Eric M Gurevitch

Kālidāsa’s Meghadhūta, or, the story of a Yakṣa slacking on the job


ISSUE 31 | STRATEGIES OF TOGETHERNESS | AUG 2013


“Faceless lovers.” Photo by Eric M. Gurevitch. Unfinished pillar relief from the caves at Ellora, Maharashtra, India


Introduction: The Lonely Lover

The Meghadūta (Cloud-Messenger, written by Kālidāsa) is the first of a genre, saṁdeśa-kavya, that flourished in Sanskrit and other Indian languages into the modern era. The form is simple, but found root in the minds of individuals in many different contexts. (German Romantics loved the poem, but only rarely went on to pen saṁdeśa-kavya of their own.) 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. In the Meghadūta the lovers are separated by many miles, but later poems play with the distance represented. 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. Whether read in the heyday of the Gupta Empire, Schlegel’s Germany, or New York’s Upper East Side, Kālidāsa’s verses can strike the heart of many a lover.

The poem opens with a pitiful image of a nameless Yakṣa (demi-god), exiled, alone, powerless, wasting away in Central India. 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. While exiled to a monastery on a mountain, the Yakṣa constantly thinks of his lover, neglecting his body and growing so thin that “his gold bracelet slipped off his wrist.” We are not told how his lover is faring. As the months wear on and the seasons change, our hero sees the first clouds of summer, which in India bring the monsoon.

Business and trade come to a halt during the monsoon, when travelling merchants return to their homes, a fact that makes our Yakṣa (stuck in the monastery until autumn) even more despondent. In desperation, the Yakṣa calls out to the largest cloud he sees, asking it to carry a message to his lover. At this point, the narrator butts in to remind us of the absurdity of this situation:

“What a difference there is between a cloud
(Only being an amalgamation of wind, water, light, and dust),
And the goal of messages
(Which should be delivered by the living, who have functioning organs)!”
Because he was so desperate, the Yakṣa didn’t consider this and begged.
Lovers are so pitiful in their requests from the animate and the inanimate!

The Yakṣa begins by describing the journey the cloud is to take across India and ends with a sweet message for his beloved. 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. Everything the Yakṣa touches is sexualized. The longing that unites the lovers thematizes the land. What was once homogenous and anonymous space becomes demarcated when the gaze of the Yakṣa passes over it. Borders are constructed and maps are drawn over the natural territory of the Indian subcontinent as the cloud bears the message of love. Normally when we gaze out into space we are confronted by an abyss— our sight extends to the horizon and we are left wondering what comes next (or we don’t even wonder!). But our Yakṣa knows there is something beyond the horizon, a lover who grounds him in two places, two “heres” at once. 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.

In his book The Erotic Phenomenon, the radical Heideggerian Jean-Luc Marion imagines a situation similar to that of the Meghadūta, a situation he describes as “exemplary, yet known to all, real or at least imaginable.” He writes:

I have just left my accustomed home, I have traveled thousands of miles, I find myself in a land that is foreign in terms of language, surroundings, ways and customs, and it is in this land that, whether once and for all or for some specified interval, I am going to live... On site, then, where am I? As a subsistent being, I am at the intersection of a latitude and a longitude; as a being who uses tools, I am at the center of a network of economic and social exchanges. But as a lover, where am I? I find myself there where (or alongside whom) I can ask (myself), “Does anyone love me?”… The horrors of settling in a foreign country are well known: upon entering a new apartment, one first looks for the telephone (or equivalent device); the first concern is to inquire how to work it; the first freedom consists in finally using it. It is necessary to take these trivial details seriously, because they describe the incontestable day-to-day experience of a place that is neither interchangeable nor commutable, a place whose over there will never reduce to a here, because my physical transport, bag and baggage, from one here to another here, not only retains in this latter here the status of over there, but reinforces it. (pp. 30-31)

We see these observations come alive in the Meghadūta as the Yakṣa attempts to will himself through his poetic imagination into the hands of his lover far-away in the Himalayas. Like the pilgrim’s progress, as we get closer and closer to our final destination, description gets thicker and the pace gets slower. Tension builds. By bringing the two lovers together conceptually, the cloud serves to reinforce the distance between them. By trying to render the space between him and his beloved insignificant, the Yakṣa actually imparts significance to what was formerly empty space.1

There are two parallel love stories being told in the poem: that of the Yakṣa and his bride, and that of the cloud and the land and its inhabitants. 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. Within the poem cultural differences are glossed over—women are described according to the cities they live in, but the descriptions of their bodies and their actions doesn’t vary. Any place the cloud passes over is a place where one can have sexual relations with the land and its inhabitants. The only difference that is noted is that between naïve village women and the urbane women of larger centers of commerce, but in the end, both the naïve and the urbane are sexual beings. Not only the inhabitants, but also the land itself is sexual. The cloud constantly “unites” with rivers and “waters” plains as he makes his journey north. The cloud transforms the earth into a gigantic sexual map:

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 worthwhile to be visited by immortal couples.
She will be like the breast of the earth—
Dark in the middle and pale throughout the rest.

And stripping off her clothes (by causing the banks of the Gambhirā River to overflow):

Once you have removed her blue watery negligee,
Which fell from her hips the riverbank,
And which reaches the branches and reeds of the shore as if held up by hands,
You must depart somehow!
Having tasted them once, who can leave large hips? [pun on “sandy beaches”]

When we finally get to the description of the Yakṣa’s wife, we are presented with an image of feminine beauty that could be taken out of any number of modern American fashion magazines (perhaps the mechanical capitalist mode of production hasn’t changed sexual aesthetics as much as we would like to think):

She is slender and young,
Her teeth are sharp and her lower lip is a ripe bimba fruit,
Her waist is slight, her glance that of a frightened deer, her navel a deep concavity.
Her gait is slow with the weight of her thighs,
She is slightly bent over with the weight of her breasts.

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!!), but the poet stresses that it is a picture that presents nature as perfected, not distorted. The Yakṣa says:

I see your arms in vines,
Your glance in the gaze of a frightened deer,
The pallor of your cheeks in the moon,
Your hair in the tail feathers of peacocks,
Your flirtatious eyebrows in the slender waves of rivers.
But listen timid one!
There is not a single place anywhere that resembles all of you.

The woman is a collage of the best aspects of nature— an amalgam of the most beautiful natural images Kālidāsa can conjure up. 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. The woman (nameless like our male Yakṣa) is a reflection of a shadow, obscured by idealized longing and imagination. The Yakṣa imagines her as so distressed by their separation that she neglects the social norms of beauty and bodily upkeep. 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. Her state of depression unleashes her natural beauty, which shows even more because she doesn’t try to cover herself with the sexual instruments of society.

As I re-read the description of the Yakṣa’s beloved and the message he gives her, I find myself falling into the rhythms of separation (viraha). The pain and longing of the Yakṣa are so complete, and he is so helpless (if not a little obnoxious) that I cannot help but feel that I too am missing something, someone. The Yakṣa invites us on a tour of his mind: first he pictures his lover in a perfect state, but soon fantasizes her as broken because of her longing for him. 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.

This is the state the Yakṣa finds himself in and he assumes that his lover must feel the same. She must miss him as much as he misses her; even though she is in the magnificent city of Alakā and he in a remote mountain monastery, she certainly will be unable to enjoy the pleasures of her situation. As the Yakṣa says, the “color will have faded with my separation.” Even in his pain, the Yakṣa remains lighthearted— not upbeat, but perhaps jovial. 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:

As she is busy during the day,
Separation shouldn’t pain her;
I fear that at nighttime,
Without diversion,
Her suffering will be much heavier.
Sitting at her window in the night,
Near her bed on the ground,
You should see if you can cheer up that wonderful sleepless woman
With my messages.

It is the nighttime when both the mind and lovers wander, and it is the nighttime that worries our Yakṣa.

Though he paints a rosy picture to the cloud regarding his lover and himself, the Yakṣa is well aware that women can be unfaithful and seek out other lovers on their own. 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:

At night women go to their lover’s homes by the royal road,
The path shrouded in a dense darkness that can only be pierced by a needle.
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 Yakṣa encourages sexuality in modes that aren’t socially accepted, but imagines his lover as “faithful to her one husband and precisely counting the days.” His fears of unfaithfulness are only expressed on the level of subtext— in front of the cloud he remains proud though depressed.

Though we are presented with Yakṣas, gods, and other mythical characters, the Meghadūta is not a poem of fantasy or magical-realism. At the end we are left with a profound tragic sense of longing as the cloud (being a cloud) does not respond to the Yakṣa’s entreaties. The lover acknowledges that the cloud is silent, but does not despair. He cries out:

Listen cloud, I hope you do this out of friendship for me,
I see no reason to assume the silence of your majesty is to deny me;
Though you are without words, you grant water to the begging cātaka birds.
A good person replies by simply performing favors for friends.

We, outside of the grip of love, know better.

Still, reading the poem in the summer, the season the Yakṣa describes, during which love grows and withers so quickly, leaves us hoping (and perhaps, almost confident) that the Yakṣa’s message will reach his lover one way or another.


Notes on Sanskrit Poetry and Mythology

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 English poem this is the most reminiscent of is Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, which begins:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix

Which is then followed by a series of some sixty-one “who” clauses, explaining these “angel headed hipsters” who were “the best minds of my generation.” (In fact, the opening of the Meghadūta can easily be amalgamated into Howl… “I saw some Yakṣa, destroyed by love, starving, hysterical naked, his bracelet having slipped off his forearm… who, somehow suppressing his tears howled out to a cloud…”). 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. A prime example of this is Kālidāsa’s continual use of the verb saṁgam, which he used to signify “reunion” as well as “sex” (perhaps the English word “cohabitation” captures some of this meaning, but it is awkward to use. In its own way, the English phrase “coming” bears its own difficulties.). Kālidāsa uses words with multiple meanings to link verses together. 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. Unlike most languages, Sanskrit possesses a large store of “true synonyms,” words that convey the exact meaning of another word with no lexical distinction (most synonyms in English only approximate the meaning of another word). Thus, there are dozens of words for the concept “house,” none of which display meaning distinct from one another, but which make poetry more interesting.

The entire Meghadūta is written in a single metre and can be chanted. 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. In the case of the Meghadūta, the traditional rasa assigned is viraha, abandonment or separation.


Verse 79 (initial description of Yakṣa’s lover) chanted by Eric M. Gurevitch

Sanskrit poetry does not contain verse rhymes, but often employs internal rhyming, consonance, and assonance. We are greeted with such beautiful compounds as taryestiryag, kanakamalaiḥ, and ciraparicitam. I have not tried to emulate such operations in the specific instances in which Kālidāsa employed them, but have tried to intersperse them into the poem where the English language allowed it.

While it is fundamentally a poem of ‘secular’ love, many of the images in the Meghadūta draw on mythological and religious themes/stories that would have been familiar to the ancient Indian but which can be challenging to express to the modern English reader without disrupting the flow of the poem. 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.

We have already mentioned Yakṣas and the god Kubera, it is also important that we are acquainted with the gods Śiva and Viṣṇu. Śiva is a terrifying god who is said to live in the Himalayas. 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. One of the most powerful images in the poem shows Śiva dancing with his hands raised in the air while wearing a bloody elephant skin in a victorious post-battle celebration. This is much to the chagrin of his wife Pārvatī, who looks on aghast at the horrid scene. The two of them have a child named Skanda, who was born when a drop of Śiva’s semen was entrusted to Agni, the god of fire, who is incapable of handling the powerful semen. 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. The god Viṣṇu appears in the Meghadūta in many forms, or avatāras. At one interesting moment we are given four verses in a row (56-59) that alternate between images of Śiva and Viṣṇu. The most powerful image of Viṣṇu is given at the end of the poem (verse 107). The Kubera’s curse will end when Viṣṇu wakes up from his four-month long sleep in his cosmic form, resting in the cosmic ocean on the serpent, Śeṣa while he dreams existence. 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. Many other references are made to general mythological figures as well as events from the two great Sanskrit epics, the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, but discussing these here would take us too far afield. Suffice it to say that the language and landscape of the epics recurs throughout the Meghadūta and provides the setting for the message to take place (the Yakṣa is compared to Rāma separated from Sītā).

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.

The themes of Meghadūta can be appreciated if not by anybody, then by anybody who has ever been in love and who has an ear for poetry. 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:

Kalidas and others have got our attention;
They have with their poetic elegance
Freed us from caricatures and stupid priests.
I should like to live in India myself,
If only there had not been any sculptors.
And this is what one should know of the more pleasant aspects!
Sakuntala, Nala, they have to be kissed,
And Megha-Duta, this messenger from the clouds—
Who would not like to send him to people akin in spirit!2

The Poem

A Yakṣa slacking on the job
Had his powers removed by his boss’ curse,
(Which was heavy because it separated him from his lover).
He took up residence in the ashram at Rama’s mountain,

Covered in dense shade trees,

Water pure because Sītā, the daughter of Janaka, bathed there.

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.
Rejoicing, he welcomed the cloud with fawning words,
And received him as a guest with fresh kuṭaja flowers.

“What a difference there is between a cloud
(Only being an amalgam of wind, water, light, and dust),
And the goal of messages
(Which should be delivered by the living, who have functioning organs)!”
Because he was so desperate, the Yakṣa didn’t consider this and begged;
Lovers are so pitiful in their requests from the animate and the inanimate!

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.
Since I am separated by the anger of the Lord of wealth,
Bring my message to my beloved;
You should go to the home of the king of the Yakṣas,
Known as Alakā,
Where the palaces are bathed in moonlight descending from the head of Śiva,
Sitting in his suburban garden outside.

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 embraced your dear friend the peak,
As you are praised by the people,
You should bid farewell to that mountain,
Whose slopes are marked by the feet of Rāma, the Lord of the Raghus.
Having met you each season,
You expose the love of those who release passionate tears.

As the favorable wind drives you gently,
And as the Cātaka bird that craves sweet water sings on your left,
I imagine the cranes in the sky
(Who are impregnated by your drops),
Formed into rows,
Serving you, beautiful to behold.

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.

Royal geese
(Provisioned for the long journey to Mount Kailāsa with pieces of shoots and sprouts),
Fly up together in the sky and become your companions
When they hear your roar,

Beautiful to the ear,

Making the earth flower with śilindhrā plants.

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.

Naïve Siddha women,
Startled,
Look up at you, your power on display,
Thinking,
“Can it be that the wind is carrying the peak of a mountain?”
As you head up to the sky, you should rise up from this place where Nicula trees are juicy,
Avoiding the path of the cosmic elephants and the licking of their massive trunks.

A beautiful slice of rainbow now appears in front of Valmiki’s Mountain,
Like a mixture of glittering jewels.
It makes your dark body splendid,
Like the dark Viṣṇu in the guise of a cowherd carrying a peacock’s flashing father.

Having gone up to the Mala country,
Fragrant from the daily drawing of the plow,
You will be drunk by the eyes of the young village women,

Moist with desire,

Ignorant of how to flirt,
As they think, “The fruits of my plowing depend on him!”

With its peak, Mount Ānāmrakūṭa will carry you,

Full of exhaustion from travel,

But extinguishing forest fires with your downpours,
Straight to her summit.
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.
On the foothills of the Vindhya, rough with jewels,
You will see the Revā River, scattered into little lines,
Like a shining ornament inlaid on the dark limbs of an elephant.

Since you have poured out your rain, you should take her water,

Whose flow is obstructed by groups of jambhū trees,

Which is infused with the fragrant rut fluid of forest elephants,
And go!
The wind will not be able to raise you, overladen with moisture;
For everything inconsequential is light and the complete become weighty.

Having seen the green and brown nīpa flowers with their emerging stamens,
And the kandalī trees, whose first buds are appearing along the shore,
And having smelled the sweet scent of the wet earth in the dry wilderness,
The deer will show the way for you as you free droplets of water.

Though for my sake you desire to go quickly,
I foresee you wasting time on each mountain, fragrant with kakubha flowers.
You will be received by peacocks with water in their eyes,
Making their raucous cries into a “welcome.”
Still, somehow you must set your mind to go on quickly.

When you approach, the country of Daśārṇa will be transformed;

Its groves will grow pale because of the split ketaka stems,

Its villages and holy sites filled with the new nests of sparrows

(Who enjoy munching on leftover sacrifices),

The forests on its outskirts will be filled with jambhu trees,

Dark with ripe fruit,

Where geese stay for many days.

Having gone to the world renowned capital Vidiśā,
You will have already garnered the fruits of a lover,
As you lap up sweet water from the Vetravati River,
Lovely as it thunders against its banks,
Its rough waves like the arched brows of a flirtatious face.

You should settle on Mount Nicai to rest.
Covered in kadamba trees with opened flowers,
Like hair that stands on end because of sexual strokes,
That mountain announces the unbridled youth of the local townspeople
By emitting the perfume of whores from its caves.

Once you have rested, go on to the sources of the forest river,
Sprinkling the crosshatched jasmine of those gardens with fresh water.
Because of your gift of shade you will become acquainted with the faces of the flower gatherers,
Whose lotus ear ornaments are withered and wilted,
Having been crushed as they wipe away the sweat from their faces.

Although a detour from your Northerly route,
Your majesty should not turn away from enjoying the verandas of the palaces of Ujjain;
You would be robbed if you did not enjoy the eyes of the urbane women,
Whose corners quiver as they are frightened by the flash of your streak of lightning.

Having fallen in with the flow of the Nirvandyā River,
Fill yourself with her flavor.
She glides along,

Beautifully stumbling,
The cord of her belt,
A row of birds that sings when jolted by her waves,
Her exposed stomach,
A whirlpool,
This flirtation is the initial declaration of love from women to their beloveds.

When you cross over her, the Sindhu River,

Whose water is reduced to a fine lock of hair,

Whose complexion is pale

(As she is filled with fallen worn out leaves washed up on her shore),

Who is emaciated in the state of separation,
Will display that you are her lover;
It is only by you that she is filled and abandons her slender.

When you reach Āvantī
(Where the village elders are versed in the story of Udayana),
Go on to the aforementioned city Ujjain, which is full of wealth.
It is a beautiful slice of heaven brought to earth by the left-over merit of heavenly beings,
Who descend when the fruits of their good deeds melt away.

There, the wind of the Siprā River,

Carrying the distinct cooing of cranes, sweet with love,

Fragrant through its friendship with lotuses that have blossomed in the early morning,

Soothing to the body,
Removes the exhaustion caused by sex from women,
Like a lover who flatters with his constant requests.

You body will be magnified by the perfume powder that flows out of women’s windows,
Trained peacocks will give an offering of dance for you out of familial love.
When your inner self is worn out from the journey,
And you have spent the night in her palaces
(Fragrant with flowers, marked with red lac from the feet of graceful women),
You will be seen reverentially by the multitudes who think,
“He is dark like the throat of Śiva, out protector!”
You should go to the holy home of Candeśvara, the lord of the three worlds,
And to the park that is fanned by winds,
Fragrant from the bathing of young women playing in the water of the Gandhavi,
Scented with the pollen of water lilies.

Prostitutes,

Their belts clattering with their dance steps,

Their arms worn out from the graceful shaking of decorated fly-whisks,

Their scratch marks soothed by the first drops of your rain,
Will let loose glances towards you like a line of bees.

Afterwards, as you rest,

Circling the forest of his arms,

Dark, but taking on the crimson twilight like a fresh japa flower,
You will remove the desire for the bloody elephant skin from Śiva, the lord of animals.
Pārvatī his wife will see this devotion,
Her eyes become still; their agitation calmed.

At night women go to their lovers’ homes by the royal road,
The path shrouded in a dense darkness that can only be pierced by a needle.
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.

When your lover the lightning is exhausted by her incessant flashing,
Having spent the night in a pigeon coop on the roof of one of the palaces,
You should go on the remainder of your journey,
Once you have seen the sun rise again.
Certainly those who have agreed to help a friend do not tarry.

At that moment the water in the eyes of abandoned women will be pacified by their lovers;
The sun has returned to remove the tear of dew from their faces,
Please avoid his path—
He would be quite upset if you obstructed the reach of his rays.

Your naturally beautiful reflection will enter the clear water of the Gambhirā River
As if entering a pure mind.
Though you are stubborn, don’t make her glances useless,

Jumping like excited fish,

Bright lotuses.

Once you have removed her blue watery negligee,
Which fell from her hips the riverbank,
And which reaches the branches and reeds of the shore as if held up by hands,
You must depart somehow!
Having tasted them once, who can leave large hips?

The cold wind,

Ripening the Udumbāra forest,

Pure by being joined with the scent of your refreshing flowing water,

Drunk by elephants, beautifully sounding like a rushing river,
Will blow you to your desired destination, the city of the gods.

Having made your body into a flower-cloud,
Your majesty should shower Skanda
(Who has made his residence there),
With a downpour of flowers wet with the water of the Milky Way.
He is brilliant, brighter than the sun,
Placed in the mouth of Agni, who carries the sacrifice,
By Śiva, who bears the moon,
For the purpose of protecting the armies of Indra.

Then, you should make Skanda’s peacock
(The corners of whose eyes are illuminated by the lustre of Śiva’s moon),
Dance with rains that resound powerfully throughout the mountains.
Out of love for her son, Pārvatī puts its fallen tail-feather in her ear encircled by moonlight,
As if a lotus.

Having worshipped the god Skanda
(Who was born in a forest of reeds),
You should go further along your journey.
Your path will be free from Siddha couples carrying their instruments,
Being afraid of your drops of water.
You should descend out of respect for glory of King Rantideva,
Which was transformed into a river born from the sacrifice of Surabhi’s daughters on earth.

As you, imitating the dark color of Kṛṣṇa the archer,
Wish to take water from that wide river,
Whose current appears slender from a distance,
For those who live in the sky, casting their glances,
It will look like the earth’s single string of pearls with a massive sapphire in the middle.

Having crossed that river, move along,
Making your image a vessel for the curiosity of the eyes of the young women of Daśapura.
Their eyes steal the beauty of bees that follow cast aside Kunda flowers,

Gleaming black and white, moving higher and higher,

Lifting up their lashes,

Flirting with furrowed brows.

As you enter the region of Brahmāvarta with your shadow,
You should go to the field of the Kauravas that recalls the battle of warriors,
Where Arjuna, using the bow Gāṇḍīva,
Showered the heads of kings with hundreds of sharp arrows,
Like you showering the lotuses with downpours of rain.

Having approached the waters of the Sarasvati,

Which Balarāma resorted to drinking after giving up the alcohol whose taste he loved,

Which held the reflection of his wife Revati when he left the battle out of love of his family,
You will become dark merely in color, while pure on the inside.

From there you should go
To the Ganges, the daughter of Jahnu.
She descends from the king of the mountains near Kanakhala,
And serves as the stairway to heaven for Sarga’s family.
She mocks the stern face of Pārvatī
As she laughs, showing her teeth, her white foam,
Her hands the waves, lap at the moon,
Grasping at Śiva’s hair.

As you consider drinking her crystal clear water,
Like an elephant extended horizontally dangling its feet in the air,
The white gliding stream of the Ganges will join with your shadow,
As if meeting the dark Yamuna out of place.

By the time you reach the source of the Ganges
That mountain shining with snow,
Whose slopes smell of seated dear,
And whose summit removes the fatigue of travel,
You will have the pleasing pallor of the dark earth dug up by Śiva’s bull.

If, the wind blowing,
There should be a forest fire,
Leaping from pine to pine,
Damaging the massive tails of yaks with its sparks,
You should completely extinguish it with scores of downpours.
The wealth of the eminent has its fruits in the quenching of the pain of the afflicted.

The proud Śarabha monsters,
Disturbed by your thunder,
Will try to obstruct you, though you are not to be obstructed.
Release pouring white showers of hail to destroy their bodies!
Is there anything more contemptible than they who perform fruitless tasks?

Bowing with devotion on that mountain,
You should circle the footprint of Śiva
(Upon whose head is the crescent moon);
It will be visible in the rock,
And siddhas are constantly bringing it gifts;
When they see it, the faithful are prepared to join the eternal groups of his servants
After their sins are removed as their bodies disperse.

The bamboo sounds as it is sweetly filled with wind,
Passionate Kiṁnarās sing of the conquest of the Triple City,
If you should thunder in the caves like a drum,
You will complete the orchestra of Śiva, the king of creatures.

When you have passed each of those wonders near the Mount of Snow,
You should slip north through the Krauñca pass,
Which serves as a doorway for migratory geese,
And as a path for Paraśurāma, the lord of the Bhṛgus.
Stretched horizontally, you will be beautiful,
Like the black foot of Viṣṇu, rising to subdue the demon Bali.

Having gone north, you will be the guest of Mount Kailāsa,
Which serves as a mirror for the wives of the thirty gods,
Which was lifted up by the ten-faced Rāvaṇa,
Which stands extended in the sky with its lofty lotus peaks
That are piled together every night like the white laughter of the three-eyed Śiva.

Your play will be a sight to be seen by fixated eyes;
When you, resembling fresh ground mascara,
Reach the slopes of the mountain,
White like fresh cut ivory,
You will appear like the dark shawl hung over Balarāma’s shoulders.

If Pārvatī, given the hand of Śiva,
Having dropped her blue snake bracelet,
Should wish to walk by foot on that Mountain of Play,
You should arrange your body into a staircase,
Holding you water within,
Soft for the touch of her feet,
Which ascend your waves.

Divine maidens will enter you
As you discharge your water,
Using you as a shower-head.
If you cannot be free from those playful women,
Reaching the hot season,
Scare them with ear-piercing thunder!

As you take the water of Lake Mānasa, pressing out golden lotuses,
As you will yourself into a pleasing veil for the elephant Airava,
As you blow off the fine garment of the kalpa tree with your wet wind,
You will enter the crystal mountain,
Divided and refracted.

As you wander about and see the city Alakā once again,
Her negligee the Ganges slipped off as if on the lap of her beloved,
You will certainly recognize her tall palaces,
As she bears massive clouds discharging water,
Like a lover whose hair is strung with a net of pearls.

Her palaces can be compared with you in each one of their aspects—
    You are full of thunder, they contain playful women;
    You bear the rainbow, they are colorful;
    They have beaten drums, your sound is dark and slippery;
    You contain water, they are comprised of crystal;
    You are up high, they lick the clouds with their towers.

Young women display flowers from the six seasons all at once—

There are play-lotuses in their hands,

Their hair is full of young jasmine,

Their beautiful faces are whitened by the pollen of the rodhra,

In their tufts of hair they have young kuavakas,

In their ears, śirīṣa,

And in the parting of their hair a nipa flower, produced by your arrival.

Yakṣas, joined by the best women,
Go to the roofs of their mansions
(Which are made of white crystal that reflects the stars like white flowers),
Together they enjoy the aphrodisiac wine of the kalpa tree,
While your deep sound drums softly.

Moonstones hang down on string nets,
And sprinkle pure droplets of water,
Which glisten from the moonbeams as you draw back your veil,
Removing exhaustion from sex
From the women there,
Breathless from being embraced by the arms of their lovers.

Clouds like you are led by their leader the ever-moving wind,
To the top floor of the palaces.
Their drops of fresh water ruin the paintings there;
At that moment, seized by fear,
They depart through the windows,
Torn to pieces, skillfully hiding behind a smokescreen.

When the lovers of the Yakṣa women
Seize their clothes with their wanton hands as they please,
And loosen them by untying the knot,
Confused with shame, the women uselessly throw handfuls of dust
At the jewel lamps, whose flames are high.

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).

Knowing that Śiva lives nearby,
The god of love, afraid, does not bear his normal bow,
But rather one whose string is made merely of bees.
His efforts are carried out by women who flirt expertly with those they desire—
With arched brows and their eyes directed
They hit their mark, the target of love.

Our house is there, just north of the estates of the lord of wealth,
Visible from afar with its arch as lovely as the rainbow;
At one end there is a young mandara tree,
Bent over with clusters of blossoms accessible to the hand—
It was raised by my lover as an adopted child.

Geese have made the waters of our pond their home;
Its staircase is inlaid with emerald,
And it is studded with the golden buds of lotuses whose stalks are vaiḍūrya gems.
Because the geese’s sorrow has departed,
They do not think of migrating to lake Mānasa,
Even when they have seen you, bearing rain.

There is a play-mountain on its bank,
Whose peak is covered with beautiful sapphires,
And which is encircled by golden banana trees.
Having seen you with your lightning flashing at your corners,
With an agitated mind I remember it being dear to my wife.

Next to our garden of mādhavī and kuruvaka flowers
There is a red aśoka tree
(Whose sprouts tremble),
And a lovely kesara tree;
The former (along with me) desires the left foot of my lover,
While the other desires wine from her mouth,
On the pretext of pregnancy cravings.

Between them is a golden seat;
Its base is crystal and its roots are inlaid with gems
That shine like young bamboo.
At the end of the day your friend the peacock (whose neck is blue) sits there.
With her hands a-clapping
And beautiful bracelets a-rattling,
My lover makes him dance.

Listen sādhu!
You will recognize my house with these signs places in your heart,
When you see the shell and lotus drawn elegantly on our doorposts!
I imagine the color will have faded with my separation;
It is well known that lotuses do not display their beauty when the sun has gone.

Seated on that play-mountain
(Whose peak is lovely),
Having become a tiny elephant
(So that you may descend faster),
Glance into that house
With a flash of lightning like a glittering procession of fireflies,
Shining dimly.

She is slender and young,
Her teeth are sharp and her lower lip is a ripe bimba fruit,
Her waist is slight, her glance that of a frightened deer, her navel a deep concavity.
Her gait is slow with the weight of her thighs,
She is slightly bent over with the weight of her breasts.
She should be there—
The first creation in the realm of women.

You will recognize her,
Her speech subtle,
My second life.
When I, her companion, am far away,
She is like a lone cakravāka bird.
With the passage of those days,
Heavy with intense longing,
I imagine she will have changed into a young girl,
Like a lotus, agitated by the cold.

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.

She will soon enter your field of vision;
Either focused on making offerings,
Or, thin from separation, drawing my likeness as imagined in her mind,
Or asking our śārikā bird sitting in its cage, whose speech is sweet—
“Listen modest one! Do you remember your master at all? You were so dear to him!”

Or, having placed her guitar on the neglected clothes of her lap,
And somehow having tuned the strings wet from the water of her eyes,
Desiring to sing a song containing my name,
She will forget the melody again and again,
Though she wrote it herself.

Or she will throw flowers onto the earth,
Each one counting the months remaining from the first day of my departure,
Or she will taste the sex that can arise in one’s heart—
These are generally the activities of women separated from their lovers.

Having disregarded her single braid,

That contains a ribbon tied on the first day of our separation

Which was to be taken off by only me at the end of the curse

(When my sorrow had fallen away),
She clears it away often
From the rugged, rough curve of her cheek,
With her hand, nails are unkempt.

As she is busy during the day,
Separation shouldn’t pain her;
I fear that at nighttime,
Without diversion,
Her suffering will be much heavier.
Sitting at her window in the night,
Near her bed on the ground,
You should see if you can cheer up that wonderful sleepless woman
With my messages.

Thin with worry,
Stretched out on her side in her bed of separation,
Her body like the waning moon on the eastern horizon,
She longs for sleep,
But even this is interrupted by her flowing tears—
“He cannot even join me in a dream!” She despairs.

With a sigh that injures that buds that are her lips she scatters her hair,
Hanging down to her cheek,
Rough because she bathes only with pure water.
That very night that passed in only an instant when she was with me and her desires,
She now passes with passionate tears in her bed of separation.

The rays of the moon,
Cool with nectar,
Enter through her window.
Seeing that, her eyes initially perk up,
But become downcast once again—
Covered by her lashes
(Which are heavy with the water of depression),
They are like a lotus on a cloudy day;
Neither opened nor closed.

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 deer eyes,
Corners obstructed by her hair,
Without any glossy mascara,
Forgetting how to flirt because she refuses wine.
When you draw near
They will tremble,
Like beautiful water lilies agitated by fish.

Or her left thigh—

Free from the marks of my nails,

Renouncing the string of pearls it had known for a long time,

Accustomed to being massaged by my hands after sex,

White like the trunk of a juicy banana tree,
Will begin to tremble.

If my lover is engulfed in sleep upon your arrival,
You should wait for only the length of the night-watch
Attending her,
Holding back your thunder.
While my beloved is engrossed in dreams of me,
Do not shake the tight embrace of her vine arms from my neck.

Awakening her with a breeze that is cool with drops of water,
She is revived as if with young branches of jasmine.
With her eyes focused on the window occupied by you and your lightning,
You should speak to that high-minded woman
With words of deep thunder—

“You are not a widow!
Know me, the water bearer, as a good friend of your husband.
With thunder that is gentle and deep
I urge the crowds of tired travelers
(Anxious to release the braids of their women),
Along their way.
I have come to you with a message from him, deposited in my heart.”

When you say that she will look up towards you,
Like Sītā towards Hanuman.
Having seen and examined you,
She will listen with rapt attention,
Her heart heaving with longing.
For married women, news of their lovers produces pleasure
Slightly less than coming together.

In order to help her
Your majesty may speak on my behalf and from my words—
“Listen, feeble one! Your companion,
Who is stuck in the monastery Rāmagiri,
Is not dead!
Being separated, he inquires about your wellbeing.”
This is what beings who see bad omens everywhere
Desire to hear at the outset.

Far away, his path obstructed by hostile fate, with his desires he enters—
     Your slender body with his slender body,
     Which is distressed with his that is powerfully distressed,
     Which sheds tears with his that also has tears,
     Which is continually longing with his that longs,
     Which has burning sighs with his whose sighs are even greater.

He who once was eager to whisper in your ear
What could have been spoken aloud in front of your friends,
Because he longed for the touch of your face,
Has passed beyond the range of your eyes and ears.
He spoke these words through my mouth, composed out of longing—

“I see your arms in vines,
Your glance in the gaze of a frightened deer,
The pallor of your cheeks in the moon,
Your hair in the tail feathers of peacocks,
Your flirtatious eyebrows in the slender waves of rivers.
But listen timid one!
There is not a single place anywhere that resembles all of you.”

When I sketch you
(Upset with me, your lover)
On a rock with paints,
I desire to fall at your feet.
At that moment my sight is obstructed by the constant swell of tears—
Cruel fate does not even tolerate our cohabitation there!

Teardrops as big as pearls
Fall without fail on the roots of trees,
From the local deities who see me,
My arms stretched out into empty space
As if reaching for a tight embrace,
As I picture you in my dreams.

I embrace those winds from the Mountain of Snow
That have opened the buds and sprouts of cedars,
And bear their sweet spelling sap southward,
Thinking, “It certainly is possible that these have touched your body.”

O you whose eyes are unsteady!
My mind is without peace!
My desires difficult to obtain,
The pains of your separation burn incessantly.
How can I compress the long hours of the night into a single instant,
And how can I reduce the heat of each moment of the day?

Do not be afraid, beautiful one!
I support myself through constant contemplation.
Whose lot is perpetually pleasing or endless suffering?
One’s condition goes up and down with the turning of the rim of a wheel.

My curse will end when Viṣṇu
(Holding his śārṅga bow),
Rises from his snake bed.
Shut your eyes and let the remaining four months pass.
After that, in the nights of the full autumn moon,
We will enjoy each of our desires,
Intensified by suffering.

Once, having gone to sleep,
Clinging to my neck in bed,
You awoke.
Crying loudly for some reason,
I repeatedly asked you why.
You said to me with a smirk—
“You rascal! I saw you in my dream, loving another!”

Black eyed woman,
Having perceived me to be well through these signs,
Do not be suspicious of me because of rumors.
Some say that love fades with separation,
But feelings are intensified as they build up out of affection for what is desired.

Listen cloud, I hope you do this out of friendship for me,
I see no reason to assume the silence of your majesty is to deny me;
Though you are without words, you grant water to the begging cātaka birds.
A good person replies by simply performing favors for friends.

Having done me this favor
(Though my mode of request is unorthodox),
Either out of friendship,
Or out of compassion
(Thinking, “he’s so miserable!”),
You should wander the lands as you please,
Your glory increased by the rainy season.
May you never be like me, separated from your lightning!


1 As Octavio Paz has written:

Imprisoned by four walls
(To the north, the crystal of non-knowledge
a landscape to be invented
to the south, reflective memory
to the east, the mirror
to the west, stone and the song of silence)
I wrote messages, but received no reply.

2 Translated by Michael J Franklin in The European Discovery of India: Key Indological Sources of Romanticism.