Episodes from Raghuvamsham of Kalidasa - Appendices



Passages from the writings of Sri Aurobindo on Kalidasa

"Valmiki, Vyasa and Kalidasa are the essence of the history of ancient India; if all else were lost, they would still be its sole and sufficient cultural history. Their poems are types and exponents of three periods in the development of the human soul, types and exponents also of the three great powers which dispute and clash in the imperfect and half-formed temperament and harmonise in the formed and perfect. At the same time their works are pictures at once minute and grandiose of three moods of our Aryan civilisation, of which the first was predominatingly moral, the second predominatingly intellectual, the third predominatingly material. The fourth power of the soul, the spiritual, which can alone govern and harmonise the others by fusion with them, had not, though it pervaded and powerfully influenced each successive development, any separate age of predominance, did not like the others possess the whole race with a dominating obsession. It is because, conjoining in themselves the highest and most varied poetical gifts, they at the same time represent and    



mirror their age and humanity by their interpretative largeness and power that our three chief poets hold their supreme place and bear comparison with the greatest world-names, Homer, Shakespeare and Dante..."

      * * *

 "Many centuries after these poets [Valmiki and Vyasa], perhaps a thousand years or even more, came the third great embodiment of the national consciousness, Kalidasa. There is a far greater difference between the civilisation he mirrors than between Vyasa's and Valmiki's. He came when the daemonic orgy of character and intellect had worked itself out and ended in producing at once its culmination and reaction in Buddhism. There was everywhere noticeable a petrifying of the national temperament, visible to us in the tendency to codification; philosophy was being codified, morals were being codified, knowledge of any and every sort was being codified; it was on one side of its nature an age of scholars, legislatorss, dialecticians, philosophical formalisers. On the other side, the creative and aesthetic enthusiasm of the nation was pouring itself into things material, into the life of the senses, into the pride of life and beauty. The arts of painting, architecture, song, dance, drama, gardening, jewellery, all that can administer to the wants of great and luxurious capitals, received a grand impetus which brought them to their highest technical perfection. That this impetus came from Greek sources or from the Buddhists seems hardly borne out: the latter may rather have shared in the general tendencies of the time than originated them, and the Greek theory gives us a maximum of conclusions with a minimum of facts. I do not think, indeed, it can be maintained that this period, call it classical or material or what one will, was marked off from its predecessor by any clear division: such a partition would be contrary to the law of human development. Almost all the concrete features of the age may be found



 as separate facts in ancient India: codes existed from old time; art and drama were of fairly ancient origin, to whatever date we may assign their development; physical Yoga processes existed almost from the first, and the material development portrayed in the Ramayana and Mahabharata is hardly less splendid than that of which the Raghuvamsha is so brilliant a picture. But whereas, before, these were subordinated to more lofty ideals, now they prevailed and became supreme, occupying the best energies of the race and stamping themselves on its life and consciousness. In obedience to this impulse the centuries between the rise of Buddhism and the advent of Shankaracharya became — though not agnostic and skeptical, for they rejected violently the doctrines of Charvak — yet profoundly scientific and outward-going even in their spiritualism. It was therefore the great age of formalised metaphysics, science, law, art and the sensuous luxury which accompanies the arts."

      — Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library

      (SABCL), Vol. 3, pp. 217, 221-2.

 "The classical age of the ancient literature, the best known and appraised of all, covers a period of some ten centuries and possibly more, and it is marked off from the earlier writings by a considerable difference, not so much in substance, as in the moulding and the colour of its thought, temperament and language. The divine childhood, the heroic youth, the bright and strong early manhood of the people and its culture are over and there is instead a long and opulent maturity and as its sequence an equally opulent and richly coloured decline...."

      "The great representative poet of this age is Kalidasa. He establishes a type which was preparing before and endured after him with more or less of additional decoration, but substantially unchanged through the centuries. His poems are the perfect and harmoniously designed model of a kind and substance that others cast always into similar forms but with a genius inferior in



power or less rhythmically balanced, faultless and whole. The art of poetic speech in Kalidasa's period reaches an extraordinary perfection. Poetry itself had become a high craft, conscious of its means, meticulously conscientious in the use of its instruments, as alert and exact in its technique as architecture, painting and sculpture, vigilant to equate beauty and power of the form with nobility and richness of the conception, aim and spirit and the scrupulous completeness of its execution with fullness of aesthetic vision or of the emotional or sensuous appeal. There was established here as in the other arts and indeed during all this era in all human activities a Shastra, a well recognised and carefully practised science and art of poetics, critical and formulative of all that makes perfection of method and prescriptive of things to be avoided, curious of essentials and possibilities but under a regime of standards and limits conceived with the aim of excluding all fault of excess or of defect and therefore in practice as unfavourable to any creative lawlessness, even though the poet's native right of fantasy and freedom is theoretically admitted, as to any least tendency towards bad or careless, hasty or irregular workmanship. The poet is expected to be thoroughly conscious of his art, as minutely acquainted with its conditions and is fixed and certain standard and method as the painter and sculptor and to govern by his critical sense and knowledge the flight of his genius. This careful art of poetry became in the end too much of a rigid tradition, too appreciative of rhetorical device and artifice and even permitted and admired the most extraordinary contortions of the learned intelligence, as in the Alexandrian decline of Greek poetry, but the earlier work is usually free from these shortcomings or they are only occasional and rare.

"The classical Sanskrit is perhaps the most remarkably finished and capable instrument of thought yet fashioned, at any rate by either the Aryan or the Semitic mind, lucid with the utmost possible clarity, precise to the farthest limit of precision, always



compact and at its best sparing in its formation of phrase, but yet with all this never poor or bare: there is no sacrifice of depth to lucidity, but rather a pregnant opulence of meaning, a capacity of high richness and beauty, a natural grandeur of sound and diction inherited from the ancient days. The abuse of the faculty of compound structure proved fatal later on to the prose, but in the earlier prose and poetry where it is limited, there is an air of continent abundance strengthened by restraint and all the more capable of making the most of its resources. The great and subtle and musical rhythms of the classical poetry with their imaginative, attractive and beautiful names, manifold in capacity, careful in structure, are of themselves a mould that insists on perfection and hardly admits the possibility of a mean or slovenly workmanship or a defective movement. The unit of this poetical art is the Sloka, the sufficient verse of four quarters or pada, and each Sloka is expected to be a work of perfect art in itself, a harmonious, vivid and convincing expression of an object, scene, detail, thought, sentiment, state of mind or emotion that can stand by itself as an independent figure; the succession of Slokas must be a constant development by addition of completeness to completeness and the whole poem or canto of a long poem an artistic and satisfying structure in this manner, the succession of cantos a progression of definite movements building a total harmony. It is this carefully artistic and highly cultured type of poetic creation that reached its acme of perfection in the poetry of Kalidasa.

      This pre-eminence proceeds from two qualities possessed in a degree only to be paralleled in the work of the greatest world-poets and not always combined in them in so equable a harmony and with so adequate a combination of execution and substance. Kalidasa ranks among the supreme poetic artists with Milton and Virgil and he has a more subtle and delicate spirit and touch in his art than the English, a greater breath of native power informing and vivifying his execution than the Latin poet. There is no more perfect and harmonious style in literature, no more inspired and careful master of the absolutely harmonious and sufficient phrase combining the minimum of word expenditure with the



fullest sense of an accomplished ease and a divine elegance and not excluding a fine excess that is not excessive, an utmost possible refined opulence of aesthetic value. More perfectly than any other he realizes the artistic combination of a harmonious economy of expression, not a word, syllable, sound in superfluity, and a total sense of wise and lavish opulence that was the aim of the earlier classical poets. None so divinely skilful as he is imparting without any overdoing the richest colour, charm, appeal and value, greatness or nobility or power or suavity and always some kind and the right kind and the fullest degree of beauty to each line and each phrase. The felicity of selection is equaled by the felicity of combination. One of the most splendidly sensuous of poets in the higher sense of that epithet because he has a vivid vision and feeling of his object, his sensuousness is neither lax nor overpowering, but always satisfying and just, because it is united with a plenary force of the intelligence, a gravity and strength sometimes apparent, sometimes disguised in beauty but appreciable within the broidered and coloured robe, a royal restraint in the heart of the regal indulgence. And Kalidasa's sovereign mastery of rhythm is as great as his sovereign mastery of phrase. Here we meet in each metrical kind with the most perfect discoveries of verbal harmony in the Sanskrit language (pure lyrical melody comes only afterwards at the end in one or two poets like Jayadeva), harmonies founded on a constant subtle complexity of the fine assonances of sound and an unobtrusive use of significant cadence that never breaks the fluent unity of tone of the music. And the other quality of Kalidasa's poetry is the unfailing adequacy of the substance. Careful always to get the full aesthetic value of the word and sound clothing his thought and substance, he is equally careful that the thought and the substance itself should be of a high, strong or rich intellectual, descriptive or emotional value. His conception is large in its view though it has not the cosmic breadth of the earlier poets and it is sustained at every step in its execution. The hand of the artist never fails in the management of its material, — exception being made of a fault of composition marring one, the least consider-



able of his works, — and his imagination is always as equal to its task as his touch is great and subtle.

      The work to which these supreme poetic qualities were brought was very much the same at bottom, though differing in its form and method, as that achieved by the earlier epics; it was to interpret in poetic speech and represent in significant images and figures the mind, the life, the culture of India in his age. Kalidasa's seven extant poems, each in its own way and within its limits and on its level a masterpiece, are a brilliant and delicately ornate roll of pictures and inscriptions with that as their single real subject. His was a richly stored mind, the mind at once of a scholar and observer possessed of all the learning of his time, versed in the politics, law, social idea, system and detail, religion, mythology, philosophy, art of his time, intimate with the life of courts and familiar with the life of the people, widely and very minutely observant of the life of Nature, of bird and beast, season and tree and flower, all the lore of the mind and all the lore of the eye; and this mind was at the same time always that of a great poet and artist. There is not in his work the touch of pedantry or excessive learning that mars the art of some other Sanskrit poets, he knows how to subdue all his matter to the spirit of his art and to make the scholar and observer no more than a gatherer of materials for the poet, but the richness of documentation is there ready and available and constantly brought in as a part of incident and description and surrounding idea and forms or intervenes in the brilliant series of images that pass before us in the long succession of magnificent couplets and stanzas. India, her great mountains and forests and plains and their peoples, her men and women and the circumstances of their life, her animals, her cities and villages, her hermitages, rivers, gardens and tilled lands are the background of narrative and drama and love poem. He has seen it all and filled his mind with it and never fails to bring it before us vivid with all the wealth of description of which he is capable. Her ethical and domestic ideals, the life of the ascetic in the forest or engaged in meditation and austerity upon the mountains and the life of the householder, her familiar customs



and social standards and observances, her religious notions, cult, symbols give the rest of the surroundings and the atmosphere. The high actions of gods and kings, the nobler or the more delicate human sentiments, the charm and beauty of women, the sensuous passion of lovers, the procession of the seasons and the scenes of Nature, these are his favourite subjects.

      He is a true son of his age in his dwelling on the artistic, hedonistic, sensuous sides of experience and pre-eminently a poet of love and beauty and the joy of life. He represents it also in his intellectual passion for higher things, his intense appreciation of knowledge, culture, the religious idea, the ethical ideal, the greatness of ascetic self-mastery, and these too he makes a part of the beauty and interest of life and sees as admirable elements of its complete and splendid picture. All his work is of this tissue. His great literary epic, the "House of Raghu", treats the story of a line of ancient kings as representative of the highest religious and ethical culture and ideals of the race and brings out its significances environed with a splendid decoration of almost pictorially depicted sentiment and action, noble or beautiful thought and speech and vivid incident and scene and surrounding. Another unfinished epic, a great fragment but by the virtue of his method of work complete in itself so far as the tale proceeds, is in subject a legend of the gods, the ancient subject of a strife of Gods and Titans, the solution prepared here by a union of the supreme God and the Goddess, but in treatment it is a description of Nature and the human life of India raised to a divine magnitude on the sacred mountain and in the homes of the high deities. His three dramas move around the passion of love, but with the same insistence on the detail and picture of life. One poem unrolls the hued series of the seasons of the Indian year. Another leads the messenger cloud across northern India viewing as it passes the panorama of her scenes and closes on a vivid and delicately sensuous and emotional portrayal of the passion of love. In these varied settings we get a singularly complete impression of the mind, the tradition, the sentiment, the rich, beautiful and ordered life of the India of the times, not



 in its very deepest things, for these have to be sought elsewhere, but in what was for the time most characteristic, the intellectual, vital and artistic turn of that period of her culture."


      — Sri Aurobindo, The Foundations of Indian Culture,

SABCL, Vol. 14, pp. 294, 296-301.





1. Cf. C.R. Devadhar (ed.), Raghuvamśam of Kālidāsa, Motilal Banarsidass (MLBD), Delhi, 2005, p iv.

  2. Cf. P.S. Sane, G.H. Godbole and H.S. Ursekar (eds), Mālavikāgnimitra of Kalidasa, Booksellers' publishing Co., Bombay, 1950, p.12.

 3. Cf. M.R. Kale (ed), Abhijñãnasakuntalam of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, 1969, p.ll.

 4. Sri Aurobindo, The Harmony of Virtue, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL) Vol. 3, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1972, pp. 223-4.

 5. M.R. Kale, The Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, p.vii.       

 6. As quoted in Raghuvamśam (ed.) H.K. Satapathy, Cuttack, 1988, Introduction.

 7. As quoted in Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 159-160.

 8. M.R. Kale, The Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, p. x.      

 9. Cf. H.K. Satapathy, A History of Sanskrit Literature (in Oriya), Kitab Mahal, Cuttack, 1988, p. 273.

10. As quoted in J.B. Patnaik, Sanskrta Vāngmaya Vaibhavam R.S.V.P.,Tirupati, 2007, p. 88.

11. Cf. II.4, Kumara Sambhavam, "Namastrimūrtaye tubhyam prāksrsteh kevalatmane, Gunatryavibhāgāya paścādbhedamupeyuse". Also cf. Ibid., 7.44,"Ekaika mūrtirvibhide, tridhā  sā sāmānyamesām   prathamāvatāratvam,Visnorharastasya Harih kadācit Vedhā stayostavepi dhātu rāsyau."

12. As quoted in C.R. Devadhar (ed); Op.cit. Introduction, P-v.

13. Cf. Ācārya Sahkara's commentary on Gaudapāda's Māndūkya



Kārikā, Advaita Prakarana, 17, "Svasiddhāntavyavasthāsu dvai-tino niścitā drdham, parasparam virudhyante tairayam na virudhyate".

      14. Cf. Mālavikāgnimitra, the opening verse, and also Kumara Sambhavam, V.

      15. M.R. Kale, The Raghuvamsa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, p. ii.

      16. As quoted in C.R. Devadhar (ed.), Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, 2005, op. cit, p. vii.

      17. Ibid., p. viii

      18. Ibid.

      19. Ibid., p. x.

      20. Ibid., p. xi.

      21. Ibid., p. xxiii.

      22. As quoted in Ibid. pp. xi-xii.

      23. R.D. Karmarkar, Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa (Cantos I-V) Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, Delhi, 2003, pp. ix-xx.

      24. Cf. C.R. Devadhar (ed.) Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, 2005, p. xi.

      25. M.R. Kale, The Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, p.x.

      26. It may be of interest to mention here how eminent Rāmāyana scholars of foreign origin like Brockington of Edinburgh University have laid a special emphasis on the pre-eminently ethical aspect of Rāma's conduct. Cf. Prof. J.L. Brockington's The Relevance of the Ramayana, 3rd Surendra Lai Kundu-Sarojini Kundu Memorial lecture, delivered at Calcutta on 18th December 1993. "Rama's moral grandeur", says Brockington, "comes from his willing submission to the apparently arbitrary requirement of his exile which leads him ultimately to his greatest deed, the killing of Ravana". Also, "Thus, the reason for the story's (Rāmāyana's) continuing popularity is above all the ethical emphasis on the figure of righteous Rama."

      27. R.D. Karmarkar, op. cit, Cantos I-V, pp. xxi.

      28. Cf. Meghadutam, 53," Āpannārttipraśamanaphalā sarhpado hyuttamānām".



29. R.D. Karmarkar, op. cit, Cantos VI-X, p. 105.

      30. Cf. Vālmīkī Rāmāyana, Bālakānda, 1.

      31. Cf. Bhagavadgīta, 11.55-61.

      32. Cf. Vālmīkī Rāmāyana, Sundarākanda, 20.5.

      33. Ibid., 21.7.

      34. Cf. John Rawls: "Justice as Fairness", The Philosophical Review, Vol. LXVII, April, 1958.

      35. Cf. also Bhavabhūti's Uttara Rama Caritam, 6.30, where Kusa, on Lava's query, points out, "What grief has not the Lord of the Raghus suffered in separation from the queen Sītā!" etc.

      36. Cf. C.R. Devadhar (ed.), Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, Delhi, 2005, XV, Note 81, p.688.

      37. Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, translated by Alexander Dru and Walter Lowrie, Oxford University Press, 1962.

      For the English translation, I have profusely taken the help of C.R. Devadhar (ed.), Raghuvamśa of Kālidāsa, MLBD, 2005.



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