Monsoons in India, are undoubtedly the most-awaited time of the year. This is probably why you will find numerous representations of the rainy season in Indian music, literature, or visual art! These representations, always seem to ‘lift the spirit’ or bring out the ‘romantic’ in you. One such poem, is ‘Meghdoot‘ or the ‘Cloud Messenger‘. The poem (believed to have been) written in the 4th century, is a global favourite!
‘Meghdoot’, a masterpiece in Sanskrit literature penned by Kalidas has inspired many artists over generations.
In this poem, Kalidas pens a tale of separation and longing of lovers during the romantic monsoon season. Presumably distracted by the thoughts of his young bride, a Yaksha (celestial attendant) is found neglecting his duties. He is thus exiled and sent to work in Central India (Ramgiri), miles away from his wife (in Alaka). Unable to bear the separation, he requests a passing cloud to carry a message on his behalf. As the Yaksha proceeds to give directions to the Cloud, the focus of the poem becomes the route the cloud would take, and the sights it would encounter.
Kalidas was a court-poet; yet in Meghdoot, his description of nature and the Yaksha’s plight touches a universal chord. His narrative sparks imagination and ensures that the reader experiences the route of the cloud! Ujjain, Devgiri, Vidisha are a few places he wants the Cloud to visit.
The Yaksha’s wish for the Cloud to never be separated from his beloved, i.e Lightning is one of the most endearing parts of the poem.
These paintings, are a tribute to the classic literature and are part of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum collection:
The artist : Ramgopal Vijaivargiya
The artist lived and worked during the Swadeshi art movement in India. As he learnt under the tutelage of the Bengal art masters, his art too, reflected ‘Indian’ themes.
The influence of the Bengal school is evident in his Ajanta-esque figures; the soft, dreamy rhythm and colour palette (watercoloured, not gaudy). The strokes and lines too, are calligraphic (the influence of Japanese and eastern art).
Take a look at this painting of a Ramayana-scene by the same artist.
For comparison, here is a Raja Ravi Varma version of Shakuntala, another classic by Kalidas.
Classroom Connect: Enrich your lesson on the Gupta Empire using this painting
Reading: Have students read selected parts from an english translation of the poem. Allow students to analyse the narrative and find out what makes it universally appealing.
Discussion : The revival of Sanskrit language under the patronage of the Guptas. What are some other works from the period that are just as famous? What does this tell about the reign of the Guptas?
Map Work: Have students create a map of the Gupta empire and identify important sites of the region. Let them trace the route of the Cloud – what important sites would the cloud have come across? [Note: if you have access to computers, it is recommended that students use Google Maps to create their own map]
Social Studies and Geography : The poem gives details about the monsoon winds; for younger students, this could be an interesting way to talk about cloud formation and rains over the Indian peninsula.
Writing: Encourage children to write their own creative directions for the cloud [from their home to Ujjain, or any Gupta-Empire site]
Creative Responses: Students can enact, or create their own artwork (remember to show them Ajanta paintings for inspiration) imagining the response of the Yaksha’s wife. An interesting exercise would be to have kids find out about artists who have been inspired by Ajanta paintings.
You can further connect sandesh-kavya to modern day songs where the lyrics focus on ‘delivering a message’ and have students create a song as a message from a Gupta King to his subjects or vice versa. Responses can also be in the format of a comic strip!