Beautiful and Tranquil Hermitages of Ancient India

animal fables

By London Swaminathan
Post No. 991; dated 20th April 2014.

The hermitages of famous ancient seers were on the slopes of the Himalaya and the southernmost hill of India, Pothiyil (Malaya). They were situated in beautiful spots with lot of natural scenery. Those places were refuges for animals and birds. The atmosphere was very tranquil. No one could kill any animal or bird or destroy the plants. The descriptions of such hermitages are in the two great epics and Sanskrit dramas of Kalidasa and Bhasa, the two great playwrights of ancient India. I give below some passages from ‘Sakuntalam’ of Kalidasa and ‘Svapnavasavadatta’ of Bhasa.

Sakuntalam by Kalidasa

Act 1
Ascetic: The deer is of the hermitage. O,King! He should not be killed.

King : It (arrow) is withdrawn.

Ascetic : We are on our way to gather wood for the sacrificial fire. There, clinging to the slopes of the Himalaya, along the banks of the Malini is visible the Hermitage of our Guru, the Patriarch Kanva where Sakuntala dwells like its guardian deity.

“When you behold the sages rich in holiness
Immersed in the tranquil performance of holy rites
Free of impediments, you will know how well
Your arm scarred by the oft-drawn bowstring protects”.


King : Grains of wild rice fallen from tree hollows
Where parrots nest, lie scattered under the trees;
Those stones look moist, glossy, from the oil
Of ingudi-nuts split and pounded on them;
All round, deer browse in their tranquil haunts,
Unafraid of the chariot’s approach; yonder
Drops of water dripping off the edges of bark-garments
in long lines, trace the paths to pools and streams.
(And you see further)

Beneath a passing breeze, waters flow
In deep channels to leave the roots of trees;
Smoke drifts up from oblations to the Sacred Fire
To dim the soft sheen of tender leaf buds;
Free from fear, fawns browse lazily in meadows
Beyond where dharba-shoots are closely cropped
Suta : Yes, Sir, everything is as you say.

okhla bird sanctuary,hindu

King : Suta, Let us not disturb the peace of the Hermitage; stop the chariot right here and I shall get down. Hermit groves should be visited modestly attired. So, here are my jewels and bow (hands them over to the charioteer). Tranquil is the hermitage; I shall go in.

Sakuntala and her friend discussed how much Kanva loved the plants and Sakuntala said to her friend that she was treating the plants as her sisters – and same with the birds and deer in the forest.

The above conversation and description show us Kings did not even go there with their royal dress. They removed all the jewels and arms before entering an Ashram (hermitage). The hermits’ daily routine was to gather firewood for the Fire Sacrifice, extracting oil from the Ingudi nuts. Whenever an ashram is described they always mention the fire and smoke. The ancient Sangam Tamil literature (Purananuru) also mentioned it. Even the deer were so lazy because of no fear from wild animals are hunters. The hermitages were famous for hospitality. Anyone goes there to show respect to the ascetic can have food and shelter.

lotus beauty
Bhasa’s Decription:–

The following passages from Svapnavasavadatta illustrate these points more clearly:

Act 1
Yaugnadharayana: Self possessed dwellers of the hermitages live satisfied with the fruits of the forest. They deserve respect. They wear bark garments.

No rough treatment should be accorded to the inmates of the hermitage; to avoid the insults that are received in a city these high –souled persons come to and reside in a forest.
Chamberlain: So it is her (Vasavadatta’s) intention to take her residence in the hermitage today. So you may bring from the forest the holy water, sacrificial sticks, flowers and dharba grass which form the wealth of the ascetics.

Female ascetic: Come in, dear child, come n. Penance groves are indeed, in the case of visitors, their own homes.

The hermitage is one in which all the ascetics are quite content.
Brahmana: The deer are roaming about freely and without taking fright, full of confidence engendered by the place as being secure; the trees with their branches loaded with flowers and fruits are all tended with kindness. The herds of cow that form the wealth are for the most part brown coloured. The quarters disclose no fields and this smoke is rising from many sources (huts).


Chamberlain: A hermitage, as is well known, is common to all people.

The above short description shows that the sages had contented life. They ate fruits and cooked grains along with fruits and nuts. Birds like parrots were living near the huts of the hermitage. Seers ate fruits and vegetables along with dairy products. Ascetics helped every visitor with food or fruits. They had only vegetarian food. They lead a simple life with minimum needs. They gave shelter to others. Female ascetics also lived in the hermitages 2000 years ago.


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