Glory of Bharath  »  Literary Giants of Bharath - Part Three

Kalidasa was a Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language. His floruit cannot be dated with precision, but most likely falls within the 5th century AD. His plays and poetry are primarily based on the Hindu Puranas and Hindu philosophy.

Early life
Scholars have speculated that Kalidasa may have lived either near the Himalayas, or in the vicinity of Ujjain, or in Kalinga. The three speculations are based respectively on Kalidasa's detailed description of the Himalayas in his Kumarasambhava, the display of his love for Ujjain in Meghaduta, and his highly eulogistic descriptions of Kalingan emperor Hemangada in Raghuvanaa (sixth sarga). It is believed that he was from humble origin, married to princess and challenged by his wife, studied poetry to become great poet. Some believe that he visited Kumaradasa, the king of Ceylone and, because of some treachery, Kalidasa was murdered there.

Kalidasa wrote three plays. Among them, Abhij˝anasakuntalam ("Of Shakuntala recognised by a token") is generally regarded as a masterpiece. It was among the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English, and has since been translated into many languages. Abhij˝anasakuntalam ("Of Shakuntala recognised by a token") tells the story of King Dushyanta who, while on a hunting trip, meets Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of a sage, and marries her. A mishap befalls them when he is summoned back to court: Shakuntala, pregnant with their child, inadvertently offends a visiting sage and incurs a curse, by which Dushyanta will forget her completely until he sees the ring he has left with her. On her trip to Dushyanta's court in an advanced state of pregnancy, she loses the ring, and has to come away unrecognized. The ring is found by a fisherman who recognizes the royal seal and returns it to Dushyanta, who regains his memory of Shakuntala and sets out to find her. After more travails, they are finally reunited.

Malavikagnimitram ("Malavika and Agnimitra") tells the story of King Agnimitra, who falls in love with the picture of an exiled servant girl named Malavika. When the queen discovers her husband's passion for this girl, she becomes infuriated and has Malavika imprisoned, but as fate would have it, Malavika is in fact a true-born princess, thus legitimizing the affair.

Vikramorvasiyam is the love story of king Pururavas and celestial nymph Urvashi. The "Vikram" of the title is Chandragupta II who adopted the title "Vikramaditya", meaning "valiant as the Sun" - the name is chosen here to allude to how Pururavas reflects the qualities of Chandragupta. King Pururavas falls in love with a celestial nymph named Urvashi. After writing her mortal suitor a love letter on a birch leaf, Urvashi returns to the heavens to perform in a celestial play. However, she is so smitten that she misses her cue and pronounces her lover's name during the performance. As a punishment for ruining the play, Urvashi is banished from heaven, but cursed to return the moment her human lover lays eyes on the child that she will bear him. After a series of mishaps, including Urvashi's temporary transformation into a vine, the curse is eventually lifted, and the lovers are allowed to remain together on Earth.
Kalidasa is the author of two epic poems, Raghuvanaa ("Dynasty of Raghu") and Kumarasambhava (Birth of 'Kumara' or Subrahmanya). Raghuvamsa is an epic poem about the kings of the Raghu dynasty. Kumarasambhava describes the birth and adolescence of the goddess Parvati, and her marriage to Lord Shiva.

He has also written two Khanda Kavyas:
Rtusamhara describes the six seasons by narrating the experiences of two lovers in each of the seasons. Meghaduta or Meghasandesa is the story of a Yaksha trying to send a message to his lover through a cloud. Kalidasa set this poem to the 'mandakranta' meter known for its lyrical sweetness. It is one of Kalidasa's most popular poems and numerous commentaries on the work have been written.

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