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Ramtek — Where Kalidas wrote Meghdoot

RAMTEK is a small tehsil town that is well known for a number of reasons: it is a place of pilgrimage and tourist attraction; its orchards produce high-quality betel leaf; it is known for its sprawling lakes and scenic grandeur; and, above all, it is venerated as the birthplace of a great literary work, for it was here that Kalidas wrote his masterpiece Meghdoot. On the first day of Ashad, the monsoon month, lovers of literature gather at the Kalidas memorial, built recently on Ramgiri mound, to pay their homage to the great poet.


RAMTEK is a small tehsil town that is well known for a number of reasons: it is a place of pilgrimage and tourist attraction; its orchards produce high-quality betel leaf; it is known for its sprawling lakes and scenic grandeur; and, above all, it is venerated as the birthplace of a great literary work, for it was here that Kalidas wrote his masterpiece Meghdoot. On the first day of Ashad, the monsoon month, lovers of literature gather at the Kalidas memorial, built recently on Ramgiri mound, to pay their homage to the great poet.

Meghdoot has an uncanny quality of leaving the reader mesmerised as much by the delicacy of its romantic theme as by the sheer beauty of its sensuous imagery. The cloud’s journey from Ramgiri to Alkapuri, mapping the terrain from central India to the northern most area in the Himalayas, is also a travelogue forging the geographical unit of India. When Yaksha stands enchanted on a hilltop and, looking wistfully at the dark, bulbous clouds, weaves his magic web, the reader is transported to a different world and wonders where could Kalidas have written this work? Is the description imaginary or does such a place exist on this earth?

Indeed, it is at Ramgiri, a dwarf hill standing at about 500 ft above the town (Ramtek), where the poet stood and gazed longingly at the sky and thought of Ujjaini and his beloved. The first four lines of Meghdoot give a clear indication of Yaksha living in Ramgiri after his exile. Ramgiri and Ramtek towns have a long historical past. Ramgiri signifies “the hill of Ram” and the name Ramtek means both the hill (tekri in Marathi) of Ram or the place where Ram rested for a while before proceeding down south. It is also believed that Ram killed Sambuk here. Older names of the area are ‘Sinduragiri’ (the vermilion mount) and Tapogiri (the hill of penance); and both these have been found on an inscription on the 14th century Lakshmana temple. According to the legend, Vishnu, in his Narsimha incarnation, had slain the demon Hiranyakashyap whereby the stones on the hill were coloured red by his blood. Whatever the myth, it is a geographical fact that the rocks and stones appear almost blood red in the sunlight.

A painted panel depicting a scene from Kalidas’ play inside the smarak.
A painted panel depicting a scene from Kalidas’ play inside the smarak.

Now a significant question arises how and why Kalidas went to Ramtek from Ujjaini? There is little doubt that the exiled Yaksha is Kalidas himself and Alkapuri is Ujjaini and that Kalidas is pining for his beloved. History has it that during Emperor Chandragupt Vikramaditya’s time Nagpur and the adjoining area, which is now known as the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, was under the Vakatak dynasty and Rudrasen was ruling over the kingdom with his capital at Nandivardhan, now called Nagardhan. In 395, King Rudrasen got married to Chandragupt Vikramaditya’s daughter Prabhavati. Historians aver that the marriage was solemnised in Ujjaini with great pomp and show and that Kalidas’s Malvikagni Mitra was first staged on this occasion. Unfortunately, Raja Rudrasen died in 405 AD, in a military exploit, leaving the young Prabhavati with two sons to look after. However, instead of going back to her mighty father, she decided to stay on and manage the kingdom till the sons matured. It was at this time of trial that Emperor Chandragupt Vikramaditya thought of sending a few experienced and trusted courtiers to help his daughter. Kalidas was one of them. Another version is that jealous of Malvika’s love for Kalidas, Vikramaditya banished the poet-lover to Ramgiri.

Nandivardhan is just five km from Ramtek. It is possible that the poet often trekked nostalgically to Ramtek, drawn by its religious aura, serenity, the cool huge lakes, thick jungles and verdant valleys, and struck upon the plot of Meghdoot there.

Another question that crops up is: what is the proof that Kalidas was at the Ramgiri near Ramtek and not at some other place bearing an identical name? This query can be answered with the help of the folklore of the area. Many a time, folk songs or folk tales give authentic clues to history enabling us to reconstruct the past. In the Nagpur-Ramtek region, the songs of a nomadic tribe called Kaikadi help us solve some ticklish questions regarding Kalidas’s presence in the area. In one of the songs, the tribals sing of a man called Kali: “It is Rama’s Ramtek where Kali talked to the clouds in such an overwhelming tone that even the hills started shedding tears.” The reference here is to the rain. Further the song goes thus: “On Rama’s Ramtek, Kali made ink of his tears, used eyes as the bottle for ink and wrote the tale of his agony for which the hills stand a witness.”

The Ramtek of today is a tiny town with a tiny railway station, reminiscent of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi station, standing 54 km northeast of Nagpur. It is well connected and approachable as it is on the Nagpur-Jabalpur highway and the Mumbai-Nagpur-Howrah railway line. The nearby hills of Ramgiri are steeped in legends. As you drive up you are surprised to see vast silver patches shimmering in the sun. These are the lakes that abound in Ramtek. Your first stop is at a round structure known as Kalidas Smarak. It is simple and pleasantly coloured. You have to take off your shoes to go in. Inside, scenes from plays of Kalidas are painted on the walls. One can recognise Shakuntala with her deer and Yaksha watching the clouds.

A furlong or so away from the memorial, a flight of steps leads you atop a huge but crumbling citadel. Here are a number of temples dedicated to Dhumreshawar Mahadev, Rama, Lakshmana, Raja Dashrath as also to Varah (Vishnu in his incarnation as a boar). This figure is referred to in the inscription as “The Primeval Boar”. Visitors try to slide under its belly and if one successfully comes out, one is considered lucky. Monkeys play tricks to amuse you as go up the steps. At the top there is an eyelet called Ram Jharokha, which gives a panoramic view of the surroundings. The Bhosles of Nagpur, during their rule, took good care of the fort and maintained it well but it is in a dilapidated condition at present.

Source: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020504/windows/site.htm