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.)



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.



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.


Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written and (co-)edited many books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

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...