Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Kalidasa: The Loom of Time by Chandra Rajan, reviewed by Revathi Sampath Kumaran

For more than a month I have been caught in a fascinating web woven by Chandra Rajan through ‘The Loom of Time.’ I have read, in the original, two of the three Kalidasan works presented in this book, albeit with the help of translations. So, I can say, with some assurance, though I’m far from being a scholar myself, that Chandra Rajan has captured the spirit of the original works, which so often is lost in translation, particularly of Sanskrit works.

The author’s erudition in Sanskrit and English, as well as her trained ear for music have undoubtedly come together to create this masterpiece, which could be called a classic in itself. Her scholarship in all three areas also makes for highly nuanced comments such as the one pertaining to raga Saranga in the Introduction [p. 81].
Shrungara rasa binds the three works together, though it is an assorted collection: two poems and a play. However, while Rtusamharam is a pure celebration of love and passion, there is an underlying pathos in Meghadootam and Abijnanasakuntalam. I don’t know if it was the publisher or the author who was responsible for bringing these three works together, but as a reader, I think the choice is inspired and so is the order in which they appear in the book.

Much as I hesitate to expose my ignorance by saying anything on the flip side, I guess it would be an incomplete critique if I do not put down the few points that occurred to me, which could be considered as suggestions for future editions of the book.

Some of the original Sanskrit verses are so beautiful that an audience that knows the language, which would, I think, be a natural market, would enjoy reading the original, at least in transliteration. A couple of such verses have been thoughtfully included, but one omission that could be made good is the sloka pertaining to Kalidasa’s prowess, in the Introduction [p. 21]. The word ‘anamika,’ without the original verse, makes little sense and even the ‘note’ on p. 325 does little to make the explanation complete. Similarly the sloka in Acknowledgements [p. 10] and the Rtusamhara verse referred to on p. 19.
I also feel that the opening page of the book, which introduces the author and the translator could do with sub-titles to indicate that they are, respectively, about the author of the classiscs/ Kalidasa and about the author of The Loom of Time/ the translator, Chandra Rajan.

The book also refers to Marica and his consort Aditi [in the Introduction, p. 83], a character in Abijnanasakuntalam. Appendix II [p. 317] refers to Aditi as one of the wives of Kasyapa. As far as I know, Kasyapa gets the name Marica by virtue of his being the son of sage Marici. To the uninitiated, however, it may appear as if Aditi is wedded to two sages – Marica and Kasyapa [whereas both are the names of the same person.] This may need to be clarified.

However, as the author herself says in the introductory chapters, Kalidasa can be read with pleasure even without any of the explanatory notes. Though, of course, the scholarly explanation and the comprehensive glossary add immeasurable value to the book.

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