Kālidāsa and Other Arts
From his works, it is clear that Kālidāsa had extensive knowledge of dance, music and painting. His knowledge of dance can be estimated from his play Mālavikāgnimitram. At the very beginning, he makes his famous remark about the stage.
नाट्यं भिन्नरुचेर्जनस्य बहुधाप्येकं समाराधनम् |
The stage is a one-stop entertainment solution for people of varied tastes and orientations.
Elsewhere in the same play, we get to know his intimate knowledge of dance and his astute observations about it. Similarly, his knowledge of music and painting is found scattered across his works. We also see a close correlation between his works and some of the surviving sculptures from the Gupta Golden Age. For example, the Deogarh Daśāvatāra temple has a relief sculpture depicting Lord Viṣṇu sleeping on his serpent Ādiśeṣa. It is identical to the description of Lord Viṣṇu in the tenth chapter of Raghuvaṃśam. Also, depictions of the marriage of Lord Śiva with Goddess Pārvatī can be found in the caves of Ellora and Elephanta. They have all been based on the mythology created by Kālidāsa in Kumārasambhavam. The ornate detail of the sculptures correlate well with the ornate nature of Kālidāsa’s poetry.
Quantitative Contributions of Kālidāsa
The contributions of Kālidāsa to literature in general are massive. Apart from the inestimable qualitative value of his seven works, there are many quantitative things in which he excelled. He was the first poet to write a complete work devoted to describing the seasons, the Ṛtusaṃhāram. His other short lyrical poem Meghadūtam became so popular that innumerable imitations of it have appeared. Only the messengers change. He has probably invented or perfected at least three poetic meters – Mandākrānta (in Meghadūtam), Drutavilambita (in Raghuvaṃśam) and Rathoddata (in Kumārasambhavam and Raghuvaṃśam). He was probably the first poet to write a suprabhātam of any kind. We see it in the fifth chapter of Raghuvaṃśam where it is dedicated to King Aja. It became so popular that most of the subsequent suprabhātam poems were composed in the same meter in which Kālidāsa had composed his – Vasantatilaka. Further, he is the first one to describe a svayaṃvara in detail. We see it during Indumati’s svayaṃvara in the sixth canto of Raghuvaṃśam. He is also the first great exponent of ornate poetry.
Our tradition celebrates Utthāna-dvādaśi as the birthday of Kālidāsa. It is one of only two dates he has mentioned, the other being the first day of āṣāḍha. The government of India issued a commemorative stamp to honour him in 1960. The government of Madhya Pradesh has instituted the ‘Kalidas Samman’ award which is given away every year to great achievers in the fields of classical music, classical dance, theatre, and plastic arts.
However, probably the best way to remember him is to understand what he really was. In my view, he was the first great urban poet, but probably lived like a hermit in Ujjain during the high-glory days of the Gupta Golden Age. In other words, he was probably like those sages that were seen by King Duṣyanta in the hermitage of Sage Mārīca.
प्राणानामनिलेन वृत्तिरुचिता सत्कल्पवृक्षो वने
तोये काञ्चनपद्मरेणुकपिशे धर्माभिषेकक्रिया |
ध्यानं सत्नशिलातलेषु विबुधस्त्रीसन्निधौ संयमो
यत्काङ्क्षन्ति तपोभिरन्यमुनयस्तस्मिंस्तपस्यन्त्यमी ||
These sages perform penance under the all-giving divine Kalpavṛksa tree; in the fine waters embellished by the pollen grains of gold lotuses, they just take their ritual bath; they penance sitting on platforms made of diamond; and they retain their composure and dignity in the face of extreme temptations arising out of divine women; these sages are meditating in the place which is the object of all penance.
On this note, I shall retire, inviting you to enjoy the world of Kālidāsa in greater detail. I hope your journey would be as enjoyable as it has been to me.