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Cracow Indological Studies

vol. VII (2005)

Raj endran C hettiarth o di

(Calicut University)

Humanizing nature - a study in the imagery of KfllidEsa

Much of poetry in all ancient civilisations abounds in the descriptions of na-

ture, but this is especially true in the case of an eco-friendly civilisation as that
of India. Kdliddsa inherited and reproduced the world view of ancient India
rvherein the distinction betw'een human beings and nature is not clearly de-
marcated. But he carried this vision further in classical poetry to sucir an ex-
tent that nature becomes present very prominently in the narrations centred on
human life. Most of the critics have rightry remarked that we cannot under-
stand the vision of Kalidasa without a reference to his vision of nature versus
the human being. Referring to the poet's vision of life as reflected in the Me-
ghasandeia, Rider says:
The former half is a description of external nature, yet interwoven with human
feeling; the later half is a picture of a human heart, yet the picture is framed in natu-
ral beauty. So exquisitely is the thing done that none can say which half is superior.
of those rvho read this perfect poem in the original text, some are moved by the
one. some b1'the other. Kalidasa understood in the fifth century rvhat Europe did
not learn until the nineteenth. and eYen no*,comprehends only imperfectly, that the
rvorld uas not made for man. that man reaches his full stature only as he realizes
the digniq' and rvorth of life that is not human. That Kalidasa seized this truth is
magnificent tribute to his intellectual power, a qualiry quite necessary for great po-
etry as perfection of form. I

The roots of this pre-modern weltanschauung can be found in the vedic lir
erature itself, wherein natural forces are effortlessly personified as gods. In the
words of Arthur A. Macdonell,

' Quoted by Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, reprint Bomb ay 1973,
, .-:ri Phe-
- -:.rm an
':l \\ith
oi '::: - :J
*-' goi' u"' ror the most pan' more
:ii:;;";;, -
their PhYsical foundation -: is
To show the uninhibited
:1,,*:,t-"-t:"1^:r1i:ilt';;,=- - r,:t;
to,o*ing extract rrom the n";,:rT i;:'t"ii;;i'.ir'"
will suffice:
Usasisaradiantmaiden'bornintheskl'dauehterofDyaus'sheisthe::.::"::::er oi S;:''.
i,. Iig}lt oi h"er lover. with the light
of dark Night. Sh..:;;Hil matr a maiden She is bor'e
and follorvs h:r a:
beams after her path herself in. gay anire like
i'tt il'-tti'rg
a'u*^f'vruddy stetdt t''
brilliant tu'' ,irottt ..t-''l"ht rhe maiden appears in the
bosom Clothe'i
dancer, she displays her
east and unveils her
leap-iro:r":':' \'::r: tL!:]t'' like the
It is true that il we make a quantum do not t-'n::"'-':- -ti-;i"--:'::ll:::
above to the universJ'#[aiit'"' "tseer lrnds no:i:'- "'< :: ::i:-= r'\\!rrr
afiittrde to nalure"f t'""u'''ttt rnaide"n irlt:"= :'''-
:c:=-.-- ' :-::lJ anl'
dawn the pt'tno'otnon ""1'o^t" 'ne
difference ben\een natural.pheno]":lo: 1-t lt- - :t-.trt,:. ]=.t --,' a=t ::::
-': -:''r: :=:' ;' '
il;i:,:;r:; X":;';l;i;. ;.';;,' ,:, "='l==-"' " ""
i:=;:'::: l'::i::::'-::':the=.'-'
pt"nnt itt ceni:i;""*':1'-:=
rrith the spirittral oi tr't at be-

ol a god r,u'onnr"i),.
irtt t"r'u'ated 'Jescription
forrn. Bur \n'iT']ia
r.i;:Ji;ir]i, pr]yri.ui
einnine of th. po.,r'ii eve of Parvatt's marriage' tn a
descriues i]i*'r'v' uguin' onlt''t welcomtng
Vt, ratida,u host
Xtilffi;i;F f"th;;' as an eloquent does not
humanised wav, as interestingly' the-poet
the six sages to fti' f'"""
ifln g"ut the moLlntaln
*uiJ,iul phenominon of
at ln another
feel a dichotomy "rrj"
spirit ensrrii".l'*'i",',r,*g beha;;'iitJu r,,'"un beinu"enilrrined spirit
and the 'i.;h; pon"yt tlre
occurring l;';;';;'')'on'so"rarioat" cotne back
u' a tuay *h" tt"t""' K'st*iiil;pr5t tr"ihe'should
i" i., roisaking ilJ ;';i;;li' ::il:l*iit"X:;'.,li1J;H l:.,l:i:';;
should co,e back
ir" ir'g he
:*i:r:;:l ;:!:i::"r;uTi[J{i4h
Here the po,.*yuI of
the city
'r'"compellingil done that
to her. "r';'i;;;'t;so
p' 56'
;1i**G**t"'t Literatttre'Delhi 1990'

Kdlid6sa deems it necessary to make the king state that his character has al-
ways been aboveboard, suggesting that he does not entertain any clandestine
affair with a woman who has come to his chamber at night.
Interestingly, Ananadavardhana, the medieval poetician, commenting
on such divergent perspectives found in poetry in general, points out that these
are features which can be exploited by poets to add novelty to the subject
matter. All insentient objects such as Himavat and Ganga have a second sen-
tient form characterised by the well known self-consciousness and there is no
harm in describing either of these forms3. There is no doubt that Anandavar-
dhana was pointedly referring to the descriptions found in Kdlid6sa,s poetry,
especially the Kumqrasambhav'q and Meghasandeia, wherein the poet de-
scribes the sentient aspects rvithout any sort of inhibition. The trait is also
discernible in the plays of BhavabhDti. especially his uttararqmacarita wherein
rivers, such as Tamasa and Murald, appear as living human characters.
However, the humanising process in Kdliddsa's poetry requires a closer
scrutiny since it involves several strands. It is quite natural in epic poetry re-
lated to mythical events to regard mountains and rivers as human personalities,
as, for instance, when the Mahabhdrata describes Bhrsma as the son of the
river Gangd or the Ramayana describing Ahalyd being converted into a stone.
In the arena of secular literature also, as in the case of the animal fables, for
example in the Paficatantra, humanizing a bird or an animal is as easy and
natural as in the mythical tales. KdlidEsa's poetry profusely makes use of such
transspecies metamorphosis in poems such as the Raghuvamia, where a
Gandharva is convefted into an elephant and, vice ,rrro, o, the conversation
bet*'een King Dilipa and the lion is as natural as between two human rivals.
For such supernatural behaviour Kdlidasa does not offer any apology
or ex-
planation. Sanskrit lirerarure as a uhole is dependent on such transspecies
discourses wherein the human beings are a part of a continuum and the
tion from one end to another is natural.
But Kdliddsa's poetry consists also of another t1'pe of deeper engage-
ment in nature which does not fit in the conventional framewoik. It has a
uniqueness which deserves our special attention. The main reason for
this is
that Kalidasa instinctively and consistently humanises nature to a degree
seen. in any other poet. Nature here ceases to appear as a mute spectator
nessing the human drama, but as a living presence, partaking in ihe joys

3 Dhvanyaloka, Iy .7 , Delhi 19g2.


sorrows of the sentient world. This tl'pe

of humanisation is not seen elsewhere
source of inspiration for Kalidasa'
However, it ls inieresting to note that Kdliddsa
is r-rnusually self-
mixing up of the sertient and the
conscious of the pitfalls in the inJiscriminate
in the )Ieghasande,ia, where he
insentient world. He a.ticutates his misgivings of the
against the concept
anticipates the possibleoU;""tion t[at cal
be raised
an intelligent rnes-
;i;r;:the bare combination of the five elemenrs. becomingof the Yaksa to his
r"rg", *fr" .un ,"."iu" and deliver the love message
doubtless from the point of vierv of the
spouse. The immedi"t".)(pi"""
are confused about the distinction
rational mind that people lrni.,.a by love
between sentient una ilr"nti"nt bein[s.
It is significant that bgth ile obiection
and the explanation ur" in Bhamaha's Kavyalaikara' though
a defect ca'ed ayuktirrf titl"gi."f,iyj.
A".o.aing to Bhdmaha, the practice of
sending natural,,"nu, ut"itlt cloud' wind' moon' bee and the like'
as if
are pofiraye.d as speaking
sage poems the lovers rvho send such messages
ployed profusely by intelligent people'
has vehe-
It is interestinf io i-ot. thai John R*skin. an English critic. u'ith the
painters to credit.nature
mently attacked tt-,""n.1, of poets and
fallacy'. According to
;;;iift, of human u.ingr, *rri.r"l he calls 'parheric
itate of feelings, making us, for
Ruskin, this fallacy i, lu"ur.o by "an excited
the firsttime, more o, i"r, ir.*rnal,,.
Ruskin calls this an error "...which the
between 'highest' poets, name]y Ho*tt'
Dante' and Shakespeare'
,second, order of ,..n".t]u.; poets, namely wordsworlh, coleridge, Keats
in a marked manner.
f;;;t;"r. It is in tt,.lutt., that we find pathetic fallacy
In such cases he does not regard it as morbid

a ayuktimad yatha furta jalabhynmarutendat,'alt,

tlthd b hr am ar ahdr rt ac a kr av akalu ka d oy a h I I
avdco 'vyaktattdcai ca dilradeiat'icarinah
katham dutyam prapadyerann iti yukty
na yujyate ll
KatYalaikara,1 42-43'

It is Anandavardhana who looks upon the problem of the dichotomy

between sentient and insentient beings in a more comprehensive manner, from
tlie point of view of the aesthetic emotion. Anandavardhana,s perceptive re-
marks on the issue give us valuable insights into the manner in which Indian
critical tradition looked at Kdliddsa's portrayal of nature. It is a fact that
Anandavardhana instinctively refers to the poetry of K6lid6sa whenever he
makes a reference to good poetry. This is not surprising as he himself declared
that in the world there were two or three or at best five or six great poets like
Krliddsa. According to Anandavardhan4 "a good poet will freJly design even
insentient objects to act as sentient and sentient objects to act as insentient
ones"r. while it is difficult for us to find suitable examples for the depiction of
sentient_beings as insentient. the vice versa is amply illustrated in Kdlid6sa,s
poetry. Anandavardhana hotly contests the notion'that the depiction
of insen-
tient objects does not result in any aesthetic emotion. He cites two verses
KEliddsa's vikramorvaitya to drive home the fact that even insentient
become sources of emotion. one is the depiction of a river, resembling
with_its waves looking- like the frowning brows, the foam as the garment
the flow as the unsteady gait. Another virse is more intriguing. It"describes
creeper with foliage wet with rain, devoid of flowers due to thJ passage
of the
season, and unaccompanied by humming bees. The creeper
resembles Urvasr,
in one of her offended_moods, with lipsioaked in tears, devoid of
and steeped in deep silence. Here, however, the creeper actuaily
turns out to
be UrvasT herself, who assumes her real form at the touch of purDravas.
davardhana rightly concludes that such descriptions of insentient
objects as
sentient are virtual mines of aesthetic emotion and thus endorses
the humani-
sation of nature in great poetrv as that of Kalidasa.
A closer look at Kdliddsa's poetry also shows that it is the intense emo_
tional experience which triggers off the personification and humanisation
nature, as suggested by Anandavardhana. The powerfur emotions,
love and pathos spill over from the sentient world to the insentient
one in
Kdlid5sa's imagination quite effortlessly. A celebrated example is
the ,bee
scene' in the first act of Abhijfidnaiakuntala, wherein Dusyanta
looks at the
bee hovering around the face ofSakuntald. The bee becomes
the object ofher
coveted glance, touches her trembling body, whispers sweet nothings
in her

J have adopted the tra,slation of the Dhvanyaloka, by K. Krish,amoorthy,

Delhi 1982, p.251.
R,q:ENoReN CurrrraRruonr

ear, and finally touches her sensual lips. as if it ri.ere a luckl lover having his
ways. Anandavardhana cites this verse as an instance olan ideal r-rsage of the
poetic figure, in the present case syabhat'okti,'fhe ideal figure, in his view, is
intended only as an ancillary of the aesthetic ernotion. It is a means to achieve
the emotive effect and not an end b1 itself. Abhinavagupta in his gloss ex-
plains that the description of the minute mo\ernenrs of the bee is actually con-
ducive to the development of the emorlon oi lore in its yearning phase
(abhilasikavipralatnblru). interestinslr. the bee episode does not actr-rally end
here. In the sixth act of Abhtlfianaiakuttala. uhere the loresick and almost
insane Dusyanta looks at the picture of Sakr-rntala, draun br himselt-. the bee is
actually treated as a rival by the raving king. Dusyanta actuallv addresses the
bee as if it were a human rival and threatens it with dire consequences mi-rch to
the chagrin of the Vidlsaka, who naturally suspects that his friend has lost his
reason. Such episodic features in Kdliddsa's narration seefll to strengthen his
premise that people afflicted by love do become indifferent to tlie distinction
between sentient and insentient beings.
We can see that the whole of the Meghasandeia is an extended meta-
phor involving the insentient nature in the emotions of the sentient universe.
The separated Yaksa believes thatthe cloud is not simply an aggregate of the
five elements insensitive to l.runtan emotions. On the other hand, he is por-
trayed as a sympathetic lriend. of high birth. an accomplished. pleasLrre loving
and artistic companion. ven much ltke naqarikrT ponra\ed in uorks such as
the Kamastltra, rvho makes the best of the lit-e belbre him. In the imaginative
mind of the hero, the clor-rd assumes the form of a passionate lover and all the
rivers on the way to Alaka yearning damsels waiting for him. The easy identi-
fication of rivers like the Vetravatr, Nirvindhy6, Gambhlrd, and CarmalvatT
with women in love is facilitated not only by the Sanskrit convention of as-
signing feminine gender to rivers, but also through the imaginative identifica-
tion of the waves with the brows, the fish witl-r eyes and the meandering florv
of water with the seductive gait of a woman. Tl-re act of rvatefiaking becomes a
stylized form of kissing. Personification is extended even to cities, such as
Alak6, which is imagined as a damsel sitting on the lap of Mount l(aildsa.
However, it is also significant that Kdlidasa, rvhile uninhibitedly pofiraying
the amorous dalliance of the cloud with such rivers, does not use afflorous
imagery in the portrayal of holy rivers such as the Ganga and Sarasvatr in the
Meghasande,ja. As mentioned before, the blurring of the distinction betr.veen
the sentient and the insentient world is seen also in lhe Vikramorvai^,a Io a

remarkable degree. Here UrvaST is actually turned into a creeper on entering

the forbidden forest. Pur[ravas is able to redeem her original form the moment
he touches her. The metamorphosis of UrvaST into a creeper naturally paves
the way for the imaginative and extremely beautiful description of the creeper
as a graceful 1ady. nay Urvasr herself, in her remorse stricken mood. But
PurOrivas. raving mad. treats other natural phenomena also as sentient and
intelligent human beings. and speaks to mountains, swans, cakravaka, cuckoo
and th-e like as if thel' rvere his usual companions. Here also, we see that the
human emotion spills over to the nature around'
K6lid6sa is also fond of portraying nature as partaking in human emo-
tions directly. In the Raghn'omia. the poet describes how the sorrow of S-rta'
forsaken in the forest. became the sorrou'of the entire nature:
The peacocks stopprd their dances. trees shed their flosers. the she-deers shed their
mouthed srass. The s'hole forest partaling in her grief rvept profusely'
(Raghuvamia XIV.69)

The same is the predicament described in the famous fourth act of Abhi-
j fi dnai akunt a/a, u'here,

The deers forsake the mouthful grass

The peacocks have ceased to dance
The creepers appear to weep
Shedding their pale leaves.
(Ab hrj fi anai aku nt aI a lY .1 2)

The t,vpe of humanisation of nature which we find in the whole of Abhi-

jiiana"iakuntala is perhaps unparalleled. In the first act itself, when Sakuntald,
along u'ith her friends. is engaged in u'atering the trees of the hermitage, the
jasmine creeper, called the 'moonlight of the forest' (vanaiyotsna), is regarded
as the bride of the mango tree and Sakuntald exclaims that it is in the proper
time that both have been united. The flowering jasmine is in her prime of
youth and the mango tree is covered in leaves indicating that he is ready to be
enjoyed. Sakuntald loves the creeper to such an extent that when Anaslya
quips whether she has forgotten to water her, she replies that she would rather
forget herself than forget the creeper.,The union of the creeper and the tree
becomes the metaphor of the union of Sakuntald and Dusyanta. In the first act,
Anasr-ryd makes fun of her for the intense attention dire0ted to the creeper,
which she interprets as indicative of Sakuntald's yearning for a suitable groom
such as won by the creeper. In the fourth act, Kanva himself reinforces the
Ra:tNoRRN CunltreRruoor

idea by stating that since both the creeper and Sakuntald have
found their ideal
grooms, he is no more anxious about their future.
The creeper-tree metaphor
reappears in Raghuvamia also, where the predicament
of Kausatyd and Sr"rrr-ri_
tra, after the demise of Dasaratha, is compared to that of
two creepers fiorn
]!e .syrpporling tree has been cut (Raghtlamia XIV.I ).
Kdlidasa usually poftrays the human emotion spilring
over to nature
around which, in its humanised form, becornes sympathetic
to the feelings of
man. But the reverse is also true; sometimes it is ihe sudden
emotional change
in nature which is reflected in sentient and conscior-rs beings.
A case in point
appears in Kdlidasa's portrayal of the spring season in
the third canto of' the
Kumarasambhava. Here it is the inert nature which first
of all shows the sud-
den.emotional changes caused by the season. Here K6lidasa
professes that the
ruddy buds of the palaia flowers, curved like the moon,s
digit, looked rike the
nail marks in the tender bodies of the forest grounds, perslonified
as women
accosted by the Spring, their lover. Thereupon, even the
birds and animars are
also portrayed as engaged in amorous dariiance, which
suggests the sr_ritabre
background lor cupid to use his arrows against the
ascetii-siva engaged in
penance. Here nature becomes a point of influence
on the human being.
K6lidasa begins the description riith a poetic fancy suggesting
thui the south-
ern rvind was as ilthe deepsieh of anguish releasei u.lttle
soltnern direction,
personified as a \\'oman suflering the panes of separation
riith the SLrn reaving
her to couft the Norlhern direction. p..tonifi.d as anorher \\olran.
A series of
personifications follow. The whole forest terrain appears
as \\omen having the
nail.biteson their body;the bees are imagined as iolryrium marks
on the fore-
head of the Spring. Then the worrd of animars and birds
start showing the
signs of desire. The antelo_pes start reaping. The cuckoos
sing alouo, sLlggest-
ing the clarion callof the cupid. The he-bee tastes the honey"already
tasted by
the she-bee;the black antelope scratches the eyes of his belovea
wiin his horn
while she sits eyes closed in bliss. The she-elephant gives tlre water
by her to the elephant. The takrqvctka feeds his lorle with rhe lotus
stark al-
ready tasted by hirn. The Kimpurusa passionatel' kisses the face
of his be-
loved shining forlh with eyes rolling over due to intoxication. The
trees em-
brace the creepers whose bunches of flo*e^ are their breasts. It
is to this
scene that Siva is presented, while deeply engaged in penance,
and he mo-
mentarily falls to the temptation of Cupid.

^ Ittoisgrant
interesting to note that some later-day poeticians like vidyanatha
the fully-fledged stature of rasa to the emotion depicted in

animals and the like and they consider the emotion as rasdbhasa.
a semblance
of rasa. But Indian literary theory as represented by Anandavu.Jt
much at home with similar practices seen in Sanskrit poetry,
*u was very
oi which the
main spokesman is Kalidtua. This is a far cry from the typ.
oi".iti"ism which
Ruskin levels at what he calls pathetic fallacy. It is significant
that Bhamaha,
who refers to the defect of illogicality, does not develJp his
notion to its logi_
cal conclusions as to include all elements of unrealistic thoughts
appearing in
poetry. He focuses his criticism on the alleged fault
of assignlng an inanimate
object such as the cloud the role of a messJnger, and that tJo
wlth ttre qualifi_
cation that it is not a fault if it is intended to suggest the insane
nature of the
Iover. It is doubtful whether the postmod.* .ontin.ntal
literary theory would
give much w-eightage to the notion of pathetic falracy
which"thrives on the
dichotomy of the reallunreal rvithout taking into account
the fact that the so
called real is also something produced by thI text.


Anandavardhana, Dhvanyaroka, ed. with English transration

by K. Krishna-
moorthy, Delhi 1982.
Bhamaha, Kavyatankara, Delhi 197 O.
KEI i ddsa, Ab hij fianai akuntal a, Kal i ddsagranth'valt g0.
Benares 1 9
KEI i ddsa, Ra ghuv am i a, Kdliddsagranthdiali,
Benares 1 g0.
Macdonell A. A.. A History of Sinskrit Literature,Delhi
Nehru J., The Discovery of India, reprint Bombay

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