- Time Period450 - 600
Kalidasa (AD ?450-600?) the greatest of the sanskrit dramatists, and the first great name in Sanskrit literature after Ashvaghoshha. In the intervening three centuries between Asvaghosha (who had a profound influence on the poet) and Kalidasa there was some literary effort, but nothing that could compare with the maturity and excellence of Kalidasa's poetry. Virtually no facts are known about his life, although colourful legends abound. Physically handsome, he was supposed to have been a very dull child, and grew up quite uneducated. Through the match-making efforts of a scheming minister he was married to a princess who was ashamed of his ignorance and coarseness. Kalidasa (Kall's slave), an ardent worshipper of Kali, called upon his goddess to help him, and was rewarded with sudden gifts of wit and sense. He became the most brilliant of the `nine gems' at the court of Vikramaditya of Ujjain.
There is strong reason to believe that Kalidasa was of foreign origin. His name is unusual, and even the legend suggests that it was adopted. The stigma attaching to the suffix `dasa' (slave) was very strong, and orthodox Hindus avoided its use. His devotion to the brahminical creed of his time may betray the zeal of a convert. Remarkably enough, Indian tradition has no reliable data concerning one of its greatest poets, whereas there is a fund of information both historical and traditional about hundreds of lesser literary luminaries. Kalidasa was well acquainted with contemporary sciences and arts, including politics and astronomy. His knowledge of scientific astronomy was manifestly gleaned from Greek sources, and altogether he appears to have been a product of the great synthesis of Indian and barbarian peoples and cultures that was taking place in north-western India in his day. Dr S. Radhakrishnan says, `Whichever date we adopt for him we are in the realm of reasonable conjecture and nothing more. Kalidasa speaks very little of himself, and we cannot therefore be sure of his authorship of many works attributed to him. We do not know any details of his life. Numerous legends have gathered round his name, which have no historical value. The apocryphal story that he ended his days in Ceylon, and died at the hands of a courtesan, and that the king of Ceylon in grief burned himself to death, is not accepted by his biographers. Listed below are the chief works attributed to Kalidasa.
Shaakuntal, with a theme borrowed from the Mahabharata, is a drama in seven acts, rich in creative fancy. It is a masterpiece of dramatic skill and poetic diction, expressing tender and passionate sentiments with gentleness and moderation, so lacking in most Indian literary works. It received enthusiastic praise from Goethe.
Malavikaagnimitra (Malavika and Agnimitra) tells the story of the love of Agnimitra of Vidisha, king of the Shungas, for the beautiful handmaiden of his chief queen. In the end she is discovered to be of royal birth and is accepted as one of his queens. The play contains an account of the raajasuuya sacrifice performed by Pushyamitra, and a rather tiresome exposition of a theory on music and acting. It is not a play of the first order.
Vikramorvashi (Urvashii won by Valour), a drama of the trotaka class relating how king Pururavas rescues the nymph Urvashii from the demons. Summoned by Indra he is obliged to part from her. The fourth act on the madness of Pururavas is unique. Apart from the extraordinary soliloquy of the demented lover in search of his beloved, it contains several verses in Prakrit. After many trials the lovers are reunited in a happy ending.
Meghaduuta (Cloud Messenger): the theme of this long lyrical poem is a message sent by an exiled yaksha in Central India to his wife in the Himalayas, his envoy being a megha or cloud. Its beautiful descriptions of nature and the delicate expressions of love in which passion is purified and desire ennobled, likewise won the admiration of Goethe.
Raghuvamsha (Raghu's genealogy), a mahaakavya, regarded by Indian critics as Kalidasa's best work, treats of the life of Rama, together with a record of his ancestors and descendants. There are many long descriptions, large parts of which are contrived and artificial. Only one king in this pious dynasty fails to come up to the ideal standard, namely, Agnivarna.
Rituu-samhaara, (Seasonal Cycle), a poem describing the six seasons of the year in all their changing aspects.
Kumaara-sambhava (Kumaara's Occasioning), usually translated `The Birth of the War-god', a mahaakavya relating how Parvati won the love of Siva in order to bring into the world Kumara (i.e. Karttikeya) the god of war to destroy the demon Taraka. The last few cantos are usually omitted from printed versions, being of an excessively erotic nature. This is especially true of Canto VIII where the embraces of the newly-wedded divine couple are dwelled upon in vivid detail.