The Heroine in Love

The casket of Indo-Sanskrit Literature, with its historical span of several hundred centuries, has safeguarded an inexhaustible treasure of literary embellishments and poetic ornamentations in terms of tropes, motifs, and images that represent recurring themes of love, consummation, and sexuality. Sanskrit dramatic traditions, especially, have been closely associated with the portrayal of romantic intrigues, parting and reunion of lovers, or instances of separated lovers pining for each other, against a backdrop of amorphous symbolisms from nature and other natural phenomena. Sanskrit poets, dramatists, and even artists have incorporated within their artistic compositions an array of scenic images of rivers, trees, clouds, mountains, gardens, seasons and so forth, to showcase the theme of the romance of lovers.

One such defining metaphor that signifies this phenomenon of the intrigues of love is that of ‘rain.’ Rains, according to Indian customs, are considered as life-giving; picturesque descriptions of rain depict it as being replenishing, renewing, and regenerative, almost as a source of life itself. After the drying heat of summer, the showers from the sky wash away the barrenness of the earth and usher in the joys of fertility, rejuvenating the earth with its moist fragrance. Artists of the Sanskritic school of literature have extended this strain of metaphorical exuberance of rain to depict the symbolism of erotic sexual reinvigoration—just as the clouds saturated with water precipitate at last to enliven the deadening atmosphere, the onset of rain reflects the awakening of desire within the heroine, who has long been separated from her lover. In Sanskrit drama, this heroine in love is often conceptualized as an abhisarika nayika—the unrestrained woman who, overcoming the various barriers of separation, finds her lover for the sake of gratification of her love.

An instance of this metaphorical representation can be found in Sudraka’s renowned Sanskrit prakarna titled Mrichchhakatika that dramatizes the tale of growing of passion and desire between the destitute Charudatta and the courtesan, Vasantasena—the ‘nayika’ or the heroine of the play. The fifth act of this play, titled ‘A Stormy Day,’ is the first climactic point of the narrative wherein after a stretch of four acts, the amorous longing of the two lovers finally culminates as they attain consummation. Vasantasena, witnessing the clouds gathering in the night sky, exclaims,

“Let clouds gather as they will; let it turn night; or let rain fall incessantly. With my heart yearning for my beloved, I care not for all of them.”

The gathering of clouds in this scene demonstrates the desire of union gradually building up within Vasantasena (This instance also serves as the artistic climax of the play before the narrative turns). The rumbling thunder of the clouds similarly becomes a metaphor for the passion that is palpitating with the throbbing heart of the heroine. The rains, in this scenario, become the source of arousing an undisciplined passion—a tumultuous ardor of love, which translates in the contextual versatility of the play. As the Vita describes,

“With their forms hanging low on the peaks of mountains, and resembling in color the darkened hearts of ladies in separation, the clouds are thundering…”

In Sanskrit drama, it is characteristic of the abhisarika nayika to be dressed in a splendid attire and be adorned with ornaments when she goes forth to meet her lover amidst obstacles such as torrential storms, terrifying serpents crossing her path, a thorn stuck in her foot, or the utter darkness of the night. In this play, heavy rains accompanied by flashes of lightening and the ensuing darkness by rain clouds serve that purpose. The very setting of the fifth act as a dark night with thundering storms, on the one hand, brings in an atmosphere of sensuality; on the other hand, through this portrayal, the playwright cascades the artistic finesse of his craft of writing a play.

The romantic heroine, the bashful Vasantasena, overpowered by ‘Eros,’ pleads with the God of the rains, Lord Indra, to clear the obstructing clouds so as to end her affliction, caused by separation from her beloved—the worthy Charudatta—and indeed, towards the end of the act, she finally succeeds in her cause. This is followed by yet another lyrical description of the rainstorm by Charudatta as he says,

“Here, this red lightning, desiring to be united with the clouds, has appeared of its own will and is embracing the sky, like a beloved mistress who, being in love, desires union with her lover at the advent of clouds and goes to him, of her own will, embracing him.”

Through this verse, Charudatta re-enacts the very metaphor of rain as a source of erotic awakening within a lover and the arousal of ardent desire to unite with the beloved. Rain and thunderstorms also serve as the physical and metaphorical obstructions to the heroine going to meet her lover, transgressing the boundaries of her dwelling. The act, at last, culminates as the protagonists embrace one another, leading to the fulfillment of their desirous longing as well as that of the storm, as ‘the sky yawns.’ The final scene of this act therefore resembles the typical image of a ‘heroine in love’—an image that is accentuated by the recurring metaphor of rain, a prominent leitmotif in Sanskrit arts.

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