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Ritu Varnana and Barahmasa

20 Sep

From: Venetiaansell 

Dear Mr Rao, I read your post on sharad rtu with great interest.  I am a student of Sanskrit and currently doing some research on the description of each rtu and in particular the flowers associated with each and would be interested to know more. Can you recommend any good books or articles about rtuvarnana in Sanskrit literature? I look forward to hearing from you. Best, Venetia

A. Ritu- varnana in Sanskrit Literature

1.1. Dear Venetiaansell , Greetings. As regards the ritu- varnana in its proper natural sequence, the most renowned, of course, is that by the Great Kalidasa in his various poetic works, and especially in the Ritu-samharam, the melody of the seasons or the garland of the seasons, running into six cantos describing the six seasons of the year; and how with each change in the season, the mood and behaviour of a young lover too would alter. In his other work, the Meghdootam, the intensity of the lovelorn Yaksha is far deeper. However, he weaves his yearning around the clouds; and thus, the description is confined to the rainy season.

In Kalidasa’s romantic poetry; graceful sensuality, colours and the music of love resonate with the world of blossoms and birds. The urges and pains of his nayaka and nayika are shared by the deer, birds, trees and the sky. It is a world where trees long for the touch of a lovely woman as much as a man longs for her embrace.  There is an unspoken bond between the song of the peacock and the lament of the separated lover. The messages of love are conveyed through clouds; and the changing seasons mirror the changing colours of love.

Kalidasa’s nayika adorns herself with blossoms and sprouts of the forest as ornaments and decorates her lotus-like feet with the red dye from the forest tree. She is decked in various fragrant flowers; apadma in her hands, kunda blossoms in her hair, the pollen of lodhra flowers on her face, the fresh kurbaka flowers in her braid, the lovely sirisha flowers on her ears and the nipa flowers that bloom in the parting of her hair . The nocturnal path of the lovelorn abhisarika nayika is traced   at dawn by the mandara flowers that have fallen from her hair and the golden lotuses that have slipped off her ears (Ritusamharam 2.11-12). Kalidasa’s nayika is not a mere mortal but a yakshi, the very life and spirit of a tree; and the trees mirror her exuberant ardour.

Kalidasa’s virahini-nayika of the Meghadutam, separated from her lover like a lotus deprived of the sun, like a solitary Chakravaka bird isolated from her mate and crestfallen like a lotus withered by winter is a chaste lovelorn woman, pining for her lover. She sits with her face resting in the cup of her palms, her locks covering her face as clouds cover the moon. She spends her time alone in  her bed with her ornaments cast off;   counting the days of her separation  by placing flowers on the threshold ; by painting the likeness of her beloved , singing songs reminiscent of her lover   and talking to the Sarika bird (Meghadutam 2.20-2.33). There is dignity in her poignancy, a certain grace in her sorrow. The colours of her pathos resemble that of the wilted flowers and the movements of her eyes and limbs speak of her pain even when her words do not.

If Kalidasa’s Meghadutam is the epitome of the virahini in early Sanskrit poetry, his Ritusamharam is the poetic testimony of how intimately the loves, pathos and lives of the human are tied with the colours and sounds of the seasons. Of all the seasons’, vasanta or spring is especially important to those in love, for the blossoms of spring are like the arrows of Kama. Red is the colour of the spring season everywhere and it is when:

The mango tree bent with clusters of red sprouts kindle ardent desire in women’s hearts

The ashoka tree that bears blossoms red like coral makes the hearts of women sorrowful

The atimukta creepers whose blossoms are sucked by intoxicated bees excite the lovers

The kurbaka tree whose blossoms are lovely as the faces of women pain the hearts of sensitive men

The kimsuka grove bent with blossoms, waved by winds, appears like a bride with red garments.

Ritusamharam (15–20)

Vasanta is also the season when cuckoos sing in indistinct notes, the bees hum intoxicating sweet sounds and travellers separated from their lovers lament. Kama the god of love who wage a war, as it were, on those in love,  fashions his arrow from the mango blossom, his bow from the kimsuka flower, the bowstring from a row of bees, his parasol is the moon, he wafts the gentle breeze from the Malaya mountain whose bards are the cuckoos (Ritusamharam 28).

1.2. Another poet and playwright , Rajashekhara (c.9th century) in his Kavyamimamsha , a treatise on poetry summarized , for the benefit of the aspiring poets essaying to portray seasons in their works , how the seasons were portrayed in the poetic works prior to his time. In addition, he collated the standards as authorized by the texts. Rajashekhara came up with comprehensive season- descriptions, outlining each season’s basic characteristic features, months-wise divisions, individuality of each month, and the imagery that a poet should preferably employ for representing a season. He also deduced the natural human responses to a given season.

1.3. The great poet Dandin (6-7th century) renowned for his colourful Sanskrit prose, too, in his Kavyadarsha (‘Mirror of Poetry’) the handbook of classical Sanskrit poetics, mandated that a classic work of poetry (maha-kavya) should essentially include eighteen (ahsta-dasha varnana) types of descriptions including that of the city (nagara), ocean (saagara), mountains (shaila) , seasons (vasantadi ritu), the moon, the sun rise and sunset (chandra-surya udaya –asthamana), parks (udyana), gardens (vana vihara), water-sports (jala krida) , pleasures of wine and love making (madyapana surata), wedding (vivaha), discussions with the wise (vipralamba) , pangs of separation (viraha), birth of sons (putrodaya), state-craft (raja-mantra),gambling or sending messengers (dyuta), wars (yuddha), campaigns (jaitra-yatra), and accomplishments of the hero (nayaka abyudaya).

1.4. The description of seasons thus became an integral part of classic poetry .Apart from Kalidasa’s poetry, there are some beautiful heart-warming descriptions of the seasons in the poetic works of other notable poets too; for instance as in: Bhattikavya by Bhatti; Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi; Shishupala-vadha by Magha; Naishadhacharita by Shriharsha among others.

2.1. The Natya-shashtra too had earlier directed how seasons should be represented in a drama, especially on the stage through an actor’s performance – acts, gestures, facial demeanours and other expressions.

2.2. The Puranas also evinced interest in season-description. The Matsya Purana has a whole chapter dedicated only to the month of spring; while the Samba Purana alludes to different colours of the sun in the six ritus. The Chitra-sutra in the Vishnudharmottarpurana (c.6th century) prescribes certain general rules for the depiction of each of the four seasons.

3.1. According to Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottarpurana, the depiction of each of the four seasons could be symbolically represented in the paintings by employing certain idioms of expression, such as:

Summer: languorous men seeking shade under trees, from the harsh summer sun; buffaloes wallowing in the mire of muddy waters; birds hiding under a thick abundance of leaves; and, lions and tigers seeking cool caves to retire in.

Rain: An overcast sky, with heavy rain filled clouds weighed down with their aquatic excess; flashes of lightning and the beautiful rainbow; animals like tigers and lions taking shelter in caves; and, sarus (cranes) birds flying in a row.

Autumn: Trees laden with ripe fruit; the entire expanse of the earth filled with ripened corn ready for harvest; lakes filled with beautiful aquatic birds like geese; the pleasant sight of blooming and blossoming lotus flowers; and, the moon brightening up the sky with a milky white lustre.

Winter: the earth wet with dew; the sky filled with fog; men shivering from the cold, but crows and elephants seem euphoric.

[A collection of learned essays by the great scholar Dr. V Raghavan ‘Rtu in Sanskrit Literature’ (1972) published by Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha , Delhi, comprehensively deals with all aspects of Rtu varnana  in Sanskrit texts including Rig Veda and , epics and puranas.]

B. the Barahmasa tradition

4.1. With the decline of classic Sanskrit poetry, the ritu-varnana found abundant expression in the Barahmasa tradition. Barahmasa meaning twelve months are based on the lunar calendar comprising months of Chaitra, Vaishakha, Jyestha, Ashadha, Shravana, Bhadrapada, Ashvina, Karttika, Agrahayana, Paushya, Magha and Phalguna. Each two of them are respectively the ritus or seasons of Vasanta, Grishma, Varsha, Sharada, Hemanta and Shishira.

4.2. The glory and characteristic beauty of each season came to be celebrated in a specialized form of poetry, music and art (paintings) as Barahmasa, describing the splendour, aura and magic of nature as it emerges with the change of each season. The expressions of the ritu– theme were rendered highly eloquent with the emotive songs and music; as also by the exquisite miniature paintings depicting the glory and poignant character of each season woven into stories of tender love, separation and reunion.

4.3. The essential theme of the Barahmasa is the passionate yearning of lovelorn hearts, the pangs of separation that each change of season stimulates. Each month bringing a special message to the beloved, every season a special reminder of the joys of love and longing. The nature participates in the world of human emotions and mirrors the lovers’ or singer’s experience of tenderness and pain of love.

4.4. The transformations in nature such as the gentle unfolding of a bud’s petals; or melting of a winter night into dew-drops; or the dark dreadful clouds rending with their roar the sky and the earth and frightening the lovely nayika into the arms of her beloved Nayaka and bursting forth into torrential rains – all become symbolic expressions of the seasons and the state of love of the ardent lovers. The Barahmasa depictions of poetry, music and painting, bind the two confronting worlds, the worlds of man and of nature into one thread.

Barahmasa Poetry

5.1. The Barahmasa Poets over the centuries have used the imagery of the Ritu Varnana or changing seasons to depict different facets of human emotions and moods, varying states of romantic love as they respond and change in accordance with seasons. The songs of the seasons resonate with the heart of the lover and the beloved. Nature as always forms the very companion of the yearning lovers.

5.2.In expressing her lament and relating it to the colours and moods of the seasons , nayika the heroine likens the throbbing of her heart to the pulsating sap of the trees; the trembling longing within her to the drifting movement of the clouds ; and , the agony of her forlorn state to the pain of lonely birds. She is not alone in her anguish; her piquant cry is heard by the deer, the birds and the blossoms that surround her; they too empathize and share her pain. In Barahmasa poetry there is a strong and sympathetic resonance between the heart of the nayika and the world of nature around her, it is a world that shares her romantic urges and longings.

6.1.Let me add; the theme of Barahmasa occurs not merely in regional representations but in classical poetry too. Let’s, for instance, take the case of Kumarasambhava and the Ramayana. Both are epics; but, while the Kumarasambhava is a chaste classic observing all the mandated norms of poetics and other conventions, the Ramayana represents an amalgam of various folk traditions. In Ramayana, the poet attempts exploring the turmoil in the lovelorn heart of Rama the prince of Ayodhya in exile ,after separation from his beloved Sita , by placing his distress in contrast to the glowing beauty of the season; and picturing    how it affects Rama. The poetry here truly transforms into a viraha song.  Rama describes to his brother Lakshmana the sublime beauty of nature that surrounds them; and gives vent to his grief of separation aggravated by the beauty that envelops him. Rama narrates the onset of monsoon in a rather intuitional manner describing the gathering of clouds ; and how they remind him of his brother Bharata and his friend Sugriva are with their wives and in their kingdoms while he is lonely and sad deprived of both. Thus the vein of ritu-varnana in the Ramayana is closer to the Barahmasa convention. In contrast, the descriptions of nature in Kumarasambhava, in the context of Parvathi’s penance, lack such subjective responses.

7.1. But, the most eloquent and lovely expressions of Barahmasa are through songs and poetry of viraha, music full of pathos of a young woman Nayika deeply engrossed in love. These representations brimming with the finest imagery and most tender emotions, intense longing, lyrical felicity, rhythmic vibrancy and dramatic conflict of the worlds of man and nature, besides their mystic connotations, form the themes of Barahmasa.

7.2. The Barahmasa poetry has gifted the Indian literature with some of its best lyrics forming the heart-touching love-lore inspired by the folk traditions. Pictorially very rich and emotionally most fervent, the Barahmasa poetry, which subsequently had its transforms in art, is a genre of the Indian countryside. These forms of poetry, music and art are uniquely Indian. Its riches , distinctively Indian, are woven into the cyclic changes in nature and into the lives, loves, and woes of the Indian people in a manner that is not known in other literature and art traditions of the world. They are incomparable.

7.3. The Barahmasa themes are mostly entwined with the celestial love of Sri Radha and Krishna. Alberuni (ca.1030) observed that Vasudeva Krishna had a special place in the hearts of the common people who loved to call him by many names. He says; people called out Krishna, out of sheer love, by different names in each of the twelve months; such as: in Margasirsha:  Keshava; Paushya:  Narayana; Magha:  Madhava; Phalguna:  Govinda; Chaitra:  Vishnu; Vaisakha:  Madhusudana; Jyestha:  Trivikrama; Ashadha:  Vamana; Shravana:   Sridhara; Bhadrapada:  Hrishikesa; Ashvayuja:  Padmanabha; and in Karttika:  Damodara.

8.1. The Barahmasa poetry has two basic forms, one, literary, and the other, oral. The oral Barahmasa of the regional dialects later became an important ingredient of the literary poetic tradition. The literary traditions were inspired by the simple songs of the village women pining for the husband or the lover away from her, giving vent to “torments of separation, of estrangement, and feverish waits” ; sung either in the rainy four months from Ashadha to Ashvin or through the twelve months. Literary, Barahmasasare a part of the written literature and are endowed with poetic merit and compositional excellence. Barahmasa, oral or written, as a genre, has five broad types, namely, religious, farming-related, narrative, viraha, and the Barahmasa of chaste woman’s trial.

8.2. Viraha Barahmasa or the seasonal poetry of longing is the most evocative in this genre of romantic poetry. This group of the Barahmasa compositions is inspired by the romantic lore of Sri Radha and Krishna and their beautiful idealized love. The poets charged with Krishna-Radha intoxication recreated the celestial Vrindavana of the Braj country through a class of poetry called ritikavya. Of the many poets in this genre those that stand out are: Bidyapati (1352–1448), Keshavadasa (1555–1617), Bihari (16th century) and Ghanananda (1673–1760).

8.3. Bidyapati the Maithili poet glorifies the sublime love of Sri Radha-Krishna; and charmingly describes the essence of seasons and , in particular , of the lord of the seasons the Basanta the spring : ‘ the rays of the sun in their youthful prime; the golden kesara flower; the fragrant kanchan and Jasmine flower garland; the pollen of flowers floating in the air like a canopy over the patala, tula, kinsuka and clove-vine tendrils;   the koil singing its sweetest note ; tribes of honey-bees arrayed their ranks; the water-lily that has just found life with its new leaves ; and the refreshing and  shining in Brindaban’.

9.1. But, the archetype Barahmasa poetry and the inspiration for all forms of Barahmasa expressions are Keshavadasa’s sublime verses scripted in Brij-basha. The poet Keshavadasa (1555–1617) in his Rasikapriya (a comprehensive compendium of nayakas and nayikas, their moods, meetings and messengers, considered a lakshana grantha, foundational work, in riti kavya tradition), he vividly describes the essential features of the twelve lunar months of the year; and the pain each month evokes in the heart of the nayika at the impending separation from her beloved.

9.2. Starting with the month of Chaitra, Keshavadasa portrays the heroine urging her beloved not to leave her in that month; describing to him the beauty and tenderness of that month. She cajoles him to stay with her; and to enjoy along with her the thrill and ecstasy of living and loving in the paradise on earth created especially for their enjoyment. She convinces him that it is a blessing to be alive amidst that beauty. Such loving requests follow in each of the other months too; as every month has something special that makes separation painful and unbearable.

The following are briefly the suggestive descriptions of Barahmasa according to Rasikapriya.

Chaitra: charming creepers and young trees have blossomed and parrots, sarikas and nightingales make sweet sounds.

Baisakha: the earth and the atmosphere are filled with fragrance and all around there is fragrant beauty, but this fragrance is blinding for the bee and painful for the lover who is away from home.

Jyestha: the sun is scorching and the rivers have run dry and mighty animals like the elephant and the lion do not stir out.

Ashadha: strong winds are blowing, birds do not leave their nest and even the sadhus make only one round.

Shravana: rivers run to the sea, creepers have clung to trees, lightning meets the clouds, and peacocks make happy sounds announcing the meeting of the earth and the sky.

Bhadrapada: dark clouds have gathered, strong winds blow fiercely, there is thunder as rain pours in torrents, tigers and lions roar and elephants break trees.

Ashvina: the sky is clear and lotuses are in bloom, nights are brightly illuminated by the moon, people celebrate the Durga festivities and it is time for paying respects to ones ancestors.

Kartika: woods and gardens, the earth and the sky are clear and bright lights illuminate homes, courtyards are full of colourful paintings, and the universe seems to be pervaded by a celestial light.

Margashirsha: rivers and ponds are full of flowers and joyous notes of hamsas fill the air, this is the month of happiness and salvation of the soul.

Pausha: the earth and the sky are cold. It is the season when people prefer oil, cotton, betel, fire and sun shine.

Magha : forests and gardens echo with the sweet notes of peacocks, pigeons and koel and bees hum as if they have lost their way, all ten directions are scented with musk, camphor and sandal, sounds of mridanga are heard through the night.

Phalguna: the fragrance of scented powders fills the air and young women and men in every home play holi with great abandon.

9.3.The Barahmasa poetry reflects the moods of the lovers in the brilliant spring, sad autumn or monotonous winter; but none is so evocative as of the splendour and awe inspiring beauty of the Indian monsoon. It is uniquely Indian. Further, the Indian attitude to the monsoons is fundamentally different from that of the west. To a common Indian villager, monsoons are a symbol of hope and life; while a westerner might view rain and snow as a sign of gloom and despair.

When the rains come down like blessings from heaven, suddenly the world looks beautiful; the earth smells lovely, and the heart smiles! The bond that India has to rains is much like the colder nations of the North have towards spring. A lot of our happiness and physical well being is associated to raining, raining well and raining in time.

Monsoon poetry

10.1. Whether we are talking about music – classical, folk as well as devotional – dance, painting or sculpture, the rains and their incessant music are a recurring theme in India’s many-splendored art treasure. The diverse dialects of India’s far flung villages are replete with songs welcoming the life giving rains flowing down from heavens like blessings; and their message of bounty. And, they allude that just as all rain water falling from the skies flows to merge with the ocean, all living beings flow finally into the shining pool of divinity.  The divine object of their single-minded devotion is Krishna – the Ghanashyam, dark like the monsoon clouds, the one born on a rain-stormy night in the monsoon month of Shravana. And Krishna the dark one is the icon of the monsoon season and the songs dedicated to him are composed in the soul-soothing monsoon Raga Megh Malhar. The romance of Radha and Krishna, the eternal lovers, is the theme of rain songs. The constant longing of any beloved waiting for her lover to return home is envisioned as an epitome as of Sri Radha.

10.2. As the Krishna-Sri Radha celestial love permeated into folk music and dance as well as into the celebration of festivals, the songs about their love created a treasure-house of KajrisShravan jhoolaschaitis, thumris and other light classical music compositions with an edgy eroticism.

10.3. These soulful songs celebrate various seasons and sometimes the festivals occurring during such seasons, such as Holi in the month of Phalguna. In most cases Sri Radha is the lonely Nayikaconstantly longing and waiting for her beloved Krishna the eternal lover. In other cases it is a Nayikaseparated from her loved one, usually a warrior, in whose context the cycle of the changing seasons is depicted.

Barahmasa Music

11.1. The raga melodies of classical Indian music are in harmony not only with the time of the day or night but also with the seasons of the year. Each raga is personified by a colour, the overall mood bhava, the nature surrounding the hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika).   The raga elucidation as envisioned in Indian music is a delightful amalgam of art, colour, poetry and music.

11. 2. As regards the seasons and the ragas, most of the ragas in the classical music are set in accordance to various seasons. Generally:

Basant (chaitra – vaishakha): the ragas Hindol and Raga Bahar sung early in the dawn are  associated with the festive and invigorating season of spring Basant (chaitra –vaishakha) when kimshuka trees are full with lustrous red flowers; mango trees laden like bejewelled women; pond waters filled with lotuses; breezes loaded with their fragrances blowing pleasantly; the eventides and daytimes enjoyable with the fragrant breezes; air ringing with the passionate cries of male koil birds; and, women brimming with desire sporting in swimming pools like she elephants in heat; and bashful ladies playfully dressed in light silks of reddish hue of kusumbha flowers. The women decked in pearl pendants and in just unfolded whitish flowers of jasmine (mallika) and karnikara; and in red Ashoka flowers.

Grishma (jeshta –ashadha):  raga Deepak sung during the evening of the Grishma (jeshta –ashadha) season of blazing summer light and the grief of separation when men are away from home on work or trade or war. And, the women decked in white pearly ornaments, jasmine garlands, cool silks and dabbed in pure sandalwood paste liquefied with coolant scents like yellow camphor, kastuuri etc laze on rooftops in moonlit nights savouring portions , enjoying music , lustfully   awaiting their   husbands or lovers. Just blossomed bright and fiery safflower kusumabha embrace the tree trunks with tongues of fire. Fragrant lotuses and patala (trumpet flowers) are overlaid on cool waters of the pond,

Varsha (shravana-bhadrapada : Raga Megha or Megh- Malhar or Desh and their derivatives sung during the midday of the rainy season of the Varsha (shravana-bhadrapada); the most romantic of all seasons ; the season of dark clouds rumbling like beats of war drums   , the thunder and  flashes of lightning ,the gentle patter of raindrops and the pageant of rainbows ;  the season that delights the thirsty chataka birds, the lustily cheering peacocks brilliant with fanlike expansive colourful plumage; the season that captures the joy and relief from dry heat, the season that brings life and hope to all existence. The breeze is ruffling the wet treetops of Kadamba, SarjaArjuna and ketaki trees; and the fragrance of their flowers is wafting through the windswept woodlands. The intoxicated women decked in vakula, malalthiKadambaKesara and ketaki flowers and with bunch of Kakuba flowers adorning their ears, are hasting into the bed cambers and into the arms of waiting lovers.

Sharada (ashviyuja-karthika): the serene Raga Bhirav sung in tranquil mornings of the season of bright sun, lustrous moon; glowing blue sky; gentle flowing rivers with clear waters; lakes with abundance of white and blue lotuses and lazy swans floating just after a long flight from Lake Manasa in the Himalayas; trees pleasantly laden, swaging under the weight of flowers and fruits; the transitional phase between rains and winter is blessed with bounty of natureThe green earth is decked with red golden colourful trees; the grand flowers of KadambaSarjaKatuja, Arjunaand Nippa; and of the Shyama creepers as also   flaming red Banduka flowers. The fragrance of those flowers is intoxicating. The joyous women with long, thick, black hair unfurled wearing pendants of pearl and gold   are adorned in white jasmine and colourful lotuses

Hemanta (margashira-pushya) – The season is associated with the lofty raga Shree sung during late autumn twilights.  Winter with the earth wet with dew; the sky filled with fog; men shivering from the cold, but crows and elephants seem euphoric. The lusty women retain body-heat by smearing their bosoms red with Kashmir kumkum and fragrant wood-turmeric (kalliyaka) skincare. And their hair is fumigated with vapours of kaala agaru ( aloe vera resin).

Shishira (magha –phalguna): the transitory season of cool days; the diminishing phase of winter; the season of cool comfort gladdening the hearts of lusty women with Malkoaunsa Raga sung in the chill and silent nights of winter.

11.3. It is said; the Seasonal Ragas can be sung and played any time of the day and night during the season with which they are associated despite the usual rule.

Miniature paintings

12.1. A vast number of schools of miniature paintings such as Bundi, Krishnagarh, Jaipur, Mewar and Marwar giving expression to the Barahmasa concepts and idioms flourished during the mid centuries under the patronage of Pala Kings of Bengal , the Mughals and the Rajputs of Rajasthan. The hill states and even smaller states from Central India too nurtured the paintings of Barahmasa tradition. Datia, one of the schools of painting in Central India, painted a timeless series of Ashtayama, another form of Barahmasa. . These sublime works of art, which gained fame as iconic representations of the seasons and as metaphors for emotions, have inspired generations of artists, poets and lovers. Over the generations, the artists of the diverse schools of miniature paintings have strained to retain the aesthetic values and technical excellence achieved by their pioneers.

2.2. In most of these depictions Krishna is the central figure of love and the embodiment of the magic of the seasons and the melodies specially associated with the season.  Its scenery epitomizes the landscape of the imagination, in Indian painting. The Barahmasa schools lovingly capture the delights, the emotions and the enjoyment of the lovers in each of the six seasons. These pictures do tell a tale; each one narrates an event that illustrates the beauty, love and togetherness in the lives of the lovers. That story is entwined on the splendour of nature that surrounds them, in each season.

C. Ragamala

13.1. During the later periods, say by about the fourteenth century, the music- literature developed a series of short verses, in Sanskrit, called Dhyana slokas meaning verses for contemplation , outlining in brief the characteristics (swaroopa) of the raga expressions (raga –bhava) , treating a raga as a human person (nayaka –nayika) , divine (devatha) or semi-human being (gandharva). It also provided for descriptions of Raga wives, (ragini), their numerous sons (ragaputra) and daughters (ragaputri). This poetry often amorous, illustrates the love of a maiden and her lover.

13.2. This led to the creation of Ragamala (garland of Ragas) School of painting which attempted translating the emotional appeal of a raga into visual representations. Each raga personified by a colour, mood, the nature surrounding the hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika).  It also elucidated the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung. The colours, substance and the mood of the Ragamala personified the overall bhava and context of the Raga. It is a delightful amalgam of art, colour, poetry and music.

The Barahmasa and the Ragamala – series of paintings are the evidence that the native genius in painting had survived the vicissitudes of political history since the days of Ajanta.

13.3. The development of the Ragamala School, however, got rather stunted as its theme lost relevance in the context of the present-day music. Further, the school did not seem to have the flexibility to accommodate and to describe newer raga innovations. The wonderful school therefore has virtually now faded away, sadly

14.1. Yet, the raga-ragini classification is still useful from the historical, academic, artistic and philosophical perspectives; and, could perhaps even help in understanding and performing music.

List of books and other references.

Rtu in Sanskrit Literature by Dr. V Raghavan; Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Delhi (1972)

Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara: Original Text in Sanskrit and Translation with Explanatory Notes by Sadhana Parashar, D K Print world, (2000)

Vishnudharmottarapurana: English translation by Priyabala Shah, Baroda (1961)
The Seasons in Mahakavya Literature, by Danielle Feller : (1995 )

Barahmasa in Indian Literature, Charlotte Vaudeville; Triloki N. Madan (1986)

Barshmasa (Agam55) by V. P. Dwivedi

Baramasa: The Painted Romance of Indian Seasons (Portfolio) by Daljeet, National Museum, (2009)

The Flute and the Lotus: Romantic Moments in Indian Poetry and Painting by Harsha Dehejia, (2002)

The Loves of Krishna in Indian painting and poetry by WG Archer

Flora and Plant Kingdom in Sanskrit Literature by Shri Jyotsnamoy Chatterjee; Eastern Book Linkers, (2003)

 Ritusamharam: http://www.giirvaani.net/giirvaani/rs/rs_intro.htm

Monsoon Ragas by Vimla Patil : http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Monsoon-Ragas-1.aspxBarahmasa:

Songs of Twelve Months by Prof P. C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet http://groups.google.com/group/mintamil/browse_thread/thread/9b6cabddd8d32161?pli=1

Romantic Moments in Poetry : http://http-server.carleton.ca/~hdehejia/content/RMinPoetry.pdf

Bidyapati’s Description of spring: http://www.indiadivine.org/articles/382/1/Bidyapatis-Description-of-Spring/Page1.html

History of Flowers and Gardening in India By Dr. Jyoti Prakash  :  http://www.cityfarmer.org/indiagarden.html

  All pictures are from internet

 
 

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17 responses to “Ritu Varnana and Barahmasa

  1. Bharathi

    January 22, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Dear Mr.Sreenivasa Rao,

    I am currently working on Indianising the curriculum for the school that I work for. In my research, I stumbled upon this article and the one on Sharad Ritu. It is very relevant to the work I am doing, as the curriculum is imparted mainly through stories embedded in local culture.

    We are now in the season of Shishira. Would you be able to give a similar description of this season? Is there something to Shivratri being just at the turn of this season?

    The relevance of Ugadi and the onset of Vasantha?

    In describing Vasantha, Kalidasa names all the flowers that adorned the ‘yakshi’. I am very keen to know more about such ‘elemental beings’ from our culture. It is quite irrelevant to tell stories of fairies, elves and dwarves in our context.

    The fact that you also reside in south Karnataka as I, makes your input all the more important.

    Bharathi.

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      January 22, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Dear Bharathi, I am happy to learn about your interest in developing a curriculum based in Indian ethos.

      I wrote the article on Rtu Varnana mainly at the instance of my friend Ms. Venetia Ansell, a Sanskrit Scholar from Oxford University – now in India. I expanded on Rtu Varnana by bringing in Barahmasa poetry and painting, just to make it more complete.

      Venetia Ansell is managing a Publishing House (Rasala) http://www.rasalabooks.com ; and also a website devoted to Sanskrit Literature http://venetiaansell.wordpress.com/

      Please check on http://venetiaansell.wordpress.com/ ; and that would answer many of your concerns.

      On that page, under the table ‘Categories’ you may click on Seasonal Poetry . There you will find that Venetia has written extensively on seasonal poetry in Sanskrit ; as also on flowers of each season described in the poetic works of Kalidasa and other poets. I am sure the detailed references would be of much use to you in your task.

      As regards Shishira please check on page 10 of ‘Seasonal Poetry’ at the following link for a brief description
      http://venetiaansell.wordpress.com/category/seasonal-poetry/page/10/

      I am alsosending a link to a Pdf document on Romantic Moment in poetry by Dr. Dahejia. He speaks mainly about poetic aspects. This might help you to gain a wider view of the subject.
      http://http-server.carleton.ca/~hdehejia/content/RMinPoetry.pdf

      Btw, Venetia has done wonderful original work and research on Uddanda Kavi’s Kokila Sandesha. She also published a Book on that. Although, this might not directly concern your curriculum-task, please check the link in website.

      Please let me know your specific interest in Shiva-ratri and Ugadi. And . also of the work you do. Let me try if I can be any use to you.
      You may also contact Venetia. I am sure she would be greater help.

      Please keep talking.

      Regards

       
      • Bharathi

        January 24, 2014 at 1:58 am

        Dear Mr.Rao,

        Thank you for your prompt reply.

        I looked into the beautiful translations about Shishira. As I will present this to children, I want to be able to say more about what actually happens in nature. So what is said about this particular season in these translations is something that I cannot use. Much colder countries have such dramatic change of seasons. It makes for very rich descriptions that can be given to children.

        eg: In the winter garden
        Birds fly to and fro
        All are waiting waiting waiting
        For the spring to blow

        In the winter garden
        Seeds are warmed enough
        All are waiting waiting waiting
        For the spring to blow

        We are the gnomes
        Working untiringly
        Warming the seed babies
        Waiting to birth
        Above, the garden is bare and dark
        But here in the earth
        All is snug and warm

        Wrapped in the snow
        The baby seeds sleep
        Light we shed on you,
        Light we bide
        Deep in the darkness
        Twinkle and shine
        Sleep till the spring
        Shines through the darkness
        and bids you arise

        ‘Oh gnomes, dear gnomes,
        Can we waken yet and rise to greet the sun?
        We’ve waited so long in our earthly bed,
        Surely the spring has begun?’

        ‘No, no, no.
        You may not grow.
        The garden is parched with cold.
        The wind is as sharp as a knife and so strong.
        To grow now, would be too bold.’

        ‘Oh gnomes, dear gnomes
        we’ll listen to you
        we’ll sleep, we’ll sleep
        Till winter is through’

        ————————————————-

        Here in Karnataka, the changes from season to season is more subtle and I would like to understand that.

        I can see that there aren’t many flowers around in this season, but there still are. How are they coping with the cold? How about the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures? What are the first things to change at the end of Shishira, when Vasantha begins to set in?

        I write what I gather in verse, as in the example, and that draws the child in. Personifying the forces of nature, with elemental beings(gnomes, dwarves, fairies) is also very good because children have a natural connection with these beings. So what are those, in our culture? In your translation, you mentioned the yakshi. Have you come across more of these beings in your readings? And what do they do?

        Warm regards.

         
      • sreenivasaraos

        January 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm

        Dear Bharathi , I thought of posting this on the website.But, as the reply tended to be lengthy , I am sending you the attached Ms Word Doc. Please download , save and read it ; and let me know.

        I am not sure if this would be of any help to you. Yet, I reckon you might few portions of it.

        Regards

         
  2. Bharathi

    January 26, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Dear Mr.Rao,
    I went back to Venetia’s blog and found somethings that I missed out before. It did give me ground to work out of.
    I am also looking forward to see the Ms Word Doc. Have you sent it to my email inbox? Do not see it there either…

     
  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    what a fascinating exposition
    every thing is new for me
    so no comments

     
  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Pranams to you
    I just am unable to say anything like Shri Sampath.
    Usha

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 18, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      Dear ushasuryamani , I am glad you read; and delighted you found it readable. The Raga Ragini classifications I talked about, I presume, are unique to the North Indian music. The classification is rather conceptual and intuitional. The arrangement of Melakartha Ragas and Janya Ragas in the Carnatic system appears more rational. Even the famed musicologist Pandit Vishnu Naraya Bathkhande studied the Melakartha system and based his arrangement of Thaats thereupon. Of the 72 Melakarthas he selected ten sampoorna ragas and formed ten Thaats which are now the basis of Hindustani music system. I wish I could, someday, write about Melakarthas and Jaynya Ragas. Please keep talking. Regards

       
  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    ao,

    Namaskaram.
    My admiration for you is increasing by the day.Those of us like me who did not have opportunity to dwell in the beauty of sanskrit language and its hidden treasures with very few scholars around who are difficult to approach ( no fault of their’s ).

    (on the contrary Tamil literary treasures have become easily accessible to lay man due to political patronage – state Government support and multiplying enthusiasts producing current scholars )

    It is a pity we do not have a sanskrit speaking state.May be because it was never taught to commoners even in its glorious times and there is a general perception that it is a divine language and language of the Gods.I think generations of Indians have missed out a lot in this process .

    I am delighted we get to taste a little from scholars/teachers /students like you and my mind is racing with comparison with Tamil descriptions of the same seasons in Agananuru the sangam period literature.

    Thank you and best wishes for continued write ups on poetry appreciation.

    Regards, NKR

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 18, 2015 at 8:29 pm

      Dear Shri Ravi, Thank you for your soulful comments. Your observations about the Sanskrit poetry and the ancient poetry of the regional languages are very relevant. To an extent, I share your views. Since I have an opportunity to air some of those let me mention here.

      There some fundamental differences between the Sanskrit poetry and the Prakrit, Tamil or other regional poetry. As you mentioned, Sanskrit poetry is often viewed as mature court poetry, urbane, meant for the elite, the cultured nobility and patronizing royalty. Conforming to strict rules of grammar and rhetoric, it leads to heights of aesthetic rapture. But, what the poetry in Sanskrit gained in refinement it seemed to have lost in spontaneity. Its excellence in style through grammar and diction meant the loss of the earthiness and a certain freshness or fragrance of the soil. Sanskrit poets, it seemed, could not shake off a certain restraint in their language; there was a definite constraint in their imagery lest they give into vulgarity. Romance in their hands unfolded within a certain structure of acceptability.

      In contrast, the Prakrit ,Tamil and regional poetry excelled in depicting a free, sensually charged and heart-warming romance, while Sanskrit poetry captured the settled, demure and dignified grace of courtly romance and conjugal love. Sanskrit literature could not, however, for long, remain untouched by the sparkling and vibrant romantic ethos of regional romantic poetry; and it therefore embraced sensuality and romanticism, in a rather subdued fashion. The Gupta period and the next several centuries, described as the golden period for the arts, saw the emergence of romantic mahakavya (epic court poetry), natya (drama), muktaka (miniature poetry) and khandakavya (lyrical poetry).

      Since you mentioned ancient Tamil poetry let me say a few words , to the extent of my limited understanding, on the romantic poetry of that period. The Sangam literature , as I understand, was at its zenith for about 500 years say from 2nd century BC to about 3rd century AD. The genre of romantic literature of this period takes pride of place as being the oldest in the Indian tradition. The predominant Sangam poetry, consisting of about 3500 poems, was romantic in nature, called aham or ahattinai meaning inner or household, but it also contained heroic poetry called puram or attruppadai meaning outer or public. Aham poetry had two important features: it was spoken in the first person by the beloved, in the romantic situation, without any inhibition. Secondly, no names were mentioned in aham poetry and were therefore universal. The landscapes in which the romance was set were of generic types rather than particular places and were divided into five types—kurinji (hill), mullai (forest), marudham (pastoral), neithal (coast) and palai (desert)—and each area was associated with a specific deity, a particular flower and a certain mood of love. The landscape in ancient Tamil poetry is thus both a place and a mood, and speaking of one evokes the other.

      The poetic conventions extended to other aspects of the landscape as well, such as flowers, rivers and clouds. Thus lovers’ union is associated with kurinji, separation with palai, patient waiting with mullai, and anxious waiting with neithal and infidelity with marudham. The words and images of aham poetry bind together the romantic emotions and inspired poetry. They project the urges and pains of lovers in general rather of specific persons; and have therefore universal appeal.

      Aham poetry celebrates love in all its aspects—clandestine, forbidden, permissive, formal and domestic—and within this poetic ambience, the four principal characters, namely the romantic hero, the romantic heroine, the courtesan and the love messenger emerge, a foursome that defined the entire romantic genre in the literary and the visual arts.Aham poets set the standard in romantic literature and were to influence the entire romantic genre for centuries to come,

      I am aware; saying these things to you is like carrying ice to Eskimos. I am writing these words with the fond hope it might kindle you to write on Aham poetry, its depictions of the relation between the love, the lovers the and the nature that resonates with them.

      My familiarity with Tamil is very limited. I cannot read or write Tamil. I can understand and converse a bit in Tamil. What little I know of this genre of poetry is through translations; and therefore my writing on the subject would not be credible. You, with your vast and intimate knowledge with Tamil classics are best equipped to write on Sangam –Aham poetry. It would be pleasure to read those.

      Warm Regards

       
      • sreenivasaraos

        March 18, 2015 at 8:31 pm

        Dear Shri Rao,

        Your observations on Aham poetry ( Ahattinai ) are very true.Tamil poetry did not have drama in its fold until early 19th century when first attempt was made.( Manomaniyam by Sundaram Pillai – incidentally he was a Sanskrit scholar too ) .To appreciate and enjoy Sangam period poetry with its hidden meanings is like eating a coconut for a Tamil student today.For eating coconut one will have to remove the coarse exterior then break the shell etc.Late 8th to 12th century Kamba Ramayana and other Azwar’s contributions is like eating a banana – just peel off the skin and have it.then there was a decline in Tamil literature and a revival from 1900 from Barathi’s time – reading of it is like taking grapes – not even the need to peel of skin – so much easy.Today’s poetry in prose form ( Known as kavithai – small poems ) with no grammar restriction is like consuming milk.Unfortunately some time with excess water content ( served as milk) one is disappointed with no real merit in it..

        Beauty of Sangam literature is, it revolves around social life of those days ( a well defined social code and even geography code like kurinchi,Neidhal etc ) with out much emphasis on morals ( puritan stuff ) and almost nothing about religion – more of nature ,humans and society.After 3rd century AD saivism ,vaishnavism and Jainism based literature started emerging.Good Tamil prose is from 20th century and writing Tamil poetry in Venbah,ahavarpah etc remains only academic and not attempted in public domain now..This is the brief history of Tamil literature.

        I had Tamil as a subject till my graduation.

        Regards, NKR

         
  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    vande Acharya– :) your knowledge never ceases to amaze and humble.
    When are you comming back? I have so much to learn, from you.– it is selfish of me, i can only think of me.:)
    rituvarna, focuses on the shadrutu this has been put into poetry even by Ravidasa, of the sikh cult. Interestingly most people have focused on the sringara aspect maybe because sringara is present in every Bhava
    Sharmila PN

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 18, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Dear Sharmila, Thank you maa. You are too kind. What I have written here is a part of the traditional lore. I just managed to summarize some of it and post that along with some pictures which were also created by someone else. I trust the post will be of some assistance to the person researching in Sanskrit studies.

      Yes, these form the subject of the poetry of Ravidas, Chandidas, Surdas and many other saint poets. I understand Sri Gurugranth Sahib too recites the Barahmasa songs.

      I mentioned in passing the aspects of Shrinagara as also of raga and ragini, as the article was getting lengthy. But, these subjects deserve a fuller treatment. Each needs to be discussed independently. Since you mentioned Shringara let me briefly say a few words about that.

      The term Shringara captures many shades of love and grace. It not merely is the thrill of romance;to love and be loved; the pathos of separation; poignant longing for the beloved; fulfillment, the anticipation and the excitement of waiting; and the celebration of joy and exhilaration of union; but is also the sublime bhava of Shringara Bhakthi, the loving devotion of complete surrender. Shringara rasa is indeed the theme of exploration of : beauty and creative imagination of poetry; the exquisite, aesthetic and delicate charm of miniature paintings; the rendering of beauty and splendor of those emotions through soulful melodies; and the hushed world of the devotee and his/her intimate loving devotion to his/her chosen deity.

      Bharatrhari’s Shringara is another facet of romantic emotion. It is always tempered with vairagya or renunciation. Bharatrhari is rapturous about the exalted state of a loving couple when he compares perfect love to the ardhanari where there is no duality and no space between the lover and the loved; he cautions if such is not the case then one must be an ascetic like Shiva. He in one breath speaks of the sensual and spiritual, the joyously embracing this world and renouncing it.

      But, in the popular Indian traditions it is the celestial love of Sri Radha and Krishna the eternal lovers that is celebrated as Shringara in its myriad forms of expressions. The Bhagavata Purana and its finest idealistic poetry inspired countless generations of poets, artists, singers and saints for producing most delightful poetry, romantic songs and beautiful art expressions woven around Sri Radha and Krishna. However, in the Bhagavata Purana, even in the 10th Canto Dashama skanda, Sri Radha makes only a brief appearance; and the attention is entirely on Krishna, the Lord of Vrindavan. Krishna’s love is a Lila, a divine sport. In the love of Krishna, of Sri Radha and of the Gopis, the longing for union merges into ecstasy of divine love; Shringara rasa blends into the bliss of Shringara bhakti.

      It was in the later periods that Radha came to personify beauty, divinity and idyllic love… as a romantic heroine and as a goddess; she is the perfect nayika, kamini, ramani and Devi. Radha is no longer an individual but an epitome or a universal symbol of ideal womanhood. The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva marks the humanization of Krishna, the emergence of Radha as an incomparable nayika and sakhi : graceful in love’s fulfillment and dignified in love’s separation, richly sensual in her romantic expressions and yet serenely spiritual in the realization of that love. Krishna the ardent lover desperately in love with Radha seeks fulfillment of love (vidheyi vidheyatam), and is unable to accept Radha’s silence (vyathayati vrtha maunam).

      There developed both a theology as well as an aesthetic doctrine around the persona of Radha. In most cases legends and poems grew out of theology. In contrast, the theology of glorification of Sri Radha as the Divine principle and Krishna as the Supreme Being was centered on a poetic work. The Gita Govinda acquired status a doctrinal text of the Vaishnavas of Bengal (Gaudiya Vaishnava) for its portrayal of bhakti shringara.

      Sri Vallabhacharya the founder of the pushtimarga sect of Vaishnavism recognized and both shangar and shringara, adornment and romantic love, as expressions of Krishna bhakti.

      As I mentioned this subject deserves fuller treatment.

      Wishing you and your family a Happy and Prosperous New Year

      Regards

       
  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    i can’t find words to describe what I felt about this article,
    superb would be an understaement – I feel

    u hv further embellished Barahmasha with the finest of flowery language and eloquent writing style – these lines conveyed the essence so well:

    “These representations brimming with the finest imagery and most tender emotions, intense longing, lyrical felicity, rhythmic vibrancy and dramatic conflict of the worlds of man and nature, besides their mystic connotations, form the themes of Barahmasa.”

    I find that many of my articles, reviews od f the sesonal programmes where I perform etc. have a relevance to what U hv written-

    did u read these blogs of mine, eg. Love and Valentine’s Dya – the Indian Perspective,
    An Evening of Autumn Sonata etc., Seasonal rhythms in Nataraj Riturangoshala, etc
    in fact i hv covered Kalidasa’s seasons in one of my other blogs too

    As u r in Bangalore, painter Shomi Banerjee’s exhibition on Bauls of Bengal is being held at Bhajohari Manna Restaurant- its about to end – would be nice if you could make it.
    There u’ll find a clipping of my writing too, a few days back, his exhibition was held too,

    best wishes,
    kk

     
  8. sreenivasaraos

    April 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Dear Darpana Thanks.

    In addition to Barahmasa, I suggest, you may include Chaumasa which basically is in regional languages and rooted in rural areas of the North. The Seasonal poetry of this type also was a feature of folk theater. The Chaumasa and Barahmasa both deal with the girl’s longing and fear of separation from her beloved.. Please check Shri Dehejia’s post (at 1 below).

    As regards Brahmasa songs in the folk traditions, I reckon, the ones at 2 and 3 should be helpful. They both deal with sub-regional/traditions.

    Charlotte Vaudeville’s book is well researched .It focuses on songs of village women. I trust, it would also be of use to you.

    Good Luck, Cheers

    1. Krishna Manjari by Harsha V Dehejia – Krishna and Vasanta by Harsha V Dahejia
    (on net)

    2,Baramasas in Hindi and Urdu by Francesca Orsini (in Pdf format- available on net)

    3. Barahmasa In Indian Literatures (Songs of the Twelve … months by Charlotte Vaudeville
    – The Book is available on Exotic India (Rs.220)

     

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