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Kalidãsa: A Native of Magadh

Kishore Kunal, I.P.S. (Vol.Rtd.)
M.A. in History & Sanskrit
Acharya and Ph.D. in Sanskrit
Former Vice-Chancellor,
K.S.D. Sanskrit University, Darbhanga.


After Valmiki and Vyas Kãlidãsa is the most celebrated poet of the Sanskrit language. Jayadeva, the author of Prasanna-raghava and not of the Gita-govindam called him- कविकुलगुरुः कालिदासो विलासः. Bãna-bhatta, the unparalleled prose-writer of Sanskrit and a native of Magadha on the Sone river wrote about Kãlidãsa in his famous work Harshacharitam:-

निर्गतासु न वा कस्य कालिदासस्य सूक्तिषु।
प्रीतिर्मधुरसान्द्रासु मञ्जरीष्विव जायते।।

However, the date and birth-place of this great poet have been a riddle to Sanskrit scholars because they have been searching it in the sea of the Sanskrit literature. Despite their deep dive, they have found little and that, too, in the realm of conjecture and no positive evidence. But if one looks beyond Sanskrit literature and delves in history-sources, one will be delighted to find two positive references to the birth-place of Kãlidãsa and both testify to the fact that the great poet was a native of Magadh.

V.V. Mirashi and N.R. Navelekar in their well researched work “Kalidãsa: Date, Life and works” has discussed the supposed birth-places of Kalidãsa at length. In the book’s third chapter ‘The Riddle of the Birth-place’ he has analysed the claims of Bengal Kashmir, Vidarbha, Daśapura or Vidiśa and Ujjayini as the birth-places of Kalidãsa. In addition, scholars of Odisha and Mithila also claim Kalidãsa to be the native of their regions. But no champion of these six regions has been able to cite any positive evidence in their claims. Mirashi and Navelkar have declared Ujjayini to be the birth-place of Kalidãsa only on the emotional ground. 

Dharma-svãmi a Buddhist pilgrim from Tibet, visited Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Tirhut Vaishali and other parts of Bihar between 1234 and 1236 A.D. after a long stay in Nepal in the pursuit of academic interests. Undaunted by inclement weather, destruction of important centres of learning like Nalanda and frequent in slaughts of Turk invaders he carried on pilgrimage to the Vajrãsana at Bodh Gaya and remained present in the ruins of Nalanda in the company of Rahula Sribhadra for several weeks. His visit to Bihar is a thrilling account of adventure and absolute faith.

On return journey to his native place he stayed in the Nepalese and Tibetan monasteries for some years and them reached his own monastery at ITe-u-ra in c. 1241 A.D. and remained there for 23 years until his death in 1264 A.D. His stay in Nepal and Bihar had enhanced his reputation and he had been invited by the Mongol Khan Kublai Khan twice to visit his court. But it could not materialize. Dharma-svamin’s accounts are trustworthy. On the basis of his narratives his disciple Upãsaka Chos-dar wrote his biography which is regarded almost as an eye-witness’ account of the incidents narrated therein.

This detailed introduction has been presented because the story of Kãlidãsa has been narrated at length in this book:-

            “Again, in Magadha there is a non-Buddhist stone image called Devi Kãli, or Lha-mo Nag-mo (in Tibetan). In front of the chapel there is a dried up well, and a gate built of loose stones, facing East. There exists a story that in ancient time this stone image made a fool talk, after which he became a learned Pandita. Though he had propitiated a non-Buddhist god, he was bestowed with the mastery of this World. Formerly, in India a Rãjã had a daughter who was very learned in Sanskrit. When the Rãja decided to give her away in marriage, the daughter said, “If there is one more learned than me in Sanskrit, I shall go [to him]. If you give me to another, I shall not go?” the Rãjã made enquires, saying, “Who is learned in Grammar?” They said, “The most learned was Vararuchi”. The Rãjã said, “Daughter, I shall give you to Vararuchi?” The daughter replied, “I am more learned than Vararuchi. I am not going to him?” And thus they were unable to make her go, Vararuchi became disgusted, and thought, “One should find a fool as a husband for this girl” Accordingly he went in search of a fool. He saw a man sitting on a tree branch and cutting it at the root. Vararuchi thought, here was a fool. The branch broke and the man fell down. Vararuchi then said to him, You should marry the Rãjã’s daughter?” In India there was a custom to pronounce a benediction when begging. Vararuchi taught the fool to say “Om svasti”. When the fool had mastered it, he took him to the Rãjã’s palace, and said, “He is a great Pandita! He is my teacher. You should give the daughter to him!” The Rãjã said, “If it is so, let us give her away!” The fool then pronounced the benediction, but because of fright or inability, instead of “Om svasti”, he produced something which sounded like “u-sa-ta-ra”. Immediately Vararuchi interpreted the fool’s words and composed a beautiful solka.

“Rudra with Umã, Samkara with Vishnu
And Siva holding the whizzing dart,
Protect constantly!”

Vararuchi called this composition the “Necklace of Sarasvati” and said that it was composed by this great Pandita. The Rãjã and his daughter then paid homage to him. Having given the Rãja’s daughter to the fool, they held the marriage ceremony. Vararuchi then fled away. It would have been against the Rãjã’s law to leave the fool after having married him. The Rãjã’s daughter did not like him and began to hate him. The fool was greatly afflicted by this, and went to pray before the image of the Kãli-Devi supplicating the goddess to destroy him. After the laps of two days, the Rãjã’s daughter thought, “If the fool were to die, it would not be good,” and sent her maid servants with some food and betel-nuts. The maid servants contemptuously spat some betel chewed by them into the fool’s mouth. (Observing this), the goddess thought, “Even maid servants despise him! I should bestow on him a magic spell!” The goddess slapped the cheek of one of the maids, and asked the, fool, “What sort of magic spell would you like (to possess)?” The fool replied that he would like to become learned in Sanskrit Grammar, and immediately he was transformed into a learned man. With his right hand he took the rough stalk of a lotus which was similar to that of a rose, and with his left hand the soft stalk of the blue lotus. Then standing in front of the door of the daughter’s apartment, he sent the following message through a maid,

“In my right hand (I have) a lotus,.
In my left an utpala flower,
Which do you prefer,
The one with the softy stalk, or that with the rough stalk?
Tell (me), O lotus-eyed?” 

The Rãjã’s daughter observed, “The Sloka is good poetry! He must have propitiated the goddess!” and continued to live with the fool. Thus having propitiated the goddess Kali, he became a scholar known as Kãlidãsa or the “Servant of Kãli.” Among the grammatical treatises composed by him, there was one called Ka-li-pa vyãkarana. The Dharmasvãmin said that in Tibetan the word vyãarana meant a “prophecy”, also “grammar”, or “exposition”. Even nowadays there exist in India several versions of this treatise, but according to the Dharmasvãmin, the grammatical treatise composed by Chandragomin had a greater vogue.

This story has been repeated mutatis mutandis by another famous Tibetan historian Lama Taranath in his book “The History of Buddhism in India” written in 1608 A.D. He gives the following account:-

" Next is the account of Kãlidãsaa
When brãhmana Vararuci was living in the royal temple of king “Bhimaśukla of *Vãrãnasi, the king wanted to offer [in marriage] princess Vãsanti to the brãhmana Vararuci, Vãsanti arrogantly said, ‘I am a greater scholar than Vararuci thought, ‘I must befool her’. He said. ‘Let me then ask my learned teacher who is a hundred times more intelligent than me. The king would better offer Vãsanti to him.’
[Fol 40 A] Now, there lived in a handsome shepherd in Magadha. He [Vararuci] saw him cutting with an axe the branch of a tree while sitting on it and so knew him to be a big fool. He [Vararuci] took him along and for a few days arranged for his bathing, anointing, etc. He was made to wear the dress of a brãhmana “pandita and the only words he was made to memorise were. om svasti.
‘When you find the king holding his court, offer flowers to him and just say: om svasti. If anybody else asks any question, be not try to answer’.
While trying to carry out these instructions, after offering flowers to the king he said : “u-sa-ta-ra. The ãcãrya [Vararuci] explained the significance of these four letters as follows:-
उमया सहितो रुद्रः शंकरसहितो विष्णुः।
टंकारः शूलपाणिश्च रक्षन्तौ शिव सर्वदा।।
Thus he construed a benedictory verse [out of the letters]. Translated into Tibetan it means: Umã along with Rudra, Samkara along with Visnu and Sulpãni with his sound of the bow-let Siva protect thee for ever.’
Then Vãsanti asked him many questions concerning the import of words etc, but he not reply. Vararuci said, ‘Why should a profound scholar like my teacher at all answer the questions of woman?” Befooling her in this way, brãhmana Vararuci fled to the south.
When he [Kãlidãsa] was taken to the temple, he said nothing. At last he was highly delighted to see the picture of a cow among those of various animals painted on the outer wall of the temple. Thus he revealed his real self as a shepherd.
‘Alas! This is just a cowhered!’ [Fol 40B] She cried and realized that she had been cheated. [And she thought] “However, if he has intelligence, I am going to teach him grammar.’
By examining him, however, she found him to be an utter fool. Vãsanti became angry and sent him to collect flowers everyday.
There was in Magadha an image of goddess Kãli made by a celestial sculptor. He used to worship her every day with profuse flowers and great reverence. Once in the early morning he went to collect flowers for the worship to be performed by Vãsanti. One of her maids wanted to have some fun. She concealed herself behind the image, chewing a ball of areca nut. When the cowherd finished his usual prayers, the maid put into his hand the remnants of her chewing. He thought that the goddess herself had presented this to him. So he swallowed it. Immediately dawned in him unlimited knowledge of logic and grammar and he became a great poet.
He took a padma flower in his right hand, an utpala in his left and [thought]: ‘Though the padma is beautiful, its stem is rough. Though the utpala is small, its stem is soft. Which of the two does she prefer?’ Thinking thus, [he addressed Vãsanti]
‘I have in my right hand a padma and in
the left an utpala.
The stem of one is rough, of the other soft.
Tell me, oh lotus-eyed one, which one do
you want?”
When this was said, she realized that he had become learned and showed him high respect. From his great reverence for the goddess Kãli he came to be known as *Kãlidãsa or the servant of Kãli. From then on he became the crowing jewel of all the poets.
He composed ‘the eight dut-s”, like the Meghduta etc and also voluminous poetical works like the Kumãrasambhava.
From the analysis of these two stories the following facts are obtained on the biography of Kãlidãsa:-
There was a Kali temple in Magadh.
Dharmasvami says that by the grace of this non-Buddhist Goddess a fool was bestowed with the mastery of this world.
Then the marriage of the fool with a haughty princess is narrated and it is well-known.
According to Taranath this fool was a shepherd.
Vararuchi was the scholar rejected by the Princess and by the trick he managed the marriage of the fool with the Princess.
This Kãlidãsa was a scholar and author of grammar as well as Meghadũta and Kumãra-sambhava.
Dharma-svami was an eye-witness to the Kali-temple and the tradition prevalent in the area. Therefore his account can not be dismissed summarily.
These are the only two written evidences in support of the birth-place of Kalidasa and both testify to the fact that Magadh was the birth-place of Kalidasa.

In addition, tradition adds that when the enlightened Kãlidãsa went to his wife and knocked the door, she asked “अस्ति कश्चिद् वाग्विशेषः. Kãlidãsa composed three poetical works after these three words:

अस्त्युत्तरस्यां दिशि देवतात्मा      कुमारसम्भवम्
कश्चित्कान्ताविरहगुरुणा           मेघदूतम्
वागर्थाविव संपृक्तौ                 रघुवंश

So far no historian has taken notice of the trust-worthy account of Dharma-svamin on Kãlidãsa. These are only two positive accounts on the life of Kãlidãsa and both indicate that the birth-place of Kãlidãsa was Magadh.

On the basis of certain descriptions of customs and rituals in some works of Kãlidãsa, certain historians have tried to locate him in either Ujjain, Kashmir, Bengal, Vidarbha, Vidisha, Mithila, Odisha and some other parts of the country. Mere deviation of the path of the cloud-messenger to Ujjain and the majestic description of the town has led to many historians to declare that Ujjain was his birth-place. But no one has noticed many glaring cases the partiality of Kãlidãsa in favour of Magadh e.g. in Raghu vansa he has declared himself that- Sumitrã, the queen of Dasaratha and the mother of Lakshmana and Satrughna was a native of Magadha. In the Valmiki Rãmayana Kausalya has been shown a native of the Kosala country and Kaikeyi that of Kekaya. But the native place of Sumitra has not been indicated at all. But Kãlidãsa, being a native of Magadh had the affinity of Magadha and therefore he made this connect of Magadha to Ayodhya in the following verse of the Raghuvamsa:-

तमलभन्त पतिं पतिदेवताः शिखरिणामिव सागरमापगाः।
मगधकोसलकेकयशासिनां दुहितरोsहितरोहितमार्गणम्।।Raghuvamsa 9.1

i.e. The daughters of the kings of Magadha, Kosala and Kekaya, who regarded their husband as their deity, obtained for their husband him — a mighty warrior (lit. who drove his arrows deep into the persons of his enemies), just as the rivers, the daughters of the mountains, obtain the (mighty) main.

It is really a great partiality of the great poet to his native place. Kãlidãsa was aware that Magadha was not mentioned even once in the Vãlmìki Ramayana, even then he made this declaration. What else except sheer partiality can be attributed to this arbitrary addition in the story of the Rãmayana?

Another partiality towards Magadh has been shown by Kãlidãsa in the Raghuvamsa in the context of Indumatì-svayambara. In the galaxy of kings present in the hall the Magadh king gets the first place and in his praise are the following verses composed by Kãlidãsa:-

ततो नृपाणां श्रुतवृत्तवंशा पुंवत्प्रगल्भा प्रतिहाररक्षी।
प्राक्संनिकर्षं मगधेश्वरस्य नीत्वा कुमारीमवदत्सुनन्दा।।20।।

Then Sunanda, the door-keeper of the harem, bold (clever in speech like a man, and well acquainted with the lives and pedigrees of kings, took the princess, first of all, to the presence of the king of the Magadhas, and thus spoke —

असौ शरण्यः शरणोन्मुखानामगाधसत्त्वो मगधप्रतिष्ठः।
राजा प्रजारञ्जनलब्धवर्णः परन्तपो नाम यथार्थनामा।।21।।

This is the king who rules over the Magadh a land- the refuge of those who look up to him for protection, of spirit unfathomable, and renowned for governing his people well Parantapa by name, true to the sense.

कामं नृपाः सन्तु सहस्रशोऽन्ये राजन्वतीमाहुरनेन भूमिम्।
नक्षत्रताराग्रहसंकुलापि ज्योतिष्मती चन्द्रमसैव रात्रिः।।22।।
Granted that there are other kings by thousands; but the earth is said to have a pious ruler in him alone. True that the night is crowded with constellations, stars and planets; but it is by reason of the moon alone that it has light (is illumined).

क्रियाप्रबन्धदयमध्वराणामजस्रमाहूतसहस्रनेत्राः ।
शच्याश्चिरं पाण्डुकपोललम्बान् मन्दारशून्यानलकाँश्चकार।।23।।
This king having to invite Indra (lit the god with a thousand eyes) incessantly (to the earth), on account of the uninterrupted course of his sacrificial rites, caused (thereby) the tresses of Śachī to be long flowing about her pallid cheeks and undecked with the flowers of the Mandara tree.
अनेन चेदिच्छसि गृह्यमाणं पाणिं वरेण्येन कुरु प्रवेशे।
प्रासादवातायनसंश्रितानां नेत्रोत्सवं पुष्पपुरांगनानाम्।।24।।
If you wish that your hand should be accepted in marriage by this (prince), worthy to be chosen, then (by accepting him) give delight to the eyes of the ladies of Pushpapura, as they will be looking at you, at the time of your entering the city, from the windows of the mansions.
एवं तयोक्ते तमवेक्ष्य किंचिद्विस्रंसिदूर्वांकमधूकमाला।
ऋजुप्रणामक्रिययैव तन्वी प्रत्यादिदेशैनमभाषमाणा।।25।
When she had said this, the thin princess looked at him, and without saying anything rejected him with a salutation, while her garland of Madhũka flowers interspersed with Dũrvã grass was slightly displaced.
Here one very striking feature is that though in the hall the kings of Magadh, Anga, Avantì, Anupa, Mãhishmatì, Mathura, Kalinga, Vidarbha, Pandya, etc. were present and Indumatì discarded all of them because she had to choose the Ikshvaku king Aja, the father of Dasaratha and grand-father of Rãma but it was the king of Magadha alone whom she paid obeisance (प्रणाम) ऋजुप्रणामक्रिययैव तन्वी(VI. 25).

All the historians, except a few, have suggested that Kãlidãsa was a court poet of king Vakramãditya. This king Vikramãditya has been variously identified from the legendary/historical king of Ujjain after whom this Vikrama Samvata is supposed the be prevalence to Chandragupta II or Skandagupta or even Yasovarma. The upper date of Kãlidãsa is the second century B.C., as has named Agnimitra in his drama Malavikagnimitram. Agnimitra is the son of Vasumitra and grand-son of Pushyamitra who, after, having dethroned the last Mauryan king in 185 B.C., defended the sovereignty of the country. The lower limit of his date is the first half of the seventh century when his name is mentioned by Banabhatta in the Harsha-charitam and in the Aihole inscription dated 634 A.D. In the Aihole inscription Kãlidãsaa is mentioned as follows

स विजयतां रविकीर्तिः कविताश्रितकालीदासभारविकीर्तिः।

Scholars like V.V. Mirashi find shadow of the poems of Kãlidãsa in the Mandsore inscription dated 473 A.D. But the majority of historians rightly associate him with the great Gupta Emperor Chandragupta II (375-416 A.D.). The capital of Chandragupta II was Pataliputra and therefore Kãlidãsa lived in the court at Pataliputra and not at Ujjain. There is no positive proof that Chandragupta II had transferred his capital from Pataliputra to Ujjain or he had stayed there for a considerable period. When Fahien had visited Pataliputra in c. 400 A.D. during the reign of Chandragupta, Pataliputra was the capital of the Gupta empire. When his minister and army commander was on march to defeat the śakas, he declared himself to be ikVyhiq=d% i.e. a resident of Pataliputra. When Chandragupta II’s son Kumaragupta established the Nalanda University, he established it in the vicinity of his capital. Had Ujjain been his capital, he would have established it near Ujjain. Thus Kalidas was a native of Magadh both by birth and domicile i.e. his place of work. His association with Ujjain is based on the presumption that since Kãlidãsa was a court poet of Chandragupta II and he has made a beautiful description of Ujjain; Chandragupta’s court had shifted there. It is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. From the writing of Kalidasa it appears that Ujjain was a flourishing city but not a royal capital or a fortified town.

The end

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