The Rhapsody Of Reading Megh-Dut In Manipuri By KH Gourakishore
This has been a groundbreaking adventure, like the first landing on the moon, when I tried to read Kalidas’ “Meghadut” in Manipuri of 45 pages, titled “Kalida’s kee Megh-Dut” translated from Sanskrit by the late Khumanthem Gourakishore Singh, of Moirang Leirak, Sagolband, Imphal.
When I was a young boy I heard grown-up people talking about Kalidas’ Mehgdut (messenger cloud). I didn’t know much about it. I still didn’t know anything until I came across last week, a little book on the shelf of my library. It was presented to me, signed and dated, Imphal 19.3.2012, by his son Dr Ratan.
Only a few years ago, my brain couldn’t decipher Meiteilon properly, because of my long- dissociation with it, except for about a week of jabbering, once a year, when I pilgrimaged home in Imphal. Now I’m ready to measure enough depth of Manipuri to determine a true understanding.
It’s really delightful to read this Manipuri translation of 119 stanzas of Meghadut” (Cloud Messenger). The book was first published in 1958 (I was a Medical Student), and reprinted five more times, because of a demand by students from Manipur University. I know now why? It’s because of its highly artistic literary rendition of Meghadut in Manipuri.
Kalidas, the greatest of the Sanskrit dramatist, is famous for his drama, Shakuntala and for his poem, Meghadut. I saw Shakuntala, a Hindi film in 1946, followed by another film Mahakavi Kalidas at MNB Talkies in Imphal. I remember only bits of each film. I also recall reading Shakuntala in English (prose), much later.
Kalidas became known in Europe towards the end of the 18th century. His poem Shakuntala was first translated into English prose as ‘Sacontala’ or The Fatal Ring’ in 1789, by the Wales linguist Sir William Jones, in Calcutta. It was followed by European republications in 1790, 1792 and 1796. A German and French versions of Jones’s translation were published in 1791 and 1808 respectively.
Shakuntala was written in poetic form in the mandrakanta (slow and measured Sanskrit) metre. Its first verse, translated into English by Barbara Stoler-Muller in the “Recognition of Shakuntala” (Abhijnana Sakuntalam) shows how breezy and lively are Kalida’s poems:
The graceful turn of his neck [antelope]
As he glances back at our speeding car,
The haunches folded into his chest
In fear of my speeding arrow,
The open mouth dropping
Half-chewed grass on our path
Watch how he leaps, bounding on air,
Barely touching the earth.
The life story of Kalidas, where and when he was born and where and when he died, is not known. Virtually no facts are known about his life, but there are colourful legends. All are conjectures. However, many scholars believe there is nothing that can compare with the excellence of his poetry in its freshness of inspiration and delightful imagery and a profound insight into emotions. But Max Muller declares: “Kalidasa’s plays are not superior to many plays that have been allowed to rest in dust and in peace on the shelves of our libraries.”
Kalidas did flourish sometime before 634 CE (5 century CE) in Northern India. It was in the pre-Gupta period. He became one of the “nine jewels” of the court of King Vikramaditya.
European scholars think he came from Kashmir, probably a Brahmin, and by his name a follower of Kali. In his youth, he wandered south. It’s because of his detailed description of the flora and Fauna of Kashmir in his play Kumarasambhava, and his love of Ujjain in Meghadut, as well as his highly eulogistic description of Kalingan Emperor Hemangada in his Raghuvamsa.
I remember he wrote about Kashmir: “The place is more beautiful than heaven and it is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness. It seems to me I am taking a bath in the lake of nectar here,” (Dr Singh IM, Quest Beyond Religion. 2006:224).
Among the many legends of Kalidas, there is a bit in that Hindi film, which I can’t forget, because it was so hilarious. Long years ago, there was a king in Benares, who had a very learned and beautiful daughter, named Vidyotama. She would often put down wise men in her father’s court. She let it be known that she would marry a man who could defeat her in an intellectual discourse.
The king wished to marry his daughter to a famous grammarian named Varuruci, but the princess considered herself too learned for this scholar. Varuruci, thus scorned, sent his men to find the most foolish man to marry her as a revenge. They found a handsome young cowherd in the forest, trying to cut off a branch of a tree on which he was sitting. No one could be more stupid than him, they thought.
They persuaded him to come along to the palace where he would be given good food, only on one condition that he should not speak a word there, and respond with hand gestures only. He was brought to the court. Varuruci explained to the king that the young man was keeping maun-vrat (the vow of silence) for a month. (Just before WWII, my 2 young elder sisters used to keep maun-vrat on certain mornings.
The gormless young man was presented to the court to confront the princess in a scholarly debate in sign language. She showed him the index finger of her right hand. To outdo her, he raised two fingers. She then showed her open palm with five fingers. Kalidas showed his fist. Varuruci explained to the bewildered court. The princess’s one finger signifies there is only one God. The cowherd’s two fingers mean there are two ie God and soul (duality). The princess’s five fingers signify there are five human senses, while the young man’s fist indicates that when the five senses are kept under control, only then, one can attain greatness. The princess was defeated and she had to marry the man.
After the marriage, one night, the princess heard a camel growling outside. She asked her husband, what was it? Kalidas stuttered out ‘Ostra’ (Sanskrit for camel). Vidyotama was expecting some brainy reply. She realised her husband was a simpleton and kicked him out, asking him to acquire knowledge if he desired to continue their relationship. She further stipulated that on his return, he will have to answer the question, “Asti Kashchit Vāag-visheshah”: (Is there anything special in expression?) to her satisfaction.
Saddened with grief, he drifted away and arrived at the temple of Garhkalika in Ujjain, a prominent city (Hindu tirtha) on the Malawar plateau of Central India. He paid tribute of flowers to goddess Kali until she rewarded him with a knowledge of grammar, logic and poetics—the three branches of learning needed by a poet to help him write correctly, logically and poetically. He took the name of Kalidas, “slave of Kali”, as an expression of his gratitude.
In due course, Kalidas returned to his wife, but she refused to recognise him. Disappointed, he left again for the City of Ujjain. He wrote three books starting with the 3 words his wife uttered when he left her for the first time: (1) Asti (there is) -uttarasyaam dishi (kumara-sambhavam), an epic; (2) Kashchit (something) –kaanta (Meghdut), a poetry; and (3)Vaag (speech) –Visheshah (special) – Raghuvamsha (epic).
As I’ve no knowledge of Sanskrit, I’ve read Gourakishore’s Manipuri translation in comparison to English translations by others. The latest research that I find quite exhilarating is by Mirjam Westra (2012), published as a thesis, from the prestigious University of Groningen, Netherland. What I write here is mostly from his publications that include maps of the itinerary of the cloud from Ramagiri to Dasapura, and that from Brahmavarta to Alaka, mount Kailas. He says probably, there is historical geography underlying the route of the cloud in Meghadut, based on the journey of Sita-Rama from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya, during their exile of 14 years. He himself, visited some of these places.
I have selected 6 verses at random from Gorakishore’s Manipuri translation and compared them with those in refined English translations by some. I find his Manipuri translation incredibly exquisite, giving a poetic bounce, and a better sense of the feel of the poem. I understand Sanskrit is a very difficult language. All English translations from Sanskrit are tolerable compromise. And it is nearly impossible to adequately convey Kalidas’ Sanskrit poem Meghadut into any language. But having read its English versions, Gourakishore’s Meghadut in Manipuri, shows his intellectual and emotional awareness as Kalidas himself.
Like most translators, Gourakishore had the right to abandon literalness and focus on lyricism.
Compare his well-chosen Manipuri translations, first with a dull English translation, in verse (1), and spirited translations in the rest.
Thoudang thouoide haibagee cheirakta chahi kumja ama mashanou kainanamashagee Shakti marai chaithana, pamel namerugee inglaba urumdamabema seetagee seba fangkhraba puinya chellaba laijaga eroinana.Ramgiree kouba cheengee ashramda leirammee kanagumba yaksh ama.
And its lifeless English translation:
A year from amorousness: it passes slowly.
So thought a yaksha by his master spent,
For scanting duty, to the Ramagiry:
To mope in penance groves as banishment
By rivers Sita’s bathing there made holy.
Other felicitous English translations:
Engen thadi tharakhai kainabagai meichak meihumtha,
Mashanou fibuk kaidanaba leichinda paojenge khalladuna.
Cheengee malika anoubi leirangna pujagee pochang shemjaraduna,
Harao ethak epom ehouna, okchare leichinbu pukning haraona.
The rains now at hand, seeking to sustain the life of his beloved,
He thought to induce that cloud to carry her news of his welfare;
With fresh kutaja blooms he tendered it the guest-offering
And with loving heart spoke affectionate words of welcome.
(Kutaja are white flowers of the Sanskrit Kutaja tree, used for Ayurvedic medicine)
Achakpagee ingnafam oiriba leichin, kubergee shaptagee kainaraba eigee
ipao puduna nungshikada youru, chatpiyu yaksaningthou kubergee konungda; mapan leikonda dhyan touriba mahadevgee kokkee chandramouleena
dolal pumbabu irang langhanna, – alka konung uba fangani
Thou art a shelter for the burning, the distressed; so, cloud, to my dear one
Bear a message from me, lonely by kubera’s displeasure.
Go to Alka, home of the yaksha-lords; its palaces gleam
With moonlight from the head of Siva, who dwells in an outlying park.
Liree liree humba malangbana nangbu tapna tapna thouri.
Nashanou nongin shakhenbishu nungshina sheishakli oi-oinana,
Ashaba atiyagee ningthiba makoida haru hunbagee nungaiba ningshingna,
Pareng pareng oina nganu thanggongshingna napukning huningngai dreeshya oigani.
As a favouring breeze drives thee ever slowly forward,
And thy companion the chataka warbles sweetly here on the left,
Surely the hen-cranes, for the intimacy that can make them fertile,
Will attend, forming a garland in the air; in thee their eyes rejoice.
[Chataka birds are pied crested cuckoos that have flown all the way from Africa ahead of the Monsoon, and are recognised as an omen for the rain to come.]
Sanagee thambalna neengthina leitengba manos sarobargee laija thaktuna
Arabatkee chenglouda wanglen mikupta maikhum oibagee nungaiba peeduna
Lengleng chatpa kalpadrum unashingbu enafi fijangum ethak houhanna,
Makhalmakha ayamba shannaba maongna, kailas cheengdonda nungaina koiyu.
As thou sippest the water of Manasa lake where grows the golden lotus,
Creating at will the fleeting pleasure of a head-cloth for Airavana,
Shaking the garments on the wishing tree with water-dappled breezes,
Enjoy that mountain, varying the gleam of its crystals with shadow.
Verse (114) – the first 2 lines:
Tangja-shajyadagee bishnuna lengkhatpa mera thagee shap loibafao,
Watliba loidam marifaobasidi mit uishinduna khanglammu chanabi.
‘When the rainy season is over, Vishnu has risen from his serpent couch, my curse shall end;
Close thine eyes and endure the four months that yet remain.’
Meghadut is a short poem known as Kavya (strophic poetry ie a poem containing stanzas of varying line lengths). It is a love poem that he has made into a narrative by stringing the stanzas. It has 111 stanzas and is written in unrhymed stanzas of four lines in the slow-moving Sanskrit mandakranta metre, which means each quarter of a verse (pada) contains seventeen syllables, a form longer and more elaborate than other metres like the amustubh, which has only eight syllables per quarter of a verse, or upendravarja, which has in each of the four lines eleven syllables. This enabled Kalidas to express his feelings and the mental state of both lovers, longing desperately for each other during their separation (viraha).
Meghadut was hardly known outside India until the 1960s, though the poem was first translated into English by Horace Hayman Wilson in 1813. The narrative used here, is in the context of the monsoon, which is a very exciting time for Indians and of viraha (the anguish of separation). The forlorn and despondent Yaksha in his anguish, mistook a cloud as a being that was not.
Megha-dut (Cloud messenger) is Kalidas’ most famous lyrical poem. It’s separated into two parts: (1) Purvamegha (Previous cloud) and (2) Uttaramegha (Consequent cloud). The first section consists of Kalidas’ religio-geocultural mind, beginning with a description of the route from Ramagiri to Dasapura (verse 1-47). It is considered to be based partly on Ramayana, tracing the routes Ram and Sita took on their return from Lanka to Ayodhya.
The second section shows his mythological mind, as the cloud reaches the region of Brahmavatra and proceeds towards the Himalayan range, up to the mythical city of Alaka (verse 48-63). From verse 48, when Brahmvarta or Kuruksetra is described, Kalidas bases the rest of the itinerary mostly the route from Kuruksetra to Naimsa (modern Nimasar) in the epic of Mahabharata, for describing the route to Alaka.
The story is about a Yaksha (a divine attendant of Kuber, the god of wealth in Alaka. This Yaksha was so occupied with his newly-wed wife that he was grossly negligent of his duties to Kuber.
Whereupon, Kuber exiled him from Alaka, city of the gods in the Himalayas for a period of one year.
He was thereby separated from his wife and began to live on the ‘lofty hill of Rama’ (?Ramagiri). There he remained dejected with the pang of separation from his beloved wife, thinking about her all day and all night.
One day, in the beginning of the monsoon, when a cloud perched on the peak, he asked it to deliver a message to his love in the Himalayan city of Alaka. According to many European scholars, Kalidas’ description of the cloud’s routes may apply to Ramagiri on which Rama resided during his exile. They identify Ramagiri with Ramtek, located, 45km north of the city of Nagpur. Udaygiri is one of the places mentioned in the Meghadut and it is an important site for celebrating varsam asavrata, or rainy season celebration.
Towards the end of the eight month of banishment, one day the Monsoon rain came splashing on Earth. The Yaksha saw a rain cloud pass by. He requested it to carry a message to his wife, who was then languishing in the city of Alaka on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas, pleading: “first hear from me the path suited to your journey as I describe it to you, and then, O cloud, you will hear my message, aggregable to your ear.”
The cloud then received characteristic signs to identify the Yaksas’ dwelling and meet the lonely, weeping and miserable spouse, who was still counting the days to his return. The Yaksha in his eagerness for the cloud to reach his wife, began to instruct the route it should take while travelling northwards. It’s loving and pictorial description of the journey, instructing the cloud to visit places with political importance and sacred Tirthas (sacred spots, particularly associated with water). Kuruksetra seems to be starting point of Kalidas’ imaginary journey.
This designated itinerary of the cloud from Ramagiri located in central India (Madhya Bharat) to the mythical city of Alaka in the Himalayan range is the essence and beauty of Meghadut. As many of the story of Kalidas and Meghadut remain unexplained, further research can only answer those questions. Sri Gourakishore’s “Megha-Dut” will remain an inspiring source for those who are doing PhD thesis on it in Manipuri. His translation contains interesting choices of words, and word order ie sentences making sense. It has rhythm on top.