Kalidasa’s treatment of nature in Ritusamhara

by  K.R. Pisharoti

Published in Indian Historical Quarterly, June 1948, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 134-140

The rising Sun, the waning moon, the starry heavens, dancing peacocks, roaring lions, different seasons with their varying floral wealth and divergent characteristics-these produce certain impressions on man's mind and are viewed differently by different individuals. Kalidasa views the varied phenomena of nature as correlated parts of a whole and observes a unity underlying the manifest variety in nature, which is a necessary complement of life. This aspect is nowhere better revealed than in the Rtusamhara, which describes the part which different phases of nature play in the efflorescence of love.

The blazing summer scorches up the earth, and the hot blowing winds shrivelled up all animate and inanimate nature, spreading a pall of burning sand on the face of the earth [1]. The ponds run dry and are filled with mire and mud [2]; and there is everywhere scarcity of water, and all vegetation seems killed. Desolate looks the land with no green anywhere, no shoots and tendrils, no fruits and flowers [3]. Fauna suffers equally with flora. Scorched by heat and thirsty, animals come out of their lairs and hiding spots in search of water.[4] Exhausted and weak[5], they forget their natural enmity with one another[6] : thus serpents have frogs squatting on them [7] and they themselves lie safe in the shade of peacocks[8], lions stand near elephants, but do not strike,[9] monkeys run amock in the Forest [10] and cattle wander about hither and thither.[11] Thus the life of fauna and flora are alike rendered lethargic, though not brought to a standstill, so enervating is the dread summer. Yet it is not void of its bright side, for it sprouts up love. Breezy evenings, glorious moonlight,[12] moonstones dripping water,[13] precious stones radiating cool colourful lustre,[14] pleasant baths in lotus ponds or under sprays, soothing sandalwood paste[15] wafting its sweet fragrance all round[16], inviting open terraces bathed in moonlight,[17] intoxicants first sipped[18] and then handed over by lovely damsels, instrumental music of the Vina -these engender one emotion only-the emotion of love, which alone makes life worth living. In this relentless season, ladies adorn themselves with a simple necklace[19], so with golden bangles and waistbands[20] and with anklets which jingle as they move about[21] and dress themselves in white silk,[22] thick garments being laid aside [24] they are thus Parimitabhusa and Parimitevesa. Irresistible are their charms and everybody succumbs; indeed even the moon, seeing them again and again as they lie in all their glory asleep on mansion tops after langorous sex-act, becomes sad and pales away towards dawn ! [25] And no wonder love must thrive, for if this languishes like fauna and flora, life and with it nature will languish and may die. Here, then, is resuscitation planned through love which links up both man and nature.

Varsa is the season par excellence for the growth and development of love. It is bahugunaramaniya-delightful on account of its manifold good qualities; kaminicittahari-stealing the hearts of women; taruvita-palatanam bandhavah-the friend of trees and creepers; and lastly praninam pranadata-the giver of life to the living [26] This is a significant description, and it reveals the place which nature holds in the scheme of life-an aspect which is stressed at the very beginning, when it is described as the friend of lovers and vegetation.[27] The advent of Varsa is described as the coming in of a great king in state with elephants in the form of clouds, flags and festoons in the form of flashes of lightning and martial music in the form of rumbling thunder.[28] The most outstanding feature of the season is the presence of clouds of different kinds[29], the dance of peacocks, [30] and the richness and variety of flora, [31] and the season is thoroughly humanised, when it is described as a lover adorning his beloved with flowers [32]. Some clouds glisten like antimony, some gleam like Kuvalaya flowers, while others hang low like the bosom of pregnant women and are moved about by the breeze-adorned with rainbows, rumbling thunder and showering rains.[33] And these affect lovers,[34] steep the separated lovers in misery,[36] spread darkness over the earth, but light up the way for Abhisarikas with their lightning [37], reunite angry lovers, [38] and like a lover deck women with ornaments, with wreaths and with fragrance.[39] Under the benign influence of this friend and life-giver, the earth decks herself with green verdure, lovely shoots and beautiful flowers and looks like a damsel in colourful garments.[40] Rivers and streams filled with muddy waters rush hither and thither, tearing down everything before them like amorous women, impassioned and wicked. [41] Forests seem horripilated with fresh greens, grazed by deer and with trees in blossom, filled with humming bees.[42] Adorned with Kadambaka and Ketakas in bloom and trees dancing in the breeze,[43] they breathe happiness. These and the glades filled with grazing deer drive man and woman love mad [44]. Mountains with their rocky boulders washed clean and their sides adorned with foaming streams of necklaces, with peacocks dancing to the tune of thunder madden the love-lorn - a madness which is accentuated by the breeze, cool with rain drops and fragrant with the perfume of Nipa and Sarga and Arjuna and Ketaka [45] and moaning in contact with vegetation and hum of bees [46]. The grazing deer, the dancing peacocks and the elephants in rut only add to love's longings [47]. Great is the floral wealth of the season: Nipa, Sarga, Arjuna, Ketaka,[48] kesara, Kadamba, Kakubha,[49] Kuvalaya,[50] and Yuthika [51]-these are in plenty and womenfolk use them freely. Thus they adorn their hair with Kadamba, Kesara and Ketaka, their ears with the shoots of Kakubha and Arjuna [52], and, clad in white silk with their perfumed hair streaming down to the waist, with their breasts adorned with pearl necklaces and with their mouth fragrant with honey and their hearts filled with love-they madden men [53]. Thus is Varsa presented, the giver of Prana to all alike; and in thus presenting him, there is throughout a process of humanisation. The season fulfils a great purpose-the enrichment of life and love, on which depends continuity of life: it is presented as literally Pranadata.

Sarat glorifies this great and powerful emotion. Every phase of nature breathes feminine beauty and radiates love's longings, thus carrying forward in a richer measure the function of Varsa. The season comes with all the glories of womanhood, as the poet sees it. The ripe Sali corn is herbody,thefull-blown lotus is her face, the Kasa flower is her raiment, the cackling of swans is the jingling of her anklets, Utpalas are her glancing eyes. Bandhukas are her coral lips and Kumudas are her ornaments.[54] The earth adorned with these varied flowers, the night with the moon, streams with swans, ponds with lotus and lilies, forests with Saptacchadas and gardens with Malati flowers-each by itself and all together instil the longings of love in every heart, [55] which is responsive to this tender emotion. The star spangled sky, freed of clouds and adorned with the moon, looks like the blue waters adorned with lotus and swans [56], and glistening like antimony,[57] possesses the glory of a king, fanned by chowries in the form of clouds moving about, white like silver and conch shells and void of rainbows and lightnings and to which cranes do not fly up and which peacocks care not to look up [58]. The night like a woman clad in moonlight, decked with the flowers of stars and possessed of the face of the moon [59], the breeze blowing over trees laden with fruits and flowers and ponds full of lotus in blossom [60] and thus rendered gentle and fragrant, [61] cultivated lands rich with corn and cattle standing still and birds chirping, [62] gardens fragrant with Sephalika flowers and alive with the glancing eyes of the deer [63] the Kovidara tree like a woman with its waving hair of branches, hands of creepers, fingers of shoots and bees of lovers hovering about humming for honey, [64] creepers bowed down with flowers glorious like woman's hands, the freshly blossomed Navamalika possessed of the charms of a woman's smile [65] ponds with swans cackling and lotus in bloom [66] which at sunrise looks like the happy face of a woman by the side of her lover and pales away at sunset like the senile of a love-lorn maid,[ 67] swans robbing woman of gait, lotus of her face, Utpalas of her eyes and waves her darting brows, [68] rivers flowing, like impassioned woman with the Mekhala of Saphari fish, Haras of cranes, Nitambas of banks, [69] whom do these not make love-mad? And in this glorious setting are presented women with their rich bosoms adorned with necklaces and Candana, slender waists with girdles of gold, feet with resounding anklets,[70] streaming hair with Malati flowers, and cars with Nilotpala [71]. Maddening is the season of love and man and woman run about love-mad. Here is one phase of the great poet's treatment of nature: it paints feminine beauty in fauna and flora as well as in clouds, rivers, winds and sky, thus representing every aspect of nature as love-mad. Here is nature completely humanised.

No less rich and powerful is the appeal which nature makes in Hemanta, only the objects of attraction differ. Trees put forth new shoots and tendrils, and new vegetation appears [72]. The Sali corn stands ripe [73]. Lodhra flowers bloom in plenty,[74] Priyangu pales in glory, like a love-lorn maid [75], the blue lotus and Kadamba bloom, the ponds are full of water, clear and cool, [76] and the outskirts of forests are alive with deer and Kraunca birds [77]. Thus stands nature happy and smiling and impassions the lover. Hemanta is the season of love in enjoyment. Women apply Kaliyaka to their bodies, tattoo their faces, perfume their hair[78], adorn their bosoms with saffron and Haras [79] put aside their anklets and girdles,[80] remove their bangles, silks and muslins [81] and lie locked in the arms of their lovers, their mouths fragrant with honey and minds filled with love [82]. Here is love in enjoyment depicted under the maddening influence of the season.

Equally conducive to love is the Sisira season, rich in Sali corn and sugar cane, which drives lovers back to their beloved [83]. Mansions have their windows shut and womenfolk enjoy the blazing fire inside or the Sun outside [84], but eschew sandalpaste, moonlight, breezes, mansion tops [85], and starry nights [86], wear heavy jackets and over them garments of varied colours,[87] adorning their hair with only flowers;[88] use Tambula and garlands, perfume their mouths with honey and retire to their rooms fragrant with Kalaguru incense [89], ignore the faithlessness of their lovers in their impassioned condition [90], drink honey [91] and spend the long nights in blissful love activities and become weak and tired and then roll about their rooms at dawn [92], while their lovers sleep beside them covered by the warmth of their swelling bosoms [93] adorned by Kumkum; with their hair streaming down with floral garlands, [94], they look like the goddess of prosperity herself [95], heavy-bosomed, heavy hipped and hence proceeding slowly. Thus the Sisira season is the season for sex enjoyment and is filled with love activities.

Vasanta is the season of love and love activities, the season which no lover can withstand. The season is pictured as a warrior with his arrows of mango shoots and the bow string of bees come to conquer the minds of the amorous [96]. He presents a very attractive appearance with trees in blossom, with ponds filled with blooming lotus, with fragrant breezes, with pleasant days, with pleasanter evenings and delightful nights [97] Dressed in red [98] or multi-coloured garments of light silk, with Karnikara flowers on their cars, Asoka in their curls, jasmine in their hair, with faces adorned with tattooed marks [99], with breasts adorned with Haras and sandal paste [100], with hands adorned with bangles and waists with Mekhalas, [101] women appear amorous and impassioned,[102] their pallour adding to their charms [103]; they loosen their garments and indulge in love yawns [104] with langorous eyes [105], coquettish words and crooked glances [106]. The Kuyil on the mango trees and the bee about the lotus, each kissing its own beloved,[107] mango trees bowed down with fresh shoots and flowers, [108] to the flowers sucked by bees and shoots shaken by the breeze, [109] the red of the Asoka tree,[110] the shoots of the Kuravaka [111], the cuckoo singing and the bees humming,[112] the blossomed Kimsuka and the Karnikara [113] the Kunda like a woman smiling [114], the breeze shaking the branches of the mango trees and carrying far the songs of the cuckoo - these madden lovers and drive them back to the sides of the beloved. Maddening likewise are the varied trees, yielding varied flowers and delightful with the songs of birds, the hill-sides of mountains clothed in variegated colours [115] and the earth dressed in red [116] Such is Vasanta, the premier season of love: nature blooms in flowers and human minds in love, and both yield their richest fruits.

Seasons come and go, and nature putsondifferentphases during different seasons; but every phase is conducive to the efflorescence of love which alone thrives in all seasons. These phenomenal phases of nature thus instil and accentuate love and perpetuate its activity and thus ensure the continued flow of the river of life, so that creation may move onwards to its predestined end.

End Notes

• The Roman numbers refer to the chapters and the ordinary numbers to the verses of the Rtusamhara.

1. 1-10

2. I-19

3. I-22

4. I-11

5. I-14

6. I-27

7. I-18

8. I-13.16

9. I-14

10. I-23

11. I-21, 23

12. I-12

13. I-2

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. I-8

17. I-9

18. I-3

19. Ibid.

20. I-4,5

21. I-6

22. I-5

23. I-4

24. I-7

25. I-9

26. II-28

27. II-1

28. Ibid.

29. II-2

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. II-24

33. II-2

34. II-4

35. Ibid.

36. II-12, 22

37. II-10

38. II-11

39. II-25

40. II-5

41. II-7

42. II-8

43. II-23

44. II-9

45. II-17

46. II-26

47. II-15

48. II-17

49. II-29

50. II-22

51. II-23

52. II-18

53. II-19

54. III-26

55. III-2,5

56. III-21

57. III-22

58. III-12

59. III-7

60. III-10

61. III-25,22

62. III-16

63. III-14

64. III-16

65. III-11

66. III-23

67. III-23

68. III-17

69. III-3

70. III-20

71. III-19

72. IV-1

73. IV-1, 8

74. IV-1

75. IV-10

76. IV-9

77. IV-8

78. IV-18

79. IV-5

80. IV-2

81. IV-4

82. IV-3

83. IV-4

84. IV-16

85. V-2

86. V-6

87. V-4

88. V-8

89. V-5

90. V-6

91. V-10

92. V-7

93. V-9

94. V-12

95. V-13

96. VI-1

97. VI-2

98. V1-4

99. VI-17

100. VI-12

101. VI-3,6

102. VI-8

103. VI-9

104. VI-9

105. VI-10

106. VI-13

107. VI-14

108. VI-15

109. VI-17

110. VI-16

111. VI-18

112. VI-21

113. VI-28

114. VI-23

115. VI-22

116. VI-19

Published in Indian Historical Quarterly, June 1948, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 134-140

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