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Mahakavi Kalidas

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Introduction to Mahakavi Kalidas

Mahakavi Kalidas

Mahakavi Kalidas was a highly acclaimed and renowned scholar and classical Sanskrit writer. The passage of time has made it difficult to ascertain the exact period during which he lived and worked, but it is widely believed to be somewhere around the 4th century AD. He is acknowledged today as one of the greatest exponents of poetry and drama in the Sanskrit language. Primarily based on Hindu Puranas (sacred texts) and philosophy, his plays and poetry are hugely popular and command a cult following among scholars.

History of Mahakavi Kalidas

Shrouded in the mists of time, very little is known about Kalidasa’s life apart from his literary works. He was however reputed to be known for his physical charm and beauty, which attracted the attention of a princess named Vidyottama. Smitten by his good looks, the princess married him but was uncomfortable about his ignorance and lack of education.

He was frequently humiliated by the princess due to this shortcoming, and in a fit of distress he attempted to commit suicide. Just before doing so, he fervently prayed to Goddess Kali (or even Saraswati) for deliverance from his misery and was suddenly endowed with an extraordinary sense of knowledge and wit, which transformed his life. He went on to become one of the most gifted and admired scholars in the court of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain and soon came to be considered as one of the ‘nine gems’ of the court.

Significant Works of Mahakavi Kalidas

The story of King Dushyant and Shakuntala (Abhijnanasakuntalam)

Kalidas is famous for his three plays, the most prominent being ‘Shakuntala,’ which is considered a literary masterpiece and one of the first Sanskrit plays to be translated into English and subsequently into several other languages. The story revolves around the love affair of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of a sage. The king is said to have fallen in love with her while on a hunting trip and marries her. When the king is suddenly called back to the court due to an exigency, he leaves Shakuntala behind who is pregnant with their child. Shakuntala innocently earns the ire of a visiting sage and incurs a curse by which her husband would forget her and only recall all the events leading to their affair when he sees the ring he has given her.

She sets out to the king’s court in an advanced stage of pregnancy but by a quirk of fate somehow loses the ring, which results in her returning from the court, broken-hearted. Soon enough, a fisherman finds the ring and recognizing it to be that of the king, hands it back to its rightful owner. Upon seeing the ring, the king recalls all the events and immediately sets out to find Shakuntala. After facing several hardships, the couple is eventually reunited and go on to lead a happy and peaceful life.

The story of Malavika and Agnimitra (Malavikagnimitram)

This story revolves around the life of a king named Agnimitra who falls in love with an image of an exiled maid named Malavika. To his chagrin, the queen learns of this and has Malavika imprisoned, but soon learns that Malavika is a princess by birth, and hence is eligible to marry the king.

The story of Vikram and Urvashi (Vikramurvashiyam)

This play narrates the story of a mortal king Pururavas who falls in love with the celestial nymph Urvashi. She is duty bound to return to the heaven, but fate intervenes in the form of a curse, and she is sent to earth to live and die as a mortal. She is also told that the moment she bears a child fathered by her lover, she shall renounce her mortal life and ascend back to heaven. After facing several travails, the curse is eventually lifted, and the couple is granted the boon of staying together on earth.