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Usha Kishore: Of Kalidasa (Sanskrit)

Mural Painting on Kerala Kasavu Sari: Painting by V N Vidya

Ritusamharam: Excerpts from Greeshma

Cloaked in dust storms spiralled by savage winds,
simmering in the scorching rays of an angry sun,
the earth sears the eyes of travellers, whose hearts
languish in the fire of lovelorn anguish.

Deer gasping in thirst, choking in the fierce fire
of the sweltering sun, race towards the mirage
of yet another wood, hoodwinked by distant skies
that line themselves with collyrium clouds.

Blistering in the blazing sun, winding its way
through tortuous trails of torrid dust, a shrivelled
snake seeks the spreading shade of a peacock’s tail,
with drooping hood and gasping breath.

Terrible thirst thwarting his mighty game
of elephants abreast, the weary king of beasts,
abandons his royal quest, panting forlorn, with
gaping mouth, lolling tongue and quivering mane.

Throats parched by the smouldering sun,
foaming at their mouths, wild tuskers seek
waterholes to quench their mammoth thirst,
utterly fearless of the mighty lion.

The sun burns in a myriad sacrificial fires,
wilting the zeal and zest of peacocks,
too weary to strike at the hooded snakes
that shelter in the rings of their tail fans.

Rioting in the raging sun, a herd of wild boars
plough into a drained pond, routing the dried mud
with their great snouts, as if entering the core
of the earth, only the fragrant grass remains.

Garlanded by the raging rays of the searing sun,
a scorched lake drowns in mud, a parched frog
leaps up from its ambered waters to shield
under the canopied hood of a thirsty serpent.

Tearing out intricate webs of lotus stems from waters,
floating with dead fish, chasing the fleeing swans,
a stampeding elephant herd tramples and pounds
the hapless lake, churning its muddy waters.

The jewel in its hood sparkling in the shimmering sun,
inhaling the wind with its forked tongue, sweltering
in the scorching sun and its own sizzling venom,
the serpent strikes not at the hankering hordes of frogs.

Huge mouths foaming, red tongues lolling,
a thirsty herd of cow-buffaloes charges out
from the mountainous cavern, raised heads
sniffing for the scent of all quenching water.

Shoots of corn shrivelled and charred by wildfires,
dry leaves furiously flung forth by violent winds,
waters shrink all around in the simmering sun.
Fear wells in the eyes that gaze at the forest glades.

Flocks of birds pant on trees, shorn of leaves,
tribes of scrawny monkeys hide in mountain caves,
cattle wander in herds, yearning for water. Froglike,
herds of saraba deer drain deep wells of last draughts.

As radiant as kusumba blooms, as resplendent
as sindura dyes, kindled by incensed winds, flaming
the vine tendrils clinging to treetops, the wild fire
roams hither and thither, singeing the arid earth.

The inferno rages in the wind, deluging mountain valleys,
sizzling, hissing, crackling bamboo shoots, lighting the grass
in split seconds. Racing rapidly from the glade’s edge,
the wild fire flares, chasing the fleeing herd of weary deer.

Assuming a myriad forms like flaming shalmali groves,
the fire shrouds the trees in the lustre of burnished gold,
leaping up lofty trees, lighting up drooping boughs.
Inflamed by the winds, the fire circles the forlorn forest.

Singed and scorched elephants, bisons and the king of beasts,
all throng together like friends, forsaking their ire.
Fleeing the flaming grasslands, wearied they converge,
seeking solace in the splaying sandbanks of the river.

{This is an excerpt from my translation of the Greeshma Canto of Kalidasa’s Ritusamharam. In this excerpt, Kalidasa describes nature, searing in the heat of summer, with an elaborate listing of flora and fauna. Many critics including M R Kale consider the description of the flora and fauna in the Greeshma Canto as digressive as these verses are placed between the initial verses describing women and their lovers languishing summer away and the final stanza wishing the reader, a great summer in the company of beautiful women. I have often wondered whether the concept of pathetic fallacy could be applied here as the raging forest fire described here could be read as the burning passion of love, experienced by the women and their paramours in the earlier stanzas. The panting of the animals in the heat of the burning sun could be interpreted as animal passion, the forest fire being a culmination of desire.}

Translation © Usha Kishore


Focus – Poetising Indian Heritage

  Usha Kishore

  Ambereen Visharam
  Ami Kaye
  Arundhati Subramanian
  Ashoka Sen
  Bashabi Fraser
  Brian D’Arcy
  Debjani Chatterjee
  Karthika Naïr
  Kavita Jindal
  Mani Rao
  Rayla Noel
  Richa Joshi Pandey
  Rizio Yohannan Raj
  Shanta Acharya
  Soumyen Maitra
  Sudeep Sen
  Tabish Khair
  Usha Kishore
  Vivekanand Jha
  Winston Plowes

  Debjani Chatterjee: Of Sanjay Bhattacharya (Bengali)
  Priya Sarukkai-Chabria: Of Aandaal (Tamil)
  Shankar Rajaraman and Venetia Kotamraju: Of Gangadevi (Sanskrit)
  Santhosh Alex: Of Rishabha Deo Sharma and Badrinarayan (Hindi)
  Santosh Alex: Of Savithri Rajeevan & Abhirami (Malayalam)
  Sarita Varma: Of Manuj Brahmapaad (Malayalam)
  Usha Kishore: Of Kalidasa (Sanskrit)

  Kameshwari Ayyagari: ‘Sarojini Naidu – Poetising Indian Heritage’
  Priya Sarukkai Chabria: ‘My Many Ramayanas’
  Sutapa Chaudhuri: ‘Radha Poems of Sarojini Naidu’

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