Hindu Sages and Hermitages in Kalidasa’s Works (Post No.3779)

Written by London swaminathan


Date: 1 April 2017


Time uploaded in London:- 16-27


Post No. 3779


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.


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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)






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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