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Kalidasa

http://www.poetrymagic.co.uk/poets/kalidasa.html

By common assent, Kalidasa is one of the world's supreme poets. Apart from Shakuntala, however, which was known to Goethe and Apollinaire, Kalidasa's work is not well represented in European books or the Internet. Scholars even dispute Kalidasa's dates, though he clearly wrote for a highly-civilized princely court, either of the 5th century AD Guptas or the 1st century BC Paramara dynasty. Only a few works are undisputedly by Kalidasa – plays: Malavikagnimitram, Vikramorvashiyam and Abhigyanashakuntala; epic poems: Kumarasambhava and Raguvamsham; lyric poems: Meghdutam and possibly Ritusamharam.

Though dead in the sense that it is not widely spoken today, Sanskrit has been a literary language for three millennia or more. Some of the world's great literature – including the Bhagavad-Gita – is written in Sanskrit, and that enormous body of work still influences life on the subcontinent. Though there exist many primers, dictionaries and audio resources, Sanskrit takes a long time to learn (if not the seven years that Chinese requires), and the meter of its poetry has the further difficulty of being quantitative. Nineteenth century translation by Raj officials were somewhat trite and sanitized. Most contemporary efforts are workmanlike, only hinting at the splendour of the original.

Indian literature does not have the following among English-speakers enjoyed by continental or even Chinese literature. The reasons are probably the introverted attitudes of Modernism, somewhat indifferent translations, the Christian opposition to a frankly sensuous if not sensual imagery, and the impersonal and non-demotic nature of Sanskrit court poetry. Sanskrit poetry is literature of a very high order: it is not personal expression but a fusing of spiritual, sensuous and intellectual matters in a non-western tradition. To these excellent reasons for reading it, should be added a closer integration of poet and landscape, and the spiritual basis of its civilization.

Sanskrit is an ancient language, and the better dictionaries have large entries — 160,000 in the modified Monier-Williams dictionary at Cologne, for example. Reading the original Sanskrit requires extended effort, therefore, but the rewards are an appreciation of a beautiful and learned language, and a glimpse of traditions that enrich our understanding of south and southeast Asia.

Anyone taking a degree in Sanskrit will read Kalidasa, and most of the resources in libraries and on the Internet are indeed scholarly. Books include C. Rajan's Kalidasa: The Loom of Time: A Selection of his Plays and Poems (1989), and Hank Heifetz's The Origin of the Young God: Kalidasa's Kumarasambhava (1985, 1990), Leonard Nathan's The Transport of Love: Kalidasa's Megadhuta (1976), C. R. Devadhar's Works of Kalidasa (1984) and the various guides by M.R. Kale: The Meghaduta of Kalidasa (1969), etc.

Our suggestion: The Recognition of Sakuntala : A Play in Seven Acts. Translator W.J. Johnson. O.U.P. 2001. $9.95.

A lively verse rendering that makes a fair attempt at capturing Kalidasa's poetry. The book includes the version of the story from the Mahabharata, the likely source for Kalidasa.

 

Sanskrit language resources are here. An extended section on Kalidasa and translating Sanskrit verse is here.

 

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Kalidasa: life and works

A collection from various sources

Last update: January 16, 1996


 


Kalidas

From: Encyclopedia Americana
Written by: Walter Harding Maurer
University of Hawaii at Manoe

KALIDASA, (kaalidaasa), India's greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist. In spite of the celebrity of his name, the time when he flourished always has been an unsettled question, although most scholars nowadays favor the middle of the 4th and early 5th centuries A.D., during the reigns of Chandragupta II Vikramaaditya and his successor Kumaaragupta. Undetermined also is the place of Kaalidaasa's principal literary activity, as the frequent and minute geographic allusions in his works suggest that he traveled extensively.

Numerous works have been attributed to his authorship. Most of them, however, are either by lesser poets bearing the same name or by others of some intrinsic worth, whose works simply chanced to be associated with Kaalidaasa's name their own names having long before ceased to be remembered. Only seven are generally considered genuine.

Plays. There are three plays, the earliest of which is probably the Malavikaagnimitra ( Malavikaa and Agnimitra), a work concerned with palace intrigue. It is of special interest because the hero is a historical figure, King Agnimitra, whose father, Pushhpamitra, wrested the kingship of northern India from the Mauryan king Brihadratha about 185 B.C. and established the Sunga dvnasty, which held power for more than a century. The Vikramorvashiiya ( Urvashii Won Through Valor) is based on the old legend of the love of the mortal Pururavaas for the heavenly damsel Urvashii. The legend occurs in embryonic form in a hymn of the Rig Veda and in a much amplified version in the ShatapathabraahmaNa.

The third play, AbhiGYaanashaakuntala ( Shakuntalaa Recognized by the Token Ring), is the work by which Kaalidaasa is best known not only in India but throughout the world. It was the first work of Kaalidaasa to be translated into English from which was made a German translation in 1791 that evoked the often quoted admiration by Goethe. The raw material for this play, which usually is called in English simply Shaakuntala after the name of the heroine, is contained in the Mahaabhaarata and in similar form also in the PadmapuraaNa, but these versions seem crude and primitive when compared with Kaalidaasa's polished and refined treatment of the story. In bare outline the story of the play is as follows: King Dushhyanta, while on a hunting expedition, meets the hermit-girl Shakuntalaa, whom he marries in the hermitage by a ceremony of mutual consent. Obliged by affairs of state to return to his palace, he gives Shakuntalaa his signet ring, promising to send for her later. But when Shakuntalaa comes to the court for their reunion, pregnant with his child, Dushhyanta fails to acknowledge her as his wife because of a curse. The spell is subsequently broken by the discovery of the ring, which Shakuntalaa had lost on her way to the court. The couple are later reunited, and all ends happily.

The influence of the AbhiGYaanashaakuntala outside India is evident not only in the abundance of translations in many languages, but also in its adaptation to the operatic stage by Paderewski, Weinggartner, and Alfano.

Poems. In addition to these three plays Kaalidaasa wrote two long epic poems, the Kumaarasambhava ( Birth of Kumaara) and the Raghuvamsha ( Dynasty of Raghu). The former is concerned with the events that lead to the marriage of the god Shiva and Paarvatii, daughter of the Himaalaya. This union was desired by the gods for the production of a son, Kumaara, god of war, who would help them defeat the demon Taaraka. The gods induce Kaama, god of love, to discharge an amatory arrow at Siva who is engrossed in meditation. Angered by this interruption of his austerities, he burns Kaama to ashes with a glance of his third eye. But love for Paarvatii has been aroused, and it culminates in their marriage.

The Raghuvamsha treats of the family to which the great hero Rama belonged, commencing with its earliest antecedents and encapsulating the principal events told in the RaamaayaNa of Vaalmikii. But like the Kumaarasambhava, the last nine cantos of which are clearly the addition of another poet, the Raghuvamsha ends rather abruptly, suggesting either that it was left unfinished by the poet or that its final portion was lost early.

Finally there are two lyric poems, the Meghaduuta ( Cloud Messenger) and the Ritusamhaara ( Description of the Seasons). The latter, if at all a genuine work of Kaalidaasa, must surely be regarded as a youthful composition, as it is distinguished by rather exaggerated and overly exuberant depictions of nature, such as are not elsewhere typical of the poet. It is of tangential interest, however, that the Ritusamhaara, published in Bengal in 1792, was the first book to be printed in Sanskrit.

On the other hand, the Meghaduuta, until the 1960's hardly known outside India, is in many ways the finest and most perfect of all Kaalidaasa's works and certainly one of the masterpiece of world literature. A short poem of 111 stanzas, it is founded at once upon the barest and yet most original of plots. For some unexplained dereliction of duty, a Yaksha, or attendant of Kubera, god of wealth, has been sent by his lord into yearlong exile in the mountains of central India, far away from his beloved wife on Mount Kailasa in the Himaalaya. At the opening of the poem, particularly distraught and hapless at the onset of the rains when the sky is dark and gloomy with clouds, the yaksa opens his heart to a cloud hugging close the mountain top. He requests it mere aggregation of smoke, lightning, water, and wind that it is, to convey a message of consolation to his beloved while on its northward course. The Yaksha then describes the many captivating sights that are in store for the cloud on its way to the fabulous city of Alakaa, where his wife languishes amid her memories of him. Throughout the Meghaduuta, as perhaps nowhere else So plentifully in Kaalidaasa's works, are an unvarying› freshness of inspiration and charm, delight imagerry and fancy, profound insight into the emotions, and a oneness with the phenomena of nature. Moreover, the fluidity and beauty of the language are probably unmatched in Sanskrit literature, a feature all the more remarkable for its inevitable loss in translation.


Kalidasa

From: The Hindu World Part I
Written by: Benjamin Walker, 1968

Kalidasa (AD ?350-600?) the greatest of the sanskrit dramatists, and the first great name in Sanskrit literature after Ashvaghoshha. In the intervening three centuries between Asvaghosha (who had a profound influence on the poet) and Kalidasa there was some literary effort, but nothing that could compare with the maturity and excellence of Kalidasa's poetry. Virtually no facts are known about his life, although colourful legends abound. Physically handsome, he was supposed to have been a very dull child, and grew up quite uneducated. Through the match-making efforts of a scheming minister he was married to a princess who was ashamed of his ignorance and coarseness. Kalidasa (Kall's slave), an ardent worshipper of Kali, called upon his goddess to help him, and was rewarded with sudden gifts of wit and sense. He became the most brilliant of the `nine gems' at the court of Vikramaditya of Ujjain.

There is strong reason to believe that Kalidasa was of foreign origin. His name is unusual, and even the legend suggests that it was adopted. The stigma attaching to the suffix `dasa' (slave) was very strong, and orthodox Hindus avoided its use. His devotion to the brahminical creed of his time may betray the zeal of a convert. Remarkably enough, Indian tradition has no reliable data concerning one of its greatest poets, whereas there is a fund of information both historical and traditional about hundreds of lesser literary luminaries. Kalidasa was well acquainted with contemporary sciences and arts, including politics and astronomy. His knowledge of scientific astronomy was manifestly gleaned from Greek sources, and altogether he appears to have been a product of the great synthesis of Indian and barbarian peoples and cultures that was taking place in north-western India in his day. Dr S. Radhakrishnan says, `Whichever date we adopt for him we are in the realm of reasonable conjecture and nothing more. Kalidasa speaks very little of himself, and we cannot therefore be sure of his authorship of many works attributed to him. We do not know any details of his life. Numerous legends have gathered round his name, which have no historical value' (II, p. ii). The apocryphal story that he ended his days in Ceylon, and died at the hands of a courtesan, and that the king of Ceylon in grief burned himself to death, is not accepted by his biographers. Listed below are the chief works attributed to Kalidasa.

Shaakuntal, with a theme borrowed from the Mahabharata, is a drama in seven acts, rich in creative fancy. It is a masterpiece of dramatic skill and poetic diction, expressing tender and passionate sentiments with gentleness and moderation, so lacking in most Indian literary works. It received enthusiastic praise from Goethe.

Malavikaagnimitra (Malavika and Agnimitra) tells the story of the love of Agnimitra of Vidisha, king of the Shungas, for the beautiful handmaiden of his chief queen. In the end she is discovered to be of royal birth and is accepted as one of his queens. The play contains an account of the raajasuuya sacrifice performed by Pushyamitra, and a rather tiresome exposition of a theory on music and acting. It is not a play of the first order.

Vikramorvashi (Urvashii won by Valour), a drama of the troTaka class relating how king Pururavas rescues the nymph Urvashii from the demons. Summoned by Indra he is obliged to part from her. The fourth act on the madness of Pururavas is unique. Apart from the extraordinary soliloquy of the demented lover in search of his beloved, it contains several verses in Prakrit. After many trials the lovers are reunited in a happy ending.

Meghaduuta (Cloud Messenger): the theme of this long lyrical poem is a message sent by an exiled yaksha in Central India to his wife in the Himalayas, his envoy being a megha or cloud. Its beautiful descriptions of nature and the delicate expressions of love in which passion is purified and desire ennobled, likewise won the admiration of Goethe.

Raghuvamsha (Raghu's genealogy), a mahaakavya, regarded by Indian critics as Kalidasa's best work, treats of the life of Rama, together with a record of his ancestors and descendants. There are many long descriptions, large parts of which are contrived and artificial. Only one king in this pious dynasty fails to come up to the ideal standard, namely, Agnivarna.

Rituu-samhaara, (Seasonal Cycle), a poem describing the six seasons of the year in all their changing aspects.

Kumaara-sambhava (Kumaara's Occasioning), usually translated `The Birth of the War-god', a mahaakavya relating how Parvati won the love of Siva in order to bring into the world Kumara (i.e. Karttikeya) the god of war to destroy the demon Taraka. The last few cantos are usually omitted from printed versions, being of an excessively erotic nature. This is especially true of Canto VIII where the embraces of the newly-wedded divine couple are dwelled upon in vivid detail.

Great as Kalidasa was, it has been observed that he had his literary weaknesses. He showed no interest in the social problems of his day; his plays do not reflect the tumultuous times in which he lived; he felt no sympathy for the lot of the common man; his work is overburdened with description, and is sentimental, wordy and at times coarse. Within his range he was unsurpassed by any of the dramatists who wrote in the Sanskrit language, but this does not amount to much, for the general standard of Sanskrit drama is not on a par with the best elsewhere. Comparing his works with those of the Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Europeans, and by the same strict standards of criticism, Max Muller declares, `Kalidasa's plays are not superior to many plays that have been allowed to rest in dust and peace on the shelves of our libraries'.


Kalidasa

by Shashikant Joshi

Kalidas!!!!

Wow! What do I say about him. He is my idol!! Here are some extracts from the `prastaavanaa' (preface) of Kumarasambhavam, translated by Pt. Praduman Pandey. I am leaving aside technical details.

My main aim was to give the story of Kalidasa's gaining wisdom, but I find some other stuff to be of general interest. See how historians/literature-researchers tackle such simple questions as when was Kalidasa born, where did he live.

There is lot of descrepancy about his life time, place of birth and even some of his works!!

Kalidasa's Life Time

There are eight hypothesis about his lifetime. The main logics, ecidences are as follows:
 

  • 1. 6th century AD, Yashodharman defeated Mihirkul of HooN clan. Dr. Harnely says this Yashodharman is kalidas's Vikramaaditya. Flaw: Y. never tok the title of Vikramaaditya
     
  • 2. Fargusen says that 6th century AD, there was a king Vikramaaditya in Ujjayini (present day Ujjain). he defeated Shakas, started `Vikram-samvat' calendar, starting it 600 years back 57BC. Prof. Max Muller basing on this said that Kalidasa was in the court of this Vikram. Flaw: There was no king by name VIkramaaditya in 600 AD in India. `Vikram-samvat' calendar was in vogue since 1st century BC as `maalav-samvat'. This is clear from `mandasor' `shilaalekha' (stone writings) of VatsabhaTTi.
     
  • 3. Kalidasa was familiar with Greek astronomy, using words like `jaamitra'. Greek astronomy/geometry was popularised by AryabhaTTa who was in 5th century AD. SO, Kalidasa was in 6th AD onwards. Dr McDonald refutes this saying `Romaka-siddhaanta' was prevalant before AryabhaTTa, so he didn't popularise Greek astronomy.
     
  • 4. Mallinaath (the most famous commentrator on Kalidasa) gives two meanings to Meghadoot's 14th verse. He says that `dinnaaga' and `nichula' words refer to Buddhist philosophers `dinnaaga'. Based on this some scholars put kalidasa in 6th century AD `coz kalidasa's contemporary `dinnaaga' was disciple of Vasubandhu who was in 6th century AD. Flaw: Vasubandhu was apparently in 400 AD `coz his books were translated in Chinese around 475-525 AD.
     
5, 6, 7: some more complex conjuctures :-))
 

Finally this is what can be said about his lifetime:
Kalidasa in his drama `Malvikaa-agni-mitra' makes Agni-mitra his hero, who was the son of Pushamitra Shunga who was in 2nd century BC. This is his upper bound.
 

VaaN.bhaTTa in the preface of his kaadambaree mentions Kalidasa. VaaN.bhaTTa was in early 7th century AD. This is Kalidasa's lower bound.
 

Kalidasa's Life

Many tell tales are there for his life. Some call him native of Kashmir, some of Vidarbh, some of Bengal and others of Ujjain.

It is said that he was a dumb fool to start with. The king's daughter was a very learned lady (equality of women ! :-) ) and said that she will marry him who will defeat her in `shaastraartha' (debate on the scriptures). Anyone who gets defeated will be black faced, head shaven and kicked out of country on a donkey. (The punishment part might be later aditions!) SO, the pundits took Kalidasa (whom they apparently saw cutting the tree branch on which he was sitting) for debate. They said that he (Kalidasa) only does mute debates. The princess showed him one finger saying `shakti is one'. He thot she will poke his one eye, so he showed her two fingers. She accepted it as valid answer, since `shakti' is manifest in duality (shiv-shakti, nar-naaree etc etc). She showed her the palm with fingers extended like in a slap. He showed her the fist. She accepted it as answer to her question. She said `five elements' and he said `make the body' (earth, water, fire, air, and void). [ The debate explanations are also apparently later additions] So they get married and she finds he is a dumbo. So she kicks him out of the house. He straightaway went to Kali's temple and cut his tongue at her feet. Kali was appeased with him and granted him profound wisdom. When he returned to his house, his wife (the learned) asked, ``asti kashchit vaag-visheshaH'' (asti = is; kashchit = when, as in questioning; vaag = speech, visheshaH = expert; i.e. ``are you now an expert in speaking'').

And the great Kalidasa wrote three books starting with the 3 words:
with asti = asti-uttarasyaam dishi = Kumara-sambhavam (epic)
with kashchit = kashchit-kaantaa = Meghdoot (poetry)
with vaag = vaagarthaaviva = Raghuvansha (epic)
 

Another story says that he was the friend of Kumardas of Ceylon. He was killed by a courtesan once when he visited his friend in Ceylon.

Kalidasa's work

mainly his epics - Raghuvansha and Kumaar-sambhavam; `khanDakaavyaa' - Meghadoot; and dramas - abhigyaan-shaakuntalam, Vikrama-uravasheeya, and Malavikaa-agnimitra are considered his works for sure. Apart from that `Ritu-sanhaar and Shruta-bodh are considered his works as well.

Characteristics of Kalidasa's works

Kalidasa is considered as the greatest poet of `shringaar' (or romance, beauty) His works is brimming with shringaara-rasa. Sometimes he has used `haasya' (comedy) and `karuN.' (pathos). There are two aspects of `shringaar' -
`sambhoga' (sam = together,
bhoga = to enjoy, consume as in consumer;
so sambhoga = the being together, the romance of being
together, the happy love poems etc)
`vipralambha' - that of separation
 

Kalidasa was expert at both. Meghadoot is immersed in the `vipralambha-shringaar'. Kumara-sambhavam's 8th chapter is epitome of `sambhoga-shringaar'. 4th chapter of KumarS (Rati-vilaapa) and 8th chapter of Raghu-vansha (aja-vilaapa) are superb examples of `karuN.-rasa' (pathos). Kalidasa's comedy is of the highest order. (Bharata in his NaTya-shaastra mentions 8 types of comedy from the crudest of physical comedy resulting in guffawing loud laughter to the most subtle where the heart smiles). Kalidasa's comdey brings a gentle smile, not


 

Abhijñanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) is a well-known Sanskrit play by Kalidasa. It is written in a mix of Sanskrit and the Maharashtri Prakrit, a dialect of Sanskrit. Its date is uncertain, but Kalidasa is often placed in the period between the 1st century BC and 4th century AD.

Contents

[

Synopsis

Although Kalidasa makes some minor changes to the plot, the play elaborates upon an episode mentioned in the Mahabharata. The protagonist is Shakuntala, daughter of sage Vishwamitra and the apsaras Menaka. Abandoned at birth by her parents, Shakuntala is reared in the secluded, sylvan hermitage of sage Kanva, and grows up a comely but innocent maiden.

Once, sage Kanva and other elders of the heritage embark upon a pilgrimage, leaving Shakuntala and her young companions behind. During this period, Dushyanta, king of Hastinapura, comes hunting in the forest and chances upon the hermitage. He is captivated by Shakuntala and courts her in royal style.

But Shakuntala is then cursed by an old sage, so that Dushyanta is bewitched into forgetting her existence. The only cure is for Shakuntala to show him the signet ring that he gave her, but Shakuntala loses the ring while crossing a river and Dushyanta cannot be persuaded that she is his wife. A goddess then whisks Shakuntala away.

Fortunately, the ring is discovered by a fisherman in the belly of a fish, and Dushyanta realises his mistake - too late. The newly wise Dushyanta defeats an army of Titans, and is rewarded by Indra with a journey through the Hindu heaven. Returned to Earth years later, Dushyanta finds Shakuntala and their son by chance, and recognises them.

In Kalidasa's version, as he staged it, Shakuntala was seduced by the king of Hastinapur Dushyanta and abandoned pregnant. She is given a ring by the king, to be presented to him when she appears in his court. She can then claim her place as queen.

The anger-prone sage Durvasa arrives when she is lost in her fantasies, so that when she fails to attend to him, he curses her that whoever she thinks of will forget her instantaneously. Later the sage relents, and grants that the curse will be negated when the ring is presented to the king.

She later travels to meet him, and has to cross a river. The ring is lost when it slips off her hand when she dips her hand in the water playfully. On arrival the king refuses to acknowledge her. Shakuntala is abandoned by her companions, who return to the hermitage. Just then, a fishmonger is presented to the king, caught by his men trying to sell a royal jewel. The king recollects everything and the story ends happily.

In other versions, especially the original one found in the Mahabharata, Shakuntala is not reunited until her son Bharata is born, and found playing with lions by the king. Bharata is considered the founder of India, and is the ancestor of the lineages of the Kauravas and Pandavas, who fought the civil war of the Mahabharata. However, Kalidasa's version, with its lyrical poetry and liberal use of Maharashtri Prakrit, is now taken to be the standard one.

 Translations

English translations of this work include:

There are about 25 translations into Malayalam including,

  • Abhijnanasakuntalam by Kerala Varma Valiyakoyithampuran - the first translation
  • Malayaalasaakunthalam (1912) by A.R. Rajarajavarma
  • Abhijnanasakuntalam (1970) by K. S, Neelakantan Unni

Theatre



 

 

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