Day 3 started on a bright note with Dr. Ganesh speaking about the beautiful qualities of the two great epics as well as Kalidasa's creation, followed by Shashi Kiran's wonderful presentation of the seven sections of the Ramayana. The post-lunch session had a riveting presentation on Kalidasa's Kumarasambhavam by Arjun Bharadwaj and a wonderful audio-visual presentation by Nirupama Rajendra about the dance ballets produced by Abhinava Dance Company. The day ended with a fabulous Carnatic classical concert by Dr. Nagavalli Nagaraj, one of the finest exponents of the art alive today.
Day 3, Session 1
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
The qualities of Rama that are described by Valmiki in the earlier portions of the Ramayana are seen later in the actions of Rama. In general, we should respect our chosen area of specialization. Self-dignity is important. At the same time, one should not become arrogant due to their skills. Rama, as a warrior, had both kshaatra and dharma in him. He was, in the words of Valmiki, an aklishta karmaa – one who never gives the feeling that he is working hard while the reality is that he is an assiduous worker. Rama was also a cheerful person, who always smiled when he spoke.
In the story of Rama, we find viyoga – the separation of Rama and Sita. In the story of Krishna, we find atiyoga – the excessive attachment of Krishna's wives leading to several problems. While Rama had Lakshmana as a shock absorber, Krishna had none. In Krishna, we see a classicist, a complete personality. In him, deep pain sublimated to the level of peace. Krishna was not merely a lover-boy but a great warrior with unmatched valour. Krishna is hailed as the rajyatantradurandhara but over the years, our poets forgot this aspect of his. We suffered for so long because Krishna’s kshaatra was forgotten.
Whatever Krishna spoke in the Bhagavad-Gita, he had already demonstrated in his own life. He is the highest ideal available to us. He was adept in so many fields and had so many wonderful human qualities. While we may strive to achieve his state of being, we may be unable to do so and there we should take the path of Vidura, who is a great example for a person doing what best he can, given his resources and abilities. We have to internalize Krishna and Vidura, take them into our hearts, for their values to blossom in us.
It's never easy comparing one character with another. If we look at them as characters, then we must develop compassion towards all but if we look at them as people, then we may be able to show who is better than whom.
In Vyasa's conception, i.e. Krishna, we find the ideal at the level of society. In Valmiki's Rama we find the ideal at the level of family. In Kalidasa's conception of Shiva, we find the ideal at the level of the individual. While Krishna is the ideal leader, Rama is the ideal family man. Kalidasa painted Shiva as such a wonderful ideal for the individual. Similarly, in Sanatana Dharma, the concept of the four varnas work at the societal level, the four ashramas work at the family level, and the four purusharthas work at the individual level.
Why should we study Kalidasa? There are several reasons for this. The reading of Kalidasa naturally leads to purushartha mimamsa, an investigation into the fundamental goals of human life. In the Raghuvamsha, Kalidasa says:
भेजे धर्ममनातुरः ।
नसक्तः सुखमन्वभूत् ॥
Kalidasa tells us that serving the world basically means serving our neighbours and all experiences—good or bad—add to our samskara, and therefore should not evoke feelings of pride or guilt within.
A wonderful feature of Kalidasa's works is the constant contrasts between desire and death. The inherent desires of human beings work like an accelerator in a car while the fear of death works like a brake.
Kalidasa describes nature in all its glory. He makes every season beautiful and gives details of the flora and fauna of different parts of India. He takes us closer to nature. He also presents to us the variegated aspects of culture in microscopic detail. He picks up details that even Vyasa and Valmiki have missed. In his verses, we find the beauty of meter, mellifluous sounds, and references to so many arts and sciences cleverly woven into the narrative. He describes the world at three levels – at the level of the earth, at the level of the sky, and at the level of space -- the material, the emotional, and the transcendental. Having internalized all the characters of Vyasa and Valmiki, Kalidasa is able to bring out a miniature painting of the Indian ethos.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that if it is not in Kalidasa, it is not Indian.
Day 3, Session 2: Ramayana
Shashi Kiran B N
Shashi Kiran gave an overview of the all the kandas of the Ramayana highlighting various sublime and poignant episodes.
Ayodhya Kanda: In this segment, when Dasharatha calls for a meeting of his council of ministers along with the learned commoners, everyone agrees unanimously that Rama will make a great king. But the twist of fate sends him to the forest along with his beautiful wife and faithful brother. Nearing the end of this segment, Rama and Sita visit the hermitage of Atri and Anasuya. Sita was found as a baby by King Janaka and grew up motherless and in Anasuya she found a mother. Anasuya tells Sita to wear her ornaments and present herself in front of Rama, for it would bring cheer in such a melancholic phase of their life.
Aranya Kanda: But for the context in which this segment is placed, it could have well been a travelogue of three curious individuals: Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana. The emotional connect provided by Valmiki makes it all the more enriching. A beautiful exchange between Rama and Sita is seen when the sage Sharabhanga requests Rama to fights against the demons that have been troubling his hermitage. While Rama gets ready to fight the demons, Sita sweetly asks him if what he's doing is right. With equal poise and loveliness, Rama replies that it is his dharma to protect people who are in distress. The episode of Shurpanakha is filled with humour but takes on a malevolent turn leading to the abduction of Sita. When Sita is abducted, that motivates Rama—the epitome of kshatra and dharma—to fight Ravana. In the episode of Shabari, we see the blossoming of pure bhakti eventually leading to fulfillment and bliss.
Kishkinda Kanda: Rama was praised by Valmiki as one who had the ability to judge the strengths and weaknesses of others. Hanuman was no different. The moment he saw Rama and Lakshmana, he recognized their goodness even though his leader Sugriva harboured his own doubts. This leads to a wonderful point in the epic where the hero, the greatest warrior on earth, has to prove himself to a mere monkey, Sugriva. And once he becomes friends with Sugriva, Rama is given the task of killing Vali, which he does. Moments before breathing his last, Vali repents his acts and accepts death at the hands of Rama. When Vali himself accepted his fate, it's surprising that even today people who read the Ramayana with a narrow vision have a great problem with it.
Sundara Kanda: In this segment, the hero is undoubtedly Hanuman. Although Hanuman plays such an important role in the epic, the Ramayana is not called Hanumatkanda or something like that! The reason being Hanuman never wants to come in the front. He always wants to be behind Rama, quietly doing his work, never seeking the spotlight. His visit to Lanka is like a one-man commando operation and is particularly loved by generations of readers.
Yuddha Kanda: While the epics describe inner conflict so beautifully, the external war and the ghastly details of it are not particularly well described; the pulsating effects have not been brought out. Indrajit is a fitting son of his father, no less in wickedness or valour. Valmiki describes Mandodari's plight so well – neither her husband nor her son had goodness in their hearts. After the first day of battle when Ravana is routed by Rama and falls from his chariot, Rama simply lets him go, asking him to come back the next day after resting! And when Ravana dies, Vibhishana is so disgusted at his brother that he tells Rama that he won't do the last rites of his brother. Rama comforts him and asks him to do his duty, failing which, Rama says that he would do it himself! After the war, Rama crowns Vibhishana as the king of Lanka and returns.
Uttara Kanda: This segment gives us some information about Ravana's lineage and provides a backdrop to all his ill-deeds. The famous Sita-parityaga episode is from this segment. A poignant moment in this segment is the death of Lakshmana. The great warrior Rama, who loved Sita so deeply was able to manage without her for some years but when Lakshmana, his very shadow, an extension of himself, dies, he is unable to live for a single day and he enters into the Sarayu river and takes his life.
Shashi Kiran briefly discussed some of the important characters in the epic apart from those who he had already discussed in the previous session. Lakshmana and Bharata were brothers and both loved Rama but they faced different kinds of hardships. Bharata was such a character who had to prove himself at every step for no fault of his. His deep love and affection for Rama was forgotten by all when Rama was banished by his mother Kaikeyi. Bharata returns to Ayodhya from his maternal uncle's house to find that Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana are gone. Starting from Kausalya to Guha, from Bharadhvaja to Lakshmana, he had to prove his loyalty to Rama. The hardships that Lakshmana faced were far greater. In the Mayamrga episode, Lakshmana gets scolded by Sita on the one hand for not rushing to Rama's aid and then he gets chided by Rama for not protecting Sita. What a terrible situation for him to be in! After the coronation, in the Uttara Kanda, it is Lakshmana again who is ordered to leave the pregnant Sita into the forest. He had to do all the dirty work and he had to be the bad guy. Yet he never complained or made a fuss. Hanuman is another phenomenal character of the Ramayana. He could retain his composure even during distress. He is not one to act in haste. His viveka is intact at all times. He is a monkey, and sometimes shows it, but he never loses aucitya, a sense of appropriateness.
Day 3, Session 3: Kumarasambhavam
Arjun started off his talk by briefing comparing the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata with the Greco-Roman epics Odyssey and Aeneid, specifically with regard to travel. These works of Valmiki and Vyasa, Homer and Virgil deal extensively with travel because that evokes a variety of emotions. People at home may not exhibit the range of emotions that they do while travelling. In the Kumarasambhavam of Kalidasa, however, there is no physical travel. It is an inward, spiritual journey.
The Mahabharata is the story of India, Raghuvamsha is the story of a lineage, the Ramayana is the story of a family, and the Kumarasambhavam is the story of one man – Shiva. An epic poem in eight cantos with less than eight hundred verses, it is crafted so perfectly by Kalidasa that not even a single verse or word can be removed from it. We can have a condensed version of Vyasa-Valmiki or Homer-Virgil but not this work of Kalidasa. Like the ashes of the body of Shiva that cannot be subject to further reduction, the Kumarasambhavam is a perfect epic poem.
We know very little about Kalidasa in historical terms but we know so much about him through his works. That is the case perhaps with every great artist, and Kalidasa is no different.
The Kumarasambhavam is about the birth of Kumara, who is also known as Skanda or Subrahmanya. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati, the perfect combination of braahma and kshaatra. The beauty of this epic is not just in the story but also in the details. It is interesting that Kalidasa composes no invocatory verse for Kumarasambhavam; perhaps every verse is dedicated to lord Shiva!
Day 3, Session 4: Dance Ballet Productions of Abhinava Dance Company
Nirupama shared the story behind the making of three dance productions of Abhinava Dance Company, which she founded along with her husband Rajendra. These dance ballets are based on the works of Vyasa, Valmiki, and Kalidasa. She shared stories of how the choreography was done, how the music was composed using several Indian and Western ideas, how the rehearsals were carried out, and how the use of lights, stage space, and costumes gave the desired effect. The lyrics for all three dance ballets were penned by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.
Nirupama mentioned how the works of Vyasa, Valmiki, and Kalidasa were interconnected and how they are so well integrated with all Indian classical arts. It is possible to connect with these epic works even today and that was the motivation for them to pursue these dance ballets. The primary aim was to entertain the audience, get them to celebrate these works, and lose track of time. She said how the works of these great masters were the maarga that gave rise to so many deshis.
She showed the participants video clippings of these performances and stopped in between to explain the nuances. A segment from the Abhijnana Shaakuntala showed sambhoga shringara, the story of Abhimanyu from the Mahabharata displayed the vira rasa, and the Ramakathavismaya was a fantasy – a take on the Ramayana story in context of Lilashuka's verse in the Krishnakarnamrta, which deals with Yashoda telling the story of Rama to Baby Krishna.
Cover photo courtesy Chinmaya International Foundation.