The Cloud-messenger

In his elegantly lyrical poem, Meghduta, the great poet Kalidasa has narrated how a Yaksha is exiled from his home in the Himalayas, and forced to live on a peak in the Vindhya mountains for a year. He wishes to comfort his new bride, who has to stay alone in the Himalayas, but does not have a way to send her a message.

In desperation he begs a cloud to carry his message to his wife

 O cloud, the parching spirit stirs thy pity;
My bride is far, through royal wrath and might;
Bring her my message to the Yaksha city,
Rich-gardened Alaka, where radiance bright
From Shiva’s crescent bathes the palaces in light.

 A cloud is an unlikely messenger, no doubt. But there have been others equally unusual.

In some parts of Africa, ‘talking drums’ were used to send messages. The sounds of the drum could approximate spoken sounds, and ‘conversations’ could take place between two drummers a few miles apart. The message would be passed on from drummer to drummer until it reached its destination, often many miles away.

In earlier days, Native Americans used smoke signals to send messages.  A secret code would be used, with different meanings assigned to the number of puffs in the signal. The code would be different for different tribes. Generally smoke signals sent from the top of a hill signified danger.

Homing pigeons have been domesticated and trained to carry messages over long distances.  The message is written on thin paper which is rolled up and attached to the pigeon’s leg.  These carrier pigeons generally carry messages only one way- to their home, but they have been trained on occasion to fly back and forth.

Carrier pigeons were first used to send messages, by the Egyptians and the Persians, thousands of years ago.

In India, these pigeons were used by Tipu Sultan. They used to return to the Jama Masjid mosque- the pigeon-holes are still visible in the minarets there.

During the two World Wars, carrier pigeons were used extensively to send messages. In fact, a homing pigeon, Cher Ami,  was decorated with the French Croix de guerre medal for his heroic service in delivering 12 important messages during World War I, despite having been very badly injured.

During the Indian war for freedom in 1857,  freedom fighters used  rotis ( unleavened bread) and lotus flowers to spread the message of revolution.

How tame and prosaic in comparison are today’s means of sending messages.  A click of the mouse can send a letter through cyber-space in an instant. No waiting for a reply- that may come within minutes.

In the Meghduta, the Yaksha tells the cloud-

Learn first, O cloud, the road that thou must go,
Then hear my message ere thou speed away;
Before thee mountains rise and rivers flow:
When thou art weary, on the mountains stay,
And when exhausted, drink the rivers’ driven spray.

And then he describes at length, the route that the cloud-messenger should take.

No chance of composing such a wonderful poem of 111 stanzas, on how an e-mail should be sent!


[image of  ‘talking drum’- courtesy wikimedia]




  1. Manju,

    What a great post !

    With names like Yahoo and Google vis-a-vis an elegant Mehgduta, you can only expect a “CC:” world. Communication in the old days was a function solely of the receiver and sender, with great co-operation of the medium of transmission, which of course varied all the time.

    Somehow, the clicking world has lost out on the charm while gaining on the speed….


  2. So many medias were there to send messages. Though I have read about pigeons as messengers, you have explained it clearly, in an elaborate way.

    When I read about the drummers, I remembered the sound of clapping hands from one area reaching another area at the Fort of Golconda in Hyderabad.

    Meghdoot lines are so beautiful… aahh, how the route should be taken and where drinking water is available if the messenger is thirsty:

    Before thee mountains rise and rivers flow:
    When thou art weary, on the mountains stay,
    And when exhausted, drink the rivers’ driven spray.

    Beautiful lines, Manju. Thanks for the happy post, felt happy to read in the morning.


    1. Sandhya, I remember my family telling me about the peculiar acoustics at the Golconda fort. Was clapping used to warn people inside the fort that someone was at the gate?

      We visited Hyderabad last year, but since a lot of walking is required to see the fort, I could not go. From the photos my son took, it seems very impressive.


      1. If we clap our hands standing at a certain point (at the centre) below the dome at the entrance, it reverberates and can be heard clearly at the highest point almost a kilometre away. The guide guides us where to stand and clap. The sound was used to signal the arrival of the enemy, in those days, I was told.

        I liked that fort very much but I don’t know about how it is now, but when I went there some 5 years back, the pathway was stinking with urine. The architecture was very impressive.


  3. Nice post!

    Kaildas wrote that immortal poem, using the cloud as his messenger. I am sure a modern day Kalidas will not be handicapped only because messages can be almost instantly sent via email, Twitter etc. 111 stanzas were born from the heart; the speed of transmission would not have shortened them…imagine a message lying unread for days…imagine no access to the net…servers down… password forgotten…hacked password, mail deleted…endless possibilities!


    1. There are many interesting communication systems that I have not mentioned here- American Indian hand signs, messaging through pictures, etc. And there is writing and signs on stones at ancient sites like the pyramids, etc. that we do not completely understand.


  4. Lovely !

    The drums were perhaps the first way of group announcements !

    And when the pigeon flew in…that was the first time a tweet got real mean ! No matter what the modern day ‘twitter’ folk think !



  5. I have heard about drums and then I have seen that clapping also in few forts..really it is amazing to see that in all times how people find ways to communicate.

    But I wish to have a homing pigeon..what a good ffeling to have your personal mail, the charm of rading a letter is so different than reading mails,


  6. And the legendary mail runner – Harkara ( dak runner) – I guess it would have made us a lot healthier if we had to run to deliver our messages instead of sitting at a computer and keying in the words!
    Nice post.


    1. That’s certainly true, it would have been better for our health if we had to run to deliver our messages.

      There were mail runners in many countries, I’ve read.


  7. Only a true poet could have thought of using a cloud as a messenger!
    In today’s world, where we are so bothered about emails and faxes, cell phones and text messages, poetry in communication is completely missing.


    1. I agree, poetry in communication is missing nowadays.

      It’s nice to occasionally read literature of an earlier age, about the Yaksha’s Meghduta, or about Shakuntala writing a letter on a lotus leaf!


  8. Reaching out to near and dear ones in distant lands was a challenge in those days of pure bliss. Imagination would take over and this showed up in poems and epics of great writers of those times. One more effort was the message in a bottle sent across continents. One would need great faith to believe it would reach the intended receiver! These days, its all about spam mail!


    1. Yes, the difficulties of communication must have made people more imaginative, and interesting for us to read about their methods of sending messages!


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