Kalidasa (375?-415?)
Little is known about Kalidasa, court poet and dramatist associated with the reign of Emperor Chandra Gupta II, but legends abound. A princess married him for his physical beauty, but despised his ignorance and lack of refinement. The young man appealed to the goddess Kali for help, and was granted both wit and eloquence (hence his name, which means Kali's devoted slave). He was considered the most brilliant of the "nine gems" at the fabled court of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain.

Kalidasa belonged to the post-Vedic period of Sanskrit literature, when royal patronage supported secular drama and poetry, and writers were no longer anonymous. His three surviving verse dramas celebrate romantic love. 'Sakuntala, the most famous, tells of an innocent forest maiden who secretly marries a handsome prince and is so distracted during his absence that she incurs the curse of a visiting sage towards whom she has been less than fully attentive. Curses can never be fully retracted, but the sage softens his by saying her husband's memory will revive when he sees the ring she wears on her finger. 'Sakuntala promptly loses her ring, but it miraculously makes its way to the royal court. After years of trial and tribulation, 'Sakuntala's fidelity and courage are amply rewarded at the story's end, when her husband recognizes and embraces her.

Both Eastern and Western traditions of literature, art, and music have drawn inspiration from Kalidasa, and his works have been translated into many languages.

Kalidasa. Sákoontalá, or The Lost ring. Translated into English prose and verse from Sanskrit by Monier Williams. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1885. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Noyes.

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