To enter the mind of Kalidasa is to enter the world of beauty, of regal spaces and mythic narratives, of sensuous nayikas and sonorous sounds, of evocative words and ornamented phrases, of unhurried elegance and silken shringara, of serene hermitages and opulent havelis, of changing seasons with its unique flora and fauna, of pathways in the sky that look down upon the earth in their journey, and above all, of the beauty of human emotions. In the absence of credible socio-historic data of the life and times of Kalidasa, our point of entry into his mind is by way of his works and through that, perhaps, come to some historical presumptions of the life and times in which the poet lived. More importantly, we will be privy to his artistry and aesthetic mastery. And what an inspired and radiant mind it was. His words are our only guide: words in chaste Sanskrit and everyday Prakrit that are both shreya and drashya – heard and visible – melodic to the ear and an invitation to create mental images or mindscapes. One of many pathways into his mind is through his depiction and celebration of prakriti, the feminine, understood both as the nayikas that inhabit his plays as well as the world of nature in which the nayikas unfold their feelings. His was a world of colour and aroma, of the universe of nature that resonates with the mind, but above all, his was not a world-denying world. The feminine in Kalidasa is not just the nayika that inhabits his plays and poetry, but even more the world of nature in which the human condition is played out. Both are interwoven, one resonating with the other, each has delicate feelings and is bhava pradhan, predominantly feeling oriented, every leaf responding to every shade of emotion, and every colour of human emotion reflected in the hues of the world around it. For Kalidasa, the woman and nature are interconnected in an animated tapestry, a fabric where if the nayika is the warp, nature is the weft. Kalidasa was a court poet and it may be entirely possible that his creations were for poetic and aesthetic enjoyment rather than a moralistic, theatrical performance, for one does not find too many stage directions in his plays. His creations were rasa kavyas, poetry, rather than dharma kavyas or dharma natya. His nayikas were not historical women but even though they were drawn from epics and Puranic sources they were closer to the ideal feminine of ancient India, which the Kamasutra speaks about and that speaks to us even today. These nayikas are one of many windows into the mind of Kalidasa. Whether it is the virahini yakshi, the romantic Shakuntala, the demure Parvati, the woman who resonates with every ritu, season, the mythic Urvashi and regal Malavika, all of Kalidasa’s nayikas are elegant and graceful and shine with grace and nobility, the glow of shringara or the majesty of a queen.
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