Kalidasa – His period, personality and poetry
By K.S.Ramaswami Sastri ;
Published by Sri Vani Vilas Press, Srirangam – 1933
Kālidāsa was a Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language of India. His plays and poetry are primarily based on the Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
Much about his life is unknown, only what can be inferred from his poetry and plays. His floruit cannot be dated with precision, but most likely falls within the 4th-5th century CE.
Scholars have speculated that Kalidasa may have lived near the Himalayas, in the vicinity of Ujjain, and in Kalinga. This hypothesis is based on Kalidasa’s detailed description of the Himalayas in his Kumārasambhava, the display of his love for Ujjain in Meghadūta, and his highly eulogistic descriptions of Kalingan emperor Hemāngada in Raghuvaṃśa (sixth sarga).
Lakshmi Dhar Kalla (1891-1953), a Sanskrit scholar and a Kashmiri Pandit, wrote a book titled The birth-place of Kalidasa (1926), which tries to trace the birthplace of Kalidasa based on his writings. He concluded that Kalidasa was born in Kashmir, but moved southwards, and sought the patronage of local rulers to prosper. The evidence cited by him from Kalidasa’s writings includes:
Description of flora and fauna that is found in Kashmir, but not Ujjain or Kalinga: the saffron plant, the deodar trees, musk deer etc.
Description of geographical features common to Kashmir, such as tarns and glades
Mention of some sites of minor importance that, according to Kalla, can be identified with places in Kashmir. These sites are not very famous outside Kashmir, and therefore, could not have been known to someone not in close touch with Kashmir.
Reference to certain legends of Kashmiri origin, such as that of the Nikumbha (mentioned in the Kashmiri text Nilamata Purana); mention (in Shakuntala) of the legend about Kashmir being created from a lake. This legend, mentioned in Nilamata Purana, states that a tribal leader named Ananta drained a lake to kill a demon. Ananta named the site of the former lake (now land) as “Kashmir”, after his father Kashyapa.
According to Kalla, Shakuntala is an allegorical dramatization of Pratyabhijna philosophy (a branch of Kashmir Shaivism). Kalla further argues that this branch was not known outside of Kashmir at that time.
According to folklore, Kalidasa was originally an unintelligent person, and married a princess. Challenged by his wife, he studied Puranas and other indian literature and become a great poet. Another legend states that he visited Kumaradasa, the king of Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon and, because of some treachery, Kalidasa was murdered there.
Several ancient and medieval books state that Kalidasa was a court poet of a king named Vikramaditya . A legendary king named Vikramāditya is said to have ruled from Ujjain around 1st century BCE. A section of scholars believe that this legendary Vikramaditya is not a historical figure at all. There are other kings who ruled from Ujjain and adopted the title Vikramaditya, the most notable ones being Chandragupta II (r. 380 CE – 415 CE) and Yasodharman (6th century CE).
The most popular theory is that Kalidasa flourished during the reign of Chandragupta II, and therefore lived around 4th-5th century CE. Several Western scholars have supported this theory, since the days of William Jones and A. B. Keith. Many Indian scholars, such as Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi and Ram Gupta, also place Kalidasa in this period. According to this theory, his career might have extended to the reign of Kumaragupta I (r. 414 – 455 CE), and possibly, to that of Skandagupta (r. 455 – 467 CE).
The earliest paleographical evidence of Kalidasa is found in a Sanskrit inscription dated c. 473 CE, found at Mandsaur’s Sun temple. His name, along with that of the poet Bharavi, is also mentioned in a stone inscription dated 634 C.E. found at Aihole, located in present-day Karnataka.
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