Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Civilizational Resonance of Baahubali

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal, on July 22, 2015


Baahubali

Much water has flowed down the waterfall south of Mahishmati since we last touched on this topic. Those of you following us on Andhra Cultural Portal would have read our Post 2 years ago when Baahubali-The Beginning was released. Well, unless you were living in one of those caves featured in the film, you would not only be familiar with this phenomenon, but also would have watched it…several times.

And make no mistake, this Andhra movies is not just a national or global phenomenon, but especially a civilizational one for all members of Indic Civilization. It is not for nothing this Telugu language movie was a hit in Nepal. Part 2’s distribution rights have already sold for 3 crores in Prithvi Narayan Sah‘s Hindu Rajya.

You would also have heard the new trailer was one of the fastest to garner 100 million views on YouTube. Wondering why? — see for yourself!

So in honour of Srisaila Sri Rajamouli’s digital age epic’s second installment, Baahubali 2-The Conclusion, we give a reprint of our review of Part 1. Enjoy. Watch the movie. And above all…

Jai Mahishmati!


The scores are in, the box office has reported, and the people have spoken: Baahubali-The Beginning is a box office behemoth. S.S. Rajamouli’s smash hit is truly a magnum opus that has swept all of India, South and North of the Vindhya. Indeed, much ink has already marked the proverbial paper, and a number of columns, cookie cutter top tens, and well-penned essays have made their mark. What’s more, long derided regional Telugu cinema is no longer seen as merely a source for remakes, but as even foreigners note, is a source of jealousy for Bollywood insiders. As Krishnarjun gaaru has written, the industry itself has the potential to go back to its golden age 3-5 decades ago, with classics such as Maya Bazaar and Missamma.

Nevertheless, while ACP typically analyzes movies long after the glitz and glamour of a premiere has passed, there is something special about this film that has come to underscore the present zeitgeist. As such, this post is not our standard cinematic analysis, or a fine study of symbology, or even a well-crafted commentary on the industry’s future. Rather it is about understanding the cultural resonance of Baahubali and why it’s relevant and indeed a revelation at this place and at this time. We have sought to do this with ** No Spoilers** for those of you who have yet to see it.

First, a Rejoinder

Despite all the acclaim— not only in the Telugu rashtras or even just Bharata desa, but also globally—sour grapes from the standard set has been increasing from dribble to a deluge. The bitter wine they swill is in the hopes of poisoning the popular opinion. As such, a rejoinder is in order.

Almost two weeks in, the knives are now out courtesy the usual suspects: “Idea of India” indoctrinues (copyright pending for portmanteau), Dubai-gang ghulams of bollywood, and assorted sordid-sickulars of all sorts are now slashing at this movie, after a proverbial puissant punch to the solar plexus. Gasping for breath, these pill-popping, phillim-hopping philistines have the gall to tear down this movie by hook or by crook. The “un-original” charges (Tarzan this, Lord of the Rings that) are particularly asinine, especially coming from bollywood. After all, Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay drew from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, which drew from John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, which ultimately drew from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. It’s invariable that inspiration here and there may come from different sources–the question is breathing new life, new vision, and new context into them, and weaving them into a unique piece. Baahubali has accomplished this to the shame of Bollywood.

As these intellectual imps impotently shriek and wailed “animal film!”, “symbolic molestation!”, “misogyny!”, they tried every trick in the book, first saying they “don’t review south movies”—but hey check out this no name flick from our sworn enemy), then they ridiculed looks  or even the very idea of a big hit “from south”, finally they began throwing mud through specious Freudian analyses and crackpot conclusions about tribal relations. In short:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Setting aside their ignorance about the Kalakeyas in the Mahabharata (yet another example of what happens when you don’t know your own epics), the question isn’t whether Bharatvarsha, the land of Rama’s friend Guha, Pratap’s friends among the Bhils, or Rani Durgavati’s own in-laws, treated its tribals well, but what happened to the tribes of Europe? Bharat respected the tribal way of life, and even saw its merits by encouraging vana prastha (forest life) for retired kings and other elites.

In any event, the body blow from Baahubali had left them in a week-long stupor that they are only now gurgling back from. Left with little other than Bajrangi Bhaijan to salve their wounds, they have united around this flick touting everything from “sentiment & emotion!” to “profitability” (a.k.a. the Sonam Kapoor defence)—poor dears. And yet, why this movie and why such mendacity? After all, Magadheera showed a native Bharatiya kingdom in a complimentary fashion. It too balanced CGI and Story with dramatic action and theatric performances. Those who point to a display of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) in positive light, forget the Kala Bhairava Statue that served as the sentinel of cinematic climax. No, the reason why Bahubaali-The Beginning, this movie, at this time, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of hate, is because it is true cinematic splendour celebrating Dharma.

Despite the laughable claims about Bajrangi Bhaijan touting an emotive ideal, while Baahubali did not, it’s quite clear that this movie was refulgent with an ideal. Dharma, in all its myriad forms, in all its numerous nuances, is immanent throughout this Sistine chapel in celluloid. And unlike that metaphor, the fact that Rajamouli’s Masterpiece drew on native Indic forms (architecture harkens to Angkor, Amaravati, and Avanti) , native Indic fashion (Tamannah’s transformative couture is more the ancient standard), Indic names (Avantika, Baahubali), Indic Sacred History (Rishabhadeva’s sons are an overarching influence), and Indic Geography (Mahismati was the capital of Kartaveerya Arjuna), only roiled our stealth regressive royyalu (that’s Telugu for “shrimp”, btw) further. That it was able to do this by bringing Bharatiyas of all panths (religions) in to enjoy the ride and make them feel a part of the experience, was the last straw.

Dharmic Culture

baahubalivisual

In a way, it’s almost poetic that a movie so redolent in Dharma Culture was distributed and promoted by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions. Though obviously written, produced, directed, and lead acted by Telugus, this multi-starrer provided a tale and experience to which all Bharatiyas could relate.

We saw a dharmic society in action. From artistry and architecture to the traditional sastras and functioning of statecraft, it was an image of an India that once was. True, it was balanced by elements of fantasy and drew directly from the Puranas, via the Kalakeyas. But we also a saw a version of how our ancestors lived and the principles that drove them: patriotism, loyalty, self-sacrifice, motherhood, love, and above all Dharma.

What’s more, it was an image of not just how the elites might have lived, but the commoners as well.  We see how villagers and elites coexisted honorably. Albeit underneath a fantastic and fantastical waterfall, it was a portrait nonetheless of the idylls of rural and even forest life. It too was replete with Dharma—not the philosophical or intellectual dharma, but the everyday dharma, the common dharma. Society may have different classes, but if the elites behave properly and with humility and a sense of social duty, then society is at harmony. The Brahmanas we see on film present a living memory of such great yet humble men.

In a snub to faux animal welfare activists (who think eating fish is inhumane, but are miraculously pro-beef), a version of Jallikattu is presented as a martial pass time. What’s more we even see an internal rebuttal regarding animal sacrifice. A Right hand Tantra riposte of the Left hand is given, demonstrating that Dharma offers alternatives internally to such practices in the name of Kulacara.

We see shakti in action, with numerous strong roles played by numerous strong women. Rather than being mere chattel, our women, our queens, commanded respect, and Shakti balanced her counterpart. We see glimpses of love and even a version of Gandharva Vivaha, where lovers came together through choice. Rather than merely loving and leaving, it was union of souls. That it was indeed marriage was emblematic when the obligation of the girl also become the obligation of the boy. As such, more than anything else, it was duty, and in particular, Kshatriya duty, that truly made its mark on screen.

The Kshatriya Ideal

Magadheera was certainly a cinematic benchmark, but Baahubali is a cultural phenomenon.  The title role is not a common soldier, but a Kshatriya incarnate. As ‘The One with Strong Arms‘ he fights not only with his weapons and fists, but also with his wits. Indeed, we see that the true Kshatriya, the true King, is the one who protects his people and has their interests at heart. What’s more, this embodiment of Kshatriyata was not merely limited to men. We see a true Kshatrani in action, in conjunction with many strong and even warrior women. Ramya Krishnan alone deserves applause for her compelling and moving performance. In many ways it is she who presents the fulcrum of the film. Not only checking ambition within herself and her own family, she asserts that the true Kshatriya is not a usurper, but executes his duty to the ruling house loyally. Indeed, she provides a firm feminine rebuke to pig-headed male ambition.

The great Kshatriya vamsas of old not only had great power but expectations of great responsibility. The Kshatriya ideal of balancing education, training, statecraft, wealth, and power is the need of the hour. Rote-memorization and blind application of and training in the sastras will not win the Kurukshetra. It is for this reason that adhyatmik and laukik knowledge were separated. Adhyatmik vidya is verily the soul of our tradition. But due to the high minded principles it inspires, it requires protection from evil via laukika vidya.

Therefore, Kshatriyas were the natural leaders of society. They had an understanding of and respect for the adhyatmik principles, but the pragmatism to recognize the era of falsehood that we live in, and the improvisation it requires. Hence, the true Kshatriya is not a hot-blooded, hot-head who loses his temper in blind anger, but is a strong willed defender of truth, by whatever means necessary. Varnashrama dharma certainly has degenerated in the past millennium into arrogant and brainless casteism from all ranks, and surely has its issues, but when properly conceived, it is one of balance. A society with an over-sized head, cannot be supported by the rest of its body. The true brahmanas of yore understood that as the teachers and philosophers of society, material living was not for them, and neither sought power nor wealth nor demanded sycophancy or undue influence. The true brahmana after all, is without ego. They also understood the limits of the brahmana varna, and as Parashurama corrected the imbalance of Kshatriyas crossing their limits, so too did Bhagavan Rama correct it with Ravana, and ironically, Parashurama himself.

spe-may112-02
Rama punishes Parashurama for ahankar from merit

The traditional partnership of Kshatriyas and Brahmanas is today mired in predation or pretentiousness. Those who aspire to those ideals must remember that Maharishi Veda Vyasa’s own son, the brahmana Suka deva, completed his education under the Rajarishi Janaka. Thus, while Kshatriyas were the natural political leaders and brahmanas the natural spiritual leaders, both required elements of the other to properly conduct their duties.

Competence is not mere aptitude or ability. After all, potential energy exists even in still water. Competence is being good at what you do. Ability too has varying degrees, but competence means you have sufficient ability for the job—not merely on the basis of natural talent, or studies, or even training, but due to habit of improvisation and adaptation confirmed through practical experience.

The sastras afford us with guidance, but it is the job of the general, the job of the Raja to not only learn and understand knowledge, but apply and improvise it. This is not done in the gurukul or ashram, but on the battle map or field of battle. After all, the tactics used by Chhatrapati Shivaji were evolved by Maharana Pratap—who had no Samarth Ramdas.

Ranjit, Shivaji aur Pratap

Therefore, leadership in society requires balance. Of the spiritual with the practical, of the traditional with the necessary, of the brahmana with the kshatriya. That this movie was able to present the kshatriya spirit, the aristocratic ethos, without ridiculing Adarsh liberal’s favourite punching bag—Brahmins—is only fuel for the fire of indigestion they’ve been suffering since July 10th. That is what Baahubali presented—and oh so very artistically at that. Whether it was the One with Thousand Arms or the One with Strong Arms, Mahishmati was the Capital of Kings.

Artistic Highlights

From its waterfalls to its mountains to its maps, this film is pure artistic splendour. The cinematography is truly outstanding and world-beating, and all elements of cinema, from the visual and auditory to the dramatic and literary are in sound balance. A complete movie, it serves as a grand canvas for not only fantasy, but indeed, on-screen poetry.

One of the more interesting aspects wasn’t the research into our Puranas or even the dress and architecture of the ancients, but the subtle inclusion of our classical literature’s approach to drama. Though perhaps not noticeable to our non-Andhra friends, the dialogue features different forms of Telugu, based on orders of society—a practice commonly used by the ancients. Thus, we see literary forms of the language ( granthikam ), along with dialectal ( mandalikam ) and colloquial ( janapadam ).

We are also given a vision of fashion and femininity that is nevertheless strong and full of Shakti. Traditional designs and forms are presented in a manner that is sensuous but not titillating.

Sorry, no Salwar Kameez here

Even rati bhava is treated with delicacy in a restrained manner. The artificial is blended with the natural, rather than challenging it. It is not the conquest of nature by man, but the harmony of man and woman with nature.

In short, this movie is a marriage of tradition and tastefulness, form and function, masculine and feminine, elite and common, ancient and modern, art and technology.

Inflection point for the Industry?

Long time readers may recall our early pieces on the Telugu film industry (tollywood no longer) bemoaning the state of the sector. Ironically, one of them actually touched on film and kshatriyata. Rather than being merely seen as an object for derision, it has an opportunity again to rise to its early heights in the 50s and 60s. From kitsch, are we truly seeing a return to art? One hopes that the smashing success of the film will ensure at least a few movies that at least aspire to such a level, even if they do not scale such Himalayan heights. The upcoming release of Rudhramadevi affords an opportunity. Indeed, Baahubali served as an exquisite launch vehicle for Anushka Shetty to a national audience. Whether Gunasekhar is ultimately able to balance CGI with cinematic depth and action with taste, remains to be seen. We remain hopeful.

A Riposte to the “Idea of India” & The Breakthrough of Bharat

This movie was nothing short of a riposte to the ineluctable “Idea of India”—hence its resonance with all classes. This colossus of a success has shown that cheap laughs, titillation and tawdriness, and the apotheosis of all things non-native, no longer need be the way to box office success, or more importantly, cinema and culture.

Above all, was the sense of belonging to a common society that truly resonated. This wasn’t just a Telugu movie about Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, but an Indian movie about India. The India that once was. What’s more, rather than attempting to pass for Persians or Syrians, the lead actor looked like he might actually be one of them—Indians. Full credit to Prabhas for the physique he developed to give a vision of a royal hero that actually looked like the people—a reality underscored by his own real life pedigree. Rana brought the glamour, but the heart and soul of kingship was played by the first lead.

Indeed, our brothers and sisters in the North have long been deprived of cultural expression of native high culture courtesy Bollywood. They have been taught and even expected to see themselves as part of that spectrum rather than the subcontinent’s as a whole. This movie changed all that. Perhaps nothing emphasized that more when Katappa’s native Indic khadga smashed the prized Persian sword. This scene was fitting not only in an artistic rejoinder to the Idea of India brigade, but in an historical and technological one as well. The famed wootz steel (ukku) ingots of India were what made the finest blades of the era. Indeed, the historical Andhra desa was distinguished for its khandas, and made the Kakatiya kingdom all the more splendrous.

Make no mistake, this was an original movie. Ostensibly, the fairy tale jibes will lead to the obvious Lord of the Rings, Tolkien comparisons. After all, suited simulacra can never see anything beyond the western. But what these indoctrinated ingénues forget was that Tolkien himself drew on Norse and biblical mythology to create one for the English. S.S. Rajamouli had no such need. He was able to draw on the incredible fountain of Classical Indic Literature, with all its epics, sophistication, beauty, and nava rasas, and use his talent, vision, and entrepreneurial courage, to bring them to life and make them relevant to the times. So let the pop-psychologists, Freudian hacks, Lutyens insiders, foreign sympathisers, and serial slanderers run their ignorant mouths…We, the native public, the real public, know the real reason behind The Civilizational Resonance of Baahubali.

Predictably ignorant of the native Literary canon, serial rudaali, PK pablum peddler, and apochryphal activist Aamir Khan is said to have remarked after watching Inceptionwe [Bollywood] can’t even think at that level [Hollywood]”. Perhaps Bollywood can’t think at that level, PK, but Bahubaali has shown that Bharatiyas—real Bharatiyas—certainly can.

 Jai Mahishmati!

References:

  1. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Visakhapatnam/telugu-scholars-see-need-for-comprehensive-dictionary/article7121325.ece

Sattva and Bharatanāṭyaṃ

The following Post was composed by Prakruti Prativadi. You can follow her on TCP.


PrakutiP1

Abhinaya

Bharatanāṭyaṃ performances often standout for the striking and realistic portrayals of characters and their stories which are powerful and moving and live in the memory of the audience. Audience members even share their experience with the dancer, often telling how the dance made them teary-eyed, or get goose-bumps. The technique and theory of emoting and embodying characters is referred to as Abhinaya in Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian classical dances. The word ‘Abhinaya’ literally means carrying the meaning of the art to the audience. In Indian classical dances like Bharatanāṭyaṃ, the means by which this is done is significant, since the dancer must have expert knowledge of the Abhinaya techniques and nuances in order to genuinely embody and communicate the essence of the song to the onlooker and, most significantly, to awaken the Rasa experience in the spectator.

The general understanding of Abhinaya is that it is the emotive and expressive aspect of classical Indian dance. However, Abhinaya consists of more than just the enactment facet of Bharatanāṭyaṃ; Abhinaya consists of four major types. But before going into the technical aspects of Abhinaya and its varied uses, we must first understand the purpose of Abhinaya. The point of Abhinaya is not just to tell a story or play a role. Abhinaya is how the dancer awakens the Rasa experience in the audience. In Indian Aesthetics, Rasa is a supreme aesthetic experience and is the paramount aim in any classical dance performance and is described as a conscious-uplifting experience, in which the spectator feels a bliss-state that is similar to the bliss of Brahman knowledge.

“The experience of Rasa is similar to the experience of Brahman” – Abhinavagupta

Per the Natyashastra, a dance, drama, or music performance that does not generate Rasas and is not offered to the Gods is not really art and is Nīca (vulgar). This kind of performance will not benefit either the audience or the performers. According to Bharata, no meaningful communication can exist without producing Rasa.

Rasa is not limited to the stage or court; Rasa comes from a set of conditions the dancer creates. Rasa is born after the generation of many and varied Bhāvas (mental and emotional states) that differ based on the character and circumstance. Rasa is awakened in the spectator as result of:  Vibhāvas (determinants), Anubhāvas (consequent reactions), Vyabhicāri (impermanent mental states), Sāttvika (with Sattva) and Sthāyi (permanent mental state) Bhāvas emerging first. According to Bharata, Abhinavagupta, Śārṅgadeva, and other scholars, the Rasa experience is the ultimate purpose of Nāṭya (dance, drama and music). Without Rasa, the performance does not bring a benefiting and lasting effect to the onlooker. Rasa experience is filled with joy and is akin to the knowledge of Brahman.

The Rasa experience stays with the audience for some time even after the performance has concluded; the audience wants to experience it again. During the Rasa experience, the very consciousness is transformed to reflect the true inner Self. The concept of Rasa is ancient and found in the Vedas and Upanishads. For example, the Taittriya Upanishad declares that: Raso vai Saha: Rasa (is) Him (Brahman).

Rasa is not isolated to dance, but also exists in poetry, music and drama. The dances of temples, performed by Devadāsis and in some cases even temple priests also have the same goal of generating Rasa in the onlooker because these dances are not just rituals, they generate Bhāvas which result in Rasa; the Devadāsis also offered their dances to the Divine Gods, which is the same motive of the dance performed on the Raṅga (stage) described in the Nāṭyaśāstra. There is no difference in purpose between the dance described in the Nāṭyaśāstra and the dance of the temples.

Abhinaya consists of four types:

Āṅgika Abhinaya: Using the body, including the arms, hands, feet, legs, torso, face, and head in dramatic representation.

Vācika Abhinaya: Dramatic portrayal through the use of speech, in Bharatanāṭyaṃ Vācika Abhinaya consists of the songs and compositions that are danced.

Āhārya Abhinaya: Consists of make-up, jewelry, flowers, props and accessories used by the dancer to aid in dramatic portrayal.

Sāttvika Abhinaya: Emoting and portrayal of characters and situations through Sattva.

All these types of Abhinaya are essential to generate the Bhāvas and awaken Rasa in the audience. Amongst these, however, the more intangible and indefinable type is undoubtedly Sāttvika Abhinaya. Sāttvika Abhinaya is portrayal that is full of Sattva. This is a crucial ingredient, because it is required to genuinely embody the Bhāvas that will generate Rasas.

Bharata states that a successful performance is not one in which the dancers win awards or gain materially but one in which the Rasa experience was powerful and experienced by the audience. This is the measure of Siddhi (success) that Bharata emphasizes.

Sattva

“One must take particular care of Sattva… for Abhinaya resides in Sattva” -Nāṭyaśāstra 

Sāttvika Abhinaya, as the Nāṭyaśāstra states is an intangible but vital element in generating the Bhāvas and Rasas. Generating Rasa in the audience is not a simple task. The dancer must possess the technical skill, imagination, intellect and a certain state of mind to be able to embody the characters, stories, and movements that evoke Bhāvas and Rasa. According to the Nāṭyaśāstra and other dance treatises, like Saṅgīta Ratnākara, in order to evoke Rasa in the audience, the dancer’s mind and consciousness must be in a state of Sattva.

“Sattva can only be accomplished by a tranquil, peaceful and concentrated mind” -Nāṭyaśāstra

Bharata and Abhinavagupta emphasize that a performance without Sattva will not move the audience and will not produce Bhāvas and Rasas, and thus, will be unsuccessful and meaningless.

Sattva is a Sanskrit word that has no direct translation in English or non-Indian languages. Interestingly, even Indologists like A.B. Keith, agreed that Sattva has no translation. So, what does Sattva mean?   Sattva is a concept that is present in other ancient Hindu philosophical and sacred works like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and is important in the Hindu worldview and in Hindu practices. Sattva is one of the three Guṇas (attributes, qualities, threads, tendencies); the other two are Rajas and Tamas.

Sattva Guṇa is one that is bright, pure, luminous, buoyant, happy and stainless. Under the influence of Sattva, the mind is calm, unagitated, filled with Śraddha, steady, and reflects the Self (Brahman). A person with a Sāttvic mind renounces the results of his or her actions; in other words, actions motivated by Sattva are offered to the Supreme. As the Nāṭyaśāstra makes clear in the very first chapters, Nāṭya, which consists of Indian classical dance, drama and music, whether performed on a stage or in a temple must be an offering to the Divine Gods.

Rajas is agitation, activity, pain, egotistic, seeking sense-pleasures, and Tamas, is dark, inert, lazy, indifferent and exhibits low passions and tendencies. Our actions are controlled and directed by the mind exhibiting a combination of these three Guṇas.

Sattva also means Rajas and Tamas are not present. When the mind is purified, it is Sāttvic and in a state of Śānti and Ānanda and is able to reflect the Self (Brahman). The Rasa experience itself, is likened to the bliss of Brahman knowledge. Sattva modifies the consciousness to bring out Rasa.

In the Nāṭyaśāstra, Bharata describes eight Sāttvika Bhāvas which are:  paralysis, sweating, goose-bumps, change in voice, trembling, pallor, weeping and fainting. According to Bharata, these Sāttvika Bhāvas give genuineness and realism to the dance and make the audience to become one with the performance, hence generating Bhāvas and Rasa. Bharata states that in order to embody the Sāttvika Bhāvas, the dancer’s mind must be in a state of Sattva – purified of the Rajasic and Tamasic attributes.

PrakrutiP2

Thus, a prerequisite to an outstanding dance performance is that the dancer must accomplish a state of Sattva before the performance and maintain this state of mind during the performance to generate Rasa. How does the dancer go about preparing the mind to be Sāttvic? It is not just a matter of motivating oneself through pep talks or having a few minutes of quiet solitude before the performance. These, of course, can help and all Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers, to some extent, will use these techniques. But to have the mind in a state of Sattva prior to and during the performance, the dancer would need more than just motivational techniques, and this observation did not escape the perceptive Bharata.

Yajña

So how does a dancer get into the state of mind that has Sattva? The third chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra is dedicated to explaining, in detail, a series of Pūjās and a Homa that the dancer and musicians should perform. In these instructions, Bharata clearly states that these Pūjās and Homa are the equivalent of performing a Yajña and will help the dancer achieve a calm mental and conscious state necessary for a successful performance. Siddhi or success in a performance, per Abhinavagupta and Bharata, does not mean winning banners (prizes) or material objects, but Siddhi of the performance occurs if the audience witness compelling Bhāvas and experience the different Rasas.

Therefore, these Pūjās and Homa are not robotic superstitious ritualistic acts; they are a science of connecting one’s own consciousness to the Supreme consciousness. They are an offering and a means for the artists to transform and purify their inner-selves to be Sāttvic.

In these pre-performance sacred activities, Bharata details how the Raṅga (stage) must be constructed according precise measurements depending on the type of Nāṭya to be performed. Significantly, the Vedi (altar) of a Yajña must also be constructed in a precise shape with exact measurements depending on the type of Yajña performed. Bharata then specifies how the dancer must sanctify this stage, and even the entire theatre where that audience will be seated, the dancer should then do a Pratiśṭāpana (sacred installation) of the Gods on the stage, and do a Pūjā to each one of these Deities in a certain order and with particular sacred Mantras. The dancer must sprinkle sanctified water on each limb to purify the body and must partake of the Pūjā and Homa with the utmost Śraddha (belief, Bhakti, and diligence) in order to bring his or her mind into a state of Sattva.

These actions along with their subtle effects will give Siddhi (success) by preparing the dancer to be capable of a performance that is rich in Bhāvas and Rasas. These performances are a few hours long and in some classical dances, like Katakaḷi and Yakśagāna, last through the night, so the dancer needs to muster tremendous energy, enthusiasm and concentration. The musicians too must do a Pūjā to their instruments. In effect, the stage and entire theater (where the audience are seated) become a temple, with the consecration of Deities and Pūjās and finally with the performance of the Homa. Bharata instructs that the point of doing the Pūjās and Homa are to offer the performance (dance) itself to the Devatās. This, advises Bharata, will bring Siddhi (success) to the performance.

Among these preliminary activities, the Homa (similar to a Yajña) is of distinct interest and serves a special purpose. Yajñas are ancient Vedic practices that are transformative and have subtle effects on the consciousness of the performer. Homa derives from and is an adaptation of a Yajña, but a Homa is performed in Pūjās to specific Gods. Both feature a specifically constructed altar, sacred fire and sacred materials. Yajña comes from the root word Yaj which means offering, reverence, adoration and bestowing. A Yajña and Homa, are Tyāga (offering) of Dravya (special sacred material) to the Devatās (Gods). They are complex activities that have subtle and powerful effects. Every offering during the Yajña and Homa results in Apūrva Śakti, which is a subtle effect and hidden power of an action (Karma) on the person who is the beneficiary of the offering. Thus, Yajñas and Homas have an effect on the one who performed it in a subtle manner, by affecting the Śaktis (energies, powers) of that person. Every action produces a Śakti which will produce a result. The dancer and musicians are transformed by the Homa; they exhibit Sattva and subtle energies as a result.

VedicYajnaIt is no coincidence that the Nāṭyaveda (classical dance, drama and music codified in the Nāṭyaśāstra) directly derive from the four primary Vedas contain Vedic ceremonies. Furthermore, Bharata states that performing these Pūjās and Homa is the same as performing a Yajña and the same benefits will be received. Here we see the beautiful connection between the preliminary activities of the performance and the performance itself because the Bharatanāṭyaṃ performance is also a Yajña. The Yajña conducted prior to the performance is a transformative experience for the dancer and musicians, and the Yajña of the dance performance itself is a transformative experience for the audience because they will experience Rasa bliss. Thus, Indian classical dances are themselves an offering, a Yajña conducted by the dancer on a specially built Raṅga (stage) and offered (Tyāga) to the Gods with love, Śraddha and Bhakti. In this case, the Dravya, or sacred material, is the dance which is offered to the Devatās. The ones who enjoy the fruits (Rasa bliss) of the Yajña are the attuned and receptive spectators (called Sahṛidaya).

HomaSome of the above Pūjās are done even to this day. Today’s dancers sanctify the stage and consecrate Mūrtis on the stage and perform a Pūjā offering the performance to the Gods. The Pūjās are offered to Ganapati and Nataraja and Saraswati and Vishnu. The Ārati is done, the sacred dance anklets (Gejje or Śalangai) are worshipped, the musicians also worship their instruments. This is not a mere ritual, but is the time when the dancer, Naṭavanār and musicians come together to conduct the Pūjā with Śraddha and Bhakti and offer the performance to the Gods. Dancers look forward to performing this Pūjā, taking it seriously, performing it with the utmost Śraddha and reverence because it brings them inner Śānti, happiness, and connects them to the Gods. In effect – it makes their mind Sāttvic, which is then reflected in the dance. After the Pūjā, the artists remain in this state of mind, now fully immersed in the art, centered, calm and ready for a rigorous and demanding Bharatanāṭyaṃ performance.

 Bhakti

Therefore, Bharatanāṭyaṃ (and other Indian classical dances) are not practiced by merely perfecting techniques and movements, facial expressions or time and rhythm. Traditional practitioners of Bharatanāṭyaṃ know that they require total immersion into the art and its philosophy, must have Bhakti and humility and reverence to dance successfully. A person who may know the technical movements of Bharatanāṭyaṃ but lacks these Sāttvic attributes such as Śraddha and Bhakti is not qualified to do the dance. Śārṅgadeva states that only one who is pure in mind (Sattvic) can be a dancer. The Devadāsis had this intrinsic Śraddha, and they certainly understood Rasas and Bhāvas. Theirs was not a mechanical ritualistic dance devoid of Rasa. The great exponent dancer Bala Saraswati, a Devadāsi, emphasized the importance of Bhakti as an integral requirement for Bharatanāṭyaṃ:

Bharatanāṭyaṃ is grounded in bhakthi…. In fact bhakthi is at the center of all arts of India. Our music and dance are two offerings to God…This experience may only occur once in a while but when it does for that little duration, its grandeur enters the soul not transiently but with a sense of eternity. As one gets involved in the art, with greater and greater dedication, one can continuously experience throughout the few hours of the dance, the unending joy, this complete well-being, especially when music and dance mingle indistinguishably.” – Bala Saraswati

Image result for balasaraswati
Shree Bala Saraswati. Eminent danseuse.

The ancient dance treatises have noted that a person best fit to dance is one who learns with Śraddha and Bhakti. Many expert Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers and Nāṭyācāryas have observed that if a student does not have Bhakti, their dance is not genuine and has a mundane quality to it and few, if any, Bhāvas are produced. For example, if the dancer does not have Bhakti for Śri Kṛṣṇa, how can they embody the episode in which Yaśoda saw the entire universe in his mouth, and was overcome with awe and emotion? How will the non-believing dancer produce the Bhāvas that are required to generate the Rasa in the audience?Abhinaya is not a mere enactment, it is an exalted, lofty, glorified reenactment that will produce Bhāvas and the Rasa experience.

If the dancer interjects her personal opinions and portrays characters such as Sītā and Rāma through a non-Dharmic lens, the result will not be Sāttvic but a pale imitation, a counterfeit, and will not have any lasting effect on the onlooker and the Yajña of Bharatanāṭyaṃ will be a failure. The dancer must be in total sympathy with the character’s viewpoint and beliefs to embody that character authentically. This does not imply that these dances are somber and boring. Quite the contrary, Bharata states that a successful performance brings about happiness, entertainment, diversion, and knowledge to the onlooker and should generate all of the Rasas (Śṛṅgāra, Hāsya, Karuna, Vīra, Bhayānaka, Bībhatsa, Raudhra, Adbhuta and Śānta).

Philosophy, Language and Tradition

To do justice to the complex songs and poems that are danced, the dancer should do a serious study of the different philosophies of Hinduism. This understanding needs to be deeper than a superficial knowledge of the main features of Hinduism. Knowing the composer’s philosophical leanings to will help the dancer understand the significance of their compositions. As an example, many are familiar with Vaiṣṇavaism, however, there are different schools of Vaiṣṇavaism and their core philosophies have subtle variations that are significant nonetheless. For instance, the Vaishnavism of Sri Vaishnavism, Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavaism, and the Brahma Sampradāya of Madhvācārya may seem the same, but in fact, they have significant differences and comprehending these will aid the dancer to authentically embody the compositions of those respective philosophies.

For example, the sacred poems of Ānḍāl follow the Śri Vaiṣṇava school whereas Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Purandara Dāsa reflect the Gauḍiya and Madhva schools of Vaiṣṇavaism respectively. Not fully comprehending these subtle differences will lead to missing the beautiful meanings and themes of the songs and even blatantly misinterpreting them in the dance. Ānḍāl’s Tirupāvai has profound meaning as does Gīta Govindaṃ of Jayadeva; however, the refined nuances in these compositions cannot be missed if the dancer wishes to bring about the right Bhāvas and Rasas. The same is true of Śaivism and Smārtism. How can a dancer embody Nirguṇa Brahman without understanding what this profound concept is and the difference between Nirguṇa and Saguṇa Brahman?

Hand-in-hand with this philosophical comprehension, is the practice of the customs and rituals that embody these philosophies. Hindu philosophy is embodied in Hindu practices and customs; they are not just rituals. Just like the Yajña, they are transformative experiences and have effects on the consciousness of the doer. An academic study or an observation of Hindu rituals or interviews with practitioners is woefully inadequate to understand them. These customs and traditions can be understood by experienced and performing them with Śraddha and Bhakti. Therefore, practitioners of these customs are best suited to portray them, because they are not conscious-less ceremonial activities.

CompositionsAndal

This brings us to a vital requirement to dance Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian classical dances. Since, as stated by Bharata and other scholars, the dancer’s mind should be Sāttvic and in total understanding with the characters, philosophies and customs and traditions of Hinduism, knowledge of the language in which the compositions are written is crucial. The traditional practitioners of Bharatanāṭyaṃ, Naṭavanārs and Devadāsis, were fluent in several languages and well-versed in our philosophy and traditions. The classical compositions are complex and difficult to comprehend even for a person fluent in the language in which they were composed. However, trying to understand the meaning of a composition by translations, especially from an Indic language to English (or other non-Indic language) will not be sufficient. Knowing another Indic language is helpful, but a dignified study is required with the aid of an expert in that language. Understanding the colloquialisms of the language and a detailed explanation of the philosophy and narrative is critical.

Even dancers who know the language often must do a diligent and serious study of the composition. English translations fall short in conveying the composer’s viewpoint and themes that are embedded in the cultural mores which the native language naturally communicates. These compositions are lofty and refined, and contain much symbolism which will otherwise be missed. Understanding the song through the Dharmic viewpoint, from the composer’s perspective and the times in which they lived is essential to bring out the Rasa of these works. For instance, the composition ‘Yār Āḍinar, ina yevar Āḍuva?’ in Tamizh tells of the great Cosmic Dance of Nataraja. Another composition “Ānanda Kūtāḍinar” is also about Nataraja and His celestial dance. So, are these compositions essentially the same? Well, a closer study of the above two songs shows they are similar on a topical level but convey different themes and evoke different Bhāvas. Similarly, two famous songs of Purandara Dāsa, Jagadoddhāraṇa and O’ḍi Bāraiyya are about Sri Krishna as the Divine child. A sensitive study of these songs reveals they are dissimilar and portray two distinctly refined themes with powerful meanings. The great composer Tyāgarāja is renowned for his beautiful songs devoted to Sri Rāma, but one should not make the mistake in thinking that all these compositions are the same.

Bharatanāṭyaṃ dance, and all Indian classical dance, is a complex rich transformative knowledge system. Bharata has codified the foundations and details of the sacred Indian dances. These codes are purposeful and not optional. They contain a profound philosophical aesthetic that is manifested physically in our ancient dances. The dancer’s mind (Manas) should be transformed into a state of Sattva and remain so during the performance so that the audience experiences the Rasas, which is the ultimate aim of these dances. Bharatanāṭyaṃ and other Indian dances are Yajñas that have a deep lasting impact on the consciousness of the dancer and the Sahṛidaya audience. Understanding these core fundamentals is the foremost prerequisite in the journey to be an accomplished and successful dancer.

RasasBook

About the Author: Prakruti Prativadi is a Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancer and Founder Director of Kalā Saurabhi Dance School in the US; she actively performs in the US and India. She has spent seven years researching the Nāṭyaśāstra and other Sanskrit texts on Indian aesthetics. She has written a book based on her research, Rasas in Bharatanāṭyaṃ, available on amazon.com


References:
  1. Ghosh, M.M. 2006. P. Kumar (Ed.) Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni. (Vols. 1-4). Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.
  2. Prativadi, Prakruti. 2017. Rasas in Bharatanāṭyaṃ. South Charleston: Createspace.
  3. Sarangadeva, Sangītaratnākara. Adyar Library Series.
  4. Srinivas, P. N. 2000. Mathugalu [Talks on Kannada Literary Criticism, in Kannada]. Bangalore: Purogami Sahitya Sangha.
  5. Subrahmanyam, Padma. 1979. Bharata’s Art Then and Now. Bombay: Bhulabhai Memorial Institute. Madras: Nrithyodaya.
  6. Swami Harshananda. 2001. Vedic Sacrifices. Bangalore: Ramakrishna Math.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Copyright: Prakruti Prativadi. All rights reserved.

Puthandu Vazthukkal & Vishu Ashamsakal (2017)

VishuLipi

From all of us at ICP, Vishu Ashamsakal! Puthandu Vazthukkal! Happy New Year to Malayalis and Tamils alike.

At last, we complete the cycle of Indic New Years (the exception of course being our Gujarati friends). The Solar Calendar New Years are celebrated today. From Yugadi to Vaisakhi to Vishu/Puthandu, we see just how closely all these calendars (varshapada) coincide.

Continuing our tour of the various Indian scripts is Malayalam lipi. Called putiya lipi, it is a comparatively newer script. A different lipi was used centuries ago, which, like Malayalam, branched off from Tamizh.

While Malayalis celebrate Vishu today, Tamilians celebrate Puthandu.

puthandu

Best wishes to all of you, and Happy New Year!

VishuLipi

Shubha Vaisakhi (2017)

VaisakhiGurkmukhi

From all of us at ICP: Shubha Vaisakhi! Happy Baisakhi! Baisakhi di lakh lakh badhai! Shubho Nabo Borsho! Pana Sankranthi ra Subheccha! Shubh Jude Sheetal! Happy Bihu!

The other half of the assorted New Year’s of Bharatavarsha fall this well. Though the majority are today. We have two more tomorrow.

Today is most famously the Baisakhi Mela of Punjab, celebrated vivaciously by Sikhs. It is the Harvest Festival, and a time of great happiness.

In Vanga, that is the Bengal region, it is referred to as Pohela Boisakh.

VaisakhiPanjPiari

Continuing our tour of the Scripts of Bharatavarshi is the lipi for this festival, Gurmukhi. Used for the Punjabi language, Gurmukhi is also the text for the Guru Granth Sahib. Today is also the day that the Khalsa, the Sikh Brotherhood, was founded by Guru Gobind Singh. The Panj Piare from the five different caste groups were given Amrit today and forged into the Sikh Khalsa. This laid the path to the liberation of the Panjab from oppressive Mughal rule.

This is the other half of the Luni-Solar New Year’s Celebrations in Bharatavarsha. However, you celebrate today, best wishes to all our readers!

Shubha Vaisakhi! Happy Baisakhi!

Classical Indic Literature V: Romantic Sanskrit Poetry 2

RomanticSanskritPoetry2

In honour of Madan Utsav, Bharat’s true Festival of Romance, we bring you the second installment in our special set of articles from our Continuing Series on Classical Indic Literature.

Today we present to you our long planned Romantic Sanskrit Poetry 2.

This post features the famous Kavya of Mahakavi Kalidasa called Meghaduta.

Those of you following ICP would recall our inaugural Post on Romantic Sanskrit Poetry featuring Abhijnaanasaakuntalam. While the ‘Recognition of Sakuntala’ was a drama featuring beautiful poetry, Meghaduta is a lovely, lyrical poem that is pure romantic reverie. Perhaps no padya captures the longing of a husband for his wife like the ‘Cloud Messenger’. Indeed, if there were ever any question of Kalidasa’s poetic greatness, Meghaduta put it all to rest.

Author
http://indicportal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/MahakaviKalidasa.jpg
Mahakavi Kalidasa

What is there to be said about Kalidasa that has not already been said? Quite a bit actually.

Kalidasa is a courtly poet, but his knowledge of the human heart and his understanding of the complex play of human motivation, are profound. A keen observer of nature in all its varied aspects—he sees with a painter’s eye and speaks with a poet’s tongue—he is at the same time a learned writer who wears his enormous learning lightly and with grace. [2]

Clearly there is a lesson in this legendary poet’s own approach. As alankara-sastra expert Acharya Dandin frequently decried, there is a proclivity toward pedantry, particularly in those subscribing to the school of Gauda. Mere show of learning is no real accomplishment. It is in the application of learning, to craft useful things which improve human life or via lucidly lyrical literature that lights up the soul. Along with learning, there is grace.

Kavi kula guru Kalidasa may have delighted us with his delightful dramas and romantic rupakas to remember. Abhijnanasaakuntalam, Vikramorvaseeyam, and Malavikaagnimitram may entertain us with their splendid stories. But if there is a piece that showcases the true genius of Ujjain’s most ardent devotee, it the one dedicated to a cumulus amicus. Meghaduta is that kavita that not only captures our heart but captivates our imagination.

“Kalidasa’s accomplishment is distinguished not only by the excellence of the individual works, but by the many-sided talent which the whole achievement displays. He is a dramatist, a writer of epic and a lyrical poet of extraordinary scope. In his hands the language attained a remarkable flexibility, becoming an instrument capable of sounding many moods and nuances of feeling; a language limpid and flowing, musical, uncluttered by the verbal virtuosities indulged in by many writers who followed him; yet, remaining a language loaded in every rift with the rich ores of the literary and mythical allusiveness of his cultural heritage. By welding different elements to create new genres, his importance as an innovator in the history of Sanskrit literature is clearly established.” [2,1]

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]

 

Great Plays of Kalidasa

  • 8 works of his have come to us today.
  • 3 dramas, 2 epics, 2 lyrical poems, and 1 descriptive poems. [1]

Kalidasa would set standards of excellence in poetry for millennia. He imbues with life:

“Men of great stature, power and valour, and women of uncommon beauty and grace met by the heroes of epics and romances are often asked with admiring wonder if they are beings of divine origin: yaksas, gandharvas, apsaras. Apsaras, ‘born of the Waters’—the waters of creation (see note 8), are, like yaksa-yaksees, associated with life and fertility and seen as beneficent powers” [2,29]

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. It is here that our hero of poesy truly excelled. He inspired generations of not only litterateurs and litterateuses, who frequently referred to him, but women and men of the elite, princesses and princes, wives and husbands,  to great romantic deeds in the itihaas of shringaar. But why take my word for it, hear from another great poet of antiquity.

Bana author of the Kadambari exclaimed:

Who is not delighted when Kalidasa’s perfect verses spring forth in their sweetness, like honey-filled clusters of flowers?”[1]

Indeed, who is not delighted. But if you have yet to dip your tongue in the madhu-madya of Mahakavi’s poetry, then start with Meghaduta.

Composition
kalidasa-s-meghdutam-the-cloud-messenger
Click here to Buy to this Album!

Sringara (Romance) is also Part of our Culture. Perhaps no Poem says Sringara like Meghaduta. From its dazzling descriptions of the Indian Subcontinent to its pleasing poetry recounting its people to its captivating kavya capturing sentiment, it is truly the poem for the true Romantic.

Describing the separation of a semi-divine Yaksha from his wife, we learn of this heavenly being’s banishment to Earth for 1 year. With no friend or beverage in which to drown his sorrows, this servant of Kubera turns to a gracious Cloud whom he beseeches to be his messenger. Duta-kavya can be considered a genre of poetry in and of itself, dating back to the Ramayana, and Rama’s anointment of Hanuman to be his messenger to Sita. In fact, the Meghaduta itself alludes to Valmiki’s great epic with frequent mentions of its characters and place names. The nayaka (hero), like Rama, is not resentful of the originator of his banishment, and bears his exile with heroic forbearance. It is certainly inspired by the Adi-kavya, and possibly an outright homage to it. And it certainly aspires to its himalayan heights of resonant rasa.

“The chief goal of drama is to produce rasa, the aesthetic emotion, evoked by the appropriate mood built cumulatively through not only words, but also by mime and gesture, music and dance, costume and jewellery” [2,7]…and oh, does Kalidasa evoke it, not only in his dramas, but in this descriptive poem.

The Court Poet of Vikramaditya and the first poet among Romantic kavis not only sources scintillating Sringara rasa but stylises soka as the sthayibhava.

He uses the “stately” mandaakraanta metre in his messenger poem. With its 17-syllabled lines, it is considered the archetypal chanda for love-poetry and longing. Indeed, through its cadence, it conveys the loneliness and yearning of the yaksha. If that is the mood, then the ambience is dream-like, like the very cloud with which it is eponymous.

The Meghaduta is divided into the Purvamegha (earlier cloud, as in the cloud’s journey to Alaka puri) and Uttaramegha (latter cloud, the narrative when the journey to Alaka ends).

The Purvamegha has 63 slokas and the Uttaramegha has 52 for a total of 115.

While this article will concentrate on the Uttaramegha, which most superbly captures the vipralambha sringara (love-in-separation) of the a-namika yaksha and yakshi as well as the exhilaration of Alakaa-puri,  outstanding descriptions of the Indian Subcontinent’s landscape is given in the poem’s earlier half, the Purvamegha.

In the Poorvamegha the poet reveals the Yaksa facing a cloud, clasping a towering peak of Himaalayas, whom he thinks of making the bearer of a message to his lorn wife; for he was cursed by Kuvera his Lord, to be severed from his wife for dereliction of duty. He makes an offering of Kutaja flowers and water to the cloud.” [1, iii]

It is a sophisticated work of an veteran poet and arguably ranks with Kumarasambhavam in its maturity. Connections with the Ramayana aside, it stands out for the originality of approach and the breadth of geographic treatment. Indeed, this descriptive poem provides a veritable  tour of Bharatavarsha and connects the sacred and super-human with the everyday and historical.

In this poem, Kaalidaasa gives us a glimpse of Kailaasa, and the Himaalayan regions. His eye in a fine frenzy rolls over the ridges, cliffs, scarps, valleys, dales, glades and the gritty upland of that mountain. He delineates the story of a bereaved Yaksa in crystal-clear vignettes that are remarkable for their precision and romantic charm.” [1,iii]

Mountains, rivers, valleys & cities, all are veritably painted by his padya for our manasa. Although apsaric Alakaa is the abode of the hour, Avantika’s favourite penman is loath to lose an opportunity to dedicate his penmanship to it.

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]

Kalidasa’s reference to Ujjain in Meghadutam

 “to Ujjayinee glowing in splendor like a brilliant piece of Paradise

Come down to earth with traces of merits of dwellers in Paradise returning, the fruit of their good deeds almost spent.” [2,5]

For pedantic grammar-gyaanis and assorted Panchatantra murkha-panditas, an appropriate note regarding translation courtesy Chandra Rajan:

“Kalidasa’s poetry like much of Indian art is stylized. The Stylization is not a rhetorical procedure but part of the self-awareness with which the verse shapes itself. The translation therefore, has to be faithful, has to somehow contrive to be stylized and readable; to steer clear of a literalness of rendering as well as an identification of readability with contemporaneity.” [2,xvii]

In our time of jaded ennui and de rigeur poseurs, the Mahakavi revives the romantic with this refreshing tale of a lovelorn lover. Rather than the woman pining over the man, we find the husband pining over his wife.

The [cloud’s] message must be delivered at midnight, for the Yaksa’s fair and chaste wife passes sleepless nights, leaves her bed, sits in the highest window in the palace until the long to come daybreak comes. She is in no mood to enjoy the moonlight since she is neither fully awake nor asleep. Her lips go parch-dry, her hair grows coarse from want of oil; and her sleep is disturbed by tears so that she cannot dream of reunion. Such is the pitiful sight of the disheveled pining wife of the Yaksa that even the cloud would not fail to grow tender…The cloud is requested to bring back on his return a message from his beloved wife”  [1, xii]

C.R.Devadhar muses how interesting a sequel to Meghaduta would be, and what the return message from the Yaksa’s wife would be—perhaps there is a poem there to be composed by a skilled poetess yet to write…

And here, our journey into the author and his composition ends, and the selections from his celebrated poem begin. We now step into the heavenly realm of Himalayan Alakaa.

 Alakaa is a world created by our dreams and desires where time stands still and whose ways are untrodden by the unimaginative; where ‘sensual music’ fills the nights to overflowing under the moonlight (Megh.66,68). [2,26]

Selections
§
meghaduta2
Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

I. Tanvee syaamaa sikhari dasanaa pakva bimbaa daroshtee

Madhye kshaamaa chakita harirgipre kshargaa nimma naabhah |

Srorgee-bhaaraa-dalasa-gamanaa sthoka-nabhra sthanaabyaam

Ya tatra syaadhya vathivishaye srushtiraadhyova dhaathuh || UM.Sl.19

There resides my wife, the Creator’s prototype of a luscious woman, slender and youthful, with pointed teeth and lips red like bimba fruit, a thin waist and a glance like that of a startled deer; she has a deep navel, with a measured gait owing to the weight of the hips, and she is slightly stooping from the weight of her bosom. [1, 31]

§

 

II. Thaam jaaneethaah parimitha-kathaam jeevitam me dvitheeyam

Dooreebhoothe mayi sahachare chakravaaki-mivaikaam |

Gaadotkashtaam gurushu diva-seshveshu gacchatsu baalaam

Jaathaam manye sisira mathhithaam padhmineem vaanya-roopaam || UM.sl.20

In her recognize my very life, sparing in her speech and cut off from me like a chakravaaka [bird] from the spouse. Her heart overflows with longing as days pass heavily; I think she droops like a younger creeper in Winter’s rigour. [1, 31]

§

meghaduta1 Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

 

III. Noonam yasyaah prabala-rudeetochoo nanetram priyaayaa

Nihsvaasaa-naama-sisiratayaa bhinna-varga- dharoshtam |

Hasta-nyastam mukha-masakalvyakti lambaala-katvaa

Dindor-dainyam tvadanu-sararga-klishta-kaante -bimbatim|| UM.sl.21

My darling’s eyes are swollen red by constant tears, the color of her lips fades by her burning sighs; her face rests upon her palms, hid by her long tresses. Indeed, she looks like the waning Moon enwrapped in the night’s folds. [1, 32]

§

MeetingInTheDream

Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

IV. Nih-svaasenaadhara-kisalaya-klesinaa vikshipantheem

Suddha-snaanaat parushamalakam noonamaa-ganda-lambam |

Matsambhogah kathamapi bhavet-svapnajo’peethi nidraa

Maakaankshantheem nayanasa-lilot-peeda-ruddhaa-vakaasaam || UM.sl.28

Her delicate lips are scared by her fervid sighs. She spills her hair, grown rough and dry since she washes them in pure water without oil or scent. She longs for my embrace even though it be in a dream. But tears well up and destroy the relief which sleep could afford. [1, 34]

§

The message:

V. Srangenaangam-suthanu tanunaa gaada-taptena taptam

Saasrergaa-sradrutama-viratot-kanta-mutkantithena

Dheergocch-vaasam samadhi-katarocch-vaasinaa dooravartheem

Sankalpai-stair-visaati vidhinaa vairirgaa ruddha maargah || UM.sl.39

Obstructed by an angry and inexorable Fate, the distant one [your husband] seeks to unite with you, to mingle tears with tears, arms with arms, pining bodies, anxious heart to heart, sigh with sigh—such are his wishes. [1,38]

§
meghaduta4
Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

VI. Syamaasvanga chakhita-hareergipre-ksharge drshtipaatham

Vaktrachaayaam sasini sikhinaam bahambaareshu keshaan

Utpasyaami prathanushu nadheevee-chishu bhroovilaasaan

Hanthai-kasmin kvachidhapi na te chandi syaadrsya masthi || UM.sl.41

I can detect a little of your form in supple vines

Your glances in the eyes of a startled doe, your face in the moon

Your tresses vie with peacock’s plumage

Your eyebrow’s graceful curve in the stream’s small waves [2, 38]

But do not frown…for in no object, is there full likeness, of you [1,39]

§

Click here to Buy this Book!        Click here to Buy this Book!    Click here to Buy this Book!

DevadharKalidasameghadutaofkalidasa meghdoothindi


References:
  1. Devadhar, C.R. Works of Kalidasa: Volume II. Delhi: MLBD. 2010
  2. Rajan, Chandra. The Complete Works of Kalidasa: Volume 1 (Poets). New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2005
  3. Wilson, H.H. The Megha-Duta: The Cloud Messenger. London: Thurner & Co. 1867
Acknowledgement: My thanks again to the young voice actor for enacting this poetry recitation on short notice. 

Acknowledgment: The outstanding artwork by artist Nana Joshi can be found on this website. The poem was verily brought to life by these chitras.

*Minor Proofing for some translations

Madan Utsav — Indic Festival for Romance

madanotsav

India, Indic Civilization, and Bharatiya Sanskriti have produced many noble and spiritual figures. But as those of us who grew up Indian know, it is very much work hard & play hard.

Colonial stereotypes  were convenient for those who were trying to change the religion of the people of Bharatavarsha. They failed because those who know our tradition know fun and frolic and yes even Romance has always been very much part of our traditional culture and festivals (perhaps that is why they are trying to doing everything they can to take away the fun…only for Hindu festivals of course).

Therefore, perhaps it is time to not just play defence and preserve what we have, but to go ahead and revive what was originally part of it. The youth of today very much exercise freedom, and naturally when they become college-age, it is only natural to be more interested in spending time with the opposite gender. Indeed, this too is ok, provided it is done respectably and with good intentions. As we wrote in our article on Sringara, Romance—real romance—is not just a pretext to “consume” or “purchase” love from hallmark or godiva. Love is not merely a “veneer” to give respectability to serial and animal lust. This is the danger of de-sacralisation (removing the sacred), whether it is removing Dharma from Yoga, taking the Veda out of Ayurveda, or turning Vasant into some sufi-bolly “Basant”.

In fact, lost in all of these efforts has been the fact that from ancient times itself we had something our Valentine’s day obsessed youth don’t know—our own Dharmic Festival of Romantic Love: Madan Utsav.

Madan Utsav — Indic Festival for Romance

Contrary to Valentine’s lovers who swear by the Catholic St.Valentine as the embodiment of Romance, Ancient India long had a festival that celebrated Shringaar. Vasanta Utsava was the traditional multi-day Spring Festival. Holi has come to represent two such days (with the burning of Holika during Choti Holi the night before). While Kama is associated with Spring, Madan Utsav begins on Chaitra Shukla Trayodasi, and thus is a month later than Holi. This is due to the discrepancy between the Purnimanta Calendar in most of the North and the Amanta/Amavasyat Calendar in Peninsular India. Thus, the reason why Holi and Madan Utsav (currently a month apart) would have been celebrated as part of the two-week Vasanta Maha Utsav is because of the general use of Amavasyat in all of India at one point. Restoring Amavasyat would restore the continuity of the two week Spring Festival, starting from Holi and ending with Madan Utsav. That is why Madan Utsav was traditionally synonymous with Vasant Utsav (and perhaps should be again).

In fact, it has historical precedence in many parts of the country, but especially Andhra. In fact, one king of the Reddi Dynasty, which presided over the Romantic Age of Andhra, came to embody the spirit of Spring, and also personally inaugurated Madan Utsav. It was a festival of great festivity and cheer.

Madan Utsav is also mentioned by our great poets, Kalidasa and Sriharsa, in their plays. Jayamangala, a commentator on the Kamasutra, in fact gives primacy to this day over the other constituent parts of Vasant Utsav, and mentions the name Madhanamahotsava. [1, 353]  This is a festival devoted to Madhana or Kama Deva, god of Love, assisted by his friend and ally Vasant, the presiding deity of the spring.

Madan Utsav celebrates the return of Madan to his wife Rati.

Kama-Rati

“It was primarily a romantic festival involving fun and frolic, music and dance, song and play, swinging, and swimming and all kinds of amusements.” [1,354] “Both men and women, young and old took part in this festival and marched in procession in streets, singing love songs and dancing to the accompaniment of music. Generally dancing girls and their paramours took an active part in these frolics” [1, 354]

That’s right. Hinduism, or more correctly, Sanatana Dharma, was never only just about ritual, or caste, or boring severity, but very much achieving a balance between fun and duty. Dharma to guide Rasa (sentiment), and Rasa to enrich Dharma. Morals, and laws, and virtuous examples don’t exist to restrict the fun of men and women (or boys and girls). They exist to protect individuals from each other and also to protect us from ourselves and from our greed.

Romance and love in the right context (marriage…or at least the path to it) very much makes life worth living and contains the full spectrum (erotic, romantic, & spiritual). But Romance without restraint ends up being, well, the disastrous state of affairs we have now. When no respect or regard is given to sacred relationships between the genders or even between family members—then isn’t what is being called “love”, really lust?

Love is seeking to give pleasure to someone you love. Lust is trying to extract pleasure for yourself. Lust is selfish, Love is selfless.

That is the reason why Madan Utsav is the real Festival of Love for Bharatiyas, rather than some corporate “Global” spend-fest. There was a great carnival and the King (or Civic Leader) would go to a park specially decorated for Vasant. There would be a pandal for Kama & Rati, Vishnu & Lakshmi, Siva & Sakti, and Indra & Sachi. Perfumes such as camphor, musk, civet, saffron, sandal were used, rosewater was freely sprinkled on people along with water mixed with turmeric. A bamboo water soaker was used (like in Holi). People mixed freely and the kings gave it royal grandeur . [1,357]

There is in fact broad evidence to the existence of Madan Utsav beyond Andhra’s Reddi Kingdom, or even the Vijayanagara Empire.

There are accounts for its existence in the Madhyadesa (modern Uttar Pradesh) and Kashmir as well as discussions in the Puranas, about the festival and its origin.

Here is what the ancient Kashmiris celebrated:

Then there was the Madana Trayodashi, a festival dedicated to the god of love. On this occasion a husband would demonstrate his love for his wife by personally giving her a bath with sacred water scented by herbs.[4, 87]

Madana Utsava  is frequently referred to as Madana Trayodasi, as it is celebrated on the 13th day of the Shukla Paksha of the Month of Chaitra (Early April). Being celebrated in the bright half of the moon, it can even extend to next day and thus, there is even a Madana Chaturdashi, which is the 14th day of the Month of Chaitra (for all you 14th of February fans).

The record of Madan Utsav in Kashmir’s ancient Nilamata Purana testifies to this as well.

The reason for this lies in the festival’s origin:

Festival Significance

Vasant Utsav and Madan Utsav have often been referred collectively. And yet, elsewhere we see a clear distinction between the two festivals with Vasant. Thus, traditionally, Madan Utsav seems to have been synonymous with Vasant. But given the divergences and exigencies of the time, perhaps its more appropriate to distinguish the two, while preserving the importance of both.

Here is the traditional story of the origin of Madan Utsav:

This festival of Madanamahotsava is described by Hemadri in his Vratakhand, wherein he narrates the following story about its origin. After marrying Gauri, Siva, observing Pasupatavrata, lost himself in meditation. Gauri’s desire for maternity remained unfulfilled.

Brahma and other gods held consultations and sent Madana to disturb Siva’s meditation, with the hope that he alone could divert Siva’s attention. Madana accompanied by Vasanta, went in front of Siva who was then in deep contemplation, and having drawn his sugarcane-bow, discharged his missiles of flowers on Siva which disturbed his deep medi-tation and caused mandonmada or love madness.

kama-ikshuvaana

Siva burst into a rage and opened his third eye of fire reducing Madana to ashes. Madana’s wife, Rati, seeing her husband burnt to ashes, was stricken with great grief. Then with a heart softened by seeing her pitiable condition, Gauri said to Siva, ‘you have burnt up Kama who had come here for my sake. Pray, take pity on his wife Rati, and bring Madana, her husband, back to life.’ Siva replied, “How could Madana, once burnt to death by me, come to life again?”

 However, I shall grant your request. In the spring season, on the thirteenth day of the light half of the month, he would reassume his bodily form.”  Having granted this boon, Siva is said to have gone to Kailaasa. So the lunar thirteenth day of the bright fortnight was the day of Madana coming to life again. Hemadri does not specify the month; but simply states that it is in the spring time. It is evident that it is the lunar thirteenth day of the bright half of the month of Caitra. This spring carnival is therefore called Madanamahotsava or Vasantotsava” [1,355]

This also aligns, of course, with the Spring Festival of Holi, which features the Holika Dahan. This is referred to as Kamuni Dahamu in parts of India, where a bonfire is lit to burn away attachments.

Celebration

How to celebrate Madan Utsav? While jnu “global” types suggest finding a random partner and running off to the nearest park or motel, Bharatiya sanskriti is more sophisticated. As we saw above, whether in Kashmir or Kosta (Coastal Andhra), Madan Utsav was celebrated by the entire society. Not just Kings and Queens, but traditional Brahmins, fun-loving masses, and everyone in between. The only difference is that achara (good conduct) and sabhyata (etiquette) were observed. In public, one must behave with respect/courtesy (maryada) to elders and senior citizens.

Public Celebration

Public celebration of Madan Mahotsav, specifically in the context of Vasant Utsav, is mentioned in both the Malavikaagnimitram and one of Sriharsa‘s famous plays celebrating the famed Manmatha of Madhyadesa, King Udayana—better known as Vatsaraja. Here is an excerpt from Ratnavali on the public celebration and all it entails:

His Majesty has started for the palace to witness the merriment of the citizens, heightened by the Madana Festival. (Looking up) Ah, how now! The King has ascended the palace! He, The lord of Vatsa, like the flower-bowed god (Madana) in person, as it were, with all talk of Vigraha (the war-body) ceased, having Rati (love of the people—his wife), living in the hearts of the people and one to whom Vasantaka (his companion—Spring), is dear, is advancing, eager to behold this great festival.“[7, 120]

Just behold the beauty of this great Madana-festival, in which curiosity is excited by the citizens (or gallants), dancing as they are struck by the water from the syringes [pichkaris] taken up, of their own accord, by the amorous women intoxicated with wine; which is attractive on account of the openings of the streets resounding with the sound of charchari songs (or clapping of hands) deepened by the tabors beaten all round, and which has rendered the faces of the ten directions yellowish-red by means of the heaps of patavasa [flowers] scattered about.” [7, 121]

By heaps of scented powder scattered about, yellow with saffron dust and imparted to the day the appearance of the dawn, by the glitter of gold ornaments and by the wreaths of  Ashoka flowers that cause the heads to bend low by their weight, this Kausambi, which has surpassed all the treasures of the Lord of wealth by its opulence apparent from the dresses (of the people), and which seems to have its inhabitants covered with liquid gold as it were, appears all yellow. Moreover, In the courtyard which is flooded all over with the continuous streams of water ejected by the foun-tains and where sport is carried on in the mud caused by the simultaneous and close treadings, the yon pavement is reddened by the people with the imprints (lit.plantings) of their feet, red with the colour of the vermillion” [7, 122]

Kaushambi is in modern Uttar Pradesh. Thus from Kashmir in the Uttarapatha to Kaushambi in the Madhyadesa to the Kosta in Andhra Pradesa, Madan Utsav was celebrated throughout classical Bharatavarsha.

By the way, although this is a legendary love story involving King Udayana and Princess Ratnavali, there is war and adventure, so there’s something in it for the guys and girls.

Click here to buy this book!

Ratnavali

Family/Community Celebration

The Pujavidhana or the mode of worshipping Madana is also described by Hemadri. It is said that, on the thirteenth tithi of the bright half, a representations of the Asoka tree should be made after taking a bath, and the floor should be decorated with kolams. Images of Kamadeva, Vighnesvara, Siva and Vasanta and Apsarogunas made either of gold or of any other metal or material, should be worshipped with incense, sandal paste, and flowers at midday by the king, along with his ministers, ladies and others. After the completion of worship, offerings of cakes of different kinds should be made to them and betel be distributed among brahmin couples with daksina.” [1,355]

Couples

Couples should offer new clothes, gifts, flowers and ornaments to each other. “Those who observe this Madanamahotsava are enjoined to keep holy vigil that night, and perform rasa-mahotsava or love-dance. Lamps should be lit, and wine should be offered to sudras [or rather those who drink], and camphor, kumkuma powder, sandal paste and other perfumes and betel should be distributed.”[1, 355]

Thus while the wife would worship her husband on his return (as the embodiment of Kama Deva), the husband in turn would worship her after her sacred bath, as we saw in Kashmir.

This mutual reverence demonstrated not only respect for both genders but also gives the correct understanding of matrimony and even sex as sacred—in contrast to modern consumer society where it is lust on demand and for the highest bidder. Lust is not Love  nor is Lust even Erotic Love or Erotic Desire. Lust is selfish greed for sex. Erotic desire is not condemned (in the right context). Lust is condemned (in any context).

Lord Krishna teaches detachment

“Sri Krishna relates to Arjuna in Bhagavadgita (Ch.2.62 & 63), on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (a place near Delhi) in Mahabharata that:

Dhyayato vishayaan pumsah, vangas teshupa jaayate
Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah, kaamat krodhobhi jaayate
Krodhad bhavati sammohah, sammohat smriti vibramaha
Smriti bhramsaad buddhi nasho, buddhi maashaat pranasyati

While contemplating material and sensual objects, persons become attached to them. Such attachment develops lust and lust generates anger. Anger leads to delusion and delusion to mental bewilderment. When the mind is bewildered, intelligence and discretion is lost. Loss of intelligence and discretion leads to downfall of the person.” [6]

Kaameswara Lord Shiva Conquers Lust [6]

ShivaConquersKama

Kama (pronounced Kaama) is a very interesting word. Like many words in Sanskrit its meaning is context sensitive. In some contexts it means pleasure, in others it means love, and in this situation it means lust (kaama-moha or kaama-unmada). It is because of this danger (which Sri Krishna warns about) that Lord Shiva had to show us the importance of conquering Lust.

The reason why there are so many regulations and rules and such detailed morality regarding sex is because it is the most powerful of aspects in life. This is the case not only for its creative power, but due to its attractive power, its physical power, and even its spiritual power. The key to conquering lust, therefore, is not through celibacy-sans-saadhana, but by correctly connecting sex with love (if you do take the oath of celibacy, you must follow the saadhana that our sadhus do to succeed). Love comes in many forms. When you are capable of real romantic love, however, then the selflessness it demands, opens the door to Divine Love.

That is why the Madan Utsav itself is signified by Lord Shiva destroying Kama. He is referred to as Kaameswara and Maara-ripu because he conquered lust. When lust is conquered, then the full spectrum of love from the erotic to the romantic to the spiritual can be properly enjoyed. It was only after this that Mahadev and Parvati Devi endeavored to create the God Kartikeya.

That is why, unlike Valentine’s Day, Madan Utsav signifies the sanctity of the bond between woman and man, and especially, Wife and Husband. So yes, there is the erotic (rati), yes there is the romantic (sringara), but Madan Utsav is also about the spiritual (adhyatmika), which makes the erotic & romantic healthier and more meaningful . When wife is viewed as sacred, the husband refuses to exploit her (and vice-versa—yes ladies, what’s good for the gander…).

That is why you should celebrate Madan Utsav: the whole society comes together to celebrate Love in happy abandon, and all participate in their own way. Less orthodox castes used to be gifted wine while traditional brahmanas were gifted betel leaf. The day would begin with all of society coming together in respectable but enthusiastic celebration, with the night obviously ending between wife and husband.

In contrast to the consumer-driven, hallmark inspired veneer of romance for lust that is Corporate Valentine’s Day, Classical Indic Society celebrated the full spectrum of love in the proper context. Yes, dancers and actresses and singers, etc had their paramours and inspired people to celebrate, but the engaged (or about to be) and the married were naturally the core of the festival. Young and old, upper caste and lower caste, elite and mass, woman and man, all celebrated what we all know to be part of our nature…but in the right context…in the right way…in the right time.

How to Start?

It has been many centuries since the days of Ancient Kashmir or Medieval Andhra, so how can a beautiful festival be celebrated today? If you are reading this and are unmarried, you can tell people in your college or organise a group of friends your age and go to the park and sing your favourite love songs (they can be from Indian movies or popular music). If you are even more adventurous you can make (safe) flower-head arrows using a children’s bow or slingshot and pretend to be Kamadev, returning. You can distribute the traditional bamboo water soakers from Holi for rose-water or sandalpaste water (saving the colours for that special Festival of Colours).

If you are not single, then you know to exchange gifts, express love and affection, recite Poetry, and of course, dance the Rasa Mahotsav and the dance of love however you see fit.

But most importantly, if you care about our culture and tradition, be sure to tell your friends and family about Madan Utsav and how they can celebrate on Madan Trayodasi (Thirteenth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Chaitra, which is in Early April, see below for this year’s date).

Celebrate Madan Utsav!

kaamadhevaDate:

April 9th, 2017

Public Activities:

§ Spread the word in your College or Social Group. Hand out flyers explaining the day.

§ Greet or Yell “Shubh Madan Utsav!”. Find a public place or reserve one for celebrations.

§ Spray rosewater/sandalwood paste waster with pichkaris or gently throw flowers.

Kama-Rati

§ Sing your favourite love songs as a group and/or via Shringaar-themed Antakshari

§ Play Romantic instruments like the flute or hire professional musicians

§ Dance using Dandiya sticks—or Bhangra too if you are inclined to Punjabi.

Family Activities: Extended family can celebrate by lighting lamps, singing songs, giving tambula to those in home, colony, apartment or housing development. Of course, those of you who drink wine, will know whom to give it to, whom not to give it to, & when to drink it.

§ Draw Rangavali/Rangoli/Kolam during the Day. Light lamps at night.

§ Have a great feast in your community. Make garlands and swings of flowers. Play music.

§ Give gifts depending on how orthodox you or others are (betel leaves for some, wine for others)

§ Sing, Dance,use a safe (children’s toy bow)/slingshot for soft flowertip arrows or flowers.

Married Couples: Exchange gifts,  express affection in preferred manner (see above).

§ At the start of the day, wife welcomes husband as embodiment of Kama Deva

§ During the day is the chance to express love (rather than PDA) either in public celebrations or private, via music, song, poetry, dancing, etc.

§ At end of the day, husband returns favour and gives gifts & shows love for wife (see “Kashmir option” above)

Kama is the embodiment of Romance and his wife Rati is the embodiment of well, rati.

So Happy Festival of Love, in advance. Or as we should say in Bharat…

Shubh Madan Utsav!!!
April 9th, 2017

References:
  1. M.Somasekhara Sarma. History of the Reddi Kingdoms.Delhi:Facsimile Publ. 2015
  2. Rajan, Chandra. The Complete Works of Kalidasa: Volume One (Poems).Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.2005
  3. Dutt, Manmatha Nath. Garuda Puranam Calcutta.1908.p.355
  4. Kaw, M.K. Kashmir & its People: Studies in the Evolution of Kashmiri Society.New Delhi: Saras Graphics.2004
  5. http://www.hindu-blog.com/2010/03/madana-trayodashi-2010-date.html
  6. http://www.saibabaofindia.com/spiritual_meanings_for_holi.htm
  7. Kale, M.R. The Ratnavali of Sri Harsa-Deva.Delhi: MLBD.2011