MAHAKAVYAS- Introduction &

English articles on Sanskrit Mahakavya Kumarasambhavam of Kalidasa by Prof. Radhakrishnan (Rtd Vivekananda College) for benefit of devotees and those interested to have a glimpse of our literature.

Sanskrit Literature
The classical Sanskrit literature starts with the Ramayana of Valmiki which is considered as the First Poem ( AdiKavya ) and which we adore as the first Itihasaor the Epic . We also , for the same reason, worship Sage Valmiki as the AdiKavi or the first poet. The other Epic of India is the Mahabharata which contains one lakh verses and is the biggest literary work in the world.
The Sanskrit literary works are broadly classified into two categories, 1) Drishya( Dramas ) and 2) the Sravya ( those which can be heard ). The Sravya is further classified into three groups as:

  1. Padyam( poem )
  2. Gadyam( pose ) and
  3. Champu, a unique genre which is a mixture of prose and poetry.( Only Sanskrit has this type of composition)

Under the Padyam, there are two types of works called the Mahakavyaand the Laghukavya. The Laghukavya is also known as KhandaKavya and it corresponds to the Minor Lyrics.


It may be called as the Court Epic. There are certain rules to be followed while composing this, such as :
* It should have many chapters called Sarga.
*It should start with a Benediction ( Asih) Salutation
( Namaskriya)or reference to the Theme ( VastuNirdesa )

 (Kavyadarsa of Dandin)

(Compare Dandiyalankaram in Tamil:
Vāzhthuvaŋakkamvarumporuļivattrinonru )
* It should have a story based on either of the two Great Epics or the story can be the poet’s imagination, but on a noble hero.
* It should speak of the four-fold purpose of life, namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha ( Corresponding to the Aram, Porul, Inbam and Veedu in Tamil )
* The hero should be clever and noble.
* It should abound in descriptions of cities, ocean, mountains, seasons, sun rise and sun set, moon rise and so on.
* It should describe marriages, love in separation, birth of a son, gardens , battles, good counsel, sending of messengers etc.
* There should be connectivity and continuity of the story line in the chapters.
* It should delineate Rasas and have figures of speech ( Alankaras)
* The last verse or verses should be of a different metre( Chandas) in each chapter or Sarga.
There are hundreds of Mahakavyas in Sanskrit. Among them , the following five are considered to be outstanding, and collectively they are known as the PanchaMahakavyas:

  1. TheRAGHUVAMŜA  ofKālidāsa.
  2. The KUMĀRASAMBHAVA of Kālidāsa
  3. The KIRĀTĀRJUNĪYA  ofBhāravi.
  4. The SISUPĀLAVADHAM  ofMāgha
  5. The  NAIŞADHAM   of   ŚrīHarșa

The Tamil literature also takes pride in its five Mahākāvyas, the ‘Aiymperumkāppiyam’ , viz.
1. Śilappatikāram(of  IļangoAtigaļ),
2. Maŋimekalai (of SittalaiSāttanār),
3. Jīvakacintāmaŋi( ofTiruttakaTēvar),
4. Valayāpati( of a Jain Ascetic), and
5. Kuŋdalakeśī( ofNagakuttanār ).
Interestingly, all the five names in the Tamil Kavyas have the words referring to ornaments.
Out of the five Mahakavyas in Sanskrit,  two are authored by Kalidasa, who is hailed as a poet of universal fame ( VisvaMahakavi ). He flourished in the first century B.C. Apart from the two Mahakavyas , viz., Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava, the poet Kalidasa wrote three dramas and two minor lyrics.

Kumarasambhava is the second Mahakavya of Kalidasa, the earlier one being the Raghuvamsa. It is even considered as the last among all the works of Kalidasa. The reason for it is that the work, as it is available today, contains eight cantos and is incomplete. Later, about nine cantos were added by some unknown author in order to complete to complete the story  of the birth of Lord Subrahmanya and the accomplishment of his very purpose, viz. the killing of Tarakasura. But the well-known commentators like Mallinatha and Arunagirinatha have commented only up to eight cantos thereby substantiating the theory that the work could not be completed since Kalidasa died even befoe completing it. It is very  interesting to note that the theme of this work is the ‘Birth of Kumara’ or Lord Muruga who is considered as the God of the Tamil Ethnic society. The story of Kumara is, in fact, found in the Ramayana itself where Sage Viswamitra narrates this story to Rama and Lakshmana, in the  Balakanda.
Canto 1
Kalidasa begins his work with a description of the Himalaya mountain which covers the northern frontier of India and isa measuring rod, as it were,  to scale the earth.

It has been the source of many gems ( interpreted as gem among rivers, viz. the Ganga; gem among girls viz. Parvathi etc. ), besides being a divine being personified as King Himavan. It is an abode for celestial beings like the Kinnaras and Gandharvas and even Lord Siva.
Himavan marries Mena who is highly respected even by the sages:

They are first blessed with a son who is named as Mainaaka.
( It is this mountain who, later  arose from the ocean and asked Hanuman to take rest upon him on his way to Sri Lanka in search of Sita, in the Sundarakanda of Ramayana).
The second child of the divine couple is a daughter who is named as Parvati as she is born to a Parvata. Later she got the name as Uma ,when her mother Mena tried to prevent her from doing  penance with the expression: U ( Alas !), Ma ( Don’t do).
As Parvati grew up into her youth, she was very so beautiful that the poet says that Lord Brahma created her in such a way that he could see in one and the same place the charm of all the objects of comparison like the moon, the lotuses etc:

Once, Sage Narada visits King Himavan and predicts that Parvati will marry Lord Siva. However, Himavan was not sure as to how this marriage will take place, since Lord Siva was engrossed in deep meditation soon after his consort Sati or Dakshayani gave up her physical body in fire. Siva, who grants boons to others for their penance, himself now performed penance for reasons best known to him only, says Kalidasa:

When Lord Siva lit the fire before the penance, the Fire is one of his own physical form, says Kalidasa. Lord Siva is known as Ashtamurti because the these eight gross manifestations in the world are his own physical body, namely, the Five elements of Nature consisting of Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Space and the sun and the moon and the performer of Yaga who is the Yajamana.
Himavan deputed his daughter Parvati accompanied by her friend, in service of Lord Siva who was doing meditation on the slopes of Himalayas abounding in Devadaru trees drenched by the flow of sacred river Ganga.

Next Part: Kumara Sambhavam- Canto-2

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