Kālidāsa Biography

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Biography

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Life

Kālidāsa (KAHL-ee-DAHS-uh) lived during the reign of Chandragupta II (r. c. 380-413), though Indian tradition often places him during the reign of Vikramāditya I of the first century b.c.e. His name, meaning “servant of Kali,” identifies him as a devotee of Śiva, and a great deal of his poetry recounts tales of the legends of Śiva and praise for the city of Ujjain, with which Kālidāsa is associated.

Kālidāsa’s major works are in the form of epic poetry, including the Kumārasambhava (traditionally c. 60 b.c.e., probably c. 380 c.e.; The Birth of the War-God, 1879), which retells the birth of Kumāra and Śiva’s love for Pārvatī, and the Raghuvamśa (traditionally c. 50 b.c.e., probably c. 390 c.e.; The Dynasty of Raghu, 1872-1895), regarding the life of Rāma; lyric poetry, including the elegy Meghadūta (traditionally c. 65 b.c.e., probably c. 375 c.e.; The Cloud Messenger, 1813); and drama, including the Mālavikāgnimitra (traditionally c. 70 b.c.e., probably c. 370 c.e.; English translation, 1875), the Vikramorvaśīya (traditionally c. 56 b.c.e., probably c. 384 c.e.; Vikrama and Urvaśī, 1851), and the Abhijñānaśākuntala (traditionally c. 45 b.c.e., probably c. 395 c.e.; Śakuntalā: Or, The Lost Ring, 1789), all tales of love. Kālidāsa’s poetry is widely regarded as achieving the highest levels in description and expression of emotion of all classical Indian literature.

Influence

Kālidāsa was one of the first Sanskrit writers to receive the attention of Europeans and remains the chief exemplar of Sanskrit culture, particularly of the Gupta era of Indian civilization. English and German scholarship in the field of Sanskrit and classical Indian culture was sparked by Sir William Jones’s translation, published in 1789, of the Abhijñānaśākuntala.

Further Reading:

Dimock, Edward C., Edwin Gerow, C. M. Naim, A. K. Ramanujan, Gordon Roadarmel, and J. A. B. van Buitenen. The Literatures of India: An Introduction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. This critical study complements historical and sociological approaches of earlier Orientalists. It was a cooperative venture mostly of University of Chicago faculty for the Asia Society. Covers full sweep of Indian literature. See especially sections on the epic, drama, poetics, and the lyric. Scholarly, invaluable insights.

Horrwitz, E. P. The Indian Theatre: A Brief Survey of the Sanskrit Drama. 1912. Reprint. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967. An old but evocative description of the Indian theater. A court theater of Ujjain and imaginary performances of Kālidāsa’s plays are especially well described.

Kalla, Lachmi Dhar. The Birth-place of Kālidāsa: With Notes, References, and Appendices. Delhi, India: University of Delhi, 2000. An examination of Kālidāsa’s birthplace that sheds light on his works. Bibliography.

Kālidāsa. Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kālidāsa. Translated by Edwin Gerow, David Gitomer, and Barbara Stoler Miller. 1984. Reprint. Columbia, Mo.: South Asian Books, 1999. Contains three brilliant chapters: “Kālidāsa’s World and His Plays” (by Miller), “Sanskrit Dramatic Theory and Kālidāsa’s Plays” (by Gerow), and “Theater in Kālidāsa’s Art” (by Gitomer). The texts of the three plays are freshly translated and accompanied by copious annotations. Most valuable.

Kawthekar, P. N. Kālidāsa, the Man and the Mind. New Delhi, India: Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, 1999. An examination of Kālidāsa’s life and works. Bibliography.

Krishnamoorthy, K. Kālidāsa. New Delhi, India: Sahitya Akademi, 1994. A critical analysis and interpretation of the works of Kālidāsa. Bibliography.

Mandal, Paresh Chandra. Kālidāsa as a Dramatist: A Study. Dhaka, Bangladesh: University of Dhaka, 1986. Mandal provides a critical examination of Kālidāsa’s dramatic works. Bibliography and index.

Panda, Gangadhar. Dramas of Kālidāsa: The Treatment of the Supernatural. Puri, Orissa, India: Shree Sadashiva Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, 1983. An analysis of the plays of Kālidāsa, with emphasis on his treatment of the supernatural. Bibliography and index.

Shastri, Satya Vrat. Kālidāsa in Modern Sanskrit Literature. Columbia, Mo.: South Asian Books, 1992. Explores the influence of Kālidāsa on later writers.