By Dr. Supriya Sahasrabuddhe

KalidasaKalidasa’s Place in world literature

No literary writing can be accomplished without the mention of the great poet from India, Mahakavi Kalidasa. After the epic drama like Ramayana and Mahabaharata its the work of Kalidasa that is set before any. Its the grace and genius of his astonishing words that gave him the title of Aadi kavi which means the first and of its own kind.

Kalidasa is known for his Mythological stories woven in beautiful masterpiece in form of poems and plays.Kalidasa is influencing hundreds of poets and play writer since 2000 years and this influence can be seen reflecting the beauty not only in literature but also in art like drawings, music, sculpture etc. The symphony of the human feelings like love, hate, betrayal,sensitivity and duty can be seen as huge reflection of the Kalidasa in the work of great poet Dr.Ravindranath Tagore from India.

The author of this article Dr.Supriya Sahastrabuddhhe has tried to explore every nook in the literary life of Kalidasa.

The analysis of his various work reflects the deep knowledge and relevance of the Kalidasa literature with respect to the ecology,human nature, historical references, beauty of nature and geography like a genius.The author has studied and unfolded the amazing qualities, accuracy and minuteness of him as a genius and master of Sanskrit language poet.

The article takes hold of the reader with the introduction, time/period and place of Kalidasa . It reaches the peak of immense information when the author takes us to the tour of Kalidasa’s poems and epic plays. The scientific detailing, engrossing stories of his personal life and interesting explanations make this article both scholarly and gripping.

The article talks about place of Kalidasa in world of literatur,times of Kalidasa and his life,prominent qualities of his literature,ecological consciousness ,sensitivity about woman’s dignity.Kalidasa poetry like Raghuvansham,Meghdootam,Kumarsambhavam and Rutusamharam are put in readers delight in short.Kalidasa’s Plays,Malvikagmitra,Vikarmorvashiya and Abhijnana Shakuntalam are explored for readers.

The pride in the court of King Bhoja, Kalidasa still rules every heart that is in love. The Meghdoota and his other plays offer strong women characters which are humble,sensitive,duty full but carrying self esteem, dignity and bravery.

This article overall is an absolute voyage into the world of words and era of Language evolved at its peak.Though the article is about Kalidasa the flow of it acquaints readers to various characters in mythology, many kingdoms, kings,politics,history, locations, epic ancient era,the beauty of Sanskrit language and richness of art and culture.The abundance and liberty given to the authors, writers and artist in that period cannot be unnoticed while reading.


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Abhijnanashakuntala (Recognition of Shakuntala) is his world famous and the most popular drama in seven acts about the love and marriage of Dushyant and Shakuntala.  This is the first Indian drama to be translated into a Western language. At least 46 translations of Abhijnanashakuntala in twelve European languages along with one in Chinese are available. Vikramorvashiya is the story of a couple in Vedic mythology, King Pururava and Apsara Urvashi. Malavikagnimitra also is a similar love story but the treatment of the theme of love is different in each of his plays. In addition to these three plays, Kalidasa wrote two surviving epic poems Raghuvamsha (The Dynasty of Raghu) and Kumarasambhava (Birth of Kumar i. e. Kartikeya).  He also composed the long poems Meghadoota (The Cloud Messenger), about a Yaksha’s message to his wife through a cloud, and  Rutusamhara (Cluster of seasons), a poem of descriptive account of the six seasons in India.

It is said by some fan of poet Magha,

उपमा कालिसस्य भारवेरर्थगौरवम् दण्डिनः पदलालित्यं माघे सन्ति त्रयो गुणाःl

“The similes of Kalidasa are wonderful, poet Bharavi evinces deep meaning, Dandi’s cadence of style is admirable and Magha has all these three qualities.” Still, out of these three, only Kalidasa has been influencing a large number of artists of the last almost two thousand years. These artists are not only from the sphere of literature but also of painting, music and sculpture. The Meghadoota’s romanticism is found in Rabindranath Tagore’s writings, especially, poems on monsoon. Scholars and critics like Mallinath, Anandavardhan, Vallabhadeva and eminent Sanskrit poets like BanabhattaJayadeva and Rajasekhara have lavished praise on him in their tributes. Even modern literary artists like Mohan Rakesh, Surendra Verma, Krishna Kumar are attracted towards this ancient poet and have written dramas or books based on his life and literature or translated his Meghadoota. Yogi Aurobindo and the epic poet of Germany, Goethe venerated Kalidasa. The following traditional verse is well known –

पुरा कवीनां गणनाप्रसंगे कनिष्ठिकाधिष्ठितकालिदासा l

अद्यापि तत्तुल्यकवेरभावात् अनामिका सार्थवती बभूव ll

“In the past while counting poets, the little finger stood for Kalidasa. Going further to the ring-finger, no poet of the same caliber could be found. Therefore, that finger remained without any name.” The ring-finger is called अनामिका ‘no name’ in Sanskrit and it proved its name of ‘no name’. Classics appeal to the taste of any audience or readers irrespective of their times and nations. They can be reinterpreted and seemingly be renewed in the interests of generations of readers succeeding its creation. The books of Kalidasa belong to this category as they are loved today after almost two thousand years in the eastern and western world equally. The period of Kalidasa is almost two thousand years old and the world and ethos was pertaining to monarchy. Still he does not become outdated in the age of democracy, science and technology.

The great fame of Kalidasa mainly lies in his masterpieces, Kumarasambhava, Meghadoota, Raghuvamsha,  and Abhijnanashakuntala is the supreme example of his genius. Hence, these classics are dealt with more in detail in this essay.

2] Times of Kalidasa and His Life –

Nothing apart from his works is known about Kalidasa’s life and age with certainty. Like Shakespeare, this bard also is silent about himself. Ancient Indians did not take great interest in writing history; perhaps, they loved life more than life history. Therefore, we lack accurate historical and biographical details about the lives of great personalities. So, several colourful legends have sprouted around  Kalidasa without definite answers. Eastern and western scholars like Prof. R. N. Apte, S. P. Pandit, Ryder, Keith, Cowell have been trying to determine his period with the help of linguistic features of the Prakrit dialects used by some of the minor characters in his plays, the Aihole Prashasti inscription of 634 AD, Mandasor inscription of A D 473, archaeological evidences and so on. Some researchers give importance to the mention of names like Agnimitra, Pushyamitra, Vasumitra of Shunga dynasty in his Malavikagnimitra and point out the lack of direct reference to the names of Gupta kings. That is why they place Kalidasa as a contemporary of later Shunga rulers. They opine that Vikramaditya is not only a proper noun but an appellation; hence it may not necessarily be related to Gupta times. This makes his period 150 to 57 B. C.

Some other scholars think that Kalidasa might have been in the court of Chandragupta II of the Gupta dynasty who is also known as King Vikramaditya. The mention of Huns in Raghuvamsha could be a veiled reference to the victory of Kumaragupta’s son and successor, Skandagupta over Huns. The campaign of Raghu in Raghuvamsha may have been modelled on the celebrated campaigns of Chandragupta II-Vikramaditya’s father, Samudragupta. The great artistic genius of Shakespeare flourished when England was prospering during the Renaissance, so also Kalidasa’s art must have blossomed in the prosperous age of the Gupta dynasty.

The debate about the period of Kalidasa is still ongoing and without any final conclusion. So, it is better for the lovers of literature to concentrate on and enjoy his dramas and poetry. Whatever times he belonged to, his literature reflects the rich culture, classical arts and exalted social life of that golden and glorious age of the history of India.

The ancient age produced great pieces of Autotelic arts which were thematically self-contained and not motivated by anything beyond itself. The art of dramatics must have been popular and prestigious in the ancient past. Kings and Princes offered patronage to the poets and also tried to write poetry. King Bhoja is a well known name and he was a good writer as well as generous patron. Emperor Harsha had not only written the play Nagananda but also had acted in it.

Any artist is always inevitably, though sometimes vaguely, reflected in his art. Although we do not have his biographical details, we can portray Kalidasa’s personality from his literature. His writings touchingly show up a noble and meaningful mode of life for the people to pursue. His works are an intellectual treat to thinkers and common readers alike. His descriptions stretch from mountains and rivers to cities and villages and from Ramagiri in Central India up to Alakanagari in the Himalayas. In the epic poem Raghuvamsha, while portraying the conquests of Emperor Raghu, Kalidasa describes the places and peoples, their modes of living, food-habits and trades and professions, rivers and mountains in almost the whole country — Assam, Bengal and Utkal in the East; Pandya and Kerala in the South and Sind, Gandhara and other places in the North-west. He must have travelled widely across the length and breadth of the land, seen those places, talked to the people and studied their modes of living. Also they are marked by a belief of what is good in life and people’s noble goals of life. He keenly observes the life in the court, also village life and that in the company of nature. He could describe the rich and wealthy life in a royal palace and the serene, simple and peaceful life at a hermitage with equal understanding. In his works is found an excellent combination of art-consciousness, unmatched word power and an unparalleled capacity for vivid portrayals.

He was a poet of love, beauty and pleasures of life. This lover of beauty mostly kept himself from ugly and fierce aspects of life. There are pertinent mentions of the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, six Darshans, also fine arts like music, dance, painting in his writing. He seems to be familiar with Astronomy. All this points towards his rich personality with erudition and aesthetics. With him we are in the company of a highly civilized, cultured personality and a mature, ripened mind. In Kumarasambhava he is a devotee of Shiva and he worships Vishnu in Raghuvamsha. So, his religious views are not parochial. We enter his world of people pure in mind and body and who are graceful. We learn here the manner in which man’s nature can reach high moral levels. He was a scholar but was never dry-as-dust pedantic and his works display his poetic genius as well as his scholarship.

One common legend about him is that he was not born intelligent. On the basis of many traditional stories it is believed that he was from humble origin. There was an intellectual Princess, Vidyottama.  She was very rude and often insulted the scholars in the court. So, she was on purpose wrongly told by them that Kalidasa was a genius and then he was married to her. After marriage, the wife discovered his ignorance and humiliated him. She asked him tauntingly, अस्ति कश्चित् वाग् विलासः? – Is there any nice work of your word power?- Kalidas felt hurt, left the palace and did studies and penance for Goddess Saraswati. It was fruitful. He returned to the Princess and showed her his three great poems which started with the three words. Kumarasambhava started with अस्ति, the starting word of Meghadoota is कश्चित् and the first word of Raghuvamsha is वाग्.

In his Hindi play Ashadh Ka Ek Din’-A Day in the Month of Ashadh- Mohan Rakesh imagines that Kalidasa had abandoned his beloved in his native village when he went to a city and prospered there. This is another legend about him. However, looking at the personality that emerges from his writing, there is no reason why we should suppose that this intelligent poet could have been dull in the beginning or irresponsible in the relationship of love. So, the legends may be taken only lightly.

Kalidasa thought of drama to be चाक्षुषः यज्ञः, a ritual of sacrifice for eyes. The words suggest that he took his business seriously. Once he also says –

नाट्यं भिन्नरुचेर्जनस्य बहुधाsप्येकं समाराधनम्

Drama is a means of pleasing people of different tastes, so his aim was to please and satisfy all the people with high respect for their tastes.

If we compare Kalidasa with other Sanskrit poets, a few observations can be made. Kalidasa’s poetry is like a creeper in the garden, well cared for and properly trimmed compared to Bhasa’s which is like a creeper in the forest, growing only naturally. In case of Bhavabhooti, we can consider one example. The grief of Ram is described by both Bhavabhooti in Uttararamacharit and by Kalidasa in Raghuvamsha. Ram in the former faints with grief but Ram’s eyes are full of tears in the latter. The description makes Rama sentimental in the former but Kalidasa’s Ram is more controlled and noble. Bhavabhooti’s Uttararamacharit is moving with remarkable pathos in it. Dandi’s Dashakumaracharit is a prose narrative and is like a modern novel as it describes many strata of the society with adventures and deceits in it. The use of romance and irony in it is quite attractive.

An interesting legend is told about the meeting of Kalidasa and Bhavabhooti.

Bhavabhooti wrote in Uttararamacharit about Ram and Sita chatting aimlessly about all kinds of things in the forest. It is told -अविदितगतयामा रात्रिः एवं व्यरंसीत्. एवं means thus. So, the meaning is – “Thus the night went by without knowing how the hours were passing.” This has a bald journalistic tone. Bhavabhooti showed this line to Kalidasa. Kalidasa just removed the ‘dot’ or Anusvara- अनुस्वार on एवं, so it became एव which means ‘only’. अविदितगतयामा रात्रिः एव व्यरंसीत्. Then the meaning is beautifully poetic – “Only the night went by without knowing how the hours were passing.” The connoted meaning is Only the night went by or ended but not the chatting. They had so much to talk. The love between them was so profound that time would not be the limit.

A legend about his quick wit is often narrated. King Bhoja of Dhara city wanted to know Kalidasa’s feelings about him. So he went to his house accompanied with his Minister. As planned, the King hid himself and the Minister went ahead and told Kalidasa that King Bhoja had suddenly passed away. Kalidasa was overwhelmed with sorrow. He cried,

अद्य धारा निराधारा निरालम्बा सरस्वतीl

पंडिताः खंडिताः सर्वे भोजराजे दिवं गते ll

“The city of Dhara is orphaned, Goddess Saraswati has lost support and scholars are ruined when King Bhoja has left for heaven.”

Then the King went forward and happily stood before him. Immediately, smiling Kalidasa exclaimed,

अद्य धारा सदाधारा सदालम्बा सरस्वतीl

पंडिताः मंडिताः सर्वे भोजराजे भुवं गते ll

“The city of Dhara is fortified, Goddess Saraswati has got support and scholars are celebrated when King Bhoja has come down to the earth.”

King Bhoja felt more proud of this precious gem of his royal court.

It is generally accepted that Kalidasa was a Kashmiri. Scholars have speculated that he might have lived either near the Himalayas or in the vicinity of Ujjayini. The speculations are based respectively on Kalidasa’s detailed description of the Himalayas in his Kumarasambhava and a deep affection for the city of Ujjayini displayed in the Meghadoota. He must have belonged to Ujjayini as there are loving references to it in his writing. His seat might have been beside all the glories of Vikramaditya’s or a great King’s throne.

3] Prominent qualities of his literature  –

3] A] Preeminent Literary qualities

His word power is unique and he is capable of bringing out the entire intended meaning in a few words. The universally approved criteria of sublime are noble diction, the power to grasp great ideas, right use of figures of speech, presentation of great souls in the protagonists etc. Longinus, an ancient Greek critic also has explained these in his well known essay On the Sublime. The world of Kalidasa evinces all these characteristics.

Kalidasa shows extraordinary skill of portrayal of human emotions and thoughts.  His portrayals of the great Himalayan mountain and of the mode in which the season of spring (Vasanta) blossomed are some of the most lyrical expressions in the language. Kalidasa also exhibits his powers of perception while recognizing what we can call as ‘beauty in action and behavior’.  His descriptions are vivid and heart-warming. They are always so picturesque that it is as if we are seeing the events happening before us. In the second Sarga or canto of Raghuvamsha King Dileep is returning home with the holy cow, Nandini. The description of the darkness spreading in the forest of the Himalayas is an instance of this. Kalidasa portrays the movements of the resting animals like flocks of wild pigs, deer, peacocks etc. Another instance could be the simile in Meghadoota of the design on the back of an elephant which is used to describe the view of the river, Narmada from the top of the mountain, Vindhya.

Kalidasa’s poetry is celebrated for its beautiful imagery and dazzling use of similes. It is rightly said उपमा कालिदासस्य – You can look to Kalidas for the most remarkable similes. They are remarkable in variety. At the beginning of Raghuvamsha, he says that Shiva and Parvati are united like speech and meaning. In Kumarasambhava, the voice of Parvati is like the sound of Veena. His style is ‘Vaidarbhi’, that means it is more connotative than obvious, according to the terminology of Sanskrit poetics. He pictured in his works the beauty in nature and life. Kalidasa’s works show three great qualities — a sense of beauty, capacity for appreciation of the aesthetic values and our traditional culture. Moreover, he shows a scientific attitude in his poetry. For example, the route suggested to the cloud for his journey is accurate not only from geographical but also from meteorological point of view. The details of natural scenery in Rutusamhara display his keen and loving observation. His characterization shows his profound psychological insights.

3] B] Ecological consciousness –

This quality has to be noted because we are longing for it today and this ancient poet shows it so earnestly. His was an age of pomp and prosperity. The descriptions in all his writing point towards a very glorious and affluent culture and yet the poet sings about the hermitage with love and reverence. It shows that the dominant ideal that occupied the mind of India was hermitage.

The attitude of Kalidasa about nature is never man-centred. There is a genuine relationship between nature and humans. Description of Nature is Kalidasa’s forte. This is most perspicuous in Abhijnana Shakuntala. In this play, the hermitage dominates the play and overshadows the king’s palace.                                       Shakuntala loves all the trees, creepers and animals in the ashram like humans and the fourth act of the play shows how they are all sad at her farewell. She is deeply concerned about the pregnant doe, a deer is holding her pallu and the sylvan nymphs are blessing her. In Raghuvamsha Sita  enjoys the beauty of unfamiliar flowering trees, and shrubs and creepers. Lakshmana gathers and brings her plants of many kinds with flowers. She is delighted to hear the sound of herons and ducks. The rivers in the forest with their streams and sandy banks is a pleasant sight for her. However, later when she is pregnant and Laxman leaves her there alone, the whole forest is distressed by her plight. Parvati in Kumarasambhava loves the devadar or pine tree like her son, Skanda. The wife of the Yaksha in Meghadoota treats the Mandar tree like her son.

Ravindranath Tagore admired Kalidasa’s love of nature and wrote about it at length. In the western dramas, plays of human characters drown our attention in the vortex of their passions. Nature occasionally peeps out, but she is almost always a trespasser who has to offer excuses, or bow apologetically and depart. But in all our dramas such as Mrit-Shakatika, Abhijnana Shakuntala, Uttararamacharita, Nature stands on her own right, proving that she has her great retain to impart the peace of the eternal to human emotions. This is an outstanding quality found not only in Kalidasa but in the whole of ancient Indian literature.

3] C] Sensitivity about woman’s dignity –

This is another quality which is needed today and this Indian maestro of literature exhibits it in that ancient period. Kalidasa, like a number of other literary artists, is always sensitive about woman’s dignity. This should refute the sweeping charge that ancient Indians were unjust to women throughout their history. Sita in Raghuvamsha has humbleness but does not abandon her self-respect. When she is left by Laxmana in the forest she sends a message to Ram. She says वाच्यस्त्वया मद्वचनात् स राजा. -The King should be told by you these words on my behalf.- The use of passive voice here suggests the distancing and divine anger. She also tells that she should be seen like any ascetic lady- तपस्विसामान्यमवेक्षणीया. So, she is making him aware of his new duty towards her though not as his wife. This blending of soft pride, dignity and sorrow is moving. She does not blame and charge him but shows graceful acceptance of her lot as she might be aware of Ram’s noble but strict sense of duty as a King. The heroines like Shakuntala, Iravati, Dharini, unnamed wife of the Yaksha are all unforgettable.

The great sages in Kumarasambhava are asking for Parvati’s hand from Himalaya for Shiva. Kalidasa says, “And then Himalaya glanced at Mena.” It is understood that he was seeking Mena’s approval “as every good householder should include his wife’s opinion in every decision”.


This long poem or mini-epic seems to be a juvenile piece. It might have belonged to the period of beginning of Kalidasa’s writing career; hence it does not show great maturity of his other works. The title Rutusamhara can be translated as Medley of Seasons. Its six cantos are devoted to the six Indian seasons. He concentrates on the varied harmony of Nature’s aspects while describing the cycle of seasons in India, Vasanta (spring), Grishma (summer), Varsha (rains), Sharad (autumn), Shishira (winter) and Hemanta (cool). The thematic backdrop for the description of the changing seasons is how lovers react to the landscape. Therefore, the main rasa or mood is shrungara rasa. Some critics have criticised this sensuality to be cloying but the poetic beauty of the descriptions of natural phenomena in it is undeniable.

The following are some beautiful scenes in nature keenly observed by the poet. When Grishma fire scorches their bodies, animals discard their mutual hostilities. Elephants, buffalos and lions come together like friends. When blighted by the fire, they are quickly exiting their habitual confines to enter the areas of rivers. The lion finds elephants very near him. But since he himself is tired and weak with extreme thirst, he does not attack them. Elephants also are not afraid of the lion. A frog in such a situation goes to rest under the hood of a snake for shade. A snake takes shelter under the plumage of a peacock. Neither the snake nor the peacock kill these preys that are so close to them. The bees do not get lotuses in the ponds, so they foolishly take the crests of peacocks to be new lotuses and run to them. The solace in this atmosphere is the south breezes that carry the scent of the mango blossoms and temper it with their murmur. The moonbeams of the summer evening are attractive. In Vasanta or spring season the earth looks like a bride wearing red garments.

After this summer, it is rainy season. The wives of the travellers see the rainbow and start expecting and waiting for their husbands’ arrival. Kadamba forest glistens in the first cool rain of the season. The Sharad (autumn) is most beautiful after suffering the heat.

His usual sublime reticence is missing here but all these descriptions present an opulent society where people enjoy life in all the seasons. It also evinces his immense love of all the aspects of nature.


The great painter Avanindranath Tagore once said, “If you want to learn aesthetics, if you want to be an artist, read, become and live Meghadoota.” The artist appreciates in these words the unique expression of beauty of many kinds in this poem. Yogi Aurobindo is full of praise about ‘the wealth of colour, delicacy and sweetness’ in it. This world of beauty in Meghadoota is woven around a simple and apparently unrealistic theme.

It recounts within 111 stanzas an exiled, and therefore lonely, Yaksha’s prayer to a passing Cloud. Since the Cloud is personified here by the poet, pronoun ‘he’ is used for the Cloud in this essay. The poem is divided into two parts, Purvamegh and Uttaramegh. The Yaksha is a subject of King Kubera, the god of wealth and is exiled for a year to Ramagiri in Central India because of negligence of duties. His wife is awaiting his return in Alakanagari and both are pining to meet. Perhaps Kalidasa thought of the pining Yaksha looking at Rama’s longing for lost Sita. The Yaksha has become weak with that sorrow. Kalidasa does not directly say it but suggests by telling that the Yaksha’s golden bracelet has fallen down from the wrist and it is empty. The meaning is the wrist became thin and so the bracelet became loose. This is the Vaidarbhi way of indirectly suggesting instead of telling something directly. At the beginning of the rainy season, on the first day of the month of Ashadh – आषाढस्य प्रथमदिवसे – he saw a large dark Cloud passing northward. The Yaksha poured out his pining heart and requested the Cloud to be his messenger to take his message to his wife at Alakanagari in the Himalaya mountains on that day. The Meghadoota is so popular that the first day of Ashadh is celebrated as Kalidasa Day in India with various literary activities.

The Yaksha explains to the Cloud the route to be taken to the destination and also describes the many beautiful sights on the way in its northward course to the city of Alaka. He prays to the Cloud to console his wife by conveying his message to her. He says that he is praying him because the Cloud is great; even if he is refused, it is not bad. Better to be refused by the great donors than being helped by the bad people.

The poem was first translated into English in 1813 by Horace Hayman Wilson. It was translated in French and German, too. Since then, it has been translated many times into many Indian and various other languages. After the most famous traditional commentary on the poem by Mallinatha, many critics have also written about the beauty of this poem. Meghadoota has inspired rich works of many artists. The poetic conceit used in the Meghadoota gave rise to the genre of sandesha kavya or messenger poems in Sanskrit literature. Most of them are modeled on the Meghadoota and are often written in the Mandakranta metre of Meghadoota. Examples include the HamsaSandesha, by Vedanta Desika in which Rama asks a hamsa or swan bird to carry a message to Sita, describing sights along the journey. The poem was the inspiration also for Gustav Holst‘s The Cloud Messenger in 1909–10 which had a musical element prominently. This is pertinent because most of the lines in this poem are musical. For example,

मन्दं मन्दं नुदति पवनश्चानुकूलो यथा त्वाम्

वामश्चायं नदति मधुरं चातकस्ते सगन्धः

“(O Cloud), the wind will be favorable, slow and soft for thee and waft thee ahead. Close on thy left, the Chataka or rain-lark will sing sweetly.”

We can just randomly pick some lines like these from this lyrical composition and recite them. We will feel the pleasant rhythm. This is a description of the soft-blowing breezes and the soft flow of words here can give us the feeling of drifting with them. This is certainly great poetry.

Great poetry never waives scientific facts for the sake of poetic beauty. The scientific attitude of this literary artist is pronounced in the very beginning of Meghadoota. He states the objection that must arise in the mind of the reader – how can the Yaksha ask an inanimate Cloud to be the messenger or envoy and to convey his message? Kalidasa gives the scientific or meteorological formula of the Cloud as actually it is made up of smoke, light, water and wind. Then he provides the reply to the query about the unrealistic theme and its psychological explanation. कामार्ता हि प्रकृतिकृपणाः चेतनाचेतनेषु. “Persons smitten with love lose the sense of distinction between animate and inanimate objects.” So, one can understand why the Yaksha is praying to the Cloud.

This scientific outlook is seen throughout the depiction of the proposed journey of the Cloud. Dr. Ranjan Kelkar, the Ex-Director General, Indian Meteorological Department and well known Meteorologist studied Meghadoota keenly and expressed his wonder at the accuracy of the descriptions in it. He says that Kalidasa has carefully observed the movements, directions, speed, changing shape and color of the Clouds in the monsoon or rainy season in India. His details are geographically and meteorologically exact and precise. Dr. V R Bhave was a lover of adventure and investigative tourism in Pune, Maharashtra. He travelled in his own plane exactly on the same route indicated by the Yaksha in the poem. He verified it and has put on record his surprise at the accuracy of aerial observation. It is true that there is no verifiable proof of existence of airplanes in ancient India. But, we cannot explain away the question – how could Kalidasa get the accurate aerial view of the landscape? Recently, a group of adventure tourists, namely, Meghadoota Club, also travelled by road according to the instructions of the Yaksha to the Cloud. They found the details of the scenery to be precise. The poet has fascinatingly described the travel of the Cloud from Ramagiri to Alakanagari. The rivers, hills and mountains, cities and towns, vast fields, farmers’ daughters as well as girls in the cities and those in the forest who are different from each other, the birds and the bees are all described by the poet vividly. It is a total picture of a beautiful world. In order to better understand the beauty of Meghadoota, we should see that Monsoon is India’s only source of water. All the water that we need to drink, to raise our crops, there is only one single source, which is the monsoon. So the monsoon brings not only water but also life to India, which means that it is its soul. The exalted excitement of the people at the sight of the Cloud in this poem can be understood in the light of this reality in India.

His descriptions of the small rivers like Gambhira, Nirvindhya and the big ones like the Ganga, Narmada are very appropriate. Ujjayini is the city of the poet’s heart and he is delighted to sing its glories. Therefore, he advises the Cloud to visit it even though he has to modify his route for that purpose. He tells him not to miss the sight of the lovely ladies there on the terraces of their palaces. He also asks the Cloud to be present at the evening worship of Mahakaleshvar there and add his deep sound to the arati and worship of the God. This would be meritorious for him. The people there will look at the bluish Cloud like the neck of Lord Shiva. Kalidasa expresses the grace of Ujjayini nicely. It is believed that denizens of heaven go to the earth if their merit is lessened. Ujjayini is a radiant bit of heaven brought down by such denizens of heaven. The Cloud can take rest in that wealthy city. The pretty ladies there use fragrant incense for drying their hair. The Cloud can nourish his body with the smoke of that incense coming out of the latticed windows of the palaces.

Alakanagari and the Yaksha’s majestic palace are depicted with similar love and adoration. The palaces there are like the Cloud, because they have beautiful women like the lightning; colorful pictures like rainbow; music like his thundering; shining bejeweled floor like water and tops like the height of the Cloud. The garden around the palace has trees of Ashoka, Bakula, Kurabaka and also a pond full of lotuses and swans. The Bakula tree blossoms when it gets wine from the mouth of the Yaksha’s wife and Ashoka blossoms with her kick. There is a hill of sport with a crest of sapphires. Yaksha’s wife plays Veena and in the evening a peacock roosts on a golden perch and sometimes dances with the rhythm of her clapping and jingling bracelets. Such a splendid house must have lost its charm in his absence as the lotus fades in the absence of the sun. The element of contrast between affluent and luxurious atmosphere in Alakanagari and around, and the sorrow-stricken wife of Yaksha in the palace is striking.

Kalidasa’s famous skill of similes is found in many lines. A rainbow shines on the black Cloud and then he looks like Krishna with a crown of feathers of peacock. Like John Keats in English literature, Kalidasa is fascinated by beauty. The description of grace and beauty of the Yaksha’s wife is captivating. तन्वी श्यामा शिखरिदशना पक्वाबिम्बाधरोष्ठी… He says that she must have been the Creator’s first effort of creating a woman. She is counting days of separation by putting flowers on the threshold and asking the Sarika bird in the cage if she remembers him since she is his pet.

The Yaksha requests the Cloud that when he reaches his palace he should first see whether she is sleeping. In that case, he should wait and not thunder because sleep must be rare for her and, may be, she is meeting her Love in a dream. Then he tells the message to be delivered, “Who has lasting weal or unending woe? Fortune goes up and down with the course of the rim of a wheel. Take heart. My curse will come to an end within four months.” The Yaksha asks the Cloud to console her like that. Actually, the Cloud is silent while the Yaksha is supplicating but according to him, the Cloud will oblige silently as he gives water to the Chatak bird silently.

The ending of the poem is moving as it is told that the Master of the Yaksha came to know about his plight, took pity on him and reduced the period of his punishment so that the ‘star-crossed’ lovers met very soon. Another beautiful point at the ending is the last part of the Yaksha’s dialogue with the Cloud. He prays that, like him, the Cloud should never be separated with his beloved, the Lightning even for a moment. This is a most imaginative and compassionate gesture of the poet.


वागर्थाविव संपृक्तौ वागर्थप्रतिपत्तये जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वतीपरमेश्वरौ l

“I bow before the Mother and Father of the world, Parvati and Shiva who are united like speech and meaning and enhance the significance of each other.” This is the beginning of Raghuvamsha where Parvati and Shiva are greeted so that the epic should be meaningful. This is a superb simile, about the union of Parvati and Shiva, perhaps the brightest jewel in the treasure of his similes. Raghuvamsha is an epic poem about the history of a galaxy of brave and righteous Kings of twenty-four generations of the Raghu dynasty, the admirable deeds and feats of Rama’s forefathers. It has 19 Sargas or cantos. Critics have felt it an honour to write a commentary on Kalidasa’s writing, and especially on Raghuvamsha. Almost forty such commentaries on Raghuvamsha are available.

Kalidasa is aware of his enormous task and says – क्व सूर्यप्रभवो वंशः क्व चाल्पविषया मतिःl He knows that Raghu’s vamsha or dynasty is originated from the Sun and the poet’s talent is limited. With his marvelous skill for similes, he says that he is setting out to cross the ocean with a small raft. This is his modesty. As Coleridge says, modesty is a sure sign of great genius.

The first two cantos are about King Dileep. King Raghu’s birth and his great deeds is the subject of cantos three to five. Sixth, seventh and eighth cantos are devoted to King Aja and Queen Indumati. The ninth canto is the career of King Dasharath. The life of King Ram occupies six cantos from the tenth to fifteenth. The poet presents the theme of the Ramayana in a condensed form while telling about Ram. The sixteenth and seventeenth cantos depict the lives of Kusha and Atithi respectively and the last two cantos put forth the lives of twenty kings among whom Agnivarna is the last one.

In the beginning, King Dilip is staying with Queen Sudakshina in the forest. The great monarch is tending the cattle of the hermitage. This is their spiritual penance for getting a son. The atmosphere has the calm of self-control, purity and renunciation. Dileep risks his life to save Nandini, the heavenly cow from a lion. The penance is fruitful and Raghu is born. He is as brave as his father and even Kubera is frightened when Raghu decides to wage a war against him to get wealth to make a gift for Kautsa.  The next worthy Kings are Aja, Dasharath, Ram, Kusha and so on. Though all of them are great men, we notice differences in them. They are not artificial or stereotypical idols but diverse characters. The poet may be suggesting that it is the penance which created all the next kings with ideal royal qualities.

The poem opens amid scenes of simplicity and self-denial. But it ends in the palace of magnificence, extravagance and enjoyment reflecting the age. The age of Kalidasa had reached the zenith of civilization and excelled in luxury, literature and arts. Yet Kalidasa is at home while describing the sacred solitude and spiritual striving in the forest. At the same time, he is showing and perhaps, gently warning against the consequences of too much indulgence which is seen in King Agnivarna in the last canto. Agnivarna was a pleasure-seeker who forgot his kingly duties and obligations. He is an example of a king who could be termed as ‘depraved’.

I think that the following verse is the most important in the epic. The kings are portrayed as शैशवेsभ्यस्तविद्यानां यौवने विषयैषिणाम् l वार्धक्ये मुनिवृत्तीनां योगेनान्ते तनुत्यजाम् l They study all the branches of knowledge in the beginning of life, enjoy pleasures of life in youth, become ascetics in old age and die like yogis. Kalidasa here exhibits the Hindu ideal of life and kingship. The Kings of an ancient dynasty in this story represent the religious and moral culture of those times which could guide the rulers of men even today. This tells about the ideal pattern of life in the Hindu tradition. The four पुरुषार्थ Purusharthas of धर्म [spiritual awareness or righteousness] अर्थ [acquisition of wealth], काम [love or physical pleasures] and मोक्ष [ultimate salvation] are represented in this. Raghuvamsha depicts our ancient historical culture and tradition. It evinces that our ancestors had the awareness about such matters as to how one should lead a good and purposeful life.

Similarly we get here the picture of an ideal wife. Aja is left bereft by the separation from his beloved wife, Indumati. He addresses her after her death as follows- गृहिणी सचिवः सखी मिथः प्रियशिष्या ललिते कलाविधौ। करुणाविमुखेन मृत्युना हरता त्वां वद किं‍ न मे हृतम् l  “You were my housewife, secretary, friend, beloved, consort and favourite student of arts. Tell me, what has not cruel Death deprived me of, by snatching you from me?” This is an excellent example of devoted love. The wife not only takes care of the household but is a soul mate for the husband. This relation is based on equity as well as love and there is no trace of subordination. The role and status of woman and wife in ancient India is underlined again here. It was not hegemonic or misogynic. It was based on the dictum – यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताःl Aja pines for her and ends his life by drowning in the river as he cannot bear the pangs of separation from his wife. Such episodes evince Kalidasa’s mature tragic awareness. It is seen also in the grief of Sita after she is left in the forest by Lakshmana.

The glory of Raghuvamsha was at the peak in the reign of Ram because of his valour, nobility and governance. However, after Ram’s leaving for his heavenly abode, the kingdom was divided. In one episode Kalidasa shows that Ayodhya speaks to Kusha in his dream about her afflictions. The last two kings of the dynasty ruined the empire by their delinquent behavior.

The epic gives a message to the rulers that states can survive and prosper only if the rulers possess bravery, spirit of service and sacrifice. We can see that, actually, this message is valid and relevant for all times for any polity, whether it is monarchy or democracy.


अस्त्युत्तरस्यां दिशि देवतात्मा हिमालयो नाम नगाधिराजः

पूर्वापरौ तोयनिधी वगाह्य स्थितः पृथिव्या इव मानदंडःl

The epic starts with these lines depicting the massive grandeur of the mountain, Himalaya, standing at the north between two oceans. Kalidasa’s reverence for the Himalayas is unmistakable everywhere, especially in the use of the appellation देवतात्मा – Devatatma-godly soul- for it. Its vastness and hugeness is suggested with a simile. The mountain is like a measuring rod for the earth. But this is just a physical quality. It is not enough. It is suggested that it may not be measuring only the earth physically but measuring cultures also, because the culture developed in the Himalayan regions is high and essentially spiritual in quality. It is देवतात्मा and has the abode of gods and this denotes a spiritual quality. It is an abode of Siddhas, Kinnaras and Vidyadharas. All the things needed for a Yajna or sacrifice are available here. Brahma, the God of creation, himself has made this, the king of the mountains. It is not only a place for lovers who want to find happiness in life; it is also an ideal retreat for those who want to meditate.

The lines are becoming for the epic poem as this is an epic poem narrating eternal wedding of love and its fulfillment. The birth of the hero, Kartikeya is brought about who is so brave that he can defy and vanquish the evil demon laying waste heaven’s own kingdom.  The real weapon of war is spiritual penance.

The story is taken from Shiva Purana. The demon Tarakasura was troubling the gods. Lord Brahma told them that the son born out of the wedlock of Shiva and Parvati would be able to defeat Tarakasura.  However, Shiva was doing penance. How could he awake physically and consent to marry Parvati? Nobody could deter Lord Shiva from his penance. Parvati, daughter of the King of the Himalayas has matchless beauty and sweet speech like Veena. Narada, the great sage who could travel anywhere, had predicted before the King that Parvati would marry Shiva. She was sent by her father to serve the meditating Shiva. Gods sent Manmatha or Cupid to attempt to create love for Parvati in Shiva. He went accompanied with his wife Rati and friend, Vasanta Rutu or spring season which enhances the emotions of love. Accordingly, Vasanta created conducive atmosphere when Parvati arrived before Shiva. But when Manmatha tried to throw his arrow for seduction, Lord Shiva was full of wrath and opened his Third Eye in fury. A great fire flowed forth. Manmatha or Kama was burnt to ashes. Mournful Rati was ready to smear her body with those ashes and die. This is a very pathetic scene. But Akashavani told her to desist because Manmatha was to come to life again and they were destined to be united.

Then Parvati decided to do hard penance for Shiva. Her mother, Mena tried to dissuade her by saying, “You cannot bear the agony and throes of penance. You are delicate like a Shirish flower.  The Shirish flower can bear the feet of a bee but not of a bird.” This is a typical metaphor of Kalidasa. Parvati was determined to achieve Shiva as her husband, she gave up all the luxuries of the palace and started penance in a hermitage. She had four fires around her and the sun above her for पंचाग्नि penance. After a long time of penance, one day a young celibate hermit approached her and started asking her questions about the purpose of her penance. He wondered for whom she was doing it, because she was like a jewel, and a jewel never goes in search of anybody; rather people search for it. If she wanted somebody as her husband, he said, he was ready to give half of his own merit of spiritual penance for that. Then Parvati’s friends told him that she was practicing penance for Lord Shiva. Thereupon, the celibate replied that he would never commend her choice. She would get funeral ashes instead of sandalwood powder and elephant hide in place of silken garments in her marriage with Shiva. Shiva is so poor that he has serpents in place of ornaments like a crown. Parvati argued and said that he may not have a crown but kings bow before him and put their crowns on his feet. A long debate followed. When she saw that he would not stop his arguments, she turned to go, and at that moment he held her hand, because he was Lord Shiva himself in the celibate’s disguise. Now Parvati was speechless with happiness and amazement. Kalidasa says that her position with astonishment was न ययौ न तस्थौ – she did neither halt nor move away. Shiva said that he was pleased with her and she had won him with the penance. However, Shiva could not go directly to her father, Himalaya to ask for her hand.  With the maturity of his mind, he requested Saptarshis along with Arundhati for this job. They gladly did it and the marriage took place in a grand style. Then Shiva and Parvati lived in marital bliss.

According to many critics, the part authored by Kalidasa in Kumarasambhava ends here. The remaining episodes such as the birth of the son Kumara to Shiva and Parvati, his becoming the Commander of the gods’ forces and the slaying of the demon Tarakasura are written by some other poet. So, later Kartikeya was born and he killed the demon. The glory of the gods and Indra was restored.
The story may apparently seem simple. However, it points to the nobility in the theme. The power of spiritual penance is the real weapon of Kartikeya and no spirit of revenge is there to kill the evil demon. This suggests the purity of minds and purpose. The killing is not sinful but is destruction of evil for bringing in the Good, the element of Shiva or holiness. It is significant because in the trio of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, he stands for the element of destruction which is an inevitable part of the eternal cycle of life; it is required for the existence of life force. In fact, Shiva was not enamored  by the physical beauty of Parvati. He destroyed Kama who attempted to make him desire her physically. Actually, he admired her noble qualities and her devout penance. Both he and Parvati were performing penance and leading a life of sacrifice. Both were embodiments of purity. Born to them was Kumara. His parents’ penance fortified him with strength to destroy the demon Taraka.

Ravindranath Tagore rightly says that this poem is a journey from Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. God Shiva, the Good, in the beginning had remained lost for long in the self-centred solitude of his penance and asceticism, detached from the world of reality. Sati, the spirit of Reality, wins his heart with penance and suffering and their union brought heroism that released the Paradise from the demon of Lawlessness.

The epic is full of examples of Kalidasa’s beautiful style. Uma and Shiva are doing Pradakshina around fire as a ritual in marriage. The simile is Day and Night revolving around Mount Meru. This shows the rhythm of contrasts. Love-making of Shiva-Parvati is portrayed gracefully, not obscene. Like Khajuraho sculptures or excellent nude paintings, they are merely beautiful. While describing the Samadhi state of Shiva, he uses three similes in one verse and achieves a great impact of sublimity.

अवृष्टिसंरम्भमिवाम्बुवाहं अपामिवाधारमनुत्तरंगम्l

अन्तश्चराणां मरुतां निरोधान्निवापनिष्कम्पमिव प्रदीपम्ll

It means, Lord Shiva is sitting in Samadhi state like a cloud without the movement of raining, like an ocean without surging of waves and like the lamp burning very tranquilly because breezes are prevented from coming in. This simile is pregnant of profound meaning. The high position of a cloud in the sky which can give water which is a life force, the unfathomable depth of the ocean and brightness and light of a lamp are all reflected in Samadhi state of the Lord. Height, depth and light can be achieved in yog. This verse is incomparable and so is this epic.


The main theme Kalidasa has treated in all his three plays is love but he shows its different aspects in each one. In the Malavikagnimitra he delineates love which is a flippant and sensuous passion. In Vikramorvashiyam love is a lyrical but explosive emotion, it distracts and infatuates whereas in Abhijnanashakuntala  love ennobles and elevates because of purification through suffering. In all these plays, the King falls in love of some beautiful girl while he already has his queens. This may not be taken as moral depravity as polygamy was an accepted fact in those days. We have to look at them within the frame of their times. It is important that the kings are worthy heroes and women are not subordinatedor humiliated.


Malavikagnimitra is not taken to be a play of the first order. It must be a work of his salad days. Some critics believe that the hero could be based on a Shunga king, Agnimitra of Vidisha. The story is a light tale set in a harem, and, unlike Kalidasa’s other works, it sustains a playful and comical mood throughout. It concerns the machinations of King Agnimitra to win Malavika, a female dance student with whom he is in love. King Agnimitra falls in love with the picture of Malavika. When the queen discovers her husband’s passion for this girl, she becomes infuriated and has Malavika imprisoned, but as fate would have it, Malavika is in fact a true-born princess, thus legitimizing the affair. The play has stereotyped characterization and does not show natural development of the germ of the plot.

Although Kalidasa’s plays, generally, are classified as natakas, this play is sometimes regarded as a prakarana. While natakas necessarily concern heroic-historical characters, prakaranas concern themselves with purely fictional characters. Abhijnanashakuntala‘s King Duhshyanta appears in the epic poem The Mahabharata but Malavikagnimitra‘s King Agnimitra does not have a heroic, mythic or historical and literary precedent.  Besides, the protagonist king of Malavikagnimitra seems less heroic, more comical, than his counterparts in other Kalidasa plays.  Duhshyanta, himself fights demons and mad elephants during the action of Abhijnanashakuntala, and King Pururava personally and single-handedly rescues Urvashi from demons in Vikramorvashiya. Agnimitra, the hero of Malavikagnimitra, spends his time spying on Malavika through a cottage window while his generals are waging war on a neighbouring state.

There are many instances of Dramatic Irony in this play. Kalidasa’s most compelling theme, the permeable line between representation and reality, also features prominently in Malavikagnimitra. His characters often mistake visual representations for the things they represent. The king’s interest in Malavika is first piqued by a painting of her, and, later in the play, Malavika becomes mesmerized by a painting of the king, to the extent that when the King, hiding outside the cottage window, speaks to her, she responds to the painting.

There are more female characters in this play than in other plays.  Besides this, the female characters in this play are unusually self-possessed. Queen Dharini’s interests largely govern King Agnimitra’s behaviour. Iravati flies into a rage that terrifies everyone around her more than once in the play. Most peculiar is the nun, who is one of the very few female characters in classical Sanskrit drama who speaks Sanskrit as opposed to Prakrit.

The poet begins the drama with the prayer or invocation of the Spirit of the Divine Union. Let God illumine the path of truth for us, remove our passions, coming out of darkness. Parvati, the eternal Woman or Prakruti is commingled in an ascetic purity of love. The unified being of Shiva and Parvati is the perfect symbol of the eternal in the wedded love of man and woman. He greets his kingly audience with it. The whole drama goes to show the ugliness of the treachery and cruelty inherent in unchecked self-indulgence. The conflict of ideals is shown between King Agnimitra and the Queen Dharini, lust and passion on the one side and serene strength of regulated desires on the other. The poet’s deliberate object never was to pander to his royal patron. The very introductory verse indicates the object towards which this play is directed. The contrast lies hidden in the very names of the hero and the heroine. The name Agnimitra symbolizes in the poet’s mind the destructive force of uncontrolled desire – same is true of the name Agnivarna in Raghuvamsha – ‘the friend of the fire’. His love-making is playing with fire. He is not aware that all the time it is scorching him black. Dharini signifies fortitude and forbearance that comes from majesty of soul. It is infinite dignity of love that rises far above all insult and baseness of betrayal. The play does not offer much more than a message against the negative side of royalty.


Vikramorvashiya is about the love and tribulations of King Pururava and the heavenly nymph Urvashi. According to some critics, the “Vikram” of the title could be Chandragupta II who adopted the title “Vikramaditya”, meaning “valiant like the Sun”. As per the tradition, the basic plot has multiple versions in the Samvada Sukta of the Rigveda, the MahabharataShatapatha Brahmana, Vishnu PuranaPadma Purana, Srishti Khanda, Matsya PuranaMahabharata, Bhagavat Purana  and the story of Gunadhya in Brihatkatha and others. Kalidasa makes significant adaptations with his power of imagination and prowess as a playwright to make the presentation appealing.

Urvashi was returning from the palace of Kuber on mount Kailas. She was with Chitralekha, Rambha and many others, but the demon named Keshin abducted Urvashi and Chitralekha and went in the North-East direction. The group of Apsaras started screaming for help, which was heard by King Pururava and he rescued them. Urvashi and Pururava fell in love at first sight. The nymphs were immediately summoned back to the heaven. The King tried to focus on his work, but he was unable to shake off the preoccupation with the thoughts of Urvashi. He wondered if his was a case of unrequited love. Urvashi, who had gone in invisible form to see the king, wrote a message on a birch leaf instantly, confirming her love.

Unfortunately, the leaf was carried off by the wind and stopped only at the feet of the queen Aushinari, the princess of Kashi and the wife of Pururava. The queen was enraged at first, but later declared that she would not come in the way of lovers. Before Urvashi and Pururava could talk, Urvashi was summoned again to the heaven to perform in a play. She was so smitten with love that she missed her cue and mispronounced her lover’s name during the performance as Pururava instead of Purushottam. As a punishment, Urvashi was banished from heaven, which was modified by Indra. So she would live with him until the moment her human lover laid eyes on their child. After a series of mishaps, including Urvashi’s temporary transformation into a vine, the curse was eventually lifted, and the lovers were allowed to remain together on Earth as long as Pururava lived.

The poetic beauty and fanciful humor in this play reminds us of Shakespeare‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Similes are spread in his plays as well as in poetry. Urvashi is rescued from the demon and she is coming out of unconsciousness. She is compared with pictures of three situations – the night which is slowly becoming free from darkness with the advent of the moon, a flame being free from smoke and the Ganga becoming free from the mud mixed in the water because of her flood in the rainy season.

The play comes up as a beautiful fairy story woven with a very pleasant style of the master artist.


Abhijnanashakuntala is Kalidasa’s world famous and most popular drama in seven acts about the love and marriage of Duhshyant and Shakuntala.  Sir William Jones translated it for the first time in English in the 19th century and introduced Kalidasa to the western world. This is the first Indian drama to be translated into a western language. Since then, at least 46 translations of Abhijnanashakuntala in twelve European languages along with one in Chinese are available. The greatest poet of Germany, Goethe called this play as the union of heaven and earth. It is still performed not only in India but in other countries like Germany.

Kalidasa has taken the story of Shakuntala from the Mahabharata which is a huge reservoir of mythological stories. King Duhshyant is enamored by Shakuntala, Sage Kanva’s adopted daughter, in his ashram and she also is impressed by his royal dignity. They marry in the Gandharva way. He promises her to return, take her to his city and make her his chief queen. However, he does not keep his word. Then after her delivery of a baby and a long wait for the King, she goes to him but he refuses to recognize her. Here she threatens him that her son is too brave for his age and can easily defeat the King. She behaves in a practical manner as Duhshyant also is somewhat irresponsible. Then, a voice from the sky, Akashavani, advises the King that he had married her and he must not deny her rights. Shakuntala is accepted as the Pattarani. Both of them are not very noble in this somewhat crude story.

Kalidasa modifies this story in Abhijnanashakuntala but the beauty of the play lies more in the treatment of the theme than in the story line. Kalidasa makes it sweet and poetic with some changes and ennobles the characters of both Duhshyant and Shakuntala. The way they fall in love is very romantic. A bee leaves the jasmine and tries to settle on Shakuntala’s face. She calls for help and her friends playfully suggest that she had better call Duhshyant since it is his duty as a King to protect the hermitage. This gives a cue to Duhshyant who had been secretly and eagerly watching them. Both are enamored by each other. Duhshyant is not a selfish lover here. He gives a ring to Shakuntala after their Gandharva marriage and leaves with a promise to return. Then there is an episode where fate plays a role. Sage Durvasa visits the ashram and expects hospitality from Shakuntala as it was her responsibility in the absence of Sage Kanva. However, she is so much lost in the contemplation of her lover, Duhshyant, that the respectable guest is ignored. Durvasa is infuriated and curses her that she would be forsaken by the person whose thoughts made her forget her duties.  Shakuntala is still thinking of Duhshyant and is not aware of all this but her two friends, Priyamvada and Anasuya see this, ask the Sage’s forgiveness on her behalf and get an amendment for the curse. According to it, the King would remember and accept her when he saw the ring, the token of their love and marriage. The friends do not disclose this episode to her as it would distress her. However, while they are bidding her farewell they tell her that she should show the ring to the King in case he does not remember and recognize her. Here, Kalidasa has skillfully employed dramatic irony.

Pregnant Shakuntala is sent to Duhshyant by Sage Kanva. During her journey to the city across the river, the ring falls down from her finger in the water. She stands before the King in the court but he does not remember anything about her as she cannot produce the ring. Rather, he humiliates her and she has to go away from the court. We find a dichotomy at this juncture – the King is actually the ‘ex officio’ judge but has also become the accused. This was the effect of Durvasa’s curse. But Kalidasa does not show Shakuntala returning to Kanva’s ashram after this. This is his rare poetic insight showing her self-respect. Her mother, Menaka helps her out, takes her to the ashram of Sage Mareecha and then a handsome boy, Sarvadamana, who later became Bharat, is born to Shakuntala. He grows up to be a very brave prince.

By that time, Duhshyant gets the ring from a fisherman who had found it in the stomach of a fish that had gulped it when it fell from Shakuntala’s finger. Now Duhshyant remembers everything about his love and marriage. He is full of remorse, repenting and longing to meet her. So the process of Abhijnana or recognition has started now. At the same time he has to give a decision in the court about the right of inheritance. This reminds him about his childlessness and deepens his regret of losing Shakuntala. This also is a nice instance of dramatic irony.

Then once he is returning from the heaven after helping Indra to fight demons. On the way to his city, he visits the same ashram where Shakuntala and Sarvadamana are living. He saw Sarvadamana, who was daringly attempting to bare the jaws of a lion’s cub and counting its teeth. He is enchanted by the bravery of the boy. At the same time, he felt deep affection for the boy. Duhshyant says,

रम्याणि वीक्ष्य मधुरांश्च निशम्य शब्दान्‌-

पर्युत्सुको भवति यत्सुखितोsपि जंतु:।

तत्चेतसा स्मरति नूनमबोधपूर्वं

भावस्थिराणि जननांतरसौहृदानि॥

“A person becomes happy by looking at beautiful things and listening to sweet words, but at the same time in that happiness creeps a feeling or tinge of melancholy. His mind really remembers something not understood before [अबोधपूर्वं]. This must belong to another birth because the emotions of love remain permanent in other births, too.”

This is in line with the Hindu belief in rebirth. Those who do not agree to this theory cannot accept this. They object that feeling of sadness in the midst of happiness is morbid and is against natural laws. But this is a feeling experienced by a lot of very sensitive persons. It is a psychological fact and a matter of personal experience. The poetry and romanticism in this verse is extremely beautiful.

Another thought – could it be the subconscious of modern psychology?

It is interesting to watch how Kalidasa skillfully and circumspectly brings about the recognition of Shakuntala. The Tapasis, Hermit women are surprised to see the resemblance between Duhshyant’s and the boy’s forms. They show Sarvadamana a toy peacock. They tell him – See the शकुन्त-लावण्य shakunta-lavanya i. e. beauty of the shakunta, meaning bird. The boy naturally catches the word शकुन्त-ला which is his mother’s name and says, “Where is my mother?” So, Duhshyant now sees that the boy’s mother’s name is Shakuntala. This is a step in Abhijnana. Further, Sarvadamana was wearing at that time an amulet given by Sage Mareecha for his well being which fell down while playing with the cub. It was a particular kind of amulet which could be handled only by his parents. It would turn into a snake if picked up by anyone else. The King picked it up and yet he remained safe. So the Tapasis were astonished and began to think about his identity. Abhijnana or recognition expedites here and is complete when Shakuntala comes there. She is now a tapaswini with an unsullied sense of love, total renunciation and service. It is a happy ending in the union of the family of Duhshyant. The structure of this drama would remind us of Ajintha or a similar Indian sculpture. The ring episode becomes a kind of organic filament in the whole fabric. The drama is a large canvas on which all the vicissitudes of life are touched upon.

The meaning of the name Duhshyant has a bad element. He errs many times and becomes good at the end through suffering. When he comes to the ashram of Kanva, he is armed and ready to hunt the deer there. This is a conflict of ideals, the pompous heartlessness of the king’s court and the natural purity of the forest hermitage. The ascetics ask him not to do that and remind him that his weapons were meant for the protection of the innocent and not to hurt them. The King comes to his senses. He shows the same guiltiness when, although because of Durvasa’s curse, he defies Shakuntala. She was as innocent as a deer. The suffering of separation from her gives him wisdom. Obviously Kalidasa aims at appealing to the conscience of the spectators. Indian literary tradition believes that the goal of literature is to instruct the readers or spectators not by direct teaching but by gentle  persuasion, as by a loving wife. Mammata used the word कान्तासम्मिततयोपदेशयुजे for this. This is accomplished here by the drama. Advice of great ideals becomes effective by their aesthetic presentation.

The most moving part of the drama is the scene of Kanva’s sending Shakuntala to Duhshyant. The whole hermitage is plunged in sorrow while bidding her farewell. No wonder, Shakuntala’s maids and all others shed tears at her departure but even the trees, plants, and birds bow down with grief. The peacocks have given up dancing, grass is fallen from the mouths of does and creepers are shedding tears with their leaves. Shakuntala never drank water before watering the trees. The sight of the first blossoms was a festivity for her. She had treated a deer with oil when it was wounded by an arrow. That deer is not allowing her now to leave. Sage Kanva says that in spite of his being a forest dweller, he is so much grieved at Shakuntala’s departure, so he cannot imagine how the householders must be feeling the pangs of separation from their daughters. He tells the flora and fauna of the hermitage that they should permit her to depart to the husband’s house. Kalidasa’s belief in the genuine affinity between humans and nature is clearly seen in this scene.

Each and every character in this play has attracted appreciation from the readers. The character of Shakuntala is the most memorable. We see her development in the play from a sweet loving girl to devoted wife and, for some time, caring single parent. Here Shakuntala’s sentiment of love goes through stages of fascination, fulfillment, separation and frustration and then becomes quiet and sublime. She has innate simplicity and purity. Perhaps this is due to her life in the company of nature and love for everything in nature. William Wordsworth would immediately agree to this! Therefore, she is rightly compared with Miranda of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. She is trustful as she consents to marry Duhshyant. This trust gives her strength to endure the distress in her humiliation and also later to forgive him. The characters of her friends, Priyamvada and Anasuya are drawn with delicate taste. Their natures are contrasting but both of them take care of Shakuntala. Ravindranath Tagore has nicely compared them with the sepal of a flower that protects it.

Abhijnanashakuntala is a great gift of Kalidasa to the world literature.


The literature of Kalidasa did not receive mere praise. Critics like  Mahimabhatt did adverse criticism of his writing. It is true that Kalidasa does not much excel in the descriptions of battles and he keeps from the fierce aspects of life. Overall, Sanskrit literature cannot boast of great humour and Kalidasa is no exception.  Because of these lacunae, he fails to express a full view of life and falls short of perfection. But Kalidasa himself has said, एको हि दोषो गुणसन्निपाते निमज्जतीन्दोः किरणेष्विवांकः. “A single fault vanishes in the company of many good qualities like the stain on the moon does among the bright moon rays.” No artist has ever been found to be flawless in the world. So the greatness and fascination of his genius does not diminish.

He loves nature and its picturesque depiction. It is not just a backdrop but a participant in human happiness and sorrows. He puts forth the Hindu ideology in his writing as is seen in advocating the four पुरुषार्थ, four आश्रम and other theories like rebirth. His favourite rasa is शृंगार रस and yet, spiritual penance is the greatest ideal for him. This is, of course, in line with the Indian tradition which has comprehensive nature. It created Vatsyaayana’s Kam Sutras and also Patanjali’s Yogasutras. Penance is his criterion for every character and he shows even Lord Shiva practicing it. In Kumarasambhava, he says to Parvati, अद्यप्रभृत्यवनतांगि तवास्मि दासः क्रीतस्तपोभिःl “O Lady, I am your slave from today bought with your penance.” When he speaks about the kings as त्यागाय संभृतार्थानाम् in Raghuvamsha, he shows the influence of our sacred Upanishads that say ईशावास्यमिदं सर्वं — तेन त्यक्तेन भुंजीथाः. In case of similes, he has no parallel.

When dealing with the lack of evidence about his place, we see that almost every researcher boasts that he belongs to their state. The scholars from Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Gadhaval, Malava, Magadh, Bengal, South India etc claim his origin. It actually means that his real place is the heart of every Indian, nay, of every lover of literature in the world.