Sanskrit literature is a treasure and heritage for us Indians. Almost every Indian knows works such as the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Subhashitas, classic plays such as Shakuntala, poems such as the Meghadūta… there is no end to the gems hidden in this vast literary ocean. Today, let’s pick up the multifaceted Meghadūta.
Meghadūta is composed by the well-known poet Kalidas. We have no authentic personal information about him, except his name. Looking at the evidence gathered from his works and those of the later poets, we can say that he probably lived in the 5th century AD, as a poet in the court of King Vikramaditya. Apart from the Meghadūta, two epics, three plays and one more poem are ascribed to him.
Meghadūta is a short (only 155 verses!) and sweet poem. It tells us about a Yaksha, a semi-divine being, living in the magical city of Alaka situated on the slopes of the Himalayas. He is punished by King Kubera and sent to stay for a year, away from his beloved wife, on the Ramgiri mountain (present Ramtek, near Nagpur). Kalidas does not name the Yaksha, nor does he describe his looks or character. We don’t know what crime he has committed. All this is left to the imagination of the reader – and that, precisely, is the beauty of this poem.
Imagine you are travelling with Megha (the cloud) in the sky, from Ramgiri to Alaka, and the entire poem unfolds before you as a romantic journey to a fantasy land.
On the first day of the month of Ashadh, the Yaksha sees a monsoon cloud on the Ramgiri mountain. He realizes that this cloud, Megha, will now travel right up to the Himalayas, giving rain on the way. He thinks that the Megha would be a great messenger to carry the message of his wellbeing to his dear wife. He pays respects to the Megha, offers flowers to him and praises him saying that he is the best of all Meghas, as he is born in the well-known family of the ‘Puskaravartakas’, the Sanskrit name for cumulonimbus clouds. The Yaksha then gives him perfect directions to reach Alaka. It is amazing to see how Kalidas gives the exact names of all the hills, mountains, rivers and also countries over which the Megha should travel.
Some years back, one Dr S V Bhave from Pune, a surgeon by profession and a Sanskrit -literature lover by passion, bought a plane, flew it over the route Kalidas talks about, and found out that Kalidas was perfect in his geographical knowledge and description of the exact path a monsoon cloud actually takes.
What amazes us is – how did Kalidas know this? How did he give aerial descriptions of the route to the Megha? Could he have actually flown? Seems unlikely. Was it only the flight of his creative imagination then that made it possible?
The Megha is not alone on this journey. The wind would carry him, and birds such as Chatak, Rajahans, and others would accompany him to make the long journey comfortable and enjoyable. All the mountains on the way (Kalidas mentions many such as the Amrakut, Neechairgiri, and Devgiri) would be his friends; the Megha would greet them and rest with them whenever he would be tired. They would shed tears – rain drops – when he would leave. All the rivers on the way, eagerly waiting for the Megha, their long-gone lover, would be happy to see him. The Megha would see to it that he loves them, and showers kisses (again, rain drops) on them in such a loving manner that they flow with joy and abundance.
We do not know for sure where Kalidas came from, but it is likely that he came from Ujjain. The Yaksha tells the Megha to go slightly off track and visit Ujjayini. Kalidas describes the city as a “dazzling piece of heaven”. From there, crossing the Ganga, the Megha enters the Himalayan area.
Alaka is an ethereal city. Shiv sits at the outskirts, watching over this beautiful city of Yakshas, whose daughters play games of hiding jewels in the golden sands on the banks of river Mandakini. Imagine the wealth and prosperity of the residents! Kalidas warns the Yaksha that young maidens would reach out to the Megha and scrape him, turning him into a “yantra dhara gruha”, which literally means “a house for mechanical showers” – indeed, there is science behind the beauty. Alaka also has tall (seven-storied) skyscrapers, with gem-studded terraces.
In such surroundings, how would the Megha find the Yaksha’s house? The Yaksha identifies his house in a most wonderful way. He says: when you see a house where the rainbow itself decorates the main door, be sure that is mine. There is a well with emerald steps, a golden play-fountain, and a golden swing around which peacocks sit and dance to the clink of his wife’s bangles. In a stroke of words instead of a brush, Kalidas paints the picture so well.
The wife, though thin because of the separation, is a beautiful woman. The way Kalidas describes her – tanvee shyama shikharidashana…– has become almost the proverbial definition of a woman’s beauty. The actual message to be given to her is quite short: Know that I am doing well and please hold on for four more months; then we will be together again. It is not the message that makes the difference, it is the way Kalidas brings out the beauty of nature and knits it with human feelings that makes Meghadūta immortal.
In the end, the Yaksha says to the Megha: I will be grateful if you could do this for me. I wish you luck; may you never have to separate from your beloved, the lightning.
What a wonderful way to illustrate a natural phenomenon! Again, it is Kalidas’ creative and imaginative skills which transform a regular natural phenomenon of monsoon rains into a magical wonderland. Try grab a copy of a translation of this amazing piece of poetry and enjoy Meghadūta right in the thick of monsoons. That is the best tribute one can pay to Kalidas’ genius.
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