A Visual Interpretation of Kalidas’ Meghadūta

For the Menaka Diwali issue of 1979, artist Nana Joshi created nine colour visualisations of verses from the Meghadūta. Meghadūta (मेघदूत, also spelled as Meghdoot, literally means cloud messenger) is a lyrical poem in Sanskrit by Kalidasa from the 4th century AD. Nana Joshi’s visualisations were based on the Marathi translation of Meghadūta by poet Kusumagraj (VV Shirwadkar, कुसुमाग्रज). As these visualisations became popular, these (along with some other illustrations) were re-published in a book form by Menaka Prakashan in the Marathi translation of Meghadūta by Dr. Vasant Patwardhan. Nana Joshi created several more black and white illustrations for the book. The book is currently in its third edition and is available from Sun Publications, Pune.

Meghadūta is the story of a Yaksha, who lives in the beautiful mythical city of Alaka in the Himalayas. He was banished by his master away from his beloved and from Alaka to Ramagiri (Ramtek near Nagpur) for one year because he was careless in his duties. The poem is set about eight months after the banishment, when the Yaksha sees the first monsoon clouds (megha). It deals with the yearning of the Yaksha for his beloved. In his desperation, he requests a cloud to become his messenger (dūta) and carry his message to his beloved that all is well with him and he will come back to her within four more months.

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The Courtesan of Chandishwar Temple in Ujjain

In the first part of the poem in 66 verses (Purvamegh) the Yaksha describes to the cloud the journey it should take from Ramgiri to Alaka in the Himalayas. Among many places on the way, the Yaksha asks the cloud to visit the city of Vishala (modern day Ujjain). (Ujjain was the hometown of Kalidas – so that perhaps explains the detour.) Though the Yaksha asks the cloud to hurry with his message to his beloved, he suggests that the cloud should not miss spending an evening in the Chandishwar temple  (the present day Mahakaleshwar temple on the banks of Rudrasagar lake in Ujjain) and play its thunder as drums for the evening offerings to Shiva. This illustration is based on the 38th verse of Purvamegh, which describes the courtesans in this temple. The Yaksha says the cloud should shower a few drops there, so that the courtesans will be soothed by these first rains after a tiring summer, and will cast their sidelong glances at the cloud in appreciation.
(More about this illustration and verse, including translations…)

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The Passion in Alaka

Seven of Nana Joshi’s nine visualisations are based on part 2 of Meghadūta, Uttarmegh, which consists of 55 verses. This illustration is based on the 7th verse of Uttarmegh. In the first part of Uttarmegh, the Yaksha describes the beautiful mythical city of Alaka. The description is very romantic and passionate – the Yaksha seems to miss the city as much as his beloved. This particular verse expresses the climax of that passion, as lovers loosen the silken robes of their beloveds, and the women try to put off the lamps in their feminine coyness by throwing incense at them.
(More about this illustration and verse, including translations…)

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The Moonlight in Alaka

This illustration is based on the 9th verse of part 2 of Uttarmegh. Here the romantic description of Alaka continues. The Yaksha tells the cloud that if moved away, the moonlight will glisten on the water drops oozing from the moonstones, and will gently wake up the women who are relaxing in their lovers arms, tired after intense lovemaking.
(More about this illustration and verse, including translations…)

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Kalpavruksha, the Wishing Tree of Alaka

The Yaksha describes many wonders of Alaka, including its magical gardens, moonstones, infinite wealth of Kubera, and the nightly escapades of beautiful nymphs who were forever young. Moreover, Shiva, the friend of Yakshas, lives near Alaka. Kama, the god of love is not seen in Alaka, because he is afraid of Shiva. But his absence is not noticed as the arched eyebrows and the sidelong glances of the nymphs never miss their targeted lovers. The 12th verse of Uttarmegh (on which this illustration is based) describes the wishing tree (kalpavruksha) that yields all that is needed to enhance the loveliness of the nymphs, including clothes, flowers, wine and the red dye suitable for application on their feet.
(More about this illustration and verse, including translations…)

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The Beloved and the Bird

The Yaksha describes various signs with which the cloud may recognise his house. Then he describes his beautiful wife as the most supreme creation of the Creator. The Yaksha expects that she will be subdued by sorrow because of his absence, like a suffering moon behind a cloud. This illustration is based on the 25th verse of the Uttarmegh, wherein the Yaksha speculates that the cloud may see his wife worshipping to seek relief from their separation, or she may be drawing his portrait from memory and fancy, or perhaps asking their caged sarika bird whether she misses him too.
(More about this illustration and verse, including translations…)

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The Wistful Beloved

These two illustrations are based on the 26th verse of the Uttarmegh. The Yaksha continues his speculation. He says his wife maybe neglecting her clothes, sitting with a veena in her lap, trying to sing a song with words contrived to have the Yaksha’s name. But in her grief she might forget the melody or the words, though she herself has composed them.
(More about these illustrations and verse, including translations…)

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Meeting in the Dream

This illustration is based on the 37th verse of the Uttarmegh. In this verse, the Yaksha says to the cloud that in case it finds his beloved sleeping, it should not wake her up by thundering because perhaps it is one of those rare moments when she has managed to find some sleep and she may be dreaming about being with me.
(More about this illustration and verse, including translations…)

 

Finally, the Yaksha then gives the cloud the message that it is to deliver to his beloved – that he pines for her as much as she for him and cannot bear the separation any more. He reassures her that as soon as the rainy season is over in four months, he will be back from his exile. Then,the Yakhsa tells the cloud a secret that only he could have known, and something that will reassure her that the message is indeed from him – that she had woken up one night because she saw him with another woman.

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