Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara is an ode to Nature’s bounty and its enduring emotional response to humanity. The word Ritu (season) with the word saṃhāra is used here in the sense of “coming together” or “group”. Thus, Ritusamhara has been translated as Medley of Seasons or Garland of Seasons, perhaps more aptly as the “Pageant of the Seasons”, but also mistranslated as “birth and death” of seasons, which arises from the alternate meaning of samhāra as destruction. Composed in the Anusthubh meter, the poem vividly depicts the six seasons of the Indian year, offering a lyrical tapestry of natural beauty, human emotions, and the interconnectedness of all living things. The poem has six cantos for the six Indian seasons- grīṣma (summer), varṣā/pāvas (monsoon/rains), śarat (autumn), hemanta (cool), śiśira (winter), and vasanta (spring).
Traditionally, the Indian calendar begins with Spring (Vasantha) and ends with Winter (Shishira). But Ritusamhara starts with the description of summer. The predominating theme of the total canto is the searing heat of summer and its impression on human beings and animals. The dry weather and the extreme heat conditions make the lands extremely parched. The sizzling rays are like numerous sacrificial fires. Everyone yearns for a few drops of rain to soak the soil. The opening stanzas visualise a pair of lovers. The blazing sun has dried out the tide of desire. It is shown how young women try to entice their men who have lost their passion because of the heat. Their passions are restored, and their longing reignited. The lovers and the world seek relief on moonlit nights during the season. The swirling clouds of dust tossed up by the sun’s fierce heat of the sunburn the hearts of men far away from their beloved. Their love pangs and the unfortunate distance that separates them are described in the poem. From the world of the lovers, the poet takes us to the larger world outside: the natural world, which is also in pain. The savage heat has left the vegetation and the animals helpless. Animals like deer, cobras, wild pigs, fish, birds, and buffaloes are shown to be going through a relentless thirst, looking for water to quench their insatiable thirst. They even forget animosity towards other animals and roam searching for water, letting other fellow animals come and go through their territories. There is no fear of getting hunted by the large animals as these big ones are suffering from the sharp scorch of the sun. The canto ends by describing a forest fire caused by the sun’s heat.
Then, the thunder reverberates, and the lighting dashes out. Dark clouds loom heavily on the land. The much-awaited rain arrives. Everything gets drenched and clean in the fresh monsoon rains, and no dust is seen anywhere. The black clouds and the rumbling thunder add to the magic of the monsoons. Everything on earth is covered with the darkness of the rain clouds. This affects animals and birds; they cannot contain their happiness. The peacocks break into a dance of liberation and freedom from the heat and misery. The rivers are shown to be flowing fast due to all the water added into them from the rainwater. These rivers flow furiously towards the oceans, uprooting every tree growing on its bank until now. The forests look lush and luxuriant now; green trees and delicate flowers are everywhere. With the thundering of clouds, women are shown running towards their lovers because they fear it. These women have decorated themselves with flowers, and they have put some perfume on themselves. The women who still have not heard from their lovers and husbands are shown sitting outside, staring at the thundering clouds, relating the suffering of their longing hearts with it. Like a lover, the rainy season personifies the women with flowers. Afterwards, upon reaching the Vindhya Range, the heavy clouds empty their water on the majestic peaks.
Autumn enters like a newly married woman, decked with jewels. Here, people look forward to celebrating festivals and spreading cheer and joy. Flowers, the moon, the swans, all are covered in white. The rivers are now flowing in slow motion, proud as if like young women walking regally. The sky disperses lightly with a sparse cloud and appears like a king who is being fanned with a white flywhisk. The moon racks the hearts of the lonesome women. A cool breeze moves through the lotus pond and induces mystification in the hearts of the youth. Dark clouds no longer exist, and there is no thunder or lightning. The women deck their hair with jasmine flowers and their ears with blue lotus. The sky, with the moon and stars dispersed all around, appears like an ocean with blooming water lilies and majestic swans. Here, the wandering travellers who see in these flowers and swans the beauty of their women shed tears. Though the weather remains pleasant, the afternoons can be hot, and it is almost like a second summer. However, the weather changes and one can feel the nip in the air. This is when the frost season arrives. The sudden nip in the air, the chilly winds in the morning and night and the biting cold signify the season of frost.
Its winter! The seeds shoot up, the Lodhra has flowered, and the rice is ripe for reaping. Yet there are no lotuses to be seen. The women have to use something other than the lotus to embellish themselves. They use sandalwood paste to paint their faces and to aromatise their hair. Fields and ponds excite the heart of the people. The priyangu plant has turned ripe and is as blanched as a lonely woman. The night witnesses the lovers in a tight embrace. The fresh mornings can be viewed in the playful signs of some of the women, signs of last night’s passion play: one is admiring herself in the mirror while she dresses, the other is still sleeping in the warm early morning sun, yet another one is combing her tousled hair.
The more severe form of frost is in the form of the winter season. The temperatures drop low, and people are seen wearing layers of clothes. Life has been regenerated in the houses. Parcels of sugar cane and rice cover the floor. The wind has cooled down, snow is falling, and even the moon looks cold. However, the severity of winters is less than in Western countries. It only snows in the hilly regions, and the south of India hardly experiences winters. The women, satiated with their love life, pardon their untrue lovers’ mistakes. During the cold nights of the winter season, lovers are shown drinking wine together, igniting their passions with it and losing themselves in the long nights of lovemaking and ardour. Some emerge like goddesses in the morning, their freshly washed hair caressing their shoulders. Others take off their nightdresses and get ready for a new day. Yet others decorate their faces as the sun comes up and think merrily about themselves. The women are shown donning jasmine flowers in their hair, and their ears are covered in blue lotus.
After winter, the weather starts to warm a bit and then comes the spring season. Spring comes along as a mighty warrior at the sight of whom the hearts of men flutter. Vasanta is personified and considered here to be masculine. He beautifies everything he touches – the flowering trees and pond water. This season is famous for the harvest festivals, and one can see blooming flowers all around. The women embellish themselves with striking dresses, flowers, chains of pearls, bangles and anklets. Even a drop of sweat on their faces looks adorable. Bathing in the presence of their lovers, they are overwhelmed by love. They do away with their heavy winter clothes and dress themselves in thin, pale-coloured, sweet-scented clothes. The cuckoo kisses its mate; the bee cajoles its partner. The flowers on the mango trees brim the hearts of the youth with solid desire; the Kurabaka tree’s flowers, which resemble a beautiful woman’s face, baffle them. The earth canopied in a red dress appears like a newly married bride. The young man, intensely in love, feels as if the song of the cuckoo is killing him. Even the breeze that is circularising this music around infatuates him. Even a ‘rishi’ feels enchanted by these pretty gardens, smitten as he is by the contagious atmosphere, echoing the laughter of the women. Only the traveller still weeps and complains when he sees the blooming Sahakara trees.
Thus, the variety of seasons in India is used to signify the changes in lovers’ minds and how they change. Every change has some good and some harmful effects, but it is a pleasant feeling. The poem establishes the lyrical mode in classical Sanskrit literature. Love (sringara) is the dominant emotional mode that finds expression in the poem. Each stanza is exquisitely crafted around an image like a flower, strung to the other to make a garland. The result is the poem, a garland of the seasons. The poet looks at Nature against the backdrop of changing seasons and the changes in the lives of the natural phenomena. Each canto ends as a prayer, where the lovers are wished well. Recounted to celebrate the passing seasons, the poem captures the myriad facets of love and longing. And this it does in a kaleidoscope of sumptuous imagery: the mischievous moonlight that, like a pining lover, steals glances at sleeping maidens; the monsoon-bloated rivers that rush to the sea with a lustful urgency; the flame of lovemaking that is kindled anew at the onset of winter; the heady scent of mango blossoms that makes even the most unyielding of hearts quiver. Even big and small animals are swept into the playful pattern of the great poet’s lyrical homage.
The language of these lyric verses is simple, largely free of ‘alamkaras’ or poetic figures of speech typical of classical Sanskrit, and thus easier to follow. Their imagery is picturesque and vibrant. Ritusamhara is, therefore, an exuberant expression of the love of life and brings natural features to life. Even the separation of lovers is a sweet longing. The beloved’s beauty and the beauty of Nature mirror and evoke each other. If Vyasa and Valmiki speak about the splendours of the spiritual, Kalidasa combines the ethereal with the terrestrial and finds beauty in all.
Ritusamhara is structured around the six seasons (Grishma, Varsha, Sharad, Hemanta, Shishira, Vasanta), with each section dedicated to that particular season’s unique characteristics and moods.
Grishma is portrayed with a focus on the oppressive heat of the sun. The poet conveys the harshness of the season and the impact of the scorching sun on Nature, the withering of greenery, and the longing for cool relief.
Varsha celebrates the arrival of the monsoon rains. Kalidasa paints a vivid picture of the pouring rain, the thunderous clouds, and the earth’s rejuvenation as it soaks in the much-needed water.
Sharad captures the beauty of autumn with its clear skies, moderate temperatures, and the harvesting of crops. The poet emphasises the changing colours of leaves and the festive atmosphere.
Hemanta serves as a transitional phase from autumn to winter. Kalidasa describes the gradual cooling of temperatures, the shedding of leaves, and the preparation for the colder months.
Shishira is presented as winter, marked by cold temperatures, misty mornings, and the serene barrenness of Nature. Despite the cold, there is a tranquil beauty in the winter landscape.
Vasanta is the season of spring, characterised by the blossoming of flowers, the buzzing of bees, and the pleasant fragrance of blooming trees. Kalidasa vividly portrays the renewal of life in Nature during this season.
Ritusamhara reflects Kalidasa’s deep aesthetic sensibility. His artistic prowess is evident in the poem’s vivid imagery and sensory richness. The detailed descriptions of each season showcase his ability to paint a vibrant and evocative picture of the natural world. The poet’s keen observation of Nature is paired with an appreciation for the beauty inherent in every season.
Lyrical Language and Expression
The poem is renowned for its lyrical language and rhythmic flow. Kalidasa employs rich and expressive language, creating a vivid tapestry of imagery that immerses the reader in each season’s sights, sounds, and emotions. A melodic flow and a deep sense of aesthetic appreciation characterise the verses. Kalidasa’s use of Sanskrit is not just functional but serves as a vehicle for musical expression, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal.
Observation of Nature
Kalidasa’s keen observation of Nature is a hallmark of Ritusamhara. His ability to capture the nuances of each season, from the blossoming of flowers to the harshness of the summer sun, reflects a deep connection with the natural world.
Symbolism and Metaphor
The changing seasons are not merely descriptions of Nature; they serve as powerful symbols for the cyclical nature of life. The poet uses Nature as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life, growth, decay, and renewal. The changing seasons symbolise the impermanence of existence. Kalidasa uses the natural world as a metaphor for the human experience, emphasising growth, decay, and renewal themes.
The poem successfully intertwines the changing seasons with human emotions. There’s a seamless blend of external observations and internal reflections, allowing readers to connect emotionally with the ebb and flow of Nature.
Ritusamhara delves into philosophical themes, exploring the impermanence of life and the eternal cycle of Nature. The poem contemplates the transient nature of joy and sorrow, aligning with broader Indian philosophical traditions.
The poem holds cultural significance, reflecting the Indian tradition of recognising and celebrating the six seasons. It serves as a cultural artefact that captures the essence of Nature and preserves ancient perceptions of the seasons.
Kalidasa’s imaginative expression is noteworthy. His ability to transcend the literal and delve into Nature’s symbolic and imaginative aspects elevates Ritusamhara beyond a mere descriptive poem.
The poem serves as a cultural bridge, allowing readers from diverse backgrounds and eras to connect with the timeless beauty of Nature. Kalidasa’s work transcends geographical and temporal boundaries.
Influence on Later Works
Ritusamhara has had a lasting impact on subsequent literature. Its themes and stylistic elements have inspired poets and writers across different periods, contributing to the enduring legacy of Kalidasa’s work.
Ritusamhara is a timeless work of classical Indian literature, showcasing Kalidasa’s mastery of language and his ability to evoke the beauty and emotional resonance of the natural world. It is admired for its rich imagery, poetic language, and the ability of Kalidasa to produce the sensory experiences associated with each season. The poem reflects the deep connection between human emotions and the natural world, showcasing the poet’s mastery of capturing the changing seasons’ essence. Its enduring appeal lies in its ability to transport readers into the heart of nature while simultaneously inviting contemplation on the profound truths of existence. The poem is a testament to the connection between humanity and the ever-changing seasons.