Rediscovering Kalidasa’s “Urvashi”

Indian mythology is vibrant and radiant and presents some of the world’s best romantic legends. They have some sensuous and passionate tales of devotion and romanticism. The divine and undying emotion of love is further celebrated by great playwrights like Kalidasa.

Kalidasa was one of the greatest poet and playwright of the golden era of Indian culture, somewhat around 5th century AD. One such legend adapted from Samveda sukta of the rigveda is “Vikramorvashiya”. It is the second of the three plays written by Kalidasa. A passionate, tragic love story of King Pururva and apsara (celestial nymph) Urvashi, an enthralling beauty in the court of King Indra, the lord of heaven. The meaning of Urvashi is “The person who contrls the heart.”

A plot was born out of a curse according to which Urvashi was destined to meet Pururva, the mortal King. But due to unfortunate circumstances, after living a happy life with Pururva, Urvashi had to leave. The passion that Kalidasa has in his romanticism, the same level of pain is there, in the protagonists when they are seperated. The feminine ideal of Indian women is very intensely portrayed in the patriarchal culture. It is not Urvashi’s will that matters but the patriarchal culture’s will that matters.

The complexity in Urvashi’s character is far beyond words. She had to leave heaven, because of a crime,which she never intended to do. On Earth when she fell in love, she was seperated again after a brief duration of bliss. She again faced the same grief of seperation when she turned into a vine, on Lord Kartekeya’s Gandhamardhan hills, due to a curse which prohibited women from entering the forest. Again after a certain duration she finally had to leave Pururva. she once again felt the intense pain of seperation when she, as a mother had to leave her son and return to heaven.

The female protagonists in Kalidasa’s play is always a sufferer. She always had to bear the brunt of seperation. Female characters are portrayed as an epitome of virtue, divinity, passion, piousness, and sacrificial. As a character they are very powerful, they touch the pinnacle of the emotions that a woman’s heart can contain. It is remarkable to see that some 5000 years ago, when it was a sheer patriarchal society, the finest emotions of a woman’s heart were so beautifully and dignifiedly portrayed in a fiction, be it “Malvika” of “Malvikagnimitram” or “Urvashi” of “Vikramorvashiya” or “Shakuntala” of “Abhijnanasakuntalam”.

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