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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mahakavi Kalidasa

Treatises could be written on Mahakavi Kalidasa and his phenomenal contributions to Sanskrit literature.

Sanskrit, as many of you already know, is considered a "Deva Bhaasha" or the language of the Gods. I will spare you the agony of a paragraph explaining why it is considered so. Sanskrit even has a spoken, colloquial counterpart called Prakrit. There are many great names from Indian history associated with the development and deep entrenchment of Sanskrit as a written and spoken language in their societies. 

A few such legendary names are Veda Vyasa/Valmiki for Ithihasas, Panini for grammar, Patanjali for Yoga treatises, Aryabhata/Bhaskara/Madhva etc for Scientific Treatises, Charaka/Sushruta for Medical Treatises, Bhaasa/Ashvaghosa/Shudraka for Sanskrit Dramas, Kautilya for Artha Shastra and some others in the Hall of Fame. But for Sanskrit poetry, plays and epics there was no one who could match Mahakavi Kalidasa's brilliance and eloquence. But Kalidasa's life never kick started this way.

Kalidasa was in the spring of his life a foolish vagabond who used to cut and sell wood. He was considered so naive that he would sit at the edge of a tree branch and cut its stem. Legend has it that the courtiers of the kingdom where Kalidasa resided, wished to teach their vain princess a lesson and got him married to her. When she came to know the truth, she abandoned him by locking him inside a Kali Temple. When Kali returned to her abode, Kalidasa refused to let her inside unless she grants him a darshan to prove she is indeed Kali Devi. Kali Devi realized his time for greatness has come as a relief from his curse, smiled and granted him audience and vaagshakthi (utterances come true). That is when Kalidasa instantly composed the great Shyamala Dandakam in praise of many forms of Mother Kali. Incidentally, he came to be known as Kalidasa only after this incident, which means Devotee of Kali. 

Later, as his fame and name grew far and wide, he became the official court poet laureate and personal confidante of the famous wise King Bhoja Raja. Their association was so fruitful for Sanskrit that Kalidasa went on to create epic masterpieces like Raghu Vamsam and Kumara Sambhavam, love poetry like Megha Sandesham and Ritu Samharam, and plays like Abhijnata Shakunthalam, Malavika Agnimitram and  Vikrama Oorvashiyam. All of these are literary treasures bequeathed to humanity. It is in King Bhoja's court he was honored with the title of "Mahakavi". Sri Subramaniya Bharathi, India's National Poet is the only other Indian to hold this honorific title.

The beauty of Kalidasa's gems lie in the generous similes and metaphors he uses to describe, for example, a change of emotions of the character of his play or poetry as related to a corresponding change of season. This popular invocatory verse from Raghu Vamsam is considered as a word play of Kalidasa where he intentionally puns on the word Pitharau (can mean two fathers OR parents):
वागर्थाविव सम्प्रुक्तौ वागर्थप्रतिपत्तये
जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वतीपरमेश्वरौ
vAgarthAviva sampruktau vAgarthapratipattaye
jagatah pitarau vande pArvatIparameshvarau
Just like a Word and its Meaning are supplements to one another and at times are mutual compliments, I salute the pair of parents (or two fathers), Parvati and Parameshwara (or Partvatipa and Rameshwara).

The following video (where Akkineni Nageshwara Rao enacts the role of Kalidasa and Ghantasala sings) relives the Shyamala Dandakam, a praise of Kali Devi as the emerald-hued Raja Matangi (one of the 10 tantric Mahavidyas and a ferocious form of Saraswati Devi) playing on the Manikya (Ruby) Veena instrument. Click here for the Kannada film star Dr. Rajkumar's version. Shyamala means the dark-colored and Dandakam  is a special prose styled poetry that sometimes exceeds 26 syllables per line. The Sanskrit text and its English transliteration with meaning for this wonderful devotional hymn can be found here:

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