Monday, April 14, 2008

The one with bellyful of ‘and’s

There is an anecdote that is told about poet Kalidasa. It is widely accepted that he was highly inspired by the works of Vyasa and that he had great admiration for his predecessor. But, he was also very proud of his own accomplishments, especially, after he became famous.

Vyasa was considered so great that he was revered as a sage and even worshipped. There are a few temples, not many though, where the poet is the main deity. It is said that Kalidasa, one day, came across such a temple.

It is customary to worship deities in temples with suitable prayers which are either short stanzas of poem or even a phrase called a Mantra. Kalidasa was at a loss for a suitable Mantra to pray to Vyasa in the temple. So, he quickly made up one – “I pray to that one whose belly is filled with the conjunction ‘and’ (cakaara jaTharaaya namah)”. There was a dig in that prayer at the sage for using innumerable ‘and’s (ca) in his works. We find so many ‘and’s in works like Mahabharata, especially while listing many characters like the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra. Often poets use even nouns which do not add much meaning to the stanza. The need to stick to the meter of the poem demanded them.

Satisfied with his imaginative Mantra the poet was about to step out of the temple. At that moment he was accosted by a stranger. The visitor addressed Kalidasa. “I have heard a lot about you and I request you for a favour. Please make a small poem on today’s weather”. May be, he wanted to take the poem to the king nearby. That was no problem for Kalidasa. He quickly made one stanza and chanted it aloud to the visitor. The stranger listened to the poem and innocently asked, “why, I pray, the use of ‘and’s (cakaaram kimartham)?” Kalidasa was dumbfounded by the unexpected question. True, there were three or four ‘and’s in a stanza of four lines. He realized that the stranger was none other than Vyasa trying to drive a point. Vyasa wanted Kalidasa to realize that there was no surprise that the long poems, like Mahabharata of a hundred thousand stanzas especially with hundreds and thousands of characters, contained very many conjunctions.

It is said that Kalidasa fell at the feet of Vyasa and asked for forgiveness.


Melissa said...

I hope Vyasa forgave him--it was a clever mantra after all.

Kunjunny said...

Yes, an interesting Mantra. I am sure that Vyasa would have forgiven Kalidasa for the petty jealousy.