Kalidasa as a Poet
Sanskrit is the fountain from which the languages of Aryan India have sprung. The Dravidian languages also owe so much to Sanskrit in their vocabulary and phonology. Sanskrit poetry began with Rigvedic poetry which is ornate. It contains lyrical poetry. Kalidasa has been among the greatest Sanskrit poets. He had been a poet in the court of King Vikramaditya. He wrote three longer poetic plays namely the Kumarsambhava, the Raghuvansham and the Abhijnanasakuntalam. After that, in his later poetical works, Kalidasa made some borrowings in the form of stories from the Puranas and the epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Kalidasa has been hailed as the national poet of India par excellence who symbolizes the essence of Indian culture in pure form. If we go into the annals of history of Sanskrit literature, we find three names shining brightly in the Indian literary firmament. They are sage Valmiki, Vedavysa and Kalidasa. Kalidasa is the author of two epics- the Kumarsambhavam and the Raghuwansham, two longer poems, Ritusamharam and Meghadutam, and three plays Malvikagnimitram, Meghadutam and Abhigyan Shakuntalam. These works show the poetic genius of Kalidasa, maturing and evolving, to find its best expression in the Shakuntalam. These literary works also evince a high class craftmanship that achieves a high watermark of poetic composition and breathe a sense of beauty.
According to a critic Uma Shankar Joshi, Abhijnanasakuntalam presents the fullest orchestration of Kalidasa’s poetic self. Originally, the story of the play is narrated in brief in the Mahabharata. Sage Vysa tells his story to king Janamjeya. This play by Kaladasa is an elaboration of the skeletal story narrated by Vysa. In this context, Romila Thapar observes:
“In Kalidasa’s version we are in the realm of delicacy and romance, of anguish and immortal tragedy, of pathos and finally of happiness. The emotional range is infinite when compared to the epic narrative but in the intermeshing of emotions, the image of Shakuntala undergoes a transformation. Kalidasa takes theme from the epic but fills it out with sub-plots involving a curse and a signet ring.”
A number of critics have pondered over the aim and scope of classical plays. When some old theme is selected by any writer, he takes the liberty to handle it; that makes it more contemporary. A romantic play like Shakuntalam makes use of a design, which B. Stoler Miller elaborates as:
“The Romantic play as a genre of literature spotlighted the sport of kings–hunting [both literally and symbolically and romantic love, set in country background. The hunt can also be seen as a metaphor of country love, pursuit contesting emotions and ultimately submission. The play is seen as focussing on the tension between Kama and dharma, desire and duty, manifest in the relations between the two dominant rasas of Sringara-rasa and Vira rasa, the erotic and the heroic.”
On the other hand, Romila Thapar finds the theme of the play “a veritable treasure hunt with pointers” which have been taken from the epic. The play introduces a unique woman character Shakuntala who personifies Indian womanhood. The play presents Shakuntala as a quintessential submissive woman. In romantic plays, the trip to the forest, hunting, courting, separation and union are important features. The necessity of Viraha (separation) is required so that separation creates the tragic element which finally leads to their reunion.
Abhigyan Shakuntalam has been regarded as a tragi-comedy with the reversal of fortunes that ignites the process of recognition. Kalidasa dramatizes the incident of the loss of the signet ring and its chance discovery from the belly of a fish. Irony has been used as a powerful device by Kalidasa to enhance the dramatic effect of the narrative. Irony also works as a structural principle holding the main issue. Kalidasa gives due importance to the individual as well as to society along with the institution of marriage. Basically Kalidasa is a poet of Sringara rasa (erotic) but he also upholds the way of dharma. He presents the instinct of Kama (Sex) in its natural form. He believes that the highest stage of the Kama instinct is conjugal love which is conducive to good of the world. He stands for the art of living not only for one individual but for the vast universe with the all pervading soul. According to Uma Shankar Joshi:
“Kaladasa’s imagination encompasses heaven the intermediate region and the earth but has a partiality for the earth. The abode of Shakuntala’s mother is in heaven but her husband’s is on the earth. Heaven is looked upon as the place for enjoyment, the earth as that for active spiritual pursuits. Kalidasa never tires of comprehending and singing the wonder that human life on earth is.”
Another critic Hazari Prasad Dwivedi observes that the play establishes a link between human beings and nature and creates harmony between individual sensibility and universal sensibilities. K. Krishnamurthy observes- as a poet of the nation, it is no small achievement of Kalidasa:
“…to recapture the atmosphere of the age-old cultural tradition of India and crystallize that into a perfect literary form. He fills new life into the old legends and enriches them with the flower of his own fancy. His philosophy of life is life-affirming and not life-denying. The essence of joy of life lies in pure sacred love. When it is death that rules the roots, Nature loses its animation.”
It is only after Valmiki and Vysa that Kalidasa stands on a high pedestal. He has been called ‘a Kavi Kulguru.’ According to Uma Shankar Joshi, Kalidasa’s poetry while steeped in Indian culture, deals with nothing less than with the destiny of man on the earth. He becomes a poet of cosmic vision on earth. His imaginative genius reaches out to everything that forms the basis of cosmic life. Thus, Kalidasa has remained a source of inspiration as well as a beacon light for poets and dramatists in all ages.