Sunday, February 24, 2019 | ePaper

Kalidasa: The Great Poet

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Literature Desk :
Kalidasa was a renowned 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 4th Century AD. His plays and poetry are primarily based on Hindu Puranas and philosophy.
Nothing apart from his works is known with certainty about the life of K?lid?sa, such as his period or where he lived. Little is known about Kalidasa’s life. According to legend, he was known for his beauty, which brought him to the attention of Princess Vidyottama and she married him. However, as legend has it, Kalidasa had grown up without much education, and the princess was ashamed of his ignorance and coarseness. A devoted worshipper of Kali (by other accounts, Saraswati), K?lid?sa is said to have called upon his goddess for help when he was going to commit suicide in a well after he was humiliated by his wife, and was rewarded with a sudden and extraordinary gift of wit. He is then said to have become the most brilliant of the ‘nine gems’ at the court of the king Vikramaditya of Ujjaini. Legend also has it that he was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka during the reign of Kumaradasa.
A terminus ante quem is given by the Aihole Prashasti of 634 AD, which has a reference to his skills; and a terminus post quem can be presumed from his play Mlavikignimitra in as much as the hero, King Agnimitra of the Shunga dynasty, assumed the throne of Magadha in 152 BC. The linguistic features of the Prakrit dialects used by some of the minor characters in his plays have been adduced to suggest that he could not have lived before the 3rd century AD. There has been great ambiguity regarding the exact date of K?lid?sa but in 1986, Sanskrit scholar Ramchandra Tiwari of Bhopal claims to have conducted a thorough research on Kalidasa and after analysing 627 archaeological evidences which included 104 sculptures, 30 pictures and 493 scriptural words determined that Kalidasa lived in the period 370-450AD.
In his works, Kalidasa did not mention any king as his patron, or any dynasty other than the Shunga dynasty, but several historians have credited the traditional account of Kalidasa as one of the ‘nine gems’ at the court of a king named Vikram?ditya. There were, however, several kings in ancient India by that name. One among them was the emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain who founded the Vikrama Samvat following his victory over the Sakas in 56 BCE. Scholars have noted other possible associations with the Gupta dynasty, which would put his date in the range of 300-470 AD.
His play about a couple in Vedic Puranas, Pururavas and Urvashi, being titled Vikramorvashya, with ‘Vikram’ for ‘Pururavas,’ could be an indirect tribute to a patron possibly named Vikram?ditya.
Kumar Gupta I was the son of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. The title of Kalidasa’s epic poem, Kumarasambhava, about the begetting of Kartikeya, the god of war who was the son of Siva and Parvati, could be an indirect tribute to either of these royal patrons.
The mention of Huns in his epic poem, Raghuvanaa, could be a veiled reference to the victory over them in 455 of Kum?ragupta’s son and successor, Skandagupta. Alternatively, the campaign of Raghu in this poem may have been modeled on the celebrated campaigns of Chandragupta II Vikram?ditya’s father, Samudragupta.
M R Kale in the introduction of his translation of Kumarasambhava and Saradaranjan Ray in his introduction to the translation of Abhijnana Sakunthalam place the date of Kalidasa to be about 56 BC or earlier. The main evidence comes from the works of philosopher-poet Aavaghosha whose date is in 1st century AD. A?vaghosha has used many passages similar to that of Kalidasa. Since Kalidasa was an original poet, it is extremely unlikely that he borrowed from Asvaghosha being a philosopher and mostly considered an artificial poet, and with a much more chance would have done so. Kale also adds that some aspects of language used by Asvaghosha seem to be later and the similarities in the styles suggest that their dates are not widely separated. Kale also gives much additional evidence that can be found internally from Kalidasa’s works to substantiate his claims. These claims, together with the facts of king Vikrama, Kalidasa’s love and knowledge of the city of Ujjaini, suggests that Kalidasa was probably with Vikramaditya of 1st century BCE.
Scholars have speculated that Kalidasa may have lived either near the Himalayas or in the vicinity of Ujjaini or in Kalinga. The three speculations are based respectively on Kalidasa’s detailed description of the Himalayas in his Kum?rasambhava, the display of his love for Ujjaini in Meghad?ta and his highly eulogistic quotes for Kalingan emperor Hem?ngada in Raghuvanaa (sixth sarga).
K?lid?sa wrote three plays. Among them, Abhijñanakuntalam (‘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.
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.
Abhijñanaakuntalam (‘Of Shakuntala recognised by a token’) tells the story of King Dushyanta who, while on a hunting trip, meets Shakuntal?, 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.
Vikramarvaayam (‘Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi’) tells the story of mortal King Pururavas and celestial nymph Urvashi who fall in love. As an immortal, she has to return to the heavens, where an unfortunate accident causes her to be sent back to the earth as a mortal with the curse that she will die (and thus return to heaven) the moment her lover lays his eyes on the child which she will bear him. After a series of mishaps, including Urvashi's temporary transformation into a vine, the curse is lifted, and the lovers are allowed to remain together on the earth.
Kalidasa is the author of two epic poems, Raghuvanaa (‘Dynasty of Raghu’) and Kumarasambhava (‘Birth of Kumara’). Among his lyric poems are Meghadata (‘Cloud Messenger’) and atusaahara (‘The Exposition on the Seasons’).
Raghuvanaa is an epic poem about the kings of the Raghu dynasty.
Kumarasambhava is an epic poem which narrates the birth of Kartikeya, Parvati being sent by her father to serve the meditating Siva, Manmadha attempting to create love in Siva for Parvati, Siva destroying Manmadha in his fury, Parvati's penance for Siva, Siva agreeing to marry Parvati, Siva and Parvati living in marital bliss, etc.
Meghadata 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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