By their very nature romantic moments are evanescent, spontaneous, and unrehearsed. It is sheer romantic beauty, be it of longing or rejoicing, of expectant waiting, of joy or remorse, of anger or jealousy, Shringara- erotic love as the Rasa Raja is indeed a testimony of the creative imagination of the poet, singer, dancer, followed by re-creation of that emotion by the reader, listener and spectator. Poetry, in its primeval form was oral and from that many new art forms were to emerge.
The names of Kalidasa, Bharatrhari and Amaru, among many others, are written in letters of gold in the genre of romantic literature. Kalidasa outbeats other poets in the description of the sublime and the beautiful within natural phenomena. Kavyesu natakamramyam (tatraramyam Sakuntala, i.e. among all the literary discourses, drama is the most charming genre and even among the dramas Abhijnana Sakuntalam is the most delightful one) is a popular maxim. Bharatrhari’s shringara has an unmistakable undercurrent of vairagya or renunciation. Even when Bharatrhari speaks of the pleasures of the moon and the beloved’s face he says, ie- once the mind has sensed impermanence, nothing is the same. Amaru paints the varied moods and nuances of love with words that evoke colourful scenes, sonorous with music.
Ritusamharam and Meghadutam set the precedent for those in the tradition. Kalidasa’s evocation of the romantic emotion depict a graceful sensuality and restrained passion in a world where trees yearn for the touch of a woman as much as a man would long for her embrace, messages are conveyed through clouds and the changing seasons are understood as the changing colours of love. The nocturnal tryst of the abhisarikanayika is revealed at dawn by the mandara flowers that have fallen from her hair and the golden lotuses, off her ears.
Considered the high point of Tamil literature, Sangam poetry, consisting of about 3500 poems, was romantic, called aham meaning inner or household. It also contained heroic poetry called puram meaning outer or public. The Tamil poet assumed the personality of the heroine and addressed God as she would a lover. Bhakti shringara arose in the Tamil country from a bedrock of romantic poetry on the one hand and a joyous life-affirming view on the other; it also eventually led to the creation of the Bhagavata Purana. The epistemology of metaphysics of bhakti is the same passionate longing for the love of Krishna, from which was to arise Prema bhakti or loving devotion to Krishna and which took the form of bhakti shringara of Chaitanya in Odisha and Bengal and bhakti shangar of Vallabhacharya in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Tulsidas and Mira in the field of romantic poetry, ritikavya, celebrated the romantic love of Radha and Krishna in sensuous and worldly terms; bhaktikavya was entirely devotional in character. Of the other poets in this genre the names that have influenced music and dance are those of Vidyapati, Keshavdas and Bihari. Vidyapati describes spring nights of longing that are made up of flowers in groves, humming bees, trumpeting elephants, moonlight, sandal paste and a bed of kunda flowers.
Tulsidas and Mira in the field of romantic poetry, ritikavya, celebrated the romantic love of Radha and Krishna in sensuous and worldly terms; bhaktikavya was entirely devotional in character.
In the genre of romantic poetry, the Vasanta Vilasa occupies an important place for several reasons. Written in old Gujarati in the 15th century and illuminated by paintings the Vasanta Vilasa forms a part of the phagu literature and celebrates the longing and joys of a nayika in the season of spring. Shadrituvarnan or the description of the six seasons, vasanta, grishma, varsha, hemanta, shravan and shisira is an important part of the kavya literature in Sanskrit. Kalidasa says: “Of all the seasons vasanta or spring is most important to those in love, the blossoms of spring are like arrows of Kama.”
The mango tree bent with red sprouts kindle ardent desire, the ashoka tree that bears blossoms red like coral makes the hearts sorrowful, the atimukta creepers whose blossoms are sucked by intoxicated bees excite the minds, the kimshuka grove bent with blossoms appears like a bride with red garments.
However, Sanskrit literature did not have barahmasa poetry which was a description of the seasons of the twelve months in Hindi dialects. Barahmasa compositions of Keshavdas – Chaitra- charming creepers and young trees have blossomed and parrots, Baisakha- the earth and the atmosphere are filled with fragrance but this fragrance is blinding for the bee and painful for the lover who is away from home. Jyestha- the sun is scorching and the rivers have run dry. Ashadha- strong winds are blowing, birds do not leave their nest, Shravana- rivers run to the sea, creepers have clung to trees, lightning meets the clouds, peacocks dance, announcing the meeting of the earth and the sky. Bhadrapad- dark clouds have gathered there is thunder as rain pours, lions roar and elephants break trees. Ashvin- the sky is clear and lotuses are in bloom, Kartika- woods and gardens, the sky are clear and bright lights illuminate homes, the universe seems to be pervaded by a celestial light. Margashirsha- rivers and ponds are full of flowers and joyous notes of swans fill the air, this is the favourite month of Krishna. Pausha- the earth and the sky are cold, people prefer oil, cotton, betel, fire and sunshine. Magha- forests and gardens echo with the sweet notes of birds and bees hum, all directions are aromatic with musk, camphor and sandal. Phalguna- women and men in every home play holi with gay abandon.
Surdas brought out the subtle nuances of philosophy and romance, in the togetherness and separation of the gopis, who are at once lovers and devotees at the same time. Surdas is able to bring out the subtle nuances of the Vaishnava philosophy of bheda-abheda, different-and-yet-not-different, of transcendence and immanence.