Notes: The Raghuvaṃśa, Song I

07 Aug 2020

The Raghuvaṃśa is a sanskrit epic by Kalidasa, likely from around the 5th century. It follows a line of Kings.

The poet introduces the story as a self-deprecating man who nonetheless hopes for mass approval. He acknowledges that this comes at the risk of mass contempt.

He decides to focus on Raghu’s bloodline.

The people they ruled over were satisfied. Those who deserved to be punished were punished. Any wealth they gained, they gained to redistribute among their people. They didn’t proclaim much. They went to war for prestige, not for material gain. They were good lovers in their youth, and detached themselves from it in their old age. They Won with their deaths.

The poet positions himself as a simple conveyor of truth- it is the Raghus who deserve the prestige, not him.

The first Raghu was Manu, known for wisdom. Manu sets the standard, establishing the values of the line.

From this line we get Dilipa, who is tall and strong. Built like a hero. His mind matches his body, with a bias for action. He is a terror to his enemies and loved by his people1. The people love him as the sea loves- they reward him, but also present him with volatile events. “…as the sea yields pearls yet nurtures monstrous births.” Dilipa follow’s Manu’s values. Taxes are only taken to protect the people. His standing army is only for protection. We know our purpose by what we create- by what we cause. Dilipa was not afraid to spend wealth (he did not keep it all stored up for himself). He spoke minimally. He was secretly generous. He disciplined his pleasure (placing his desires below his purpose) through a sense of duty to his people. This resulted in growth for his people. His people expected him to nurture them, and he did. He married for his people, rather than for himself. He gave prestige to his enemies, treating them as if they were sick. He used love to heal them- and to cut them out, like a gangrenous limb.

Other kings grew depressed because they could not live up to his standard.

Sudakshina was Dilipa’s wife. She was a Queen who matched his values. Nonetheless, they did not have children, and this worried them. To find fertility, Dilipa turns his attention away from his kingdom and finds a sage, Vacishtha.

As the couple go to the forest to find Vacishtha, animals follow their rhythm. The couple are united (think joint attention) in the same way that the animals are with each other, and this attracts the animals to them. Their journey is aided by the enthusiastic help of their people, grateful to their rulers. This made the journey pass by quickly, since everyone is having fun.

The hermits are aided by the Sacred Fire- the fire of life. The sage himself glows with this inner fire. The sage asks Dilipa what’s up, and King Dilipa answers by saying that everything’s going splendid. Dilipa gives Vacishtha credit for this- it is the sage’s spiritual defense that keeps the land prosperous and the people healthy. Dilipa is ‘merely’ the man who does the fighting.

Heaven is won by giving, self-control, and purity.

Dilipa mourns his lack of children, and asks, “aren’t you also sad about my lack of children, Vacishtha?” The King says that every man owes three debts, and this debt (the debt- the duty of giving a child to this world) is not paid.

The sage tells Dilipa that he is infertile because he was not properly grateful to a sacred cow, in the past. Vacishtha instructs Dilipa to learn from the cow, to mimic her2 until he learns what she has to teach him.

Divine grace only comes from constant effort.

  1. A variation on the 1st Marine Division’s “No better friend, no worse enemy.” 

  2. This is not unlike animal work in acting, where actors take on the role of animals to hone their relationships with themselves.