The Great Indian Poet, Kalidasa


Wikipedia states that the great poet Kalidasa was to the Indian literature what Shakespeare was to the Western literature. Famous for his work called Shakuntala, an epic story about a maiden who falls in love with a King, the name Kalidas or Kalidasa is synonymous with beauty, intellect, and superior intellect. He wrote in Sanskrit, a language that has existed for more than three million years – an extremely challenging language to learn. Kalida wrote many inspiring poems, one of which is listed below. The challenge, as always, is to honor the present, the moment called now – and Kalidasa, who lived somewhere around 1 BC captures it beautifully in his poem. Some challenges are indeed timeless!

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of achievement;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

– Attributed to Kalidasa

About Dr. Gupta

Dr. Uma G. Gupta is the Founder and President of STEM.SMART, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the pipeline of U.S students interested in STEM careers. In addition, she is the CEO of PlanetGPA, an international student recruitment services that serves as an extension to the recruitment offices of U.S. universities.

2 responses »

  1. I have lived my life so strangely and meaninglessly. Life it seems to move in a blink of an eye. Each day and week, I would say…incredible time went so fast!!. Each day living a life of meaningless, sad, hated life. I look back and 24 years have gone and I can still remember like yesterday how I was only 12 years old. I always wondered how does some one forgive them selves, move on from mistakes and live life. This is something I haven’t done, something i use as an excuse to idle precious life and time I was given. Why? I really don’t know. After today with whatever the realizations I made today I wonder if I will really change, would it be just like any other day I tried to change, would I go back to my old self. I want to change but why I do I keep putting it off. Why am I so scared that I cant achieve my dreams? Isn’t it that it’s ok to have lost at least knowing you have tried with your heart and soul..why then can’t I do that? I want to live for today for me? I will try with my heart and soul for today. May be if tomorrow comes I’ll do the same….

  2. Kālidāsa (कालिदास) is arguably India’s greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist, his title Kavikulaguru (‘Preceptor of All Poets’) bearing testimony to his stature. Known to be an ardent worshipper of Shiva, he wrote his plays and poetry largely based around Hindu mythology and philosophy. His name means literally Kali’s slave. Kālidāsa – The date of Kalidasa. The exact dates of Kalidasa’s life are disputed. These range from the 1st century
    The exact dates of Kalidasa’s life are disputed. These range from the 1st century BC to the 5th Century AD.
    Kalidasa’s play Mālavikāgnimitra has as its hero the second Sunga king Agnimitra. This king is known to have ruled around 170 BC. So Kalidasa had to be after him. The Aihole Prashasti of 634 AD, compares the skill of its composer to Kalidasa’s. This then becomes the latest date for Kalidasa. In addition, the Indian tradition associates the poet with the court of a king Vikramaditya.
    Historians generally associate Kalidasa with reigns of Gupta kings Chandragupta Vikramāditya, and his successor, Kumaragupta in the 4th century AD. Chandragupta II is known to have assumed the title of Vikramaditya and reigned over the zenith of the Gupta golden-age.It must be noted that Kalidasa does not mention any king as his patron or any dynasty other than the Sungas in his works. The fact that he named his play about Pururava and Urvashi as Vikramuurvashiiya, replacing Pururava by Vikrama in the name and calling Pururava by that name in the play , is treated as an indirect tribute to his patron. The name of his epic Kumārasambhavam is considerd a pun on the name of Kumaragupta. Kumara being another name of kartikeya and the birth of this war god is tied to birth of the Gupta king.In addition, Kalidasa’s mention of Huns in Raghuvamsha is taken as veiled reference to Skandagupta’s victory over them. The camapign of Raghu in the same epic is supposed to be modelled on Samudragupta’s campaign. He is supposed to have composed his Meghadūta at Ramagiri, identified as Ramtek in central India near Nagpur.It is known that Prabhavatigupta, Chandragupta II’s daughter was married to the Vakataka king who had his capital nearby.These clues have lead to assign Kalidasa to the Gupta age.
    However, dissent has been raised by scholars on this association based on the following issues:
    – Kalidasa does not mention any Guptas ever.
    – There have been many Vikramadityas and he could have been in the court of any of these including a legendary one in 1st century BC.
    – The campaign sections of Raghuvamsha used cannot be very reliable. It is not correct to assume that the tribes mentioned there were not known prior to Gupta campaigns.Kalidasa’s work have not been free from interpolations and such campaign sections are notorios for tampering as seen in case of the campaigns in the Mahabharata.
    – Kalidasa was a votary of Shiva and composing a epic poem celebrating the birth of Shiva’s son would be a natural expression of devotion. Kumara was a popular name of the war god and it might be a coincidence that it matches the name of a Gupta king.
    – There seems to be no reason why Kalidasa should use Agnimitra as a hero as he was far removed from his time and not famous either. In fact, his only reason to greatness is being the hero of Kalidasa’s play, otherwise he is just a name in dynastic lists in all ancient works. Kalidasa also seems to be aware of certain historical peculiarities like the fact that Agnimitra’s father Pushyamitra still called himself a commander though he had become the king after usurping the throne from the Mauryas.
    The dissenting scholars generally favour placing kalidasa nearer to the age of Sungas and the age of legendary Vikramaditya.
    Kālidāsa – His Life
    Not much is known about Kalidasa’s personal life and background, but there are several myths and legends about it.From his works he comes across as a very educated Brahmin but the legends have a more romantic story to tell. He is said to have been born in a community of shepherds(Kuruba Gowda). He was known for his beauty and innocence. A local princess, who vowed to marry only a man who defeated her in debate, outwitted all the scholars in the kingdom. These insulted scholars managed to present the dim-witted Kalidasa as a learned man and even get her to married to him. But when the truth was discovered she was ashamed of his uneducated ignorance and coarseness. A devoted worshipper of the goddess Kali, Kalidasa is said to have called upon the goddess for help and was rewarded with a sudden and extraordinary gift of wit and wealth.
    The province of Kalidasa is subject of much debate. His loving description of the Himalayas in Kumarasambhavam have made some scholars place his birth in that region. However, kalidasa lavishes much love on Ujjain in Meghaduta and is not tired of singing praises of the city, hinting that he may have been a resident of it.
    Kālidāsa – His Death
    As in life he is a mystery at its end. Legend has it that he was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka during the reign of Kumaradasa. But this king reigned in the 6th century AD and hence this seems to be improbable.
    Kālidāsa – His Plays
    Three famous plays written by Kalidasa are Mālavikāgnimitra (Mālavikā and Agnimitra), Vikramuurvashiiya (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi)and Abhignānashākuntala (The Recognition of Sakuntala). The latter is the most famous, and was the first to be translated into English and German.
    Malavikagnimitra is his first work 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 husbands 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.
    Kalidasa’s second play, generally considered his masterpiece, is the Abhignānashākuntala which tells the story of another king, Dushyanta, who falls in love with another girl of lowly birth, the lovely Shakuntala. This time, the couple is happily married and things seem to be going smoothly until Fate intervenes. When the king is called back to court by some pressing business, his new bride unintentionally offends a saint who puts a curse on her, erasing the young girl entirely from the king’s memory. Softening, however, the saint concedes that the king’s memory will return when Shakuntala returns to him the ring he gave her. This seems easy enough–that is, until the girl loses the ring while bathing. And to make matters worse, she soon discovers that she is pregnant with the king’s child. But true love is destined to win the day, and when a fisherman finds the ring, the king’s memory returns and all is well. Shakuntala is remarkable not only for it’s beautiful love poetry, but also for its abundant humor which marks the play from beginning to end.
    The last of Kalidasa’s surviving plays, Vikramuurvashiiya , is more mystical than the earlier plays. This time, the 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. Vikramorvashe is filled poetic beauty and a fanciful humor that is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
    Kālidāsa – His Poems
    In addition to his plays, Kalidasa wrote two surviving epic poems Raghuvamsha (Dynasty of Raghu) and Kumarasambhava (Birth of the War God), as well as the lyrical Meghaduta (Cloud Messenger) and Ritusamhāra (The Exposition on the Seasons).
    Kalidasa has also been credited with many minor poems and hymns. But these are generraly trated by scholras as works of other poets working under the name of Kalidasa.
    Kālidāsa – Kalidasa in Movies and Plays
    The legends of Kalidasa’s life have been popularized by movies such as Kaviratna Kalidasa and Mahakavi Kalidasa in Kannada and other South Indian languages. These movies are based on the legends around Kalidasa that offer ample scope for sepcial effects and music.
    Mohan Rakesh’s acclaimed play in Hindi based on Kalidasa’s life ‘Ashad ka ek din'( A day in the month of Ashad) tries to capture the conflict between the harsh realities of the times and the ethereal beauty repeatedly portrayed in his works. Kalidasa leaves behind his childhood sweetheart Mallika to go to the royal court. He wins acclaim and life of pleasure. When he comes back to Mallika expecting an eager welcome, he discovers that in the interveining years, her life has taken the harsh road never seen in his art.
    Of his works, the play on Shakuntala, is the one that lends easily to adaptation and hence been filmed in virtually every major Indian language.
    In addition to being a great poet, Kalidas was a good astrologist too Uttara Kaalaamritam. It has been said that his predictions are accurate as he did Upaasana of Goddess Kali

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