poetry picks

As temperatures soar, Kalidasa’s classic text ‘Ritusamharam’ provides verses for summer

A new translation of the Sanskrit text makes the collection of lyrical verses for all seasons available to contemporary readers in English.

Kalidasa’s lyric collection, Ritusamharam is perhaps the simplest and lightest of the great poet’s seven extant works, which include two each of epic and lyrical poetry, and three dramatic plays. Ritusamharam, it is a collection of subhashita, or “well said” poetic epigrams about the different seasons according to which ancient Indians divided the whole year. This work consists of six cantos of lyrical verses – one for each season.

Summer has arrived, my dear.
The sun is fierce, the moon sought after;
to plunge in pools of shaded water
is to be immersed in pleasure;
lovely is the end of day
when desire calmed does stay.

The night, the moon, dark waters with
somewhere in them a wondrous fountain,
the coolth of sandal paste and gems:
all of these, my love, are ways
for people to enjoy the summer.

A pleasing house, a balmy terrace,
wine rippling with a sweetheart’s breath,
the music of a well-strung lute
that kindles the lamp of love:
all these do give joy to lovers
on a summer night.

Wide-hipped damsels – their slim feet
reddened with the dye from lac,
and adorned with tinkling anklet bells
that sound notes at every step,
like chirping swans – do turn the minds
of people to thoughts of love.

All night gazing, unrestrained,
at the faces of women sleeping
tranquilly on terraces white,
the moon, always with longing filled,
but now ashamed, starts turning pale
as the darkness of night depletes.

The wind may be unbearable,
so laden with dust it is;
the earth may be lying scorched
in the fierce blaze from the sun;
but the traveller, his mind aflame
with the fire of separation
from his sweetheart, dearly loved,
does not even think of the heat.

In that heat, the animals too
suffer greatly – their mouths are
dry and parched with a terrible thirst;
looking at the sky, so sombre,
as if with sprinklings of dark powder,
and imagining that a sign of water,
they run towards another forest.

With roaming glances, amorous,
flashed together with a smile,
playful damsels quickly spark
desire’s flame within the hearts
of travellers: just like the moon
lighting up the eventide.

Troubled by the sun’s hot rays,
scorched by the pathway’s burning sand,
no longer coiled, its hood contracted,
the cobra slowly pants and lies
as it now rests beneath the peacock.

From muddy water, put on boil
by the sharp rays of the sun,
the frog has now leapt out
to sit under the shade provided
by the hood of a thirsty serpent.

Its prowess and strength affected
by the agony of a thirst immense,
with hard gasps, a quivering mane,
a lolling tongue and jaws agape,
the lion, lord of beasts, does not
stalk an elephant, though nearby.

Scalded by the sun’s hot rays,
wracked with thirst, and seeking more
than the few droplets of water
in its parched throat,
the elephant now is not afraid
even of the lion.

The peacocks too – as if on fire
with the blazing rays of the sun,
their minds and bodies tired –
do not kill the nearby snakes
that have taken shelter in
the shade spread by their plumage.

When viewed from high above,
the forest is a fearful sight
with water diminished everywhere
in the heat of a glaring sun,
with bamboo sprouts by fire singed,
and dry leaves swirling in the wind.

It has the red glow of safflower
petals scattered fresh and clear,
it is the fire: stoked by gusts of wind,
strong and with a forceful speed,
anxious to embrace the trees
and the vines laced on their branches;
it has, on all sides, scorched the ground.

A fire from the forest outskirts
feeds on shrubs and spreads in moments
through groves of dry and withered bamboos
that crackle and sharply burst
with a sound by the wind carried,
as it pierces through the caves in hills,
driving bands of beasts away.

The fire, by the wind propelled
from forest outskirts, sweeps all over,
more so on silk-cotton trees,
their high branches bending down,
their hollows lit by its golden glow.

Elephants, lions and wild buffaloes,
their bodies almost seared by flames,
give up their mutual antipathy
and, together, like dear friends
suffering in a common distress,
come swiftly out of their abodes
to the sand banks of the river
in order to seek refuge.

But – a lake covered with lotus blooms,
pleasant bathing in its waters,
the lovely scent of trumpet flowers,
moonlight spreading a web enjoyable,
and, at night, some music sweet
with beautiful and charming maidens
on the terrace of a mansion:
thus happily, may your summer pass.

Excerpted with permission from Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons, Kalidasa, translated by A N D Haksar, Penguin Random House India.

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