The Loom of Time

cover

Book: The Loom of Time

Author: Kalidasa, translated by Chandra Rajan

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 343

Format Read: Paperback

There are many legends surrounding the great Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidasa – from his being a court official of the Emperor Chandra Gupta II, to his being divinely blessed by the Goddess Kali, turning him into a literary genius. Whatever the case may be, there is little doubt that the surviving works of this incredible writer from antiquity are rendered in exquisite and expressive Sanskrit.

“The Loom of Time” presents three of Kalidasa’s works, and Chandra Rajan has done a commendable job translating these pieces. The English versions are poetic and beautiful, capturing a lot of the lilting cadence of the original Sanskrit. And the three pieces in “The Loom of Time” are, in order, Rtusamharam (The Gathering of the Seasons), Meghadutam (The Cloud Messenger), and Abhijnanasakuntalam (the Recognition of Sakuntala).

Rtusamharam, as the title suggests, is an ode to the seasons in six cantos, beginning with summer, and ending with spring. Each season is also linked to romance and separation, reunions and longing. Woven in to the poetry is also an astute understanding of nature and the flora and fauna of the time, as well as the subtle interplay of human emotions.

Meghadutam has a celestial being, a Yaksha, punished and separated from his wife. In his desperation to get a message across to her, he spots a cloud – and imagines the cloud to be a messenger that can carry his words over the eternal skies.

Both works of poetry I found fascinating and rich in imagery (of jasmine flowers and jewels and incense, among others) – and strikingly lyrical.

Abhijnanasakuntalam is a play combining elements of mythology, and romance, song, poetry, and a sprinkling of magic. Sakuntala, brought up by the sage, or rishi, Kanva, in a forest hermitage, meets King Duhsanta. Soon they are married, and the King returns to his capital, with Sakuntala to follow later.  But tragedy strikes when Sakuntala, daydreaming about her husband, ignores the sage Durvasa when he comes calling. And earns his curse in the bargain, meaning that Duhsanta will forget her (and their son, when it comes down to it) when he sees them. Sakuntala’s story has its roots in the Mahabharata.

Also accompanying the translated pieces are notes, a lengthy and very useful introduction, and a glossary. I found all of these very informative, especially the introduction, with its references to the Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, which discusses stagecraft and the performing arts among other things.

I’m happy this translation exists, because I, for one, have been looking forward to reading Kalidasa’s works for a long time. “The Loom of Time” was exactly what I was looking for, and I hope to read more.

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