Kalidasa as the Representative of his Era in Tagore's Masterly Exposition

In this episode, we are treated to Rabindranath Tagore's brilliant and sublime exposition on why Kalidasa was the representative poet of his era.
Kalidasa as the Representative of his Era in Tagore's Masterly Exposition

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Selections from Rabindranath Tagore on Kavikulaguru Kalidasa
Kalidasa as the Representative of his Era in Tagore's Masterly Exposition

WITNESS ALSO THE PICTURE of the hermitage in Kadambari. There the wind makes the plants and creepers bow their heads down in adoration. The trees are strewing their leaves as in a Puja. The arena of the cottages is covered with the shyamak paddy spread out to dry. There the banana, amalak, labali, badari and other fruits are gathered together. The woodland resounds with the loud recitation of the Brahmana lads learning their lessons. The garrulous green parrots are repeating the Vedic mantras they have learnt by frequent hearing. The jungle fowl are eating up the food offered at the worship of Nature. From the lake nearby, the goslings have come to pick up the nibar paddy dedicated at the Puja. The does are licking the bodies of the hermit boys with their tongues.

Here, too, the inner meaning is the same: the hermitage stands forth as the place that has done away with man’s aloofness from plants and creepers, beasts and birds. This old lesson has been taught in our land over and over again.

In all the masterpieces of our country, the union between Man and Universal Nature clearly asserts itself. The Nature around us is most intimately associated with all the thoughts and all the acts of man. When human habitations are filled exclusively with men, when Nature is denied entrance through their chinks, our thoughts and deeds gradually grow impure and unhealthy and die a self-inflicted death amidst the measureless heap of rubbish created by themselves. Nature works within us incessantly, but she makes a show of standing silent and inert as if we were the real actors and she a mere ornament. However, our ancient Sanskrit poets knew this Nature quite well. Their works ring with that note of the Eternal which Nature has mingled with all the joys and sorrows of humanity. 

I am certain that Kalidasa wrote Ritusamhara in the days of his poetical apprenticeship. The song of youthful lovers’ union which runs through it, springs up from the lowest depth of passion; it does not ascend to the sublime note of self-purification (tapasya) which marks Sakuntala and Kumara-Sambhava

But our poet has harmonised this youthful passion with the varied and grand note of Nature and set it vibrating amidst the free open atmosphere. Into this poem have been worked the summer evening’s moonlight resonant with the music of waterfalls, the tremor of the wind-stirred Kadamba branches on the skirt of the forest cooled by the first-showers of the rainy season, the cooing of the ducks in early autumn when the fields took verdant with unripe paddy, and the loud murmur of the south wind of Spring making its way through the fragrant mango-blossoms. 

If you plant everything in its proper place in Nature, it loses its violence. But if you detach it thence and confine it within the narrow circle of men, it looks extremely hot and inflamed like a sick man’s body. 

Shakespeare, like Kalidasa, had written some minor poems dealing with the mutual attraction of the sexes. But in these poems, passion is all in all. It has left no place for anything else around it. No place for the sky, the wind, the capacious and variegated robe of sound, scent, and colour with which Nature covers the nudity of the universe. Hence in these poems, the wildness of lust asserts itself in an intolerable degree.

In the third canto of Kumara-sambhava, where Kalidasa describes the tremor of youthfulness set up by the sudden advent of Cupid, he has not tried in the least to paint the wildness of passion as the supreme fact by confining it within narrow limits.  By placing the restless love-longing of Shiva and Parvati amidst the setting of universal Nature’s outburst of youthful jollity at the advent of Spring, he has saved it from shame — just as a single ray of the Sun concentrated by means of a lens on one spot sets fire to it, while the numberless solar rays diffused by Nature all over, the sky emits a heat which does not burn. In Kalidasa, Cupid’s artifices against Shiva have been completely harmonised with the spirit of universal Nature.

The whole poem of Kumara-sambhava is painted on a vast universal background. The inner motif of the poem is a deep and eternal problem; when the demon Taraka has grown strong and has suddenly and inexplicably thrown Heaven into wrack and ruin, whence can Heroism, strong enough to defeat it, be born?

This is a problem for man in all ages. It is a problem in every individual’s life, and it is a problem that is ever reappearing in new forms in the lives of all races.

Kalidasa’s works clearly show that such a problem had become very acute in the India of that age. The simplicity and self-control that had marked Hindu life in ancient India had then disappeared. The kings had forgotten the duties of their office and become self-indulgent voluptuaries. On the other hand the Scythian invasions were bringing unending misery on the people. 

To an external observer, the Indian civilisation of that age had attained to perfection in the materials of luxury, in poetry music and in the fine arts. Kalidasa’s poems are not altogether free from the spirit of the copious and varied material enjoyment which marked his age. In truth, the external features of his poems are rich with the fine workmanship of the time. Thus, from one point of view, the poet was representative of his age.

But in this richly gilt pleasure-palace, Kalidasa’s Muse was sitting, full of ennui and languor, meditating on something else. Her heart was not there. She was only dreaming of her escape from that prison, marvellous for its variegated artwork but hard as the gems set in it. 

To be continued

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