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Kalidasa


Kalidasa (c 1st century BC-4th century AD) famous Sanskrit poet and playwright. Nothing definitive is known about his personal life. However, it is traditionally believed that Kalidasa was one of the nine men of letters at the court of Vikramaditya, king of Ujjaini. In sanskrit literature, Kalidasa takes his place after Valmiki and Vedavyas. His country of origin is also not known. The fame of Kalidasa is mentioned in the eyehole stone inscriptions of 634.

There are many tales about Kalidasa. It is said he was orphaned in childhood and was brought up by cowherds, leaving him no opportunity for education. By a turn of fate he was married to a learned princess whom the king was attempting to teach a lesson for insolence. The princess received a big shock when she found out how unlettered Kalidasa was. But she inspired him to worship the goddess Kalika and seek her blessings for higher studies. The goddess was pleased with his worship and blessed him. From then Kalidasa seriously studied the vedas, the ramayana, the mahabharata, the puranas, history, poetry, rhetoric, prosody, grammar, astrology, philosophy and economics and acquired a unique poetic power. He then devoted himself fully to literary activities. His works reflect the wisdom he had so diligently acquired.

Kalidasa wrote in a variety of genres, such as the plays Abhijvanashakuntala and Vikramorvashiya, the epics Raghuvangsha and Kumarsambhava, and the lyrical poems, Meghduta and Rtusanghara. In Raghuvamsa, while narrating the victorious wars of Raghu, the poet gives many descriptions of ancient Bengal-which is why some scholars believe that he might have been from Bengal. Meghduta, about a Yaksa in exile who implores the clouds to carry the message of his pining heart to his beloved in the far mountains, was immensely popular. Many Bengali poets were influenced by Kalidasa and wrote poems imitating Meghduta. Some other works such as Shrutavodha, Nalodaya, Puspavanavilasa, Shrngartilaka and Jyotirvirdabharana are also popularly ascribed to Kalidasa.

Kalidasa's writings reveal his imaginative powers and intellectual depth. His poetic compositions, in which he used about 30 different metres, show his metrical skill. It was through the English translation of Kalidasa's play Abhijnansakuntala that the West had its first taste of the classical literature of India. [Sambaru Chandra Mohanta]