Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami (1906-2001), the creator of Malgudi was one of India’s greatest storytellers and thinkers. Writing under the shortened name R. K. Narayan, a small sample of his works include Swami and Friends, Bachelor of Arts, Guide, and Gods, Demons, and Others. His equally illustrious brother Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Laxman (RK Laxman) brought Malgudi to life with his magical illustrations. The siblings were recipients of the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor. The popular 1980s TV series Malgudi Days, directed by the great Kannada artist Shankar Nag was based on the works of RK Narayan, and the 1965 Hindi movie Guide, a favorite of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was based on his book.
The Financial Expert
RK Narayan’s 1951 work ‘The Financial Expert‘  is universally regarded as a classic, and has been the subject of several excellent reviews from a western literary perspective, by both Indian and western writers. The book was made into a successful Kannada movie ‘Banker Margayya’ starring actor Lokesh in 1983, which went on to win multiple awards.
Here, we explore some of the themes in this WW2-era Malgudi story using an Indic perspective, and in doing so, are rewarded with insights that would not be obtainable using a purely western lens. In particular, we discover that the timeless lessons in Neeti and Dharma that used to be orally transmitted from generation to generation in India are embedded within the ‘Financial Expert’.
In ‘Financial Expert’, RK Narayan brilliantly encodes in simple English the sophisticated nuance and wisdom of Indian Itihasa and Purana, even as he unravels the multiple threads of thought running through Margayya’s mind. Margayya, like many a character in itihasa, undergoes intense penance in order to acquire some special power. His aim is to please Goddess Lakshmi, so that she will bless him with wealth and financial success. The story of Margayya’s journey from 14D Vinayak Street to 10 Market Street and back is rich in the symbolism and subtle suggestion that characterizes Indian art.
Margayya was named Krishna at birth, and his professional name (pronounced ‘Marg-Ayya’) reminds us of Arjuna’s charioteer who showed the way (Marg) of Dharmain the Mahabharata. Margayya employed his financial Ganitaprowess to game the system. He presented the peasants within a 100-mile radius of Malgudi a financial roadmap that enabled them to secure a endless sequence of cash loans from the Central Cooperative Land Mortgage Bank (est. 1914). The ‘Cooperative Bank’ part was an oxymoron as it neither co-operated with its poor shareholders, nor performed its banking duties with a sense of seva. Margayya, aged 42, made a living by aggressively filling this gap from his service location under a banyan tree right opposite the co-op, much to their irritation. Imagine a smarter Alan Greenspan in a topi, torn shirt, and brown dhoti.
Margayya wanted to progress beyond this tension-ridden low-end job. A tipping point is reached when the stained-dhoti clad financial jugaad master is humiliated by the rich, boorish bank secretary dressed in European attire, top to bottom. We can see in Margayya’s subsequent reactions, the self-loathing, and frustration, sense of inferiority, and confusion that infested many Indians in the 20th century. A transition of people who were progressively less grounded in the forest civilization  traditions of Dharma and harmony that India embraced during its prosperous history; a mindset increasingly attracted to a desert civilization’s zero-sum modes of survival and self-preservation that appeared more pragmatic in a once-flourishing land, but now looted and scorched by the British Raj, abounding only in scarcity.
Margayya’s natural entrepreneurial drive was in sync with the Vidura Neeti that promoted the virtue of self-employment. His mind constantly tinkered with ideas for startups. He wanted to secure the financial future of his wife Meenakshi, and son, Balu. When Margayya witnessed impoverished townspeople using an unclaimed corpse to extract small-change from passersby for a funeral (and booze), and when he observes people risking life and limb to earn a few paise, he is struck by the power of money. “People did anything for money. Money was men’s greatest need, like air or food…Money alone is important in this world. Everything else will come to us naturally if we have money in our purse.“. Here, he appears to gain some intuition about Chanakya’s words (dharmasya moolam artha). Indeed, a prosperous and developed nation is best equipped to preserve and propagate Dharma and harmony, else the rule of the desert will reign. His goal from the day he quarrels with the co-op secretary is to reach the top of the wealth pyramid and through this wealth, acquire everything else. And right there, Margayya parted ways with Vidura and Chanakya and followed his own path and rules.
Like a Yogi, but for all the wrong reasons, Margayya constantly meditated on money and through this manthana emerged all kinds of discoveries. His analysis enabled him to delineate the subtle differences betweenmoney, riches, wealth, and fortune. Wealth, in particular, contained elements of transcendence as well as Jugaad. “Riches any hard-working fool could attain by some watchfulness, while acquiring wealth was an extraordinary specialized job. It came to persons who had on them the grace of the Goddess fully and who could use their wits“. If Ramanujan‘s amazing ganita results were achieved through the blessings of Lakshmi as Namagiri Amman in his dreams, Margayya’s self-serving schemes too (in his mind) were due to the blessings of Lakshmi. Through the mind of this ‘financial mystic’, we get to see the infinite recursive patterns hidden within ‘interest’.
“There was probably no other person in the whole country who had meditated so much on the question of interest. Margayya’s mind was full of it. Night and day he sat and brooded over it. The more he thought of it the more it seemed to him the greatest wonder of creation. It combined in it the mystery of birth and multiplication…Every rupee, Margayya felt, contained in it seed of another rupee and that seed in it another seed and so on and on to infinity. It was something like the firmament, endless stars and within each star an endless firmament and within each one further endless … It bordered on mystic perception. It gave him the feeling of being part of an infinite existence.”
Such was Margayya’s devotion to the process of managing interest rates and accumulating wealth, that he was even able to give up his old addiction to snuff so that he could pursue his ‘yoga’ on all four cylinders which would free him from all worldly wants. A side-effect of this one-track meditation is Margayya’s general cluelessness and disdain for topics unrelated to his money, and therein lie the seeds of his downfall.
Margayya is never really happy throughout the story. He obtains wealth and power, but is never able to conquer his senses, and always yields to moha, lobha, and krodha, which ultimately combine to ruin him.
Margayya has no use for the Dharma that accords to the elder brother the respected position of a second father , being far more interested in grabbing his share of the family property. He is quite sad that the Hindu Samaj prevented a complete takeover of the house and had to make do with a half-share (“he would willingly have seen his brother’s family perish without water by closing it to them, but public opinion prevented the exercise of his right.”).
He has no use for Saraswati and learning, which is dismissed as a derivative product that can be purchased on-demand (“‘A man with whom the Goddess of Wealth favours need not worry much. He can buy all the knowledge he requires.“. The dharmic concept of profitability, Shubh Labh, is rejected in favor of amassing wealth regardless of all consequences to others, to his family, and even to himself.
He has no qualms about misusing kama and rejecting dharma in order to hoard wealth and acquire power. Moha blinds his eye like a Dhritharashtra to his son’s faults, and in any case, he convinces himself that a single-minded pursuit of Artha is the key that unlocked all the doors in this world for himself and his family. Every minute of his life is invested in this material quest, and it begins to acquire almost a spiritual quality. In short, Margayya’s misunderstanding of the priorities and implications of the Purusharthas leads him astray. Grihasthashrama Dharma takes a back seat. Moral relativism and a materialist clamor for rights overrides duties, replacing Hinduism’s contextual Dharma ethics  at every decision making fork in Margayya’s life journey.
Ultimately, Margayya begins to make money by the sackful. The more he made, the more it consumed him, until this activity completely drained him of his capacity to think straight. In a momentary lapse of reason, the coldly calculative Margayya is replaced by an angry, panic-stricken father. He loses control of his senses and strikes out against Dr. Pal, the very instrument that brought him all the wealth, and in one stroke, Dr. Pal ensures that all those earnings are taken away. Without the firm guidance of Dharma, Margayya the path finder himself loses his bearings, and returns to square one, financially bankrupt. There is some recognition in the end by Margayya of what he lost in his obsessive pursuit and why. The readers get a story filled with lessons from Dharma traditions.
The book has several memorable characters, but for brevity, we’ll focus here on Margayya’s friend, Dr. Pal.
Dr. Pal, Social Scientist
First, a brief introduction to Dr. Havelock Ellis (1859-1939). He was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Unlike India, where Kama was always recognized as one of the Purusharthas and celebrated in poetry, song, dance, painting, and sculpture, the Europeans in Dr. Ellis’ time were repressed by the strictures of Victorian morality. Ellis boldly shattered several taboos although he was indifferent to the dharmic/adharmic impact of his work. He appears to have been a proponent of Eugenics and oddly okay with the Nazi sterilization program. Freud appears to have borrowed some ideas from Ellis for his psychoanalytical theories .
Dr. Pal is the instrument that befriends, makes, and finally breaks Margayya (It’s unclear how he became “Dr”). He is a journalist and an author and a sociologist who is influenced by Ellis’ work. Like India’s eminent journalists, authors, and social scientists today, Pal too is a scientific expert.
He mashed together Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra and Dr. Ellis’ liberating ideas to create a scientific cocktail and distilled this wisdom into an illustrated book titled ‘Bed Life’. Margayya here represents the mentally colonized and under informed native who is overawed by ‘modern science’ label that claims to enhances and elevates an ancient Indian treatise. Margayya’s Lobha overcomes his instinctive disgust for Dr. Pal’s work and he benefits immensely from the proceeds obtained by publishing this bestseller (renamed ‘Domestic Harmony’ to avoid legal scrutiny and obscenity lawsuits). Margayya’s growth is seeded by the ill-gotten gain obtained from this salacious ‘digestion’ of Kamasutra.
Dr. Pal is the western-influenced free-thinking rebel for whom ‘anything goes’. Later, he brings to Margayya the steady supply of clientele required to sustain the latter’s Ponzi scheme. Dr. Pal is a double-edged weapon that Margayya tries to control. Despite Margayya’s best attempts to keep Dr. Pal away from his family, his corrosive influence begins to consume Margayya’s married son, and drives him to debauchery. At this point, Margayya loses his composure and beats up Dr. Pal who hits back by completely ruining Margayya, thereby completing the karmic cycle.
Lighter Side: Margayya versus Modi
Margayya loved cash, and only cash. “‘What am I to do with property?’ he said. ‘I want only money, not brick and lime or mud,’ he reflected when he reconverted his attached property into cash. Margayya seems happy only when he is counting cash. “…. the moment he reached home, he counted the notes again, bundled them up in tidy little batches, the lovely five-rupee and ten-rupee and the most handsome piece of paper – the green hundred-rupee note” .
Per RBI records, the thousand rupee note was introduced in 1938, withdrawn prior to independence, and reintroduced in 1954 . It is possible there wasn’t a significant percentage of high denomination notes (500/1000) in circulation during a time when these amounts were princely sums. Margayya’s Ponzi scheme attracted so many greedy and shady investors that nearby banks began to lose their deposits. However, no one in his office had any clue about his net worth. Margayya would’ve preferred higher denominations to hundred-rupee notes since he was running out of space for his cash stash at home (“there were currency bundles stacked up a foot high all over the floor.“). We’ve read in the newspapers how certain Indian co-op banks operate in present times, and why they’ve become a target for tax evasion investigators. Modi with his demonetization and push for a less-cash society could’ve badly dented both Margayya and the Malgudi co-op.
RK Narayan’s Writing
It is interesting to compare RK Narayan with Shashi Tharoor, another Indian writer whose English novels are popular. RK Narayan’s works are popular all over India for their relatively straightforward rendering and simple English, while Tharoor’s target audience appears to be the westernized elite in and outside India.
Maybe she's trying to learn English. I salute her spirit and am proud to contribute to her goal, despite your condescending elitist tone. https://t.co/MerK9HT557
It is not surprising that Tharoor chose to focus on, and expressed contempt for Narayan’s simple English, and was frustrated by RK Narayan’s indifference to a language that colonized Indian minds. Mocking his English as a ‘translation’ is actually a compliment, because when I read RK Narayan, it is like reading a timeless story in my mother tongue about our civilization, people, and way of life. On the other hand, the well-written prose in Tharoor’s ‘Great Indian Novel’ based on the Mahabharata gives it kerb appeal, but cannot mask its alienating lack of authenticity.
A purely intellectual view of itihasa is reductionist and guaranteed to fall short. While Tharoor has spoken eloquently about India’s heritage and its wisdom, he remains confused about the differences between religion and Dharma, and intellectual versus the adhyatmic . An entire generation of mentally colonized Indian writers in the last few decades, armed with excellent English, and indoctrinated in the Euro-centric humanities remains proudly clueless about the sacred art traditions of Bharatvarsha.Even if they wrote in an Indian language, it would still sound foreign. In contrast, RK Narayan as a child imbibed India’s Itihasa and Sanskriti from his grandmother. Perhaps it is this learning that is reflected in his stories.
There is no independent existence for, and artificial demarcation between, the secular/outer world and the sacred/inner realm in the ‘Financial Expert’. This reflects India’s unified view of reality. Preserving this integral approach  gives RK Narayan’s simple prose its powerful universal appeal. Injecting sophisticated western structures would actually interfere with, and diminish this impact. Just as Ananda Coomaraswamy noted in The Dance of Siva  that inserting western harmony in order to ‘enhance’ a sangeetam recitalwould be unnecessary and detrimental. Indeed, this integral perspective indicates that RK Narayan’s writings are part of a long, unbroken artistic tradition that follows the Natya Sastra (itself rooted in the four Vedas).
Bharata’s Natya Sastra  is the most influential ancient exposition on dramaturgy, performing arts, and aesthetics in the world , which was accessible to all sections of the society without geographical or linguistic restrictions. Rajiv Malhotra notes (emphasis mine) that the Natya Sastra “treats ‘natya’ as the total art form, including representation, poetry, dance, music, make-up and indeed the whole world. It is an organic and integral view encompassing the Vedic rituals, Shaivite dance and music, and the epic tales. The eight traditional rasas (love, humour, heroism, wonder, anger, sorrow, disgust, and fear) mirror the real world and come together in pursuit of the ‘purusharthas’ (human goal).” One can find all traditional rasas within the pages of the ‘Financial Expert’. We will end with RK Narayan’s own words in his 1964 book Gods, Demons and Others , where he shares his views regarding literature. He emphatically affirms the integrally unified perspective of Natya Sastra over a synthesizing approach (emphasis mine):
“Everythingis interrelated. Stories, scriptures, ethics, philosophy, grammar, astrology, astronomy, semantics, mysticism, and moral codes – each forms part and parcel for a totallife and is indispensable for the attainment of a four-square understanding of existence.
Literature is not a branch of study to be placed in a separate compartment, for the edification only of scholars, but a comprehensive and artistic medium of expression to benefit the literate and the illiterate alike. A true literary composition should appeal in an infinite variety of ways; any set of stanzas of the Ramayana could be set to music and sung, narrated with dialogue and action, and treated as the finest drama, studied analytically for an understanding of the subtleties of language and grammar, or distilled finely to yield esoteric truths“.
The fundamental characteristic of Bharatiya culture is that it looks upon life as an integrated whole. -Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya pic.twitter.com/zbUKILUIKh
After our preceding article on Romantic Sanskrit Poetry, it is only natural for people to ask whether our illustrious culture should be romantic, let alone, romanticised. Indeed, the current dispensation in the natural discourse seems to believe that everything but the legitimately native and authentically Indic, can be associated with such a feeling.
While we previously established not only the contours for Classical Indic Literature and provided redolently romantic examples of its high culture poetry, it is also important to understand the place of Romance in our culture. If there is opposition from libertine liberals to anything Sanskritic on the one end, there is opposition from Krypto-conservatives and their dour dreams of dreary duty only, on the other. But a marriage and a relationship between a man and woman is more than just about duty.
Dharmaprovides the basis to govern and preserve a relationship, and even makes a marriage meaningful, but it is the sentiment of Sringara that nourishes it. Even our greatest Kings, Warriors, and Avataras knew that Sringara (Romance) is also Part of our Culture.
Sringara, or as it is said stylishly in Shuddh Hindi, “Shringaar“, is of central importance not only in Indic Civilization, but in Dharmic culture as well. After all, the society that celebrates Siva-Sakti, and the equal halves of one soul that make a marriage of man and woman, can never be far from the Sringaaric.
Sri Rama‘s incarnation as Maryada Purushottam was the Perfect man doing Perfect duty, to the point of self-denial and self-abnegation. In our callous and foolish era, libertines disrespectfully refer to him as “misogynist”, despite his proper behaviour and even charming gentility around women. But selfish creatures cannot be expected to understand the self-sacrificing. Perfect Dharma demands that a King’s duty places his subjects before his own family, even his own wife. But that degree of perfection was only possible in an era of perfection, or near perfection (the Treta Yuga). In the Kali Yuga, even great and self-sacrificing men should not be expected to give up their faithful and loving wives today due to idle gossip, because subjects themselves have become corrupt and immoral.
Sita could expect the protection of a Maharishi like Valmiki—but where are such venerable elders today? As such, it is important to understand that, beyond the Dharma of Ram, beyond the Sacrifice of Ram, was the Romantic Nature of Ram. In an era when Kings commonly took many wives, Rama restricted himself to only one…why?
Chahe rajsinghasan par ho ya kusha ke asan par, har sthan par, Ram Sita ke bina adhora rahega.
Whether on the Throne of Kings or the Seat of Ascetics, in whatsoever place, Ram without Sita, is incomplete
Dharma does not mean denying our emotions and feelings. Dharma means relying on duty to channel and refine our feelings, so that we take the course of action that benefits the most people, rather than just the few, or ourselves.
A handsome, narashardula (tiger among men), peerless warrior, and great Emperor, lived the rest of his life in loneliness, pining over Sita, the only woman he ever loved, and ever married. He even commissioned the fashioning of a gold statue of her in remembrance.
As such, while Veera-rasa predominates throughout the Ramayana, there is undoubtedly a strong element of Sringara-rasa. The Romantic Love Sita and Rama shared for each other transcended not only their time, but inspires for all time. In an era when people fall in and out of relationships, or due to android applications—don’t even need them, how insolent to cast aspersion on such transcendental lovers? If newly wedded couples today are blessed with the benediction that they be like Sita & Rama, it is not merely so that they do their duty for society together (although that too is important). Rather, it is so that they too may have such a love.
Fraternity boys may not have time for such a conception of women. Red pill retrograde reading may be the present fraternal fashion. But to be properly prepared for marriage, a more sophisticated understanding of the opposite gender is required. To deny women love, is to deny women life. Abuse is certainly criminal, but neglect is truly sinful. Different women may have different natures, and not all women may be hopeless romantics (some may in fact exploit that sentiment, courtesy 498A, etc), but to not understand their general need for romantic love, and to perennially obsess over the anatomical and chemical, without contemplating the emotional, is foolishness. Lust is fleeting, and Duty is lasting, but it is Romantic Love that inspires and renews.
Ironically, the many pretenders to “player-hood” and catatonic khiladis who tom-cat about, fail to recognise precisely why the much-married Sri Krishna was so successful with women, even in his youth. Lust and the carnal are ephemeral; romantic love, when sought with skill is transcendental. Six-pack abs and well-heeled fabs may get attention, but it is charm that captivates it, and character that keeps it.
Confident attitude may be important, but charming disposition and gentlemanly conduct are crucial. Brutish behaviour may get attention, but it is not always good attention. The brazen braggart and boorish bouffon, are mere infants in the eyes of women, who prefer men to mere boys. Krishna was an invincible warrior, a cunning strategist, and a clever king among men, but he was also a cultivated gentleman, a charming conversationalist, an intoxicating instrumentalist, and above all, a cultured romanticist. Funny how would-be “hypermasculine”, self-declared “defenders of Dharma” forget that today. That is why it is important to study Nara Dharma properly, rather than merely concoct uni-dimensional understandings of Dharma and Nara and Naari.
Lord Krishna was the complete man, that is why women craved him.
The true defender of Dharma, is thus, neither brutish nor churlish, nor is he a braggart nor a bouffon. Rather than stomp about in aggressive assertion of his alleged greatness and “proficiency in ritual”, he exudes his values through his conduct, character, and conversation. The Redpill movement, personified by such storied lotharios as this lout, may have plenty of wrong ideas, but they are right about one thing: how you project yourself is more important than what you say.
How ironic that the most misogynistically medieval of forces, and the most oppressive of ideologies, have come to occupy the romantic space in the Indic mindspace today, due to bollywood. But while anti-national producers are to blame, the public at large bears its share of responsibility. After all, what measures has it taken to rollback this romantic monopoly marketing attempt? What of the volcanic growth of revolting “item dances”. Why must we look elsewhere, when Bharatiya Sanskriti perfected Romance?
A culture that knows not the import of courtship is a culture that has collapsed. When Romance becomes a mere veneer for Lust, when it too becomes a commodity for one day of candy sales, then lovers become nominal, replaceable, and interchangeable. Sringara is not mere Rati bhava (erotic feeling). Kama deva and Rati are indeed wedded together, but it is the combination of both that gives us the full spectrum of romantic love. It is why grihasthashrama is Dharma in fullness, not merely because of rati-bhava, but because of Sringara.
Premacomes in many forms: Vatsalyam, Bhakti, Mitrata—all are important. But as great as these all are in their own ways, Sringara is the most ecstatic. It is not for nothing that the author of the Natya Sastra, the great Sage…
…Bharat consecrated ‘Shringara’- love, as the apex of all ‘Rasas’, as if he was pre-determining the course of Indian arts – painting and sculpture, which later discovered their relevance and prime thrust mainly in love. If anything, Bharat said, was ‘sacred, pure, placid and worthy for eye’, it would be some aspect of ‘Shringara’. 
Arranged marriage has been the traditional model in our society, but that has never denied the importance of either romance or consent.Rukmini’s letter to Krishna asking him to rescue her, is a prime example of this. This is the society of the Svayamvara, where women cannot be seen as mere pawns for political alliances courtesy of the marital. They have their own adhikara too. Yes, they must choose wisely(something many aren’t doing of late), and Arranged Marriage with Consent, offers one such avenue, which is certainly less risky than commercialised industrialised “live-in” arrangements, which maybe start “in love”, but usually end up in “the clinic”. As such, there must be a balancing of interests:
1) Preserving the societal fabric for the next generation, 2) Providing a healthy environment for the nurturing of children, and yes, 3) Romantic compatibility.
The rights of women cannot be trampled upon in the matter of marriage. True, difficult times reduce freedoms for both men and women. But there is a difference between filtering eligible suitors from which to choose, and taking away choice completely. Rukmini was herself put in such a desperate position. This is where this daughter of Vidarbha demonstrated her strength as a woman and wrote a letter to Krishna declaring her love for him.
But Rukminichose wisely, not merely based on fleeting caprice, but on character (and yes, charm). She exercised her rights responsibly. It is important to consider character compatibility along with eligibility and mass-marketed marriageability. Match-making must not be a simple meat-market or political calculation that makes pawns of progeny. It is also a sacred union of souls and a sentimental bond. The Lord himself answered her call, and respected her choice.
Why wax nostalgic over DDLJ, when our Ancient Civilization already produced the real deal?
Main Yoddha bhi hoon!
For a long time, poets and commentators have used the wrong term, haranam to refer to the Rescue of Rukmini, when it is Rakshanam. The correct word is rakshanam or nistaaranam, because as Krishna himself says, he did not kidnap her, Rukmini called him. He responded to her letter asking him to rescue her and take her away from Vidarbha.
Lord Krishna’s example, in Rukmini Rakshana, was emulated by none other than that most Ideal of Rajputs: Maharana Pratap. Mewar’s greatest son chivalrously rescued a Rajput Princess who wrote a pleading letter to him. She was despicably being forced to marry a mughal. He heroically liberated her from her foolish relatives, and taking her back to his kingdom, he then married her, with all religious rites. Thus we see not only the intersection of Legend with History, but Duty with Romance. Dharma and Sringara are not polar opposites or antipodes, but are complements. Sringara gives Dharma sentiment, and Dharma gives Sringara meaning.
“Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze” – Elinor Glyn
All this is naturally causing indigestion to our krypto-conservatives on the dolt-right, so let me properly contextualise this for their edification:
Compatibility is not based on fleeting fancy or temporary lusts of the moment. Romance is not a mere veneer or hallmark style commodisation of sentiment. Sringara is meant to ennoble us beyond the everyday erotic. Where others see mere biology or TFR, Sringara in its full sense, exhorts good character and great conduct. Rukmini, Sita, and Savitriall sought out Sringara, but they pursued it the right way, looking for the right match based on long-term interests, societal good, and yes, noble romantic sentiment.
Savitri’s own choice showed her superiority over the women of today (and the less said about the men of today the better…but I digress). This Princess of Madra chose a man down on his luck but with good character to marry. She then became the veritable Lakshmi of the House by not only restoring him to his family’s ancestral kingdom, but restoring him to life. Sita herself forever abided by duty, but not only did she resist the lustful seduction attempts of Ravana in the face of imprisonment, inducements, and threats over the course of a year of torment, but she also sought out her Romance with Rama the right way.
Even the tale of Usha, and the grandson of Krishna named Aniruddha (a chip off-a chip off-the old block), is a romantic one. Usha sees the handsome Aniruddha in her dream, has her friend draw pictures of the illustrious princes of her time, and falls in love with this Prince of Dvaraka after hearing of his good qualities.
Thus, the surrender of Sringara is the single biggest strategic blunder by our Samskruthi Senapatis. Even more vile, has been the venal conflation of it by these copycats with mere “sensuality” and prioritisation of the ever compounding, compound-hungry, self-serving pedantry to pervade it. Before teaching others to certify them in their little social media certificate programs, it’s important to actually learn our culture & history correctly.
Sringara, therefore, is a critical aspect not only to revival of culture and civilization, but revival of civilized life and the beauty of life itself.
The Kashmiri commentator Anandavardhana wrote in his Dhvanyaloka : “In the shoreless world of poetry, the poet is the unique creator. Everything becomes transformed into the way he envisions it. If the poet is emotionally moved (lit. ‘in love’) in his poems, then the whole world is infused with rasa. But if he be without an interest in the senses (vitaraga), then everything will become dry (nirasa). (Dhvanyaloka, III. 43). [2,156]
The game of life must not only be played with discipline, and skill, but also with style, and in the right places, occasional sentiment.
Those identifying with the Dharmic view in India typically fall into two camps with respect to this topic. On the one hand we have those looking to create a drab and charmless society, where culture is only about mechanical karma, and Prema is only valid for Bhagavan (God). On the other we have the hippie free spirits or libertine liberals who, despite their undoubted patriotism, are tribalists (i.e. modern global types who nevertheless cheer for their home team) who seek to map their “liberal”/”feminist”/”new age Male” views on to Hindu Dharma, and frequently see sex detached from love.
Despite their diametrically opposing views, both of them fail to understand the importance of Sringara to our tradition. To the paleo-conservatives, romantic love is seen as a valentine’s day derived western import and an impediment to their dream society of boring severity. To others, romance is seen onlythrough western rom-coms or bollywood buffoonery, where “love” is a commodity, and thus, not truly romantic, nor specifically, “True Love”. In the wake of all this, we chart the middle path.
Whether it’s Sita-Rama, Savitri-Satyavan, Indumati-Aja, Malati-Madhava or even the nameless Yakshi & Yaksha of Meghaduta, Romance has always been an inseparable part of our Indic Culture, Tradition, and Civilization.
It has, in fact, been a part of it from the very beginning. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad tells us in the Fourth Brahmana, of how the Supreme Being became lonely and wished for a second. Dividing into 2, what once had no gender, re-emerged as two lovers: a man and woman in eternal embrace. That is the beginning of creation. [8, 164]
And, for all the attempts to brand Hindu culture as regressive towards women on account of Sati, how many people know of King Aja who inconsolably climbed upon his wife’s funeral pyre? He had to be dragged down, because he had a responsibility to rule. As soon as his minor son came of age, he starved himself so as to reunite with his beloved Indumati. Separating cases of societal misconduct on Sati (anyways barred by Dharmasastra in the Kali Yuga) from the nature of certain ideals is important; otherwise, it is emblematic of a desire to misconstrue and misportray. Aja, by the way, was none other than the grandfather of Rama.
Classical India was replete with such famous pairings. Even great romantic heroes such as Udayana Vatsaraja (the King of Vatsa) appeared in numerous romantic escapades that would put Don Giovanni to shame. But while the latter featured in eponymous operas, whither the Vatsaraja in bollywood? Dramas abound in his name, with such classical works as Svapnavasavadatta and Ratnavali, and yet, no knowledge, let alone mention of this Romantic Hero. It’s why this article by sickularatti is so ignorant. Ancient India did have such figures, but Lutyenswallahs simply refuse to acknowledge this, due to their own agendas.
Sringara Rasa is Romantic Love and Romantic Sentiment. In fact, so sophisticated was Bharatavarsha’s approach to romance, that our literature even divided it into two main categories: Vipralambha & Sambhoga.
Vipralambha Sringara—Love in Separation
This is further divided into two kinds:
Ayoga- the Non-consummation of marriage, and
Viprayoga-the Separation of the lovers deep in love (after marriage). “The former which arises from the dependent position of one or the other of the parties through distance or the intervention of adverse fate, has ten stages, ‘abhilasha, chinthaa etc.,..; the latter occurs through maana, pravaasa or some such cause.‘” [2, 3]
Sambhoga—Love in Union
Sambhoga is Love in Union. Vivaha is naturally the best form of this, and birth of a child, also part of the romance. After all, what demonstrates the love of another than wanting to join your qualities together?
Sambhoga has many elements including seeing, conversing, embracing, kissing, and consummation. In fact, the word Sambhoga literally means “mutual enjoyment”—which characterises not only the Indic view of love but also of sex…so whose society is chauvinist now?
This topic, in fact, will merit a deeper discussion in future articles already prepared. In any event, all this is well and good for a “classical” construct. But what of modernity? What about the here and now?
Many of you may be concerned. Parents may be bewildered at the notion of their children being distracted, and college boys fretting that their anime fantasies may now be spoiled. But look around, youth are already distracted, and are increasingly becoming depraved. Modern media, be it movies, TV, or most powerful of all, the internet, has made it possible to not only mould young minds, but to misinform and even misguide them. Is it any wonder divorce has sky-rocketed, and fidelity has plummeted? Many are having more sex than ever before, with more ‘lovers’ than ever before, but how many actually love? More importantly, how many are actually happy?
Romance is best when it is balanced with responsibility. Charisma is a passing fad, but Character is timeless. Character & Charm best of all.
If men are guilty of superficiality based on looks and lust, then women are guilty of weighing only material gains and fashionability. Just because bollywood portrays pardesis as “romantic” doesn’t mean that is the case. Just because you only see a particular medieval set of monarchs doesn’t mean they embody nobility. Stop doing merely what you are told is trendy, and use your own judgment to judge what is right for you.
Looks fade, and even Romance ebbs and flows, it is a common Dharma rooted in a common ideal of character, and a common lifestyle, with common loyalties, that binds couples.Romance is most meaningful when we admire not only looks, but also inner nobility. True, individuals can enhance their looks & appeal (marketing is in fact not all that new after all), and can put their best foot forward. They can even become accomplished like Ravana was. But it is character that is the true bond of any relationship. Superficialities are a means of catching and keeping interest.
But as with weapons of war, these Suhstras of Sringara are not to be used irresponsibly. To seduce is sinful, as it is deceit with ill-intention. It is superior to charm and to in turn, be charmed. Suhstra too requires Sastra, and wiles must be wielded as weapons are…with care. Woman too, wields many weapons, none more devastating than her eyes. But before you can get to the intermediate and advanced levels, learn the basics.
Learn how to wash properly
Learn how to dress properly
Learn how to behave properly
Learn how to charm properly
What is charm? It is the implicit appreciation of the presence of another. It is assuredness, without imposition. It is social grace and charisma. This does not always require song, and dance, or painting or a Versace wardrobe or a huge performance. It can be as simple as knowing how to have a conversation, or to interject it periodically with poetry. It’s not so much what you say…but…how you say it.
Much may be made of the scene ending here, but for those who know Dharmasastra, Gandharva vivaha was also a legitimate form of marriage. Though usually preceded by rounds around the fire or at least garlanding or giving of rings, Gandharva vivaha (gandharva style of marriage) required no rituals and results in union of mutual consent. Though it is not recommended, as men in this era duping women have shown, in the ancient times, it nevertheless resulted in commitment, as those who have seen Baahubali know both characters effectively considered themselves married after this song.
Since we’re on the topic of the Romantic, I thought I might use this as a segue to a little advice to all the would-be womanisers and wannabe Carrie Bradshaws out there.
As we’re now well into the era of “Love Marriage” I thought I might bring a healthier perspective to those of us who have dipped their toes (or dived headfirst) into the dating scene. I know there are plenty of working professionals today who continue to go the “Arranged” route and others who go the dating route—I am not judging either way, just giving helpful advice for both. This applies especially for guys PIO, NRI or even NIR —but also to gals as well. Whatever you decide to do, it’s always better to first learn from those older to you. Then make your own choice.
1. Do Not take rejection personally.
I can’t stress this one enough, whether it’s an arranged Match that didn’t work out or a college girlfriend/boyfriend. It’s admittedly very hard to do (especially when we are young and obsessed with what others think (early vs late 20s)), but most people aren’t told this early enough. There are several ways to cope with this. One is the tried and tested “plenty of fish in the sea”/ “your loss”. Another, per Ovid, is to take a trip with a trusted friend to some safe place, and gain perspective. But perhaps the all time best, in my opinion, is that the other person simply isn’t “the One”. Many people may not believe in soulmates, but for those who navigate the treacherous waters of the dating world—this is the best defence when a romantic escapade doesn’t work out. Even if you don’t believe in “The One”, accept the fact that you weren’t right for each other, because no matter how much sense it makes in your head, your theory is invalid if it doesn’t work in practice.
Not constructively processing rejection is fraught with dangers. We’ve all heard the old adage “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, and the frequent and tragic cases of acid throwers in South Asia are simply horrid. While strong punishment may deter some of this, it is imperative that fathers, uncles, and elder brothers/friends need to dissuade their idiot juvenile sons/nephews/brothers from such ideas by telling them this factoid from day 1.
A real man, knows how to control himself. Same goes for you ladies.
Unfortunately, the romantic scene has become something of an extra-curricular activity or time pass. Courting and Courtship was once a high art, which has now devolved into the hookup culture or irresponsible and frequently unprotected sex. Rather than the rare exception, the one-night stand has, for all too many people, become the rule.
This one is appropriate especially for the gals, because, well, let’s face it, the biological clock starts ticking earlier for you (you don’t have to take my word for it) . This makes #1 easier, since the approach is to find the person you should marry. In essence, girls and guys should focus on Mr/Miss Right rather than Right now.
Ladies, I hate to say it, but this one is up to you. So if you’re not going the arranged route, and decide early on to put yourself in the market for a boyfriend-en route to-husband—don’t date recreationally in an endless relationship to nowhere, or have a string of affairs to the bottom if you break up, but make him court you with long-term intentions.
There is plenty of nonsense out there, especially in this post-SATC world that makes the Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle glamorous—but check in with your single female friends/cousins in their late 30s and 40s—and ask if what the third wavers call “sex-positive” really is all that fulfilling.
And to all the wannabe khiladis, look no further than one of the all-time great fictional playboys, Sam Malone. The latter years showed just how empty his life was, no matter how many women filled his social calendar. The allure of fast times, fast women, and fast cars runs out real fast when father time comes knocking. So find a path that works for you, maybe even at your own pace, but don’t get suckered in by fashionable puffery in cosmo, playboy, MGTOW, jezebel, or whatever other intellectual cul-de-sac in which you find yourself.
3. Guys, don’t complain, Up your game
One of the reasons arranged marriage has been emphasised by elders for so-long is because expectations are never the same. Many women can expect the world and, well let’s face it, we guys are lazy.
If you think boorish behaviour and being a jackass will get you far, you need to get your head examined, or at least see a different kind of doctor.
There is a difference between self-assured confidence, and off-putting crudity. You may gain the fleeting fancy of the lowest common denominator, but if you a looking for a quality girl, of good character, that is not the way.
Learn the fine art of charm. Don’t just awkwardly sing or poorly play the guitar. Master the fine art of conversation, refine yourself. Learn Poetry.
What is charm? It is the tacit expression of pleasure in the company of another. In contrast to self-serving sharks and self-involved screechers, a charming person is neither looking to “dominate” nor lead on a person, but is self-assured, confident, & calm. Exude charm.
4. Put your Best Foot forward
There’s a difference between trying to be the best version of yourself or doing a little brand-building, and out and out pretending to be something you’re not.
It’s why Vatsyayana stresses the importance of the 64 Arts. Graduating from a good school is good, so is having a great job or “high iq”. But finding the right person to marry isn’t simply a matter of exchanging genome charts. This is where cultivating yourself (something we have stressed throughout many topics) comes in handy. If you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, merely finding “a girl who likes playing playstation” is probably not the way to go.
Also, hygiene is very important—and yes ladies—that means you too…
5. Be courteous
Guys, don’t get into this moronic trend of “negging” where you openly insult girls to catch their interest. But do be playful and politely joke around with them. The point is for both of you to have fun . If you’re not interested in the girl, don’t be mean and destroy her already fragile ego ( girl world is ruthless enough as it is—and photoshopped magazines certainly don’t help).
Learn to listen.Don’t just hear what the other person is saying, listen and digest it.
And ladies, politely let down guys you are not interested in. It’s the best way to ensure (though not necessarily guarantee) they don’t end up walking on the dark side or enter the forbidden land of Darr. But, also do recognise that some people are unfortunately obsessive groupies or creeps or mentally ill—so do be careful, and if it becomes apparent, then avoid and take action to distance and protect yourself.I should note that, this is yet another reason why many advocate and even prefer the arranged courting/marriage path.
Your relatives and family friends can already do a decent job of filtering out most people with such issues. They can certainly do this much better than WhatsApp, Tinder, OkCupid, and whatever else you kids are on this days.
6. Don’t lead people on
There was recently an internet meme that asked men and women to break the cycle of players/jerks and [rhymes with witches]. It showed how debutante-ingénues and blue-eyed boys are taken in by these characters and turned into the very thing that once harmed them.
The single easiest way to break this cycle is to not lead people on. If you’re not interested, or you simply don’t see a future, break it off early—or best of all, don’t get involved in the first place. Yes, every now and then we run into a hottie who captivates us, but self-restraint is part of being an adult as well.
7. Think long term
I’m not saying declare your love on the first meeting itself, or ask what the other would name a first child on the first date, but don’t be a flake either.
Don’t put off the tough questions till after you’re deep into a relationship or reached a point of no return (i.e. engagement, moving in, etc). Questions about a future child’s religion, culture, language—or your future place of residence are all important.
These should be anyways factors in deciding whom you enter into a relationship with either right away—or where appropriate, after a few weeks/ months in.
In fact, one particular case merits mentioning. An NRI college girl a long time ago was known to not date at all. When asked by the boys and girls in her friends circle why, she said she just couldn’t bear the idea of going through serial and pointless heartbreak without any commitment. To go through serious emotional pain without any certainty of some commitment seemed to dilute the potential of marriage in her mind. She figured she’d be better off focusing on her studies, and then have her family suggest eligible suitors from which she could choose. This may not be everyone’s view, and certainly there are those who find their spouses in college, etc. Nevertheless, it is a useful anecdote to explain why even if you choose to enter into relationships, make sure they’re ones with serious long term potential.
8. Be age appropriate.
Dating in high school is generally not advisable, whatever the stories may be coming out of DPS. I’m not saying go crazy in college when the cage door is opened, but it’s a good idea to focus on your education and discipline yourself before you go off to University (it’s why our ancient texts referred to student life as “brahmacharya”). True, a bachelors’ is often itself a stepping stone to a masters’ degree or beyond, but there’s no point in distracting yourself even before you’ve secured that first step (college admission) in your career/profession.
A degree of emotional maturity too is also advisable. And the whole May-December Romance thing is a mirage. Don’t waste your time pursuing something that clearly has no chance at long term viability (just ask Demi Moore or the countless old millionaires with gold-digging wives).
9. Be careful. Looks can be Deceiving.
Sometimes, parents of a boy or girl don’t know, sometimes they try to pass them off as something else.
I hate to break it to you boys and girls, but not every woman with a pretty face is a lady and not every man with seductive sophistication is a gentleman. There are goldiggers and players/cads out there who play with your hearts to advance their own agendas and vanities. That’s why it’s important not to fall head over heels—but to use your head and evaluate and even test whether the person who has so enamoured you really is what he or she claims to be. It’s also additional reason to not get too intimate too quickly (or further reason to wait until you’re married, if you feel that’s best as our sastras do). “Everyone is doing it” is not a reason to start, especially if you’re a girl. Actions do have consequences, so choose wisely. (If you’re a girl, test the guy to see if his profession of love is genuine. Make him wait…best of all…until marriage). Just to give you girls a bit more help, there is a saying among “Modern” men today that you may not like, but that you probably need to hear, so here goes : ‘Why buy the cow, when you get the milk for free‘. It is rude, it is crude, but it is a little insight into the male mind. Draw your own conclusions.
All too many innocent girls end up not only breaking ties with their family, but engaging in a life that they would not otherwise embark on because an abusive boyfriend takes predatory advantage of their love. Remember, if he really loves you, he won’t make you degrade yourself, or do something you feel would compromise your character, or end up in some internet video (like poor Miss Hilton)…he may walk off and sulk or grumble, but will thank you (years) later and admit you were right—if he actually loves you. If he doesn’t love you, then well, he’ll drop you faster than you can say “Mujhse Shaadi Karoge”.
What’s more, due to the influence of some malignant fundoos (guys and girls), not every person out there is harmless either and may shower you with attention and affection one minute, then withdraw it the next if you don’t go along with them—repeating the process with several other partners, sometimes simultaneously. So please use your best judgment when you meet someone new—and take care to keep your friends (and ideally families) in the loop as well. This is the best way to make sure you find your someone special—while staying safe.
10. Be Honest
This of course is within reason, but the general principle does hold. If you don’t want to move or you don’t want kids, say so from day 1. Don’t fudge the issue so as to make someone commit on false pretences. While those who go the arranged route aren’t as (generally) encumbered by questions of romantic pasts, this is a factor for those who date. Again, better to be honest—within reason of course.
There is of course plenty more advice I could proffer—but I can’t give away all the crown jewels of House Nripathi …I will conclude with this though: The most important thing is to try to have a good time, and remember if it isn’t meant to be, it isn’t meant to be, and if it is—it is…
It is symptomatic of the topsy-turvy age that we live in that concerted attempts have been made to remove the Romantic from the Indic. How ironic that the civilization which practically invented the concept of soulmates (see the symbolism of a Hindu marriage) is asked by sepoys if it knows how to love?
Yes, bollywood sickulars, Indians (real Indians) know how to love. Bharat perfected romance millennia ago. Excerpt from Dasakumaracharita, regarding the love of Princess Avantisundari for Rajavahana:
“There, in the course of conversation with regard to her lover, she, coming to know his family and name from Balachandrika, was overcome with intense love (with the fall of Cupid’s arrows), and began to grow emaciated day by day, like the crescent of the moon in the dark half of the month, from the pangs of separation.
She gave up taking food and her other daily pursuits, and in her secret chamber restlessly rolled her creeper-like (slender) frame on a bed formed of (tender) leaves and flowers wetted with sandal-juice. Her female friends, seeing the delicate princess in that state withering with the fire of love, and feeling very sad, tried to cool her body, with materials for relief from the torment, such as water prepared for her bath, mixed with sandal, usira and camphor and kept in gold vessels, garments of lotus-fibres, and fans of lotus-leaves. Even that application of cooling reeds simply [causes] fire to appear on all sides in her body like water dropped in heated oil…”[1, 50]
Subhaga kusuma sukumaaram jagadana vadhyam vilokya te roopam |
Mama maanasa mabhila shathi tvam chinttam kuru tathaa mrudulam ||
[she spoke;] ‘only the prince [Rajavahana], who surpasses even Kamadeva in masculine beauty, can successfully cure this heat of the fever of love. But he is beyond my reach; what am I to do?’ [1, 69-70]
Prince in Dasakumaracharita:
“There is no real happiness for those who lead a single life, or for those who have no wives of corresponding virtues. How then shall I obtain an accomplished consort?” [1,158-159]
So enough. Don’t degrade yourself with Fifty Shades of Grey, and don’t be prey for those who just want a lay. Be wise, be smart, and think long-term. Forgo the False Dichotomy of Pleasure vs Family life. Responsible marriage choices and Romance are not diametrically opposed. Sringara (Romance) is also Part of Our Culture—you must only learn it correctly.
Whether it is Kamadeva or Kalidasa, Ratidevi or Radha, Indic Civilization perfected the Romantic. Sanskrit, Prakrit, Braj, Telugu all were languages of love.
The time has come again to not only dream & converse in our own languages, but to love in them as well. The masses mastered Prakrit & desa bhasha, but Sanskrit was the elite’s.
Sringara is not an obstacle to Dharma. In fact, Sringara can inspire it. The most beautiful of women, after all, inspire men to climb the most difficult of mountains.
To reconstitute a Dharmic Indic elite, its romantic aesthetic, courtly etiquette, and noblesse oblige must all be reconstituted as well and adapted to the present time.
But crooked kupamandukas and selfish gyaanis bereft of nobility cannot revive the romantic with their bumpkin aesthetic—they forever dream of the erotic and pass off sringara as merely sensual.
Sringara is more than just sensuality: it is the self-sacrifice and refined affection and cultivated commitment of the gentlemanly and ladylike alike. These couples live on not only in each others arms, or in the pages of history, but in the hearts and souls of a people.
Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. Delhi: MLBD. 2009
Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
Civilization is more than the mere sum of its principles, precepts, philosophies, and pasts. It extends beyond even an ideal or reciprocal duties. At its uttermost height, it is in fact, a sentiment. Bharatiya Sanskriti is very much about Dharma, Rta, and Satya, but that Satya that is at its heart, is also the timeless Truth of Prema.
For Indic Civilization, for any Civilization, to Revive itself, it must not only think, dream, and converse in its own language, it must also love and romance in it. Sringara (Romance) is also Part of Our Culture. For far too long have its masses been misguided by foreign thoughts ennobled by Indian implementations, or foreign thinkers using local rustics to change the meaning of our words. And for far too long have they reduced the Indian, the Indic, the Hindu Culture we know & love as only ascetic or erotic., when it is also Romantic. The very height of the Romantic in Classical India was the Sanskritic.
And which wordsmith could be more romantic than than that master of Simile, Mahakavi Kalidasa,and his eternal Kavya. For almost 2,000 years, this most perfect of poets has made even the most pedantic recognise that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Long before Shakespeare asked “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day“, the Court Poet of King Vikramaditya had become the utmost paragon of Upama, with comparisons that were as fresh and unique as the flowers that garlanded the Gods.
Ours was, and is, a civilization and culture of not only great warriors and devout women, but also charming gentlemen and passionate princesses. But as all things in Dharma, it is time, place, and manner that takes a natural feeling and ennobles it to a timeless aesthetic. And what can be more aesthetic than the romantic?
Therefore, without further ado, we bring you the first in an Anthology (accompanied by commissioned artwork), a concept that was a decade in the making…
…and the next installment of our Continuing Series on Classical Indic Literature:
Romantic Sanskrit Poetry.
Ancient India had many timeless love stories. Katha, Kavya, Purana, and Itihasa are replete with lovelorn lovers, hopeless romantics hoping against hope, and eternal soulmates reuniting with each other across times and lifetimes. True, Rukmini & Sri Krishna, Sita & Rama, and Siva-Parvati, are all famous Divine lovers. But even we mortals figured in our ancient tales, in love stories worthy of not only drama, and opera, but even cinema.
Quite possibly the most famous of such prema kathas comes from the Land of the Kurus. The sons of Bharata take their name from that Bharata was born to this couple, who entwined the legendary with the historical. The ancestors of the great Emperors of Hastinapura were the great Chandravanshi King and Conqueror, Maharaja Dusyanta & his lady love Sakuntala.
Mentioned in the Mahabharata, this courting couple was forever immortalised by Mahakavi Kalidasa. His famed drama was called Abhijnana-Sakuntalam: The Recognition of Sakuntala. This paramount of romantic poets produced a timeless tale of love, separation, and reunification. The composition was artful, the verses were tasteful, and the numerous productions of this play wonderful, across the centuries. Such were the Kailasan heights that Sanskrit Drama ascended to, that many thousands of years later, the famed German poet-philosopher Goethe exclaimed:
Willst du die Blüthe des frühen, die Früchte des späteren Jahres,
Willst du, was reizt und entzückt, willst du was sättigt und nährt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde, mit Einem Namen begreifen; Nenn’ ich, Sakuntala, Dich, und so ist Alles gesagt.
Wouldst thou the young year’s blossoms and the fruits of its decline
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed,
Wouldst thou the earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine? I name thee, O Sakuntala! and all at once is said. 
So fascinated were foreigners by the Recognition of Sakuntala that there are 46 translations of this play in 12 European languages, going back to the first in 1789. Indeed, in Europe, even a libretto was composed and Operas performed on it, at the height of the Colonial era. While it is nice to impress the videshi, however, it is better to take inspiration from the Bharatvasi. Sakuntala was forever ceremonialised by Raja Ravi Varma in his celebrated paintings. She is seen here with friends, artfully posing.
Sakuntala has also been produced not only on stage (including a notable English language production in 1920) but on-screen many times starting with a silent film (also in 1920). Yet so-called contemporary “national cinema” seems to have forgotten it (except back in 1947) for the time-worn recipes and veneers-of-lust masquerading as romance produced with parasika playwrights. Production values and marketing and black money may make it big at the box office, but it is the beating heart of a civilization and the sentiments and emotional verses it perfected, that make truly time-tested art.
The time has come for a new production of the great plays of Mahakavi Kalidasa, the foremost of which was the Recognition of Sakuntala. If compromised producers don’t have the fortitude, than the public at large should crowdsource a production with a talented director armed with artistic talent. This great Sanskrit drama could elegantly flow with Shuddh Hindi (or in my case, Telugu) dialogue that sets the stage for elegant Sanskrit verses, across scenes. Serenading with song may be well and good; charming with poetry is even better.
As Bollywood may not have the national interest at heart, perhaps it’s time for Tollywood to again step into the vacuum and inspire the nation. To do so, let would-be directors study the composition first.
A play in 7 acts, it begins with the traditional Prastaavana (Prologue) and Benediction (Nandi). Despite being a drama, Abhijnaanasaakuntalam is a veritable treasure trove of poetry with 34 slokas in the first act, 18 in the second, 26, in the third, 21 in the fourth, 31 in the fifth, 32 in the sixth, and 35 in the seventh…a grand total of 197couplets.
This opus is interwoven with supple Sanskrit slokas, a multitude of characters, and the prominent theme of Sringara Rasa (Romantic sentiment). “The drama‘was meant for translating the whole subject from one world to another—to elevate love from the sphere of physical beauty to the eternal heaven of moral beauty’“. [1, xxiv]
The Nayaka (hero) is Dusyanta of the House of the Kurus and the Nayika is Sakuntala, daughter of Sage Viswamitra and the Apsara Menaka. She had been cared for by Saakuntas (birds) and was therefore called Sakuntala. She was later raised by Maharishi Kanva, and grew up into a beautiful woman. The recognition of Sakuntala has in fact come down to us in two versions. The traditional one is found in the Mahabharata. Kalidasa gives us another, however, that brings us a brilliant battle in the Heavens with Dusyanta assisting the Devas in their war against the Asuras.
There are total of 4 recensions (a Devanagari, a Bengali, a Kashmiri, & an Andhra one) and two variations of the story. Nevertheless, both of these versions retell the birth of Bharata Dausanti, better known as Sakuntala-putra Bharata. Though the original Bharata who gave his name to our Land was the son of Rishabha of the Ikshvaku Dynasty, for a period of time, it was called Nabhi-varsha (after a king of the same House). But Sakuntala-putra was so famed for his world conquest and righteous rule, that the name Bharatavarsha came into fashion once more.
Whichever version you prefer, there is surely a blockbuster movie in the making here. If only the right director, with the right vision, and right talent (and right finances!) comes along. But financial matters are for the bean-counters. The aesthete is more concerned with the achievement of the author, and the talent that created this work.
The biography of that best of Kavis, Kalidasa, is a tale in and of itself—indeed, it is worth of a book, an article, a cinema, or several. Correspondingly, the writer who intertwined legend with history and delightful fancy with moral principles, led a life of similar meeting points. By the present foreign paradigm, he is dated to the 4th century CE, but it is more likely that he belongs to the 1st Century BCE instead.
The foregoing discussion is enough to justify the truth and the vitality of the age-long tradition that the poet belongs to the days of the glorious King Vikramaditya of Ujjayini—the founder of the Samvat era (57 B.C.) [1, vi]
It is not for nothing that Jayadeva (of Gita Govinda fame) referred to Kalidasa as “Kavi kula guru” (master of poets). Famous for his love of Ujjayini (in modern Madhya Pradesh) and praise of Vikrama, Kalidasa was and is the undisputed King of Kavya. Blessed by the Goddess from whom he takes his name, this ‘Servant of Kaali’ would go on to marry a princess and be considered one of the Navaratnas—Nine Gems of Avanti’s Court. “Ujjayini was the city of his heart and he is delighted to sing of her glories and the romantic loves of her maidens“. [1, vi] He would set standards of excellence in poetry for millennia.
Abhijnaana-Saakuntalam is arguably the most immortalised of all of Kalidasa’s compositions. While his other dramas (Malavika-Agnimitram & Vikramorvasiya) have also been celebrated on canvas, it was the story of the Signet ring that has captured imagination throughout the centuries.
The weaving of beautiful poetry, in the form of slokas (Sanskrit couplets), into the rupaka (dramatic composition) gives the literary experience more resonance. With the exception of Meghaduta, Kalidasa’s other works of pure poetry don’t rise to the same love of pure romantic sentiment. Kumarasambhavam is one of his contributions to thePancha-Mahakavyas (the other being the famous Raghuvamsa), but it is an epic work with a hint of the erotic. Sringara-tilakam is very much a freshman work, but one that nevertheless gives us periodic foreshadowing of future talent, even in his younger days. And Rtu-samhara is very much a celebration of the seasons in all their splendour. Though Sringara rasa predominates, it is more of a descriptive work.
But while it is important to prepare the palate before cultivated taste can be appreciated in the aesthetic arts, one should not linger too long. This exegesis on this play, this poet, and this poetry, was all for the purpose of better understanding Sringara-Sanskrita-Kavya: Romantic Sanskrit Poetry.
To better prepare for married life, it is important to not only learn how to become eligible, but also marriageable. The courtly aesthetic is important not only in kingly courts, but in the courtship of couples.
Bharatiya boys, you may want to take notes. And Bharatiya ladies…you’re welcome…
I.Sarvat aapsara sambhavaisha
Maanushishi katham va syaadrsya roopasya sambhava |
Na prabhaatha ralam, jyothi, roodhethi, vasudaata laath ||
Truly born from a heavenly apsara
For what woman could give birth to such a lovely form.
After all, the sparkling light of tremulous beams, does not rise from the surface of the earth. [‘but descends from the heavens’] A.1 sl.26
II.Kaamam priyaa na sulabha manasthu tabdaava darshanaa-srvaasi |
Akrutaarthe api manasije rati mubhaya-praarthanaa kurute ||
True, my darling is not easily attainable; yet my heart assumes confidence from observing the manner in which she seems affected.
Even though our love has not hitherto prospered, our mutual longing, nevertheless, causes delight. A.2 sl.1
III. (smitam krutva) Evamaatmaa-bhipraya sambhaaviteshta-jana-chittavrutti praartha-
Yitaa vidambyate tadhyatha
(smiling) Thus is the lover beguiled, who judges of the state of his beloved’s feeling by his own desires. It is thus
The tender look she cast, even while she directed her eyes elsewhere; her slow movement caused by the heaviness of her hips, as if for grace’s sake; the angry words she spoke to her friend who detained her saying ‘Do not go; ‘ all this was, no doubt, on my account! Ah! How does a lover discover his own (everywhere!).A.2 sl.2
IV. Chitre niveshye parikalpita sattva-yogaa
Roopa-uchchayena manasaa vidhinaa krutaa nu |
Stree-ratna srushtir-aparaa prathibhaathi saa me
Dhaatur-vibhutvam-anuchintya vapuscha tasyah ||
Was she conceived in a picture [painting] and then endowed with life?
Or was she moulded in the Creator’s mind from an assemblage of all lovely forms?
When I meditate on the power of Brahma, and my beloved’s lineaments, she appears to me a matchless creation of the most beautiful of women. A.2 sl.9
V. Anaaghraataṃ puṣpaṃ kisalayam aloonaṃ kara-ruhair
Ankitham: Dedicated to a 'Song Offering', who spent many a long & lonely night waiting to be sung and serenaded.
Acknowledgment: Gratitude to the amateur voice actor who brought these couplets to life & vibrant resonance—a Lothario in real life,no doubt.
Acknowledgment: My thanks to the Artist Archana,whose talent I'm sure, will blossom like the flowers she painted here.
Special Acknowledgment: My utmost appreciation for Nilambari. Her tireless work consulting on this effort and ever insightful counsel ensured this project finally materialised after years. Thank you.
*Minor Proofing for some translations