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Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -10



In Sanskrit there is no work of prose occupying a higher eminence than Bana’s Kadambari. In every way superior to Subandhu and Dandin, the authors of Vasavadatta and Dasakumara caritra, who also flourished and wrote about the same time, Bana’s imaginative art excels. Even when the prose of Bana is heavy with verbal plays and reveals ‘cleverness in composition, its aim is what distinguishes it from theirs’. He obviously has a transcendent purpose, the attainment of the expression of true beauty.

It is the real artist’s creative power to portray vigorously and picturesquely the passions and emotions. The composition is apparently in the katha style, that is, it is a particular kind of composition which emboxes a narrative within a narrative. The advantages of this kind of composition are that it helps expression or rather self expression of each character within the story and the personal touch maintains interest in the story as a whole. The story of Kadambari is a complex one, but the main features of the story can be briefly outlined.

There was a king named Sudraka. Into his court a woman of the caste of the chandalas (outcastes) brings a parrot gifted with speech. This parrot is induced by the king to tell its tale. It narrates that it was reared by its father-parrot while yet a stripling. One day a hunter caught all the parrots on the tree where they dwelt. The father-parrot was killed but the young one escaped death. It was picked up by a hermit belonging to the Ashrama of Rishi Jabali, out of pity and compassion. When it was placed before the Rishi, the Rishi gifted with prescience narrated to his disciples the story of the parrot how out of karma it had become a parrot. Because of its foolishness on its previous lives, it fell down to its present low place. This story is faithfully narrated by the parrot to the king Sudraka.

Tarapida, king of Ujjayini, had a wife Vilasavati, and a brahman minister named Sukanasa. By Siva’s favour, Chandrapida was born as son to the royal couple, and Sukanasa begot a son also named Vaisampayana. The two boys were brought up together. On attaining age they were sent out on a mission of conquest. Chandrapida was given a wonderful horse called Indrayudha, and a faithful servant companion Pattralekha. For three years they went out conquering other kings till they reached Hemakuta. One day Chandrapida pursuing two kinnaras near Hemakuta leaves his followers and wearied of pursuit finally reaches a lake. There he sees a maiden, Mahasveta, doing penance. From here he learns her sad tale, how she met one Pundarika, the son of Rishi Svetaketu and Sri or Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth), how she fell in love with him and was loved, and how he perished while she hesitated to cast aside her shame and mate with him without her parent’s leave. She wished to die on the beloved’s funeral pyre but then a divine figure (Moon-God himself) carried away his body and promised her reunion, and in the meanwhile bid her to wait for that day. From Mahasveta Chandrapida learns of her friend and relation Kadambari. He meets her and falls in love. She too reciprocates but both of them are reticent about their overflowing love. Chandrapida gets a call to go back to Ujjayini from his father, and making sure he is loved by Kadambari, he returns to Ujjayini asking his friend Vaisampayana to bring up the army. A few days after, Pattralekha who had seen left behind with Kadambari returns and assures him of Kadambari’s genuine love and devotion for him.

Bana’s story ends abruptly at this place as the great master, it appears, died. His son however informed with the plot continues the story.

After a few days, taking permission of his father Chandrapida goes out to meet his friend Vaisampayana who he had ordered to come with the army after him. On the way he hears that Vaisampayana had disappeared he having insisted upon staying on the banks of the lake where Mahasveta dwells. Chandrapida returns to the city with the news and is blamed by the King for the loss of Vaisampayana. However the father of the latter censures his son’s conduct. Chandrapida however is sent back to seek his comrade. Chandrapida reaches the lake and meets Mahasveta who narrates to him that a brahman youth sought her love but she being faithful to Pundarika denied him love and when he pressed her she cursed him to become a parrot. He fell lifeless at once. On hearing this, Chandrapida fell down lifeless with his heart broken. At that very moment Kadambari comes there and is overcome by sorrow. But a divine voice reassures Mahasveta of reunion with Pundarika and bids Kadambari and her to preserve the body of Chandrapida which has lost its soul because of a curse but would revive later. Both Pattralekha and Indrayudha enter the lake. Indrayudha emerges out of the lake as Kapinjala, the bosom friend of Pundarika, and meeting Mahasveta tells her the truth. Chandrapida is an incarnation of the Moon-God himself, Vaisampayana was Pundarika and Indrayudha was Kapinjala. He also promises reunion. Kapinjala is however unable to say who Pattralekha was and what happened to her after her bath in the lake. Mahasveta becomes more miserable but consoled. The body of Chandrapida remains intact without showing signs of decay. Both his father and mother come to live nearby it while Kadambari looks after it.

When this story was told by the Rishi Jabali, the parrot began to realize that its previous lives were those of Vaisampayana and Pundarika, and now out of his folly he became a parrot, lacking self-control. Jabali tells the parrot to continue to stay on at the Ashrama and blesses it, that in due time, it would again get united with Chandrapida. But in a few days having got sufficient strength in its wings to fly, it sought to reach Chandrapida but was ordered to be captured on the way by the Chandala woman who now had brought it there to the King Sudraka. The Chandala lady when sent for said that she was Sri, the mother of Pundarika, who had the parrot caught, and now that the work of retrieving him by his father Rishi Svetaketu and herself had been completed, he was brought to him. Saying this she disappeared. King Sudraka realizing that he was indeed Chandrapida dies and awakens in the body of Chandrapida in the arms of Kadambari who at that very moment embraces it. Pundarika arrives there. The marriages of Chandrapida with Kadambari and of Pundarika with Mahasveta take place amid great rejoicing. Complete Happiness reigns at Ujjayini and Hemakuta.

Thus far the story told with enchanting vigour.

The art with which the great author has presented it is capable of being considered in many ways. Though a complex plot mixing supernaturalism, myth and fancy, it reveals a truly human understanding of the sentiments that move such supernatural and mythical characters. The story itself is not in outlines at least new. Its original is considered by competent critics to be the Brihat katha of Gunadhya on the basis of a version of story found in the collection known as Kathasaritsagara or the Ocean of story (translated into English by Tawney). But what Bana did with that story is something remarkable, if indeed he did get his outlines from that source. He gave it a new direction and raised it from the level of a mere katha to the status of a piece of art, a thing of beauty.

According to ancient Hindu poeticians (alamkarikas), a work of art must exhibit a chief rasa, poetic sentiment. There are nine rasas of which the chief ones that grant real happiness are sringara or love (in its double poise of union with and separation from the beloved) and santa, peace. The chief rasa of Kadambari is sringara or love. It is the love of Pundarika to Mahasveta which cannot stand a moment’s denial or hesitation on the other’s part, it is the love that Mahasveta displays in and through her self-sacrifice and penance and patient waiting and in her one-pointed love to him that even makes her curse Vaisampayana to become a parrot, a base sensual creature whom she unfortunately could not recognize as her own beloved Pundarika in another incarnation. It is again the love that Kadambari shows to Chandrapida after whose dead body she attends assiduously awaiting the day of union. These are wonderful portrayals of love that has become sublime and divine though passing through the physical phases. There is an ethereal air about this type of love. In these relations between the two sets of lovers there is nothing that is demeaning or disgraceful or vulgar. There is the sublime touch of the epic heroines in the two characters Mahasveta and Kadambari, which recalls the names of Damayanti and Savitri: a fate governs their separation and purifies their love through life and through death or rather through death as through life.

Bana was a master of his craft of expression; but more complete is his mastery of the psychological phases of the erotic in its elevated and sublimated forms. A brief extract from the description of the reaction of Mahasveta firstly to the first meeting with Pundarika: ‘Reaching home I entered the inner apartments of princesses; grieving at his loss I was never aware of anything: as to whether I returned or was still there: whether I was alone or with my maids; whether I was silent or speaking; whether I was asleep or awake; whether I was crying or not crying; whether it was all misery or all happiness; whether it was the yearning of love or a disease; whether it was a calamity or a happiness or restivity; whether it was night or day; attractive or disgusting – Being unfamiliar with the ways of love I understood these not”. On seeing afterwards the letter, Bana in the words of Mahasveta represents her state, “By its being seen, there was produced (in me) by far a greater increase of the evil consequences of the malady of my love afflicted mind, as in one who has lost his way by also losing his sense of directions; as in a blind man by a night in the dark fortnight; as in a dumb man by cutting his tongue; as in an ignorant man by conjurer’s waving peacock fan; as on a confused talker by the delirium of fever; as in one poisoned by the fatal sleep; as in a wicked man by atheistic doctrines; as in one distraught by strong drink; or as in one possessed by the action of the possessing demon; so that in the turmoil created in me I was tossed like a river in flood”.

The vividness of his comparisons, despite their multitude – here there are nine – the suggestiveness of their nature is one of the unique points of Bana’s art and style. While there is no doubt that many readers of Bana are wearied of this style where comparisons and similes and conceits are piled up in such rapid and unending continuity and profusion, in lesser hands they become painful art; but in Bana’s Kadambari there is appropriateness and brilliance, which is not just word play for the sake of play on words or puns. What Kalidasa is to poetry so is Bana to prose; in the use of upamanas none excels.

The vividness of the same sringara is represented in Kadambari’s case. Kadambari reproaches herself on her lack of self-control as becomes a princess of her station. “I was not afraid of the disgrace of being rejected by him (Chandrapida) nor did I fear the elders nor the censure of the public. And similarly lacking courtesy I did not mind that Mahasveta was grieving, in my stupidity I did not even observe that my friends who were near me would notice (my actions)”.

There is high seriousness along with or controlling the wildest passions of love, and contrasted with it, is the male love of Pundarika and Chandrapida, in the former plunging into an unbrahmanical moral degradation and round of lower earthly existence, and in Chandrapida as strange reticence had found its debacle.

Despite the fact that western savants hold that Kadambari is a pure work of art for art’s sake, Bana seems to have made a great effort to delineate and express some of the most profound ethical and spiritual or mystical concepts well known to Vedantins and finding expression in the Yoga Vasistha. The mythological background and different timings or times of the events of the triple and double lives of Pundarika and Chandrapida while that of Mahasveta and Kadambari continues to be just one eternal time can only be explained on the basis of the Yoga Vasistha conceptions. Kadambari was written by Bana to exhibit this wonderful nature of time and the triple paces and their unification made possible by the play of love devotion and faith. In this respect too Bana’s work gets the universal quality of wisdom, charm and beauty.



Bana utilizes the metaphysical theory of the Samkhya in the description of the birth of Pundarika. Lakshmi on seeing the Sage Svetaketu (the Parama purusha) conceives Pundarika. There is no acceptance of her love by Svetaketu. The progeny is hers alone though she offers this child to Him and He accepts to bring up the child. In Samkhyan Philosophy Prakriti through nearness to the Purusha conceives the category of Buddhi or Mahan. Though reflecting the beauty of the transcendent Purusha it has in it the quality of passion that was instrumental in the conception by Prakriti. Pundarika though learned is swept off his feet by love or lust for Mahasveta and even dies. Kapinjala indeed is made to accuse the mother of Pundarika for his amorous infatuation and death, swoon of love.

The life that follows, namely Vaisampayana, as is a son of a brahman minister, a lesser status than that of the previous. Love lowers him in the scale. He again falls because of his memory of the woman, a vague memory, a supreme principle of smrti; and again pays with his life. The life of the parrot is the result. The parrot is also granted smrti by the Grace of the Rishi Jabali but release is yet distant. The smrti causes the parrot to seek to return to its former love. But the Mother Lakshmi comes and rescues the parrot, her own son Pundarika. The mother or Prakrti, reminds the author, has been performing a Yajna with the Great sage Svetaketu (the Purusha) for the redeeming of their child. In the Samkhyan system, the prakrti is also the releaser. But the author of the Kadambari gives a new turn, the soul is rescued by the Mother and the primal Purusha. Mother is at once the binder and creator and releaser. But there is enrichment of the created soul though it had to go through terrific pangs of separation and frustrated love. The moral of the story again is Vedantic. Even love of the most wonderful should never be against rules of consent. It not only affects the individual but also his progeny. ‘Not only are we the inheritors of the virtues of our ancestors but also of their vices’ said Nietzsche, recalling the ancient truth of the Law of Karma.