IN KALIDASA’S POEMS WE NOTICE a conflict between the outer and the inner worlds, between the real and the ideal. Nursing in his heart the pang of a vain longing, the poet, as he sat amidst the rich splendour of the royal court, was gazing afar off at the pure age of asceticism which was a thing of the past in the then India.
This heart’s anguish lurks in Raghuvamsa, a poem in which he undertook to sing of the deeds of the kings of the Surya-Vamsha.
The Indian laws of poetics condemn the tragic conclusion of a piece. Kalidasa moreover, would have been true to the forewords of his Raghuvamsa if, he had ended his epic at the exact point where the race of Raghu attains to its climax in the reign of Ramachandra. In his poem he promises to chant the praise of the pious, wise and noble kings of Raghu’s lineage. But the epic does not end in a burst of panegyric. Its conclusion clearly shows what had disturbed the poet’s heart.
Let us see how the founder of the glorious line of Raghu was born. It was in a hermitage that king Raghu came into the world as the result of his parents’ life of asceticism. Kalidasa ever keeps telling his royal masters, in many a poem and by many a device, that it is only by means of rigorous asceticism that any great result can be achieved. Raghu, whose prowess vanquished the kings of the north and south, east and west, Raghu, whose empire embraced the whole earth, was the fruit of his parents’ life of monastic discipline.
Bharata, whose mighty arm made him a suzerain, Bharat from whom India has got the glorious name of Bharatvarsha was the offspring of his parents’ unbridled passion. But mark how the poet has burnt this taint of sensuality in the fire of asceticism and washed it clean with the tears of penitent suffering.
The epic Raghuvamsa opens, not with the picture of the splendour of a royal court, but with the scene of King Dilip entering a hermitage with his queen, Sudakshina. The sole monarch of the sea-girt earth engages himself in tending the hermits’ cows with unflagging devotion and strict self-control.
The opening scene of Raghuvamsa is laid in a hermitage amidst moral discipline and austerities; and the-end of the epic is drunken revelry and sensual orgies. In this last canto, the scene is lit up with abundant brilliancy of description, but it is the brilliancy of the fire that burns down homesteads and plays havoc in the world.
Kalidasa has painted in sober and subdued colours the life of Dilipa and his only wife in the hermitage, while king Agnivarna’s suicidal revelries with a host of wives are described with an excess of detail and in colours of flame.
Haw tranquil is the Dawn! Pure, like a hermit-lad with his yellow matted locks! With “slow paces it descends on the dew-steeped earth, shedding a pale pearly and calm light around, and awakening the world with the message of the coming of a new life! Even so in Kalidasa’s epic, the commencement of the imperial line of Raghu, the regal power, rightly acquired by asceticism, is bodied forth with mildness of effulgence and restraint of speech.
And the Evening? Entangled amidst a mass of many-coloured clouds, it sets the western sky ablaze with its wondrous rays for a short while; but soon comes awful death, which robs the Evening of all its glories and finally extinguishes it amidst speechless, lifeless, senseless darkness.
Such in the last canto of the epic is the scene of the extinction. As of a meteor of Raghu’s dynasty, amidst the terrible accumulation of objects of sensual delight.
The contrast between the commencement and close of the epic has a deep inner meaning. The poet is silently sighing, “What was India in days of yore, and what is she now! In that early age of expansion, asceticism was the highest wealth; and now, with national decay staring us in the face, there is no end to our articles of luxury, and the greedy "flame of pleasure is shooting up with a thousand tongues and dazzling the eyes of all!”
THIS CONFLICT BETWEEN the present and the past, between the real and the lost ideal, clearly manifests itself in most of Kalidas’s works. Kumarsambhava shows how the problem can be solved. In this poem, Kalidasa teaches us that only by joining renunciation to wealth, asceticism to passion, can true Strength be born, and that Strength enables man to rise triumphant above all defeats.
In other words, perfect Power consists in the harmonising of renunciation with enjoyment. When Shiva, the typification of renunciation, is plunged in lonely meditation, the kingdom of Heaven is defenceless. And, on the other hand, when Parvati in her singleness is girt round by the joys of her father’s home, the demons are triumphant.
When our passions grow violent, the harmony between renunciation and enjoyment is dissolved. When we concentrate our pride or passion within a narrow compass, we feel tempted to magnify a part at the expense of the whole. From this springs evil. Sin is this revolt against the whole out of attachment to a part.
Hence comes the necessity of renunciation. It is needed not to strip ourselves bare, but to make ourselves complete. Renunciation means the surrender of a part for the whole, the yielding up of the temporal for the sake of the eternal, of selfishness for the sake of love for another, of pleasure for the sake of bliss. Therefore our Upanishads have said, “tyaktena bhunjeetaah” — Enjoy by means of relinquishment, not by means of addiction. See, how Parvati failed when she tried to win Shiva with the help of Cupid, but succeeded by means of renunciation when she betook herself to ascetic devotions for the same object.
Passion is addiction to a part and blindness to the whole. But Shiva (literally, the Beneficent) is for all ages and all climes. We cannot attain to him unless we banish passion from our hearts.
Enjoy by means of renunciation. This lesson of the Upanishads is the keynote of Kumarasambhava, it was the object of devoted endeavour in our ancient hermitages: acquire by giving up.
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