Written by London swaminathan
Date: 1 April 2017
Time uploaded in London:- 16-27
Post No. 3779
Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.
Kalidasa is superb in describing the conditions of the Tapovanams (Ashram/Hermitage) in ancient India. He is very good in describing the appearance of Hindu seers and their penance. One would love to live in such a condition where there was peace everywhere. Even the animals who have natural enmity between themselves behaved very well. He portrays seers who are not Brahmins as well. He shows us some women seers too.
From his seven works, we come to know that people from other castes also did penance and they had obtained equal power. We have such examples earlier in our epics in the characters of Viswamitra, Vrtra of Rig Veda, Ravana and others.
In the Valmiki Ramayana and Raghuvamsa (of Kalidasa) we have two examples: one who cursed Dasaratha because he shot down his son mistaking him for an elephant. Another one at the end of the book, who was doing penance hanging upside down. All these portrayals explode the myths of Aryan, Dravidian divisions. Everyone could do penance and obtain powers. Women also did penance as we see in Vikrama Urvasiyam and Kumarasambhava.
Here below are some quotations from his books:-
Sakuntalam Act I
King:“Suta, urge the horses on and let us purify ourselves with a sight of the holy Hermitage.
Suta: As your Gracious Majesty orders
King: Suta, even without being told, it is palin that we are now at the outskirts of the penance-groves.
Suta: How can you tell, my lord?
King: Do you not see, sir? Right here:
Grains of wilde rice fallen from tree-hollows
where parrots nest, lie scattered under trees;
those stones here look moist, glossy, from the oil
of Ingudi-nuts split and pounded on them;
all around, deer browse in their tranquil haunts,
unafraid of the chariot’s approach; yonder,
droops of water dripping off the edgs of bark-garments
in long line, trace the paths to pools and streams.
and you see futher
Rippling beneath a passing breeze, waters flow
in deep channels to have 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 Darbha shoots are closely cropped”
This brings us a picture of their simple life. No electricity, no tansport, no mobile internet or TV or Radio! A world full of peace and happiness.
Later Shakuntala , the forest beauty, shows all her love and affection towards he plants and animals in the forest.
Act II of Sakuntalam has another beautiful description of the forest and the hermits:-
King: “Let bisons plunge into forest-pools and revel splashing,
striking the water repeatedly with their mighty horns;
let the herds of antelopes clustering in groups in the shade,
chew the cud undisturbed;
and let wild boars lining up round puddles
where the marsh-sedge grows fragrant, root peacefully in the mud
and let this my bow with its loose-knotted string
be allowed to enjoy its well-earned repose.
Like sun-crystals cool to the touch
vomit fiery sparks from deep wthin
if struck by another luminous power,
so, hermit’s rich in holiness
in whom Tranquillity presides,
have hidden deep a blazing energy
that leaps out to burn when aroused.
From his Raghuvamsa Kavya,
While the glades are darkening litters of wild boars are coming up from ponds, peacocks are turning towards the trees of their habitation, herds of deer are settling on swards – seeing such back-to-home scenes DilIpa too advanced homewards. [2-17]
Oh proud lady, this is that pleasure-lake named pacnha-apsara of sage shAtakarNi, which is surrounded with woods, and which appears, on account of the great distance, like the orb of the moon vaguely seen from among the clouds. [13-38]
Here is the unexcelled ascetic by name sage sutIkShNa, a self-controlled in his action practising asceticism in the centre of five-fires, namely four well-fuelled fires around him and the seven-horsed one, namely the Sun, scorching the forehead as the fifth fire in five-fire method of ascesis. [13-41]
Here that sage sutIkShna lifting up his right arm aloft, which has a rosary of rudrAkSha-s for a bracelet, which scratches the deer, and which cuts the sharp needle-ends of kusha-grass, favourably greeted my arrival at his place. [13-43]
This sage is a constant sun-gazer and there occurred a momentary disturbance in his gaze when an aircraft passed before his sight; then nodding at my salutation, for he bridles his speech, he again fixed his sight on the thousand-rayed sun. [13-44]
This sanctifying penance-grove which is the refuge of every-body belongs to the sage named Sharabhanga who kept sacred fire and who having propitiated it with the sacred sticks for a long time ultimately offered his own body sanctified with hymns into that ritual fire. [13-45]
Now, after Sharabhanga had immolated himself, the task of according hospitality to guests devolved upon the trees of hermitage which were, as it were, the well behaved sons of the sage that removed the fatigue of a journey by offering their shade and that afford abundant fruits of any cherish. [13-46]
Oh, curvaceous lady, this chitrakUTa mountain with its mouth of a valley sending forth gurgling sounds of rapids, mud-like rainclouds attached to its horn-like apices, thus resembling a proudish bull whose cavern mouth sends forth a continuous bellowing and the tips of whose horns are smeared with mud dug up while indulging in butting against the side of a mountain, rivets my sight. [13-47]
Sages don’t waste their energy by cursing:
Beholding Rama on throne, the sages did not strike at the demon with their yogic-power; for, it is only in the absence of a protector that the curse-armed ones spend their asceticism. [15-3]
Shudra doing penance
Now, the descendant of Ikshvaku saw a certain individual practising asceticism, with bloodshot eyes from smoke, dangling upside down from the branch of a tree. [15-49]
On coming to conclusion that this individual deserved execution for his unauthorised performance of asceticism that resulted calamitous to other subjects, then the controller Rama took up his weapon. [15-51]
Rama caused his head, on which the beard and moustache have been singed by the sparks of fire and which therefore resembled a frostbitten lotus with smudged filaments, to be lopped off from the tube-like throat. [15-52]
Earlier Dasaratha was cursed by a Shudra saint that he would also die of longing for his son.
From Kumarasambhava (Canto V.15/17)
Now let us turn to Kumarasambhava Kavya of Kalidasa:
“And the fawns, fondled by being given handfuls of forest grain, trusted her (UMA) so far, that out of curiosity she could measure the length of her own eyes with theirs before her friends.
“Sages came there, desirous of seeing her, who used to take a sacred bath, to offer oblations to the fire, to wear a bark as her upper garment, and to recite sacred texts; age is no consideration in the case of those who are old in spiritual attainments.
“The sacred grove, too, became holy, where the previous antipathy between warring beasts was abandoned, where the guests were well gratified with the gifts of desired fruit by the trees, and where the sacred fires were kindled in newly built huts of leaves”
One more couplet (V-33)
Uma is asked:
“Are sacrificial wood and Kusa grass easily obtainable for holy rites? is the water suitable for your bathing? And do you practise austerities proportionate to your strength? For your body is the ultimate means of performing religious duties”
This shows not all the people are expected to severe penance. It should be proportionate to one’s physical and mental capacity. But women are also allowed to do penance.
There are many more remarks about the penance, penance- groves and seers and sages. My above quotations were only examples to show the attitude of commoners and kings towards sage and their dwelling places.
(For Kalidasa’s works, I have used various English translations–swami)