I studied the Sanskrit language in school. It was a pretty easy language with a straightforward grammar system and vocabulary that one can make quick parallels with. Also, the tests were easy to score marks on, so I took it on as a second language (in most Indian schools, it’s compulsory to be at least trilingual.) I ended up taking a personal interest in the language and took to its literature, most of which is in the poetic format. Among them, Kalidasa’s works were my favorite. He used simple meters, intense descriptions, and lovely – almost purple – imagery mostly derived from nature. He was a great inspiration for many poets who came after him, including Goethe, who is famous for Faust. Kalidasa has written four famous poetic epics, and one among them is Meghaduta.
Meghaduta means ‘cloud messenger’. In this story, a yaksha is living in exile as a punishment for having neglected his duties to Kubera, the god of wealth. He laments being separated from his beloved wife, who is waiting for him in their home at Alaka, up in the Himalayas. A passing cloud hears him and agrees to take a message to her. The rest of the story is that message, where the yaksha speaks of his love for his wife as well all the sights that the cloud will see on its journey from his place of exile in Central India all the way to Alaka.
Now, I’ve never actually read the whole of Meghaduta, though I have studied excerpts from it. This story, however, is particularly close to my heart because I once attended a dance drama performance of it. I’m a fan of bharatnatyam and delight in dance dramas. I have the good fortune of living close to a very famous dance school as well, so I manage to attend at least a few performances every year. None had ever affected me as much as this one did.
The dance drama was choreographed by Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon, danced by them and students of their school of dance, and music arranged by Bombay Jayashri. It was done in alliance with Aim for Seva, a service organization with a focus on education and healthcare for rural children. I was lucky enough to have a second row seat for their performance, right in the middle. Shijith Nambiar played the cloud, and in this interpretation, he took a creative departure from the original, and embodied the cloud as more than just a messenger. In this, not only did he carry the yaksha‘s words, he carried his soul as well, and felt the pangs of separation and heartache and wonder at the world as much as he did. Tears, I tell you. That never happens, but tears, and it was seared into my memory.
A few fun facts:
- The cloud in this may or may not bear a slight resemblance to the dancer Shijith Nambiar, who played the cloud in the dance drama.
- In the dance drama, a gauzy white scarf is used as an allegorical prop to signify the yaksha‘s message, soul, and feelings. The cloud takes this from him in the beginning, wears it all through his journey, and delivers it to the yakshi at the end. In the illustration, it’s only a scarf, but also doubles as a reference.
- I tried to base the yakshi on Parvathy Menon, though it wasn’t perfect and she didn’t actually play the yakshi in the performance I attended.
- Despite the yakshi‘s location being Alaka which is in the Himalayas (yes, that is Mount Kailash in the background), the designs of her balcony are more Rajasthani.
- The clothing color schemes for the yaksha and yakshi are matched.