Kalidasa, the poetic surveyor of India

In Kumarasambhavam, Kalidasa starts off by christening the great Himalayas as devatatma.

Perhaps there is no other poet in Sanskrit or any other Indian language who has described the mythology, knowledge, geography, flora and fauna of our country in such vivid and intimate detail as Kalidasa has. This is indeed the primary reason why he should be our national poet. For him, no place was just a mass of land, no river just a mass of water, no city just a mass of people, and no Indian value just a thought. We can discern this fact from several examples drawn from his work.

In Meghadutam, Kalidasa associates almost everything in the cloud’s path with the divine or sublime. The place Ramagiri, where the yaksha is dwelling boasts of waters which were once used by Seeta herself. The cloud which the yaksha sees is descended from the lineage of the mythical puShkara and Avartaka. Ramagiri itself is no ordinary mountain because it has its slopes marked by the steps of Lord Rama himself. The city of Ujjaini is a piece of heaven brought down to earth, and the citizens of Ujjaini are not merely people—they are the ones who narrate the proud association of their town with the exploits of the great king UdayanaVatsaraja. The river Ganga is not just water but the series of steps which led the sons of Sagara to heaven.

dasaIn Raghuvamsham, Kalidasa starts off by comparing the inseparability of word and meaning to the inseparability of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, in the cosmic form of ardhanArishwara. The great king Dilipa becomes a Raajyaashramamuni, a sage in his State, which is the equivalent of his hermitage. The institution of marriage becomes sarvopakarakshamamashramam – a stage of life that sustains everything around it. Kalidasa gives a detailed picture of the various kingdoms across India when describing the conquest undertaken by King Raghu. The specialties of the various provinces of India are explained again during the Svayamvara of Indumati, who marries King Aja, Raghu’s son. The palm-lined beaches and the elephants of Kalinga(Odisha), the gardens of Brindavan and Ujjaini, the cool breeze from the Western Ghats, the charming waves of river Narmada in Mahishmati, the dark waters of river Yamuna in Mathuraall these are detailed in vivid, picturesque poetry. Further, when narrating the Ramayana, he introduces sage Valmiki as ‘kavi’ – ‘the poet’ – whom tradition respects as the first poet or ‘Adikavi’. While describing the great efficiency of King Atithi, he expounds many concepts embedded in Kautilya’s ArthashAstra.

In Kumarasambhavam, Kalidasa starts off by christening the great Himalayas as devatatma, the soul of Gods. Elsewhere in Abhijnanashakuntalam, he refers to the Himalayas as ‘gauriguru’ – father of Gauri (Parvati). The tree under which Lord Shiva sits in penance is washed by the high tide of river Ganga. The japamala that Parvati offers to Lord Shiva is made from the seeds of lotuses that bloom in the divine river Mandakini. Lord Brahma himself is the preceptor in the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati. The entire set of rituals as prescribed in our tradition is described here in detail. At the end of the marriage, Goddess Sarasvati blesses Lord Shiva by employing the appropriate Vedic hymns. And she blesses Goddess Parvati by employing an intimate folk tune. By this, Kalidasa shows the respect our culture has for both the Vedic and folk traditions. It is at once poetry and education.

Many such examples can be shown from his plays as well. However, for the present purposes we shall stop at this. All the examples mentioned above serves to show how Kalidasa has presented the great values of our culture in a sublime and profound way.

To be continued

The author is an Information Technology professional and a student and practitioner of Sanskrit poetry.
  • parwatisingari

    To me Kumarsambhava talks of erupting volcano.

  • Shubhangi Raykar

    Very detailed analysis of Kalidas’s poetry. The geographical details full of accuracy is a very salient feature of Kalidas’s poetry.