While reading Kalidas’ Romantic play Vikramorvashiyam, I came across many names of trees, creepers and flowers – and I wondered what they looked like. I neither understand their botanical names nor know many of them by their native names.
So, here is a list of what I could compile from Monier-Williams dictionary and Wikipedia about each plant. Please suggest more familiar names/pictures/any other information!
Story in brief … (1)
Vikramorvashiyam is the story of rescuing the Apsara – divine dancer – Urvashi in an adventure by the king Pururava. Erly in the morning one day, Pururava was returning from his sun-prayer, and he heard some Apsaras crying for help as their friend Urvashi was abducted by Keshi, a demon. After battling the demon Keshi, Pururava brought Urvashi back, and they fell in love at first sight. Urvashi needed to get back to Svarg – heaven, where she worked in the court of Indra, so their first encounter is short. After that the king could not remove her from his mind. Pururava was an emperor, a friend of Indra, and is married to the princess of Kashi. Restless soon after the encounter, the king went to the pleasure garden during his mid-day break. That is where he called the southerly wind a great suiter because it nurtured one लता with affection while making the other one dance. Wasn’t he also in a similar need? He had an existing marriage with the Queen Aushinari – already matured, consummated long back. He was romancing and desiring Urvashi – with whom the dance of togetherness had just begun.
Next come the Kurabak and Ashok flowers, and the mango blossoms:
Story in brief ……. (2)
Kalidas is true to his reputation: ‘उपमा कलिदासस्य” – and he makes Pururava observe that indeed, the spring was standing at the threshold between adolescence and youth. Perhaps so was his attraction for Urvashi. It had left past the early stage of sparks of attraction and chemistry, and was ready to move into the next phase of romance.
In the play, next comes the birch paper. As the king, tormented by the desire for Urvashi, was roaming the pleasure garden, Urvashi was drawn there too, for the same reason. She remained invisible and heard of the king’s plight and desire. She decided to write to the king because she was not ready yet to admit her feelings face to face:
Story in brief …….. (3)
The king felt that Urvashi either did not know Pururava’s plight or was ignoring it. Invisible Urvashi wrote on the birch paper, ” स्वामिन्संभाविता यथाहं त्वयाSज्ञाता। तथानुरक्तस्य यदि नाम तवोपरि ॥ ननु मम लुलितपारिजातशयनीये भवन्ति। नन्दनवनवाता अप्यत्युष्णका: शरीरके ॥२: १२-१३, विक्रम.॥ Which means, “Lord, you have liked me, but you do not know me. If I really were as you think, how come the cool breeze from Nandan forest seem hot to me as I sleep in my bed of Parijat flowers wilting under me?” Chitralekha, her friend, carried that letter to the king, and soon Urvashi also met him. They had barely declared love for each other, and Indra summoned Urvashi. She left and the king went back to his torment, made worse by the heat of the sun. The king observed that birds had taken refuge, and beetles were also hiding inside the Karnikaar (Kanak champa) buds. The lotus is noted, too:
Story in brief ….. (4)
With the heat claiming everyone’s peace of mind, the second act ended. Oh, BTW, in it the queen also found out about the king’s new preoccupation. She was angry, Urvashi gone and the queen angry, Pururava was in trouble. Urvashi was summoned for dance performance in which she played Lakshmi. She was preoccupied, and made a mistake in her dialogue. During the performance, in response to a question about whom she liked, she blurted out “Pururava” instead of saying, “Purushottam”. For this blunder, her teacher – director gave her a curse that she would lose her divinity as she failed to perform flawlessly. However, Indra was sympathetic. He intervened and said that she would get Pururava as her heart desired, and she would return to the heaven when the king saw their son. As if by the power of this boon, the angry queen apologized to the king and left him alone. Urvashi came to meet Pururava, who entrusted his kingdom to the ministers and the couple went away for honeymoon. While away, Urvashi became uncontrollably angry one day when she found the king staring at a girl. In her rage, she entered a forest where entry of women was forbidden – and turned into a vine. The king was devastated and launched a search. He encountered fresh grass lit up by fireflies, and trees of Jambu. He remembered Urvashi’s hair with Jui and Kadamb flowers in it:
Story in brief …… (5)
Searching for Urvashi, Pururava spotted a shining, bright red gem known as Sangamaniya Mani. As the legend goes, whoever finds Sangamaniya, finds the long-lost loved ones. Pururava observed that the gem was so attractive that even the Sun extended its rays towards it as if it was stretching to grab it. Pururava wondered how the gem would look if his beloved wore it in her hair, which was made fragrant by the red Mandar flowers:
Story in brief …. (6)
And, true o its name, the Sangamaniya gem takes the King close to the very spot where Urvashi stood, having turned into a vine. She regained her form and the two returned to the kingdom. Time passed and the two were very happy except for having a child. One day, the Sangamaniya gem, which was the king’s favorite, was stolen by a bird which believed it was a piece of meat. Efforts were on to kill the bird to reclaim the gem. An unknown arrow killed the bird and the gem was reclaimed. The archery was so fine, so accurate, that everyone wondered who the archer was. The killed bird fell to ground and the king was presented with the gem as well as the arrow that killed it. The arrow was inscribed with the name of the owner who claimed to be the son of Pururava and Urvashi. Pururava was surprised because he never found Urvashi pregnant. How could he have had such a grown up son? At that moment, one lady living in the nearby Ashram of Chyavan came to the king and requested him to take the guardianship of his son. Urvashi said that she entrusted her son to Saint Chyavan because she remembered that she would have to return to the heaven when the king saw his son. Of course, being an Apsara, she did not have to go through the rigors of regular human pregnancy. Now Urvashi was sad and Pururava said that he would give his kingdom to his son and go to forest if Urvashi left. The son begged his father not to do so.
Narad arrived and brought a message from Indra, that Urvashi would not have to leave Pururava and the king did not need to renounce his throne. In near future, Pururava would be fighting on Indra’s side – a help Indra appreciated very much. He acknowledged it by releasing Urvashi from service, and allowed her to live with Pururava forever.
The story is simple if we forget that it was written probably more than fifteen hundred years ago.. must have been quite thrilling then. Kalidas’ expressions are indeed very poetic. It’s a drama, but the dialogues are beautiful in their descriptions, amazing metaphors and sentimental undercurrents.
Pururava comes across as a thorough gentleman – so brave and able, and so chivalrous. Never cheap or shallow and always loving. He rules a kingdom spread across continents. He has Indra as not just a contact, the king of gods is a friend who values Pururava’s friendship. Even when taken by surprise, he could chase a demon and rescue Urvashi. He had a flying chariot and a missile that did its job and came back to him. He was good-looking, and could use poetic language. He was truly a versatile hero – not some dry, obsessed/ ‘focused’ madman suffering from insecurities. I became an instant and lasting Pururava fan!
Here are some other trees mentioned in the play, but I have forgotten their exact spots:
Kandali or Kadali is the Plantain or Banana tree. Pururava likens Urvashi’s thighs with the Kandali trunk.
Pururava was once waiting for Urvashi. Urvashi and Chitralekha arrive after a while, and Urvashi puts her hands on Pururava’s eyes from behind. Pururava recognises her. When Urvashi asks how, he says, “Kumud flowers only by touch of the rays of moon, not of the sun. Likewise, the touch of o other woman would soothe my body tortured by desire.” Wow!
And there is this fragrant Sallaki tree:
And – I remember, in a funny reference the jester is asked why he has become as pale as the gooseberry:
and Patal or Fragrant Padri:
But – I could not find any illustration or modern name for Vaasanti. Help!