Vignettes from the kumAra saMbhava

The mAtR^i-s and gaNa-s of rudra:
The image of rudra being accompanied by female deities is an ancient one which goes back to the shruti. In the shatarudrIya of the yajurveda the following mantra-s are seen:
nama AvyadhinIbhyo vividhyantIbhyash cha vo namaH | nama ugaNAbhyas tR^igMhatIbhyash cha vo namaH |

Similarly in the atharvaveda the following mantra-s are seen:
namas te ghoShiNIbhyo | namas te keshinIbhyaH |namas saMbhu~njatIbhyo | namo namaskR^itAbhyaH | namas te jAyamAnAyai | jAtAyA uta te namaH | AV-P 16.106.11

These mantra-s describe rudra’s agents, female deities who assume various forms, who are organized as female hordes, who strike with tridents (tR^iMhatI) and devour their targets (saMbhu~njatI). In the KS, kAlIdAsa furnishes a great poetic description of the march of the mAtR^I-s and kAlI in rudra’s retinue. Though, here rudra is portrayed as being as yet unmarried, he is never separated from his kula of shakti-s, who accompany his marriage procession along with his gaNa-s. This association is the root of the yoginI tradition, which in turn lies at the root of the tAntrika kaula tradition. The intermediates between the ugaNA-s and vividhyantI-s of the shruti and the mAtR^ikA-s of the later tradition are seen in the form of the mAtR^ikA-s associated with kumAra in the mahAbhArata and early kaumAra texts. The ritual system of manthAna rudra preserves early elements of the yoginI-rudra association similar to what is alluded to in the shruti. Now on to kAlIdAsa’s verses:

taM mAtaro devam anuvrajantyaH sva-vAhana-kShobha-chalA-vataMsAH |
mukhaiH prabhA-maNDala-reNu-gauraiH padmAkaraM chakrur ivAntarIkSham || 7.38 ||

The mAtR^i-s who followed the god, with their earrings swaying to movements of their respective mounts, seemed to make the welkin like a field of lotuses, with their faces hallowed by the radiant orbs of fair pollen.

tAsAM cha pashchAt kanaka-prabhANAM kAlI kapAlAbharaNA chakAse |
balAkinI nIlapayodarAjI dUraM puraH kShipta shatahradeva || 7.39 ||

Behind those [mAtR^i-s] shining like gold, was kAlI dressed in gleaming white [implied by the metaphor of the egrets] skulls, like a flock of egrets against dark blue clouds [also a metaphor for the breasts of kAlI] that cast hundred flashes of lighting far ahead of them.

tato gaNaiH shUlabhR^itaH purogair udIrito ma~Ngala-tUrya-ghoShaH |
vimAna-shR^i~NgANy avagAhamAnaH shashaMsa sevAvasaraM surebhyaH || 7.40 ||

Those gaNa-s [of rudra], holding tridents, flew in the sky in front [of him], with the auspicious sounds of pipes resonating with the crests of their airplanes declared that the time for the service [of rudra] by the deva-s had come.

The kavI as a naturalist:
The great Kashmirian savant kShemendra had pointed out that a kavI should be a naturalist among other things. Indeed, this tradition is well-borne at least among the kavI-s before the assault on Hindu traditions by the marUnmatta-s. On these pages we have illustrated this in the form of the sketches of bhavabhUti and vAkpatirAja from the neo-mauryan court of yashovarman and alluded to it in the works of the great bhoja-deva. In kAlidAsa we see some relative early examples of the same tradition:

vanecharANAM vanitAsakhAnAM darI-gR^ihotsa~Nga-niShakta-bhAsaH |
bhavanti yatrauShadhayo rajanyAm atailapUrAH surata-pradIpAH || 1.10 ||

Junglemen with girlfriends residing in caves with glowing walls can pursue their sexual pleasures without needing to fill oil lamps as the glowing “herbs” light up darkness.

This in our opinion is one of the earliest records of a bioluminescent fungi. In Hindu tradition we encounter the mention of glowing “herbs” as special toxins or remedies held by the ashvin-s:
oShadhIr dIpyamAnAsh cha jagR^ihAte .ashvinAv api | Mbh 1.218.032a

This suggests that kAlidAsa was not the first in Hindu tradition to record these bioluminescent fungi. Interestingly, bioluminescent fungi can be encountered in the wet hilly regions in several parts of India. For example we have seen them in the remarkable forest surrounding the bhImashaMkara jyotirli~Nga. However, despite the Hindu knowing of them for ages they remain poorly characterized to date. They probably are from the mycenoid lineage

kapola-kaNDUH karibhir vinetuM vighaTTitAnAM sarala-drumANAm |
yatra srutakShIratayA prasUtaH sAnUni gandhaH surabhI-karoti || 1.9 ||

Where elephants trying to rub off the itch [due to the ichor oozing from their] temporal glands on pine trees give rise to flows of resin and make the mountain ridges sweet-scented.

Here kAlidasa makes the observation regarding tree-rubbing by elephants in musth. With a long history of elephant domestication going back to the Indus civilization, the Hindus were well familiar with the behavioral patterns of the elephant. kalidAsa’s observation regarding tree-rubbing by the Indian elephant in musth may be compared with the description of of the same by modern naturalists studying its African counterpart:

“This Musth-Temporal gland secretion may be distinguished from Temporin by its congealed appearance and strong odor… Musth males rub their temporal glands against trees…Marking may be so vigorous that the male departs with bark and debris on the side of his face. Dissected temporal glands have been found to have pieces of bark embedded deep inside them. Non-musth elephants also mark, but the behavior is more ritualized among musth males.” – Poole and Granli in The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal

One may take this verse to imply that the mountain flanks (of the himAlAya which he is describing here) are made fragrant by virtue of both the resin oozing from the conifers abraded by the elephant and also by the musk-like odor of the temporal gland secretion with odoriferous compounds. As with the luminescent fungi, whose biology is unclear, the biology of musth is also mysterious. It clearly corresponds to a huge (up to 60 fold) spike in the testosterone levels in the male elephant with corresponding behavioral and physiological changes. The temporal gland itself is a modified sweat gland, and its secretions are believed to elicit an avoidance response in calves and females. The odoriferous compounds in it include dimethyl disulfide (foul odor), cyclohexanone (has a peculiar sweet odor), 2-Nonanol (a cucumber-like odor), 2-Nonanone (a cheesy odor), and (E)-farnesol (a compound found in many scents). Thus, marking its presence based on odoriferous compounds appears to be an important aspect of musth.

Continuing with elephants, we may also consider:
nyastAkSharA dhAtu-rasena yatra bhUrja-tvachaH ku~njara-bindu-shoNAH |
vrajanti vidyAdhara-sundarINAm ana~Nga-lekha-kriyayopayogam ||
1.7 ||

Where [i.e. the himAlAya-s] the vidyAdhara beauties go for birch bark to use in writing their love letters with mineral extracts, which are like the pink spots on the elephant skin.

Here kAlidAsa compares the writing of the vidyAdhAra females on birch bark to the depigmented spots appearing on elephants skin with age. Such depigmentation is largely seen only in Indian elephants and develops mainly around the head, trunk and ears. This depigmentation on the frontal surface of the trunk in particular is indeed reminiscent of the lenticular bark of the Himalayan white-barked birch with the writing on it. This birch can grow high in the himAlAya along with the conifers that are also mention in 1.9.

He has more allusions on conifers, for example:
bhAgIrathI-nirjhara shIkarANAM voDhA muhuH kampita devadAruH |
yad vAyur anviShTa mR^igaiH kirAtair Asevyate bhinna-shikhaNDi-barhaH ||
1.15 ||

Whose [i.e. the himAlaya’s] breeze carrying the mists from cascade of bhAgIrathI (i.e. ga~NgA), which repeatedly causes the Himalayan cedars to tremble and the spreads apart the crests and plumage of the peacocks is enjoyed by the tribesmen in the quest for animals.


The whole of the kumAra-saMbhava is a shR^i~NgAra kAvya – so what more needs to be said one might ask? In the earliest days of kAvya, as seen in its beginnings in the veda, and then in the itihAsa-s, the kavI-s were most eloquent in the vIrya rasa – be it in the sUkta-s of the R^igveda praising the heroic acts of the great indra or in the itihAsa-s praising the many heroes at founding of the Hindu nation. Indeed, this might even be considered the heritage of the warlike Indo-Europeans, from whom the Hindus trace a part of their genetic and most of their cultural ancestry. This rasa was also not lost on the drAviDa-s, as can be seen in their earliest expressions upon contact with the Indo-Aryans – the purAnanuru as a whole is a paean to the heroic society of the Tamil regions. But as Hindu civilization matured, the one rasa Hindu poets consistently excelled at was shR^i~NgAra. The roots of this in the saMskR^ita world, while seen an nascent form in the rAmAyaNa and the purANa-s, really came of its own only in the classical kAvya realm. This was mirrored in the earliest Tamil expressions in the form of the akanAnuru. Hence, we shall give a few sketches, for after all in kAlidAsa we see not just relatively early examples of this rAsa that was to dominate later kAvya, but some of its most splendid examples.

yatrAMshukAkShepa-vilajjitAnAM yadR^ichChayA kiMpuruShA~NganAnAm |
darI-gR^iha-dvAra-vilambi-bimbAs tiraskariNyo jaladA bhavanti ||
1.14 ||

Where [i.e. himAlaya], fortuitously, if the kinnara ladies were to turn shy when their clothes are taken off, the hanging masses of clouds become curtains for the doors of their cave dwellings.

This is a classic example of how a kavI works into his description of natural beauty, i.e. the cloud-girt slopes of the himAlaya, the trope of the shR^i~NgAra rasa.

Of course 8th sarga, describing the dalliance of rudra and umA that resulted in kumAra’s birth, is one of the best pieces of this rasa in saMskR^ita literature and has to be enjoyed as a whole for its unmatched beauty, which is not easily rendered in any other language. Here we just reproduce a pentad:

lohitArka-maNibhAjanArpitaM kalpa-vR^ikSha madhu bibhratI svayam |
tvAm iyaM sthiti-matIm upasthitA gandhamAdana-vanAdhidevatA || 8.75 ||

[rudra tells umA]: “The prime goddess of the gandhamAdana forest is arriving, she herself bringing for you in a chalice made of sun-red ruby wine made from the kalpa trees.”

Ardra-kesara-sugandhi te mukhaM matta-rakta-nayanaM svabhAvataH |
atra labdha-vasatir guNAntaraM kiM vilAsini madaH kariShyati || 8.76 ||

“By your own nature your mouth is naturally fragrant as the fresh saffron flower, and your eye lids have a red shade, sensuous one, what further sensual merits can wine give you?”

mAnya bhaktir athavA sakhIjanaH sevyatAm idam ana~Nga dIpanam |
ity udAram abhidhAya sha~Nkaras tAm apAyayata pAnam ambikAm || 8.77 ||

“However, honor the devotion of your friend by accepting this [beverage] which will light up love”, saying so, with his generosity shaMkara gave aMbikA the liquor.

pArvatI tad upayoga sambhavAM vikriyAm api satAM manoharAm |
apratarkya-vidhi-yoga-nirmitAm Amrateva sahakAratAM yayau || 8.78 ||

When pArvatI had drunk that wine, she was transformed, yet she captivated the mind as though by some inconceivable procedure an ordinary mango were to become a sahakAra mango (the most flavored of the Indian mangoes).

tat-kShaNaM viparivartita-hriyor neShyatoH shayanam iddha-rAgayoH |
sA babhUva vashavartinI dvayoH shUlinaH suvadanA madasya cha || 8.79 ||

At that moment, her pretty face was in the control of both trident-bearer and the liquor, both took away her coyness, and both led her to the bed and both became kindled passion.

The late Vedic period saw the spectacular rise of the deity prajApati. Diversifying as a god of many functions, including the deity of the year, the progenitor of the deva-s and asura-s, the source of the universe in the form of the hiraNyagarbha, the supreme deity and the embodiment of the Vedic ritual, he began encroaching in a big way on the primacy of the old great gods of proto-Indo-European vintage in the Vedic pantheon. It was his role as the embodiment of the Vedic ritual that appears to have greatly fueled his evolution and dominance in the circles of the ritualists who were reorganizing the older rites into the classical shrauta form represented by the later layers of the brAhmaNa literature. As consequence he appears to have been a major deity in system of the early post-Vedic mImAmsaka-s. This emerging preeminence of prajApati in the Vedic circles also started coloring the developing mythosphere of the Hindus. In the rAmAyaNa, while, indra the foremost deity of the old IE system is still the dominant figure of poetic metaphor and the model for the epic, we find that his position is seriously challenged by prajApati under his preferred post-Vedic apellation, brahmA, who is presented as the preeminent member of the pantheon. This trend is retained in the first concrete layer of the purANa-s as they survive. It was this preeminent brahmA who came in competition with the expanding sectarian cults of the powerful deities of the old IE system, rudra and viShNu, as also the other new ascendent deity kumAra. It was this brahmA, as the foremost symbol of the post-Vedic mImAmsaka-s, whose paramountcy was targeted by the anti-Vedic attacks of the tathAgata. Eventually, the dominance of the cults of rudra and viShNu within the Astika realm, along with the attacks from without, resulted in the decline of brahmA. Nevertheless, as late as abhinavagupta’s works we still encounter holdouts of the system of brahmA worship, which appears to have survived among the remaining prAjApatya mImAMsaka-s. In sarga-2 of the KS we encounter a great stuti of brahmA, suggesting that he had not yet lost his place to ascendent gods in the Astika realm. Indeed, many descriptions of him in this sarga still evocative of the grandeur from his heydays.

His role is primarily presented as different flavors of the saMkhyan universal progenitor:

namas trimUrtaye tubhyaM prAk sR^iShTeH kevalAtmane |
guNatrayavibhAgAya pashchAd bhedam upeyuShe ||
2.4 ||

[The deva-s said:] “Obeisance to you for three fold form, who prior to the emission [of the universe] you existed as the sole consciousness, you who divided yourself into the three primary facets of matter and thereafter became the diversity of matter.”

yad amogham apAm antar uptaM bIjam aja tvayA |
atash charAcharaM vishvaM prabhavas tasya gIyase ||
2.5 ||

“Because all mobile and sessile organisms are from the infallible germ you, the unborn one, sowed in water, you are sung as being their origin.”

sva-kAla-parimANena vyasta-rAtriM divasya te |
yau tu svapnAvabodhau tau bhUtAnAM pralayodayau ||
2.8 ||

You divide night and day by your measure of time and your sleep and awakening are the end and the begin of beings.

dravaH saMghAta kaThinaH sthUlaH sUkShmo laghur guruH |
vyakto vyaktetarash chAsi prAkAmyaM te vibhUtiShu ||
2.11 ||

“You are fluid, and also solid when compacted, you are both bulk matter and the minute particles, light and heavy, manifest and unmanifest, you appear as you wish in all your manifestations.”

tvAm Amananti prakR^itiM puruShArtha-pravartinIm |
tad darshinam udAsInaM tvAm eva puruShaM viduH ||
2.13 ||

They opine that you are the the prakR^iti [matter] that is evolving, for the sake of the puruSha [consciousness], are also known as the puruSha that is the unaffected witness of the evolution of prakR^iti.

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