The great works of Kalidasa (कालिदास)

Kalidasa - Great Works - og_cover

Who was Kālidāsa?

Regarded as one of the best Sanskrit authors of ancient India, Kālidasa (कालिदास) was a classical Sanskrit writer and a playwright. It is believed that he walked the earth somewhere between 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the reign of the Gupta dynasty.
He was also one of the Nine Gems (Navaratna) in the court of King Vikramāditya. In modern times, Kālidasa’s work has gained respect all around the globe and became a source of inspiration for many artists.
Mahākavi Kālidasa perfected the Kāvya style and the art of poetry in Sanskrit. Human emotions, presented in exquisite style, made his poetic works superb. Let’s explore the same in this article.
Kalidasa - Great Works

पुरा कवीनां गणनाप्रसङ्गे कनिष्ठिकाधिष्ठितकालिदासा।
अद्यापि तत्तुल्यकवेरभावादनामिका सार्थवती बभूव ॥

purā kavīnāṃ gaṇanāprasaṅge kaniṣṭhikādhiṣṭhitakālidāsā।
adyāpi tattulyakaverabhāvādanāmikā sārthavatī babhūva ॥

English translation:
In ancient times, when all the poets were counted, Kālidāsa was assigned the little finger.
But, no poet of genius comparable to his has existed till today; hence, the finger
next to little finger (i.e., the ring finger) is meaningfully named as ‘anāmikā’.

Hindi translation:
पुराने ज़माने में, जब कवियों की गणना की जा रही थी, तब कालिदास को कनिष्ठिका पर विराजमान किया गया। उनसे तुलना हो सके, इतने प्रतिभाशाली कवि का आज तक अभाव होने के कारण कनिष्ठिका के बाजू की उंगली का ‘अनामिका’ यह नाम अर्थपूर्ण हो गया। 

This is a very significant verse about Kālidāsa in the Indian tradition. He has not told anything about himself in any of his works. Also, no other records about him written by anyone else are available. Very little about his personal history is known, but it is evident from his literary works that he had traveled throughout India. With that, he was very much acquainted with the Vedas, Upanishads, Purāņas, medicine, astronomy, etc. Also, he must have been a modest and intelligent person of high culture and liberal ideas.

Interestingly, the above fact also reflects modesty and humility of the great poet that he does not speak much about himself in his works.  This very fact brings him to the category of ‘Great’ poets.

Further, in Raghuvaṃśam, the poet says:

मन्दः कवियशःप्रार्थी गमिष्याम्युपहास्यताम्।
प्रांशुलभ्ये फले लोभादुद्बाहुरिव वामनः॥

mandaḥ kaviyaśaḥ prārthī gamiṣyāmyapahāsyatām।
prāṃśulabhye phale lobhādudbāhuriva vāmanaḥ॥

English translation:
I am like a small person with small arms who cannot pluck the fruits which only a tall one can do, I will be ridiculed by the people (for trying to write on the great Raghukula), which requires eminent poet’s skills.

Hindi translation:
ऊँचे फल के लोभ के कारण अपने हाथ उठा रहे किसी बौने की तरह मैं भी मन्द होते हुए भी कवियश की प्राप्ति चाहने हेतु उपहास को प्राप्त होउंगा।  

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Works of Kalidasa

Some of the most noted and genuinely identified works of Kalidasa are –

The dramas:-

  • Abhijñānaśakuntalam (“The Recognition of Shakuntala”)
  • Vikramorvaśīyam (“Urvashi Won by Valour”)
  • Mālavikāgnimitram (“Malavika and Agnimitra”)

And the epic poems:-

  • Raghuvaṃśam (“Dynasty of Raghu”)
  • Kumārasaṃbhavam  (“Birth of the War God”)

And the short poems:-

  • Meghadūtam (“Cloud the Messenger”)
  • Ṛtusaṃhāram (“The cycle of the seasons”)

This does not mean that the other works were anyway less important and less brilliant. His genius has been recognized in India from very early times, as well as in the western world. His poetic genius has brought Sanskrit poetry to the highest level of elegance and subtlety.

His style of writing makes him different from other poets in Sanskrit literature. His style is pure, simple, genuine, and brief. An unaffected simplicity of expression and easy flowing language are the markings of his writings.

His diction is marked by the absence of long compounds, complex constructions, over-written rhetoric, and artificial puns

He exceeds other poets in the description of the noble, the beautiful, and natural scenery and phenomena. He is a mastermind in the use of similes too; take this verse from Mālavikāgnimitram, for example:

Kalidasa Makavikagnimitram 2.10

स्मयमानमायताक्ष्याः किञ्चिदभिव्यक्तदशनशोभि मुखम् ।
असमग्रलक्ष्यकेसरमुच्छ्वसदिव पङ्कजं दृष्टम् ॥(माल. २.१०)

smayamānamāyatākṣyāḥ kiñcidabhivyaktadaśanaśobhi mukham ।
asamagralakṣyakesaramucchvasadiva paṅkajaṃ dṛṣṭam ॥ (māla. 2.10)

Hindi Translation:
स्मित करने की वजह से जिसके दांत किंचित व्यक्त हो रहे हैं, ऐसे इस बड़े आँखवाली स्त्री का मुख अभी अभी जो उमलने लगा है और
जिसके केसर किंचित दिखाई दे रहे हैं, ऐसे कमल की तरह दिख रहा है।

English Translation:
The face of the girl with big beautiful eyes, and whose teeth are slightly seen because her smile is looking
like a lotus flower, which has just started blossoming, and whose fibers are partially visible. 

His works mainly focus on the suggested meaning rather than the literal meaning. Suggested meaning is said to be the best expression of sentiment in poetry. Hence, Kālidāsa’s works fall under the category of ‘uttamakāvya’ on the basis of Indian poetics.

Kālidāsa is considered as the representative of Indian Culture. His character follows the ideals of Indian thought process. At the same time, their natural feelings are expressed by him very delicately and effectively. Many Arthāntaranyāsas are used by him that are able to express deep meaning in few words. Some of them are as follows:

अर्थो हि कन्या परकीय एव। (शाकुन्तल – ४.२२)

artho hi kanyā parakīya eva।

Hindi Translation:
कन्या पराया धन है।

English Translation:
Daughter is an object belonging to someone else!

रिक्तः सर्वो भवति हि लघुः पूर्णता गौरवाय। (मेघ. – २०)

riktaḥ sarvo bhavati hi laghuḥ pūrṇatā gauravāya। (megha. – 20)

Hindi Translation:
जो चीज रिक्त होती है, वह हलकी हो जाती है, और जो भरी हुई है, वह भारी, और श्रेष्ठ होती है।

English Translation:
Everything of void substance becomes light, and fullness contributes to heaviness, i.e., respect.

Kalidasa - Great Works

अत्यन्तार्तिप्रशमनफलाः सम्पदो ह्युत्तमानाम्।

atyantārtipraśamanaphalāḥ sampado hyuttamānām।

English translation:
A good man’s wealth is intended to aid and succour the lowly and the lost.

Hindi translation:
श्रेष्ठ लोगों की सम्पत्ति का फल आपदा ग्रस्त जनों की पीड़ा को सर्वथा शान्त करना होता है। 

Meghdootam 2.46

कस्यात्यन्तं सुखमुपनतं दुःखमेकान्ततो वा
नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरिच दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण​।

kasyātyantaṃ sukhamupanataṃ duḥkhamekāntato vā
nīcairgacchatyuparica daśā cakranemikrameṇa​।

Hindi Translation:
किसी को भी सदा सुख और सदा दुख नही मिलता।
पहियों के घेरे की तरह (जीवन में सुख दुख) उपर नीचे होते ही रहते है।

English Translation:
No one gets always sorrow or always happiness.
States (of happiness and sorrow) keep turning around just as the spokes of a wheel keep going up and down. 

All of these peculiarities make him the best poet in the world of Sanskrit literature. He is significantly known as ‘Kavikulaguru’; i.e., ‘magnificent among poets’.

His works mainly include three dramas, namely ‘Mālavikāgnimitram’, ‘Vikramorvaśīyam’, ‘Abhijñānaśakuntalam’; two epics, namely ‘Kumārasaṃbhavam’ and ‘Raghuvaṃśaṃ’; and two minor poems (khaṇḍakāvya), namely ‘Meghadūtam’ and ‘Ṛtusaṃhāram’. ‘Kuntaleśvaradautyam’ is also a work assigned to Kālidāsa, but it is not available now.

Influence of Kālidāsa on Eastern and Western worlds

His writings made a great influence on the Indian and Western world. In India, these works became an inspiration for many later literary works. The traditions of the khaṇḍakāvyas, dūtakāvyas were started after the Meghadūtam. Also, the mahākāvyas Raghuvaṃśam and Kumārasaṃbhavam are two important Kāvyas among the five Mahākāvyas in the Indian Tradition.

Scholars like Rabindranath Tagore and Yogi Aurobindo were in love with Kālidāsa. Rabindranath Tagore has written a beautiful poem named ‘Cloud Messenger’ based on Meghadūtam. Yogi Aurobindo says, “Vālmīki, Vyāsa, and Kālidāsa are the essences of the history of ancient India; if all else were lost, they would still be its sole and sufficient cultural history.” With that, these works were translated into many Indian languages. They are being performed all over India till today.

The Western world had a miraculous effect of Kālidāsa’s work. Sir William Jones was the first one to translate Abhijnānaśākuntalam into English, in the year 1789. Then, it was translated into German, which was read by German dramatist Goethe. He was so overwhelmed, that he said,

एकीभूतमभूतपूर्वमथवा स्वर्लोकभूलोकयो:
ऐश्वर्यं यदि वाञ्छसि प्रिय सखे ! शाकुन्तलं सेव्यताम्॥

ekībhūtamabhūtapūrvamathavā svarlokabhūlokayo:
aiśvaryaṃ yadi vāñchasi priya sakhe ! śākuntalaṃ sevyatām॥

Hindi Translation:
हे प्रिय मित्र, स्वर्गलोक और भूलोक का अभूतपूर्व ऐसा संगम और उनका ऐश्वर्य देखने की यदि इच्छा हो, तो शाकुंतल का आस्वाद लो ।

English Translation:
Dear friend, if you wish to enjoy the unprecedented union of the Earth and the Heaven, and their enrichment; get acquainted with Śākuntala. 

When Friedrich Schlegel, a German poet, Indologist, philosopher, and pioneer of Indo-European studies, as well as comparative linguistics, came in contact with Shakuntala, he went to Paris, learned Sanskrit, and started the course of Indology in Germany. After that, all other works of Kālidāsa were translated and performed all over the world.

With that, the study of Sanskrit as well as the branches like comparative linguistics was accelerated all over the world. The Western world got attracted towards Indian culture and philosophy. Hence, Kālidāsa became an important connection between India and the rest of the world.

Hence, Kālidāsa is a milestone in the history of India. Though his personal details are still unknown, his literary works have been the source of delight and knowledge on Indian culture, Indian philosophical thought process, and wisdom for the whole world.

Hence, Bāṇa is very honest about his observations when he says,

निर्गतासु न वा कस्य कालिदासस्य सूक्तिषु।
प्रीतिर्मधुरसान्द्रासु मञ्जरीष्विव जायते॥ (हर्षचरित – बाण)

nirgatāsu na vā kasya kālidāsasya sūktiṣu।
prītirmadhurasāndrāsu mañjarīṣviva jāyate॥ (harṣacarita – bāṇa)

Hindi Translation:
कालिदास के आम्रमंजरी के समान मधुर और सरस सूक्तियों के प्रवाहित होने पर ऐसा कौन है, जिसके ह्रदय में उनके प्रति प्रेम का आविर्भाव नहीं होता!

English Translation:
After hearing the maxims of Kālidāsa, which are sweet like a mango-blossom and sensible, who will not be attracted towards Kālidāsa?


We hope you liked our version of the ‘Great Works of Kālidāsa’. We strongly recommend you to check out his work in detail. Here are some books that you can start with:

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  • N.DwarakanathReddy on

    Very interesting

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