The second day of the Summer School jointly organized by Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth and Chinmaya International Foundation took the participants into a wonderful journey into the past. Starting off with an overview of the poets, it took everyone on the path of Rāma, helped them make friends with Kālidāsa and Guṇāḍhya, gave an artistic and insightful glimpse into the Pañcatantra, and finally concluded with a wonderful Hindustani classical music performance by Swapnil Chaphekar and Pramodini Rao.
Day 2, Session 1: Vyāsa, Vālmīki, and Kālidāsa
Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh
Who is Kālidāsa? He is a devotee of Kāli, the consort of Kāla, or Mahākāla, the famed deity that presides over Ujjain. Kālidāsa observes the cosmic play between Kāla and Kāli. He represents the inseparability of Śiva and Pārvatī; the inseparability of form and content. There might be an inherent dichotomy between intent and expression in life but in art, these become inseparable. While life is unconscious play, art is conscious play. Kālidāsa teaches us that life should become great art.
Dr. Ganesh explained the difference between Vyāsa-Vālmīki and Kālidāsa using the example of classical music. While the composers of the epics are like ghana rāgas, which can be sung for hours, Kālidāsa is like a short, peppy film tune that has the essence of the rāga. While Vyāsa and Vālmīki are like granaries, Kālidāsa is like the delicious food served on a silver plate. Kālidāsa is the successor of Vyāsa in essence and Vālmīki in structure. While Vyāsa-Vālmīki emphasize on dharma and mokṣa, Guṇādhya emphasize on artha and kāma, and Kālidāsa sums up all the four puruṣārthas.
Dr. Ganesh underscored the importance of Culture being rooted in Nature; if culture is not aligned with nature, then it becomes a pseudo-culture. Veda is a grand representation of such culturing. Veda basically means absolute knowledge. We must remember that it is no different from absolute joy. After all, what is the use of knowledge that doesn’t lead to ānanda? What is the use of knowledge whose very nature is pain? When the Upaniṣads proclaim “Satyaṃ jñānaṃ anantaṃ brahma” they are all but synonyms. Veda is ānanda.
How are Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata related to the Vedas? They too are Vedas in their own right, in the sense that they have the same vision as the Vedas. However, we should never forget that first and foremost they are pure poetry that leads to rasa, in turn leading to ānanda. The Mahābhārata serves as a bridge to anything sacred – places or people.
The epic of Vālmīki has three names: Rāmāyaṇa, Sītācaritam, and Paulastyavadha. While Rāmāyaṇa is the path of Rāma, Sītā treading of Sītā that path is the Sītācaritam, which in turn led to the destruction of Rāvaṇa, i.e. Paulastyavadha. It was Sītā’s love for Rāma that eventually led to the destruction of Rāvaṇa. Sītā’s valour is in her deep love for Rāma. In spite of their separation—by mountains and oceans—Rāma and Sītā continued living in the hope that their beloved was alive. Vālmīki’s subtle art comes to play at so many instances in the epic.
Rāvaṇa had so much of wealth and strength; he was a powerful ruler. And yet, he was unable to coax Sītā into submission. He was helpless in front of this young girl. The reason for this was that he did not approach any woman with a sense of surrender. Rāma and Sītā had surrendered to each other, which resulted in a beautiful marital life. That is the reason they are hailed as the ideal couple. And Vālmīki’s epic teaches us that we too can rise to that level. Indian society is facing a great challenge, that of restoring the institution of marriage and the family values. In this battle against the erosion of values, it is Vālmīki and Vyāsa who will come to our aid and not the modern storytellers who are intent on disfiguring these epics.
That said, it is not that the heroes of our epics are beyond all faults. In fact, when Rāma has to abandon Sītā owing to many social factors, it is the author of the epic, sage Vālmīki himself who takes care of Sītā. It is in his hermitage that she gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kuśa. It is Vālmīki who grooms them to the level of Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. The twin boys have the privilege of first learning the Rāmāyaṇa. Vālmīki shows us the dignified way to offer a criticism of a hero by taking sides with Sītā.
Dr. Ganesh emphasized that it would be an injustice to the poet if we impose all sorts of interpretations and theories on Rāmāyaṇa – be it religious extrapolation, pseudo-science, pseudo-philosophy, feminism, subaltern views, etc. Instead we should respect the poet’s humanity and savour the poem’s rasa, which will naturally lead us to ānanda. Indeed, there is no harm in having a constructive difference, for it eventually leads to harmony. However, a forced unity with malignant intentions can only lead to eternal divergence.
While Vālmīki’s epic is called Rāmāyaṇa, the path of Rāma, Vyāsa’s epic is called Mahābhārata and not Kṛṣṇāyaṇa or Arjunīya! The Mahābhārata is the story of India itself. It is an encyclopaedia of India and Indian culture. It is not connected merely with one person or one family or one theme. It relates to the whole of the culture. It is a work that enlightens and delights. It contains so many worlds within it.
The main antagonists in the epic are the duṣṭacatuṣṭaya – Duryodhana, Duśśāśana, Karṇa, and Śakuni. Among these, many people have a great fascination for Karṇa; such people should look into the life of Vidura. He was of a lower birth compared to Karṇa, he wasn’t a ruler of any kingdom, nor was he particularly a great warrior. But he never complained about his birth or his circumstances. By the dint of his hard work and intelligence, he gained respect and recognition. It is noteworthy that neither Duryodhana nor Karṇa had regard for Vidura!
Kunti was a great woman and a great mother. After the war, when Vyāsa makes an appearance after Vidura’s death, Kunti meets him. She expresses her grief for the crime she committed as a young girl, of discarding her newborn child. At this point, the compassionate Vyāsa tells her: "सर्वं बलवतां पथ्यम्" (All actions of the strong are agreeable!)
Vyāsa had great kindness even towards people who have erred. He displays compassion towards all his characters – be it Draupadi or Gāndhāri, Bhīṣma or Karṇa. Vyāsa’s greatest creation is Kṛṣṇa, a character who is peerless in past or present. He is a self-chiselled vigraha, a master of yoga. A person who can truly understand the life of Kṛṣṇa will know the essence of India.
Dr. Ganesh concluded the session with a Q&A during which he stressed the importance of drawing value from the epic rather than blindly examining the facts. Whether a verse is interpolated or not shouldn’t be our approach. Instead, we should ask ourselves if it evokes rasa.
Day 2, Session 2: The Rāmāyaṇa
Shashi Kiran B N
There is no Rāma without the Rāmāyaṇa. We know the man and god because of the epic of Ādikavi Vālmīki that set the tone for all future kāvyas of India. In the creation of such an epic, it is not just the influence of the time and the place but also the pratibhā (innate talent) of the poet and the rāsikya (art appreciation capacity) of the sahṛdaya (connoisseur). It is the sahṛdaya who enjoys the art and then becomes a means of sharing the joy of art. Bhāradvāja was such a sahṛdaya to Vālmīki.
Shashi Kiran spoke about Vālmīki’s compassion that was so deep, not just towards humans. The killing of a kraunca bird (while mating with its beloved) by a hunter evoked such sorrow in him—a former hunter—that he spontaneously composed a verse. Unable to tolerate that assassination of joy, he uttered words of lament that took the shape of a verse set to a poetic meter. This aucitya (appropriateness of artistic usage) that gave the poet strength, thus giving rise to a rasa-filled work, the consumption of which makes life more meaningful. In this process, it is essential for the connoisseur to willingly suspend his disbelief.
Shashi Kiran spoke about the conception of Dr. Ganesh – ānanda ṛṇa – the debt we repay to people who bring us joy through their art. When a sahṛdaya realizes his own self through the creation of a great kavi, naturally a sense of gratitude arises in him. In fact, when Rāma, the hero of the epic, heard his twin sons reciting his life story, he was so enamoured by it. He wanted to share his joy of listening to it with everyone.
Rāma had great courage and strength. He was a true kṣatriya. When he went to Mithila, he had genuine interest to know more about the Śivadhanus, which he eventually broke as if it were a toy. As an upright person, Rāma got whatever he wanted without ever asking for it. But a twist of fate also took away everything from him. He had to let go of everything, which he did without a complaint. He took his father’s words seriously. The killing of the kraunca bird – the killing of joy – is a recurring motif in the Rāmāyaṇa. At the age when Rāma was brimming with youth and energy, an age when he should have been pampered and supported, he was sent off to the forest. After Sītā is abducted, Rāma is so helpless. He is forced to take the help of monkeys. He befriends another soul in distress, Sugrīva.
While Rāma has a great deal of asceticism in his conduct, he is also an emotional person. He cries, he laughs, he gets furious, and he forgives with compassion. He protects lives and also takes them when needed. He kills Rāvaṇa, the greatest warrior of his time. Rāvaṇa is no ordinary man. He is the perfect villain: A great warrior, a scholar, and an artist, but lacking in dharma.
Shashi Kiran mentioned how the Sītā-parityāga episode has been a much debated one. Justice is on Sītā’s side but one cannot hold anything against Rāma. The mutual affection between Rāma and Sītā was immense. When Rāma was banished to the forest for fourteen years, he never asked her to go with him. She went of her own accord. And not once did she repent her decision, in spite of all the trials and tribulations they went through. They were an ideal couple and several later poets too have dwelt on this śṛṅgāra aspect.
Anyone who has a feeling for these characters—perhaps thinking of them as family members or friends—will naturally be moved by Vālmīki’s writing. The poet captures such subtle emotions and nuances! Just as an example, when Viśvāmitra comes to the court of Daśaratha and asks for Rāma to be sent with him, Lakṣmaṇa also joins Rāma although Viśvāmitra has not specifically mentioned him. It is unthinkable for him to be without his brother. Rāma lived for so long without Sītā but he gives up his life the day after Lakṣmaṇa dies.
The manner in which the characters turn out is both unpredictable and enjoyable. Viśvāmitra becomes a mentor to Rāma, who is already a highly motivated and inquisitive young boy keen on knowing more about the world. Kaikeyi, Rāma’s stepmother who loves him suddenly changes her mind and punishes him with her cruel requests. The people of Ayodhya who loved Rāma and Sītā so much that they were willing to join them in the forest, after a gap of fourteen years, ended up becoming the reason for the separation of the divine couple.
The Rāmāyaṇa forms the basis of Indian culture and it has had a lasting influence on world literature and also on several art forms.
Day 2, Session 3: Kālidāsa and Guṇāḍhya
Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh
People say that Kālidāsa was a shepherd who attained poetic genius by the grace of Kāli. To say that his poetry is a divine gift is merely an endorsement of his talent. Only a remarkably gifted poet can compose a perfect poem like the Meghadūtam. In some sense, we are all poets at heart; if we have the power to feel, then we are poets. Not everyone might have the talent to give expression to emotion, but there is a poet hidden in all of us.
Reading the works of Kālidāsa is like having a friend next to you. Kālidāsa is that friend, sitting beside you, patting your shoulders, and introducing you to the wonderful world of beauty that you perhaps missed in your fleeting glances of the world, buried in your own troubles and unable to see beyond yourself. Dr. V Raghavan says in his illuminating book on the Kavikulaguru that Kālidāsa is both an attractive and reliable proponent of Indian heritage. Kālidāsa’s poetry is so powerful that his predecessors were hurled into oblivion while his successors were modelled after his compositions. Kālidāsa can convert a Comedy, a frivolous and light-hearted theme into a Tragedy, an emotion-rich and profound work, thus connecting us with the Divine Comedy of saṃsāra and helping us transcend it.
Kālidāsa, the alchemist poet, transformed everything into gold. A consummate polymath, he was skilled in several arts and śāstras, and that knowledge comes out naturally in his plays and poems. We find so many riveting details in his works, be it about music, dance, sculptures, paintings, or even the elaborate rituals that are part of the ṣoḍaśa saṃskāras. He gives us an approach to both the arts and the rituals. It’s not surprising in the least that he has been the inspiration for generations of artists.
Kālidāsa, the national poet of India, has truly described India in its entirety. Knowing him is knowing India.
Kālidāsa is a poet of niceties. He writes in such a manner that one is bound to agree to that Sanskrit is poetry. It is music. It is a dance of sound. He has an uncanny knack of depicting contrast. He can be a sweet bard singing a song filled with hope and romance and he can be a curt poet chanting verses of harsh reality. In the ninth canto of Raghuvaṃśam he says that life is an accident and death is an incident:
मरणं प्रकृतिः शरीरिणां
विकृतिर्जीवितमुच्यते बुधैः ।
यदि जन्तुर्ननु लाभावानसौ ॥
Guṇāḍhya was a great poet of the spoken dialect of Sanskrit, i.e. Prakrit. He was in the kingdom of Śātavāhana at Paithan (Pratiṣṭhāna) in Maharashtra, on the banks of Narmada. Hāla Śātavāhana is famous for compiling the Gāhāsattasayī, an anthology of seven hundred poems by three hundred poets.
The story goes that Guṇāḍhya lost a bet and was forced to abandon composing in Sanskrit. He went away to the forest to meditate when he meets a ghost who tells him numerous stories that Śiva had told Pārvatī.
In Guṇāḍhya, there are all kinds of stories and plot structures. It is so easy to find characters like ourselves in his writing. His Bṛhatkathā is a festival of imagination. If Vālmīki can be likened to the Ganga, Vyāsa is like the Yamuna, and the largely unknown Guṇāḍhya is like the Saraswati, while Kālidāsa is the ferry man who helps us traverse across these great rivers. If Vālmīki and Vyāsa are the ṛṣis of saṃskṛti, Guṇāḍhya is the ṛṣi of prakṛti.
Day 2, Session 4: Holy Allegory – Translating Tradition for Young Audiences
Prof. Ramaa Bharadvaj
Ramaa Bharadvaj spoke about her dance-theater production based on the Pañcatantra, a derivative of Guṇāḍhya’s Bṛhatkatha. She said that if we retell our stories through art, then rasa is kept alive. Pañcatantra is a nītiśāstra, which is more than 1,500 years old. It is said that King Amaraśakti told a great scholar Viṣṇuśarma to teach the art of statecraft to his three sons who were dullards. It contains eighty-six clever and witty fables divided into five treatises.
Viṣṇuśarma seems to have used animals to explain these concepts because animal characters have the power to touch the delicate parts of the human psyche. Perhaps the author of this work felt that the equilibrium of nature should be brought into us to find the equilibrium in our minds.
Ramaa Bharadvaj created her dance-theatre production with a view to promote ecological values. One of the key questions that she asked herself during the inception stages was what the Indian diaspora was doing for their culture. Were we using cultural pillows to cure our home-sickness? Aren’t the first trans-national audiences our own children?
In this production, she selected one story from each treatise of the Pañcatantra, each in a different language (Telugu, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, and Tamil). The music was composed by the renowned singer Rajkumar Bharathi.
While choreographing the dance-drama, she wanted to empirically translate the emotions using animals in human form based on her observation of various animals. She said, “We were not humans acting as animals but animals acting as humans.” She induced a great deal of spontaneity both in the rehearsals and the performances. For fifteen years, the production was in the repertoire of her dance company. Apart from taking this beautiful production to over 20,000 children in the US, she also conducted forty intimate workshops for underprivileged children using this theme. She showed snippets from the dance-drama, which was received by the audience with great cheer.
Ramaa Bharadvaj concluded her presentation by mentioning that being original is not so much about creating something new but rather about going to the origin, the very roots of our culture. She also stressed on taking culture to children and planning our performances specifically for children and not adulterating them!