The rhapsody of reading Megh-dut in Manipuri by Kh Gourakishore
- Part 1 -

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *

  Young Kalidas chopping a branch (Artist's imagery)
Young Kalidas chopping a branch (Artist's imagery)

How can a cloud so moving, mixed and got of water vapour, fire and wind be used by Yakhsa appropriately as messenger ? But he in eagerness and grief confused mistakes as sentient a thing that's not

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 Vag-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.

to be continued.....

 Sri Gourakishore Singh
Sri Gourakishore Singh

* Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at irengbammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com and Website:
This article was webcasted on March 03, 2019.

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