Kalidasa and Sanksrit

Nothing is known with any certainty about the period when the Sanskrit poet and dramatist, Kalidasa lived and worked, or about his personal life. Historians suggest that he was born in Northern India, probably in the plains near the Himalayas and flourished in the 5th century CE.

What is certain, as Edwin Gerow, scholar and author of several books on Sanskrit Literature and Poetics says, is that Kalidasa, was 'probably the greatest Indian writer of any epoch.'

The impression one gathers from Kalidasa's body of work - three plays, two epic poems, two lyric poems - is of a man deeply learned in literature and philosophy, widely travelled in India, unusual for those times, with an exquisitely refined appreciation of nature. His natural felicity for classical Sanskrit, his skill with its syntax and cadences and the way he used them to convey a world of ideas and emotions is said to be unmatched in the literatures of the world.

Kalidasa's masterpiece in drama, Abhijnanasakuntalam was one of the first works of Indian literature to become known in Europe. It was originally translated to English and then from English to German, when it was received with wonder and fascination by a group of eminent poets, which included Herder and Goethe. Kalidasa continued to evoke inspiration in the artistic circles of Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries CE.

Sanskrit has been acknowledged as the central language of the Indo-European family. The vocabulary and semantics of Sanskrit further establish these close connections. No comparative study of these languages is possible without a knowledge of Sanskrit especially as it is the only one of the ancient languages that is still alive; written, spoken and read. In the 2001 census of India, 14,135 persons reported Sanskrit as their native language! In contrast, the literature of other classical languages like Greek and Latin has almost completely declined.

The golden age of classical Sanskrit dates from the 1st century BEC to the 8th century CE. The Natya Shastra of the 2nd century CE is a keystone work on the subject of stagecraft. The earliest treatise on mathematics and astronomy, Aryabhatiya was written circa 500 CE. However, it is Kalidasa, with his prodigious and magnificent anthology, who has remained the most celebrated exponent of Sanskrit.

In India today, there is a strong movement for the revival of this rich and vibrant language. CCA sees Meghadootam as an effort in this direction.