’Vani Bano Babhuva ha’ suffices that language manifested through poetic expression was born in the person of Bana. His magnum opus Kadambari stands out the most acclaimed as well as the best prose romance in Sanskrit and its appeal has percolated down till this day. The nascent appeal of Kadambari vivifies present readers despite the platitude of pun and paradox. The Indian rendition of aesthetics, rasa reaches its fullest manifestation. Bana forges ascetic purity and romantic passion, the crème of heaven and earth in a seamless manner of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala. Kadambari reckons a mundane tale of human sorrow and divine consolation and of death entailing a passionate longing for unison after death.
Unlike Harshacharita, Kadambari is imbued in romance that encompasses the novelty of the epic as well as drama. However the surge of love is insular to the hard world of reality but still it echoes and belches out the pent-up desires of an entire civilisation with its omnipresent man surging in a fantasy reverie of fulfilling the reality of higher fiction. The essential chassés of Kadambari is a sequel to Brhatkatha of Gunadhya that in turn is a sequel to Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagar. Sadly, Bana died before completing the romance, leaving behind his son to prove chip of the old block.
Kadambari abounds in sublime flights of imagination and rich descriptions. Bana’s richness of vocabulary, acquaintance with history, mythology, arts and sciences is really surprising and is indicative of his genius as an excellent writer of ornamental prose. The story is put in the mouth of a suka (parrot) who is the sage Vaisampayana of the previous birth and Pundarika is the upanayaka (subordinate hero). Embalming a tale within a tale remains a hallmark of that age of Indian literature. King Shudraka brings forth this parrot narrating its own story which offshoots to Sage Jabali and then Chandrapida and Vaishampayana interpolate their chunk of tale. Parallel love burgeons… The plot is extremely complicated and most of the characters are represented in their second or their third birth, so that the whole plot is involved in a deep mystery and the solution is found only at the end. In the beautiful descriptions, similes follow after similes and the main story is slurped with luxuriant imagery. However, long compounds, unfamiliar words, obscure and double meanings and strange mythical allusions as well as encrusting single words with unending epithets make the narrative slow and tiresome.
All the customary nine rasas are dealt deftly. The sentiment of sringara (love), both in sambhoga (union) and vipralabha (separation) finds its full scope and development in the amours of Chandrapida and Kadambari, and those of Pundarika and Mahashevata. The karuna rasa (pathos) gets exemplified. No one can surpass Bana in his vipralabha-sringara, for instance Mahashveta’s wailing upon tearing her asunder from her lover Pundarika is depicted making it heart-rending for readers. Bana suffuses all sentiments with equal dexterity. Anandavardhana, the doyen of Sanskrit literary theory is emphatic of Bana’s description of Chandrapida’s love at the sight of Kadambari as the best redeeming instance of delineation of sringara rasa.
The plot structure bears motifs of the popular folk-tales. The characters have divine, semi-divine and human type and sagacious nature. The plot circumvolutes the reincarnation and remembrance of lovers of their previous births. This tenet of Hindu epic lore is enmeshed to develop the plot to usher a crescendo and a happy denouement. The intended conclusion for each layer of tale remains insulated from the other at every point in the romance. Kadambari abounds in depiction of nature. Birds and beasts as in the folk literatures here too relate stories. Plants, creepers, the moon, the wind and the stars become infused with life. The omniscient sages wield their occult prowess. Bana revels in depicting nuances of nature’s sentiments. Perhaps, none other than Kalidasa can nudge Bana in his elaborate and sublime descriptions of forests and trees, rivers and lakes, splendour of morning and evening, the sun and the moon and the stars resplendent on the firmament, hills and vales, hermitages and cities, armies and animals, birds and beasts, gods and fairies.
Rabindranath Tagore admired Bana for his graphic portrayal that enlivens in modern times as well. His views on Bana goes—“The Sanskrit language has a polyphonic cadence, a harmoniously blended melody of sounds, and an inherent attraction unknown elsewhere…… Among the two or three specimens of its kind in Sanskrit, the Kadambari is by far the best.” Peter Peterson interjected in 1883—“Kadambari has its place in the world’s literature as one more aspiration out of the very heart of genius.” Western romances get scuttled with death unlike Indian genre that goes beyond any mortification. The sensibility typified remains perdurable to the passage of time unlike the western romance that got redolent with the advent of the modern novel.
Bana’s kutuhalena parvan (inquisitive mind), svabhavagambhira-dhih (penetrating intellect) and desantaralokana-kautukaksipta-hrdayah (wanderlust) heaped oodles of wisdom to ennoble his polymathic foray into literature. Kadambari and Mahasweta are two immortal characters that Bana has bequeathed to Sanskrit literature. Their unrequited love spanning three births is unfound in the history of world literature. The story upholds that love transcends time, space and death as well. Kadambari resounds with epigrammatic apophthegms –‘Fate is fickle’; ‘Diverse are the ways of the world’; ‘One must reap the rewards of one’s own deeds’; ‘Fortunes and misfortunes come in a train’. Such maxims of sorts hint at Bana’s philosophy of life.