As noted earlier, Kālidāsa has been the greatest yet most graceful exponent of Indian values. He has upheld the highest values of our tradition at the individual, societal and universal levels. He advocates an austere but aggressive pursuit of prosperity. Likewise, he advocates a moral but intense pursuit of desires. It is summed up in one verse describing how King Dilīpa was.
भेजे धर्ममनातुरः |
असक्तः सुखमन्वभूत् ||
He did not fear death but took good care of his body; he was not anxious about right and wrong but always did right; he was not greedy but he accumulated wealth; he enjoyed but never indulged.
This is a concise presentation of the four ends of human life, or puruṣārthas, as described in our tradition – dharma (righteous conduct), artha (material prosperity), kāma (satisfying desires) and mokṣa (avoiding addiction to anything).
Many such ideals are gloriously represented by a multitude of characters in his works. We shall look at the most important ones.
Ideals for Kings
At the beginning of Raghuvaṃśam, he describes the qualities of the great kings of the solar race:
They worshipped the gods as prescribed in the rituals; they served the needy with whatever they needed; they punished the guilty as per their crime; and they were keen and alert to respond as per the time and situation.
प्रजायै गृहमेन्धिनाम् ||
They accumulated wealth only to give it back; they spoke less so that they could only speak the truth; they went on wars only to seek martial fame and not to loot; and they married only to beget children and not enjoy irresponsibly.
The reign of King Dilīpa is explained in great detail. Kālidāsa calls him a Rājyāśramamuni – a hermit in the hermitage called the State. We shall see how he ruled.
स ताब्य्हो बलिमग्रहीत् |
आदत्ते हि रसं रविः ||
He collected taxes from the people to spend on their own welfare. He was like the sun that absorbs water from the earth only to give it back a thousand-fold in the form of rain.
स पिता पितरस्तासां
केवलं जन्महेतवः ||
By leading his subjects on the right path, by protecting them and sustaining them, he was like a father to them. Their own fathers merely gave birth to them.
राजानो रक्षितुर्यशः |
व्यावृत्त यत् परस्वेभ्यः
श्रुतौ तस्करता स्थिता ||
No king attained the kind of success in protecting their subjects like he did. In his kingdom, ‘robbery’ was there only in name. It never happened.
द्वेष्योऽपि संमतः शिष्टस्-
तस्यार्तस्य यथौषधम् |
त्वाज्यो दुष्टः प्रियोऽप्यासीद्-
Even enemies with desirable qualities were owned up by him like a patient would take to medicine. At the same time, he shunned even loved ones with undesirable qualities like amputating an infected organ from the body.
He loved his subjects and interacted intimately with them. As an example, we can see his interaction with the elders of the cowherd-village on his way to the hermitage of Sage Vasiṣṭha.
वन्यानां मार्गशाखिनाम् ||
The king and the queen met the elders of the cowherd-village who had come to offer them freshly extracted butter and enquired them about the names of the trees along their path.
Later in the work, when the greatness of King Dilīpa is being described to princess Indumati, we see the following verse:
यस्मिन्महीं शासति वाणिनीनां
निद्रां विहारार्धपथे गतानाम् |
को लम्बयेदाहरणाय हस्तम् ||
When King Dilīpa was ruling, even the wind would not dare to ruffle the clothes of women who have gone asleep in the open along the highway. Which man would dare do it?
Such was the security enjoyed by women during the rule of King Dilīpa. Now, we can look at how his great son Raghu ruled.
स हि सर्वस्य लोकस्य
युक्तदण्डतया मनः |
नभस्वानिव दक्षिणः ||
By his not-too-strict and not-too-lenient imposition of law, he became lovable to everyone like the southern winds which are not-too-hot and not-too-cold.
गुणाधिकतया गुरौ |
पुष्पोद्गम इव प्रजाः ||
The grief of the people at the retirement of King Dilīpa was overcome by the exceedingly great virtues of King Raghu. It was like the fruits of the mango tree making people forget about the flowers that bloomed earlier. Here, Kālidāsa has demonstrated the important virtue of rulers winning over people by sheer virtues and not trickery.
पूर्व एवाभवत् पक्षस्-
He was taught righteous ways as well as trickery by his capable ministers. But King Raghu always chose only the righteous ways.
तथैव सोऽभूद् अन्वर्थो राजा प्रकृतिरञ्जनात् ||
An individual becomes king because he keeps his people happy. In that respect, Raghu indeed was a king.
After him, his son Aja became the king. He followed in the great traditions of his forefathers and ruled well.
अहमेव मतो महीपतेर्-
इति सर्वः प्रकृतिष्वचिन्तयत् |
अभवन्नास्य विमानना क्वचित् ||
King Aja became so intimate to his subjects that everyone among the subjects thought that he/she is the king’s favourite. He was like a sea which accommodates hundreds of rivers. Yet he never became arrogant or inaccessible.
To contrast with this great set of kings, we can look at how the wretched king Agnivarṇa treated his subjects:
सोढुमेकमपि स क्षणातरम् |
अन्तरे च विहरन् दिवानिशं
न व्यपैक्षत समुत्सुकाः प्रजाः ||
Mired in pleasure all the time, the king devoted no time to his subjects who were anxious to see him for one reason or another.
गौरवाद्यदपि जातु मन्त्रिणां
दर्शनं प्रकृतिकाङ्क्षितं ददौ |
केवलेन चरणेन कल्पितम् ||
When his ministers insisted on him meeting his subjects, he would oblige by only putting his left leg out of the window.
Ideals for Individuals
Kālidāsa believed in the four āśramas or phases of life as described in Indian culture –brahmacarya (student life), gārhastya (family life), vānaprastha (retirement into the forest) and saṃnyāsa (penance). He holds up that ideal for individuals in his works. We can see the kings of the solar race for an example.
यौवने विषयैषिणाम् |
योगेनान्ते तनुत्यजाम् ||
They studied well in their childhood; they enjoyed the luxuries and pleasures of life in their youth; they took to the hermitage in their advanced age; and they spent their final days in undisturbed solitude meditating upon the Supreme Being.
He places particular emphasis on the institution of marriage. King Raghu says this to Kautsa –
कालो ह्ययं संक्रमितुं द्वितीयं सर्वोपकारक्षममाश्रमं ते ||
It is indeed time for you to set foot into the second of the four āśramas, the marital life, which sustains everything around.
Kālidāsa is also very particular about individuals paying due respects to great people and great ideals. He says as much in the first chapter of Raghuvaṃśam.
प्रतिबध्नाति हि श्रेयः पूज्यपूजाव्यतिक्रमः ||
Prosperity is indeed adversely affected when the respectable are not respected by us.
When the brahmacāri (Lord Śiva in disguise) speaks disrespectfully about Lord Śiva, Pārvatī chooses to walk away from him instead of hearing him insult a great ideal. This is what she says –
न केवलं यो महतोऽपभाषते शृणोति तस्मादपि यः स पापभाक् ||
Not only those who insult great ideals but also those who hear the insults become sinners.
Kālidāsa also advocated respect to great people irrespective of gender. When the seven great sages along with Arundhatī appear before Lord Śiva, he respects Arundhatī in the same way as he respects the seven great sages. Kālidāsa sums it up like this –
स्त्रीपुमानित्यनास्थैषा वृत्तं हि महितं सताम् ||
It is indeed the way of great men to not discriminate on the basis of gender alone.
In the Kumārasambhavam, we see Lord Śiva himself performing penance and offering oblations to the fire. The poet says this of him –
स्वयं विधाता तपसः फलानां केनापि कामेन तपश्चचार ||
Even though he is the one who decides the fate of all penance, we do not know what he is doing penance for.
Later, in the midst of his honeymoon with Pārvatī in the Gandhamadana mountains, Lord Śiva remembers to pay respects to all of creation at dusk.
ईश्वरोऽपि दिवसात्ययोचितं मन्त्रपूर्वमनुतस्थिवान्विधिम् |
And so, even Lord Śiva, uttering the appropriate hymns, offered oblations to the creation at dusk.
Essentially, Lord Śiva is leading by example for the rest of the world to follow. It is this aspect of Lord Śiva that Kālidāsa has presented through his work Kumārasambhavam. At the same time, it is an education in the nature and object of desires. Initially, Pārvatī decided to take the easy way out and attract Lord Śiva by her beauty alone. That would not work. And hence she takes the route of penance and finds that Śiva submits himself to her. The message here is: We should not try to take the easy way to fulfil our desires; instead we should take the right way. And, if we desire something intensely enough, we shall have no problems taking the right way even though it might be hard.
Synthesis of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva
Kālidāsa was the first great poet to advocate the basic oneness governing the three forms of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva. He has composed elaborate eulogies to all three of them across his works. In the Raghuvaṃśam, the tenth chapter is devoted to the gods praising Lord Viṣṇu and imploring him to protect them from the demon king Rāvaṇa. In the second chapter of Kumārasambhavam, the gods praise Brahmā and implore him to protect them from the demon Tārakāsura. In the same epic, we see a brief section in the sixth chapter where the saptaṛṣis praise Lord Śiva. That apart, Kālidāsa has written memorable invocatory verses eulogizing Lord Śiva in all his major works. In the seventh chapter of Kumārasambhavam, he explicitly states the essential oneness of the three forms of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva.
एकैव मूर्तिर्बिभिदे त्रिधा सा
सामान्यमेषां प्रथमावरत्वम् ।
विष्णोर्हरस्तस्य हरिः कदाचित्
वेधास्तयोस्तावपि धातुराद्यौ ॥
The same ideal manifests itself in three ways – Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva. It is common for them to move up and down the hierarchy among them. Sometimes Viṣṇu takes precedence over Śiva; at other times, Śiva takes precedence over Viṣṇu; similarly, at times Brahmā takes precedence over the other two and they indeed take precedence over Brahmā at other times.
To be concluded.