The Kavyas: Kalidasa was the greatest poet of the Gupta age. Generally majority of scholars have accepted the fact that Kalidasa was the contemporary of Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya. Among Kalidasa's poems the Ritusamhara is regarded as his earliest production. In this poem he has beautifully described the beauties of six seasons and their reaction on the human mind. The delicate observation of living sympathy with nature that are described here are truly Kalidasian in character. His Meghaduta is a pioneer duta kavya in Sanskrit literature. The stanzas in which Kalidasa describes the pining human heart of the youthful husband separated from his spouse are unrivalled for lofty imagery, unique metaphors and heroic hyperboles in Sanskrit literature. In the Kumarasarhbhava, which describes the union of Siva and Parvati in marriage and the birth of their son Kumara i.e. Kartikeya, Kalidasa exhibits richer variety and greater brilliance of fancy. The poet's power of description makes every scene appear to move before the reader's eyes. The Raghvarhsa is universally regarded as the finest specimen of Sanskrit mahakavyas as well.
The poetry of Kalidasa is characterized by grace, simplicity and also sentiment. They are always decorated by striking figures of speech. He is famous for his similes. In characterization he has few equals. He is superb in describing the emotions of love and pathos. His love of nature is as unique as his power of describing it. The works of Kalidasa are also valuable for the ideals, which they place before the society. By studying them the reader knows the Hindu ideals and also about the duties and responsibilities of persons in different classes of society and in various stages of life. His writings abound with pithy sayings containing salutary or good advice couched in beautiful language. From these writings persons in all walks of life can derive immense benefit.
Two other mahakavyas may be mentioned which are remarkable in that era. One is the Janakiharana written in the timeframe 517-526 A.D. by Kumaradasa and the other is the Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi written in c. 550 A.D. Both in manner and also in general treatment Kumaradasa imitates Kalidasa but is not able to reach the latter's height and grandeur. Bharavi's power of description and dignity of style impresses the reader but his literary gymnastics lessen the effect instead of enhancing the poetic impression.
Inscriptions: The Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragputa by his court poet Harisena and the Mandasor inscription by Vatsabhatti possess some characteristics features of Sanskrit Kavya.. Three other inscriptions may be mentioned in this connection and these can be named as the Junagadh inscription, the Mehrauli iron pillars inscription and the Mandasor inscription of Yasovarman by Vasula. All the three inscriptions show considerable literary merit.
Dramas: Most probably bhasa flourished in the second or third century A.D. Thirteen plays are attributed to him. The plots of two of these have been derived from the Ramayana. They show little ingenuity on the part of the author. Six plays are based on the Mahabharata. They show the author in better relief. Four plays are based on current story literature. Of all the thirteen plays of Bhasa, the Svapnavasavadatta is the best. The plot construction of Bhasa is quite crude and certain incidents are repeated also. But Bhasa's style is simple and direct. It does not involve long compounds and too frequent embellishments. He sometime violates the rules of the Natyasastra.
Another predecessor of Kalidasa was Sudraka. He is the author of the famous drama, the Mrcchakatika. It is a unique work in Sanskrit dramatic literature. Sudraka most probably flourished in the earlier part of the fourth century A.D. Thus he may be considered the first Sanskrit dramatist of the Gupta period. Unlike the majority of Sanskrit dramatists the author has exhibited a surprising sense of fact, which completely dominates reason or imagination in this play. Action and characters in this play are portrayed directly from life. For variety of incidents and characters taken from different strata of society and the genuine humor, there is hardly anything in Sanskrit dramatic literature to compare with the Mrchchhakatika. The Mudraraksasa by Visakhadatta presents a true and surprisingly living picture of an ancient Indian court with all its political suspicions and intrigues. It is a great play in its own way. Kalidasa represents the high watermark of India's creative genius as in epic, lyrical poetry and also in drama. Of the three plays of Kalidasa the Malavikagnimitra is clearly an immature production. The Vikramorvasiya shows a great advance in Kalidasa's poetic and dramatic art.
In the portrayal of Pururavas, the poet has reached a lyrical height unknown to the conventional erotic plays in Sanskrit. In that poem ardent but hopeless distraction caused by Urvasi's disappearance and his mad search for this beloved has depicted in a unique manner. The theme of love reaches its highest consummation in Kalidasa's third play, the Abhijnanasakuntalam. In this play Kalidasa treats love as a factor in the scheme of larger life and not merely as an isolated individual passion. In this play Kalidasa also shows his great dramatic genius in the regular development of the plot. He has worked a lot in the proportions of the cast, the happy choice of incidents, the majesty and charm of the stage effects, etc. His rich imagery and fine appreciation of nature, his grace and above all, his noble rhythm has taken the poem in its height.
In Kalidasa's dramas, imagination dominates over sense of fact and reason, while in the Mrchchakatika sense of fact dominates over reason and imagination. With the solitary exception of the Mrchchhakatika, the dramas of the Gupta period are actually the dramas of kings and court life.
The peculiar conditions and environments of the Gupta age had some effect on the literature produced during the period. Under the influence of the royal courts, Sanskrit poetry tended to become more and more aristocratic in character. It attempted to cater to the tastes of the higher and refined classes of the society and thus remained to the extent isolated from the life of the common people as well.
Also the ethical and didactic literature made its presence felt during this Gupta period.
The Panchatantra is a storybook of that era. It seems to have been originally composed with a view to imparting to young princes instruction in political science and practical conduct. Visnu Sarma is the author of this book. The earlier version of the Panchatantra was known as the Tantrakhyayika, which was most probably, composed in the timeframe of C. 250 A.D. The Panchatantra version was written some time during the Gupta period. The book was so popular that about 200 versions of the book exist in more than 50 languages of the world. It was translated into Pahalavi before 570 A.D. and soon after it was translated into the Syrian and the Arabic languages. It reached Europe before the 11th century A.D. Its versions into Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, English and old Slavonic languages had come into existence before the close of the 16th century A.D.
Bhartrhari in the era of C. 600-650 A.D. composed the Srngarasataka. The first sataka contains general observations on love and women, the second sataka deals with life of virtue and wisdom and the third sataka deals with life of renunciation. Probably these three satakas were composed towards the end of the Gupta period.
Grammar: On account of the works of Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali on Sanskrit grammar there was hardly any scope for composing a book on Sanskrit grammar. The earliest work of the Gupta period on this Sanskrit grammar is most probably the Katantra of Sarvavarman. It is simple Sanskrit grammar. Buddhist scholar of Bengal, Chandragomin composed the Chandravyakarana, which was very popular in Kashmir, Nepal and Tibet and later reached Sri Lanka. Probably he lived in the last decades of the sixth century A.D. He has made some original contribution to Sariskrit grammar as well.
Bhartrhari composed the Vakyapadiya, which deals with philosophy of language in general, and discusses sentence and word in Sanskrit language.
Lexicography: The most famous lexicographical work in Sanskrit is the Namalinganusasana of Amarasirhha, better known as Amara-kosa. It is the oldest work on lexicography. Amarasirhha was a Buddhist, yet his book has become most popular even among the Hindus.
Prosody: The Srutabodha is a handbook on metres. Varahamihira also deals with metres in the Brhatsamhita. There is also a section in the Agni Purana, which deals with the same.
Painting: A section of the Visnudharmottara Purana deals with painting and gives detailed instructions about surface preparation in fresco paintings and the use of different colors in them.
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