Authors: Kālidāsa

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Indian playwright and poet

Author Works


Mālavikāgnimitra, c. 370 c.e. (English translation, 1875)

Vikramorvaśīya, c. 384 c.e. (Vikrama and Urvaśī, 1851)

Abhijn̄ānaśākutala, c. 395 c.e. (Śakuntalā: Or, The Lost Ring, 1789)

The Dramas of Kālidāsa, pb. 1946


Ṛtusaṁhāra, c. 365 c.e. (English translation, 1867)

Meghadūta, c. 375 c.e. (The Cloud Messenger, 1813)

Kumārasambhava, c. 380 c.e. (The Birth of the War-God, 1879)

Raghuvaṁśa, c. 390 c.e. (The Dynasty of Raghu, 1872-1895)


Legends concerning the life of the Indian poet and dramatist Kālidāsa (kahl-ee-DAWS-ah) abound, but almost no facts are known about him. Scholars have placed the date of his birth as early as the first century b.c.e. or as late as the fifth century c.e.; most theories seem to favor the later period. Even less is known about his place of birth. A long-popular legend made Kālidāsa one of the “nine gems,” or wise men, at the brilliant court of King Vikramāditya I at Ujjain during the so-called Sanskrit Renaissance. No fewer than three Gupta monarchs assumed the title Vikramāditya: Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I, and Skandagupta. However, much linguistic and cultural evidence supports the traditional account of Kālidāsa as serving Chandragupta II, who from his capital of Pātaliputra ruled northern India from 375 to 415 c.e. Chandragupta’s daughter Prabhāvatīgupta married the crown prince of the neighboring state of Vākāṭaka. The prince died shortly after ascending the throne, and Prabhāvatīgupta became their young son’s regent. Tradition has long claimed that Kālidāsa was appointed ambassador to the court of Chandragupta’s daughter. The extensive knowledge of geography, political administration, and court life Kālidāsa displays in his works suggests that his traditional account of his appointment may well be true.{$I[AN]9810000480}{$I[A]K{amacr}lid{amacr}sa[Kalidasa]}{$I[geo]INDIA;K{a macr}lid{amacr}sa[Kalidasa]}{$I[tim]0100 b.c.e.;K{amacr}lid{amacr}sa[Kalidasa]}

The most famous writer of the post-Vedic period of Sanskrit literature, Kālidāsa produced seven works still extant: three plays, two epic poems, and two lyric poems. All his works are characterized by their delicate, lyrical quality and by a sensitivity both to human feelings and to the beauties of nature. The aesthetic distillation and evocation of powerful conflicting emotions and their resolution, known in Sanskrit poetic theory as rasa, mark all of Kālidāsa’s works.

Of the plays of Kālidāsa, Śakuntalā–the story of the love between a king and a nymph-maiden who, after being separated by a series of violent and supernatural misfortunes, are happily reunited–is the most famous. Its prologue is said to have provided the inspiration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s prologue to Faust. All three of Kālidāsa’s plays involve royal sages and goddesslike heroines, and they embody the conflict between desire and physical passion (kāma) and self-control and duty (dharma). Their heroines are among the most appealing in all literature.

Further Reading:Dimock, Edward C., Edwin Gerow, C. M. Naim, A. K. Ramanujan, Gordon Roadarmel, and J. A. B. van Buitenen. The Literatures of India: An Introduction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. This critical study complements historical and sociological approaches of earlier Orientalists. It was a cooperative venture mostly of University of Chicago faculty for the Asia Society. Covers full sweep of Indian literature. See especially sections on the epic, drama, poetics, and the lyric. Scholarly, invaluable insights.Horrwitz, E. P. The Indian Theatre: A Brief Survey of the Sanskrit Drama. 1912. Reprint. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967. An old but evocative description of the Indian theater. A court theater of Ujjain and imaginary performances of Kālidāsa’s plays are especially well described.Kalla, Lachmi Dhar. The Birth-place of Kālidāsa: With Notes, References, and Appendices. Delhi, India: University of Delhi, 2000. An examination of Kālidāsa’s birthplace that sheds light on his works. Bibliography.Kālidāsa. Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kālidāsa. Translated by Edwin Gerow, David Gitomer, and Barbara Stoler Miller. 1984. Reprint. Columbia, Mo.: South Asian Books, 1999. Contains three brilliant chapters: “Kālidāsa’s World and His Plays” (by Miller), “Sanskrit Dramatic Theory and Kālidāsa’s Plays” (by Gerow), and “Theater in Kālidāsa’s Art” (by Gitomer). The texts of the three plays are freshly translated and accompanied by copious annotations. Most valuable.Kawthekar, P. N. Kālidāsa, the Man and the Mind. New Delhi, India: Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, 1999. An examination of Kālidāsa’s life and works. Bibliography.Krishnamoorthy, K. Kālidāsa. New Delhi, India: Sahitya Akademi, 1994. A critical analysis and interpretation of the works of Kālidāsa. Bibliography.Mandal, Paresh Chandra. Kālidāsa as a Dramatist: A Study. Dhaka, Bangladesh: University of Dhaka, 1986. Mandal provides a critical examination of Kālidāsa’s dramatic works. Bibliography and index.Panda, Gangadhar. Dramas of Kālidāsa: The Treatment of the Supernatural. Puri, Orissa, India: Shree Sadashiva Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, 1983. An analysis of the plays of Kālidāsa, with emphasis on his treatment of the supernatural. Bibliography and index.Shastri, Satya Vrat. Kālidāsa in Modern Sanskrit Literature. Columbia, Mo.: South Asian Books, 1992. Explores the influence of Kālidāsa on later writers.
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