On Separation and Heartbreak – Understanding the Servant’s Love in Kalidasa’s Meghadūta written by Eros
The words and passages quoted in this piece are from the poem are of an English translation by Srinivas Reddy. The original poem is in Sanskrit and was composed by Kālidāsa in the 4th-5th century CE. It is entitled ‘Meghadūta’ (Cloud Messenger).
“Can the long hours of the night collapse into a single second?
Can the pleasures of a mild summer day last all season?
Listen, my love, for my mind entertains such impossibilities.
Without solace, just as I burn and ache over our disunion.”
(S, 48. 2).
Recently, I chose to treat myself to a rereading of an ancient Sanskrit poem attributed to Kālidāsa – Meghadūta (Cloud Messenger). As his prose slowly unfolded the story of the servant of Lord Kubera who had been banished to the mountains and cursed to be separated from his wife for months, I could not help but draw parallels with our times today. The pandemic has brought with it immense grief and has subjected many to long periods of separation. Through this poem, Kālidāsa is able to convey how one feels while going through heartbreak, immersed in the intense desire to embrace his lover – but though decorated with despair, the poem can also be very therapeutic for it reassures our faith in love and possibilities.
Though separated away from her for months on a lonely mountain, the husband could describe his lover in great detail – everyday he would remember her teeth that resembled jasmine, eyes that shone like those of a timid doe, lips as red as ripe bimba fruit – he thought of her and believed that the God of Elements crafted her to be his archetype of feminine beauty (S. 22, 2). On many days, he would imagine her to be enjoying an act of love with him, by the virtue of memories saved in her heart (S, 27. 2) – during these times, we too reminisce and think of those days when it was so easy to be with our beloved. To the narrator, the wife was his second life whom he believed was drowned in despair (S. 23, 2). He believed her lover to be painting a picture of his thinning body as if she could feel his pain (S. 25, 2) or singing songs in his name – but forgetting those melodies due to her falling tears (S, 26, 2).
At night, her grief, just like his, was greater – for the morning brought with itself many chores that busy a grieving heart but in the quietness of the night, the sleepless one gifts oneself to sorrow. He remembered making passionate love to her and celebrating her with his caressing touch (S. 36, 2). Away from her, he saw her face in the moon, her hair in the plume, her arms in the vines, her eyes in the glance of a doe – but no single place where he could see and embrace all of her (S, 44. 2) Isn’t this true for many of us? In moments of separation, we tend to imagine our beloved in all places – be it gazing at their images for long or finding them in intangible and tangible objects of nostalgia. The husband would draw her on a tablet of stone with colours of ground minerals (S, 45. 2) or he would throw his arms into empty space to search for her embrace which would even bring the spirits of the woods to tears (S, 46. 2).
One day however, the lover saw a cloud and he trusted this ‘being made of mist, light, water and air’ (S, 5) to carry a message to his wife. He thought the cloud was like a balm for those who burned with love (S, 7). The cloud’s message was to breathe new hope in her – to tell her that her beloved was alive but frail, yearning to be with her (S, 41. 2). He also assured her to not lose faith in him – to not think of another woman in her dreams that she believes he is cheating on her with. He told the cloud to tell her;
“For people speak falsely, saying love fades in separation, but our affections, Intensified by our desire for each other, are stored away in a reservoir of love.”
(S, 51-52. 2).
The narrator ended his story on a note we all should remember – that faith should never be feared or lost, because “life is never eternal bliss and nor is it endless pain and the fortunes we possess turn up and down like the wheel of a chariot” (S, 49, 2) – there were only a few months to go before they could unite again and bath in the moonlight of an autumn night (S, 50, 2).
For us too, we just need to wait a little while longer to be united once again, but till then our hearts are like “drooping flowers that are held by the threads of hope” (S, 9).
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