starts off with the establishment of the landscape of the story – the primary element of āhārya – suggestion of Space. The landscape is of epic dimensions – while in the north, it is decked with the snow-clad mountain – the tall abode of solidified (pure) water – Himālaya, to the east and the west, the seas fill up the scenery – full of dynamic, deep and salty waters. The height of the Himālaya is such that he can act as the measuring stick for the entire material world. In other words, he is someone who the entire world can ‘look up’ to – both literally and figuratively - māna-daṇḍaḥ and nagādhirājaḥ, after all. The Himālaya is also devatātmā, the residence of all devas. He is grand indeed, both at the levels of adhibhūta and adhidaiva.

अस्त्युत्तरस्यां दिशि देवतात्मा हिमालयो नाम नगाधिराजः ।

पूर्वापरौ तोयनिधी वगाह्य स्थितः पृथिव्या इव मानदण्डः ।। 1.2 ।।

He is the abode of all precious gems and beautiful vegetation, as he was considered an (adopted) child by the divine and completely golden mountain Meru.

Kālidāsa is not satisfied with providing the quantitative dimensions of the āhārya, but adds qualitative dimensions too. Moreover, he portrays the manner in which the landscape of his epic poem appears at different times in the day (and at various periods in the year, as seen later in the poem).The peaks of the Himālaya are resplendent with ores of different colours – they create the illusion of an untimely and unexpected sandhyā (Verse 1.5). At night, the luminous vegetation casts light into the darkness of the caves – light that needs no oil to burn – it provides unbridled organic light for the love sports of the forest-dwellers (Verse 1.10). The poet starts establishing the context for śṛṅgāra, which needs to play a major role later in the story.

Starting from the peaks, he goes downwards in his description of the Himālaya. Siddhas take refuge in the tall sunny peaks of the mountain, to avoid getting drenched by showers from rain-bearing clouds – interestingly, clouds are found only in the ‘hip region’ of the Himālaya, as though forming an ornamental girdle.

Kālidāsa does not stop there. He is, by his very nature, a poet who triggers both the auditory and visual dimensions of the connoisseur’s imagination (and, at times, the olfactory, haptic and the gustatory dimensions too). He adds colours and texture to the āhārya and also embellishes it with vācika of music, which can potentially act as uddīpana-vibhāva for the rest of the story. He describes the (red) colour of the mineral fluids that are used by vidyādhara women to write love letters (Verse 1.7). They are anaṅga-lekhā – the writings of the bodiless one – the casting of emotion into letters.

यः पूरयन्कीचकरन्ध्रभागान्दरीमुखोत्थेन समीरणेन।

उद्गास्यतामिच्छति किंनराणां तानप्रदायित्वमिवोपगन्तुम् ।। 1.8 ||

The himālayan region is filled with the natural music ensuing from the bamboo shoots – Himālaya is pictured as a multi-mouthed flautist - blowing wind with his cave-mouths through the holes in the bamboo shoots, producing mellifluous music. This activity of the mountain also has a poetic reasoning – the Himālaya wishes to add the effect of vādya (instrumental music) and tāna (interludes) to the gīta of Kinnaras – the semi-divine being with a human face and horse’s body. It is interesting to note that he enjoys their music so much that he wants to melodically enhance and rhythmically fill in the gaps between the svaras of their high-pitched vocal music.


Texture of the āhārya and the Odour in the Region


कपोलकण्डूः करिभिर्विनेतुं विघट्टितानां सरलद्रुमाणाम् ।

 यत्र स्नुतक्षीरतया प्रसूतः सानुनि गन्धः सुरभीकरोति ।। 1. 9 ||

The poet also helps us imagine the odour in the region and says that it is scented with the latex flowing out of Sarala trees. The latex flows because, elephants rub their temples to the trees to relieve themselves of itching. The texture of the trees is also thus revealed - it should probably be coarse as it is said to provide comfort to the hard skin of the elephants as well. The region is full of snow that forms solidified blocks which hurts the sides of the toes and the feet of the Kinnara women. (Verse 1.11)


The Sanātanic Abode

The Himālaya not only hosts the bright Sun on his lower levels (Verse 1.16) but also shelters darkness in his caves (1.12). He encourages the amorous delights of demi-gods on his peaks, but protects them from embarrassment by letting clouds hang around low, like a screen on the cavern (Verse 1.14). It can be seen that there are a few references to śṛṅgāra in the environment – they can together add up to the main theme of the story.

 [It must be noted that the poet is careful to mention that it is the kimpuruṣa women who feel shy at their āhārya being removed – they possess a human body and a horse’s face. Their body feels shy like the humans – We will see later in the poem that kinnara women perspire on their faces– they have a human face and a horse’s body!].  

He houses the white lotuses on his top-most peaks. The Sun, who is in the lower zones will need to stretch his arms of rays upwards to help the flowers that are left untouched by the saptarṣis to bloom. [Those lotuses that are picked by the seven divine sages find their fulfilment by their very touch!].

Given the above features of the Himālaya, the poet naturally spells out an arthāntaranyāsa - क्षुद्रेऽपि नूनं शरणं प्रपन्ने ममत्वमुच्चैःशिरसां सतीव (1.12) – all the extremes have their place in a noble person such as him. The Himālaya is all inclusive, just as is the sanātana-samskṛti. It is no wonder that Prajāpati, the creator and the ‘owner’ of the world, decided that it is only the Himālaya who can hold the earth together - dharitrī-dharaṇa-kṣama. He even reserves a share in the yajña, to this emperor of mountains, who in turn supplies the raw material required for its performance- he is both the provider for yajña and receiver of its dividends (Verse 1.17). For the rest of the world, a grand king, but for the other mountains like Meru, the Himālaya is merely a vatsa! [यं सर्वशैलाः परिकल्प्य वत्सम् – 1.2]

The Himālayan āhārya in Nāṭya

The āhārya in the first sarga of the Kumārasambhava is hard to be captured through the elements of the traditional nāṭya. It maybe captured in a linear fashion by stylised nṛtya, but the artiste is bound to get exhausted in building up these elements of multiple dimensions and different magnitudes – there would hardly be energy left for telling the actual story. Only a 4-D movie, can probably establish some of these elements of āhārya or they might go out of reach for that medium too. After all, Kālidāsa gives material for the mind and the five senses – all at the same time, which no form of nāṭya with any amount of technology added can explicitly capture. To capture colours and odour in nāṭya is especially challenging. Only when nāṭya optimizes between the stylized and realistic modes of presentation, can it even attempt to bring in and implicitly suggest these aspects – a lesson for the practitioners of nāṭya that Kālidāsa implicitly teaches through his kāvya. Dhvani can, indeed, do wonders!


The Marriage and Children of Himālaya

Now that the maternal grandfather of the kumāra who needs to take birth is established as a mere āhārya, the poet goes ahead to talk about the maternal grandmother. The kumāra has no paternal lineage at all – let alone paternal grandparents! His maternal lineage is the best of its kind in the material world and his father is spiritual, nay, the very Spirit.

The Himālaya is sthitijñaḥ - he knows well to maintain the sthiti of the jagat, which is gati-śīla –dynamic. Yet, he wanted to let his lineage – kula – to have its stability – a worldly requirement, after all. He, thus, married the mind-born daughter of pitṛs (ancestors) called Menā who was greatly revered by the munis – the sages – too. He found a befitting companion in her and married her with the formal performance of rites.

स मानसीं मेरुसखः पितॄणां कन्यां कुलस्य स्थितये स्थितिज्ञः।

मेनां मुनीनामपि माननीयामात्मानुरूपां विधिनोपयेमे || 1.18 ||

It is quite ironical that the devatātmā, who is known to hold the earth together - a measuring stick standing high above the world - is bothered about having his permanence through his off-springs. Little does he know that his son – Maināka would run away and hide himself in the depths of the ocean. He fears to be visible on the surface of the earth, let alone hold it together and be called dharitrī-dharaṇa-kṣamaḥ. He is a blemish on the kula – the family lineage that Himālaya wants to preserve and promote. While the rest of the mountains face the brunt of Indra’s vajrāyudha, Maināka is in the safe custody of his wife – a nāgakanyā – underwaters (Verse 2.20). The daughter, on the other hand, rises above the world – both literally and figuratively. She occupies the highest peaks of the Himālaya and not only contributes for the sthiti of the kula, but contributes the Son for gati of the entire world. She stands by the ultimate ideal of the entire world being her family. The dharitrī-dharaṇa-kṣamatva manifests in a philosophical sense in the daughter.

In the verse 1.18, the poet brings in brilliant alliteration – chekānuprāsa -– an embellishment of the vācika medium. The multiple ‘ma’s and the alternating ‘na’s – all soft syllables and nasal by nature almost suggest the dalliance of Menā. A conscious connoisseur will also notice that the munis not only approved of Menā as a befitting bride to the Himālaya, but in the case of Śiva and Pārvatī, the saptarṣi­s do the bridging. Kālidāsa is consistent! The role played by the eternal and absolute brahmacārīs in the true sense of word, in the making of marriages speaks volumes.

To be continued...



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...