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Metaphorical structures in the similes of Kalidasa.

The Sanskrit Poeticians define poetry as figurative speech (kavyam alamkarah). The tropes or semantic figures contribute the cellular structure of the body of poetry (kavya sarera). By using tropes (arthalamkaras), poets not only expand the spectrum of mental images but also verbalize such reflections transformed into words of figurative language. Here, language works as an organic entity where matter and manner, thought and expression are indissolubly unified. Language functions on the twin axis of selection and combination in accordance with paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships for constructing the verbal code. Therefore poetry can only be understood by a minute study of the language in which it is realized.

Since poetic language is "the language at full stretch" (Nowottny, 123), words play an important role in this creative scheme (1). Bhamaha opines that kavya formation is like stringing of a garland. As flowers with different fragrances, various forms, kinds and colours are available to a garland maker, words of different sounds, meanings, forms, types and associations are similarly available to the poet. As fragrance is the most prominent quality of the flowers, so also meaning is the soul of the word. It is on the element of meaning (arthatattva) that the whole importance of a word rests.

Vamana, who introduced "sabdapaka" in his Kavyalamkarasutra, signifies it with special reference to "vaidharbhe" style defining that the delightful effect of the maturity of words (sabdapaka) results from what he considers to be the best mode of diction (vaidharbhe reti). He describes that in it the excellence of a word quickens and the unreal appears as real. He explains that the "sabdapaka" occurs when the words are chosen in such a way that they cannot bear exchange of synonyms (2). Ivor Richards also seems to agree with Vamana when he perceives that in the hands of a creative writer language acquires a life and identity of its own (1936: 131). Language, therefore, becomes--both code and message--a system of systems of signs, a sign being an intrinsic and indissoluble combination of perceptible signans and an interpretable signatum. Nevertheless, it has to be kept in mind that some linguistic signs occur both in the code and in the message; others occur only in the messages.

It is interesting that both the Indian and Western Poeticians recognize figurative language as a code which is opaque and indirect. Bhamaha speaks that deviant expression is the natural language of poetry. Descriptions such as "The sun has gone down", "The moon is shining", "The birds are returning to their nests", are, in the opinion of some theorists, pieces of good poetry. Bhamaha, however, thinks otherwise. He poses a question: "What kind of poetry is this?" (3) In his view such descriptions are only pieces of information sentences (varta) bereft of poetic beauty. Others such as Ruyyaka, Ksemendra, Kuntaka, Mammata and Viswanatha, building on these ideas also feel that the unexpressed goes to embellish the expressed, which shines in its undimmed splendour and consequently captivates the minds of the connoisseurs.

Therefore, an expression is understood as figurative, both in the Oriental and Occidental views, when its literal meaning is unacceptable because it contradicts our knowledge of the world. From the semiotic point of view, to use Saussurean terms, we observe that in a tropological sign the usual signifier-signified relationship is disrupted. "The oscillation between several semantic planes, typical of the poetic context, loosens up the bond between sign and the object. The denotative precision arrived by 'practical language' gives way to connotative density and wealth of associations" (Erlich, 185). Therefore, the potentiality of various figurative transfers leads to the 'levels of meaning' inherent in the text. Nevertheless, the multfunctionality of the text may lead to a variety of different interpretations depending on the hierarchization of various functions.

The question--"what makes a Mahakavi?"--gets answered when a poet is conscious of all those factors mentioned above. The key lies in the art of employment of limited medium of language having unlimited possibilities. It is the skill of expressing the deepest meaning in the fewest words which is considered the sign of a great writer. Knowing the language inside out along with the quality of being a genius certainly helps a creative writer achieve excellence.

A poet like Kalidasa exploits more consistently the full potential of language. After Valmiki, only Kalidasa is such a poet who could excel in writing in metaphorical language with such maturity. We find all elements of best poetry such as: guna, reti, alamkara, rasa, dhvani etc. in his poetry. He had nothing before him to look up as precedence of style except the Natya-Sastra. Nevertheless, through poetry, he changed a mere skeleton in a beautiful figure by investing it with a fresh poetic embellishment or has turned ore into gold by superfine, concealing ugliness by splendour and brilliance. He, therefore, stands supreme in the whole range of Sanskrit literature and has earned the richest deserving tributes and eulogies in glorious terms for his literary flourishes from the Eastern and the Western critics and scholars. "Kalidasa is certainly a poet's poet" (Balakrishnan 3). Jayadeva in his Getagovinda has called him Kavikula-guru (qtd. in Balakrishnan 6).

To build the metaphoric paradigm working in poetic language and to substantiate the hypothesis developed above, I'll make an attempt to analysize a simile culled from Meghadutam. The simile will be analyzed in three strata. The first layer will unfold the grammatical structure of the unit under analysis and will present the range of lexemes in the vocabulary i.e. lexicon of the given language. The second layer would construct the underlying proposition and the conceptual structure. And finally, the third layer will unfold the pragmatic value of the lexemes and the utterance; then unroll the suggestion constructing its emotive value.

   Padanindoramritasisiraujalamargapravistam Purvapritya
   gatamabhimukham sannivrttam tatheva/ Caksuh khedatsalilla-gurubhih
   paksmabhih cchadayantim sthalakamalinim na prabhudham na suptam //

      UttaraMegha, Sl.-30)

   [(Her) covering with her eyelashes, heavy with tears caused by
   sorrow, the eye turned, owing to delight previously felt towards
   the rays of the moon cool with nectar, entering through the
   lattice-holes, but fallen back as quickly; and (thereby) resembling
   a land-lotus plant, on a cloudy day, (with its lotus) neither
   opened nor closed up.]

[Level.sub.1] The Linguistic structure:

The first two feet of this verse stand as a pre-modifier for 'Caksuh' (the eye) of the Yaksini. Therefore, I shall not give a detailed IC for this clause and would attend to the main clause furnishing the simile.


The phrase "naprabudham nasuptam" applies both to the synecdochic Tenor "Caksuh" which stands as a part for the whole i.e. Yaksini and the vehicle "Sthalakamalinim" thereby presenting the common ground for comparison. I call the Tenor synecdochic because "Caksuh" is neuter gender whereas "Sthalakamalinim " is feminine gender and the common ground is also made feminine by adding the feminine suffix 'a' to the past passive participial root form as discussed above. Kalidasa, as a poet, is skilled and dext so much so that he maintains an equation regarding the number, gender and person of the objects of description. Since eyes by themselves can neither sleep nor awake voluntarily, the actual comparison is constructed between the Yaksini and the land-lotus plant. This will further be clarified in [Level.sub.2]. Hence:
        Tenor : Yaksinaya eaksuh
      Vehicle : Sthalakamalinim
Common ground : na prabhudham na suptam
Connector : iva

To understand the simile more clearly, the literal and the figurative elements are separated:

L: Caksuh khedatsalila - gurubhih


These text-gaps can possibly be filled literally as:

Ten: Caksuh khedatsalila - gurubhih

paksmabhih cchadayantim [duhsahatvat] na prabhudham na suptam

Veh: [Suryaprabham vina] Sabhreahaniva sthalakamalinim [napraphullita]

Lexical Choice:

The vehicle 'land-lotus' has been chosen from a range of lexical sets present in the lexicon. The word 'land-lotus' falls under the lexical category of Nouns. The table below presents the possible lexical sets:
Lexical       Lexical sets
category (N)

(sthala)      [Set.sub.1]  Yuthika, Ketaki, Kukubhi, Kandali, Kesara,
Kamalinim                  Navajapa, Kurabaki, Sirisa, Kundaksepa,
                           Kadambini, Kumudini, Malati, Lodhra, Mamjari,
                           Mandarpuspa, Kutujakusuma

              [Set.sub.2]  Nilakamalini, Swarnakamalini, Madhvilata

This brings us now to the level of proposition and conceptual structure.


The Propositional Strucuture:

I shall again remind here that the literal unit is labeled as: '[REF.sub.L]' kept under the linguistic Trame' and the non-literal unit is labeled as: 'Pred.' kept under the linguistic 'Focus'. Any non-literal concept being built in the 'linguistic frame* is termed as: '[REF.sub.P]' and the implicit literal referent constructed from the co-text or the context is kept in inverted commas (" "). Any modifier is labeled as: 'MOD'. Tenor:
                          Pred.                  [REF.sub.L]

   P1    (          paksmabhih cchadayantim             Caksuh   )
                       Focus                         Frame
   P2    ( [REF.sub.P]    Caksuh                        "Sadhvi"  )

                       Focus                         Frame
   P3    (  MOD           Sadhvi                        "Yaksini" )


   P1   (MOD           Sthala                            Kamalini)

The proposition indicates that it is the Yaksini which is compared with the land-lotus plant. Therefore, conceptually the Yaksini is mapped from the source domain to the target domain on the basis of comparison.

These domains can be determined by using semantic markers:
Yaksini (Caksuh)               Kamalini

[+ animate]                    [- animate]
[+ human]                      [- human]
[+ specific]                   [- specific]
[+ generic]                    [+ generic]
(- having stalk]               [+ having stalk]
[- hydrophyte]                 [+ hydrophyte]
[- floral]                     [+ floral]

The' Kamalini' is also associated with the concepts like: being beautiful, lustrous, long, sleek, with a halo and affected by sun and water. Besides, if the water level rises, it rises with it but if the level recedes, it does not leave its station.

[Level.sub.3] :


To speak in terms of English, the common ground is functioning as an adjective, which applies both to the synecdochic Tenor and the Vehicle equally as:

(Yaksiniya) Caksuh [right arrow] na prabhudam na suptam [right arrow] sthalakamalini

In this phrase, the verb root ?budh has been prefixed by the prefix '_pra' [pra + ?budh = prabudh ] which presents an interesting study.

The word 'Prabudh' has the following meanings:

[] wake or be awakened

[] expand, open (flower)

[] recognize

[] developed, manifested; begun to take effect (spell)

[] clear-sighted, wise

[] recognized, enlightened (mind)

[] inform; teach, instruct; admonish

[] awake, blown (flower)

[] waken, rouse; cause to expand or open

And 'suptam' means - feign sleep.

Since both these words are attached with negatives 'na', their meanings turn into negatives too i.e. the reverse of what is presented above. Therefore, at the locutionary level the utterance is--'neither awake nor asleep' but the illocution is a state of hanging in-between smiles and tears, delight and grief, recognition and dejection, enlightenment and obscurity, appreciation and admonishment. These words splendidly state their illocutionary value by describing the predicament of the Yaksa's beloved wife. They reflect her state marvelously and spectacularly.

Besides, another word 'amrta' also resonates. Though each word has its resonance and suggestion which is the hallmark of Kalidasa's poetry yet this word works like a magnet to gather many thoughts and reflections providing us a chance to have an insight into the poet's vision:


Firstly, the black clouds hold water-vapours. They shower it in the form of rain which works like amrta (nectar) for the flora and fauna. Everything in Nature regenerates refreshes and is invigorated. Therefore, such clouds bring cheerfulness and joy in the rainy season as well as fertilization and growth. They are the messengers of Romance too. Not only humans but animals also are filled with passion and admixed emotions. This is what happens with Yaksa too. He is separated from his dear wife. He is facing the pangs of 'viyoga' (separation). This separation has filled him with intense emotions and these emotions have become so powerful that he forgets the difference between the animate and the inanimate. He becomes one with Nature and calls the cloud his brother. The Sloka-5 of Purvamegha speaks of this state as: "kamarta hi prakrtikrapanascetanacetanesu". The Yaksa also upholds the cloud as being of divine origin.

Secondly, the sky is overcast with this kind of black clouds. Had these clouds been white, i.e., without water-vapours (Salila), the sunlight would have reached the earth but because they are black clouds filled with water, the sunlight cannot reach the earth. This affects the land-lotus plant because to blossom and be blown, it requires sunlight which is absent since the black clouds have shrouded the sky; likewise it cannot close itself because it is day-time.

Thirdly, just as there is the alternate rise and fall of the surface of oceans, seas, rivers etc. caused by of the moon and sun, similar is the feelings within the heart of the Yak sini since her eye anxiously goes towards the moon-rays owing to previous delight but returns back as quickly because now they are the cause of her agony. Besides, the eye-lashes of the Yaksini are heavy with 'Salila' i.e. tears. These tears do not let her eyes close and she cannot open them completely lest they may fall; equally the moonbeams would hurt the eyes since she is in the state of separation too.

The suggestion is that water and the sun are a life-source. Now the land-lotus is an aquatic plant which requires water as well as the sunlight as its life source. Kalidasa has used the word ' sthala' with lotus which suggests that this life source is missing or to be more precise, it is at least not in an adequate amount. Now, this specific land-lotus plant is given comparison with Yaksini thereby suggesting that she is away from her husband--the Yaksa and this has brought catastrophic results. Since her dear husband is virtually not present, she has to feed herself on his memories and these memories are just adequate to keep her alive.

Further, the land-lotus plant is deprived of the sun-rays which again is a life source. As a result, the lotus cannot fully blossom. Similarly, the presence and the love of Yaksa is like the sunlight which is required by the Yaksini to regain her state, youth and beauty. The essence of her life--her husband--is missing. This again has made her survival very difficult and causing her affliction.

Both these points are again suggestive of the sixth stage out of the total ten stages of 'Kama' (sensuality) whereby nothing interests the subject whether it is good food, entertainment or even self-grooming etc. In this stage everything seems insipid


Kalidasa has presented a very apt simile. The first two foots describe 'prabuddha' (awakened) state of the Yaksini and the next two foots describe the 'supt' (asleep) state. Though ' na prabuddham na suptam' is a contrastive (virodhatmaka) statement yet both the words are complementary to each other; in other words, being inconsistently consistent and interrelated. This speaks of and illustrates Yaksini's predicament.

The dexterity, insight and genius of Kalidasa is also manifested in his choice of words for he was cognizant of the suggestive, emotive and cognitive power of words especially in the citation of the word 'kamalini' for introducing the comparison of Yaksini. The Yaksini is a Padmini Stri and no other flower could describe her as Padmini than the lotus (kamalini). His grammatical skill is visible in his use of the qualifier ' sthala' making the word--' sthala kamalini' because he wanted to make the comparison look alike as the Yaksini was lying on the floor. The kamalini is virtually away from water and sunlight just as the Yaksini is away from her husband - the Yaksa, and his love.

Hence, decoding the metaphoric structure of this simile not only brings to light Kalidasa's pictorial quality, creative gift and vision but also illustrates how the metaphoric structures unfold themselves step by step. How words used accrue the picturesque and become semantically loaded. The skill to tap the right word and dexterity to naturally weave metaphoricity into the matrix of the text is what makes Kalidasa a great poet (Mahakavi).

Notes and References

(1) Echoes of the same idea in at a more deeper and kaleidoscopic level can also be noticed in Patanjali's:

aabdabrahmani nisnatah parabrahmadhigacchati--Maha-Bhasya, Uanti Parva.

   Adhanoddharane tavad yavad dolayate manah/
   padasya sthapite sthairye hant siddha sarasvati /
   yat padani jyajantyeva parivrttisahisnutam /
   tam aabdanyasanisnatah aabdapakam pracaksate /
                         --Kavyalamkarasutravrtti 1.3.15 Comm.

   Gato'stamarko bhatinduryanti vasaya paksinak /
   Ityevamadi kim kavyam vartamenam pracaksate / //

                                  --Kavyalamkara 11/92.

Works Cited

Abraham, Werner. A Linguistic Approach to Metaphor. Lisse: The Peter De Ridder Press, 1975.

Balakrishanan, Purasu. Glimpses of Kalidasa. Bombay: Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970.

Black, Max. Modals and Metaphor. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962.

Erlich, V. Russian Formalism. The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1955.

Guiraud, P. Semiology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.

Kalidasa. Meghadutam Ed. Dr. Sansarchand and Pandit Mohandeva Pant. 8th ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971.

Mammata. Kavya PrakaUa Ed. S. P. Bahtacharya, Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1961.

Nowottny, Winifred. The Language Poets Use London: The Athelon Press, 1975.

Richards, I. A. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. London: Oxford University Press, 1936.

Todorov, Tzvetan. Symbolism and Interpretation. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

Vamana. Kavyalankarasutravatti ed. N. N. Kulkarni, Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1958.

Dept. of English,

BPS Women's University,

Khanpur Kalan

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Author:Sharma, Amrita
Publication:Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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