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Friday, September 7, 2012

Glances from the IIGRS 4: Nature and the Meghadūta

I am presently in Edinburgh, attending the 4th edition of the IIGRS. Indology is somehow like a small family, but it is widespread over the world, thus conferences are often a great chance to see old friends and meet new ones.
I have attended two out of the three preceding IIGRSes. This time, the atmosphere seems more relaxed than before, partly before we got closer and more experienced, partly because the organizer (Robert Leach) is himself informal and easy-going. Maybe the IIGRS will end up resembling more a Coffee Break Conference, who knows?

Among the papers, I liked a lot Aleix Ruiz-Falqués' paper, A new reading of the Meghadūta, which pointed out some overseen features of the Meghadūta. The Meghadūta is a short poem (109 stanzas) by Kālidāsa where, after a short introduction, a Yākṣa who has been exiliated far away from home asks a cloud to go to his beloved one and give her a message. The longest part of the poem is the depiction of how to get there, followed by 14 stanzas with the message. For instance, Aleix showed how Kālidāsa explicitly states at v. 5 that a cloud, being insentient, cannot convey a message. Thus, the whole poem should be seen as depicting the folly of the Yākṣa and this creates a tension for the reader, who knows that this kind of folly is among the symptoms of love-in-separation and could even lead to death. Thus, Aleix suggested that the whole poem is tragicomic, like the Don Quixote.
Aleix also pointed to the fact that we usually describe the Meghadūta as being about nature. But, in fact, there is nothing like 'our' nature in the Meghadūta. Nor, I would add, in India in general. Nor in the West in general. In fact, what we now call nature is the combination of flora, fauna, landscape. It is a construction and not a datum. It has been 'produced' by poets, painters, garden-designers, etc., especially from the ones we group under the label of 'Romanticism'.

For more on nature in Indian Philosophy, check this other blog of mine (warning: in Italian!).


Dominik Wujastyk said...

On this last point concerning the non-existence of Nature as a category in pre-modern India, I gave a paper on the topic in Bhutan in 2009. The OHP is here:

elisa freschi said...

Yes, Dominik, I think your lecture makes the point clear. It is just a pity that the slides are not as clear as the content…did you consider having it published?

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