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PART 1: THE YAKSHA AND THE CLOUD
Yakshas are demi-gods with divine powers. They can change their form at will, take to the skies and fly where their fancy takes them, become invisible and indulge in a variety of supernatural capers. But the yaksha of our story had temporarily lost all these powers. He had been banished for a year from Alakapuri by Kubera. Alakapuri was a Himalayan kingdom and Kubera was its ruler. Kubera had also withdrawn the yaksha’s divine powers.
Wandering southwards from the Himalayas, the yaksha had reached Ramagiri, a mountain in central India. He was thinking of his young wife whom he had left behind in Alakapuri. They had been married just a few months and the yaksha felt the king had been rather cruel to separate them so soon after their wedding. Standing on top of the Ramagiri, he looked up at the overcast sky and envied the heavy, moisture-laden clouds that were slowly making their way northwards. He imagined they were going to his home in Alaka, as they were moving in that direction. He wished he could join them, indeed race them, and fly home.
Where the yaksha came from, it was a tradition for people of all ages to play and make merry in the first rains of the season. He would miss the fun and gaiety this year, he told himself, and so would his wife. She would not have the heart to enjoy herself in his absence. He was overcome with grief and wished he had not neglected his duties and displeased his master, Kubera.
At that very instant, a huge, dark cloud came to rest on the mountain peak. It looked like an elephant kneeling down on a river bank. At the sight of the majestic cloud, the yaksha felt a surge of hope. Why don’t I send a message to my beloved through this northward-bound cloud, he wondered, and approached the cloud with an offering of flowers.
[jAtham vamshE bhuvanavidhithE puSHkarAvarthakAnAm
jAnAmi thvAm prakrthipuruSHam kAmarUpam maghOnaha I
thEnarTHithvam thvayi viDHivashAdh dhUrabanDHurgathOham
yAnchA mOghA varamaDHiguNE nADHamE labDHakAmA II 1-6 II
जातं वंशे भुवनविदिते पुष्करावर्तकानं जानामि त्वां प्रकृतिपुरुषं कामरूपं मघोनः /
तेनार्थित्वं त्वयि विधिवशाद् दूरबन्धुर्गतोहं याञ्चा मोघा वरमधिगुणे नाधमे लब्धकामा //१-६//]
“O mighty cloud capable of carrying immense quantities of water, O noble relative of Pushkara (Note: In Hindu mythology, puSHkara is the name of the cloud associated with the Deluge, or pralaya – the great flood that submerges the universe at the end of every cycle of four eras), kAmarUpa (one who can assume any form), maghOnaha prakrti puruSHam (the chief officer of Maghona, or Indra, the divine dispenser of rain), please take a message from me to my wife! She lives in my house in Alaka, the kingdom of the Lord of Wealth, Kubera.
“Alaka, my beloved country, is perpetually aglow, lit up by the luminescent crescent moon on Siva’s head. Lord Siva (one of the Trinity of the Hindu pantheon) lives in Kailasa, adjacent to Alaka. But, as he’s a good friend of my master, he spends much of his time in our gardens.
“Our gardens are beautiful – the trees bear fruit all the year around; the roses and other flowers fill the place with fragrance; there are ponds and tree-shaded walks; and a medley of bird sounds and the cries of the peacocks are nectar to the ear. The woods are the home of sages who spend all their time meditating on God.
“I beg you to depart immediately, though I can see you and the mountain are dear friends; in fact, on seeing you after the year-long separation, the mountain shed hot tears. But the flamingos are waiting to fly with you, all the way to Mount Kailas and lake Manasa. They have already filled their beaks with tender lotus stalks to see them through the long journey. So, do leave at once and take a message from me to my wife.
“Oh colossal cloud, the wives of the superhuman Siddas, who inhabit the region between the earth and the sun, will see you and wonder if you are, in fact, a mountain being carried off by the wind! Soar into the sky with your face turned northwards, dear meghadoota. I’m sure you’ll find the route to Alaka most agreeable. Enroute, there are many mountains for you to rest on, whenever you feel fatigued. There are also many rivers and streams for you to drink from, whenever you’re exhausted.”
The yaksha then proceeds to give detailed directions to the cloud messenger on how to reach Alaka from Ramagiri, and in his mind’s eye, he sees the journey taking shape.
PART 2: THE CLOUD MESSENGER’S JOURNEY
“Begin your journey, O meghadoota, by sprinkling rain on the parched earth. The fragrance of wet earth will spread happiness among the country men and women. They will take to their fields singing joyously, and run their ploughs through the supple soil.
“Soon, you’ll see the Amrakuta mountain, beautifully decked in a skirt of orange and green. Its slopes will be covered with thick groves of Amra, (mango), heavy with ripe fruit. As you race towards the Amrakuta, eager to rest after a fatiguing journey, you may see a wild fire ravaging the forests; quickly douse the flames with rain. A grateful Amrakuta will embrace you and happily invite you to recline on its lofty heights. When even ordinary folks wish to reciprocate a good turn, won’t one so noble as the good mountain? (Note: Amrakuta, now called Amarakantaka, is in the eastern part of the Vindhya range; river Narmada springs from here).
“Refreshed, resume your journey northwards. You will be able to fly with the wind, as you would have emptied all the water in fighting the wild fire scorching the slopes of Amrakuta. When you grow tired of being light and airy, drink generously of the Reva (another name for the river Narmada) till you become full and heavy. Majestically, sail over mountains and plains, showering rain and bringing joy to all living things:
“The green and brown kadhamba buds will spread out their petals as soon as the rain water touches them;
“The bees will make a ‘beeline’ for kadhamba trees, attracted by the fragrance of the fresh blossoms;
“The deer will gather in groups on the marshy river banks, eager to feast on the fresh kandhali leaves;
“The elephant herds that love the smell of wet earth, especially aromatic after a dry spell, will be greatly excited at your arrival;
“The chAthaka birds will fly animatedly hither and thither, skilfully catching every drop of rain. After all, they feed only on fresh drops of rain falling from the sky, don’t they?;
“You’ll make even the Siddas happy. They are sages who are supposed to have overcome ‘mundane’ feelings like love and joy. But when you thunder, their wives will run to hug them in fear, overwhelming them.
“In due course, you’ll reach Vidisha. Drink deep of the sweet waters of the river Vetravati (now known as the Betwah) there and settle down to rest on one of the small, nameless hills. Surely, the anonymous hill will be thrilled to be playing host to a majestic cloud such as you! The flowers in the dense forests of kadamba trees that cover its slopes will perk up the moment rain drops touch them, making it seem as if the mountain is exhilarated at having such an exalted guest as you.
“After a siesta on the small hill, proceed to Ujjaini, the capital of the kingdom of Avanti. (Note: Many believe Kalidasa lived in Ujjaini.) You’ll have to go a bit out of the way, but do visit Ujjaini. You’re bound to be charmed by this delightful city. If you aren’t, I can only say that your eyes have failed you!
“When you reach Ujjaini, the early morning air will be charged with the fragrance of blooming lotuses and there will be a cool breeze from the river Sipra, on the banks of which stands the city.
“The aristocratic mansions of Ujjaini rival the homes of the gods in the celestial city, Amaravati. In fact, this is the reason Ujjaini is also called Vishala. (Note: Vishala is a word derived from the Sanskrit phrase vishiSHtAha shAlAha, meaning special halls or mansions.)
“Sail over the market; you’ll find it carpeted with pearl necklaces and precious stones, corals aplenty and bright emeralds like young grass. Seeing all the the wealth of the ocean there, you may even begin to wonder what the seas will have left except their salty water!
“The women will dry their hair with frankincense after their bath and the smoke given off by the incense will add to your size and colour. You’ll appear so imposing and dark that even Siva’s attendants will look at you in worshipful admiration. Your mass and blue-grey complexion will remind them of their master, whose neck had turned blue when he had consumed a deadly poison called kAlakUta. (Note: A story in the Indian Puranas says that Lord Siva once drank the poison. kalakuta, to protect the earth from its ill effects. Goddess Parvati, his wife, rushed to hold his neck before the poison reached his stomach. The poison stayed in Siva’s throat and hence became ineffectual, but it was so potent that the Lord’s neck became blue-black, giving him the name Neelakanta, or the blue-throated one.)
“In the evening, the rhythmic clanging of bells, drum beats and the sound of a conch being blown will draw you towards the temple of Mahakala, dedicated to one of Siva’s many avatars. Engrossed in the festivities, which will include a vibrant dance showing Siva as the killer of the demon Gajasura, I won’t be surprised if you lose count of time. Ultimately, you may decide to stay overnight in Ujjaini. If you do, drench the city that night with a gentle rain, accompanied by mellow thunder that does not frighten the people. Let bright flashes of lightning light the dark night like streaks of gold on a touchstone.
“O meghadUta, though it will delay my message to my beloved, I encourage you to spend an entire day in Ujjaini absorbing the wondrous smells, sounds and sights along with moisture from rivers like the Nirvindhya. But next morning, be sure to leave even before the sun arrives to dry the dew drops on the lotus petals. Advance swiftly to Devagiri, the home of Skanda, the war-Lord, and the younger son of Lord Siva. Shower Skanda with freshly drawn water from the holy river Ganga. May the water droplets fall as gently on the Lord as if it were a shower of flowers that you’re raining down. As you thunder in joy, the sounds will echo and re-echo through the mountains and Lord Skanda’s vehicle, the peacock, will dance in exhilaration.
“When you reach river Charmanvati (now known as Chambal) and bend low to drink of its waters, what a beautiful picture you will make! To the celestial beings flying far above you and the river will seem like a sapphire suspended from a string of pearls. They’ll stop to enjoy the spectacle and go away exclaiming: “What a beautiful cloud! It seems as if he has stolen the complexion of the wielder of the sAranga .” (Note: Saranga is the name of Lord Vishnu’s bow. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva form the Trinity of the Hindu pantheon and they are regarded as the cosmic Creator, Preserver and Annihilator, respectively.)
[thvayyAdhAthum jalam avanathE shArngiNO varNachaurE
thasyAha sinDHOho prTHumapi thanum dhUrabhAvAth pravAham I
prEkshiSHyanthE gaganagathayO nUnam Avarjya dhriSHtI –
rEkam mukthAguNamiva bhuvaha sTHUlamaDHyEndhranIlam II 1-49 II
त्वय्यादातुं जलमवनते शार्ङ्गिणो वर्णचौरे तस्याः सिन्धोः पृथुमपि तनुं दूरभावात्प्रवाहम् /
प्रेक्शिष्यन्ते गगनगतयो नूनमावर्ज्य दृष्टीरेकं मुक्तागुणमिव भुवः स्थूलमध्येन्द्रनीलम् //१-४९//]
“Moving briskly, sail over Dasapura (now called Mandasor) and Kurukshetra. As your shadow darkens Kurukshetra, pay obeisance to that great battlefield. It was in Kurukshetra, a long time ago, that the epic Mahabharata war took place. It was there that the great archer, Arjuna, rained arrows that made his enemies writhe like the lotuses that tremble under your heavy showers. After bowing down to the memory of the heroes of yore, continue to move at a fast pace. Drink of the waters of the holy rivers Saraswati and Ganga before coming to rest on the Himalaya.
“Enjoy your rest on the mountain of snow, made fragrant by the musk of the Tibetan musk deer. Suddenly, there could be a conflagration. Frequently in these thick forests of sarala pine and bamboo, the branches rub against each other and the friction gives rise to a flame when the wind blows. The foliage is dry and a raging fire could ravage vast swathes of the forests in no time at all. The yaks wave their thick tails and the air produced further aids the spread of the fire. Quickly shower down your waters in thousands of jets and extinguish the fire.
“Hearing you thunder, the sharabha may think it is their sworn enemy, the lion, roaring. (The sharabha is a mythical Indian animal that is supposed to have eight legs, four of them on its back.) They will turn out in great numbers and attack you. Those who are truly great regard the pettiness of smaller people with contempt and remain unaffected by it. Let the impetuosity of the sharabha, therefore, be merely a source of amusement for you.
[yE samrambhOthpathanarabhasAha svAngabhangAya thasmin
mukthADHvAnam sapadhi sharabhA langayEyurbhavantham I
kE vA na syuhu paribhavapadham niSHphalArambhayathnAha II 1-57 II
ये संरम्भोत्पतनरभसाः स्वाङ्गभङाय तस्मिन् मुक्ताध्वानं सपदि शरभा लङ्घयेयुर्भवन्तम् /
तान्कुर्वीथास्तुमुलकरकावृष्टिपोतावकीर्णान् के वा न स्युः परिभवपदं निष्फलारम्भयत्नाः //१-५७//]
“Then, climb higher, towards Kailasa, the abode of Lord Siva. As your dark blackness encircles the ivory-white, snow covered mountain, you will look like a black cloth thrown over the massive shoulder of Balarama, the fair-skinned step-brother of the dark skinned Lord, Krishna.
“Your thunder, the pleasant sounds made by the bamboos filled with wind, and the songs of the kinnaras will combine to make a mellifluous musical melody – a concert fit to entertain Pashupati. (Kinnaras, like the yakshas, are demi-gods. They are divine entertainers. A kinnara has a human body, but a horse’s head. Pashupati is another name for Lord Siva.)
[shabdhAyanthE maDHuramanilaihi kIchakAha pUryamANAha
samrakthAbhisthripuravijayO gIyathE kinnarIbhihi I
nirhrAdhasthE muraja iva chEth kandharESHu DHvanihi syAth
sangIthArTHO nanu pashupathEsthathra bhAvI samagraha II 1-59 II
शब्दायन्ते मधुरमनिलैः कीचकाः पूर्यमाणाः संरक्ताभिस्त्रिपुरविजयो गीयते किंनरीभिः /
निर्ह्रादस्ते मुरज इव चेत् कन्दरेषु ध्वनिः स्यात् सङ्गीतार्थो ननु पशुपतेस्तत्र भावी समग्रः //१-५९//]
“You’ll soon reach Manasa. Drink of the waters of the beautiful lake(Note: The lake is now called Manasarovara) and have fun spraying the water on the hordes of krauncha birds, the golden lotuses in the lake, on Airavata – Lord Indra’s elephant – and on the fresh blooms of the wish-granting trees. (Note: According to Hindu mythology, there are five trees that are capable of granting boons. These are: mandara, parijata, santana, pumsi and harichandanam.)
“Refreshed after the sport, move swiftly northwards. You’ll reach a city whose lofty, multi-storeyed mansions appear to be holding up masses of rain clouds. The dark clouds hanging over the city of white mansions will appear like a woman’s dark braid interwoven with strings of pearls. You cannot miss the city, my beloved home, Alaka. Indeed, I see so much similarity between you and the city: the vivacious women of Alaka brighten up the city like your flashes of lightning brighten up the sky; the pictures that adorn the mansions of Alaka add colour to the sombre walls, like the many-hued rainbow adds colour to you; the concert drums sound like your thunder; the floors, paved with sapphire, are as dark as your complexion; and the towering mansions of the city rise up high into the sky, just like you.
[vidhyuthvantham lalithavanithAha sEndhrachApam sachitrAha
sangIthAya prahathamurajAha snigDHagambhIraghOSHam I
anthasthOyam maNimayabhuvasthungam abhramlihAgrAha
prAsAdhasthvAm thulayithum alam yathra thaisthairvishESHaihi II 2-1 II
विद्युत्वन्तं ललितवनिताः सेन्द्रचापं सुचित्राः सङ्गीताय प्रहतमुरजाः स्निग्धगम्भीरघोषम् /
अन्तस्तोयं मणिमयभुवस्तुङ्गमभ्रंलिहाग्राः प्रासादस्त्वां तुलयितुमलं यत्र तैस्तैर्विशेषैः //२-१// ]
“Once you reach Alaka, tarry not. Fly directly to my bungalow and deliver my message to my wife forthwith. But I can’t blame you if you find Alaka breathtaking and cannot spurn its attractions:
“The city is full of yakshas and kinnaras. We demi-gods never grow old and like young people everywhere, we’re a lively lot. There’s bound to be a lot of singing, dancing, romancing. The joie de vivre is infectious and you cannot but stop to savour their enjoyment of life.
“You’ll find the young women alluring though they use mere flowers to add to their beauty – faces bleached with lodhra flowers, sporting lotuses in their hands and fresh kunda and kurabaka blossoms in their braids, ears decorated with the delicate shirisha blooms and nipa flowers strung together to mark the parting in their hair.
[hasthE lIlAkamalamalakE bAlakundhAnuvidhDHam
nIthA lODHraprasavarajasA pANduthAm AnanE shrIhi I
chUdApAshE navakurabakam chAru karNE shirISHam
sImanthE cha thvadh upagamajam yathra nIpam vaDHUnAm II 2-2 II
हस्ते लीलाकमलमलके बालकुन्दानुविद्धं नीता लोध्रप्रसवरजसा पाण्डुतामानने श्रीः /
चूडापाशे नवकुरबकं चारु कर्णे शिरीषं सीमन्ते च त्वदुपगमजं यत्र नीपं वधूनाम् //२-२// ]
“The moon from Siva’s head lights all of Alaka with a gentle radiance; the stars add to the sparkle, their reflection on the crystal-floored mansions lighting up their interiors; a gentle breeze from the Mandakini river and the shade of the mandara trees on its banks keep Alaka perpetually cool.
“In Kubera’s palace, you’ll find horses as dark as the dark leaves on the towering trees, elephants as majestic as mountains and warriors who wear the wounds from their battle with the mighty Ravana as their ornaments. (Note: Ravana, who is the villain of the Indian epic, Ramayana, once attacked Alaka. He wanted to take away Kubera’s vehicle, the pushpaka vimana, which could fly across land and sea. Ravana managed to do what he had set out to. He wrested the pushpaka vimana from Kubera. But he wasn’t quite so lucky on another occasion, when his target was Lord Siva.
Ravana, proud of of his prowess, once promised his mother, a devotee of Lord Siva, that he would transport the Lord, with his mountain-abode, Kailasa, to her doorstep. The idea was that she could worship the Lord in person instead of his image in mud, stone or metal. Presently, Ravana proceeded to Kailasa and tried to prise it off the ground on which it stood. The mountain shook and all its residents trembled with fear. But only for a moment. Lord Siva responded to Ravana’s audacity by pressing down on the mountain with the big toe of his right foot. The Kailasa settled down firmly, squeezing the hands that shook it, till Ravana begged for mercy.)
“Taking your fill of Alaka’s beauty, slowly move over the city, looking for my dwelling. You won’t need any directions to find my house. Its gloomy appearance in the midst of all the splendour will mark it out.
“Light up my house with a flash of lightning. But let it be a mild flash, no more brilliant than the glitter of a row of fireflies. A brighter flash would intrude on the private grief of my family. A single flash will be enough to see the happenings in my house.
“You’ll find a lady lying on the ground, like a wilted land-lotus. Her eyes too will resemble a lotus, but a half-open one on a cloudy day, swollen as they will be from weeping continuously. Linger on and observe her a while. She’ll fondle her pet mynah and say: “Oh, sweet-natured little bird, sarika, do you remember your master? You were his favourite pet. Do you too long for his company? Are you also anxious for his return?” She’ll bring out a veena and painstakingly tune the strings, but when she begins to sing, her voice will break as the song contains my name and she’ll not be able to continue. Laying aside the veena, she’ll take a basket of flowers and count out the flowers, one for each day left for the day of my return. Then, with nothing else to divert her mind, she’ll lie down once again and try to sleep.
“See her pale lips, dry hair, unpared nails and dull eyes and understand her anguish. Being a kamarupa you can assume any form. So, adopt a suitable disguise and approach her with the message from me, her husband. Then, become a splendorous cloud once again and resume your journey, flying over new lands and unknown regions, wherever you feel inclined to go.”
With these words the yaksha ended his soliloquy. No sooner had he finished than a gentle breeze began to blow; the chataka bird, which feeds only on raindrops that fall fresh from the clouds, began a happy song; rows of cranes appeared in the sky as if to attend on the cloud; and Indra’s magnificent, multi-coloured bow added a sparkle to the dark grey cloud, like the colourful peacock feather that added colour to the dark complexioned Lord, Krishna. The cloud messenger, the meghadoota, soared into the sky and the yaksha’s spirits soared with it. He saw the good omens all around and felt sure his message would be delivered.
**** THE END *****