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A CRITICAL OBSERVATION
*By : HAREKRISHNA MEHER
[ Abstract : The Sītā-Rāma-story of India has an indelible impression on the people of both oriental and occidental cultures. Sītā, the adorable daughter of Earth and the devoted wife of King Rāma, in her later life appears as a ‘Tapasvinī’, A Woman practising penance or An Ascetic- maid, in the pen of Poet Gańgādhara Meher.
Tapasvinī, an eleven-canto Oriya epic poem, is the magnum opus of this great poet. With the prevailing sentiment of Pathos, this kāvya depicts the post-banishment episode of Sītā in the hermitage of Sage Vālmīki. In this Rāmāyana-based literary composition, the poetic presentation is well-embellished with originality and significant innovations. Like Kālidāsa in Sanskrit and William Wordsworth in English, Gańgādhara Meher is regarded as ‘Prakriti-Kavi’, Poet of Nature, in Oriya literature.
This epic poem reveals the ambition of the poet to portray the brilliant character of a devoted wife steeped in Indian culture in the domain of literature. With vivid and prominent delineation of Sītā’s life-deeds,Tapasvinī kāvya may be construed as a ‘Sītāyana’ in the field of Indian Literature.
In the present article, endeavours have been made to elucidate the significance of Tapasvinī and some salient features of this literary work are being discussed here in a comparative perspective.]
Gańgādhara Meher, popularly known as ‘Swabhāva-Kavi’ is one of the illustrious makers of Indian literature. In the galaxy of poets of Oriya literature, he is a scintillating star of first magnitude. On 9 August 1862, he was born at Barpāli, a small town in the then Sambalpur district. Hailing from a family weaving Sambalpuri sarees, though he had little education in school, he possessed a great poetic talent that presented a novel sensibility in the literary arena. Coming on Srāvana Pūrnimā (Rākshī Bandhan), the day of full illumination, his mortal form disappeared in the murky veil of Chaitra Amāvāsyā on 4 April 1924. Gangadhar Meher College of Sambalpur, one of the distinguished Government colleges of Orissa has been named after him.
Literary compositions of Gańgādhara comprise several kāvyas, essays, autobiography and numerous lyrics : devotional, patriotic, satirical and reformative. His main works are Tapasvinī, Pranaya-Vallarī, Kichaka-Vadha, Indumatī, Utkala-Lakshmī, Ayodhyā-Driśya, Kavitā-Kallola, Arghya-Thālī, Ahalyā-Stava, Mahimā, Bhāratī-Bhāvanā, Kavitāmāla, Padminī and Krishaka-Sańgīta. “Gańgādhara Granthāvalī”, the compilation of all his writings, has earned high appreciations through several publications. Many research works have been done on his literary writings and various aspects of his life. Ideals of Indian culture are mainly reflected in his poems. His poetic originality uniquely attracts the minds of connoisseurs in the literary sphere. He sees and shows the entire universe ever-beautiful, nectared and imbued with ambrosia.
‘Tapasvinī’ is regarded as the best creation of Gańgādhara. For wide popularization and comparative correspondence, the author of the present article has completely translated ‘Tapasvinī’ into Hindi, English and Sanskrit. From among those tri-lingual translations, Sambalpur University, Jyoti Vihar, Burla, Orissa, has published the Hindi Rendering in 2000. The passages of Tapasvinī quoted in this article have been taken from the extracts of his English Rendering published in Bartikā (1), Kantāraka (2), Saptarshi (3), Jhańkār (4) and Suntimes (5), also from his complete version.
GENESIS OF TAPASVINĪ :
Rāmāyana of Vālmīki and Mahābhārata of Vyāsa, the two great epics of Sanskrit literature, have profoundly inspired many poets, playwrights, thinkers, critics and litterateurs of various languages in India and abroad. Indian life has been so permeated with these epics that it can never avoid them. Cultured with Sanskrit, worthy sons of Indian soil have contributed much to make the literatures of Indian languages prosper in various ways. The Sītā-Rāma-story of India has immensely influenced the people of both oriental and occidental cultures. In Oriya literature, Sītā, the dearest daughter of Earth, in her later part of life, appears as a Tapasvinī in the poetic vision of Gańgādhara.
Tapasvinī, an eleven-canto Oriya epic poem, is a great classic of Gańgādhara Meher, who is renowned as Prakriti-Kavi in Oriya literature. The main theme of this kāvya is the post-banishment episode of Sītā in the hermitage of Sage Vālmīki. Dealing with a topic of poignant Pathos, this kāvya is basically influenced by Uttara-Kānda of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyana, Raghuvamśa mahākāvya of Kālidāsa and Uttara-Rāma-Charita drama of Bhavabhūti, still the poetic presentation is marked with originality and significant innovations.
‘Tapasvinī’ literally means ‘A woman observing penance’ or ‘An ascetic-maid’. The word ‘Tapasvinī’ used by Gańgādhara has been most probably taken from the verses of Kālidāsa. As the context in Raghuvamśa goes on, Sītā, being banished by King Rāma and deserted by Lakshmana, gives message to her life-lord. There Sītā says : “After delivery of child, I shall try my best to practise penance having fixed my eyes on Sun, so that in the next birth, you again will be my husband and there will be no separation.”(6) Again as she says, Rāma is the monarch of the world which includes even the forest-regions. Now she is one of the subjects of the forest-sites. She solicits that as a common hermitess or ascetic-maid, though banished, she should kindly be supervised by his kingship in accordance with the royal duty enumerated by Manu.(7) Further, as Kālidāsa writes, Sītā having ‘Valkala’ (bark-skin of tree) dress for penance abides in the hermitage and bears her mortal body to give heir to her husband.(8)
In the verses of Kālidāsa, ‘Tapas’ (penance) is clearly meant for Sītā in the later part of her life. Gańgādhara happens to take the word ‘Tapasvi’ from Kālidāsa and has used it as ‘Tapasvinī’ in feminine gender for Sītā. Moreover, the poet in the Preface of Tapasvinī kāvya mentions : “The main purpose of this book is to elucidate how Sītā strengthened and heightened more and more, her devotion-to-husband (pati-bhakti) by deeming exile as her own misfortune and how she as a Tapasvinī spent time by rendering her forest-dwelling into penitential austerity beneficial to her husband.”(9) The poet further expresses his hope that the wise readers would once unveil the memory’s curtain portrayed with the brilliant impeccable and sacred character of Sītā of their own hearts and would render uplift of the hearts of women.(10)
Gańgādhara is very distinct and doubtless in his writing. Sītā is the heroine of this epic poem that analyses the social condition of a married woman and contends to give appropriate honour and status even after separation from her husband. Tapasvinī mainly treats of the plight of Sītā’s later life, yet the entire story of Rāmāyana has been recounted contextually. So in this perspective, this kāvya may be regarded as a ‘Miniature Rāmāyana’ in Oriya literature. Just as Rāmāyana is named after King Rāma with depiction of his life-deeds, so in a greater sense Tapasvinī kāvya may be construed as a ‘Sītāyana’, as it prominently features the sublime character of Sītā in the entire story.(11)
SUBSTANCE OF TAPASVINĪ :
As per the epical tradition of India, Gańgādhara, in the beginning of Canto-I, pays humble homage to the Goddess of Speech in an inquisitive manner. Further he expresses his desire that indicates the main theme of the kāvya. He modestly prays :
“To the hermitage of Sage Vālmīki
my mind has rushed to have a view
of the exiled Jānakī.
Her worn-out heart, alas !
how did she sew ?
Her life how with whom did she pass ?
O Compassionate Goddess ! Be kind
to bestow strength so that my mind
be sanctified by seeing
and my hand by writing.”
After the prayer, there appears the pathetic scene of the banished Sītā in the solitary site on the bank of Gańgā. The bewailing Sītā condemns her own fate for exile. Nature, in all aspects sympathetic to her, becomes stunned at her mourning.
In Canto-II, the hermitage of Vālmīki is found reigned by Queen Peace (Śānti). With the fatherly affection of Vālmīki and the motherly love of the hermit-matron Anukampā (a new creation of the poet), Sītā resides in the hermitage. In Canto-III, Rāma’s remourse after Sītā’s exile is depicted. Further kingship is assessed as a sacrifice where a king offers himself as an oblation for the public welfare. Rāma and Sītā, both forlorn in their respective places, become absorbed in pathetic thoughts of separation.
Canto-IV contains a lively and comely picture of Dawn (Ushā) in the hermitage. Sītā, accompanied by Anukampā and the hermit-girls, goes to River Tamasā who expresses all her motherly affections. After ablution, all enter the pleasure-garden where Sylvan Beauty (Vana-Lakshmī) is delineated as a maiden-friend of Sītā. Cordial welcome and parlance of both the friends are pleasantly portrayed.
Canto-V just follows the previous one. The juvenile Spring is observed in the garden. Sītā enjoys all sorts of regards and welcome from trees, creepers, flowers, birds and other various aspects of Nature. Anukampā admonishes Sītā about the three kinds of Śraddhā that are divine, human and diabolic. She further figures Sītā as a Tapasvinī endowed with the divine qualities. At about 7 a.m. all return to their abodes and perform their daily duties.
In Canto-VI, a moonlit night of Chaitra month, rich with breeze and fragrance of flowers, comes to the view. A couple of glow-worms are praised by Sītā. Before a hermitess-friend, Sītā narrates all the stories starting from her childhood up to the forest-dwelling. Canto-VII covers the subsequent part of the story till the banishment, as narrated by Sītā before the maiden-friend. The lamenting Sītā is consoled and supported by the friend and other hermit-maidens.
Canto-VIII gives a picturesque view of Summer with the beauties of Nature. Worldly behaviour is alluded with the aestival affluence. Sītā’s reminiscences come to the scene. Dame Thought (Chintā) appears before her and apprises of the arrival of some guests. Coming one by one, Chitrakūta, Mahānadī, Godāvarī and Ayodhyā, all alive, express feelings of their sorrow-stricken hearts before Sītā and retreat.
In Canto-IX, Rainy Season is described with natural colours and splendours. Nature shows her sympathy and concern for Sītā languishing under pregnancy. Birth of the twin sons, Kuśa and Lava, gladdens Nature. Canto-X speaks of the filial affection of Sītā, growth of the twins, their studying various scriptures, their melodious recitation of Rāmāyana in accompaniment of lutes and Sītā’s joys with sorrows
Canto-XI embodies Vālmīki’s pondering over the administration of King Rāma, fitness of the twins as the heirs of the royal dynasty and invitation from Rāma to attend the observance of Horse-sacrifice in Ayodhyā. Hearing the message from the Sage and deliberating about her own queenly status, Sitā suspects that Rāma might have accepted a second wife; because the presence of wife is a must for yajamāna in sacrificial performances. Then Sitā secretly and sorrowfully writes an humble letter to King Rāma. This letter is a unique and original issue of the muse of Gańgādhara. In this letter, Sitā earnestly prays Rāma to apprise her of the secrecy of incantation and penance rendered by the second queen (as suspected in Sītā’s mind), so that Sītā would practise more severe penance than hers to acquire Rāma as own life-lord in the next birth also.
After knowing from the twins the news that Rāma has kept the gold image of Sītā as the lady associate and not a second spouse, she shamefully becomes overwhelmed with beatitude. Keeping her letter secret, she inwardly apologizes to her husband-king. Sage Vālmīki and Sītā admonish the twins about their future performances in the sacrificial site. Dame Sleep (Nidrā) and Yogamāyā come to the cottage of Sītā to take her on their laps. Sītā views the royal coronation of King Rāma with herself as Queen, along with Bharata, Śatrughna, Kuśa and Lava. On this auspicious occasion, deities and demi-gods shower flowers from the firmament. Thus Tapasvinī ends with the following lines :
“In every house, in every life, in every city,
in the river-boat, in the bark of the sea,
in every cavern,
at day and night,
in the even and the morn,
in dolour and delight,
in the hearts of the affluent
as well as of the indigent,
the Victory-to-Sītā-Rāma chant.
Observing all these,
stood entranced at the scene,
Crest-Crown of the chaste ladies,
the Great Queen.”
POETIC STYLE :
Tapasvinī, as the masterpiece of Gańgādhara Meher, enjoys an outstanding position in the arena of language and literature. The desideratum of the poet in composing this kāvya was mainly to fill in the gap of a character of devoted chaste wife flourished with Indian culture, in the domain of Oriya literature and to establish the language of Orissa with its epical excellence. Befitting the modern taste, the poet has utilized different nine melodious metres (Chaturdasākshara, Rāmakeri, Bańgalāśri, Chokhi, Rasakulyā, Kalahamsa-Kedāra, Kedāra-Kāmodī, Nata-Vānī and Kalyāna-Paditāla), collaborating the old metres with the modern ones.
Musical melody, grace of diction, serenity, rhythmic eloquence, lucidity with emotional touch and sweetness of meaning are the remarkable features of this epic poem. Various figures of speech such as alliteration, simile, metaphor, imagery and the like also find proper and praiseworthy places in this literary work. There occurs no verbosity or stiffness of speech. Predominance of meaning and sentiments is greatly appreciable. Words of Gańgādhara are pleasantly intelligible and imbued with emotions. So this kāvya has become unhesitatingly attractive and appealing.
In the beginning of his poetic life, Gańgādhara was influenced by the poets of Rīti-Yuga of Oriya literature for writing in ornate style; but later on, observing the literary milieu, he adopted the contemporary new style. Therefore a blended pattern is found in his compositions. Dr. Māyādhar Mānsinha, an eminent Oriya poet and critic, has aptly regarded Gańgādhara Meher as the ‘Classical Star’ and ‘Miniature Kālidāsa’ of Oriya literature.(12) Dr. Binod Chandra Nāik, a reputed modern poet and critic of Oriya, describes Gańgādhara as a 'Supreme
Craftsman' creating Tapasvinī kāvya with rhetoric patterns, like weaving Sambalpuri sāree with ornate designs at the loom.(13)
SENTIMENT OF PATHOS :
Pathos is the prevailing sentiment in Tapasvinī. In Canto-X, as regards the episode of Rāmāyana, especially the post-exile incident of Sītā, Gańgādhara metaphorically mentions :
“Plenteous is the Epic-mountain
with gems of sentiments.
There majestically roams Rāma-Lion.
Forming murmuring fountain
blood-stream of Rāvana-Elephant flows further.
Residing in a cavern, there laments
the Lioness suffering affliction
by tusk-tossing of the tusker.”
In Oriya literature, ancient poets have tried to avoid the particular description of Sītā’s post-banishment story in detail, as it is a matter of poignant Pathos. Gańgādhara took up this topic and composed Tapasvinī in so heart-touching manner that it appealed to the minds of the readers and became considered as the best among his kāvyas.
In Classical Sanskrit Literature, Bhavabhūti is the first poet and dramatist who advocated and elucidated the Sentiment of Pathos (Karuna Rasa) in a separate style and presented it as the original source of all sentiments.(14) Verily in Indian tradition, it may be observed that Rāmāyana known as Ādi-kāvya was originated by Sage Vālmīki who felt the Pathos in his heart by seeing the death of a Krauñcha bird killed by a hunter and the spontaneous flow of a metrical verse was emitted from the mouth of the Sage that led to the composition of the great epic Rāmāyana.(15) Kālidāsa conspicuously declares that Vālmīki’s ‘Śoka’ (pain) raised by seeing the death of Krauñcha bird turned into ‘Śloka’, the metrical verse.(16) Rhetorician Anandavardhana also clearly mentions the same thing in his work, while dealing with ‘Rasa’ as the essence or Ātmā of poetic composition.(17) Poet Śrīharsha also speaks of Vālmīki’s ‘Śoka’ and ‘Śloka’ in connection with the praise of God’s incarnation as Rāma.(18)
In this connection, a line from the great poet P.B. Shelley’s poem (19) may be recalled : “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” Flash of bliss intrinsically abides even in the sentiment of Pathos; otherwise nobody would be inclined to the sentiment which above all permeates the Rāmāyana. Viśvanātha Kavirāj, a reputed rhetorician and poet of Sanskrit, succinctly declares blissfulness of all the sentiments.(20) Poet Gańgādhara is influenced by Bhavabhūti. In Tapasvinī, the excellence of Pathos begins from the outset. Though other emotions are accessories in the middle, sentiment of Pathos is prominent. The poet has avoided to end the kāvya in a tragic description and made the ending comically happy, depicting Sītā’s union with King Rāma even in a dream state. Apropos filial affections of Sītā for her twin sons (Canto-X), also that of Anukampā and River Tamasā (Canto-IV) and as well as of Godāvarī (Canto-VIII), Vātsalya Rasa is contextually blended in this kāvya.
Kālidāsa’s words are mostly indicative or suggestive of sentiments, while like Bhavabhūti’s, appropriate words of Gańgādhara are mostly expressive and directly appealing to the hearts of the readers. In comparison to other sentiments, Pathos directly touches the core of heart and Gańgādhara has successfully portrayed the sentiment that leaves an ever-lasting impression in the mind. While reading different cantos of Tapasvinī, one can really experience the intensity of sentiment and the eyes emotionally get suffused with tears. Such is the speciality of Gańgādhara’s poetic pen which is capable of melting the hearts of the readers in pathetic descriptions.
CONJUGAL LOVE OF RĀMA AND SĪTĀ :
In Tapasvinī, as in other literary works of Gańgādhara, conjugal love is a divine and sacred phenomenon. His words in the matter of Eros are romantically gentle, polished, descent and lovely. In the sylvan avenues, Sītā’s appearance as a beautiful Flowery Queen before Rāma is a fine illustration of such love. The muse of Gańgādhara allows not a jot of so-called obscenity in the love of the royal couple. They reciprocally pine in their separation and experience pains mixed with pleasures.
King Rāma’s love for Sītā is sincerely selfless and dedicated. He discards her simply because of the false public calumny. Forlorn and perpetually perplexed, he depreciates the royal throne. To render the regal duty, i.e. public gratification, he sacrifices his personal happiness of life; still his mind’s drone remains rapt in relishing the sweet mead of the Lotus-Queen blown in the lake of heart. In Canto-III, as the context goes on, Rāma addressing his sense-organs admonishes:
“ One thing more I like to tell,
Be united with mind and hastened to dwell
in the lake of heart where bliss sublime
you all will sportively enjoy for endless time.
There abides my life-mate
new Lotus-maiden in full efflorescence;
Ever-scintillating and never-set
remains the Sun of reminiscence.”
Sītā, as a devoted wife, understands the inner feelings of her husband who is an ideal king and ruler of the country. She reminds the words of the King within her wailings and says in Canto-I :
“For public pleasure’s sake
need arises if,
prepared I’m to forsake
even Sītā, my life-like wife.’
Thus you had declared
before Sage Ashtāvakra, O My Lord !
You must be recalling in memory
never slackening those words promissory.”
Here the idealistic supremacy of King Rāma is observed following the idealism maintained by Bhavabhūti. In his drama Rāma proclaims : “For propitiation of the subjects, I have no pain in sacrificing my personal affection, compassion and happiness, even my wife Jānakī also.”(21) In the pen of Gańgādhara, establishing own duties and status, Sītā further says :
in disobedience you stand never.
In obeying the words of husband,
If in my heart arises no grief,
then only I’ll be worthy
of the status of your wife.
This matter certainly
my mind shall understand.
Of public contentment
Thyself, an avower ardent.
Further I’m thy wife
as per the laws of wedding life.
Every step of mine does lead
in thy foot-prints indeed.”
Sītā as a Tapasvinī incarnates all the divine qualities that place her in the highest honourable shrine among the devoted wives of Indian culture. The word ‘Satī’ (Chaste woman) is oft-used in Tapasvinī to evince her pure and unblemished character. Bhavabhūti depicts Sītā as an idol of Pathos or an embodiment of pangs of separation.(22) In the pen of Gańgādhara, Sītā is delineated as an embodiment of Pathos.
Natural love of River towards Sea is distinctly illustrated as compared to Sītā’s love for Rāma in Canto-II. Here originality of Gańgādhara is really appealing. The public censure separates the couple from each other; yet the beloved lady of vast heart patiently endures the estrangement. As the context goes on, Vālmīki consoles Sītā in the following lines :
“Spontaneous is the flow of River
to mingle with Sea, her own lover.
She firmly crosses pass and rock
that appear on the way to block.
With Sea when she enjoys union,
her all previous pains plunge into oblivion.
Between the lives of the two thence
really remains not a jot of difference.
Perchance piercing up amid
any huge mound of sands there
if raises high
and severs the hearts of the loving pair,
verily River cannot die.
Burthen of her life she bears indeed
by expanding own heart to take
the shape of a large lake.”
Contextually in Canto-IX, Sītā becomes very happy after seeing the birth of the twin sons; but owing to separation from her husband-king who is unable to partake of the happiness, she feels dejected. Here the poet speaks:
“Blissfully bright the hermitage shone;
but darkness pervaded the Lily
of Sītā’s face, bereft of Rāma-Moon alone.
Her festival was verily
amāvāsyā, the moonless night.
Darkness enhanced her greatness.
Lovable is the Moonlight
solely because of darkness.”
Residing in the hermitage of Vālmīki, Sītā feels comforted among the companions. Regarding Sītā’s Love for King Rāma in Canto-V, the poet expresses :
“Happiness emerging from affection
of hermits and hermitesses
ousted Sītā’s all the mental distresses.
Into the path of her recollection
there didn’t enter
the royal pleasure
even once by mistake.
In her lucid heart’s lake
was always sportively swimming
Rāma-Swan, supremely charming.”
Concerning Sītā’s devotion-to-husband (pati-bhakti), Gańgādhara differs from other poets by remodelling the epical episode. He presents three reasons of her exile-like misfortune.(23) As Sītā thinks, firstly she had mean-mindedly reprimanded the innocent Lakshmana and had sent him in quest of her husband, just after hearing the voice “Save me, O Lakshmana” from the interior of Pañchavatī forest. Secondly, while she was captive in Aśoka grove, Rāvana showed a severed illusory head before her eyes and she desperately bemoaned thinking the very head to be her husband’s, further seeing the head she did not die at the spot. Thirdly, deeming the happiness of service at her husband’s feet to be very slight, she became prone to have the pleasure of visiting the hermitage near Gańgā. All these three sins, as Sītā explains by introspection, account for the exile fit for her.
In the verses of Kālidāsa, Sita knowing the exile from Lakshmana sorrowfully delivers her words for her husband thus: “Knowing me pure through the fire-ordeal in front of all, you abandoned me after hearing rumours from some people. Is this deed befitting your celebrated pedigree ?”(24) Next moment, she ponders that the exile is the unbearable result of her sins acquired in the previous births.(25) In the poem of Gańgādhara, Sītā does never tell a word of rebuke to her husband and merely expresses the above-mentioned three reasons of her self-analyzed sins. This issue exhibits an originality of the poet.
While Sītā was refused by King Rāma and was asked to testify her chastity in the fire-ordeal at Lańkā, as seen in the Vālmīki-Rāmāyana (26), she expresses her feelings with tearful eyes by saying that King’s behaviour towards her is like that of a low-category man to his low-category wife and further prays to the Fire-god to save her life giving proof of her purity. In Tapasvinī, Sītā does not have any propensity to bear the life of a suspected wife and intrepidly invokes her Dharma (Righteousness or Devotion-to-husband) to enter with herself into the enkindled fire to prove her chastity. In Canto-VII, the devoted wife prays:
“O Dharma ! In my body
with your excellence entire,
have a stance steady.
Intimid with me enter into the fire.
Not possible if
in my present life,
then after my demise
for my lord’s sake
at his feet you’ll make
myself a maid-servant please.
After my body perishes,
it will turn into ashes.
For a tree, taking them
you’ll make use as manure.
Giving the wood of the same
in the hands of a carpenter,
you’ll get my being prepared
as a pair of sandals fit
for the sacred feet
of my loving life-lord.”
Such is Sita’s self-confident devotion-to-husband that reaches the pinnacle of conjugal love. This description also reveals an innovation of the poet. In true sense, Sītā has been depicted as a wife completely consigned to her husband and such love, rid of all selfishness, is a rarest phenomenon for a wife in the household affair of Indian society.
DEPICTION OF NATURE :
Like Kālidāsa in Sanskrit and William Wordsworth in English, Gańgādhara Meher is well known as ‘Poet of Nature’(Prakriti-Kavi) in Oriya literature. In his poem, Nature is always alive and personified. All the aspects of Nature express their joys, sorrows and other feelings corresponding to the feelings of human beings. Gańgādhara vividly and exhaustively delineates the beautiful facets of Nature. With his poetic insight, he sees human feelings, conscious life and internal beauty in her. Nature imbibes her comely, gracious, fierce, tranquil and auspicious forms in various contexts.
Gańgādhara is a prolific painter of Nature. Depiction of Dame Ushā (Dawn) in Canto-IV is most popular all over Orissa. Here Nature honours Sītā as an esteemed Queen and offers all the royal formalities of worship. Dawn, the blooming lotus-eyed lady, cherishing hearty desire to behold Sītā and bringing presentations of dew-pearls in her hands of leafage, stands in the outer courtyard of the hermitage and in cuckoo’s voice speaks to grace her with Sītā’s benign sight. The retinues of Dame Dawn perform their duties to wake up Sītā. For example, in the description of the poet :
“Musical tune Zephyr sang swinging.
Black Bee played on lute charming.
By Ushā’s bidding, in dance
rapt remained Fragrance.
Kumbhātuā bird as a royal bard
began to eulogize forward.
As the panegyrist premier
Kalińga bird appeared there,
And spake in voice gracefully sweet :
O Queen of the empire of chaste ladies !
Dawned the night.”
Dawn (Ushā) with her Sun-brown costume, blooming smile of flowers and calm countenance, appears as a Goddess of Yoga giving solace by sweet words and rendering relief from sufferings. She as if descends from heaven on earth to give a new life. Sītā pays her devotional reverence to the auspicious Dawn.
In Canto-III, Gańgādhara describes a marvellous scenery of Sunshine and Dusk with poetic imagination. The picture of Nature appears thus :
“On the bank of Bhāgīrathī, whlle
Lakshmana deserted Sītā to exile.
Sunshine had spread that moment
all over the regions
of the world along with oceans
neath the fair firmament.
As though it was a white screen
draped over by Sun
that shame it would be, if the affliction
of Rāma’s Queen was seen
to the deities’ dominion.
Knowing that secret discreetly,
to disclose the flaw of Sun’s race,
Dusk lifted swiftly
the screen from earth’s surface.”
As the context continues in Canto-IV, Sītā accompanied by Anukampā and the hermit-girls, goes to River Tamasā for early ablution. Tamasā, the fair-limbed and sacred-streamed hostess of the hermitage, with her wave-hands places Sītā on her lap and embraces with affections. Sītā regards Tamasā as her mother and the latter shows filial affections for the exiled daughter. In this Canto-IV, Vana-Lakshmī (Sylvan Beauty) extends her heartiest welcome to the exiled Sītā and her friendly address is emotionally expressed. For instance:
“By Pushpaka plane, when
you were returning through the sphere,
I standing here
bearing in hands the gift of flowers fine,
with gazelle’s eyes woefully gazing above
was calling you with keen love
in the voice of peahen
from a long way.
Friend dearest mine !
Did you come today
remembering this companion
after so many days gone ?”
In Canto-I, seeing the banishment of Sītā, Nature mourns with severe distress and with her army tries to take vengeance upon Fate. A fierce form of Nature is remarkable in the poem as follows:
“To fight against Fate, there roared
Palm Tree with furious figure
raising his hand with sword.
Shaking frequently the quiver
of Weaver-bird’s nest, he as if
drew an arrow of leaf.”
Knowing own banishment rendered by her husband, when Sītā falls senseless on the ground, depicting the reaction of the sympathetic Cloud, the poet says:
“Bearing the heart frustrated
and the body emaciated,
there arrived, rushing with armies
the seriously angry Cloud.
Startling others’ eyes
by the rumbling, deep and loud,
he defied Destiny and betrayed menace.
Again and again sprinkling on Sītā’s face
soothing drops of water
he vivified her.”
Description of Spring in Canto-V and of Summer in Canto-VIII manifests the glaring facets of Nature. The panoramic scenery of Chitrakūta, Godāvarī, Mahānadī and Ayodhyā in Sītā’s mind’s eye appears very much attractive. Nature of Rains in Canto-X helps at the time of Sītā’s delivery. In the merrymaking and ceremony of the birth of Kuśa-Lava, and in reciting the Rāmāyana epic emulating the songs sung by the twins, Nature presents her gracious and joyous forms.
Gańgādhara, on one side, has adopted various phases of Nature to depict the human beauty and on the other, he has inserted human aspects with a view to presenting the lively loveliness of Nature. Both internal and external beauties of Nature are well-depicted in Tapasvinī. Veritable is his epithet ‘Prakriti-Kavi’, the Poet of Nature.
PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE:
The ideology of Bhavabhūti along with the naturality of Vālmīki and Kālidāsa are intertwined in the poem of Gańgādhara. The quintessence of poet’s philosophy of life has been contextually reflected in Tapasvinī. Forbearance, theistic trend, noble endeavours for the attainment of goal and high aspiration are signified in his work. He believes in both deed and destiny, but never adheres to pessimism. For instance, life of fortitude, benevolence and polite activities is indicated in Canto-IV. River Tamasā expresses before Sitā regarding the significance of life:
“Wandering over several woods wide,
never wavering astray
by illusion of any gorge,
surmounting many an impediment
in my life limpid,
never deeming darkness
as a distress,
never thinking light
to be a delight,
for a remote way
ahead I’ve continued to forge
with my head humbly bent.
Gratifying every bank-dweller
with offering of water,
fruitfulness of my birth
I’m realizing worth.”
Gańgādhara’s humanistic approach of reaching the destination through incessant practice is traced here. Simplicity, modesty, purity, harmlessness and noble services are the gem-like features of his work and life. Whatever may be the obstacle, the poet’s optimistic insight pervades the realm of life. “Simple living and high thinking” is his view-point both literary and empirical.
In spite of negative attitude of some fault-finders in social life, one should patiently and courageously go ahead to establish one’s own goodness and virtues valuable to others. In Canto-X, Ketakī’s words for Sītā are worth-mentioning:
“Conjured by the cynics’ eyes
what can the blemish do,
when one’s own noble qualities
form a divine ornament true ?
Seeing my thorns
if black-bee from me returns,
shall I forgo the pride of fragrance ?”
In Canto-IV, regarding motherly affection of River Tamasā, Sītā as a wretched daughter expresses her hearty feelings. The poet says:
Sītā replied :
Like the water of coconut
sweet is this limpid water;
nay, nay, not water, but
mother’s milk real,
flowing as the stream ambrosial
for Sītā, the dead-like daughter.
Oh ! In this land you’re indeed
my mother dearest
incarnate as Tamasā having a heart
riven by my severe smart.”
In the same context, the poet exhibits the inner feelings of a mother in the words of Sita to River Tamasā :
“Mother verily knows
her daughter’s sorrows.
A burnt-faced daughter
looks moon-faced in the eyes of mother.”
Deprived of Sītā’s company in Ayodhyā, Dame Royal Beauty (Rāja-Lakshmī) becomes distressed and sends a letter to Sītā through Ayodhyā who reads the same contextually. From the letter in Canto-VIII, some lines run thus:
“Friend ! Myself Night,
You were Moonlight.
Closing my eyes
of blooming lilies
afar you went.
No more thence
remains for me in your absence
even a vestige of pleasure.
I’ve borne the figure
of a woman rid of ornament.”
In Canto-II, hearing Sītā’s mourn, the hermit-girls reach the spot and after consoling her, intimate the father-like Sage Vālmīki about the matter. Here Gańgādhara, to draw the compassion of the same female category, employs the hermit-girls only, not the hermit-boys, nor Vālmīki himself, as described in the Rāmāyana (27) and the Raghuvamśa (28) respectively. The heartiest relationship between Sītā and the hermit-girls who were companions in her previous forest-dwelling with her husband is beautifully described in the mouth of Sītā herself before a hermitess-friend in the later forest-dwelling. Some lines for example:
“Their holy affections,
endearment mingling with exhilarations,
lips lovely with soft sweet utterances
and loving calm guileless glances,
all showered ambrosia immense
on the glebe of my reminiscence.
All the names of those dear
hermit-girls, one by one,
blooming as lotuses appeared clear
in my mind’s lake gay,
when the nocturnal murk of separation,
previously poignant and piled,
vanished far away
and the day-spring of happiness smiled.”
From the above-mentioned illustrations, it may be asserted that in presenting the struggle of life, social norms and behaviours, ethical values of human relationship, sympathetic feelings and other mundane phenomena, Gańgādhara identifies his deep-delved dexterity with his intrinsic poetic vision. Several maxims are also befittingly blended. Further dramatic style and retrospective presentations can be marked very exquisitely in this epic poem.
Analysing the literary works and life of Gańgādhara, Dr. Māyādhar Mansinha regards him as a ‘Literary Hero’ referring to the various kinds of heroes of human society described by Carlyle.(29) Really Gańgādhara, being a poet, a social reformer and a patron of Indian culture, is very frank, fearless and ever-beneficial for the country and the mankind at large. As a brave and modest poet, he has tried his best to characterize nobility and brighter sides of life even in the midst of struggle and sufferings.
Tapasvinī elaborates a pathetic plot of the great epic Rāmāyana. However Gańgādhara contextually cites some sites of his own province suitable to the situations. Describing the sorrows of Sītā as well as of the hermit-girls (Canto-III), he exemplifies the river Mahānadī along with its tributaries Ańga, Iba and Tela. He refers to the gorge Rāmeśvara of Mahānadī (Canto-III) near Sambalpur, also to Hirākud (Canto-VIII). All these places are mostly attached to Sambalpur district. Expressing the love of River and Sea, he adverts to the Lake Chilikā located in the eastern coast of Orissa. This instance is conspicuous from the footnote given by himself (Canto-III). All these regional geographical environs assert loving attraction of the poet for his birth-place and do not mar the beauty of literary theme in any manner. In this kāvya, literary propriety is commendable indeed. Lapses in Gańgādhara’s writing are hardly seen.
In an epoch-making period of modern age of Oriya literature, Gańgādhara’s contributions for establishing the language, literature and culture of Orissa are worthy of appreciations. For own extraordinary literary calibre and honest guileless personality, he has earned high admirations and endearments from his contemporary noted litterateurs like Kavivar Rādhānāth Rāy, Vyāsakavi Fakīr Mohan Senāpati, Pallīkavi Nanda Kiśor Bal, Viśwanāth Kar, Kaviśekhar Chintāmani Mahānty, Pandit Nīlamani Vidyāratna, Utkala Gaurava Madhusūdan Dās and many others. For Tapasvinī that deserves a classical dignity and enviable reputation among the epic poems, Gańgadhara is heartily remembered by the lovers of literature.
From social point of view, Sītā is regarded as a daughter of King Janaka, yet she was born from the furrow of earth, and therefore an offspring of Nature. A subtle true observer and a proficient literary commentator of Nature, Gańgādhara Meher is the first and most successful poet in Oriya literature to give a complete epic form to the post-exile episode of Sītā with a beautifully impressive touch of Pathos. He is a worshipper of Truth, Good and Beauty. His is an all-encompassing artistic view with idealistic faith and sincerity. To conclude, in the present day also, Tapasvinī, a prominent poetic achievement on the ever-green Sītā-Rāma-story, may be useful in the field of comparative study among various literatures of Indian languages.
* * *
1. Meher, H.K., Kavi Gańgādharańka Tapasvinī Kāvya : Hindī-Ińgrājī-Sanskruta Anuvādara Trivenī,
‘Bartikā’, Vishuva Special Issue, 1999, pp.178-209.
Saraswat Sahitya Sanskrutika Parishad, Dasarathpur, Jajpur, Orissa.
2. Meher, H.K., Canto-IV from the Complete English Rendering of Tapasvinī Kāvya,
‘Kantāraka’, 2000, pp.14-20, Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi.
3. Meher, H.K., Kavi Gańgādharańka Tapasvinī-Kāvyara Hindī O Ingrājī Anuvāda,
‘Saptarshi’, May-June 1992, Sambalpur University, Jyoti Vihar, Burla, Sambalpur.
4. Meher, H.K., Kavi Gańgādharańka Tapasvinī Kāvyara Hindī O Ińgrājī Anuvāda :
‘Jhańkār’, August 1996, Prajatantra Prachar Samiti, Cuttack.
5. Meher, H.K., Excerpts from Gangadhara Meher’s Tapaswini,
‘Suntimes’, Sunday Special, Bhubaneswar, 28-8-1988, p.8.
6. Sāham tapah sūrya-nivishta-drishtir
ūrdhvam prasūteś charitum yatishye /
Bhūyo yathā me jananāntare’pi
Tvam eva bharttā na cha viprayogah // (Raghu.14/66)
Chaturvedi, Sitaram (Ed.) Kālidāsa Granthāvalī – Raghuvamśa, Samvat 2019,
Bharat Prakashan Mandir, Aligarh.
7. Nripasya varnāśrama-pālanam yat
sa eva dharmo manunā pranītah /
Nirvāsitapyevam atas tvayāham
Tapasvi-sāmānyam avekshanīyā // (Ibid. 14/67)
Chaturvedi, Sitaram op.cit. Samvat 2019.
8. Vanyena sā valkalinī śarīram
patyuh prajā-santataye babhāra // (Ibid. 14/82)
9. Meher, H.K., Preface of Tapasvinī – English Rendering.
11. Meher, H.K.,Tapasvinī (Hindi Rendering Book), 2000, p.15.
Sambalpur University, Jyoti Vihar, Burla, Sambalpur.
12. Mansinha, M.D., History of Oriya Literature, 1962, pp.199-200.
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.
13. Naik, B.C., Gangadhar Meher (Makers of Indian Literature Series), 1996, p.35.
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.
14. Eko rasah karuna eva nimitta-bhedād
bhinnah prithak prithag ivāśrayate vivarttān /
Ambho yathā salilam eva hi tat samastam // (Uttara-Rāma-Charita, 3/47)
Regmi, S.S.,(Ed.), Uttara-Rāma-Charita of Bhavabhūti, 1971,
Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi.
15. Mā nishāda pratishthām tvam agamah śāśvatīh samāh /
Yat krauñcha-mithunād ekam avadhīh kāma-mohitam // (V. Rāmāyana, 1/2/15)
Vālmīki, Śrimad Vālmīkīya Rāmāyana, Samvat 2049, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, U.P.
ślokatvam āpadyata yasya śokah // (Raghu.14/70)
Chaturvedi, Sitaram, op.cit. Samvat 2019.
17. Kāvyasyātmā sa evārthas tathā chādi-kaveh purā /
Krauñcha-dvandva-viyogotthah śokah ślokatvam āgatah // (Dhvanyāloka, 1/5)
Tripathy, R.S., (Ed.) Dhvanyāloka, 1995, p.142, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
ślokam ekam asrijat kavir ādyah /
Sa tvaduttha-karunah khalu kāvyam
śloka-sindhum uchitam prababandha // (Naishadha. 21/76)
Śrīharsha, Naishadhīya-Charitam,1952, Nirnaya Sagar Press, Bombay.
19. Palgrave, F.T., ‘To A Skylark’ (poem), The Golden Treasury, 1979, p.245.
Oxford University Press, Calcutta.
20. Sastri, S.,(Ed) Sāhitya-Darpana (Chapter 3/ 4-5), 2000, p.52,
Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
21. Sneham dayām cha saukhyam cha yadi va Jānakīm api /
Ārādhanāya lokasya muñchato nāsti me vyathā // (Uttara-Rāma-Charita. 1/12)
Regmi, S.S., op.cit. 1971.
22. Karunasya mūrtir athavā śarīrinī
viraha-vyatheva vanam eti Jānakī // (Ibid. 3/4)
23. Das Hemanta Kumar (Ed.), Gańgādhara Granthāvalī (Tapasvinī, Canto-1), 1977,
Pustak Bhandar, Berhampur, Orissa.
24. Vāchyas tvayā mad-vachanāt sa rājā
vahnau viśuddhām api yat samaksham /
Mām lokavāda-śravanād ahāsīh
śrutasya kim tat sadriśam kulasya // (Raghu. 14/61)
Chaturvedi, Sitaram, op. cit. Samvat 2019.
25. Mamaiva janmāntara-pātakānām
vipāka-visphūrjathur aprasahyah // (Ibid.14/62)
26. Kim mām asaḍriśam vākyam īdriśam śrotra-dārunam /
Rūksham śrāvayase Vīra prākritah prākritām iva // (Vālmīki Rāmāyana. 6/116/5)
27. Sitām tu rudatīm drishtvā te tatra muni-dārakāh /
Prādravan yatra bhagavān āste Vālmīkir ugradhīh // (Ibid. 7/49/1)
Vālmīki Rāmāyana, Samvat 2049.
28. Tām abhyagacchat ruditānusārī
Kavih kuśedhmāharanāya yātah // (Raghu.14/70)
Chaturvedi, Sitaram, op. cit. Samvat 2019.
29. ‘Meherańka Mahattva’ (Article) - Gańgādhara Granthāvalī, 1961, p.5,
Das Brothers, Berhampur-Cuttack-Sambalpur, Orissa.
[ Published in ‘Kalahandi Renaissance’ (Research Journal),
Vol.-1, 2005, pp. 39-52.
Courtesy : Government Autonomous College, Bhawanipatna, Orissa, India.]