Who was Kalidasa?
Regarded as one of the best Sanskrit authors of ancient India, Kalidasa (कालिदास, kālidāsa) was a classical Sanskrit writer and a playwright. It is believed that he walked the earth somewhere between 4th and 5th Century. During the reign of Gupta dynasty.
He was also one of the Nine Gems (Navratna) in the court of King Vikramaditya. In modern times, Kalidasa’s work has gained respect all around the globe and became a source of inspiration for many artists.
Mahakavi Kalidas perfected the Kavya 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.
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, the name ‘Kālidāsa’ has the meaning “A servant of goddess Kāli”.
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:
Works of Kalidasa
Some of the most noted and genuinely identified works of Kalidasa are –
- Abhijnanashakuntala (“The Recognition of Shakuntala”)
- Vikramorvashiya (“Urvashi Won by Valour”)
- Malavikagnimitra (“Malavika and Agnimitra”)
And the epic poems:-
- Raghuvamsha (“Dynasty of Raghu”)
- Kumarasambhava (“Birth of the War God”)
- Meghaduta (“Cloud the Messenger”)
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 than 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 excels other poets in the description of the noble, the beautiful, and natural scenery and phenomena. He is a mastermind in the use of similes also –
take this verse from Makavikagnimitram for example –
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 ‘Uttama kāvya’; 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 Arthantaranyasas are used by him which are able to express deep meaning in minimum words. Some of them are;
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 ‘Malavikāgnimitram’, ‘Vikramorvashīyam’, ‘Abhijnānashākuntalam’; two epics, namely ‘Kumārasambhavam’ and ‘Raghuvansham’; and two minor poems (Khand-kāvyas), namely ‘Meghadūtam’, and ‘Ŗtusanhāram’. ‘Kuntaleshwaradautyam’ is also a work assigned to Kālidāsa, but it is not available now.
Influence of Kalidasa on eastern and western world
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 Khand-kāvyas, Dūta kāvyas were started after the Meghadūta. Also, the maha kāvyas. Raghuvansham and Kumārasambhavam are two important Kavyas among the five Mahā –Kavyas in the Indian Tradition.
Scholars like Rabindranath Tagore and Yogi Aurobindo were in love with Kalidasa. Rabindranath Tagore has written a beautiful poem named ‘Cloud Messenger’ based on Meghadutam. Yogi Aurobindo says, “Vālmiki, 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’s date.
The western world had a miraculous effect of Kālidāsa’s work. Sir William Jones was the first one to translate them. Abhijnānaśākuntalam in English, in the year 1789. Then, it was translated into German, which was read by German dramatist Goethe. He was so overwhelmed, that he says,
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 Samskrta, and started the course of Indology in Germany. After that, all other works of Kalidasa 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, Kalidasa became an important connection between India and the rest of the world.
Hence, Kalidasa is a milestone in the history of India. Though his personal details are still unknown, his literary works have been the source of delight, knowledge, Indian culture, Indian philosophical thought process, and wisdom; for the whole world.
Hence, Bāņa is very honest about his observations when he says,
We hope you liked our version of the ‘Great Works of Kalidasa’, we strongly recommend you to check out his work in detail. Here are some books that you can start with-