अपाम् उद्वृत्तानां निजम् उपदिशन्त्या स्थितिपदं
दधत्या शालीनाम् अवनतिम् उदारे सति फले।
मयूरानाम् उग्रं विषम् इव हरन्त्या मदम् अहो
कृतः कृत्स्नस्यायं विनय इव लोकस्य शरदा ||
Apām uddhṛtānāṃ nijam upadiśantyā sthitipadaṃ
Dadhatyā śālīnām avanatim udāre sati phale |
Mayūrānām ugraṃ viṣam iva harantyā madam aho
Kṛtaḥ kṛtsnasy’ āyaṃ vinaya iva lokasya śaradā ||
Guiding the swollen waters back within their normal bounds, bowing low the rice loaded with grain, drawing out the peacock’s drunken desire as if it were a terrible poison – see, autumn is taming the wide world.
3.8 Mudrārākṣāsa – Viśākhadatta
The tumult of the rains gradually gives way to the stillness of śarad or autumn. The sky is free of clouds, water grows clear at the rise of the star of Agastya (not surprisingly says one poet – they heard he swallowed the ocean in one mouthful and are scared stiff) and the torrents of the monsoon become gently meandering rivers once again. The sound and light special effects – flashes of lightning, drumbeats of thunder – are replaced by a finer beauty, characterised by the superfluity of white, in the bright moon, the swans, the lotuses and the tall kāśa grass. The world is freshly washed and now sparkles in the sun:
अनुलिप्ता इव आभान्ति गिरयश्चन्द्ररश्मिभिः॥
abhivṛṣṭā mahāmeghair nirmalāś citra-sānavaḥ |
anuliptā iva ābhānti girayaś candra-raśmibhiḥ ||
The mountains have been washed spotless by great clouds and their glittering peaks now shine as if bathed in moonbeams.
4.29.27 Rāmāyaṇa, Vālmīki – translated by Rosalind Lefeber
Śarad is in every sense prasanna: clear, bright, pure and still. Her beauty, though, is in some ways like that of Estella in Great Expectations: ethereal and more about aesthetics than passion.
The rivers are more inviting, especially by contrast with varṣā when these same rivers were “pregnant” and unapproachable. Vālmīki talks of the rivers revealing their sandbanks like a newly wed bride slowly, nervously, reveals her thighs, and other poets pick up on this idea. Bhāravi describes a river whose sandbanks white cows are gradually leaving as if her white silk robe was slipping down. In the Haṃsasandeśa, the swan that Rāma sends to Sītā is invited to dive into the Kanakamukharā river and enjoy her, silently though and not for too long lest her would-be guardians, the tribes that live on her banks, catch him.
Śarad occupies the two months of Āśvina and Kārtika, roughly from mid September to mid November. From the Rāmāyaṇa onwards, this has been the time to start a military campaign: the roads are free of the mud that hampers travel, and the rain that makes it miserable, and clear nights aid navigation. Rājaśekhara in his Kāvymimāṃsa notes the rituals that a king ought to perform before setting out. This is also the moment at which Vishnu rises from his bed, formed of Ṥeṣa (king of the serprents). More importantly though, this is also the harvest season and the full moon festival – śarad pūrnima (‘autumnal full moon’) – which falls this year on 23rd October. The festival seems to have various sources and is celebrated in various guises across the country: for some it is the day on which Krishna summoned the gopīs to Vrindavan to perform the mahārāsa dance; others worship Lakśmī and still others take it as the day of the birth of Kumāra, son of Shiva and Parvatī. Two weeks later Diwali, the biggest festival of the north, celebrates Rāma’s triumphant return to Ayodhyā with thousands of diyas, candles and fairy lights plus a barrage of cheap Chinese fireworks and crackers. The poets too celebrate the bounty of this season, overflowing with milk and rice. One poet superimposes the season’s fruitfulness upon its white beauty:
काशाः क्षीरनिकाशा दधिशरवर्णानि सप्तपर्णाणि।
नवनीतनिभश्चन्द्रः शरदि च तक्रप्रभा ज्योत्स्ना॥
Kāśāḥ kṣīra-nikāśā dadhiśara-varṇāni saptaparṇāni |
Navanīta-nibhaś candraḥ śaradi ca takra-prabhā jyotsnā ||
In śarad, the kāśa grass is like thick milk, the saptacchadas are the colour of whey, the moon looks like freshly churned butter and the moonlight resembles buttermilk.
1797 Subhāṣitāvali – attributed to Gaṇḍagopāla
The crops that crowds farmers’ fields are bent and golden, groaning with ripened goodness – just like the McVitie’s biscuit packets. Poets imagine the rice plants bowing their heads either to better take in the sweet scent of the lotuses that grow among them, or perhaps in sympathy with the water that brought them to fruition and is now gradually disappearing. Cows too represent śarad’s overflowing offerings; their udders so full they trickle milk.
Passionate couples are less on display here as compared to other seasons, and instead we have the rice-girls and the cow-girls (and to a lesser extent their male counterparts). The girls who guard the rice sit in the shade of sugarcane plants and sing songs so beautiful that the deer who they would normally have to beat away from the crop forget their hunger. The cow girls are more complex and not dissimilar from the gopīs (‘cow-protector’) that play with Krishna. Many poets celebrate the wholesome goodness of the cow herders. Bhaṭṭi describes men innocent of the sadness separation brings, upright tax-paying subjects of the king and guileless; their women cast glances lovely but free of the wiles that accompany those of city girls. Arjuna, in the Kirātārjunīya, sees cowherders who are almost like brothers to their herds and villages that resemble ashrams.
Both the Bhaṭṭikāvya and the Kirātārjunīya though describe the dance of the cow girls, which captivates their heroes – Rāma and Arjuna respectively – and which, whether intentionally or not, certainly reveals their best features.
To view a full list of all posts on the seasons and their flowers, click here.