:"Kalidasa" redirects here. For the true bug genus, see "Kalidasa (insect).

Kālidāsa (Devanāgarī: _sa. कालिदास "servent of Kali") was a renowned Classical Sanskrit poet and dramatist, author of "Meghadūta", "Abhijñānashākuntala" and "Kumārasambhava" , among other well-known works. His "floruit" cannot be dated with precision, but most likely falls within the Gupta period, probably in the 4th or 5th century or 6th century.

His place in Sanskrit literature is the same as that of Shakespeare in English. Such has been his fame that works not of his writing, such as "Nalodaya" and "Shrutabodha", have also been attributed to him. [Scholars are agreed that these were by different authors with the same name.] His plays and poetry were primarily based on Hindu mythology and philosophy.


Nothing apart from his works is known with certainty about the life of Kālidāsa, such as his period or where he lived.


A terminus ante quem is given by the Aihole Prashasti of 634 AD, which has a reference to his skills; and a terminus post quem can be presumed from his play "Mālavikāgnimitra" in as much as the hero, King Agnimitra of the Shunga dynasty, assumed the throne of Magadha in 152 BC. The linguistic features of the Prakrit dialects used by some of the minor characters in his plays have been adduced to suggest that he could not have lived before the 3rd century AD. [AA Macdonnell, "Kalidasa", article in "Encyclopedia Britannica", 1902]

In his works, Kālidāsa did not mention any king as his patron, or any dynasty other than the Shunga dynasty, but several historians have credited the traditional account of Kālidāsa as one of the "nine gems" at the court of a king named Vikramāditya. There were, however, several kings in ancient India by that name. One among them was Chandragupta II Vikramāditya of the Gupta dynasty, who assumed the throne of Magadha around 378 AD. Scholars have noted other possible associations with the Gupta dynasty, which would put his date in the range of 300-470 AD:

* His play about a couple in Vedic mythology, Pururavas and Urvashi, being titled "Vikramorvashīya", with "Vikram" for "Pururavas", could be an indirect tribute to a patron possibly named Vikramāditya.
* Kumāragupta was the son of Chandragupta II Vikramāditya. The title of Kālidāsa's epic poem, "Kumārasambhava", about the begetting of Kartikeya, the god of war who was the son of Siva and Pārvati, could be an indirect tribute to either of these royal patrons.
* The mention of Huns in his epic poem, "Raghuvamsa", could be a veiled reference to the victory over them of Kumāragupta's son and successor, Skandagupta. Alternatively, the campaign of Raghu in this poem may have been modeled on the celebrated campaigns of Chandragupta II Vikramāditya's father, Samudragupta.


Scholars have speculated that Kālidāsa may have lived either near the Himalayas or in the vicinity of Ujjain. The two speculations are based respectively on Kālidāsa's detailed description of the Himalayas in his "Kumārasambhava" and the display of his love for Ujjain in "Meghadūta".

Dissenting views

* Dissenting scholars generally favor placing Kālidāsa's lifetime nearer to the Shunga age, perhaps in the period of a certain Vikramāditya who reigned around 100 BCE, about whom, however, practically nothing is known.
* Kālidāsa never mentioned any Guptas explicitly.
* There have been many Vikramādityas, and Kālidāsa could have been at the court of any of them, including one in the first century BCE.
* The assumption that the tribes mentioned in the campaign sections of "Raghuvamsa" were unknown before the Gupta campaigns is incorrect. Kālidāsa's works have not been free from interpolations and such campaign sections are notorious for having been tampered with, just as the campaigns in the Mahābhārata.
* King Agnimitra of the Shunga dynasty, about 450 years before the start of the Gupta dynasty, was a thoroughly mediocre king; had Kālidās lived some time in the Gupta age, he would have had little interest in writing Mālavikāgnimitra with a mediocre king of five centuries before as the hero. On the other hand, Kālidāsa seemed to have been aware of certain historical peculiarities of the Shunga period, such as the fact that Agnimitra's father, Pushyamitra, called himself a commander though he had usurped the throne of Magadha from the Mauryas.



Kālidāsa wrote three plays. Among them, "Abhijñānaśākuntalam" ("The Recognition of Shakuntala") is commonly regarded as a masterpiece. It was among the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English, and has since been translated into many languages [ [http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/kalidas.html Kalidas, Encyclopedia Americana] ] .

*"Mālavikāgnimitra" ("Mālavikā and Agnimitra") tells the story of King Agnimitra, who falls in love with the picture of an exiled servant girl named Mālavikā. When the queen discovers her husband's passion for this girl, she becomes infuriated and has Mālavikā imprisoned, but as fate would have it, Mālavikā is in fact a true-born princess, thus legitimizing the affair.

*"Abhijñānaśākuntalam" ("The Recognition of Shakuntala") tells the story of King Dushyanta who, while on a hunting trip, meets Shakuntalā, the adopted daughter of a sage, and marries her. A mishap befalls them when he is summoned back to court: Shakuntala, pregnant with their child, inadvertently offends a visiting sage and incurs a curse, by which Dushyanta will forget her completely until he sees the ring he has left with her. On her trip to Dushyanta's court in an advanced state of pregnancy, she loses the ring, and has to come away unrecognized. The ring is found by a fisherman who recognizes the royal seal and returns it to Dushyanta, who regains his memory of Shakuntala and sets out to find her. After more travails, they are finally reunited.

*"Vikramōrvaśīya" ("Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi") tells the story of mortal King Pururavas and celestial nymph Urvashi who fall in love. As an immortal, she has to return to the heavens, where an unfortunate accident causes her to be sent back to the earth as a mortal with the curse that she will die (and thus return to heaven) the moment her lover lays his eyes on the child which she will bear him. After a series of mishaps, including Urvashi's temporary transformation into a vine, the curse is lifted, and the lovers are allowed to remain together on the earth.


Kālidāsa is the author of two epic poems, "Raghuvamsa" ("Dynasty of Raghu") and "Kumārasambhava" ("Birth of Kumāra"). Among his lyric poems are "Meghadūta" ("Cloud Messenger") and "Ṛtusamhāra" ("The Exposition on the Seasons").


Many oriental and occidental scholars have written commentaries on the works of Kālidāsa. The most studied one is "Sanjeevani" by Kolāchala Mallinātha Suri, written in the 15th century during the reign of the Vijayanagar king, Deva Rāya II.

Kalidasa in modern popular culture

*In Koodiyattam, Bhasa's plays were usually performed, but the late Koodiyattam artist and Natya shastra scholar Māni Mādhava Chākyār choreographed and performed popular Kālidāsā plays like Abhijñānaśākuntala, Vikramorvaśīya and Mālavikāgnimitra.

*V. Shantaram made the movie Stree based on Kālidāsa's Shakuntala. Shakuntala has been adapted and filmed in virtually every major Indian language.

*Legends of Kālidāsa'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 that offer ample scope for special effects and music.

*Mohan Rakesh's play in Hindi, "Āshad ka ek din"(A Day In The Month Of Āshad), tries to capture the conflict between the harsh realities of the times and the ethereal beauty repeatedly portrayed in Kālidāsa's works. Kālidāsa leaves behind his childhood sweetheart Mallika to go to the royal court. He wins acclaim and a life of pleasure. When he comes back to Mallika expecting an eager welcome, he discovers that in the intervening years, her life has taken the harsh road never seen in his art.

*Surendra Verma's Hindi play "Athavan Sarga," published in 1976, is based on the legend that Kālidāsa could not complete his epic "Kumārasambhava" because he was cursed by the goddess Pārvati, for obscene descriptions of her conjugal life with Lord Shiva in the eighth canto. The play depicts Kālidāsa as a court poet of Chandragupta who faces a trial on the insistence of a priest and some other moralists of his time.

*"Asti Kashchid Vagarthiyam", a five act play written by Krishna Kumar in Sanskrit, was first published in 1984. The story depicts a variation of the popular legend that, prior to attaining fame, Kālidāsa was mentally challenged and his wife was responsible for his transformation. Kālidāsā, a mentally handicapped woodcutter, is married to Vidyottamā, a learned princess, through a conspiracy of two scholars who had been defeated by her in a discussion of the scriptures. On discovering that she has been tricked, Vidyottamā first banishes Kālidāsa and then relents, asking him to acquire scholarship and fame if he desires to continue the relationship. She further stipulates that on his return he will have to answer the question, "Asti Kashchid Vāgārthah" ("Is there anything special in expression?"), to her satisfaction. In due course, Kālidāsa attains knowledge and fame as a poet. To prove himself to Vidyottamā, the opening verses of his works, Kumārsambhava, Raghuvansha and Meghaduta, begin with the words "Asti" ("there is"), "Kashchit" ("something") and "Vāk" ("expression.")


Further reading

*K.D. Sethna. Problems of Ancient India, p. 79-120 (chapter: "The Time of Kalidasa"), 2000 New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. ISBN 81-7742-026-7 (about the dating of Kalidasa)

ee also

* Sanskrit literature
* Sanskrit drama

External links

* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sha/index.htm "Kalidasa: Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works"] by Arthur W. Ryder
* [http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc60.html Biography of Kalidasa]
* [http://www.claysanskritlibrary.org Clay Sanskrit Library] publishes classical Indian literature, including the works of Kalidasa with Sanskrit facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.
* [http://oll.libertyfund.org/Home3/AuthorBioPage.php?recordID=0140 Kalidasa] at "The Online Library of Liberty"

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