A Classic Treasure of Eloquent Literature -Kalidasa

The glory of finding the epitome of patience, virtue and beauty Shakuntalafrom the great epic Mahabharatato adorning Indian literature with Abhijnanashakuntala (Sanskrit: “The Recognition of Shakuntala”), a classical drama is taken by Kalidasa. Kalidasa, a paragon of every epoch has given lives to many masterpieces like Vikramorvashi(“Urvashi Won by Valour”), Malavikagnimitra (“Malavika and Agnimitra”); the epic poems Raghuvamsha (“Dynasty of Raghu”) and Kumarasambhava (“Birth of the War God”); and the lyric “Meghaduta” (“Cloud Messenger”). Widely recognized and celebrated all over the world, Kalidasa is regarded to be one of the eminentwriterswhoever existed. Kalidasa’s contribution to the literary world is immutable and changed world readers’ perspectives towards Indian literature. His works managed to hold an exemplary stance even after generations.

This self-efficacy writer’s works have been translated into almost all languages of the world. As like many authors, Kalidasa has revealed barely anything about him in his works that gives readers very uncertain knowledge about the writer. Scholars and researchers have speculated that Kalidasa may have lived near the Himalayas, in the vicinity of Ujjain and in Kalinga. This hypothesis is based on the detailed description of the Himalayas given by Kalidasa in his work Kumārasambhava, the love and loyalty he portrayed for Ujjain in Meghadutaand his highly eulogistic descriptions of Kalingan emperor Hemāngada in Raghuvamsa (sixth sarga).

According to folklores, once a scholarly princess decided to find a suitable groom for herself by testing men in her kingdom for their knowledge. Frustrated men in the kingdom who failed the test decided to send Kalidasa to her court, who seemed to be an unintelligent man. Kalidasa was humiliated due to his poor performance and was challenged by the princess. Consequently Kalidasa learnt Sanskrit and studied Puranas and other ancient texts that helped him to uncover his talent. Kalidasa named his first work with the same words that were spoken by the princess to humiliate him that literally get translated into “Is there anything particularly intelligent you can now say?” Out of these words, he came up with three classic works, the epic “Kumarasambhava”, the poem “Meghaduta” and the epic “Raghuvamsa". It is believed that he was one of the “nine gems” at the court of the talented king Vikramadityaof Ujjain. His works are living evidence for the rich literary culture that Sanskrit inherited. Kalidasa is seen as the archetype for Sanskrit literary composition even now.

 

Kalidasa’s most celebrated drama, Abhijnanashakuntalais generally considered to be the masterpiece amongst all of his works. Extracted from the epic Mahabharata, Kalidasa focuses on the life of Shakuntalain the drama. He brings in the character Dushyanta and how he willed to seduce the beautiful nymph Shakuntala. They get married soon and Shakuntala gives birth to a vibrant child. The king refuses to accept Shakuntala and his daughter. But, soon they get re-united in heaven. Kalidasa signifies the child’s birth, for it is “Bharata”, who is believed to be the eponymous ancestor of the Indian nation. Kalidasa recreates the story into a love idyll in which the characters represent typical aristocratic societal model. The heroine is depicted to be a girl of sentiments, selflessness and delicate nature, while the King, who’s supposed to be the first servant of dharma, portrays a character of protector of the social order, resolute hero, yet tender, and suffering agonies over his lost love.

Kalidasa’s precision in describing the fine beauty of nature was fulfilled by his elegant usage of metaphors that is matchless. The second play, Vikramorvashi(possibly, a pun on Vikamaditya) revolves around the theme of love of a mortal for a divine maiden. The very popular “mad scene” (Act IV­) in which the gloomy king wanders through a lovely forest admiring various flowers and trees as though they were his love is still considered to be a part that is open for interpretations. The third play, Malavikagnimitrahas a completely different theme and outcome-a harem intrigue, comical and playful, but not less accomplished for lacking any high purpose.

Kalidasa’s contribution to Kavya(strophic poetry) is incredible and show two different subtypes, epic and lyric. Long poems like Raghuvamshaand Kumarasambhavaare epics. The first poem recounts the legends of the hero Rama’s forebears and descendants; the second poem tells the picaresque story of Shiva’s seduction by his consort Parvati, the conflagration of Kama (the god of desire), and the birth of Kumara (Skanda), Shiva’s son.  These stories are mere pretext for the poet to enchain stanzas, each metrically and grammatically complete and redounding with complex and reposeful imagery. Kalidasa’s mastery in Sanskrit as a poetic medium is nowhere more marked. A lyric poem, the “Meghaduta” contains, interspersed in a message from a lover to his absent beloved, an extraordinary series of unexcelled and knowledgeable vignettes, describing the mountains, rivers and forests of northern India. Kalidasa has portrayed a society that is of aristocratic dignity and power in all of his works that shows the admiration he had for upper class people.

Kalidasa is reminisced to be the perfection that neither Sanskrit nor India would know again.  Kalidasa’s two minor poems called Khandakavyasare of unique format and have extensive interpreting qualities. His descriptive poem Ritusamharatalks about the six seasons by narrating the experiences of two lovers in each of the seasons. Kalidasa named his elegy as Meghaduta, which literally means The Cloud Messenger. This poem is the story of Yaksha, a longing lover trying to send a message to his lover through a cloud. Kalidasa set this poem to the ‘Mandakranta’ meter, which is known for its lyrical sweetness.

After many criticisms and commentaries written about Kalidasa, the one appeared in 15th century by KolachalaMaliinathuSuri is considered to be the one that brought the real essence of Kalidasa’s works. Most famous Sanskrit poets like Banabhatta, JayadevaandRajasekhara have praised and written tributes for Kalidasa. A well-known Sanskrit verse, “UpmaKalidasaya” praises his skill at Upamaor similes. One of the highly revered critics, Anandhavardhana considered Kalidasa to be one of the greatest Sanskrit poets ever. Through all these commentaries and criticisms, we come to know that Kalidasa’s original content have been modified to a great extent by constant copying and publishing through various centuries.

Kalidasa’sAbhijnanasakuntalamwas one of the first works of Indian literature that got translated into English and attracted readers from Europe. Goethe andHerderwere fascinated by Kalidasa’s works when they were again translated from English to German.Goethe quoted Kalidasa’s works as “To be in the height of his talent in representation of the natural order, of the finest mode of life, of the purest moral endeavor, of the most worthy sovereign, and of the most sober divine meditation; still he remains in such a manner the lord and master of creation”. Kalidasa’s works influenced many writers in Europe during the late 19th and 20th century. Camille Claudel’s very popular sculpture Shakuntalaserves as an example. There are many plays, movies and essays written based on Kalidasa’s life and works in many languages including Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and English. Kalidasa, though physically dead, his works give him the power to be immortal and eternally classic.

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