Friday 5 August 2011

Kalidasa Ramayana

Devotion to Sri Rama is Valmiki’s gift to humanity.  Sanskrit poets like Bhasa, Bhavabuthi, Kalidasa, Murrari, Dinnaga Bhoja were all inspired by the ancient bard.  Among those the “Raguvamsa” of Kalidasa is unparallelled.
Of its 19 sargas, those from the tenth to the fifteenth are a matchless epitome of Valmiki.  The exploits of the ancestors of Rama from Dilipa to Dasaratha, are the theme of the first nine sargas.  This may be taken as a preface to Kalidasa’s “Ramayana”.
The verses from the sixteenth sarga to the end deal with the greatness of Kusa and the twenty-one others down to Agnivana and may be taken as the drawing of the great vamsavali (geneology) to its logical end.
The death of the Sage’s (son) caused by Dasaratha unwittingly (ninth sarga) forms the “Upothkatha” and runs parallel to the singing of the epic in the presence of Sri Rama by Lava and Kusa in the original. 
The death of the Munikumara is mentioned in Valmiki too. The original states that Dasaratha met the blind parents of the deceased.  But Kalidasa is not explicit about either the blind parents or the death of their son in their presence.
The 10th and 11th sargas enshrine the matter in the “Balakanda” of the original.  The 12th repeats events contained in the “Ayodhya” to “Yuddha” kandas of the original.  Sri Rama with Sita takes an aerial flight from Lanka to Ayodhya in the pushpaka.  Along the course, he points out many spots where they had spent memorable moments.  All this is mentioned in the 13th sarga.  The first 15 slokas of  the 15th sarga deal with the description of the Lord’s coronation and the rest repeat events from the “Uththara” kanda.
The episode of the death of the Munikumara in the original (Balakanda) has been beautifully dealt with by Kalidasa.  Having described the death of the boy and the consequent curse of the sage in the ninth sarga, Kalidasa states in the 10th that, after 10,000 years Dasaratha performed the “Putrakameshti Yagna”.
There is a scene of the Devas describing their sufferings to Lord Narayana in the Milky Ocean, with prayers studded with Vedantic dogmas. These are innovations of Kalidasa. The Adikavya gives a different version. The afflicted Devas report their woes to Brahma whom they met at the yagna of Dasaratha.  Kambar’s version is different.  The Devas report the matter to Lord Paramasiva who, joining hands with them and Brahma, seek the help of Lord Narayana.
Kalidasa further elaborates the secrets of the birth of Ravana and says that Narayana promised riddance through Ramavathara.  The secrets of Ravana’s birth and his valour are reported by the Devas to Narayana according to the original and Kamban. The episode of Lord Vishnu’s assurance runs parallel in both Kambar and Kalidasa.
As seen in the original and the work of Kamban, the Devas are ordained to be born as monkeys by Brahma and Vishnu, whereas Kalidasa says that the decision was made by the “Suras” themselves.
The distribution by Dasaratha of the divine payasa among his consorts is another illustration.  Valmiki states that the available quantity was divided into two of which one-half went to Kausalya.  Of the other half, fifty per cent was the share of Sumithra, and of the remaining fifty per cent, one-half went to Kaikeyi and was served  to Sumithra a second time. 
According to Kalidasa, the available quantity was equally distributed between Kausalya and Kaikeyi who in their turn shared half of theirs with Sumithra in accordance with the king’s wishes.  The “Padma Purana”,“Adhyathma Ramayana” and “Bhoja Champu” follow Kalidasa’s version.  That the quantity spilt over in the vessel was given again to Sumithra by the king is Kambar’s creation.
The queens who consequently conceive,  dream the grace of a divine dwarf with wheel and enjoy the sojourn of the seven sages and Goddess Lakshmi.  This is Kalidasa’s contribution. 
The “Padmapurana” and Kamban’s “Ramayana” speak of Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrugna as incarnations of Adisesha, Sanku and Chakra, and it is as if Kalidasa  brings home the point by reporting the “dream of divine touch”.
The curse on Ahalya, according to the original, is that she should become invisible to the naked eye.  Kalidasa, on the other hand, seems to follow the “Padmapurana” and states that Ahalya was turned into a stone image.
Sri Vedantha Desika also seems to agree with Kalidasa in this, whereas the narration in “Bhoja champu” is in conformity with the original. 
According to Valmiki, the arrival of sage Viswamithra coincides with the deliberations of Dasaratha over the marriage of his sons.  Kalidasa slightly amends it when he states that the deliberations took place together with the arrival of the Brahmin from the court of Janaka carrying the news of the valour of Rama in breaking the Siva dhanus. The inauspicious signs such as the howling of foxes, the flight of vultures, and the halo round the sun on their return journey after the marriage are all Kalidasa’s innovations.
Barring the coronation, the 12th sarga is a fine epitome of the original from the Ayodhya to Yuddha Kanda.  Many interesting innovations occur.  According to Valmiki, Kaikeyi asks Dasaratha for two boons, one the enthronement of Bharata and the other the banishment of Rama for 14 years.  But Kalidasa emphasises the banishment and makes the coronation of Bharata subsidiary.  In the work of Kamban the duration of the exile, 14 years, is conspicuously absent.
The Kakasura episode actually belongs to an earlier period.  The incident did happen at Chitrakuta.  Valmiki actually draws reference to it in the “Sundarakanda”, when Sita sends a message to Rama with Hanuman.  Kambar closely follows Valmiki. Kalidasa perhaps felt a deviation necessary and appropriate and narrates it in a different context.  He lists it with the experience of Rama and Sita at Chitrakuta.  He has drawn inspiration from “Padmapurana”.
In the 13th sarga, Kalidasa with his vivid imagination and poetic skill, reiterates all the interesting experiences that Rama and Sita had, experiences which one finds in the original of Valmiki. Rama draws the attention of Sita to three specific events. He rests on Sita’s lap after a hunt on the banks of the Godavari at Panchavati. He attempts to decorate Sita’s cheeks with the “tamala” shoot near Chitrakuta.  He renounces the jewelled head-gear in exchange for the matted looks at the abode of Guha.  Sumantha bursts into tears cursing Kaikeyi.  All these events are narrated by Kalidasa in his inimitable style, but they do not occur in Valmiki.
Reference to the banyan tree, Shyami, which Valmiki describes in the Ayodhya kanda is not made by Kalidasa, but Sita’s attention is drawn to it on their way back to Ayodhya.  In accordance with the wishes of Sita, Ram is said to break the journey at Kishkinda, and then resume it accompanied by a few vanara women.  This event is described in Valmiki.  Kalidasa makes no mention of any such event.
The 14th sarga opens with a description of the Lord’s coronation.  It is celebrated in the suburbs of Ayodhya according to Kalidasa, but in Ayodhya proper according to Valmiki. 
The news that Sita is deserted in the forest by Lakshmana in conformity with the orders of Rama is brought to Valmiki by his disciples who have gone in search of Kusa grass, etc, This is in Valmiki.  A slight deviation occurs in Kalidasa who states that when he was collecting darba Valmiki himself accidentally met Sita and so on.
The 15th sarga is valuable for its deviation from Valmiki.  The kernel of Uthara kanda, the Lava-Kusa episode, has been woven in a different texture by Kalidasa.
The original story is that Satrugna, on his mission to overcome Lavanasura stays at Valmiki’s hermitage en route.  Sita gives birth to Lava and Kusa the same night.  Since Satrugna completed his mission, 12 years have passed.  He rests at Valmiki’s hermitage on his return journey to Ayodhya.  He hears the matchless recitation of Rama’s story by the twins.  He is immensely happy.  Reaching Ayodhya he tells Rama of his victory over Lavanasura, but not of his experiences at Valmiki’s hermitage.  The author does not seem to hint that this was deliberate.
Kalidasa, on the other hand,   does not speak of Satrugna’s return to Valmiki’s hermitage after destroying Lavanasura.  Satrugna returns straight to Ayodhya, and he deliberately keeps his experiences at the hermitage a secret at the command of the sage.  This is in conformity with the main trend of the story.  Perhaps Kalidasa felt the moment inopportune for posting Rama with the information.
Had Sri Rama known of the birth of the twins, he might have asked Sita to return with the children to Ayodhya.  If that had happened, Valmiki would have had no opportunity of training the children in the recitation and the two purposes of the sage that Sita should be asked about important incidents in her life and that the twins should recite the great epic would have been defeated by the violation of the time factor. 
Valmiki appears to have been waiting for an opportune moment to present the children.  The screening of information from Rama is, therefore, in perfect accordance with the original text.  It reveals Kalidasa’s deep insight into the mind of Valmiki.
The sage takes the children to the court of Rama who performs the Asvamedha.  Summoned by the emperor, the children recite all the exploits from “Narada Valmiki Samvadha” down to the departure of Rama and his followers to vaikunta, including their own life story in 24,000 beautiful slokas.  The recitation reminds Rama of his consort.  Under the influence of the melodious recitation, he recognises the identity of the children, and sends for his consort.This is the story in the original.  But Kalidasa’s version is slightly different.  Moved by the recitation, Rama makes enquiry of Valmiki and the latter informs him that they are his own children.
The Kalidasa innovation of the disclosure of the identity by the sage is significant.  It lends support to the view of a certain section of scholars that the “Uthara Kanda” is not Valmiki’s for the Lava Kusa episode is a means to an end, the end being the voluntary realisation of identity by
Sita, after making the vow, enters the bosom of mother earth.  Rama, filled with remorse is in no mood to listen to the twins when Brahma induces him to listen to the completion of the story. Valmiki says that the recitation was undertaken in two instances, one as a preface towards the end of the first four sargas and the other later, at the performance of the Aswamedha  after deserting Sita in the “Uthara kanda”. 
It raises a reasonable doubt as to which of the versions has been handed down to posterity, whether all the verses are genuine and whether they are exact numerically.  These questions could be confidently answered only after careful research by competent scholars.
Article by : S. N. Sriramadesikan
Source: Bhavan's Journal 30 June 2008
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