Kālidāsa: his life, time, works and genius
It has been rightly pointed out by C. R. Devadhar that, "Kālidāsa is both famous and unknown".1 Nothing definite can be said about Kālidāsa's life, place of birth, and the time to which he belonged, for Kālidāsa himself, like many other great Indian authors, did not give any hint about himself. He was much more interested in highlighting and elaborating upon the themes chosen by him for his work, rather than speaking anything about himself. That is why his life-history as it comes down to us through different traditional sources, is usually full of popular anecdotes and interesting stories about him. One of the most popular anecdotes about him is that he, in his early days, was an illiterate fool who subsequently became learned by sheer grace of the Goddess of learning, Saraswati, after being insulted and thrown out of his home by his learned wife. This particular anecdote is associated with still more interesting stories of how his learned wife, who was a princess puffed up with her learning, was cheated by scholars who were positively angry with her insolence and who somehow befooled her by introducing Kālidāsa, an illiterate fool, as the best scholar-suitor for her. This story of an illiterate fool changing overnight to one of the greatest poets of India, the story has caught hold of popular imagination, like the story of
Cinderella, an ordinary girl in rags, who changed into a beautiful princess overnight through magic. But at the same time, there is naturally very little evidence available to us in favour of such anecdotes about Kālidāsa. On the other hand, we have nothing more reliable to go by either; it means that, unfortunately, we know almost next to nothing about Kālidāsa's life-history.
One thing, however, is certain, and it is that he had a soft corner in his heart for Ujjaini, as is evident from his insistence displayed in so many words of the Yaksa in his Meghadūtam that the cloud-messenger, must visit Ujjaini, even if it would mean a diversion from the route from Rāmgiri to Alkā in the Himalayas, where Yaksa's beloved wife resides. The reasons specified by the Yaksa are of course quite a few, but one of the main reasons is that Ujjaini, to put it in a nutshell, is most beautiful and attractive in so many ways. From this it can very well be inferred that the poet was born and brought up in Ujjaini, at least during his early days, because of which he had a specific attachment towards this city, or perhaps he had spent quite a good deal of his most valuable and pleasant time there and carried sweet memories of Ujjaini in the innermost recesses of his heart which he was eager to share with his readers. It is obvious that his love for Ujjaini was not ordinary; it was extraordinary, like that of a lover for his beloved. And yet, we cannot be sure that Ujjaini was his birth place, even if it was a place with which he had fallen in love no doubt. There are also other possible claimants from different parts of this country for being the birth place of Kālidāsa, which need our due consideration.
Is it possible that he was somehow connected with Ramgiri hills near Koraput of Orissa, because of which he has mentioned it prominently as the place of exile for the Yaksa in his Meghadūtam? May be, but it does not justify that he belonged to Orissa on this count. Some regard him as belonging to Bengal, as his name was Kālidāsa, the servant of Goddess Kālī, the famous Deity of Bengal. But this does not imply that he was born in Bengal. Some others take him to be a poet of Kashmir, where many great poets of India have been born. He is the only poet
who describes a living saffron-flower, the plant which actually grows only in Kashmir. But all this does not justify the claim of his being a Kashmiri either, because Kālidāsa, being a great traveller, knew the details of India's geography, and was also a very keen observer of Nature. In the RaghuvamÅ›am, while describing the expedition of Raghu in all directions, he has given a number of accurate descriptions of different parts of India and their specific characteristics, wherever necessary. All this makes him really a National Poet par excellence, of course, but no particular region of India can doubtlessly claim to be the birth place of this great poet simply on the ground that he has described a particular region in some detail. On the other hand, those who would identify Rāmgiri with Rāmtek, near Nagpur, cannot be said to be entirely pointless; the river Reva, i.e., Narmada is towards the north of Rāmtek and the cloud messenger has been asked to go in the northerly direction (udarimukhah) of Rāmgiri. But whatever may be the case, in view of Kālidāsa's deep acquaintance with and a sympathetic appreciation of the whole of India, even now it has been difficult to identify any particular region as the birth place of this great poet, although, once again' it may be reiterated, Ujjaini was his most favourite city where perhaps he might have spent most of his fruitful years.
The Date of Kālidāsa
Here again, regarding the date of Kālidāsa, there has been more of controversy than of unanimity. According to the traditional view, Kālidāsa was the contemporary of King Vikramāditya, the founder of Vikrama-era in 57 BC. Kālidāsa, as a matter of fact, seems to covertly adore King Vikramāditya, when he points out in his Vikramōrvaśīyam, "Anutsekah khalu Vikramālahkarāh" or "Distyā Mahendropakaraparyāptena Vikramamahimnā vardhate bhavān".
This is taken as positive evidence in support of assigning this great poet to the 1st century BC. Sir William Jones, Dr. Peterson,
Mr. S. P. Pandit, Mr. M.R. Kale and others support this theory. According to Dr Keith, Kālidāsa flourished in the 5th century AD during the rule of chandragupta-II of ujjain, who ruled up to about AD 413, and might have been referrend to with the title of vikramāditya in vikramorvaśīyam. kumāra sambhavam, the other epical treatise written by kālidāsa, may be regarded as refering to the birth of kumāragupta who was the son and successor of chandragupta II. As a matter of fact, the title of vikramāditya was assumed by chandragupta after defeating the Sakas in AD 395. Both the above mentioned theories, viz., the Gupta theory and the traditional theory, may be regarded as prodable, for there isa definite reference made by the poet to the king vikramāditya in his drama vikramorvaśīyam. The controversy regarding the identity of this king vikramāditya, it must be admitted, has not yet been resolved, However, it may be said that the probability is a little tited in favour of the trabitional theory, in any case , it must be admitted that Kālidāsa certainly flourished befor AD 610, for Bānabhatta who belonged to AD 610 speak very highly of kālidāsa's writing, and on the other hand, the earliest limit of the data of kālidāsa can be fixed around 1st century BC, the date of the great king vikramāditya, the found of the vikramasamvat (57 BC) whose contemporay he might have been, for his reference to vikramādity in his drama vikramorvaśīyam is unmistakable.2
Kālidāsa is undoubtedly the author of this immortal epic, Raghuvamśam. Besides Raghuvamśam, Kālidāsa is also the author of another epic, Kumārasambhavam, and two lyric poems, Meghadūtam andRtusamhāram. Mālavikāgnimitram, Vikramorvaśīyam, and Abhijñāna sākuntalam, — these three dramatic pieces are also attributed to Kālidāsa. As Kālidāsa was famous both during and even after his life-time, many other works were also attributed to Kālidāsa subsequently but they
were actually the works of poets of inferior talent who wanted their works to be famous by being attributed to Kālidāsa. This explains the undue proliferation of the works of Kālidāsa; as a matter of fact, only the seven works mentioned above undoubtedly belong to Kalidasa, the great. Rājasekhara, it needs to be noted, speaks of three different poets who were known to him as bearing the name of Kālidāsa (Kālidāsa trayī kimu), and it is therefore probable that those of inferior talent bearing the name of Kālidāsa might have written pieces other than the seven mentioned above.3 Doubt expressed in certain quarters regarding Kālidāsa's authorship of Rtusamhāram, on account of an apparent lack of a mature touch here, seems to be baseless after all; it is possible that Rtusamhāram was one of his earlier works.
Importance of Kālidāsa as a Poet
Kālidāsa, is a world-poet of all times, not to be confined to any particular region, country, race or narrow religious creed, for we find reference to all sorts of noble ideas and ideologies in his writings. He can be regarded as a truly universal poet. He discovered the permanent, the immortal, and eternity in beauty, truth and goodness, amidst change, the mortal and the evanescent things of the world and sang the Universal in and through the particulars while not being negligent of the particulars themselves. Along with Vyāsa and Vālmiki, Kālidāsa adorns that pedestal of excellence which can hardly be reached by any other poet, for there is something superbly beautiful about his poetry that makes it unique for all times. I am reminded in this context of what Matthew Arnold had to say about Shakespeare, and I think, this would, mutatis-mutandis, apply to the writings of Kālidāsa too.
Others abide our question — Thou art free!
We ask and ask— thou smilest and art still
It is no wonder that Sir William Jones has referred to him as "the Shakespeare of India". Sri Aurobindo, the greatest Indian yogin-philosopher, and poet, has the following words to say about Kalidasa:
Kālidāsa is the great, the supreme poet of the senses, of aesthetic beauty of sensuous emotion... In continuous gift of seizing an object and creating it to the eye he has no rival in literature.... He is besides a consummate artist, profound in conception and suave in execution, a master of sound and language who has moulded for himself out of the infinite possibilities of the Sanskrit tongue a verse and diction which are absolutely the grandest, most puissant and most full voiced of any human speech, a language of the Gods.4
M. R. Kale has this to say about Kālidāsa's poetry:
His genius has been recognized in India from very early times. He has been and will ever be enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen as the Prince of Indian poets. Most Indian successors of Kālidāsa have expressed in suitable words their admiration of the poet who stood far ahead of them in the perfection of his art.5
Eulogies of Kālidāsa and his poetry highlighting his greatness abound in plenty not only in our tradition but also in countries outside India, coming as they do from scholars and writers of eminence belonging to different countries at different times. I give a few examples here, in order to highlight some of the aspects of his undisputed glory. Professor Lasson, for example, rightly calls him "the brightest star in the firmament of Indian poetry". According to Humbolt, "Tenderness in the expression of feelings and richness of creative fancy have assigned to him a lofty place among the poets of all nations".6 Goethe's appreciation
of Kālidāsa's Sakuntala is well-known. Goethe says:
Wouldst thou the young year's blossoms and the fruits of its decline,
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed?
Wouldst thou the heaven and earth in one sole name combine,
I name thee 0 Śakuntala, and all at once is said.
When we remember that Goethe himself was the greatest poet of Germany and one of the greatest of the world, we realize the importance of his estimate of Kālidāsa.
The American scholar, Ryder, has paid a glowing tribute to Kālidāsa and his lyric poem Meghadūtam as follows:
Kālidāsa understood in the fifth century what Europe did not learn until the nineteenth, and even now comprehends only imperfectly, that the world was not made for man, that man reaches his full stature only as he realizes the dignity and worth of life that is not human. That Kālidāsa seized this truth is a magnificent tribute to his intellectual power, a quality quite as necessary to great poetry as perfection of form. Poetical fluency is not rare; intellectual grasp is not very uncommon; but the combination of the two has not been found perhaps more than a dozen times since the world began. Because he possessed this harmonious combination, Kālidāsa ranks not with Anacreon and Horace and Shelley, but with Sophocles, Virgil and Milton.7
There are references to Kālidāsa's greatness as a poet at different times, in our own country from scholars and poets of eminence, even of the stature of Bānabhatta, the famous author of Kādambarī, about whom it is said that his scholarship was all-pervasive and nothing under the sun remained untouched by him. The great Bānabhatta has commented thus:
Nirgatāsu na vā kasya Kālidāsasya sāktisu
Prītirmadhurasārdrāsu manjarīsviva jāyate
When Kālidāsa's sweet sayings, charming as they are with sweet sentiments, went forth, who did not feel delight in them as in honey-laden flowers?
There is a 'subhāsita', a beautiful saying, regarding Kālidāsa remaining unsurpassed throughout since the time when the counting of the names of eminent poets started, which runs as follows:Purā kavīnām gananāprasarige kanisthikādhisthita Kālidāsā
While once the poets were being counted, Kālidāsa's name came first, and occupied the last finger. The next finger, the ring-finger continued to remain true to its name (anāmika i.e. nameless), as there was no second poet available to take the place after Kalidasa.
A somewhat exaggerated poetic description perhaps, yet not entirely pointless either.
Some unique features of Kālidāsa's poetic genius
Kālidāsa was unique in many respects, and in the words of M. R. Kale:
His poetic genius has brought Sanskrit poetry to the highest elegance and refinement. His style is peculiarly pure and chaste... An unaffected simplicity of expression and an easy-flowing language mark his writings which are embellished with similes unparalleled for their beauty and appropriateness and with pithy general sayings... Kālidāsa excels other poets in his description of the sublime and the beautiful...8
The highest place is assigned to Kālidāsa among poets for the construction of happy similes, when it is said:
Upamā Kālidāsasya Bhāraverartha gauravam
Dandinah padalālityam māghe santi trayo gunāh
Simile is, indeed, the (distinguishing mark) of Kālidāsa; meaningfulness of Bhāravi; charm of word of Dandin; all the three (distinguish) Maghā.
The excellence of the similes or upama in Kālidāsa's writing is really unsurpassable and that it is a special forte of Kālidāsa's works is beyond any doubt. Let us take another well known verse from the tradition, again. Kālidāsa, it is pointed out, exceeds in the Vaidarbhī style which is supposed to be the best in traditional Sanskrit literature. That is why, it is said, in the following beautiful verse (subhāsita), that:
Vālmīkerajani prakāśasitagunā Vyāsena līlalvatī, Vaidharbhī kavitā svayam vritavati Sri Kalidasam varam
Vaidharbhī style of poetry, which had its origin from Vālmīki, and was nurtured and educated by Vyāsa, chose Kālidāsa as her bridegroom, out of her own accord.
His style is suggestive, suggesting much more than what it expresses; it is devoid of artificiality, laxity and of extravagant descriptions found in later writings. Brevity and perspicuity simultaneously adorn his works; easy-flowing language, simplicity of expression with profundity of inner significance in his writings make him attain a unique status of elegance and refinement that has remained unsurpassed so far amongst poets.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Mallinātha, the great commentator, who himself was highly learned in the Śāstras, should be vociferous in his praise of Kālidāsa with the following words:
Kālidāsa girām sāram Kālidāsah Saraswatī, Caturmukhothavā vidyāt vidurnānye tu mādrśāh.
The greatness of Kālidāsa's poetry can be genuinely appreciated only by three persons in this world, first of all, Kālidāsa himself, the second one is Goddess Saraswatī (from whom Kālidāsa had derived his poetic powers) and then, Brahmā, the creator of Kālidāsa himself. People like me cannot, by any chance, comprehend the real significance of Kālidāsa's poetic genius.
This particular verse composed in honour of Kālidāsa coming as it does from the great scholar-commentator, Mallinātha, speaks volumes about the richly suggestive style of Kālidāsa, which makes it difficult for ordinary readers to fathom the implication
of his writings in all their subtle nuances, although they, being apparently lucid and perspicuous to all outward purposes, touch the heart directly. Numerous examples can be cited in favour of this highly suggestive character of Kālidāsa's poetry from his epics, lyrics, and dramas, for they all abound in this quality unlike the writings of any other poet. In the words of Shelley, addressed as they were to a skylark in another context, one may perhaps significantly address this poet of unparalleled brilliance as follows:
What thou art
We know not; what is most like thee? From rainbow clouds there flow not Drops so bright to see.
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.
I am not sure if Kālidāsa, as has been pointed out by H.K. Satapathy,9 has indirectly hinted at the infinitude of his own poetic genius through the passage in his Raghuvamśam Canto XIII, where Lord Rāmā is comparing the all-pervasive nature of Ocean with that of Lord Visnu, but I am sure that this passage can be regarded as a fitting description of his unfathomable poetic excellence that engages our mind with universal significance.
Kālidāsa's Philosophic Genius
Another important feature of the poetic genius of Kālidāsa lies in the fact that he was not merely an Indian poet of eminence but, intrinsically, he was also an Indian philosopher par excellence. In India, a poet and a philosopher are not so sharply divided from each other, for the Sanskrit word kavi which stands for a poet is, as a matter of fact, supposed to be a rsi, and rsi stands for one who is a seer (mantra drastā) of truth. Even if it is not so in case of ordinary poets or philosophers, we must admit that at least in the case of some of our most eminent thinkers and
spiritual masters like Ācārya Śarikara, they are found to be simultaneously both philosophers of eminence and also poets in their own right. Saundarya Laharī, Ānanda Laharī, etc., authored by Ācārya Śankara, for example, are as much poetical, as they are philosophical. It is also mutatis mutandis true of great poets throughout the world and more so in case of great Indian poets like Kālidāsa. It is worth mentioning here that according to Coleridge, one cannot be a great poet without being a great philosopher. "No man," says Coleridge, "was ever yet a great poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher".10 Kālidāsa, in my humble opinion, was a great poet whose philosophical genius has been overshadowed because of his poetic excellence. Therefore, the philosophy of Kālidāsa should be worked out in some detail alongside his poetic excellence. I can only give some hints here about a certain prominent philosophical attitude of this great poet which is found to be pervading all his works in different degrees and in different ways. The most prominent idea that pervades the works of Kālidāsa, to my mind, centres round the Upanisadic philosophy of Vedānta which goes far beyond any fanatic clinging to one ideology or the other, based on the conception of a particular deity as the ultimate, while at the same time doing adequate justice to various devotional aptitudes and inclinations in different contexts.
It is true that Kālidāsa was an ardent devotee of Lord Śiva, as is evident from the opening stanzas of Mālavikāgnimitram, Vikramorvaśīyam and Abhijñāna Śākuntalam, but was no less respectful towards Goddess Pārvatī, along with Lord Śiva, as is evident in the opening lines of Raghuvamśam. He was equally respectful towards Lord Visnu, as is evident in Canto X of Raghuvamśam and towards the creator Brahmā too, as is evident in Kumārasambhavam, Canto II. As a matter of fact, he did not admit of any ultimate difference in the Trinity. In Kumārasambhavam,11 the idea that is propagated by Kālidāsa reminds us of the Rig Vedic lines, "Ekam and viprā bahudhā va-danti" i.e., "the same reality is spoken of differently by different sages". Ātman, one without a second, has assumed the form
of Trinity and has appeared in different forms as the creator Brahmā, sustainer Visnu and destroyer Śiva, — this idea of the poet is more or less Vedāntic in character. The term "Ātman" used by the poet here is significant, for the Ātma tattva (the concept of Atman) is specifically Vedāntic in its purport. The same term "Ātman" is used also in Raghuvamśam, while gods pray to Lord Visnu (Canto X. 16). Similarly, in Raghuvamśam Kālidāsa is found to be subscribing to the theory that the Paramātman is ungrasp-able and unfathomable by the human mind (Canto X. 28.); even anumāna (inference) and the Vedic authority cannot make us fathom or measure the infinitude of the Lord (the term used by the poet here is "aparichhedya", a very appropriate term indeed). When the gods are praying to Lord Visnu, in Raghuvamsam, they point out that various means adopted by us, shown to be diverse by various systems of thought, lead to the Lord Himself, just as all the streams of the river Ganges meet in the ocean (X. 26.). This reminds us, naturally, of the "Tattu samanvayāt" (1.1.4) sutra of the Brahma sutras of Bādarāyana; this is the fundamental philosophical attitude of the Indian philosopher in maintaining that all the differences in our ways of thinking, ways of worship, etc., are merely outward manifestations, while actually all forms of worship, all forms of thinking find their culmination in the ultimate reality, i.e., Brahman. Bhagavadgītā is particularly emphatic in this regard, when it points out that all forms of worship ultimately find their culmination in the worship of the same Lord (mama vartmānuvartante manusyāh Pārtha sarvaśah). The idea is that all roads lead to the ultimate goal, the Summum Bonum. Ryder has rightly said that, "Kālidāsa moved among the jarring sects with sympathy for all, fanaticism for none".12 And this is possible only on the part of a true Vedāntin. It has been pointed out by Ācārya Śankara,13 a true Vedāntin does not have any quarrel with the dualists, who sees non-difference (abheda) everywhere. Kālidāsa was well-versed not only in Vedānta but also in Sāmkhya dualism, Yoga philosophy and its practices, rather in almost all the systems of Indian thought, but his fundamental attitude towards all schools of thought, rather towards everything,
was that of a true Vedāntin.
His universal vision as well as sympathy extending far beyond the narrow geographical territory becomes evident in his writings, in different ways and with different nuances, especially where a typical philosophy of detachment is promoted by this great poet-philosopher as the foundation of our Indian culture centering on an over-all Vedāntic perspective. Lord Siva is thus extolled, adored and worshipped as the model in his writings because of His spirit of detachment amidst plenty; this is note-worthy.14
Importance of the Raghuvarhśam
Raghuvarhśam (the House of Raghu) is a Mahākāvya with epical dimension. The mahākāvya (or Great Poem) is one of two most popular forms of literary composition, and have attracted the best geniuses to try their hand at them. M.R. Kale says the following:
For in dignity of style, depth of thought, and majesty of movement, the Mahākāvya is far and away the best expression which the Sanskrit literary artist has found for his genius.1
The characteristics enumerated by Dandin (a rhetorician circa 6th century AD) for a work to be identified as a mahākāvya are quite applicable in the case under consider. says Dandin:
A "mahākāvya" is a composition in cantos, and it is thus defined; it should begin with a benediction or salutation or a reference to the subject-matter; its subject should be one taken from history or otherwise real; the attainment of one of the ends of human existence should be
one taken from history or otherwise real; the attainment of one of the ends of human existence should be its aim; the hero able and noble; as embellishments it should contain the garden or water, drinking scenes, love-delights, separation or wedding of lovers, the birth of a son, a council, an embassy, a march or a battle or a victory of the hero; it should not be concise, and should be full of sentiments and feelings. Its cantos should not be too long, its metres sonorous, its transitions (from one canto to another) well-arranged, and with a change of metres at the close. Such a poem, suitably ornamented with figures, and a source of delight to the people, will last for ages.16
That this particular work of Kālidāsa is a source of delight to the people, and has already displayed its capacity for lasting through ages, there cannot be any second opinion in this regard; besides, it fulfills all the other conditions specified by Dandin in a general manner, even though it needs to be noted that Kālidāsa was a master of self-restraint in style and was never a stickler for the specific details and artificiality in rules meant for technical perfection.
The Raghuvarhśa sings of the great solar race of Ikśvāku in which Visnu was pleased to become incarnate as Rāmā, that he may destroy the demon Ravana and free the gods and men from his tyranny.17
It is worth noting in this connection that "the list of kings given by Kālidāsa is in general agreement with the one found in the Visnupurāna, and more or less so with those preserved in other purānas".18
It is obvious that Kālidāsa has more or less followed in the footsteps of descriptions of a city, the sea, mountain, the seasons, sunrise, moonrise, sports in Vālmīki, the Ādikavi, and his Rāmāyana for his description of the life of Rāmā. Although in certain respects and at certain places, he has surpassed the poetic
excellence of the great Vālmīki even, in respect of the other kings mentioned in the Raghuvamśam, it seems that he has mostly taken the help of Harivamśa purāna, where we come across a long list of the kings of the Solar race. But it needs to be highlighted that the originality in the poetic talent of Kālidāsa has been evident almost everywhere, irrespective of his following in the footsteps of Vālmīkī Rāmāyana or Harivamśa, as the case may be. Although Lord Rāmā was the incarnation of Lord Visnu who was born in the solar race in order to liberate the gods from the torture inflicted on them by Rāvana and the story of Rāmāyana was thus supposed to be the central theme of Raghuvamśam, even then Raghu was so very prominent as a king of the solar race that the entire dynasty was named after him, as Raghuvamśam. But why so one may wonder? And the poet himself has given a hint in this regard. Dilipa is described by Kālidāsa as asking for a boon from Nandini (Vasistha's cow) to have a son in the womb of his wife, Sudaksinā, who would perpetuate his line and would also earn eternal fame for himself. (Canto II. 64.) This implies that the progeny of Dilīpa, i.e. Raghu, as a matter of fact, perpetuated the solar race and earned eternal fame for himself. It is thus no wonder that the entire mahākāvya of Kālidasa should be named after such a king viz., Raghu, who was "vamśasya kartā" (perpetuator of the race) and "anantakīrti" (a king of eternal fame).
It is unfortunate that the last king named in Raghuvamśam was Agnivarna, who was a libertine whose excesses hastened his death, and this great epic abruptly ends with a note that the widowed queen who was pregnant at the time ascended the throne as the Regent on behalf of her unborn son. Such an abrupt end naturally makes one suspect that the epic has been left incomplete for reasons unknown. It is noteworthy that there is no epilogue to the poem, no benediction which is usually found at the end of all Sanskrit works, and also in all the other works of Kālidāsa. Traditionally, as a matter of fact, it is pointed out that there were originally twenty-five cantos in Raghuvamśam. But if this is so, where have the other cantos gone? Again, is this particular
tradition an authentic one? One may wonder.
It needs to be noted that Mallinātha, the famous commentator of Kālidāsa, has written commentaries only on nineteen cantos of Raghuvamśam. On the other hand, critics like Hillebrandt have pointed out that, "the last two cantos of the Raghu are spurious".19 Doubts in this regard are natural because of the lack of the typical poetic skill and self-restraint of Kālidāsa, the last canto being devoted to the love-making of a king who was exclusively engaged in debauchery, thus reducing the work to more of an erotic than a heroic poem. It needs to be noted that, "opinion in India has throughout favoured these cantos as Kālidāsa's works; hence it is that we find quotations from these cantos in works that belong to the 11th century, and commentators of note such as Mallinātha have thought it fit to comment on them."20 However, even if we accept the last canto, i.e. Canto XIX, to be authentic, the end is an abrupt one, for it ends with the description of a widow occupying the throne of the illustrious race of the Raghus, bearing the progeny of the deceased king in her womb. Even though the future appears uncertain, one may say that it ends with a happy note, to the effect "that the chief queen of Agnivarna had conceived and that the line of Iksvaku dynasty would not cease but continue further".21 Even then we have to admit that the great epic, with this abrupt end, remains somewhat incomplete as one feels there remains a hidden want, as it were, waiting for a further magical touch from the poetic genius of a Kālidāsa. Hence, one has to concede most unwillingly perhaps, that in this respect, it remains an incomplete work.
Regarding the kings mentioned in this great work, only a few like Dilīpa, Raghu, Aja, Daśaratha and Rāmā were most conspicuous. The kings coming afterwards were not so important, after all; the last one mentioned in Canto XIX was not only insignificant, he was inglorious too, as a matter of fact bringing disgrace to the great descendants of Raghu . Ryder's remarks are indeed appropriate when he says that:
We must regard it (i.e. Raghuvamśa) as a poem in which
single episodes take a stronger hold upon the reader than does the unfolding of an ingenious plot.22
Looking to the poem itself, we find that the first three cantos deal with Dilipa; cantos three to eight are on Raghu and cantos five to eight speak of Aja.... Cantos nine to fifteen are similarly dominated by Rāma though canto nine describes Daśaratha "but there too, the end clearly shows that it is Rāma that the poet had in mind."23
The episode of Dilipa and the lion, the description of Raghu's encounter with Indra, and an account of his digvijaya (heroic victory pervading all directions), Aja's marriage with Indumati and the pathetic bereavement on account of the accidental demise of his most beautiful and talented wife in the prime of her youth, all these are indeed most conspicuous and appealing, and Kālidāsa's immortal pen has made each one of these episodes come alive to us with a rare and unforgettable beauty which leave us, as it were, enchanted. But so also are the beautiful romantic love-episodes of Rāmā and Sītā along with their typically pathetic scenes of forced separation, bereavement, banishment and the tragic end too. It is undoubtedly true that the Ādikavi Vālmīki in his Rāmāyaṇa has excelled at many places in describing certain episodes of Rāmā and Sītā in detail and at those places, naturally, Kālidāsa has simply touched upon those episodes. But it would be wrong to observe as Devadhar has done that, "as a poet he was irresistibly drawn to sing of the most popular hero of India, and limps after the first poet' without a thought of challenging the great epic directly". 24 This is somewhat unfair to Kālidāsa, in my humble opinion, for how can one even dream of Kālidāsa possibly challenging the "first poet" (Ādikavi), when in his opening verses of Raghuvamsam he has openly acknowledged his indebtedness to and his following in the footsteps of earlier eminent poets in this regard:
अथवा कृतवाग्द्वारे वंशेऽस्मिन्पूर्वसूरिभिः ।
मणौ वज्रसमुत्कीर्णे सूत्रस्येवास्ति मे गतिः ।।
Athavā kritavāgdvāre variśe asminpūrvasūribhih
Manau vajrasamutkīrne sutrasyevasti me gatih
Or to this race to which ancient bards have opened the doorway of Speech, I may get access even as a thread may pierce a diamond perforated gem.
— Canto 1.4.
There is therefore, no question of the great poet Kālidāsa "limping after" the other great poet, viz., Vālmīki. I would rather regard this remark to be an unfair one by the critic.
The poetic excellence of Kālidāsa has come out in its full force in certain episodes, for example, when Rama is returning from Lanka in the Puspak along with his wife Sītā, in Canto XIII; here there is obviously no question of coming to a clash with the poetic excellence of Vālmīki, who has not highlighted this particular episode in his great epic, Rāmāyana. This, once again, speaks of Kālidāsa's great sense of propriety (aucitya), self-restraint, and a depth of understanding and appreciation of the situation, rather than any "limping" on his part after the genius of Vālmīki.
The poet's "descriptive powers are great, and some of the scenes in the Śākuntalam, the Meghadūtam and the Raghuvamśam are so enchanting as to hold his readers spellbound. And as regardsdhvanikāvya, the kind of poetry which suggests more than what it expresses, he is master of acknowledged skill."25
This great work of Kālidāsa, it needs to be noted, is full of those very qualities of the poet which are to be found in his other writings, — the lucidity and spontaneity of expression, sugges-tiveness in style, lack of artificiality, novelty of thought, construction of happy similes (upamā) and deep insight into both the internal nature of man and external nature, all these features are no less prominent in the Raghuvamśam, including the Sītā-Rāma episodes beautifully described by the great poet, than in his other works. We give below a few passages from the Raghuvamsam that illustrate these qualities:
त्वया पुरस्तादुपयाचितो यः सोऽयं वट: श्याम इति प्रतीतः ।
राशिर्मणीनामिव गारुडानां सपद्मरागः फलितो विभाति ।।
क्वचित्प्रभालेपिभिरिन्द्रनीलैर्मुक्तामयी यष्टिरिवानुविद्धा ।
अन्यत्र माला सितपङ्कजानामिन्दीवरैरुखचितान्तरेव ।
क्वचित्खगानां प्रियमानसानां कादम्वसंसर्गवतीव पङ्क्तिः ।
अन्यत्र कालागुरुदत्तपत्रा भक्तिर्भुवश्चन्दनकल्पितेव ।।
क्वचित्प्रभा चान्द्रमसी तमोभिश्छायाविलीनैः शवलीकृतेव ।
अन्यत्र शुभ्रा शरदभ्रलेखा रन्ध्रेष्विवालक्ष्यनभःप्रदेशा ।।
क्वचिच्च कृष्णोरगभूषणेव भस्माङ्गरागा तनुरीश्वरस्य ।
पश्यानवद्याङ्ङ्ग् विभाति गङ्गा भिन्नप्रवाहा यमुनातरङ्गैः ।।
Here is the banyan tree, known as Śyāma, formerly besought by thee, which, laden with fruit, glows like an emerald-heap, interspersed with rubies.
Behold, 0 fair one of flawless limbs, how the Ganges with its stream cleft by the Yamunā gleams here like a necklet of pearls interwoven with sapphires that cover it with their splendour, there like a garland of white lilies, set in the intervals with blue lotuses; here like a row of birds that love the Mānasa lake interspersed with dark-winged swans; now like sandal-paintings on the earth with ornamental leaves in dark aloes; now like moonlight chequered with darkness underneath the shades; now like a patch of white autumn clouds, where through the interstices the (blue of the) sky peeps out and in places like Śiva's body smeared with the unguent of ashes, and girt with black-snakes for ornaments.
- Canto XIII. 53-57
धारास्वनोद्गारिदरीमुखोऽसौ शृङ्गागलग्नाम्बुदवपपकः ।
वध्नाति मे वन्धुरगात्रि चक्षुर्द्दप्तः ककुदमानिव चित्रकूटः ।।
एषा प्रसन्नस्तिमितप्रवाहा सरिद्विदूरान्तरभावतन्ची |
मन्दाकिनी भाति नगोपकण्ठे मुक्तावली कण्ठगतेव भूमेः ।।
Yon Citrakūṭa, O one of proportionate limbs, like a stately bull, loud-bellowing without break from its mouth-like cave, and with dark-clouds clinging to its peaks like mud to the bulls-horns in its playful butting, now enchants my eye. Here at the base of the mountain shines the river Mandākini, with its pellucid, steady stream, made slender by distance, and hence looking like a pearly band on the neck of the Earth."
— Canto XIII. 47-48
Regarding suggestiveness in style, two examples are given here. Take the case of the great Hanuman crossing the ocean, for which our poet gives the following description:
मारुति: सागरं तीर्ण: संसारमिव निर्ममः । ।
Mārutiḥ sāgaram tīrṇaḥ saṁsāramiva nirmamaḥ
"Māruti crossed the ocean, as a detached person would cross this samsāra"
— Canto XII. 60
Here the implications are profound, indeed, for it has an implicit reference to the background of our whole Indian culture that culminates in tyaga (detachment and self-sacrifice) at the end. Similarly, when Rāma, along with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa enter
into the Dandaka forest, the poet says:
स सीतालक्ष्मणसम्यः सत्यादगुरुमलोपयन् ।
विवेश दण्डकारण्यं प्रत्येकं च सतां मनः।।
Sa Sītā Lakṣmaṇa sakhaḥ satyädgurumalopayan Vivesha daṇḍkāraṇyam pratyekaṁ cha satām manaḥ
Helping his father not to deviate from truth, Rāma along with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa entered into the Dandaka forest, and the heart of every good man.
- Canto XII. 9.
This verse points to our commitment to ethics being at the apex of our entire value system. This also implies how dear to the innermost core of our heart and of everybody for that matter, Rāmā is or should be, provided we are whole heartedly devoted to the good. Through a pithy expression, a very important suggestion is made here by the poet of the universal acceptability of Rāma's conduct, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, time, or country, only on the basis of high sense of morals.26 Here is only an example, but this is not all. The legend of Sītā-Rāma, as it is developed in Raghuvamsam, is not lacking in the magical touch of Kālidāsa's poetic talent, even if one has to admit that the original Rāmāyaṇa was also full of episodes that were described most beautifully by the Ādikavi. Kālidāsa has excelled at places where Vālmīki has left certain things unsaid, while Kālidāsa has only touched upon those themes where he has felt that Vālmīki has excelled.
The geographical range of knowledge that Kālidāsa displays in this great epic is simply astounding. Some of it is visible in his beautiful description in the thirteenth canto (where Rāma is shown to be returning to Ayodhyā along with his wife in the Puspak, the aerial car) of the dark shore-line, dark with rows of Tamala and palm-forests, as also in the description of the
confluence of Ganga and Yamunā at Allahabad, and in the episode of Indumatīsvayamvara (the description where Indumati selects Aja amidst the prospective candidates coming for marriage from all over India) too, but much more so in the episode of 'Raghudigvijaya', the description of Raghu conquering the whole of India in all directions.
And in our own work here that follows, the aspects of heroism, harmony and illumination, as they are manifested in the Raghuvamśam, are highlighted as also the specific style and excellence of Kālidāsa's writings beginning from the episode of Dilīpa and Sudaksina and ending with the episode of Rāma and sītā.
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