|Born||4th century CE|
|Died||5th century CE
Gupta Empire, possibly in Ujjain or Sri Lanka
|Occupation||Playwright and poet|
|Notable work(s)||Abhijñānaśākuntalam, "Meghadūta"|
|Spouse(s)||Said to have been married to a princess; her name was Vidyotma.|
Kālidāsa (Devanāgarī: कालिदास "servant of Kali") was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language. His floruit cannot be dated with precision, but most likely falls within the 5th century CE.
Scholars have speculated that Kālidāsa may have lived either near the Himalayas, or in the vicinity of Ujjain, or in Kalinga. The three speculations are based respectively on Kālidāsa'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).
Kālidāsa wrote three plays. Among them, Abhigñānaśākuntalam ("Of Shakuntala recognised by a token") is generally regarded as a masterpiece. It was among the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English, and has since been translated into many languages.
- Mālavikāgnimitram ("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.
- Abhigñānaśākuntalam ("Of Shakuntala recognised by a token") 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.
- Vikramōrvaśīyam ("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.
- Raghuvaṃśa is an epic poem about the kings of the Raghu dynasty.
- Kumarasambhava describes the birth and adolescence of the goddess Parvati, and her marriage to Lord Shiva.
He has also written two Khanda Kavyas:
- Ṛtusaṃhāra describes the six seasons by narrating the experiences of two lovers in each of the seasons.
- Meghadūta or Meghasāndesa is the story of a Yaksha trying to send a message to his lover through a cloud. Kalidasa set this poem to the 'mandākrānta' meter known for its lyrical sweetness. It is one of Kalidasa's most popular poems and numerous commentaries on the work have been written.
Kālidāsa's poetry is celebrated for its beautiful imagery and use of similes. The following are some specimen verses from his works.
One celebrated example occurs in the Kumārasambhava. Umā (Parvati) has been meditating throughout the summer, and as the monsoon arrives, the first raindrop falls on her:
nikāmataptā vividhena vahninā
Still sat Umā though scorched by various flame
The beauty of this verse is held to result from "the association through suggestion of numerous harmonious ideas". Firstly (as described in Mallinatha's commentary), the description suggests signs of her physical beauty: long eyelashes, pouting lower lip, deep navel, and so on. Secondly (as described in Appayya Dikshita's commentary), it suggests her pose as a perfect yoginī: her motionlessness through pain and pleasure, her posture, and so on. Finally, and more subtly, in comparing the mother goddess to the mother earth, and the rain coursing down her as it courses over the surface of the earth, it suggests earthly fertility. Thus the verse harmoniously brings to mind beauty, self-restraint, and fertility.
In another work, King Aja grieves over the death of Indumati and is consoled by a hermit:
na pṛthagjanavac chuco vaśaṃ vaśinām uttama gantum arhasi ।
O king! you are the finest among men with self-control. It is not fit of you to be struck by sorrow like the ordinary folk. If a great wind can move a tree and a mountain equally, how is the mountain better?
Dushyanta describes Shakuntala to his friend:
anāghrātaṃ puṣpaṃ kisalayam alūnaṃ kara-ruhair
She seems a flower whose fragrance none has tasted,
saṃcāriṇī dīpaśikheva rātrau
As Indumati walked past each king and went to the next king (in a ceremony of choosing her husband), the king's face would turn bright and then pale. It was like watching a line of houses in the night as a dazzling lamp passed by.
And every prince rejected while she sought
api turagasamīpād utpatantaṃ mayūraṃ
Dasaratha saw many beasts as he was hunting. Although he saw a peacock fly very close to his chariot, he did not shoot his arrow. For, as the peacock spread its tail feathers before him, it reminded him of his wife's hair adorned with flowers of different kinds and how it would become disarranged during their lovemaking.
Rama's coronation is announced:
sā paurān paurakāntasya rāmasyābhyudayaśrutiḥ।
The news of the beloved Rama being crowned as king gave special joy to every citizen, like a stream that wets every tree in a garden.
One of the loveliest verses in Meghadūta is as follows:
- ॥twāmālikhyat pranayakŭpitā dhāturāgai shilāyāha।
mātmānm te charanapatitam yavdichhami kartum।
astraistravanmuhu upchitairdrushtirālŭpyate me।
krurastasminnapi na sahate sangamam naŭ krutantāh॥
Meaning: when I try to draw your picture and show in it that I am bowing at your feet, with a 'kawa-a type of chalk', on the rock; due to emotional outbreak, my eyes get wet. The 'Krutāntā or Yama' himself does not wish to have our meet in the picture itself...
Similarly, a woman's beauty has been artfully depicted in a verse of Kalidasa's Meghadūta as follows:
- ॥tanvi shyamā shikhari dashanā pakwabimbādharóshthi।
madhye kshāmā chakithariniprekshanā nimnanābhi।
shronibhārāt alasagamanā stoknamrā stanābhyām।
yā tatrasyatdyŭvati vishaye srushtirādyev dhatooh॥
Meaning: This verse's meaning can best be understood when translated word-by-word:
- tanvi - slim
- shyamā - an adult woman who has not yet enjoyed sex with a male and thus has no experience of pregnancy and the like
- shikhari dashanā - a woman having, well-arranged, clean, white teeth
- pakwabimbādharóshthi - having lips the color of a morning reddish sun
- kshāmā - short-waisted
- chakithariniprekshanā - with the look of a frightened deer
- nimnanābhi - having a deep navel
- shronibhārāt alasagamanā - a slow walker, due to heavy hips
- stoknamrā stanābhyām - slightly bent forward, due to the weight of her breasts
- and for the last line the meaning is: such a woman is the idol of beauty for any woman.
Later culture 
Many scholars have written commentaries on the works of Kālidāsa. Among the most studied commentaries are those by Kolāchala Mallinātha Suri, which were written in the 15th century during the reign of the Vijayanagar king, Deva Rāya II. The earliest surviving commentaries appear to be those of the 10th-century Kashmirian scholar Vallabhadeva. Eminent Sanskrit poets like Bāṇabhaṭṭa, Jayadeva and Rajasekhara have lavished praise on Kālidāsa in their tributes. A well-known Sanskrit verse ("Upamā Kālidāsasya…") praises his skill at upamā, or similes. Anandavardhana, a highly revered critic, considered Kālidāsa to be one of the greatest Sanskrit poets ever. Of the hundreds of pre-modern Sanskrit commentaries on Kālidāsa's works, only a fraction have been contemporarily published. Such commentaries show signs of Kālidāsa's poetry being changed from its original state through centuries of manual copying, and possibly through competing oral traditions which ran alongside the written tradition.
Kālidāsa's Abhijñānaśākuntalam was one of the first works of Indian literature to become known in Europe. It was first translated to English and then from English to German, where it was received with wonder and fascination by a group of eminent poets, which included Herder and Goethe.
Willst du die Blüthe des frühen, die Früchte des späteren Jahres,
Willst du, was reizt und entzückt, willst du was sättigt und nährt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde, mit Einem Namen begreifen;
Nenn’ ich, Sakuntala, Dich, und so ist Alles gesagt.—Goethe
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 earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine?
I name thee, O Sakuntala! and all at once is said.—translation by E. B. Eastwick
"Here the poet seems to be in the height of his talent in representation of the natural order, of the finest mode of life, of the purest moral endeavor, of the most worthy sovereign, and of the most sober divine meditation; still he remains in such a manner the lord and master of his creation."—Goethe, quoted in Winternitz
Kālidāsa's work continued to evoke inspiration among the artistic circles of Europe during the late 19th century and early 20th century, as evidenced by Camille Claudel's sculpture Shakuntala.
Mohan Rakesh's play in Hindi, Āshad ka ek din (1958), tries to capture the conflict between the ethereal beauty repeatedly portrayed in Kālidāsa's works and the harsh realities of his time.
The Kannada films Mahakavi Kalidasa (1955), featuring Honnappa Bagavatar, B. Sarojadevi and later Kaviratna Kalidasa (1983), featuring Rajkumar and Jayaprada, were based on the life of Kālidāsa. V. Shantaram made the Hindi movie Stree (1961) based on Kālidāsa's Shakuntala. R.R. Chandran made the Tamil movie Mahakavi Kalidas (1966) based on Kālidāsa's life. Chevalier Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan played the part of the poet himself. Mahakavi Kalidasu (Telugu, 1960) featuring Akkineni Nageswara Rao was similarly based on Kālidāsa's life and work.
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 Parvati, 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 is a five-act Sanskrit play written by Krishna Kumar in 1984. The story is a variation of the popular legend that Kālidāsa was mentally challenged at one time and that his wife was responsible for his transformation. Kālidāsā, a mentally challenged shepard, is married to Vidyottamā, a learned princess, through a conspiracy. On discovering that she has been tricked, Vidyottamā banishes Kālidāsa, asking him to acquire scholarship and fame if he desires to continue their relationship. She further stipulates that on his return he will have to answer the question, Asti Kashchid Vāgarthah" ("Is there anything special in expression?"), to her satisfaction. In due course, Kālidāsa attains knowledge and fame as a poet. Kālidāsa begins Kumārsambhava, Raghuvaṃśa and Meghaduta with the words Asti ("there is"), Kashchit ("something") and Vāgarthah ("speech").
Bishnupada Bhattacharya's "Kalidas o Robindronath" is a comparative study of Kalidasa and the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
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)
- V. Venkatachalam. Fresh light on Kalidasa's historical perspective, Kalidasa Special Number (X), The Vikram, 1967, pp. 130–140.
See also 
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Kalidasa (Indian author).
- Kalidas, Encyclopedia Americana
- Sanskrit poetry, from Vidyākara's Treasury - Vidyākara
- Citramīmāṃsā of Appayya Dikshita, opening passage
- Daniel Ingalls, Sanskrit Poetry and Sanskrit Poetics, Introduction to Vidyākara (2000), Sanskrit poetry, from Vidyākara's Treasury, Harvard University Press, pp. 28–30, ISBN 978-0-674-78865-7, retrieved 6 December 2010
- Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature - Kalanath Jha
- Govind Chandra Pande, "A very famous example of Kālidāsa's use of Upamā"
- Dominic Goodall and Harunaga Isaacson, The Raghupañcikā of Vallabhadeva, Volume 1, Groningen, Egbert Forsten, 2004.
- Maurice Winternitz and Subhadra Jha, History of Indian Literature
- Moriz Winternitz; Subhadra Jha (transl.) (1985), History of Indian literature, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., p. 238, ISBN 978-81-208-0056-4
- Kavirathna Kalidasa (1983) Kannada Film at IMDb
- Mahakavi Kalidasu, 1960 Telugu film at IMDb.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Kālidāsa|
- Kalidasa: Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works by Arthur W. Ryder
- Biography of Kalidasa
- Works by Kalidasa at Project Gutenberg
- 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.
- Kalidasa at The Online Library of Liberty
- Kālidāsa at the Internet Movie Database