Day 5, Session 1: Meghadutam
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
Kalidasa cannot be compared with anyone – he is totally unique, totally Indian. He is the ideal poet – one who observes keenly both the outer and inner worlds. He is like a scientist, a naturalist, and a businessman the way he astutely sees the external world. He is like a seer, a philosopher, and a scholar the way he calmly regards the internal world. By observing the world outside, we get the details; by observing the world within we get the emotional connections.
The science of poetics prescribes many rules but these don’t apply to a great poet like Kalidasa, for his very usage becomes a rule, his very style becomes the standard. Rules are useless for bad poets who can make no use of them; such poets are best quarantined. All these rules and regulations are useful for the intellectual middle class, the good poets who are striving to become better.
A study of Kalidasa will teach us many beautiful things apart from the pure joy that we get from reading his poetry. He is the master of upama (simile). He has the uncanny knack of bringing strikingly dissimilar things together but without being efforted. He is the king of dhvani (suggestion) and vakrokti (oblique expression). He is the repository of Indian culture. Generations of poets, rasikas, and scholars have found Kalidasa to be relevant to them, for he was answerable solely to rasa.
Sanskrit poets in general have the tendency to humanize the elements of nature. This is something unique to India – we don’t see this in the Greco-Roman epics or in other classical literature of other countries.
In the Meghadutam, Kalidasa gives us a vishvarupadarshana of love. It connects to our viraha (separation) of any kind. Anyone who has loved and lost will connect with it. And it takes a visionary poet like Kalidasa to give the width and depth as he has done in this perfect lyrical poem. He explores the depths of shringara and the width of the landscape. The deeper you are, the deeper you can feel the emotion. The broader your perspective is, the broader you can see the external world. This is the reason why the Meghadutam is a perennial source of joy. If the poems of Vyasa and Valmiki can be called as works of life, Kalidasa’s creations can be called as works of art. And it takes a great sahrdaya to realize that Kalidasa’s poems and plays are also works of life.
In the Q&A that followed the session, Dr. Ganesh emphasized the importance of reading in one’s mother tongue. He said that even an average work in an Indian language that attempts at translating these great poets far surpasses the best English translation.
Day 5, Session 2: Ramayana, Raghuvamsham
Shashi Kiran B N
Continuing from his previous session, Shashi Kiran gave an overview of a few more characters of the Ramayana. Speaking a bit more about Hanuman, he mentioned that one should never mistake him for a mere monkey. Like Rama, Hanuman was also a purushasarajna, a person who had the ability to evaluate the worth of another. It was he who rightly identified that Rama and Lakshmana were noble people when Sugriva doubted them at first.
Hanuman was also a person with svasthanaparijnana – a person who is completely aware of his or her surroundings and behaves in a fitting manner. He was a person who, ever-inclusive, always looked for ways to help. Even during the war with Ravana, he participated in so many aspects of the war – he was a self-styled overseer and assistant of Rama’s army.
Ravana, the perfect villain, was a wily and vicious serpent – he had both the strength and the venom; an astonishing mix of good and evil. Although he was powerful and radiant, he lacked rta-prajna. He had no sense of proportion when it came to adharma. It is only natural that he perished.
Among his younger brothers, Vibhishana was a mix of goodness and helplessness. He was not able to tolerate Ravana’s abduction of Sita and bravely spoke against his brother, even risking his life, only to be unceremoniously kicked out of Lanka. The character of Vibhishana gives us hope that goodness can be anywhere – even in the midst of the evil world of Lanka, there was one who was for dharma.
Kumbhakarna is the one stuck between the good brother and the bad brother. He believed in sticking up to his people, his family. He knew he was fighting a losing battle and yet agrees to side with Ravana. He also respects Vibhishana’s decision and tells him not to face him in battle, lest he lose his life, for he has to eventually perform the last rites of all the rakshasas.
The poetic beauty and the structure of the Ramayana ensured that it became a model for all future poets. Valmiki is at home whether he is describing nature or the minds of characters, poignant twists of fate, or the sweet fruit of hardships.
The Raghuvamsham of Kalidasa can be called his magnum-opus. It deals with the lineage of Raghu, a great king of the solar dynasty, whose descendant was Rama. In nineteen cantos and around thousand five hundred poems, it tells the story of twenty-nine kings of this great lineage starting from Dilipa, the epitome of self-control and modesty all the way up to Agnivarna, who was eaten up by his termite-like desires. If Meghadutam was the birth of a literary genre called khandakavya, Raghuvamsham gave birth to the mahakavya.
Day 5, Session 3: Textual Traditions in Regional Languages
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
Vyasa-Valmiki-Kalidasa have been responsible in many ways for the unity of India and the preservation of Sanatana Dharma. For more than two thousand years, we have an unbroken textual tradition of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The later poets, saints, and writers took the content of Vyasa-Valmiki but imbibed the form of Kalidasa. There are innumerable works in the various Indian languages that have drawn from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Dr. Ganesh gave an overview of the poets and their works in various regional languages. Here is a list of a few poets in each language –
Assamese: Shankaradeva, Madhavadeva, Ram Saraswati, etc.
Bengali: Kashiramadasa, Srikara Nandi, Kavindra Parameshwara, Naveen Chandra Sen, etc.
Odia: Sarala Das, Balarama Dasa, etc.
Maithili: Chand Jha, Jivaka Mishra, Dinanath Pathak, etc.
Hindi: Tulsidas, Surdas, Jayashankar Prasad, Maithilisharan Gupta, etc.
Marathi: Bhaskarabhatta, Vishnudasa, Moropant, etc.
Gujarati: Dholakram, Dalpat Ram, etc.
Malayalam: Ram Panikkar, Punam Nambudiri, Ezhuthachan, Vallathol Menon, etc.
Tamil: Kamban, Villiputtur, etc.
Kannada: Pampa, Kumaravyasa, Lakshmisha, Kuvempu, etc.
Telugu: Nannayya, Tikkana, Erra Pragada, Potana, etc.
Kashmiri: Prakash Ram, etc.
Day 5, Session 4: Vyasa and Valmiki in Sculptures and Paintings
We see the tradition of Ramayana and Mahabharata in painting and sculpture as well – not just in India but also in Southeast Asia. Arjun gave a wonderful presentation of various sculptures and paintings related to Vyasa-Valmiki. He started out his slideshow with photographs from his visit to Sri Lanka, where the common people still have a cultural memory of the Ramayana. He then showed picture from Bali in Indonesia, an island that has a majority Hindu population, who are still keeping alive Vedic traditions. He also showed pictures from Prambanan, Indonesia and Angkor Wat, Cambodia relating to the Indian epics and puranas. He finally showed pictures from Amruthapura, Karnataka (near Shivamogga) which has perhaps the best sculptures in India that have the story of not just the Ramayana and Mahabharata but also the Bhagavata Purana.
Cover Photo courtesy Chinmaya International Foundation.