Malar (Volume) 23, Dhundhubi, Sept-Oct 1982, Issue 1&2
Images of Kumara in Kalidasa
It is evident from the invocatory verses of the plays and epics of the world-renowned poet Kalidasa, the full moon on the firmament of Sanskrit literature, that he is an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. His epic, titled Kumarasambhava, bears testimony to his devotion for Shiva’s son, Karthikeya. Raghuvamsa is another great epic of his. In this work suffused with poetic beauty, he paints vivid word-pictures of Rama’s ancestors and his descendents. Kumara appears before the poet’s ken whenever he has to describe the descendents of the Raghukula. Whenever he conceived of a hero, a dimension of Kumara, such as Sharavanabhava, Guha, and Shanmukha, appeared before him. We shall now see how he presents images of Skanda, Karthikeya, Shivakumara at appropriate junctures.
It is a common saying in the world of poetry that Kalidasa is unparalleled in his use of similes. Let us examine a few examples appropriate to the topic like the scene from the second canto of Raghuvamsa: The childless king Dileepa seeks Guru Vasishta’s blessings for a progeny. The king is bid to serve Vasishta’s cow reverentially. Once when the king is tending to the cow in the forest, a lion appears. The lion threatens to devour the cow. Kalidasa makes the lion speak as follows: “I am Kumbodara, a gana of Shiva. Shiva loves this Devadaru tree nearby like a son. Shiva and Parvati shower as much love on this tree as they do on their own son, Skanda. Once when a wild elephant rubbed itself against the tree, scraping off its bark, Parvati was as distraught as she would be on seeing her son Senani (the chief of the army of the gods) wounded by the arrows of the asuras.” Dileepa offers himself as prey to the lion in place of the cow. Moved by his devotion, the lion praises him and disappears. In due course, Sudakshina conceives. Kalidasa likens the child Raghu, in blessed Sudakshina’s womb, to the tejas of Shiva that emanated as six sparks and was carried by the cool waters of the Holy Ganga. At the end of the same canto, the child Raghu, born to Dileepa and Sudakshina, lends his name to the celebrated dynasty. In the third canto, Kalidasa equates the indescribable joy of this couple at the birth of Raghu to the joy felt by Uma and Shiva (the Lord whose emblem is the bull) at the birth of Sharajanma or Sharavana. Raghu grows up into a fine, young man. He is triumphant in war, conquering all, including Indra. His valour in the war against Indra is compared to that of the son of Shiva, in the same canto. Raghu is hailed as Kumara Vikrama (the youthful victor). By and by, a son is born to Raghu. This boy, born in the auspicious wee hours of the morning (brahmamuhurta), is named Aja. Kalidasa compares this child also to the son of Shiva. He does not find it necessary to look beyond Kumara as a frame for his comparisons. This is the fifth occurrence of a comparison with Kumara.
The sixth canto describes Indumati’s svayamvara. Bhoja, the king of Vidarbha, offers Aja a seat of honour. This seat is gem-studded and is upholstered with a satin cloth of varied hues. Aja sat at the court in all his might and splendour. This scene brings to the poet’s mind another image. To Kalidasa, the devotee of Kumara, what image other than that of Guha, the lord who sports in all eight directions, seated on the peacock, could suggest itself? In his mind’s eye flashes the vision of the colourful peacock mount, beautiful arms, eyes showering grace and the resplendent crown. The poet presents Guha, seated on the peacock with its multihued wings outspread, as a simile.
Dasaratha ascends the throne. The rule of the Raghu clan now increases in glory. Isn’t it natural that the poet is reminded of the prowess of Kumara who shattered the Krauncha hill to pieces, when describing Dasaratha? Doesn’t Dasaratha’s chariot have unchallenged access to all territories? The expansive story of Rama, as told by Valmiki, is condensed into a few cantos by Kalidasa. For example, in the scene of the confrontation between Rama and Parasurama, they appear like the rising full moon and the setting sun at dusk. They are like grace and fury, like generosity and jealousy. Equanimity and might are united in Rama just as the power to destroy evil and the inclination to bestow grace upon the vanquished enemies characterize Harasunu, the son of Shiva. The poet revels in extolling the virtues of Rama. Rama’s unparalleled devotion to his parents is among his innumerable qualities. The common man acknowledges only one woman as his mother, but for Rama all the wives of his father are his mothers. He never discriminated between his own mother and the mothers of his brothers. When the poet looks for a comparison for this, he finds one easily. Karthikeya, who abides in his heart for ever, appears before him. Who else but Shadanana (the six-faced), who was carried as six sparks by the cool waters of the Ganga and deposited as six children who were suckled by the six Krittika stars, could offer a comparison? We find this idea in the fourteenth canto.
Among the successors of Rama, the king called Aditi was well renowned. His righteous reign pleased Mother Earth who bestowed bounty upon the realm. Aditi was well equipped to utilize the attributes of war and peace as well as the resources of his councillors and the army. Is there any earthly king who can provide a parallel to him in intelligence and ability? It is only Shanmukha who provides an apt metaphor. Only he – who hurled the spear to destroy Taraka, who sent Viravijaya as an emissary on a reconnaissance mission, who was victorious over Simhamukha, who decimated Surapadma – presents himself to the poet’s imagination.
Kalidasa, the best among poets, extols the glory of the kings of Kosala. He is unparalleled in finding parallels. When the world renowned poet describes the son of Shiva as Skanda, the tejas of Shiva, Sharajanma, Kumara, Guha, the destroyer of the mountain (Krauncha), Harasunu (the son of Shiva), Chamunamneta (chief of the army) and Shanmukha, using him as metaphor, it is as though gems were offset by gold. If that is so, then wouldn’t it be apt to call Kalidasa Kumaradasa?
Translated by: Shri. Ganesh, Deepa, Latha
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