प्रचण्डसूर्यः स्पृहणीयचन्द्रमाः सूखावगाह क्षतवारिसञ्चयः। दिनान्तरम्योऽभुय्पशान्तमन्मथो निदाघकालोऽयम् उपागतः प्रिये ।। The sun is furious, but the moon is cool. Bathing is pleasant, but ponds are shrinking. Day-ends are charming, but the Cupid stirs no more. Cruel summer has set in, my love. (Ritusamhara 1:1)
Ritusamhara is an odd choice for letter R. Today being Ramanavami, what a coincidence it would have been to write about Ramayana. But the fact is that Ramayana does not fit in with my algorithm for this series. By the way I have discussed about this algorithm in my theme reveal post.
Choice of Ritusamhara may look odd for another reason. Any series on Sanskrit Texts will be incomplete without including a work of Kalidasa. Ritusamhara is a great work. But, it is not the book that would represent the greatness of Kalidasa who has been called as the Indian Shakespeare. I don’t know whether such an epithet diminishes or enhances the stature of Kalidasa. While Shakespeare’s expertise lay in drama, Kalidasa is equally well known for his Raghuvansam and Kumarasambhavam which are works of epic proportions besides his shorter poetic works like Meghadutam and Ritusamhara.
Whether Kalidasa intended it or not, the impact of Ritusmhara on Indian writers of all languages of the middle ages seems to be unprecedented. While his dramas and epic poems are based on themes from puranas, he himself has inspired thousands of writers through Ritusamhara. I can hardly find any author of middle ages who has written poetry about seasons and it does not have major similarities with Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara. Why middle ages, even many writers of modern age who have written about Indian seasons seem to have directly or indirectly been influenced by Ritusamhara. Seen that way, choice of Ritusamhara is not an odd choice after all.
The title Ritusamhara is translated in a variety of ways – Pageant of Seasons, Garland of Seasons, Group of Seasons. I think the meaning is a combined feeling that you get from all the three. Of course some also translate it as ‘The Birth and Death of Seasons’ because another meaning of Samhara is vanquishing. But in that case the translator should have translated it as ‘The Death of Seasons’ or ‘The Destruction of Seasons’.
Coincidentally, as a part of Blogchatter’s ‘Cause a Chatter’ campaign, I have written a blog post titled ‘The Destruction of Seasons‘ to highlight the disturbances to the cycle of seasons. I have briefly talked about Ritusamhara in that post.
Ancient Indian astronomers divided the year into six seasons and gave the exact dates for their duration. This is mentioned in some versions of Ritusamhara at the beginning of each chapter. Kalidasa followed this pattern of six seasons and keenly observed what was happening in the realms of plants, animals, birds, insects and human beings in nature’s grand theatre comprising of earth, water and sky.
I have put the first stanza of the first chapter of Ritusamhara at the beginning of this post. The translation is my own. It may not be the literal translation. But I have tried to convey the meaning as close as possible. I have also tried to sound a bit poetic. In this first stanza itself we find hints about the contents of the work – it is about nature, it is about the emotion of love (summer has set in, my love), and it is about the act of sex (the reference to cupid). Ritusamhara is about the behaviour, play, display and adaptability of all these elements at the backdrop of changing seasons.
Ritusamhara is full of description of the seasonal blooming of various native plants. If Kalidasa has described the magnificent saptaparna in its autumnal glory, he has not forgotten the humble kandali plant (common nettle) that flowers in rainy season. Being a court poet of the King of Ujjain he must have spent most part of his life in central India. But the plants mentioned must have been found in all parts of India those days. As our town planners and landscape designers developed exotic preferences, the native plants vanished from our surroundings. I have a feeling that our younger generation may find it difficult to recognize majority of the native plants mentioned in Ritusamhara. At the end of the post I will give a list of all the native plants mentioned in Ritusamhara. Let us see how many of them are identified by the reader.
Kalidasa has not only described with vivid details the seasonal plights and delights of human beings but also that of animals and birds. The cruelty of summer is described through how the animals lose their basic nature as they find it difficult to quench thirst, or how they run to save their lives due to forest fire. Kalidasa notes the seasonal return of birds to various water bodies. Tiny beings not forgotten. Like the case of kandali plant, Ritusamhara gives the humble indragopaka its fifteen minutes of fame.
In the works of Kalidasa and other authors, the physical description of human bodies or sexual acts sometimes left little to imagination. But it was always within the social constraints. So the love described was usually for the married partner. This has also led a plethora of literature in Sanskrit and other Indian languages about the forlorn lover, about the feeling of the partner who is separated. Great Odia poet Upendra Bhanja who himself was separated from his partner at a very young age has composed many songs and books on this theme. Kalidasa’s Meghadootam is entirely on the theme of the separated lover. In Ritusamhara, the feeling of such a separated lover is described in the context of each of the six seasons. Sometimes it is contrasted with the feelings of those who are presently enjoying the company of their partners.
These days, hardly do we experience the distinct six seasons that Kalidasa talks about. In many places in India the Summer starts from the middle of the so called Spring and continues till Winter sets in, with Rain behaving like a truant and unpredictable guest through out this period. There has been so much change over the last thirty years. I don’t know whether the young generation will be able to connect with the concept of six seasons. I don’t know whether they have got the opportunity to feel the Sharad Ritu or can distinguish between Hemanta and Sheeta Ritu. Coincidentally, I come across many signboards in Bengaluru that say ‘Four Season Spa’ or ‘Four Season Hotels’. I see a plethora of YouTube videos teaching kids about the four Indian seasons. We have already discounted two season in our popular discourses.
having been inspired by my own previous post I am putting three questions to you. Let us see how many you can answer.
Q1: By the way the tiny velvety red Indragopaka is called patapoka or sadhava bohu in Odia. What is it called in your language? Secondly, have you spotted any of them anywhere recently? Or, are they becoming a vanishing breed? My point is – if vanishing of tigers is taken as a serious warning for impending disaster, why not the vanishing of Indragopakas be taken with same seriousness?
Q2: If Kalidasa’s dramas are interesting, according to folklore his own life was no less interesting. Are you aware of any of the dramatic incidents of his life?
Q3: Here is a list of all the plants mentioned in Ritusamhara. How many can you identify as having come across?
Summer: Bhadramusta // Palasha // Sindhura // Bamboo // Salmali // Patala //
Rainy season : Padma // Kandali // Utpala // Bimba // Kadamba // Sarja // Arjun or Kakubha // Ketaki // Bakula // Aguru // Malati // Yuthika //
Autumn: Kasa // Saptaparna // Bandhuka // Kovidara // Kutaja // Sephalika // Nipa or Kadamba // Nilotpala (Blue water lily) // Padma or Kamala or Pankaja (Lotus) // Kumuda (white water lily) // Priyangsu // Asoka //
Hemanta or Dewy season : Lodhra // Kunda // Kaliyaka //
Spring: Amra // Kusumbha // Karnikara //Atimukta // Kurubaka //Saileya // Asoka // Jasmine
(Hardly any wild tree name is mentioned in the context of Winter. Name of some plants are repeated across seasons. Kalidasa was primarily concerned with flowering. Had he been equally concerned with fruiting he would have mentioned the mango tree in the context of Summer also. Well I have fulfilled this shortcoming in my poem titled the summer of separation. 😀 😀 😀 )
Please plant / encourage to plant / advocate planting more native trees. The plants mentioned above are not the only native trees. Being chiefly concerned with flowering trees, plants like Peepal, Banyan, Tamarind, Neem etc. are not mentioned in Ritusamhara even though these are very environmental friendly in the context of India.
This is the alphabet R post of Blogchatter AtoZ Challenge 2021. My theme this year is ‘The beauty of Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts’, where in I explore selected compositions in Sanskrit and also some unique aspects of Sanskrit language and texts. Join with me in my journey to understand India’s spiritual and intellectual heritage. All the posts of AtoZ Challenge 2021 can be accessed here.