The Tradition of Kshaatra in India: Awareness of Kshaatra in Poetry

Awareness of Kshaatra in Kalidasa

Arguably the greatest of poets, Kalidasa, shows clearly in the Raghuvamsha how a kingdom should nurture kshaatra and how it should shine brightly if the kingdom has to prosper. By comparison and contrast, Kalidasa shows us how these values should be. Having wages and won wars in all four directions, having beaten the drums of victory all through, hailed as 'राजा प्रकृतिरञ्जनात्' (RV 4.12), such a saga belonged to Raghu. He was a worthy son to Dilipa who lived like 'क्षतात्किल त्रायत इत्युदग्रः क्षत्रस्य शब्दो भुवनेषु रूढः' (RV 2.53). Here, the great poet has shown the semantic etymology of the words ‘क्षत्रिय’ and ‘राज’ nicely. It is for these reasons that our tradition has hailed the Raghuvamsha as a timeless classic. Through Dilipa, Raghu, Aja, Rama, Kusha, Atithi, and others, the great poet shows in great detail how kshaatra should operate within the values of dharma and artha.

[contextly_sidebar id="4LROXoBRzQtkTXT0eZ9DagMDGXVhUbo1"]In another masterpiece, Kumarasambhava, Kalidasa tells the story of Mahadeva (Shiva) who is the embodiment of the brilliance of braahma-kshaatra harmony. Describing the episode of Shiva destroying Manmatha (cupid; a symbol for desire), the poet tells us the philosophy of how a राज (king) should become a राजऋषि (seer-king). In the Raghuvamsha, the poet intricately describes how kings get destroyed, using the example of Agnivarna; he describes how the subjects themselves reject a worthless king. Further, in his other works like Malavikagnimitra, Vikramorvashiya, and Abhijnanashakuntala, the poet describes the value of adhering to the spirit of kshaatra and the dangers of forsaking it. He eloquently describes the importance of the spirit of true courage and the destruction of the wicked.

Awareness of kshaatra in the tradition of poetry and other arts

Not just in Kalidasa, we see the awareness of kshaatra in many Sanskrit poets – Bana’s heroic poem, Harshacharita; Bharavi, who wrote an epic that is full of politics [Kiratarjuniyam]; Magha, who wrote eloquently about how the avataras of the Supreme came with the sole intention of destroying the wicked [Shishupalavadha]; Shudraka’s description of how subjects come together and throw out worthless kings [Mrcchakatika]; Bhavabhuti’s recreation of Rama’s courage and valor [Uttararamacharita]; and other poets like Bilhana, Dandin, Gangadevi, Kalhana, Jonaraja, Shrivara, Ramabhadramba, and Vijjika. All these poets knew the importance of courage, valor, and strength. None of these poets ever prescribed cowardice; nor do they teach dry lessons on pseudo-pacifism. At the same time, one can never accuse them of being barbaric or war-mongering. All these artistes were endowed with true culture and equanimity.

This sort of sattva-sheltered kshaatra we find not just in the writings of Sanskrit poets but also in the literature of other Indian languages with great clarity.

We see this in the works of Pravarasena, Vakpatiraja, Pampa, Ranna, Kapilar, Kalameghakavi, Tikkana, Errana, Chandabaradayi, Valluvar, Ilango Adigal, (the ‘puram’ of Sangam poetry deals with valor) and others in numerous languages including Prakrit, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Apabhramsha.

Why, even in the works of those who have been hailed as devotion poets, like Harihara, Kumaravyasa, Lakshmisha, Potana, Punam, Kambar, Krttivasa, and Saraladasa in various languages, we see the importance given to vira rasa.

For example, in the Kannada language work of Kumara-Valmiki, Torave Ramayana, the Yuddha Kanda is bigger than all other Kandas put together. We find a prominence to kshaatra even in performance arts like yakshagana, terukkuttu, kathakali, chau (purulia, mayurbhanj, and seraikellai), and ramlila as with janapada (folklore) poetry, lavanis, viragathas, raso, etc.

For the investigation into the values of Indian poetry and other arts, the starting point is Bharata’s Natyashastra, which gives us a multifaceted vision of art. In the Natyashastra, we see that of the four purusharthas – dharma, artha, kama, and moksha – the primary goal of the vira rasa is to give rise to the first two (dharma and artha). For the other two (kama and moksha), the rasas of shringara and shanta are predominant. Therefore in life and in art, a lion’s share is dedicated to vira rasa and that it is a sattva-nurtured kshaatra is beyond doubt.

Further, even in bhakti (devotion), an intense feeling that is associated with surrender to the Supreme and with love for all, we find the concept of ‘वीरभक्ति,’ which has been espoused by our saints and seers – here also we find kshaatra.

Translated from Kannada by Hari Ravikumar
(Translator’s notes in square brackets.)

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:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.