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A poet and dramatist who flourished
in the fifth century A.D., Kalidasa, who wrote in Sanskrit, was a master of
several genres and possibly India's greatest writer. Other than legends concerning
the sources of his wisdom and his origins, however, little is known about his
life except that he was very likely a part of the court of Chandragupta II
(also King Vikramaditya, 375-413?) and a member of the Brahman (priestly) class.
Kalidasa is among the most widely read writers in India, and his works formed
part of the influx of Eastern writers who influenced late eighteenth- and early
nineteenth-century European literature. Kalidasa's work is noted for its portrayal
of the unity of duty to one's family, religion, and society and the normative
role of nature in the human world. His characters constantly make choices to
uphold obligations to the institutions of faith, kin, and country in the face
of terrible ethical dilemmas, thereby illustrating the ideal of virtue.
In regard to the natural (nonhuman) world, Kalidasa assumed the fundamental
unity of all life and recognized the dignity and value of nonhuman life. Images
of the majesty and beauty of nature are central to his style, and he used natural
imagery to illuminate human virtues. In The Dynasty of Raghu, for
instance, Prince Raghu must exile his wife (to maintain his rule) after she
is accused of infidelity by the people. She accepts her fate dutifully:
Trees shed their flowers, the peacock-dances ended,
The grasses dropped from mouths of feeding deer,
As if the universal forest blended
Its tears with hers, and shared her woeful fear.
Later, she is given the chance to demonstrate her purity:
The faithful wife no sooner spoke
Than earth divided, and there broke
From deep within a flashing light
That flamed like lightning, blinding-bright.1
In addition to the rich imagery, the gods appear in animal form and animals
become examples of human virtue. Finally, as demonstrated by the case of King
Dilipia, humans are punished for their treatment of animals. King Dilipia remains
childless because of his offenses against the divine cow Fragrant. The king
comes to recognize the worth of all creation after spending twenty-one days
wandering with the cow's daughter and protecting her from an attacking lion.
 Kalidasa, "The
Dynasty of Raghu," from Kalidasa: Translations of Shakuntala and Other
Works (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1920), pp. 144-45.
Works by the Author
Dutt, M. C., trans. The Poems of Kalidasa. Kitabistan: Allahabad.
Holme, Bela, trans. The Dramas of Kalidasa. Kitabistan: Allahabad.
Holme, T., trans. Sakuntala or The Fatal Ring: A Drama by Kalidasa, "The
Shakespeare of India". London: Walter Scott Publishing Company,
Ryder, Arthur W., trans. Translations of Shakuntala and other Works. New
York: E.P. Dutton & Company.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.