Our Naada Habba


Appeared in the student edition of Deccan Herald  23rd September 2019

 

The Pooja vacation is round the corner. A welcome respite for students indeed,         especially as it crops up during the middle of a hectic academic year. Maybe you should keep this article aside and read it at leisure during the vacation.

The Mysore Dusshera our Naada Habba is a world famous event which attracts tourists from every nook and corner of the globe. The reverence towards the goddess Chamundeshwari coupled with pomp and glory exhibited during on these days reflects on the ambience of an age that has flit past. Though one can view the entire ceremony on the television shows which relays the occasion in great detail one must make it a point to enjoy the experience first hand at least once in your lifetime. It can be a joy to re-live the splendour and the grandeur of a prosperous era which is represented by caparisoned elephants, royal relics besides the food and music fit for a connoisseur.

The Dusshera festival is also known as the “Gombe habba” or dolls festival in south India.  Temples and homes have wide stairs built, numbering up to eleven in number and display figurines of gods and goddesses in addition to several dolls representative of historical or contemporary life. This also an occasion to unveil the creativity and imagination by setting up parks, railway stations, cricket grounds to add colour to the occasion.

Dusshera is symbolically celebrated to mark the struggle and the ultimate victory of goddess Chamundi to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. It is believed that this demon assumed the form of a wild buffalo and troubled the sages and disrupted their Yagas. He was very powerful and was blessed with immortality by Bramha who said that the demon would never face death until a woman exterminated him. Mahishasura was extremely pleased with the boon and took his life and power for granted and acted ruthlessly. He knew no woman would dare to even look at him, let alone kill him. It was at this juncture goddess Shakthi assumed the form of Chamundeshwari at the behest of the pantheon of Gods and waged a battle against Mahishasura for nine days.

Puranas reveal that the strength of the goddess was supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga in phases of three days each, to empower her to destroy Mahisha eventually.

A closer look at this story appears to disclose a coded message for us. The assets of the goddesses are representative of different strengths like wealth ( well- being) , education and power. The goddess also employed Yantra (Mechanisations), Mantra ( synthesized information in the form of formulae) and Tantra (Logic) to kill Mahisha. Hence it becomes apparent that one needs a strength which is a combination of physical power and mental power to achieve one’s end for success does not come very easily without a struggle.

To this day we worship machines, even laptops and palmtops on the ninth day of the festival also known as Ayudha pooja day as a mark of deference towards the instruments that play a part in our success. The last day of the festival is called – a day of victory when the victory of the goddess is celebrated.

It is also celebrated as teachers’ day by traditionalists. It is considered as an auspicious day when new learning or projects can be launched without fear of failure.

The north Indians take pride and happiness in celebrating the event as Durga Pooja or Navrathri. The traditional Garba dance in worship of the goddess has caught the imagination of youngsters in a big way nowadays who spend the Pooja holidays in fun and frolic.

The Ramayana mentions that Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Laksmana after his exile of fourteen years during this period. Ram Leela is celebrated with great fervour in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding states when an effigy of the ten headed Ravana is set on fire.

The Mahabharatha says that Arjuna the Pandava prince retrieved his bow Gandeevi from the Banni tree on Vijayadashami after living incognito for a year to fight Duryodhana and his forces as he took the side of prince UttaraKumara.

A closer observation of their activities will reveal that each geographical area has a different custom which has been followed over the ages though the core value and understanding the festival is uniform throughout the country.

Did you know that this Pooja season has a lot of relevance to mans relationship with the environment around him?

For instance, people give a lot of importance to different cereals and food grains during the first nine days of this festive season.

This tradition has a lot of practical connotations when we delve deeper into it. We all know this festival falls at the fag end of the rainy season. There is usually a dearth of fruits and vegetables during this time. The greens also do not thrive during this season. When man is cut off from a major source of nutrition he is likely to fall sick hence he resorted to utilize the food grains stored by him.  The cereals which are a rich source of protein supplement as nutritious food during the season which is punctuated with fasting and feasting.

Down south, families display dolls and images of gods and goddesses recreating myths, historical and contemporary events during the ten days. If you have noticed they also build a small park where they allow food grains to germinate and grow into young plants.  The site of greenery indoors not only lends beauty to the atmosphere but also acts as an indicator of the condition of the soil. In the past, in a predominantly agricultural society the festival proved to be a platform for experimenting on a possible bumper crop using this aesthetic mode. Farmers collected soil from their fields and sowed different food grains and watered them regularly till they developed into healthy little plants. At the end of ten days they got a fairly good idea of the crop which would do well that season in their soil. This little agricultural experiment formed the basis on which farmers could exchange seeds and agrarian know-how.

This custom encouraged the “give and take policy” among people and helped them to live in harmony amongst themselves and the nature around them.

A study of ancient Vedic texts reveals that each food grain was identified for its specific strengths and its ability to nourish and medicate the various parts of the body when consumed or distributed on a particular day of the week. It has been discovered that intake of rice on Mondays, Toor dal on Tuesdays, green-gram on Wednesdays, channa on Thursdays, beans on Fridays, urad dal on Saturdays and wheat on Sundays can prove to be potent. Recent studies by dieticians and healthcare researchers have confirmed the veracity of the tradition.

Just like any other festivity in India, there are several reasons assigned    for the celebration of these ten days which commence on the Mahalaya Amavasya day during the Sharath or the autumn season. Nevertheless they convey the same messages – the triumph of good over evil and how it is important for us to live in harmony with each other.

The festivities begin on a somber note at riversides, beaches and the several water bodies of India which are generally flooded with people who offer their obeisance to their dead ancestors and pray for the peace and general well being of the departed souls. The following nine days are celebrated with variations that suit the geographical and social backdrops of the various regions. It is amazing to know that each one of our festivals have several layers of meanings and relevance to people from all walks of life. They have been tested and formulated by our ancestors in a purposeful manner to bring added meaning and joy into our lives!!! Happy Dussera !!!

 

 

 

 

 

Public Sector Companies-End of an Era


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/public-sector-companies-end-of-an-era-746322.html

Seven decades ago, India stepped into the path of progress by instituting a large number of public sector companies and factories. Namma Bengaluru has housed several of them. The coming of this sector ushered in a new pattern of work life in our city. New secular communities, colonies and tenements sprouted like mushrooms all over the place. They thrived for a couple of decades lending a vibrant vigour to the ethos of our garden city. As in all things change happens to be the only constant in life. It has not left the public sector untouched, hence we see the phenomenon phasing out ever so quietly from our lives.

The only remnants of the public sector happen to be the senior citizens who dot our city with their unique anecdotes. Though I have been privy to many of them, the one which never ceases to fascinate me happens to be the one I wish to share with my readers.

It is a well known fact that Rama and Lakshmana the protagonists of the Ramayana availed help from Sugriva the monkey- king to fight their enemy Ravana and redeem Seeta. An army of monkeys famously known as the Vanara Sena was instituted to help Rama in his mission. The ocean was crossed and the battle was fought. Rama the crown prince of Ayodhya slew the ten headed demon king Ravana redeemed Seeta. When it was time to return to Ayodhya with his wife Seeta and brother Lakshmana, he rewarded all the leaders like Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana among the others but was at a loss as to how to return the favour of the members of the Vanara Sena. Then the lord said that the Dandakaranya forest would be abundant with fruits to take care of them during the Treta Yuga.

The simian army accepted their gift humbly but did not disperse as expected. So Rama told them that they could serve him as Yadava confederates when he re-incarnated as Krishna. Even as the Vanaras acknowledged the blessing gratefully, Rama felt that he had not been generous enough to see them through the wheel of time. So he said that in the Kali Yuga they would be absorbed as human resources by the public sector!

I have heard this tale regaled in jest, just to mark a merry moment. Of late, the elderly who recollect this tale do it with such a veneration which leaves the listener baffled! If the stories do enough rounds in the new tone, it will probably enter the portals of our mythology by the next half of this millennium!  Only time can tell!

 

Goodness of Neem Flowers


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/670125/goodness-neem-flowers.html

Neem flower pachchadiNeem flower pachchadi

The neem flower is a tiny ingredient with stupendous curative powers. From protecting your gut, relieving painful migraines to keeping skin ailments at bay, these flowers are replete with blood-purifying properties.

The neem tree ideally flowers during spring. The best way to harvest these flowers is by collecting them on a clean cloth or a mat from under the flowering tree. You can then rinse the flowers in a large sieve, sundry and store them in a dry air-tight container. Radha Prathi suggests a few recipes using this bitter condiment.

Neem Flower Rasam

Ingredients: A tbsp of neem flowers; 1 tbsp of cumin seeds; 1 tbsp of tur dal; 1 tbsp of peppercorns; 2 red chillies; 1 tbsp of tamarind extract; ½ tsp of mustard seeds; 1 tsp of ghee; a sprig of curry leaves and salt to taste.

Method: Grind the cumin seeds, pepper, chillies, tur dal and curry leaves to a fine powder. Add tamarind extract, the powder, and salt to a litre of water and allow it to boil to half its quantity on a low flame. Add another half a litre of water and bring the contents to a boil. For the tempering, add ghee to a pan and toss in the mustard seeds before turning off the heat. Then add neem flowers to the pan and sauté them lightly. Add the tempering to the rasam along with some curry leaves. Serve the rasam hot as it is or with some hot rice and ghee.

Neem Flower Rice

Ingredients: A tbsp of neem flower; a pinch of asafoetida; ½ tsp of pepper powder; 1 tbsp of ghee; 1 tbsp of lemon juice and salt to taste.

Method: Heat the ghee in a pan and toss in the asafoetida and the neem flowers before turning off the heat. Add pepper powder, lemon juice, and salt and allow the mixture to stand for 10 minutes. Add the mixture to a tablespoon of freshly cooked rice. Serve immediately.

Neem Flower Podi

Ingredients: A small cup of neem flower; a pinch of asafoetida; ½ tsp of turmeric powder; 1 tbsp of peppercorns; 2 sprigs of curry leaves; a tbsp of ghee and salt to taste.

Method: Heat the ghee in a pan and toss in the turmeric powder, asafoetida, peppercorns and curry leaves and turn off the heat. Add the neem flowers to the pan and sauté them. Grind all the roasted ingredients together with salt. Store the mixture in an airtight container. You can mix the powder with rice for a healthy meal.

Neem Flower Pachchadi

Ingredients: Two tbsps of neem flower; 2 tbsps of jaggery; 2 red chillies; ½ tsp of mustard seeds; 2 tbsps of tamarind juice; a pinch of asafoetida; 1 tbsp of oil and ½ tsp of salt.

Method: Grind the chillies, jaggery, salt, together and mix it with the tamarind paste. Heat a pan, add oil, toss in the mustard seeds and asafoetida and turn off the heat. Then add the neem flowers and saute them well. Add the previously prepared spice mixture. Stir well and the pachchadi is ready to be served.

Proof of My existence


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/668732/proof-my-existence.html

We, in the subcontinent, have been told that possessing an Aadhaar card will be an antidote for all regional, national and international identification purposes for about half a decade now.

The multiple uses of this card would prove to be a panacea and offset the need to have and keep track of half a dozen similar cards. It is considered to be foolproof and of world-class,  because it uses biometrics and the latest technology.

As usual, we the Indians, have mixed feelings towards it. The believers, the non-believers, and the in-betweens, who debate vehemently on the subject.

The first group queued up almost immediately at the assigned booths and went through the procedure through rain and shine.

They ranged from babies in arms to senior citizens. Loads of documents were verified and the denizens filled up e-forms. They were asked to wait up to three months to receive the magic wand. The believers encouraged the in-betweens to follow suit.

The ones who thought that it would be better to be uniquely identified, gave it a shot. They expected the serpentine queues in front of Aadhaar booths to have depleted with time. But they did not take our billion-plus population into consideration.

Nevertheless, they stood with the hope that their time and effort would eventually reward them.

Months flit past. The coveted card made its way to the doorsteps of the early birds. It pleased some. Others found that one or all of their details were misrepresented.

Meanwhile, a newspaper report mentioned that somebody in the then Andhra Pradesh received an Aadhaar card in the name of Sonia Gandhi. Pranksters and people with selfish motives had generated the coveted card for the dead.

The arrival of more such news reports made the non-believers gloat. The in-betweens who had by this time decided not to believe, got into the “I told you so!” mode.

Years have passed since then. The dilemma of letting the card be or not, continues. It has not been written off entirely. If technology could be done away with, then we could adapt the philosophy of Rene Descartes. Then, we could circumvent a lot of paper work and save the great Himalayan forests. Then Cogito Ergo Sum, (I think, therefore I am) could ideally become the new mantra and the proof of our existence.

Get More of Methi


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/661071/get-more-methi.html

Radha Prathi Feb 23 2018, 22:19 IST

Fenugreek or methi, as we know it, possibly originated in the Mediterranean region. It is interesting to note that the ubiquitous seeds in most Indian cuisine were actually used for embalming by the Egyptians, while the Greeks and Romans used it for cattle fodder.

The tiny bitter seeds can add a rich aroma, colour and flavour when used in various recipes. However, it is best not to use the seeds as they are. Roast them over a slow fire before adding them to any dish. If you want to use it in the powdered form, follow the same procedure. If you want to grind the seeds into the dish, soak it overnight, preferably with a pinch of salt to get a smooth paste. If you want to use methi seeds for seasoning, add them to the oil when it is at maximum heat and take it off immediately. When you grind batter for dosa, make sure that you soak a teaspoon of methi seeds along with urad dal.

For those of you who are hard pressed for time, here are a few tips to keep your methi masala ready:

Roast methi, jeera and dhaniya seeds in one is to two is to four ratio and powder the spices with a half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Toss a teaspoonful of the spice mix in your curries or rice preparations just before you turn off the flame and mix it well. This will lend a tasty and healthy twist to your cooking.

If you have lots of curry leaves at home, wash and dry them. Add a teaspoon of roasted methi seeds to the dried leaves, powder them and use this to season your sambhar or chutneys.

Curious about Carom?


http://www.deccanheraldepaper.com

Carom seeds

Carom seeds

The carom seeds, popularly known as ajwain, have been a part of Indian cuisine from times immemorial. Southeast Asian countries have consciously included these aromatic seeds in some of their common and exclusive dishes. The spice lends a tinge of heat and freshness to any dish to which it is added.

Since ajwain has its own distinct flavour, it is best not to combine it with other spices. It is particularly useful in curing digestive disorders. The spice has a magical way of lending diverse genres of flavours when employed differently.

If you are planning to use ajwain as a seasoning, then heat some ghee or any cooking oil of your choice and toss the spice when the fat is hot. When the spice inflates, turn off the heat and toss it into your dish. You can give your dosas, salads and buttermilk a twist by adding a dash of ajwain.

While baking some breads and buns or Indian snacks using besan flour as base, make sure that you add raw ajwain to the dough. If you don’t like biting into the spice unexpectedly, then consider adding a pinch of coarse or fine ajwain powder to the dough.

If you want an uniform and all encompassing flavour then make sure that you use a decoction of the spice. Toss a teaspoonful of the seeds into quarter litre of water and allow it to boil down to about 200 ml, add a pinch of table salt and crystal sugar to the decoction before taking it off the heat. Use this decoction while preparing dough for breads, chapatis or paranthas. This decoction can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator and administered a spoonful or two after every meal to overcome flatulence or indigestion.

Great Sanskrit Poet – Mahakavi Kalidasa


If one hopes to travel the globe, delve deeply into the psyche of fellow human beings and derive an understanding of history, tradition, culture and civilization one lifetime will prove to be insufficient. Yet if one seeks the solution in the world of literature one is seldom disappointed for literature holds a mirror to life.

II Kavyeshu natakam ramyam, tatra ramya Shakuntala

Tatrapi chaturthaha ankaha tatra shlokaha chatushtayam. II

Drama is the most charming form of literature. Shakuntala is the most charming play. The fourth act of the play happens to be the best while the fourth shloka takes the cake.

Those of you who are familiar with the lines will realise that I am speaking of our greatest poet Mahakavi Kalidasa who is also toted as Kavi Kula Guru. The high praise allocated to the fourth stanza of the fourth act of the play lies in the fact that Kalidasa was subtly breaking news to Kanva maharishi about the pregnancy of his adopted daughter Shakuntala. She had married king Dushyanta in the Gandharva style during his absence. Kanva is informed of the same through an invisible aerial voice. The ability to tactfully render sensitive information about an unconventional situation to a person who was detached from family life forms the climax of the play. The story culminates with the union of the estranged couple after a dramatic course of events. Kalidasa manages to do the needful aesthetically through a mere couplet. This is perhaps one of the reasons why he is considered to be the greatest litterateurs of all times. One Subhashita says,

 

II Pura kaveenaam gananaa prasange kanishtika adhish titha Kalidasa

Adhyaapi tat tulya kavehe abhavaath anaamika sa arthavathi babhoova II

“Once upon a time when great poets were counted, the little finger was raised first and the name of Kalidasa was counted. The ring finger which is the next in sequence is called anaamika which means nameless in the Sanskrit language. It remains in the same nameless status to this day, because there is not another poet who has measured up to the greatest poet, namely Kalidasa”.

Though Kalidasa’s play Abhijnana Shakuntalam has been evaluated as his magnum opus by Von Goethe the greatest poet of Germany who was also his sincere critic and fan, one cannot really discount the other works of the great poet. In his play Malavikagnimitram, Kalidasa chronicled portions of contemporary history by giving an account of the political relationship between the ancient countries of Vidisha and Vidarbha by weaving a romantic theme. The twice married king Agnimitra of Vidisha falls in love with the princess of Vidarbha called Malavika by merely looking at her portrait. Later on Malavika happens to enter his principal wife Dharini’s entourage. Then, over a course of events punctuated with steady humour the affair is solemnized into a marriage of love and political convenience.

Kalidasa’s other popular play is Vikramorvashiyam. It is believed to celebrate his contemporary Gupta king Vikramaditya. The poet improvises on a love story found in the Puranas between the mortal king Pururavas and the celestial nymph Urvashi. Gods, demigods and mortals who populate the story with a romantic theme not only captures varied human emotions but also acts as a guidebook to the flora and fauna in the Himalayan slopes.

Besides being a playwright, he authored two of the most brilliant Mahakavyas or epic poems Raghuvamsham and KumaraSambhavam. In Raghuvamsham the Mahakavi traces the lives, times and values of the kings of the solar dynasty over nineteen cantos. It begins with Vivaswat, Manu, Dilipa, Raghu, Aja, Dasharatha, Rama, Kusha et al all the way up to Agnivarna through magnificent couplets.

Kumara Sambhavam revolves round the life of lord Shiva, who went on to become a recluse after his beloved wife Dakshayini jumped into the sacrificial fire unable to digest the insults heaped on her by her father. Dakshayini reincarnates as Parvathi at the behest of the Gods. She woos Shiva and begets a son who kills Tarakasura who was terrorizing the three worlds. Kalidasa indulges in some of his very best word painting in this epic poem.

Kalidasa was an all-rounder in the world of literature. Historians believe that he must have authored at least forty works in the areas of poetry, drama, criticism and commentary. Meghadutam, Ritusamharam, Kali Stotram, Shyamala Dandakam, Chandikadandaka stotra, Kavya nataka alankaram among others, happen to be a few of his works that are available today.

The number of influences, adaptations and improvisations of classical literature is omnipresent in the works of the Mahakavi. The content of Kalidasa’s works have been invariably sourced from Vedas, Puranas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Yet one cannot accuse him of plagiarism because he uses the broad framework and storyline from the original and lends his own special touch to his works by taking ample poetic liberty. He mellowed and molded his characters in such a way that they appealed to ones finer sensibilities and went on to become popular and set new standards. His readers and viewers prefer his version and interpretation of characters as compared to the original.

Kalidasa was unique and second to none in terms of style and presentation. In fact the phrase upama kalidasasya speaks in volumes about his ability to use apt similes to make a point. It is astonishing to note we know very little about Kalidasa who achieved great feats in every conceivable field of Sanskrit literature. Not much is known about him beyond his pen name. Kalidasa just means, the servant or a follower of goddess Kali which is but a common nomenclature. Folklore believes that Kalidasa was an unlettered shepherd who was tricked into marrying an erudite princess. When she discovered his ignorance, she bid him to claim her only after acquiring some basic education. Accordingly, Kalidasa prayed to goddess Kali vehemently and became enlightened with her blessings. History spans the date of Kalidasa over six centuries based on internal references in his works, historical and critical, and from inscriptions and edicts. It is obvious that any mortal could not have lived over six hundred years. Yet the fact remains that he must have lived sometime during this time bracket. His nativity is ambiguous though it is believed that he must have spent a lot of time in Ujjain because he gives a very detailed description of the place. Critics are divided about his patrons too. While some deem him to be one of the nine gems in the court of King Vikramaditya Gupta there are others who think Raja Bhoja patronised him. Stories about his death also vary from being a victim of jealousy of king Bhoja, to the greed of a courtesan who sheltered him.

Though there is abundant folk lore attached to the poet’s time, life and social status none of them are validated with evidence. Most things that we know about his life, place, date and works are sourced from later references, inscriptions and a deeper understanding of their works identified by their unique patterns. Western and modern historians and critics attribute this drawback to the sloppiness of Indians, who did not believe in documenting events or maintaining chronological records. Just about every detail of his life dwells in the realms of speculation.

Today Kalidasa and his works have been limited to academicians and their students. Most prescribed textbooks give limited and selective biographical information about Kalidasa who was an author, poet, dramatist and critic. A student or reader of the Mahakavi has to realise that there is more to it than what meets the eye. The person may be very different from the persona. Hence it will be in the best interests of the literary works not to judge them at the elementary stage of reading. One would do well to read all the possible works of the writer and then read about the person. This measure will help students and the reader to draw a holistic and mature opinion of the litterateur instead of being led by the nose.

We must realise that Indian achievers of the past were sensible and self-effacing people who maintained a low profile. Kalidasa must have belonged to this group of accomplished people with sterling qualities, who dedicated his works to the immediate society he lived in. The fact that his works have stood the test of time and has been translated into many languages of the world and the people world over want to know more about him speaks in volumes of his caliber both at the personal and professional levels.

A connoisseur of art and literature is called a rasika in Sanskrit. It is said that a consistent rasika can turn into a sahridaya or a good hearted person over a period of time. A passionate student of Kalidasa will find that he or she who begins savouring the rasas which are a combination of thoughts feelings and emotions becomes a rasika and has actually signed up for a lifelong rendezvous with the subject. Reading will help them introspect, relate and act to make a difference to the world they live in the capacity of a sahridaya!

If one hopes to travel the globe, delve deeply into the psyche of fellow human beings and derive an understanding of history, tradition, culture and civilization one lifetime will prove to be insufficient. Yet if one seeks the solution in the world of literature one is seldom disappointed for literature holds a mirror to life.

II Kavyeshu natakam ramyam, tatra ramya Shakuntala

Tatrapi chaturthaha ankaha tatra shlokaha chatushtayam. II

Drama is the most charming form of literature. Shakuntala is the most charming play. The fourth act of the play happens to be the best while the fourth shloka takes the cake.

Those of you who are familiar with the lines will realise that I am speaking of our greatest poet Mahakavi Kalidasa who is also toted as Kavi Kula Guru. The high praise allocated to the fourth stanza of the fourth act of the play lies in the fact that Kalidasa was subtly breaking news to Kanva maharishi about the pregnancy of his adopted daughter Shakuntala. She had married king Dushyanta in the Gandharva style during his absence. Kanva is informed of the same through an invisible aerial voice. The ability to tactfully render sensitive information about an unconventional situation to a person who was detached from family life forms the climax of the play. The story culminates with the union of the estranged couple after a dramatic course of events. Kalidasa manages to do the needful aesthetically through a mere couplet. This is perhaps one of the reasons why he is considered to be the greatest litterateurs of all times. One Subhashita says,

 

II Pura kaveenaam gananaa prasange kanishtika adhish titha Kalidasa

Adhyaapi tat tulya kavehe abhavaath anaamika sa arthavathi babhoova II

“Once upon a time when great poets were counted, the little finger was raised first and the name of Kalidasa was counted. The ring finger which is the next in sequence is called anaamika which means nameless in the Sanskrit language. It remains in the same nameless status to this day, because there is not another poet who has measured up to the greatest poet, namely Kalidasa”.

Though Kalidasa’s play Abhijnana Shakuntalam has been evaluated as his magnum opus by Von Goethe the greatest poet of Germany who was also his sincere critic and fan, one cannot really discount the other works of the great poet. In his play Malavikagnimitram, Kalidasa chronicled portions of contemporary history by giving an account of the political relationship between the ancient countries of Vidisha and Vidarbha by weaving a romantic theme. The twice married king Agnimitra of Vidisha falls in love with the princess of Vidarbha called Malavika by merely looking at her portrait. Later on Malavika happens to enter his principal wife Dharini’s entourage. Then, over a course of events punctuated with steady humour the affair is solemnized into a marriage of love and political convenience.

Kalidasa’s other popular play is Vikramorvashiyam. It is believed to celebrate his contemporary Gupta king Vikramaditya. The poet improvises on a love story found in the Puranas between the mortal king Pururavas and the celestial nymph Urvashi. Gods, demigods and mortals who populate the story with a romantic theme not only captures varied human emotions but also acts as a guidebook to the flora and fauna in the Himalayan slopes.

Besides being a playwright, he authored two of the most brilliant Mahakavyas or epic poems Raghuvamsham and KumaraSambhavam. In Raghuvamsham the Mahakavi traces the lives, times and values of the kings of the solar dynasty over nineteen cantos. It begins with Vivaswat, Manu, Dilipa, Raghu, Aja, Dasharatha, Rama, Kusha et al all the way up to Agnivarna through magnificent couplets.

Kumara Sambhavam revolves round the life of lord Shiva, who went on to become a recluse after his beloved wife Dakshayini jumped into the sacrificial fire unable to digest the insults heaped on her by her father. Dakshayini reincarnates as Parvathi at the behest of the Gods. She woos Shiva and begets a son who kills Tarakasura who was terrorizing the three worlds. Kalidasa indulges in some of his very best word painting in this epic poem.

Kalidasa was an all-rounder in the world of literature. Historians believe that he must have authored at least forty works in the areas of poetry, drama, criticism and commentary. Meghadutam, Ritusamharam, Kali Stotram, Shyamala Dandakam, Chandikadandaka stotra, Kavya nataka alankaram among others, happen to be a few of his works that are available today.

The number of influences, adaptations and improvisations of classical literature is omnipresent in the works of the Mahakavi. The content of Kalidasa’s works have been invariably sourced from Vedas, Puranas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Yet one cannot accuse him of plagiarism because he uses the broad framework and storyline from the original and lends his own special touch to his works by taking ample poetic liberty. He mellowed and molded his characters in such a way that they appealed to ones finer sensibilities and went on to become popular and set new standards. His readers and viewers prefer his version and interpretation of characters as compared to the original.

Kalidasa was unique and second to none in terms of style and presentation. In fact the phrase upama kalidasasya speaks in volumes about his ability to use apt similes to make a point. It is astonishing to note we know very little about Kalidasa who achieved great feats in every conceivable field of Sanskrit literature. Not much is known about him beyond his pen name. Kalidasa just means, the servant or a follower of goddess Kali which is but a common nomenclature. Folklore believes that Kalidasa was an unlettered shepherd who was tricked into marrying an erudite princess. When she discovered his ignorance, she bid him to claim her only after acquiring some basic education. Accordingly, Kalidasa prayed to goddess Kali vehemently and became enlightened with her blessings. History spans the date of Kalidasa over six centuries based on internal references in his works, historical and critical, and from inscriptions and edicts. It is obvious that any mortal could not have lived over six hundred years. Yet the fact remains that he must have lived sometime during this time bracket. His nativity is ambiguous though it is believed that he must have spent a lot of time in Ujjain because he gives a very detailed description of the place. Critics are divided about his patrons too. While some deem him to be one of the nine gems in the court of King Vikramaditya Gupta there are others who think Raja Bhoja patronised him. Stories about his death also vary from being a victim of jealousy of king Bhoja, to the greed of a courtesan who sheltered him.

Though there is abundant folk lore attached to the poet’s time, life and social status none of them are validated with evidence. Most things that we know about his life, place, date and works are sourced from later references, inscriptions and a deeper understanding of their works identified by their unique patterns. Western and modern historians and critics attribute this drawback to the sloppiness of Indians, who did not believe in documenting events or maintaining chronological records. Just about every detail of his life dwells in the realms of speculation.

Today Kalidasa and his works have been limited to academicians and their students. Most prescribed textbooks give limited and selective biographical information about Kalidasa who was an author, poet, dramatist and critic. A student or reader of the Mahakavi has to realise that there is more to it than what meets the eye. The person may be very different from the persona. Hence it will be in the best interests of the literary works not to judge them at the elementary stage of reading. One would do well to read all the possible works of the writer and then read about the person. This measure will help students and the reader to draw a holistic and mature opinion of the litterateur instead of being led by the nose.

We must realise that Indian achievers of the past were sensible and self-effacing people who maintained a low profile. Kalidasa must have belonged to this group of accomplished people with sterling qualities, who dedicated his works to the immediate society he lived in. The fact that his works have stood the test of time and has been translated into many languages of the world and the people world over want to know more about him speaks in volumes of his caliber both at the personal and professional levels.

A connoisseur of art and literature is called a rasika in Sanskrit. It is said that a consistent rasika can turn into a sahridaya or a good hearted person over a period of time. A passionate student of Kalidasa will find that he or she who begins savouring the rasas which are a combination of thoughts feelings and emotions becomes a rasika and has actually signed up for a lifelong rendezvous with the subject. Reading will help them introspect, relate and act to make a difference to the world they live in the capacity of a sahridaya!