Publisher: Penguin Publications
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“After some days had passed, though it was hard,
Siva began to change the ways of his beloved
and, as she came to know the taste of pleasure, step by step,
she gave up the hesitancies she had in loving.”
The greatest long poem in classical Sanskrit by the greatest poet of the language, Kumarasambhavam, celebrates the love story of Siva and Parvati.
The Kumarasambhavam has come to us in the form of eight sargas out of the seventeen sargas found in some manuscripts. However, only the first eight can be judged, on evidence, to be the original work of Kalidasa.
The eight sargas have a completeness of their own. They develop not exactly a love story, but a story of inevitable union between male and female played out on the scale of supreme divinity.
The poem begins with a description of Himalaya, both mountain range and living god, his daughter Parvati, destined to be the consort of Siva, which is however disrupted by Siva’s renunciation of sexuality after the death of his first wife, Sati. But Parvati is Sati reborn and the marriage is desired not only by Parvati and her parents, but also by the gods. The destined child of the union, Kumara, the Young God, also known as Skanda or Kartikeya- will lead the armies of gods to victory against Taraka, an Asura (anti-god).
Kalidasa also makes mention of Kama, the God of Love, and here we learn of the power of the third eye of an enraged Siva. Indra, the king of the heavenly Gods, sends Kama on a quest to launch one of his flower arrows at Siva to bring an end to Siva’s renunciation of sexuality, but Siva discovers Kama and burns him to ashes with his third eye.
An entire sarga is dedicated to the grief of Rati (Sexual Delight), Kama’s wife. Kalidasa has with acute observation and diction seemed to call on his own experience of grief when he describes the lament of Rati after the destruction of Kama.
“Where have you run to and left me,
whose life rests in you, our love cut off in a moment
as a lotus can be left when
a flood of water breaks through a dam?”
India is exceptionally intolerant, especially when the subject of religion arises, and if you mention romance or the word ‘sex’ in the same sentence with the name of a god, you have committed blasphemy.
Kalidasa has made use of the final sarga to depict the lust and romance which captures every newlywed couple. Siva and Parvati were no different; the eighth sarga of the possible seventeen concludes with the lovemaking of Siva and Parvati.
Moralistic critics in medieval and modern India have severely censured Kalisdasa for depicting the lovemaking of gods. Many editions of Kumarasambhavam have been published without the eight sarga, however, the depiction is vivid and beautiful.
“Though, as they loved the moon suffered when she seized,
his hair and they tried to outdo each other scratching
where nail marks should not be made and Parvati’s belt-string
easily opened to him, still he was never satisfied.
The love making depicted is not something to cringe at when read or to be looked down upon. In the religion of the Hindu, Siva is indeed the perfect male or the closest one can imagine, when he meets Parvati, his destined wife.They become two elements naturally and intensely unified. Siva and Parvati’s nights of love embody the idea of completeness, transcends every emotion describable and depicts the image of cosmic union.
Hank Heifetz needs to be commended for his efforts in taking on Kalidasa, the greatest Sanskrit poet ever. Even an attempt to translate his greatest work is truly admirable; Mr. Heifetz has given us a wonderful and excellent translation.
Kumarasambhavam is not just a poem, it’s what one can actually term as India’s rich literature. The sargas excite you and will also make you grieve. The modern reader needs to read this poem with a heartfelt desire to understand the story of love, marriage and lust between two people, two gods and most importantly, two forces of nature bringing balance when combined.
Read it, enjoy it and see for yourself the true magic of Indian literature.
Need more Kalidasa? See our review of Malavikagnimitram and decide for yourself!