Kalidasa

(4th Century - 5th Century / Ujjain / India)

The Birth of The War-God (Canto First) - Uma's Nativity


Far in the north Himálaya, lifting high
His towery summits till they cleave the sky,
Spans the wide land from east to western sea,
Lord of the hills, instinct with deity.
For him, when Prithu ruled in days of old
The rich earth, teeming with her gems and gold,
The vassal hills and Meru drained her breast,
To deck Himálaya, for they loved him best;
And earth, the mother, gave her store to fill
With herbs and sparkling ores the royal hill.
Proud mountain-king! his diadem of snow
Dims not the beauty of his gems below.
For who can gaze upon the moon, and dare
To mark one spot less brightly glorious there?[Pg 2]
Who, 'mid a thousand virtues, dares to blame
One shade of weakness in a hero's fame?
Oft, when the gleamings of his mountain brass
Flash through the clouds and tint them as they pass,
Those glories mock the hues of closing day,
And heaven's bright wantons hail their hour of play;
Try, ere the time, the magic of their glance,
And deck their beauty for the twilight dance.
Dear to the sylphs are the cool shadows thrown
By dark clouds wandering round the mountain's zone,
Till frightened by the storm and rain they seek
Eternal sunshine on each loftier peak.
Far spread the wilds where eager hunters roam,
Tracking the lion to his dreary home.
For though the melting snow has washed away
The crimson blood-drops of the wounded prey,
Still the fair pearls that graced his forehead tell
Where the strong elephant, o'ermastered, fell,
And clinging to the lion's claws, betray,
Falling at every step, the mighty conqueror's way.
There birch-trees wave, that lend their friendly aid
To tell the passion of the love-lorn maid,
So quick to learn in metal tints to mark
Her hopes and fears upon the tender bark.
List! breathing from each cave, Himálaya leads
The glorious hymn with all his whispering reeds,[Pg 3]
Till heavenly minstrels raise their voice in song,
And swell his music as it floats along.
There the fierce elephant wounds the scented bough
To ease the torment of his burning brow;
And bleeding pines their odorous gum distil
To breathe rare fragrance o'er the sacred hill.
There magic herbs pour forth their streaming light
From mossy caverns through the darksome night,
And lend a torch to guide the trembling maid
Where waits her lover in the leafy shade.
Yet hath he caves within whose inmost cells
In tranquil rest the murky darkness dwells,
And, like the night-bird, spreads the brooding wing
Safe in the shelter of the mountain-king,
Unscorned, uninjured; for the good and great
Spurn not the suppliant for his lowly state.
Why lingers yet the heavenly minstrel's bride
On the wild path that skirts Himálaya's side?
Cold to her tender feet—oh, cold—the snow,
Why should her steps—her homeward steps—be slow?
'Tis that her slender ankles scarce can bear
The weight of beauty that impedes her there;
Each rounded limb, and all her peerless charms,
That broad full bosom, those voluptuous arms.[Pg 4]
E'en the wild kine that roam his forests bring
The royal symbols to the mountain-king.
With tails outspread, their bushy streaming hair
Flashes like moonlight through the parted air.
What monarch's fan more glorious might there be,
More meet to grace a king as proud as he?
There, when the nymphs, within the cave's recess,
In modest fear their gentle limbs undress,
Thick clouds descending yield a friendly screen,
And blushing beauty bares her breast unseen.
With pearly dewdrops Gangá loads the gale
That waves the dark pines towering o'er the vale,
And breathes in welcome freshness o'er the face
Of wearied hunters when they quit the chase.
So far aloft, amid Himálayan steeps,
Crouched on the tranquil pool the lotus sleeps,
That the bright Seven who star the northern sky
Cull the fair blossoms from their seats on high;
And when the sun pours forth his morning glow
In streams of glory from his path below,
They gain new beauty as his kisses break
His darlings' slumber on the mountain lake.
Well might that ancient hill by merit claim
The power and glory of a monarch's name;[Pg 5]
Nurse of pure herbs that grace each holy rite,
Earth's meetest bearer of unyielding might.
The Lord of Life for this ordained him king,
And bade him share the sacred offering.
Gladly obedient to the law divine,
He chose a consort to prolong his line.
No child of earth, born of the Sage's will,
The fair nymph Mená pleased the sovran hill.
To her he sued, nor was his prayer denied,
The Saints' beloved was the mountain's bride.
Crowned with all bliss and beauty were the pair,
He passing glorious, she was heavenly fair.
Swiftly the seasons, winged with love, flew on,
And made her mother of a noble son,
The great Maináka, who in triumph led
His Serpent beauties to the bridal bed;
And once when Indra's might those pinions rent
That bare the swift hills through the firmament,
(So fierce his rage, no mountain could withstand
The wild bolt flashing from his red right hand,)
He fled to Ocean, powerful to save,
And hid his glory 'neath the friendly wave.
A gentle daughter came at length to bless
The royal mother with her loveliness;
Born once again, for in an earlier life
High fame was hers, as Śiva's faithful wife.[Pg 6]
But her proud sire had dared the God to scorn;
Then was her tender soul with anguish torn,
And jealous for the lord she loved so well,
Her angered spirit left its mortal cell.
Now deigned the maid, a lovely boon, to spring
From that pure lady and the mountain-king.
When Industry and Virtue meet and kiss,
Holy their union, and the fruit is bliss.
Blest was that hour, and all the world was gay,
When Mená's daughter saw the light of day.
A rosy glow suffused the brightening sky;
An odorous breeze came sweeping softly by.
Breathed round the hill a sweet unearthly strain,
And the glad heavens poured down their flowery rain.
That fair young maiden diademmed with light
Made her dear mother's fame more sparkling bright.
As the blue offspring of the Turquois Hills
The parent mount with richer glory fills,
When the cloud's voice has caused the gem to spring,
Responsive to its gentle thundering.
Then was it sweet, as days flew by, to trace
The dawning charm of every infant grace,
Even as the crescent moons their glory pour
More full, more lovely than the eve before.
As yet the maiden was unknown to fame;
Child of the Mountain was her only name.[Pg 7]
But when her mother, filled with anxious care
At her stern penance, cried Forbear! Forbear!
To a new title was the warning turned,
And Umá was the name the maiden earned.
Loveliest was she of all his lovely race,
And dearest to her father. On her face
Looking with love he ne'er could satisfy
The thirsty glances of a parent's eye.
When spring-tide bids a thousand flowerets bloom
Loading the breezes with their rich perfume,
Though here and there the wandering bee may rest,
He loves his own—his darling mango—best.
The Gods' bright river bathes with gold the skies,
And pure sweet eloquence adorns the wise.
The flambeau's glory is the shining fire;
She was the pride, the glory of her sire,
Shedding new lustre on his old descent,
His loveliest child, his richest ornament.
The sparkling Gangá laved her heavenly home,
And o'er her islets would the maiden roam
Amid the dear companions of her play
With ball and doll to while the hours away.
As swans in autumn in assembling bands
Fly back to Gangá's well-remembered sands:
As herbs beneath the darksome shades of night
Collect again their scattered rays of light:[Pg 8]
So dawned upon the maiden's waking mind
The far-off memory of her life resigned,
And all her former learning in its train,
Feelings, and thoughts, and knowledge came again.
Now beauty's prime, that craves no artful aid,
Ripened the loveliness of that young maid:
That needs no wine to fire the captive heart,—
The bow of Love without his flowery dart.
There was a glory beaming from her face,
With love's own light, and every youthful grace:
Ne'er had the painter's skilful hand portrayed
A lovelier picture than that gentle maid;
Ne'er sun-kissed lily more divinely fair
Unclosed her beauty to the morning air.
Bright as a lotus, springing where she trod,
Her glowing feet shed radiance o'er the sod.
That arching neck, the step, the glance aside,
The proud swans taught her as they stemmed the tide,
Whilst of the maiden they would fondly learn
Her anklets' pleasant music in return.
When the Almighty Maker first began
The marvellous beauty of that child to plan,
In full fair symmetry each rounded limb
Grew neatly fashioned and approved by Him:
The rest was faultless, for the Artist's care
Formed each young charm most excellently fair,[Pg 9]
As if his moulding hand would fain express
The visible type of perfect loveliness.
What thing of beauty may the poet dare
With the smooth wonder of those limbs compare?
The young tree springing by the brooklet's side?
The rounded trunk, the forest-monarch's pride?
Too rough that trunk, too cold that young tree's stem;
A softer, warmer thing must vie with them.
Her hidden beauties though no tongue may tell,
Yet Śiva's love will aid the fancy well:
No other maid could deem her boasted charms
Worthy the clasp of such a husband's arms.
Between the partings of fair Umá's vest
Came hasty glimpses of a lovely breast:
So closely there the sweet twin hillocks rose,
Scarce could the lotus in the vale repose.
And if her loosened zone e'er slipped below,
All was so bright beneath the mantle's flow,
So dazzling bright, as if the maid had braced
A band of gems to sparkle round her waist;
And the dear dimples of her downy skin
Seemed fitting couch for Love to revel in.
Her arms were softer than the flowery dart,
Young Káma's arrow, that subdues the heart;
For vain his strife with Śiva, till at last
He chose those chains to bind his conqueror fast.[Pg 10]
E'en the new moon poured down a paler beam
When her long fingers flashed their rosy gleam,
And brighter than Aśoka's blossom threw
A glory round, like summer's evening hue.
The strings of pearl across her bosom thrown
Increased its beauty, and enhanced their own,—
Her breast, her jewels seeming to agree,
The adorner now, and now the adorned to be.
When Beauty gazes on the fair full moon,
No lotus charms her, for it blooms at noon:
If on that flower she feed her raptured eye,
No moon is shining from the mid-day sky;
She looked on Umá's face, more heavenly fair,
And found their glories both united there.
The loveliest flower that ever opened yet
Laid in the fairest branch: a fair pearl set
In richest coral, with her smile might vie
Flashing through lips bright with their rosy dye.
And when she spoke, upon the maiden's tongue,
Distilling nectar, such rare accents hung,
The sweetest note that e'er the Koïl poured
Seemed harsh and tuneless as a jarring chord.
The melting glance of that soft liquid eye,
Tremulous like lilies when the breezes sigh,
Which learnt it first—so winning and so mild—
The gentle fawn, or Mená's gentler child?[Pg 11]
And oh, the arching of her brow! so fine
Was the rare beauty of its pencilled line,
Love gazed upon her forehead in despair
And spurned the bow he once esteemed so fair:
Her long bright tresses too might shame the pride
Of envious yaks who roamed the mountain-side.
Surely the Maker's care had been to bring
From Nature's store each sweetest, loveliest thing,
As if the world's Creator would behold
All beauty centred in a single mould.
When holy Nárad—Saint who roams at will—
First saw the daughter of the royal hill,
He hailed the bride whom Śiva's love should own
Half of himself, and partner of his throne.
Himálaya listened, and the father's pride
Would yield the maiden for no other's bride:
To Fire alone of all bright things we raise
The holy hymn, the sacrifice of praise.
But still the monarch durst not, could not bring
His child, unsought, to Heaven's supremest King;
But as a good man fears his earnest prayer
Should rise unheeded, and with thoughtful care
Seeks for some friend his eager suit to aid,
Thus great Himálaya in his awe delayed.[Pg 12]
Since the sad moment when his gentle bride
In the full glory of her beauty died,
The mournful Śiva in the holy grove
Had dwelt in solitude, and known not love.
High on that hill where musky breezes throw
Their balmy odours o'er eternal snow;
Where heavenly minstrels pour their notes divine,
And rippling Gangá laves the mountain pine,
Clad in a coat of skin all rudely wrought
He lived for prayer and solitary thought.
The faithful band that served the hermit's will
Lay in the hollows of the rocky hill,
Where from the clefts the dark bitumen flowed.
Tinted with mineral dyes their bodies glowed;
Clad in rude mantles of the birch-tree's rind,
With bright red garlands was their hair entwined.
The holy bull before his master's feet
Shook the hard-frozen earth with echoing feet,
And as he heard the lion's roaring swell
In distant thunder from the rocky dell,
In angry pride he raised his voice of fear
And from the mountain drove the startled deer.
Bright fire—a shape the God would sometimes wear
Who takes eight various forms—was glowing there.
Then the great deity who gives the prize
Of penance, prayer, and holy exercise,[Pg 13]
As though to earn the meed he grants to man,
Himself the penance and the pain began.
Now to that holy lord, to whom is given
Honour and glory by the Gods in heaven,
The worship of a gift Himálaya paid,
And towards his dwelling sent the lovely maid;
Her task, attended by her youthful train,
To woo his widowed heart to love again.
The hermit welcomed with a courteous brow
That gentle enemy of hermit vow.
The still pure breast where Contemplation dwells
Defies the charmer and the charmer's spells.
Calm and unmoved he viewed the wondrous maid,
And bade her all his pious duties aid.
She culled fresh blossoms at the God's command,
Sweeping the altar with a careful hand;
The holy grass for sacred rites she sought,
And day by day the fairest water brought.
And if the unwonted labour caused a sigh,
The fair-haired lady turned her languid eye
Where the pale moon on Śiva's forehead gleamed,
And swift through all her frame returning vigour streamed.

[Translated from the Sanskrit into English Verse by. Ranrn T. H. GRIFFITH, M.A.. ]

Submitted: Monday, June 18, 2012

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