The Loom of Time: A Selection of His Plays and Poems (Penguin Classics)
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Kalidasa is the major poet and dramatist of classical Sanskrit literature - a many-sided talent of extraordinary scope and exquisite language. His great poem, Meghadutam (The Cloud Messenger), tells of a divine being, punished for failing in his sacred duties with a years' separation from his beloved. A work of subtle emotional nuances, it is a haunting depiction of longing and separation. The play Sakuntala describes the troubled love between a Lady of Nature and King Duhsanta. This beautiful blend of romance and comedy, transports its audience into an enchanted world in which mortals mingle with gods. And Kalidasa's poem Rtusamharam (The Gathering of the Seasons) is an exuberant observation of the sheer variety of the natural world, as it teems with the energies of the great god Siva.
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For the rain cloud belongs both to the natural world and the divine order that sustains it, as the poem makes clear. Alakā is a world created by our dreams and desires where Time stands still and whose ways are untrodden by the unimaginative; where ‘sensual music’ fills the nights to overflowing under the moonlight (Megh.: 7, 68, 72). No other work of the poet reveals more clearly the blend of the erotic and spiritual that characterizes Śiva-mythology and is reflected in Kālidāsa’s work; a
sculptured, contemplative beauty, of the kind displayed in the superb art of Bharhut and Sanci. The highly self-conscious manner in which the language of the poem shapes itself also contributes to this containment; st. 101 is a good example; I quote the first two lines of the text: angenāngam pratanu tanuna gāḍhataptena taptam sāśrenāśrudrutam aviratotkaṇtham utkaṇhitena angena angam pratanu tanuna gādha-taptena taptam sāsrena asrudrutam avirata-utkantham utkaṇthitena (The second set of
Mahākāla, to the time it took for the poem to be chanted, initially perhaps by the poet himself. And we have not moved except in our imagination. X The play Śakuntalā is a beautiful blend of romance and fairy tale with elements of comedy. In the last sections of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa that are devoted wholly to a description of the rituals of the Horse-Sacrifice (Aśva Medha Yajna), where the names of some of the Kings who performed them are mentioned, we come across this line: ‘In Nāḍapit,
survive, Śakuntalā is unimaginably humiliated. Stripped of dignity and modesty, unveiled in public, an outrage in that society (as it is still in some societies), every word she speaks is twisted into a lie. Finally, she stands alone,abandoned by all. Such isolation is of the essence of a tragic situation in life. The play is poised on the edge of tragedy from which it must now be retrieved. A point that should be noted is, that Śakuntalā is on trial in a very special place. It is not the King’s
citizens, like rain at the proper time. KING (heaving a deep sigh): This is how the wealth of families rendered supportless by the break in succession, passes to strangers when the life of the head of the family comes to an end. And this again will be the fate of the fortunes of Puru’s lineage when my own end comes. ATTENDANT: Perish such inauspicious thoughts. KING: A curse on me for turning my back on Fortune when she came to me. MIŚRAKEŚĪ: It is my dear friend alone whom he has in mind