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Kalidasa(kä'lĭdä`sə), fl. 5th cent.?, Indian dramatist and poet. He is regarded as the greatest figure in classical Sanskrit literature. Except that he was retained by the Gupta court, no facts concerning his life are known. His three surviving plays are Sakuntala (or Shakuntala), Vikramorvasi, and Malavikagnimitra. These court dramas in verse (nataka) relate fanciful or mythological tales of profound romantic love intensified and matured by adversity. Sakuntala, which is generally considered his masterpiece, tells of a maiden, Sakuntala, whom King Dushyanta marries. The king is bewitched so that he forgets his bride until a ring he gave her is discovered in the body of a fish. In Kalidasa's two epics, Raghuvansa and Kumarasambhava, delicate descriptions of nature are mingled with battle scenes. The other poems of Kalidasa are shorter and almost purely lyrical. Meghaduta [cloud messenger] is a description of the regions of India crossed by a cloud traveling between a tree spirit and his wife. Ritusamhara describes the course of pastoral love through the six seasons into which Indians divided the year.
See B. S. Miller, The Theatre of Memory (1984); studies by M. B. Harris (1936) and K. Krishnamoorthy (1972).
Dates of birth and death unknown. Ancient Indian poet and playwright of approximately the fifth century; Indian tradition sets Kalidasa’s life in the first century B.C.
Folk legends depict Kalidasa as a shepherd who, on the strength of his talent, rose to the position of court poet. His works were closely linked with the previous development of the folklore epic and literature, but nature and the life of the people were his main source of inspiration. In the poem Raghu-vamsha (Dynasty of Raghu) and the chronicle of the legendary dynasty glorified in the Ramayana, Kalidasa paints a picture of the lives of many of the country’s peoples and condemns a ruler who disregarded the interests of his subjects. The epic poem Kumara-sambhava (Birth of Kumara, the War God) and the lyric poem Ritu-samhara (Cycle of the Seasons) celebrate the triumph of simple human feelings and the all-conquering force of love.
Kalidasa’s drama is evidence of the high development of ancient Indian theatrical art; it reveals a joyous world of harmony and reason, negating the boundary between the all-powerful deity and supposedly powerless man. Based on themes from the Vedas and the Mahabharata, Kalidasa’s dramas commented on contemporary events: the scene with the fishermen and the guards in Abhijnana-shakuntala (Shakuntala Recognized by a Ring Token), the judgment of Agnimitra in the satirical ending of the drama Malavikagnimitra (Malavika and Agnimitra), and the new, completely earthly interpretation of the theme of the love of King Puruvaras for a celestial girl in Vikramorvashiya (Urvashi Won by Valor). Kalidasa’s dramas, which affirm the value of the human personality, have been translated into many Eastern languages and almost all the European ones. They are still performed all over the world.
WORKSIn Russian translation:
“Stseny iz Sakontaly, indiiskoi dramy.” (Translated and with a foreword by N. M. Karamzin.) Moskovskii zhurnal, 1792, part 6, books 2–3.
Sanskritskie poemy. Vologda, 1890.
Dramy. Translated by K. Bal’mont, introduction by S. F. Ofdenburg.
“Potomki Ragkhu.” Leningrad, 1940, nos. 15–16.
Sakuntala. Moscow, 1955. Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1956.
REFERENCESKaFianov, V. I., and V. G. Erman. Kalidasa: Ocherk tvorchestva. Moscow, 1958.
Pyzhova, O. V. “Ob esteticheskom ideale Kalidasy.” In the collection Iz istorii esteticheskoi mysli drevnosti i srednevekov’ia. Moscow, 1961.
Serebriakov, I. D. Ocherki drevneindiiskoi literatury. Moscow, 1971.
Ivanova, N. M. Kalidasa: Bibliogr. ukazateV. Moscow, 1957.
Upadhuaya Bhagwat Saram. India in Kalidasa. Foreword by E. Thomas. Allahabad, 1947.
Ruben, W. Kalidasa: Die menschliche Bedeutung seiner Werke. Berlin, 1956.
I. D. SEREBRIAKOV and V. G. ERMAN