1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kālidāsa

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KĀLIDĀSA, the most illustrious name among the writers of the second epoch of Sanskrit literature, which, as contrasted with the age of the Vedic hymns, may be characterized as the period of artificial poetry. Owing to the absence of the historical sense in the Hindu race, it is impossible to fix with chronological exactness the lifetime of either Kālidāsa or any other Sanskrit author. Native tradition places him in the 1st century B.C.; but the evidence on which this belief rests is worthless. The works of the poet contain no allusions by which their date can be directly determined; yet the extremely corrupt form of the Prākrit or popular dialects spoken by the women and the subordinate characters in his plays, as compared with the Prākrit in inscriptions of ascertained age, led such authorities as Weber and Lassen to agree in fixing on the 3rd century A.D. as the approximate period to which the writings of Kālidāsa should be referred.

He was one of the “nine gems” at the court of King Vikramaditya or Vikrama, at Ujjain, and the tendency is now to regard the latter as having flourished about A.D. 375; others, however, place him as late as the 6th century. The richness of his creative fancy, his delicacy of sentiment, and his keen appreciation of the beauties of nature, combined with remarkable powers of description, place Kālidāsa in the first rank of Oriental poets. The effect, however, of his productions as a whole is greatly marred by extreme artificiality of diction, which, though to a less extent than in other Hindu poets, not infrequently takes the form of puerile conceits and plays on words. In this respect his writings contrast very unfavourably with the more genuine poetry of the Vedas. Though a true poet, he is wanting in that artistic sense of proportion so characteristic of the Greek mind, which exactly adjusts the parts to the whole, and combines form and matter into an inseparable poetic unity. Kālidāsa's fame rests chiefly on his dramas, but he is also distinguished as an epic and a lyric poet.

He wrote three plays, the plots of which all bear a general resemblance, inasmuch as they consist of love intrigues, which, after numerous and seemingly insurmountable impediments of a similar nature, are ultimately brought to a successful conclusion.

Of these, Sakuntalā is that which has always justly enjoyed the greatest fame and popularity. The unqualified praise bestowed upon it by Goethe sufficiently guarantees its poetic merit. There are two recensions of the text in India, the Bengalī and the Devanāgarī, the latter being generally considered older and purer. Sakuntalā was first translated into English by Sir William Jones (Calcutta, 1789), who used the Bengalī recension. It was soon after translated into German by G. Forster (1791; new ed. Leipzig, 1879). An edition of the Sanskrit original, with French translation, was published by A. L. Chézy at Paris in 1830. This formed the basis of a translation by B. Hirzel (Zürich, 1830); later trans. by L. Fritze (Chemnitz, 1876). Other editions of the Bengali recension were published by Prema Chandra (Calcutta, 1860) for the use of European students and by R. Pischel (2nd ed., Kiel, 1886). The Devanāgarī recension was first edited by O. Böhtlingk (Bonn, 1842), with a German translation. On this were based the successive German translations of E. Meier (Tübingen, 1851) and E. Lobedanz (8th ed., Leipzig, 1892). The same recension has been edited by Dr C. Burkhard with a Sanskrit-Latin vocabulary and short Prākrit grammar (Breslau, 1872), and by Professor Monier Williams (Oxford, 2nd ed. 1876), who also translated the drama (5th ed., 1887). There is another translation by P. N. Patankar (Poona, 1888-). There are also a South Indian and a Cashmir recension.

The Vikramorvasī, or Urvasī won by Valour, abounds with fine lyrical passages, and is of all Indian dramas second only to Sakuntalā in poetic beauty. It was edited by R. Lenz (Berlin, 1833) and translated into German by C. G. A. Höfer (Berlin, 1837), by B. Hirzel (1838), by E. Lobedanz (Leipzig, 1861) and F. Bollensen (Petersburg, 1845). There is also an English edition by Monier Williams, a metrical and prose version by Professor H. H. Wilson, and a literal prose translation by Professor E. B. Cowell (1851). The latest editions are by S. P. Pandit (Bombay, 1879) and K. B. Paranjpe (ibid. 1898).

The third play, entitled Mālavikāgnimitra, has considerable poetical and dramatic merit, but is confessedly inferior to the other two. It possesses the advantage, however, that its hero Agnimitra and its heroine Mālavikā. are more ordinary and human characters than those of the other plays. It is edited by O. F. Tullberg (Bonn, 1840), by Shankar P. Pandit, with English notes (1869), and S. S. Ayyar (Poona, 1896); translated into German by A. Weber (1856), and into English by C. H. Tawney (2nd ed., Calcutta, 1898).

Two epic poems are also attributed to Kālidāsa. The longer of these is entitled Raghuvamsa, the subject of which is the same as that of the Rāmāyana, viz. the history of Rāma, but beginning with a long account of his ancestors, the ancient rulers of Ayodhya (ed. by A. F. Stenzler, London, 1832; and with Eng. trans. and notes by Gopal Raghunath Nandargǐkar, Poona, 1897; verse trans. by P. de Lacy Johnstone, 1902). The other epic is the Kumārasambhava, the theme of which is the birth of Kumāra, otherwise called Kārttikeya or Skanda, od of war (ed. by Stenzler, London, 1838; K. M. Banerjea, 3rd ed. Calcutta, 1872; Parvanikara and Parab, Bombay, 1893; and M. R. Kale and S. R. Dharadhara, ibid. 1907; Eng. trans. by R. T. Griffith, 1879). Though containing many fine passages, it is tame as a whole.

His lyrical poems are the Meghadūta and the Ritusamhāra. The Meghadūta, or the Cloud-Messenger, describes the complaint of an exiled lover, and the message he sends to his wife by a cloud. It is full of deep feeling, and abounds with fine descriptions of the beauties of nature. It was edited with free English translation by H. H. Wilson (Calcutta, 1813), and by J. Gildemeister (Bonn, 1841); a German adaptation by M. Müller appeared at Königsberg (1847), and one by C. Schütz at Bielefeld (1859). It was edited by F. Johnson, with vocabulary and Wilson's metrical translation (London, 1867); later editions by K. P. Parab (Bombay, 1891) and K. B. Pathak (Poona, 1894). The Ritusamhāra, or Collection of the Seasons, is a short poem, of less importance, on the six seasons of the year. There is an edition by P. von Bohlen, with prose Latin and metrical German translation (Leipzig, 1840); Eng. trans. by C. S. Sitaram Ayyar (Bombay, 1897).

Another poem, entitled the Nalodaya, or Rise of Nala, edited by F. Benary (Berlin, 1830), W. Yates (Calcutta, 1844) and Vidyasagara (Calcutta, 1873), is a treatment of the story of Nala and Damayanti, but describes especially the restoration of Nala to prosperity and power. It has been ascribed to the celebrated Kālidāsa, but was probably written by another poet of the same name. It is full of most absurd verbal conceits and metrical extravagances.

So many poems, partly of a very different stamp, are attributed to Kālidāsa that it is scarcely possible to avoid the necessity of assuming the existence of more authors than one of that name. It is by no means improbable that there were three poets thus named; indeed modern native astronomers are so convinced of the existence of a triad of authors of this name that they apply the term Kālidāsa to designate the number three.

On Kālidāsa generally, see A. A. Macdonell's History of Sanskrit Literature (1900), and on his date G. Huth, Die Zeit des K. (Berlin, 1890).