The swan is to fly from Hampi via Tirupati, Kanchipuram, Thiruvallarai, Srirangam, Azhagar Koil (a temple near Madurai), the Thamirabarani river and then across the ocean to Sri Lanka.
It is the end of the rains, and thus the time that expeditions, both mercantile and military, can be begun. Indeed the very appearance of the swan heralds the new season of autumn – swans fly to Mount Kailāsa for the duration of the monsoon, returning only when the rain is over. The swan is thus promised an enjoyable journey: the peacocks who revel so much in the rain are losing their pride and their tail feathers, the lotuses and water lilies are opening, red bandhūkas are blooming and light white clouds charge through the sky:
आरक्तानां नवमधु शनैरापिबन् पद्मिनीनां
कालोन्निद्रे कुवलयवने घूर्णमानस्सलीलम्।
स्विन्नो दानैर्विपिनकरिणां सौम्य सेविष्यते त्वा-
The fragrance-bearing wind will attend to you, Sir, overseeing the rival fragrances shouting “me first, me first”. Moistened by the forest elephants’ ichor it will playfully spin round in the night-blooming kuvalaya forest, leisurely sipping the fresh nectar of ruddy lotuses.
पर्याप्तं ते पवनचलितैरङ्गरागं परागैः
स्थाने कुर्युस्समसमुदयाद्बन्धवो बन्धुजीवाः।
चूडाचन्द्रं पुरविजयिनः स्वर्णदीपेन पूर्णम्॥12
The bandhūka trees will powder you all over with red pollen dislodged by the wind, and appropriately so, as they are relatives of yours – they blossom at the very time you set off. Once you’ve been anointed you’ll look like the moon on Śiva’s head, smeared with the lac of Pārvatī’s feet and filled with Gaṅgā’s foam.
शारोपान्ताः शतमखधनुः शेषचित्रांशुकेन।
ऊढाः पश्चादुचितगतिना वायुना राजहंस
छायेरन्नभसि भवतः शारदा वारिवाहाः॥13
Autumn’s clouds will make for you an umbrella in the sky, my royal swan, propelled from behind by the wind at a speed to match yours, an umbrella with ribs formed by the sun’s slender rays, its border patterned with the multicoloured cloth of Indra’s lingering rainbow.
[NB: I have taken (rāja)haṃsa to mean swan. From an ornithological point of view this is probably incorrect, as swans are not native to India, but given the importance of the bird’s white colour as an indication of its purity and divine lineage, and its regal associations, neither goose nor flamingo nor crane (the alternatives for ‘haṃsa’) conjures up the image that the Sanskrit word evokes. So I have stuck to ‘swan’ and imagine a mythical bird which is firmly rooted in the conventions of kāvya.]
Venetia Kotamraju has been working in the publishing industry for five years, after moving to Bangalore in 2007 armed with a degree – sadly only one unlike most of her Indian contemporaries – in Classics and Sanskrit from Oxford. She recently resigned from her job to set up Rasāla in the hope of introducing the general reader to some of India’s finest forgotten poetry. Rasāla publishes beautiful Sanskrit verse with contemporary English translations in elegant and very accessible volumes, in print and eBook format with audio versions soon to follow.