Meghaduta is separated into two parts — Purvamegha Previous cloud and Uttaramegha Consequent cloud. According to the story, Kubera, treasurer to the Gods, possesses a band of celestial attendees working for him, named the Yakshas. One of these Yakshas was so besotted and preoccupied with his wife that he absolutely disregarded his duties. As a consequence, he was cursed and banished into the thickness of earthly woods.
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Unfinished pillar relief from the caves at Ellora, Maharashtra, India. The form is simple, but found root in the minds of individuals in many different contexts. In this, the model poem, two lovers find themselves separated by half of the Indian subcontinent.
The poem itself consists of a message between the two lovers and directions for how to deliver it. Whether separated by mountain ranges, highways, miles, or yards, the distance hardly matters.
As long as the lovers are not bound by the tight embrace of love they feel restless and unsure and must communicate with those they are separated from. He has been brought to this sorry state as a punishment from the god Kubera.
Not long ago our hero had been gainfully employed by the god and lived an idyllic life with his young wife in the Himalayas. But he became distracted presumably by the thought of his lover , slacked off, and was fired—which is even worse if your boss is a god. As the months wear on and the seasons change, our hero sees the first clouds of summer, which in India bring the monsoon. At this point, the narrator butts in to remind us of the absurdity of this situation:.
Interestingly, the message itself is rather short when compared with the description of the journey the cloud is to take. Before we can get to the message we are confronted with a sense-battering display of the land that lies between the two lovers. The longing that unites the lovers thematizes the land.
Borders are constructed and maps are drawn over the natural territory of the Indian subcontinent as the cloud bears the message of love. With these two spots standing powerfully in opposition on the map, the space between them becomes a reality to be reckoned with, overcome, theorized, and sexualized. Tension builds. By bringing the two lovers together conceptually, the cloud serves to reinforce the distance between them.
It is worth noting that the poem was written in a period of rapid expansion of the borders of the Gupta Empire when new territories were being actively integrated into the cultural system of the Gupta kings. Some of the territories mentioned in the poem were recently conquered and brought into the sway of the expanding empire.
Any place the cloud passes over is a place where one can have sexual relations with the land and its inhabitants. Not only the inhabitants, but also the land itself is sexual. The cloud transforms the earth into a gigantic sexual map:. The picture of beauty presented here is exaggerated and unnatural a woman with hips so large she cannot walk straight and breasts so large she cannot stand upright!! Her beauty is one that comes from the world around her and yet exceeds it by displaying the loveliest parts.
When we read the poem, we are removed from the actual woman by the gaze of two men, the poet and the distressed lover he creates. She no longer uses conditioner for her hair, her nails grow long, her cheeks become rough, clothes dirty, lips chapped, ornaments cast aside, mascara unapplied. There is nothing he wants more than to be desired back. He proclaims to the cloud:. I know her heart is chock full of love for me— This is why I imagine her thus during out first separation.
I am not just boasting out of wishful thinking— What I have explained will soon be entirely evident to you…. I imagine her face— Eyes swollen by powerful tears, Lips chapped by the heat of many sighs, Laid down in her hands, Partially hidden by her hanging hair, Showing the depression of the moon, Whose glow is obscured by your approach. After stressing just how pained his lover will be and how she will neglect basic elements of fashion and hygiene, he turns around and says:.
Of course his lover would never do such a thing, but other women are given and encouraged to have mischievous erotic agency. He tells the cloud:. Show them the ground with lightning that glistens like a streak of gold! But do not make a thunderous downpour, for the women are timid…. At sunrise the night journeys of lovers are quite apparent— Because of their trembling gaits: Mandara flowers have fallen from their hair, Cut and arrayed golden-lotuses from their ears, The threads of their pearl necklaces have broken The scent of their breasts still clinging to the pearls.
The lover acknowledges that the cloud is silent, but does not despair. He cries out:. The translation of Sanskrit poetry offers many difficulties.
The action in Sanskrit poetry is often driven by adjectival compounds, which function as sub-clauses of the main sentence. While these are sub-clauses grammatically and often seem superfluous, they are the main means of progressing the plot of the poem. The use of adjectives to progress the plot is obvious in Howl , but it can become more complex and convoluted in the Sanskrit poem.
These adjectival sub-clauses and relative-clauses can make translation awkward and unwieldy if not downright confusing. Here, the use of line breaks can actually be useful to the English translator—by separating clauses by lines each clause becomes a unit that can be understood and digested on its own, although this strategy breaks up to the flow of the poem.
The semantic range of Sanskrit words is massive. Most words are over-determined, conveying a wide range of unrelated meanings.
This lends itself very well to punning and double-entendres, which can be very difficult to capture in translation. While it is considered bad form to use the same word twice in the same verse, it is the mark of a good poet to use the same word in different meanings in verses close to each other.
The emphasis on chanting historically led to the poem being broken apart. Single verses can be chanted out of context and rearranged to fit a certain performance, recitation, or dance.
This is reflected in the content of each verse, which expresses a single enclosed moment or image. Each verse acts as a semi-autonomous, self-contained unit both thematically and syntactically. Traditional Sanskrit literary critics assigned each poem a rasa , a flavor or mood. This rasa applied to the entire poem but also to each particular verse, which was supposed to express the mood of the poem in toto. Sanskrit poetry does not contain verse rhymes, but often employs internal rhyming, consonance, and assonance.
These images make up the general literary landscape and are important to include. Rather than trying to explain each mythological reference in an endnote, I have added a few explanations into the poem itself, but have left many of the references unexplained. If the reader desires to track them down, all she will need is a computer connected to the Internet. His throat is blue from having drank poison to save the universe , and his hair is ragged perhaps dreadlocked and provides a resting place for both the moon and the Milky Way, which is said to flow down onto his hair and form the Ganges on earth.
Agni drops the semen into some reeds along the Ganges, where Skanda is born. He is often associated with his vehicle, the peacock. However, the poem is not the product of a sectarian Shaivite setting. Most of the gods are not addressed with their common names, but are instead referenced obliquely, either by epithets or by descriptions of their actions.
In my translation I have inserted the common name of the god and retained the descriptive epithet for the ease of the non-specialist. I put much personal effort into this translation, but it could not have come to fruition without motivation and assistance provided me by Professor Gary Tubb. While each verse is my own, I do not think there is a single sentence that he did not provide input on.
That being said, he did not read the final manuscript and I took liberties in both my presentation and translation of the text. He should not be blamed for any errors, and this should not be read as a purely scholarly project. Over the centuries, many different people have read the poem in many different ways some better than others , and I hope it can continue to be read and re-interpreted for years to come. I leave you with a verse Goethe penned in meditation on it:.
That lover spent several months on the mountain. Separated from his woman, His gold bracelet slipping off his slender wrist. On the last day of the spring he saw a cloud Hugging the side of the mountain, Resembling an elephant bent over as if playing in the mud of a riverbank. That servant of the king of kings Somehow suppressing his tears , Stood before the cloud Which causes the Ketaka to flower , And thought for a while.
The sight of a cloud makes even the hearts of happy people flutter about, How much more for people who are distant and desire to embrace the neck of their lover. As the summer monsoon drew near, He sent news of his wellbeing through the cloud to support the life of his beloved.
I know that you are a shape shifter, and are really a minister of Indra, You were born in the world-renowned lineage of apocalyptic clouds. Being far from my family because of the power of the curse, I make myself your supplicant— Useless begging from those of good qualities is better than productive begging from the lowly.
Listen, giver of water! You are a shelter for the distressed. The wives of travelers will lift up their bangs and breathe easy when they see you, Borne by the Jetstream. When you are ready for action, Who would overlook his wife, Miserable because of separation? Even if that separation is voluntary, unlike mine, which depends on another.
Having met you each season, You expose the love of those who release passionate tears. Your path clear, you will certainly see my wife, your sister-in-law, Not yet dead, faithful to her one husband, and precisely counting the days.
The hearts of women have a tendency to fall during separation— They must be propped up like a flower bound by hope. Pay attention, giver of water! First, listen to the path I describe, which is favorable to your journey, Then, hear my message, drinking it in with your ears.
Placing your foot on summits whenever you are weary, And drinking the clear water of rivers whenever you are thin, You will make it. Not even a lowly person turns his face away from a friend seeking protection— How much more so for one as lofty as you? When you, the same color as a wet braid, reach its peak, The mountain, Slopes covered with mango groves that glisten with ripe fruit, Will become a destination for immortal couples. She will be like the breast of the earth— Dark in the middle and pale throughout the rest.
Stay momentarily on that mountain, Whose vines are enjoyed by the young wives of forest wanderers. Then, cross further beyond that path, Your passage faster because of all the water you have released. The wind will not be able to raise you, overladen with moisture; For everything inconsequential is light and the complete become weighty.
Though for my sake you desire to go quickly, I foresee you wasting time on each mountain, fragrant with kakubha flowers. You should settle on Mount Nicai to rest.
The verse is unique to Sanskrit literature in that the poet attempts to go beyond the strophic unity of the short lyric, normally the form preferred for love poems, by stringing the stanzas into a narrative. This innovation did not take hold, though the poem inspired imitations along precisely the same story line. The Meghaduta is the lament of an exiled yaksha a benevolent nature spirit who is pining for his beloved on a lonely mountain peak. When, at the beginning of a monsoon, a cloud perches on the peak, he asks it to deliver a message to his love in the Himalayan city of Alaka. Info Print Cite.
Meghadutam of Kalidasa with Sanskrit Commentary and English Translation
Unfinished pillar relief from the caves at Ellora, Maharashtra, India. The form is simple, but found root in the minds of individuals in many different contexts. In this, the model poem, two lovers find themselves separated by half of the Indian subcontinent. The poem itself consists of a message between the two lovers and directions for how to deliver it. Whether separated by mountain ranges, highways, miles, or yards, the distance hardly matters.
Yakshas are demi-gods with divine powers. They can change their form at will, take to the skies and fly where their fancy takes them, become invisible and indulge in a variety of supernatural capers. But the yaksha of our story had temporarily lost all these powers. Alakapuri was a Himalayan kingdom and Kubera was its ruler.
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