An Indian poet and dramatist, Kalidasa lived sometime within the reign of Agnimitra, the second Shunga king (c. 170 BC) who was the hero of one of his illustrious dramas Malavikagnimitra and the Aihole inscription of 634 A.D., which extols Kalidasa's poetic skills. An important fact that must be stated here is that nothing in Kalidasa's life and works is free from dispute and contention. That stands as a solid reason that scholars reason out this Indian litterateur legend from pre-historic documents. In spite of the celebrity status of his name, the time when Kalidasa flourished always has been an unsettled question, making most scholars associate him with the reign of Chandragupta II (reigned c. 380-c. 415). Yet again, some scholars nowadays favour the middle of the 4th and early 5th centuries A.D., during the reigns of Chandragupta II Vikramaaditya and his successor Kumaragupta. Numerous works have been assigned to Kalidasa's authorship. Most of them, however, are either by lesser poets bearing the same name or by others of some inherent worth. These lesser poets' works merely earned a chance to be associated with Kalidasa's name. Their own names ceased long before to be remembered as legend. Only seven works are sadly generally considered authentic.
Virtually no facts are acknowledged and recognised about Kalidasa's life, although striking legends are aplenty. Physically handsome, the Indian litterateur was supposed to have been extremely dull as a child and hence growing up quite unschooled. Through the matchmaking efforts of a shrewd minister Kalidasa was married to a princess who was pretty mortified viewing his ignorance and vulgarity. Kalidasa (literally meaning Goddess Kali's slave), a fervid worshipper of Kali, then pleaded upon his goddess to help him and was honoured with abrupt gifts of brainpower and common sense. He became the most magnificent of the much-recalled 'nine gems' at the court of Vikramaditya of Ujjain.
There is substantial reason to consider that Kalidasa was of foreign origin. His name is most unusual and even legends propose that it was adopted. The disgrace attached to the suffix 'dasa' (slave) was exceedingly potent and orthodox Hindus deflected its use. And strangely enough, Indian tradition possesses no trustworthy data concerning one of the country's greatest litterateurs.
Kalidasa was well acquainted with contemporary sciences and arts, including politics and astronomy. His knowledge of scientific astronomy was evidently harvested from Greek sources. Altogether, he appears to have been a result of the significant synthesis of Indian and barbarian people and cultures that took place in northwestern India during his days. The dubious story that he ended his days in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and died at the hands of a courtesan and that the king of Ceylon in grief burnt himself to death, is not accepted by his biographers.
Great as Kalidasa was, it has been discovered that he had his literary weaknesses. He exhibited little interest in the social problems of his times; his plays do not reflect the turbulent times in which he lived; he felt no understanding for the bunch of the common man; his work is overtaxed with descriptions and is soppy, wordy and at times uncouth. Within his range he was unexcelled by any of the dramatists who wrote in the Sanskrit language, but this does not amount to much, for the general standard of Sanskrit drama is not on an equation with the best elsewhere.
Many tell tales rebound in the air when one considers Kalidasa's life. Some call him native of Kashmir, some of Vidarbha, some of Bengal and others of Ujjain. It is said that he was a dull fool. The king's daughter (to whom Kalidasa was later married) was a very erudite lady and she had stated that she would marry that very individual who would defeat her in 'shastrartha' (debate on the scriptures). Anyone who gets thwarted would be black faced, head shaven and kicked out from the country on a donkey. Hence, the pandits took Kalidasa (whom they seemingly had seen cutting the tree branch on which he was sitting) for debate. They expressed that he (Kalidasa) only performed mute debates. The princess showed him one finger saying 'shakti is one'. He interpreted she would poke his one eye, so he showed her two fingers. She accepted it as a convincing answer, since 'shakti' is manifest in duality (shiv-shakti, nar-nari). She showed her the palm with fingers stretched like in a slap. He showed her the fist. She accepted it again as an answer to her question. She said 'five elements' and he answered 'make the body' (earth, water, fire, air and void). (The debate explanations are also apparently later additions). Quite obviously they get married and she discovers him to be a moron. So she just throws Kalidasa out of the house. He rightaway went to Maa Kali's temple and slashed his tongue at her feet. Kali was pleased at this gesture and granted him intense wisdom. When he returned to his house, his wife asked, 'asti kashchit vaag-visheshaH'' (asti - is; kashchit - when, like in questioning; vaag - speech, visheshaH - expert; i.e. ''are you now an proficient to speak''). And the outstanding Kalidasa wrote three books beginning with the 3 words, with asti - asti-uttarasyaam; dishi - Kumara-sambhavam (epic); with kashchit - kashchit-kaantaa - Meghdoot (poetry); with vaag - vaagarthaaviva - Raghuvansha (epic).
Another legend goes that that he was the friend of Kumardas of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He was strangely slain by a courtesan once when he visited his friend in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Kalidasa is regarded as the greatest poet of 'shringaar' (romance, beauty) His works always do brim with shringaara-rasa. Sometimes he has made use of 'haasya' (comedy) and 'karuN.' (pathos). There are two facets of 'shringaar' - 'sambhoga' (sam - together, bhoga - to revel, consume as in consumer; therefore sambhoga stands for - the being together, the romance of being together, the jolly love poems) and 'vipralambha' - that of separation.
The Indian litterateur was an adept in both. And these have been ceremoniously and religiously employed in poems of Kalidasa, with the verses being absolutely steeped in the 'vipralambha-shringaar' and 'sambhoga-shringaar'. Kalidasa's comedy is also of the highest order. His comedy brings to light a soft smile, not a loud laugh. In fact, Kalidasa was not only a master in comedy; he excelled in every pathos or drama ever penned down. The personification of the picturesque atmosphere is tremendously established in the plays of Kalidasa, with variety and diverseness being the order of his times.
Kalidasa was a heavy user of artha-alankaar and is legendary for his 'upamaa' (metaphor). His upamaaa are clear, complete and beautiful. His observation is astute as well as subtle. He comprehends the nature and human mind in and out. Kalidasa possesses a sound knowledge of the scriptures. His 'utprekshaa' (simile) and 'artha-antaranyaas' (transfer of meaning) are also worth mentionable. He has made use of some 'shabda-alankaar's as well as 'anupraasa' (alliteration), 'yamaka' (same word repeated with different meaning) and 'shlesha' (pun). Kalidasa loves the softer side of nature. He cites tranquil and pleasant ashramas, riverbanks, gardens, palaces, bumblebee, deer, cuckoo etc. His love for the Himalayas is witnessed more than the Vindhyachal.
Kalidasa, the legendary Sanskrit Indian litterateur, also was knowledgeable of human psychology. He is a master of conveying emotions by means of actions. This brings extra dimension to his work Kalidasa belongs to the vaidarbhi style. He possesses total control over language. His language is pretty chaste as per grammar. His words are extremely selective. He never makes use of words like 'hi, cha, vaa' (also, and) for completing the meter. When he does use them, he has a purpose.
Kalidasa's verse knowledge is profoundly deep. He has used most of the known meters (chanda) in Sanskrit. In one chapter he uses only one meter. The next chapter is in a new meter. The whole of 'Meghaduta' is in 'mandaa-krantaa' meter (2-2-2, 2-1-1, 1-1-1, 2-2-1, 2-2-1, 2-2).
Kalidasa was an abider of the Vedic Sanatana dharma. He believed in the 'varna-ashram' social order (four 'castes' and four 'ashrama' (stages of social life)). He believed in dharma, artha, kama, moksha. Moksha was his eternal goal, followed by dharma. Then came kama. He advocates 'tyaga' (the observance of non-indulgence) and 'tapasya' (austerity). Kalidasa preferred 'tapovana' (forest aashramas) to palaces. He is known to be a Shiva devout and remembered Shiva in all his openings of works (mangala-acharan). He placed society above the individual; he was optimistic. Even though he considered death as natural and life as a departure from that, he considered this small life as a great achievement.