A Story from the Past – 4

Kali-Das is considered to be the greatest poet of all times. We cannot speak of Chinese, Asian and many other areas of the World, but, in the Indo-European literary world, there is no equal to Kali-Das.

Reading Kali-Das in Samskrut is one of the great joys of life. Kalidas wrote long poetic epics and plays. Unfortunately, Indian history never kept good records. So like others, there is some controversy about the origin of Kali-Das and the era in which he lived.

Folklore states that Kali-Das initially was not a scholar or a man of education. He married a beautiful woman who loved literature. Once when they were together, she is supposed to have asked him: 

  • अस्ति कश्चित वाकविशेषः
    Asti Kash-chit Vak-Vishe-shah?
    Is there anything special in your literary skill (or speech or poetic ability)?

Folklore states that Kali-Das was humiliated and left his home to study poetry. When he succeeded, he called himself Kali-Das or the Servant of Kali (one of the names of Parvati). In memory of the words that stung him to glory, he began his three great poetic epics with one of the words of that insulting question:

  • कुमार संभव  = Kumar-Sambhav (the Birth of Kumar) is a poetic epic about the story of Shankar-Parvati and the birth of their son Kartikeya or Skanda. The first verse of this poem begins with the word अस्ति or Asti. This is considered by some to be the most beautiful creation of Kali-Das.
  • मेघदूत = Megh-Doot (Cloud-Messenger) is a lovely poetic story about a यक्ष = Yaksha (or a member of a heavenly class) who was been banished for a year to a far away mountain by Kuber, his lord. Alone on this mountain top, he pined for his beloved. On the first day of the month of आषाढ = Ashaadha, at the onset of the monsoon season, the Yaksha saw a majestic cloud in the sky. The Yaksha requested this great cloud to be his messenger and carry his message to his lover. Hence the name Megh-Doot or Cloud Messenger. In exquisitely beautiful imagery, the Yaksha describes the path the Cloud should take to reach his lover and points out the various towns, cities that lie on the way. It also describes the social mores & customs of the various regions between the mountain and the home of his beloved. The first verse of Megh-Doot begins with the word कश्चित or Kash-Chit.
  • रघु वंश = Raghu-Vamsha (the dynasty of Raghu) is probably the most familiar poetic epic of Kali-Das. This is the epic about the Sun Dynasty or the Ikshvaku Dynasty that began with Ikshvaku, one of the oldest Kings in Vedic Civilization. Raghu was considered so great that the name of the Ikshvaku dynasty was changed to Raghu-Vamsha or the dynasty of Raghu. The great grandson of Ragu is Shri Ram, one of the two greatest figures in Indian History. This epic and its stories are recited all over India to this day. The first verse of this great epic begins with the word वाक or Vak

As we said, this is folklore. Whether true or not, it is an interesting tale. 

The fame of Kali-Das spread to the European world with the translation of his play शाकुंतल = Shakuntal about the story of the lovely Shakun-Talaa. It is said that the german poet Goethe danced around the room holding this book on his head after reading it. For more details of Kali-Das and his works, read the wikipedia page about Kalidas

We end this story with an interesting verse of Kali-Das. Today Kali-Das might recognized as the greatest poet who ever lived, but apparently in his own days, he found it difficult to get recognition. This is evident from his following verse in the introduction of his play मालविका-अग्निमित्रम = Malavikaa-Agni-Mitram (or the story of Malavikaa & AgniMitra)

  • पुराणं इति एव न साधू सर्वं
    Puranam Eti Ev Na Sadhu Sarvam
    Not everything that is ancient is also good

    न च अपि काव्यं नावं इति अवद्यम
    Na Cha Api Kavyam Navam Eti Avadyam
    And Kavya (poetry) is not of ridicule just because it is new

    संतः परीक्ष्य अन्य तरत भजन्ते
    Santah Pariksya Anya Tarat Bhajante
    Saints praise after an examination 

    मूढः परः प्रत्यानेह बुद्धिः
    Mudhaha Parah Pratya Neh Budhihi
    The Stupid make up their minds from the judgement of others

These are probably the sentiments of all young poets or writers who ever tried to get their work accepted by the literati of their time.

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