This article contains fragments of fairly dubious translations of various poems and plays of Kalidasa.

We apologise for the quality of these texts, but they are the best available at this time, and may give the reader some idea at least of Kalidasa's works, ans serve as some help at least in dealing with the partial commentaries on these works that the Guru left behind.

Frankly, we are at our wit's end from trying to find adequate translations of Kalidasa's works. Nataraja Guru frequently stated his dissatisfaction with all extant translations. He would usually decide in favour of Motilal Banarsidas's editions; he said they  were pedestrian and punditical but grammatically accurate at least.

Here are some links to various translations of dubious value:




The audience has asked us to present at this spring festival a drama called Malavika and Agnimitra, composed by Kalidasa. Let the music begin.


No, no! Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhasa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kalidasa?


You are quite mistaken. Consider:

Not all is good that bears an ancient name,

Nor need we every modern poem blame:

Wise men approve the good, or new or old;

The foolish critic follows where he’s told.


The responsibility rests with you, sir.

There is irony in the fact that the works of the illustrious authors mentioned have perished, that we should hardly know of their existence were it not for the tribute of their modest, youthful rival. But Kalidasa could not read the future. We can imagine his feelings of mingled pride and fear when his early work was presented at the spring festival before the court of King Vikramaditya, without doubt the most polished and critical audience that could at that hour have been gathered in any city on earth.

The play which sought the approbation of this audience shows no originality of plot, no depth of passion. It is a light, graceful drama of court intrigue. The hero, King Agnimitra, is an historical character of the second century before Christ, and Kalidasa’s play gives us some information about him that history can seriously consider. The play represents Agnimitra’s father, the founder of the Sunga dynasty, as still living. As the seat of empire was in Patna on the Ganges, and as Agnimitra’s capital is Vidisha—the modern Bhilsa—it seems that he served as regent of certain provinces during his father’s lifetime. The war with the King of Vidarbha seems to be an historical occurrence, and the fight with the Greek cavalry force is an echo of the struggle with Menander, in which the Hindus were ultimately victorious. It was natural for Kalidasa to lay the scene of his play in Bhilsa rather than in the far-distant Patna, for it is probable that many in the audience were acquainted with the former city. It is to Bhilsa that the poet refers again in The Cloud-Messenger, where these words are addressed to the cloud:

At thine approach, Dasharna land is blest

With hedgerows where gay buds are all aglow,

With village trees alive with many a nest

Abuilding by the old familiar crow,

With lingering swans, with ripe rose-apples’ darker show.

There shalt thou see the royal city, known

Afar, and win the lover’s fee complete,

If thou subdue thy thunders to a tone

Of murmurous gentleness, and taste the sweet,

Love-rippling features of the river at thy feet.

Yet in Kalidasa’s day, the glories of the Sunga dynasty were long departed, nor can we see why the poet should have chosen his hero and his era as he did.

There follows an analysis of the plot and some slight criticism.

In addition to the stage-director and his assistant, who appear in the prologue, the characters of the play are these:

Agnimitra,king in Vidisha.

Gautama,a clown, his friend.

Ganadasa } dancing-masters.

Haradatta } dancing-masters.

Dharini,the senior queen.

Iravati,the junior queen.

Malavika,maid to Queen Dharini, later discovered to be a princess.

Kaushiki,a Buddhist nun.

Bakulavalika,a maid, friend of Malavika.

Nipunika,maid to Queen Iravati.

A counsellor, a chamberlain, a humpback, two court poets, maids, and mute attendants.

The scene is the palace and gardens of King Agnimitra, the time a few days.

Act I.—After the usual prologue, the maid Bakulavalika appears with another maid. From their conversation we learn that King Agnimitra has seen in the palace picture-gallery a new painting of Queen Dharini with her attendants. So beautiful is one of these, Malavika, that the king is smitten with love, but is prevented by the jealous queen from viewing the original. At this point the dancing-master Ganadasa enters. From him Bakulavalika learns that Malavika is a wonderfully proficient pupil, while he learns from her that Malavika had been sent as a present to Queen Dharini by a general commanding a border fortress, the queen’s brother.

After this introductory scene, the king enters, and listens to a letter sent by the king of Vidarbha. The rival monarch had imprisoned a prince and princess, cousins of Agnimitra, and in response to Agnimitra’s demand that they be set free, he declares that the princess has escaped, but that the prince shall not be liberated except on certain conditions. This letter so angers Agnimitra that he despatches an army against the king of Vidarbha.

Gautama, the clown, informs Agnimitra that he has devised a plan for bringing Malavika into the king’s presence. He has stirred an envious rivalry in the bosoms of the two dancing-masters, who soon appear, each abusing the other vigorously, and claiming for himself the pre-eminence in their art. It is agreed that each shall exhibit his best pupil before the king, Queen Dharini, and the learned Buddhist nun, Kaushiki. The nun, who is in the secret of the king’s desire, is made mistress of ceremonies, and the queen’s jealous opposition is overborne.

Act II.—The scene is laid in the concert-hall of the palace. The nun determines that Ganadasa shall present his pupil first. Malavika is thereupon introduced, dances, and sings a song which pretty plainly indicates her own love for the king. He is in turn quite ravished, finding her far more beautiful even than the picture. The clown manages to detain her some little time by starting a discussion as to her art, and when she is finally permitted to depart, both she and the king are deeply in love. The court poet announces the noon hour, and the exhibition of the other dancing-master is postponed.

Act III.—The scene is laid in the palace garden. From the conversation of two maids it appears that a favourite ashoka-tree is late in blossoming. This kind of tree, so the belief runs, can be induced to put forth blossoms if touched by the foot of a beautiful woman in splendid garments.

When the girls depart, the king enters with the clown, his confidant. The clown, after listening to the king’s lovelorn confidences, reminds him that he has agreed to meet his young Queen Iravati in the garden, and swing with her. But before the queen’s arrival, Malavika enters, sent thither by Dharini to touch the ashoka-tree with her foot, and thus encourage it to blossom. The king and the clown hide in a thicket, to feast their eyes upon her. Presently the maid Bakulavalika appears, to adorn Malavika for the ceremony, and engages her in conversation about the king. But now a third pair enter, the young Queen Iravati, somewhat flushed with wine, and her maid Nipunika. They also conceal themselves to spy upon the young girls. Thus there are three groups upon the stage: the two girls believe themselves to be alone; the king and the clown are aware of the two girls, as are also the queen and her maid; but neither of these two pairs knows of the presence of the other. This situation gives rise to very entertaining dialogue, which changes its character when the king starts forward to express his love for Malavika. Another sudden change is brought about when Iravati, mad with jealousy, joins the group, sends the two girls away, and berates the king. He excuses himself as earnestly as a man may when caught in such a predicament, but cannot appease the young queen, who leaves him with words of bitter jealousy.

Act IV.—The clown informs the king that Queen Dharini has locked Malavika and her friend in the cellar, and has given orders to the doorkeeper that they are to be released only upon presentation of her own signet-ring, engraved with the figure of a serpent. But he declares that he has devised a plan to set them free. He bids the king wait upon Queen Dharini, and presently rushes into their presence, showing his thumb marked with two scratches, and declaring that he has been bitten by a cobra. Imploring the king to care for his childless mother, he awakens genuine sympathy in the queen, who readily parts with her serpent-ring, supposed to be efficacious in charming away the effects of snake-poison. Needless to say, he uses the ring to procure the freedom of Malavika and her friend, and then brings about a meeting with Agnimitra in the summer-house. The love-scene which follows is again interrupted by Queen Iravati. This time the king is saved by the news that his little daughter has been frightened by a yellow monkey, and will be comforted only by him. The act ends with the announcement that the ashoka-tree has blossomed.

Act V.—It now appears that Queen Dharini has relented and is willing to unite Malavika with the king; for she invites him to meet her under the ashoka-tree, and includes Malavika among her attendants. Word is brought that the army despatched against the king of Vidarbha has been completely successful, and that in the spoil are included two maids with remarkable powers of song. These maids are brought before the company gathered at the tree, where they surprise every one by falling on their faces before Malavika with the exclamation, “Our princess!” Here the Buddhist nun takes up the tale. She tells how her brother, the counsellor of the captive prince, had rescued her and Malavika from the king of Vidarbha, and had started for Agnimitra’s court. On the way they had been overpowered by robbers, her brother killed, and she herself separated from Malavika. She had thereupon become a nun and made her way to Agnimitra’s court, and had there found Malavika, who had been taken from the robbers by Agnimitra’s general and sent as a present to Queen Dharini. She had not divulged the matter sooner, because of a prophecy that Malavika should be a servant for just one year before becoming a king’s bride. This recital removes any possible objection to a union of Malavika and Agnimitra. To complete the king’s happiness, there comes a letter announcing that his son by Dharini has won a victory over a force of Greek cavalry, and inviting the court to be present at the sacrifice which was to follow the victory. Thus every one is made happy except the jealous young Queen Iravati, now to be supplanted by Malavika; yet even she consents, though somewhat ungraciously, to the arrangements made.

Criticism of the large outlines of this plot would be quite unjust, for it is completely conventional. In dozens of plays we have the same story: the king who falls in love with a maid-servant, the jealousy of his harem, the eventual discovery that the maid is of royal birth, and the addition of another wife to a number already sufficiently large. In writing a play of this kind, the poet frankly accepts the conventions; his ingenuity is shown in the minor incidents, in stanzas of poetical description, and in giving abundant opportunity for graceful music and dancing. When the play is approached in this way, it is easy to see the griffe du lion in this, the earliest work of the greatest poet who ever sang repeatedly of love between man and woman, troubled for a time but eventually happy. For though there is in Agnimitra, as in all heroes of his type, something contemptible, there is in Malavika a sweetness, a delicacy, a purity, that make her no unworthy precursor of Sita, of Indumati, of the Yaksha’s bride, and of Shakuntala.

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The second of the two inferior dramas may be conveniently called Urvashi, though the full title is The Tale of Urvashi won by Valour. When and where the play was first produced we do not know, for the prologue is silent as to these matters. It has been thought that it was the last work of Kalidasa, even that it was never produced in his lifetime. Some support is lent to this theory by the fact that the play is filled with reminiscences of Shakuntala, in small matters as well as in great; as if the poet’s imagination had grown weary, and he were willing to repeat himself. Yet Urvashi is a much more ambitious effort than Malavika, and invites a fuller criticism, after an outline of the plot has been given.

In addition to the stage-director and his assistant, who appear in the prologue, the characters of the play are these:

Pururavas,king in Pratishthana on the Ganges.

Ayus,his son.

Manavaka,a clown, his friend.

Urvashi,a heavenly nymph.

Chitralekha,another nymph, her friend.

Aushinari,queen of Pururavas.

Nipunika,her maid.

A charioteer, a chamberlain, a hermit-woman, various nymphs and other divine beings, and attendants.

The scene shifts as indicated in the following analysis. The time of the first four acts is a few days. Between acts four and five several years elapse.

Act I.—The prologue only tells us that we may expect a new play of Kalidasa. A company of heavenly nymphs then appear upon Mount Gold-peak wailing and calling for help. Their cries are answered by King Pururavas, who rides in a chariot that flies through the air. In response to his inquiries, the nymphs inform him that two of their number, Urvashi and Chitralekha, have been carried into captivity by a demon. The king darts in pursuit, and presently returns, victorious, with the two nymphs. As soon as Urvashi recovers consciousness, and has rejoined her joyful friends, it is made plain that she and the king have been deeply impressed with each other’s attractions. The king is compelled to decline an invitation to visit Paradise, but he and Urvashi exchange loving glances before they part.

Act II.—The act opens with a comic scene in the king’s palace. The clown appears, bursting with the secret of the king’s love for Urvashi, which has been confided to him. He is joined by the maid Nipunika, commissioned by the queen to discover what it is that occupies the king’s mind. She discovers the secret ingeniously, but without much difficulty, and gleefully departs.

The king and the clown then appear in the garden, and the king expresses at some length the depth and seeming hopelessness of his passion. The latter part of his lament is overheard by Urvashi herself, who, impelled by love for the king, has come down to earth with her friend Chitralekha, and now stands near, listening but invisible. When she has heard enough to satisfy her of the king’s passion, she writes a love-stanza on a birch-leaf, and lets it fall before him. His reception of this token is such that Urvashi throws aside the magic veil that renders her invisible, but as soon as she has greeted the king, she and her friend are called away to take their parts in a play that is being presented in Paradise.

The king and the clown hunt for Urvashi’s love-letter, which has been neglected during the past few minutes. But the leaf has blown away, only to be picked up and read by Nipunika, who at that moment enters with the queen. The queen can hardly be deceived by the lame excuses which the king makes, and after offering her ironical congratulations, jealously leaves him.

Act III.—The act opens with a conversation between two minor personages in Paradise. It appears that Urvashi had taken the heroine’s part in the drama just presented there, and when asked, “On whom is your heart set?” had absent-mindedly replied, “On Pururavas.” Heaven’s stage-director had thereupon cursed her to fall from Paradise, but this curse had been thus modified: that she was to live on earth with Pururavas until he should see a child born of her, and was then to return.

The scene shifts to Pururavas’ palace. In the early evening, the chamberlain brings the king a message, inviting him to meet the queen on a balcony bathed in the light of the rising moon. The king betakes himself thither with his friend, the clown. In the midst of a dialogue concerning moonlight and love, Urvashi and Chitralekha enter from Paradise, wearing as before veils of invisibility. Presently the queen appears and with humble dignity asks pardon of the king for her rudeness, adding that she will welcome any new queen whom he genuinely loves and who genuinely returns his love. When the queen departs, Urvashi creeps up behind the king and puts her hands over his eyes. Chitralekha departs after begging the king to make her friend forget Paradise.

Act IV.—From a short dialogue in Paradise between Chitralekha and another nymph, we learn that a misfortune has befallen Pururavas and Urvashi. During their honeymoon in a delightful Himalayan forest, Urvashi, in a fit of jealousy, had left her husband, and had inadvertently entered a grove forbidden by an austere god to women. She was straightway transformed into a vine, while Pururavas is wandering through the forest in desolate anguish.

The scene of what follows is laid in the Himalayan forest. Pururavas enters, and in a long poetical soliloquy bewails his loss and seeks for traces of Urvashi. He vainly asks help of the creatures whom he meets: a peacock, a cuckoo, a swan, a ruddy goose, a bee, an elephant, a mountain-echo, a river, and an antelope. At last he finds a brilliant ruby in a cleft of the rocks, and when about to throw it away, is told by a hermit to preserve it: for this is the gem of reunion, and one who possesses it will soon be reunited with his love. With the gem in his hand, Pururavas comes to a vine which mysteriously reminds him of Urvashi, and when he embraces it, he finds his beloved in his arms. After she has explained to him the reason of her transformation, they determine to return to the king’s capital.

Act V.—The scene of the concluding act is the king’s palace. Several years have passed in happy love, and Pururavas has only one sorrow—that he is childless.

One day a vulture snatches from a maid’s hand the treasured gem of reunion, which he takes to be a bit of bloody meat, and flies off with it, escaping before he can be killed. While the king and his companions lament the gem’s loss, the chamberlain enters, bringing the gem and an arrow with which the bird had been shot. On the arrow is written a verse declaring it to be the property of Ayus, son of Pururavas and Urvashi. A hermit-woman is then ushered in, who brings a lad with her. She explains that the lad had been entrusted to her as soon as born by Urvashi, and that it was he who had just shot the bird and recovered the gem. When Urvashi is summoned to explain why she had concealed her child, she reminds the king of heaven’s decree that she should return as soon as Pururavas should see the child to be born to them. She had therefore sacrificed maternal love to conjugal affection. Upon this, the king’s new-found joy gives way to gloom. He determines to give up his kingdom and spend the remainder of his life as a hermit in the forest. But the situation is saved by a messenger from Paradise, bearing heaven’s decree that Urvashi shall live with the king until his death. A troop of nymphs then enter and assist in the solemn consecration of Ayus as crown prince.

The tale of Pururavas and Urvashi, which Kalidasa has treated dramatically, is first made known to us in the Rigveda. It is thus one of the few tales that so caught the Hindu imagination as to survive the profound change which came over Indian thinking in the passage from Vedic to classical times. As might be expected from its history, it is told in many widely differing forms, of which the oldest and best may be summarised thus.

Pururavas, a mortal, sees and loves the nymph Urvashi. She consents to live with him on earth so long as he shall not break certain trivial conditions. Some time after the birth of a son, these conditions are broken, through no fault of the man, and she leaves him. He wanders disconsolate, finds her, and pleads with her, by her duty as a wife, by her love for her child, even by a threat of suicide. She rejects his entreaties, declaring that there can be no lasting love between mortal and immortal, even adding: “There are no friendships with women. Their hearts are the hearts of hyenas.” Though at last she comforts him with vague hopes of a future happiness, the story remains, as indeed it must remain, a tragedy—the tragedy of love between human and divine.

This splendid tragic story Kalidasa has ruined. He has made of it an ordinary tale of domestic intrigue, has changed the nymph of heaven into a member of an earthly harem. The more important changes made by Kalidasa in the traditional story, all have the tendency to remove the massive, godlike, austere features of the tale, and to substitute something graceful or even pretty. These principal changes are: the introduction of the queen, the clown, and the whole human paraphernalia of a court; the curse pronounced on Urvashi for her carelessness in the heavenly drama, and its modification; the invention of the gem of reunion; and the final removal of the curse, even as modified. It is true that the Indian theatre permits no tragedy, and we may well believe that no successor of Kalidasa could hope to present a tragedy on the stage. But might not Kalidasa, far overtopping his predecessors, have put on the stage a drama the story of which was already familiar to his audience as a tragic story? Perhaps not. If not, one can but wish that he had chosen another subject.

This violent twisting of an essentially tragic story has had a further ill consequence in weakening the individual characters. Pururavas is a mere conventional hero, in no way different from fifty others, in spite of his divine lineage and his successful wooing of a goddess. Urvashi is too much of a nymph to be a woman, and too much of a woman to be a nymph. The other characters are mere types.

Yet, in spite of these obvious objections, Hindu critical opinion has always rated the Urvashi very high, and I have long hesitated to make adverse comments upon it, for it is surely true that every nation is the best judge of its own literature. And indeed, if one could but forget plot and characters, he would find in Urvashi much to attract and charm. There is no lack of humour in the clever maid who worms the clown’s secret out of him. There is no lack of a certain shrewdness in the clown, as when he observes: “Who wants heaven? It is nothing to eat or drink. It is just a place where they never shut their eyes—like fishes!”

Again, the play offers an opportunity for charming scenic display. The terrified nymphs gathered on the mountain, the palace balcony bathed in moonlight, the forest through which the king wanders in search of his lost darling, the concluding solemn consecration of the crown prince by heavenly beings—these scenes show that Kalidasa was no closet dramatist. And finally, there is here and there such poetry as only Kalidasa could write. The fourth act particularly, undramatic as it is, is full of a delicate beauty that defies transcription. It was a new and daring thought—to present on the stage a long lyrical monologue addressed to the creatures of the forest and inspired by despairing passion. Nor must it be forgotten that this play, like all Indian plays, is an opera. The music and the dancing are lost. We judge it perforce unfairly, for we judge it by the text alone. If, in spite of all, the Urvashi is a failure, it is a failure possible only to a serene and mighty poet.

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Second canto. The holy cow’s gift.—During twenty-one days the king accompanies the cow during her wanderings in the forest, and each night the queen welcomes their return to the hermitage. On the twenty-second day the cow is attacked by a lion, and when the king hastens to draw an arrow, his arm is magically numbed, so that he stands helpless. To increase his horror, the lion speaks with a human voice, saying that he is a servant of the god Shiva, set on guard there and eating as his appointed food any animals that may appear. Dilipa perceives that a struggle with earthly weapons is useless, and begs the lion to accept his own body as the price of the cow’s release. The lion tries sophistry, using the old, hollow arguments:

Great beauty and fresh youth are yours; on earth

As sole, unrivalled emperor you rule;

Should you redeem a thing of little worth

At such a price, you would appear a fool.

If pity moves you, think that one mere cow

Would be the gainer, should you choose to die;

Live rather for the world! Remember how

The father-king can bid all dangers fly.

And if the fiery sage’s wrath, aglow

At loss of one sole cow, should make you shudder,

Appease his anger; for you can bestow

Cows by the million, each with pot-like udder.

Save life and youth; for to the dead are given

No long, unbroken years of joyous mirth;

But riches and imperial power are heaven—

The gods have nothing that you lack on earth.

The lion spoke and ceased; but echo rolled

Forth from the caves wherein the sound was pent,

As if the hills applauded manifold,

Repeating once again the argument.

Dilipa has no trouble in piercing this sophistical argument, and again offers his own life, begging the lion to spare the body of his fame rather than the body of his flesh. The lion consents, but when the king resolutely presents himself to be eaten, the illusion vanishes, and the holy cow grants the king his desire. The king returns to his capital with the queen, who shortly becomes pregnant.

Third canto. Raghu’s consecration.—The queen gives birth to a glorious boy, whom the joyful father names Raghu. There follows a description of the happy family, of which a few stanzas are given here:

The king drank pleasure from him late and soon

With eyes that stared like windless lotus-flowers;

Unselfish joy expanded all his powers

As swells the sea responsive to the moon.

The rooted love that filled each parent’s soul

For the other, deep as bird’s love for the mate,

Was now divided with the boy; and straight

The remaining half proved greater than the whole.

He learned the reverence that befits a boy;

Following the nurse’s words, began to talk;

And clinging to her finger, learned to walk:

These childish lessons stretched his father’s joy,

Who clasped the baby to his breast, and thrilled

To feel the nectar-touch upon his skin,

Half closed his eyes, the father’s bliss to win

Which, more for long delay, his being filled.

The baby hair must needs be clipped; yet he

Retained two dangling locks, his cheeks to fret;

And down the river of the alphabet

He swam, with other boys, to learning’s sea.

Religion’s rites, and what good learning suits

A prince, he had from teachers old and wise;

Not theirs the pain of barren enterprise,

For effort spent on good material, fruits.

This happy childhood is followed by a youth equally happy. Raghu is married and made crown prince. He is entrusted with the care of the horse of sacrifice,1 and when Indra, king of the gods, steals the horse, Raghu fights him. He cannot overcome the king of heaven, yet he acquits himself so creditably that he wins Indra’s friendship. In consequence of this proof of his manhood, the empire is bestowed upon Raghu by his father, who retires with his queen to the forest, to spend his last days and prepare for death.

Fourth canto. Raghu conquers the world.—The canto opens with several stanzas descriptive of the glory of youthful King Raghu.

He manifested royal worth

By even justice toward the earth,

Beloved as is the southern breeze,

Too cool to burn, too warm to freeze.

The people loved his father, yet

For greater virtues could forget;

The beauty of the blossoms fair

Is lost when mango-fruits are there.

But the vassal kings are restless

For when they knew the king was gone

And power was wielded by his son,

The wrath of subject kings awoke,

Which had been damped in sullen smoke.

Raghu therefore determines to make a warlike progress through all India. He marches eastward with his army from his capital Ayodhya (the name is preserved in the modern Oudh) to the Bay of Bengal, then south along the eastern shore of India to Cape Comorin, then north along the western shore until he comes to the region drained by the Indus, finally east through the tremendous Himalaya range into Assam, and thence home. The various nations whom he encounters, Hindus, Persians, Greeks, and White Huns, all submit either with or without fighting. On his safe return, Raghu offers a great sacrifice and gives away all his wealth.1

Fifth canto. Aja goes wooing.—While King Raghu is penniless, a young sage comes to him, desiring a huge sum of money to give to the teacher with whom he has just finished his education. The king, unwilling that any suppliant should go away unsatisfied, prepares to assail the god of wealth in his Himalayan stronghold, and the god, rather than risk the combat, sends a rain of gold into the king’s treasury. This gold King Raghu bestows upon the sage, who gratefully uses his spiritual power to cause a son to be born to his benefactor. In course of time, the son is born and the name Aja is given to him. We are here introduced to Prince Aja, who is a kind of secondary hero in the poem, inferior only to his mighty grandson, Rama. To Aja are devoted the remainder of this fifth canto and the following three cantos; and these Aja-cantos are among the loveliest in the epic. When the prince has grown into young manhood, he journeys to a neighbouring court to participate in the marriage reception of Princess Indumati.2 One evening he camps by a river, from which a wild elephant issues and attacks his party. When wounded by Aja, the elephant strangely changes his form, becoming a demigod, gives the prince a magic weapon, and departs to heaven. Aja proceeds without further adventure to the country and the palace of Princess Indumati, where he is made welcome and luxuriously lodged for the night. In the morning, he is awakened by the song of the court poets outside his chamber. He rises and betakes himself to the hall where the suitors are gathering.

Sixth canto. The princess chooses.—The princely suitors assemble in the hall: then, to the sound of music, the princess enters in a litter, robed as a bride, and creates a profound sensation.

For when they saw God’s masterpiece, the maid

Who smote their eyes to other objects blind,

Their glances, wishes, hearts, in homage paid,

Flew forth to her; mere flesh remained behind.

The princes could not but betray their yearning

By sending messengers, their love to bring,

In many a quick, involuntary turning,

As flowering twigs of trees announce the spring.

Then a maid-servant conducts the princess from one suitor to another, and explains the claim which each has upon her affection. First is presented the King of Magadha, recommended in four stanzas, one of which runs:

Though other kings by thousands numbered be,

He seems the one, sole governor of earth;

Stars, constellations, planets, fade and flee

When to the moon the night has given birth.

But the princess is not attracted.

The slender maiden glanced at him; she glanced

And uttered not a word, nor heeded how

The grass-twined blossoms of her garland danced

When she dismissed him with a formal bow.

They pass to the next candidate, the king of the Anga country, in whose behalf this, and more, is said:

Learning and wealth by nature are at strife,

Yet dwell at peace in him; and for the two

You would be fit companion as his wife,

Like wealth enticing, and like learning true.

Him too the princess rejects, “not that he was unworthy of love, or she lacking in discernment, but tastes differ.” She is then conducted to the King of Avanti:

And if this youthful prince your fancy pleases,

Bewitching maiden, you and he may play

In those unmeasured gardens that the breezes

From Sipra’s billows ruffle, cool with spray.

The inducement is insufficient, and a new candidate is presented, the King of Anupa,

A prince whose fathers’ glories cannot fade,

By whom the love of learned men is wooed,

Who proves that Fortune is no fickle jade

When he she chooses is not fickly good.

But alas!

She saw that he was brave to look upon,

Yet could not feel his love would make her gay;

Full moons of autumn nights, when clouds are gone,

Tempt not the lotus-flowers that bloom by day.

The King of Shurasena has no better fortune, in spite of his virtues and his wealth. As a river hurrying to the sea passes by a mountain that would detain her, so the princess passes him by. She is next introduced to the king of the Kalinga country;

His palace overlooks the ocean dark

With windows gazing on the unresting deep,

Whose gentle thunders drown the drums that mark

The hours of night, and wake him from his sleep.

But the maiden can no more feel at home with him than the goddess of fortune can with a good but unlucky man. She therefore turns her attention to the king of the Pandya country in far southern India. But she is unmoved by hearing of the magic charm of the south, and rejects him too.

And every prince rejected while she sought

A husband, darkly frowned, as turrets, bright

One moment with the flame from torches caught,

Frown gloomily again and sink in night.

The princess then approaches Aja, who trembles lest she pass him by, as she has passed by the other suitors. The maid who accompanies Indumati sees that Aja awakens a deeper feeling, and she therefore gives a longer account of his kingly line, ending with the recommendation:

High lineage is his, fresh beauty, youth,

And virtue shaped in kingly breeding’s mould;

Choose him, for he is worth your love; in truth,

A gem is ever fitly set in gold.

The princess looks lovingly at the handsome youth, but cannot speak for modesty. She is made to understand her own feelings when the maid invites her to pass on to the next candidate. Then the wreath is placed round Aja’s neck, the people of the city shout their approval, and the disappointed suitors feel like night-blooming lotuses at daybreak.

Seventh canto. Aja’s marriage.—While the suitors retire to the camps where they have left their retainers, Aja conducts Indumati into the decorated and festive city. The windows are filled with the faces of eager and excited women, who admire the beauty of the young prince and the wisdom of the princess’s choice. When the marriage ceremony has been happily celebrated, the disappointed suitors say farewell with pleasant faces and jealous hearts, like peaceful pools concealing crocodiles. They lie in ambush on the road which he must take, and when he passes with his young bride, they fall upon him. Aja provides for the safety of Indumati, marshals his attendants, and greatly distinguishes himself in the battle which follows. Finally he uses the magic weapon, given him by the demigod, to benumb his adversaries, and leaving them in this helpless condition, returns home. He and his young bride are joyfully welcomed by King Raghu, who resigns the kingdom in favour of Aja.

Eighth canto. Aja’s lament.—As soon as King Aja is firmly established on his throne, Raghu retires to a hermitage to prepare for the death of his mortal part. After some years of religious meditation he is released, attaining union with the eternal spirit which is beyond all darkness. His obsequies are performed by his dutiful son. Indumati gives birth to a splendid boy, who is named Dasharatha. One day, as the queen is playing with her husband in the garden, a wreath of magic flowers falls upon her from heaven, and she dies. The stricken king clasps the body of his dead belovèd, and laments over her.

If flowers that hardly touch the body, slay it,

The simplest instruments of fate may bring

Destruction, and we have no power to stay it;

Then must we live in fear of everything?

No! Death was right. He spared the sterner anguish;

Through gentle flowers your gentle life was lost

As I have seen the lotus fade and languish

When smitten by the slow and silent frost.

Yet God is hard. With unforgiving rigour

He forged a bolt to crush this heart of mine;

He left the sturdy tree its living vigour,

But stripped away and slew the clinging vine.

Through all the years, dear, you would not reprove me,

Though I offended. Can you go away

Sudden, without a word? I know you love me,

And I have not offended you to-day.

You surely thought me faithless, to be banished

As light-of-love and gambler, from your life,

Because without a farewell word, you vanished

And never will return, sweet-smiling wife.

The warmth and blush that followed after kisses

Is still upon her face, to madden me;

For life is gone, ’tis only life she misses.

A curse upon such life’s uncertainty!

I never wronged you with a thought unspoken,

Still less with actions. Whither are you flown?

Though king in name, I am a man heartbroken,

For power and love took root in you alone.

Your bee-black hair from which the flowers are peeping,

Dear, wavy hair that I have loved so well,

Stirs in the wind until I think you sleeping,

Soon to return and make my glad heart swell.

Awake, my love! Let only life be given,

And choking griefs that stifle now, will flee

As darkness from the mountain-cave is driven

By magic herbs that glitter brilliantly.

The silent face, round which the curls are keeping

Their scattered watch, is sad to look upon

As in the night some lonely lily, sleeping

When musically humming bees are gone.

The girdle that from girlhood has befriended

You, in love-secrets wise, discreet, and true,

No longer tinkles, now your dance is ended,

Faithful in life, in dying faithful too.

Your low, sweet voice to nightingales was given;

Your idly graceful movement to the swans;

Your grace to fluttering vines, dear wife in heaven;

Your trustful, wide-eyed glances to the fawns:

You left your charms on earth, that I, reminded

By them, might be consoled though you depart;

But vainly! Far from you, by sorrow blinded,

I find no prop of comfort for my heart.

Remember how you planned to make a wedding,

Giving the vine-bride to her mango-tree;

Before that happy day, dear, you are treading

The path with no return. It should not be.

And this ashoka-tree that you have tended

With eager longing for the blossoms red—

How can I twine the flowers that should have blended

With living curls, in garlands for the dead?

The tree remembers how the anklets, tinkling

On graceful feet, delighted other years;

Sad now he droops, your form with sorrow sprinkling,

And sheds his blossoms in a rain of tears.

Joy’s sun is down, all love is fallen and perished,

The song of life is sung, the spring is dead,

Gone is the use of gems that once you cherished,

And empty, ever empty, is my bed.

You were my comrade gay, my home, my treasure,

You were my bosom’s friend, in all things true,

My best-loved pupil in the arts of pleasure:

Stern death took all I had in taking you.

Still am I king, and rich in kingly fashion,

Yet lacking you, am poor the long years through;

I cannot now be won to any passion,

For all my passions centred, dear, in you.

Aja commits the body of his beloved queen to the flames. A holy hermit comes to tell the king that his wife had been a nymph of heaven in a former existence, and that she has now returned to her home. But Aja cannot be comforted. He lives eight weary years for the sake of his young son, then is reunited with his queen in Paradise.

Ninth canto. The hunt.—This canto introduces us to King Dasharatha, father of the heroic Rama. It begins with an elaborate description of his glory, justice, prowess, and piety; then tells of the three princesses who became his wives: Kausalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra. In the beautiful springtime he takes an extended hunting-trip in the forest, during which an accident happens, big with fate.

He left his soldiers far behind one day

In the wood, and following where deer-tracks lay,

Came with his weary horse adrip with foam

To river-banks where hermits made their home.

And in the stream he heard the water fill

A jar; he heard it ripple clear and shrill,

And shot an arrow, thinking he had found

A trumpeting elephant, toward the gurgling sound.

Such actions are forbidden to a king,

Yet Dasharatha sinned and did this thing;

For even the wise and learned man is minded

To go astray, by selfish passion blinded.

He heard the startling cry, “My father!” rise

Among the reeds; rode up; before his eyes

He saw the jar, the wounded hermit boy:

Remorse transfixed his heart and killed his joy.

He left his horse, this monarch famous far,

Asked him who drooped upon the water-jar

His name, and from the stumbling accents knew

A hermit youth, of lowly birth but true.

The arrow still undrawn, the monarch bore

Him to his parents who, afflicted sore

With blindness, could not see their only son

Dying, and told them what his hand had done.

The murderer then obeyed their sad behest

And drew the fixèd arrow from his breast;

The boy lay dead; the father cursed the king,

With tear-stained hands, to equal suffering.

“In sorrow for your son you too shall die,

An old, old man,” he said, “as sad as I.”

Poor, trodden snake! He used his venomous sting,

Then heard the answer of the guilty king:

“Your curse is half a blessing if I see

The longed-for son who shall be born to me:

The scorching fire that sweeps the well-ploughed field,

May burn indeed, but stimulates the yield.

The deed is done; what kindly act can I

Perform who, pitiless, deserve to die?”

“Bring wood,” he begged, “and build a funeral pyre,

That we may seek our son through death by fire.”

The king fulfilled their wish; and while they burned,

In mute, sin-stricken sorrow he returned,

Hiding death’s seed within him, as the sea

Hides magic fire that burns eternally.

Thus is foreshadowed in the birth of Rama, his banishment, and the death of his father.

Cantos ten to fifteen form the kernel of the epic, for they tell the story of Rama, the mighty hero of Raghu’s line. In these cantos Kalidasa attempts to present anew, with all the literary devices of a more sophisticated age, the famous old epic story sung in masterly fashion by the author of the Ramayana. As the poet is treading ground familiar to all who hear him, the action of these cantos is very compressed.

Tenth canto. The incarnation of Rama.—While Dasharatha, desiring a son, is childless, the gods, oppressed by a giant adversary, betake themselves to Vishnu, seeking aid. They sing a hymn of praise, a part of which is given here.

O thou who didst create this All,

Who dost preserve it, lest it fall,

Who wilt destroy it and its ways—

To thee, O triune Lord, be praise.

As into heaven’s water run

The tastes of earth—yet it is one,

So thou art all the things that range

The universe, yet dost not change.

Far, far removed, yet ever near;

Untouched by passion, yet austere;

Sinless, yet pitiful of heart;

Ancient, yet free from age—Thou art.

Though uncreate, thou seekest birth;

Dreaming, thou watchest heaven and earth;

Passionless, smitest low thy foes;

Who knows thy nature, Lord? Who knows?

Though many different paths, O Lord,

May lead us to some great reward,

They gather and are merged in thee

Like floods of Ganges in the sea.

The saints who give thee every thought,

Whose every act for thee is wrought,

Yearn for thine everlasting peace,

For bliss with thee, that cannot cease.

Like pearls that grow in ocean’s night,

Like sunbeams radiantly bright,

Thy strange and wonder-working ways

Defeat extravagance of praise.

If songs that to thy glory tend

Should weary grow or take an end,

Our impotence must bear the blame,

And not thine unexhausted name.

Vishnu is gratified by the praise of the gods, and asks their desire. They inform him that they are distressed by Ravana, the giant king of Lanka (Ceylon), whom they cannot conquer. Vishnu promises to aid them by descending to earth in a new avatar, as son of Dasharatha. Shortly afterwards, an angel appears before King Dasharatha, bringing in a golden bowl a substance which contains the essence of Vishnu. The king gives it to his three wives, who thereupon conceive and dream wonderful dreams. Then Queen Kausalya gives birth to Rama; Queen Kaikeyi to Bharata; Queen Sumitra to twins, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Heaven and earth rejoice. The four princes grow up in mutual friendship, yet Rama and Lakshmana are peculiarly drawn to each other, as are Bharata and Shatrughna. So beautiful and so modest are the four boys that they seem like incarnations of the four things worth living for—virtue, money, love, and salvation.

Eleventh canto. The victory over Rama-with-the-axe.—At the request of the holy hermit Vishvamitra, the two youths Rama and Lakshmana visit his hermitage, to protect it from evil spirits. The two lads little suspect, on their maiden journey, how much of their lives will be spent in wandering together in the forest. On the way they are attacked by a giantess, whom Rama kills; the first of many giants who are to fall at his hand. He is given magic weapons by the hermit, with which he and his brother kill other giants, freeing the hermitage from all annoyance. The two brothers then travel with the hermit to the city of Mithila, attracted thither by hearing of its king, his wonderful daughter, and his wonderful bow. The bow was given him by the god Shiva; no man has been able to bend it; and the beautiful princess’s hand is the prize of any man who can perform the feat. On the way thither, Rama brings to life Ahalya, a woman who in a former age had been changed to stone for unfaithfulness to her austere husband, and had been condemned to remain a stone until trodden by Rama’s foot. Without further adventure, they reach Mithila, where the hermit presents Rama as a candidate for the bending of the bow.

The king beheld the boy, with beauty blest

And famous lineage; he sadly thought

How hard it was to bend the bow, distressed

Because his child must be so dearly bought.

He said: “O holy one, a mighty deed

That full-grown elephants with greatest pain

Could hardly be successful in, we need

Not ask of elephant-cubs. It would be vain.

For many splendid kings of valorous name,

Bearing the scars of many a hard-fought day,

Have tried and failed; then, covered with their shame,

Have shrugged their shoulders, cursed, and strode away.”

Yet when the bow is given to the youthful Rama, he not only bends, but breaks it. He is immediately rewarded with the hand of the Princess Sita, while Lakshmana marries her sister. On their journey home with their young brides, dreadful portents appear, followed by their cause, a strange being called Rama-with-the-axe, who is carefully to be distinguished from Prince Rama. This Rama-with-the-axe is a Brahman who has sworn to exterminate the entire warrior caste, and who naturally attacks the valorous prince. He makes light of Rama’s achievement in breaking Shiva’s bow, and challenges him to bend the mightier bow which he carries. This the prince succeeds in doing, and Rama-with-the-axe disappears, shamed and defeated. The marriage party then continues its journey to Ayodhya.

Twelfth canto. The killing of Ravana.—King Dasharatha prepares to anoint Rama crown prince, when Queen Kaikeyi interposes. On an earlier occasion she had rendered the king a service and received his promise that he would grant her two boons, whatever she desired. She now demands her two boons: the banishment of Rama for fourteen years, and the anointing of her own son Bharata as crown prince. Rama thereupon sets out for the Dandaka forest in Southern India, accompanied by his faithful wife Sita and his devoted brother Lakshmana. The stricken father dies of grief, thus fulfilling the hermit’s curse. Now Prince Bharata proves himself more generous than his mother; he refuses the kingdom, and is with great difficulty persuaded by Rama himself to act as regent during the fourteen years. Even so, he refuses to enter the capital city, dwelling in a village outside the walls, and preserving Rama’s slippers as a symbol of the rightful king. Meanwhile Rama’s little party penetrates the wild forests of the south, fighting as need arises with the giants there. Unfortunately, a giantess falls in love with Rama, and

In Sita’s very presence told

Her birth—love made her overbold:

For mighty passion, as a rule,

Will change a woman to a fool.

Scorned by Rama, laughed at by Sita, she becomes furious and threatening.

Laugh on! Your laughter’s fruit shall be

Commended to you. Gaze on me!

I am a tigress, you shall know,

Insulted by a feeble doe.

Lakshmana thereupon cuts off her nose and ears, rendering her redundantly hideous. She departs, to return presently at the head of an army of giants, whom Rama defeats single-handed, while his brother guards Sita. The giantess then betakes herself to her brother, the terrible ten-headed Ravana, king of Ceylon. He succeeds in capturing Sita by a trick, and carries her off to his fortress in Ceylon. It is plainly necessary for Rama to seek allies before attempting to cross the straits and attack the stronghold. He therefore renders an important service to the monkey king Sugriva, who gratefully leads an army of monkeys to his assistance. The most valiant of these, Hanumat, succeeds in entering Ravana’s capital, where he finds Sita, gives her a token from Rama, and receives a token for Rama. The army thereupon sets out and comes to the seashore, where it is reinforced by the giant Vibhishana, who has deserted his wicked brother Ravana. The monkeys hurl great boulders into the strait, thus forming a bridge over which they cross into Ceylon and besiege Ravana’s capital. There ensue many battles between the giants and the monkeys, culminating in a tremendous duel between the champions, Rama and Ravana. In this duel Ravana is finally slain. Rama recovers his wife, and the principal personages of the army enter the flying chariot which had belonged to Ravana, to return to Ayodhya; for the fourteen years of exile are now over.

Thirteenth canto. The return from the forest.—This canto describes the long journey through the air from Ceylon over the whole length of India to Ayodhya. As the celestial car makes its journey, Rama points out the objects of interest or of memory to Sita. Thus, as they fly over the sea:

The form of ocean, infinitely changing,

Clasping the world and all its gorgeous state,

Unfathomed by the intellect’s wide ranging,

Is awful like the form of God, and great.

He gives his billowy lips to many a river

That into his embrace with passion slips,

Lover of many wives, a generous giver

Of kisses, yet demanding eager lips.

Look back, my darling, with your fawn-like glances

Upon the path that from your prison leads;

See how the sight of land again entrances,

How fair the forest, as the sea recedes.

Then, as they pass over the spot where Rama searched for his stolen wife:

There is the spot where, sorrowfully searching,

I found an anklet on the ground one day;

It could not tinkle, for it was not perching

On your dear foot, but sad and silent lay.

I learned where you were carried by the giant

From vines that showed themselves compassionate;

They could not utter words, yet with their pliant

Branches they pointed where you passed of late.

The deer were kind; for while the juicy grasses

Fell quite unheeded from each careless mouth,

They turned wide eyes that said, “ ’Tis there she passes

The hours as weary captive” toward the south.

There is the mountain where the peacocks’ screaming,

And branches smitten fragrant by the rain,

And madder-flowers that woke at last from dreaming,

Made unendurable my lonely pain;

And mountain-caves where I could scarce dissemble

The woe I felt when thunder crashed anew,

For I remembered how you used to tremble

At thunder, seeking arms that longed for you.

Rama then points out the spots in Southern India where he and Sita had dwelt in exile, and the pious hermitages which they had visited; later, the holy spot where the Jumna River joins the Ganges; finally, their distant home, unseen for fourteen years, and the well-known river, from which spray-laden breezes come to them like cool, welcoming hands. When they draw near, Prince Bharata comes forth to welcome them, and the happy procession approaches the capital city.

Fourteenth canto. Sita is put away.—The exiles are welcomed by Queen Kausalya and Queen Sumitra with a joy tinged with deep melancholy. After the long-deferred anointing of Rama as king, comes the triumphal entry into the ancestral capital, where Rama begins his virtuous reign with his beloved queen most happily; for the very hardships endured in the forest turn into pleasures when remembered in the palace. To crown the king’s joy, Sita becomes pregnant, and expresses a wish to visit the forest again. At this point, where an ordinary story would end, comes the great tragedy, the tremendous test of Rama’s character. The people begin to murmur about the queen, believing that she could not have preserved her purity in the giant’s palace. Rama knows that she is innocent, but he also knows that he cannot be a good king while the people feel as they do; and after a pitiful struggle, he decides to put away his beloved wife. He bids his brother Lakshmana take her to the forest, in accordance with her request, but to leave her there at the hermitage of the sage Valmiki. When this is done, and Sita hears the terrible future from Lakshmana, she cries:

Take reverent greeting to the queens, my mothers,

And say to each with honour due her worth:

“My child is your son’s child, and not another’s;

Oh, pray for him, before he comes to birth.”

And tell the king from me: “You saw the matter,

How I was guiltless proved in fire divine;

Will you desert me for mere idle chatter?

Are such things done in Raghu’s royal line?

Ah no! I cannot think you fickle-minded,

For you were always very kind to me;

Fate’s thunderclap by which my eyes are blinded

Rewards my old, forgotten sins, I see.

Oh, I could curse my life and quickly end it,

For it is useless, lived from you apart,

But that I bear within, and must defend it,

Your life, your child and mine, beneath my heart.

When he is born, I’ll scorn my queenly station,

Gaze on the sun, and live a hell on earth,

That I may know no pain of separation

From you, my husband, in another birth.

My king! Eternal duty bids you never

Forget a hermit who for sorrow faints;

Though I am exiled from your bed for ever,

I claim the care you owe to all the saints.”

So she accepts her fate with meek courage. But

When Rama’s brother left her there to languish

And bore to them she loved her final word,

She loosed her throat in an excess of anguish

And screamed as madly as a frightened bird.

Trees shed their flowers, the peacock-dances ended,

The grasses dropped from mouths of feeding deer,

As if the universal forest blended

Its tears with hers, and shared her woeful fear.

While she laments thus piteously, she is discovered by the poet-sage Valmiki, who consoles her with tender and beautiful words, and conducts her to his hermitage, where she awaits the time of her confinement. Meanwhile Rama leads a dreary life, finding duty but a cold comforter. He makes a golden statue of his wife, and will not look at other women.

Fifteenth canto. Rama goes to heaven.—The canto opens with a rather long description of a fight between Rama’s youngest brother and a giant. On the journey to meet the giant, Shatrughna spends a night in Valmiki’s hermitage, and that very night Sita gives birth to twin sons. Valmiki gives them the names Kusha and Lava, and when they grow out of childhood he teaches them his own composition, the Ramayana, “the sweet story of Rama,” “the first path shown to poets.” At this time the young son of a Brahman dies in the capital, and the father laments at the king’s gate, for he believes that the king is unworthy, else heaven would not send death prematurely. Rama is roused to stamp out evil-doing in the kingdom, whereupon the dead boy comes to life. The king then feels that his task on earth is nearly done, and prepares to celebrate the great horse-sacrifice.1 At this sacrifice appear the two youths Kusha and Lava, who sing the epic of Rama’s deeds in the presence of Rama himself. The father perceives their likeness to himself, then learns that they are indeed his children, whom he has never seen. Thereupon Sita is brought forward by the poet-sage Valmiki and in the presence of her husband and her detractors establishes her constant purity in a terrible fashion.

“If I am faithful to my lord

In thought, in action, and in word,

I pray that Earth who bears us all

May bid me in her bosom fall.”

The faithful wife no sooner spoke

Than earth divided, and there broke

From deep within a flashing light

That flamed like lightning, blinding-bright.

And, seated on a splendid throne

Upheld by serpents’ hoods alone,

The goddess Earth rose visibly,

And she was girded with the sea.

Sita was clasped in her embrace,

While still she gazed on Rama’s face:

He cried aloud in wild despair;

She sank, and left him standing there.

Rama then establishes his brothers, sons, and nephews in different cities of the kingdom, buries the three queens of his father, and awaits death. He has not long to wait; Death comes, wearing a hermit’s garb, asks for a private interview, and threatens any who shall disturb their conference. Lakshmana disturbs them, and so dies before Rama. Then Rama is translated.

Cantos sixteen to nineteen form the third division of the epic, and treat of Rama’s descendants. The interest wanes, for the great hero is gone.

Sixteenth canto. Kumudvati’s wedding.—As Kusha lies awake one night, a female figure appears in his chamber; and in answer to his question, declares that she is the presiding goddess of the ancient capital Ayodhya, which has been deserted since Rama’s departure to heaven. She pictures the sad state of the city thus:

I have no king; my towers and terraces

Crumble and fall; my walls are overthrown;

As when the ugly winds of evening seize

The rack of clouds in helpless darkness blown.

In streets where maidens gaily passed at night,

Where once was known the tinkle and the shine

Of anklets, jackals slink, and by the light

Of flashing fangs, seek carrion, snarl, and whine.

The water of the pools that used to splash

With drumlike music, under maidens’ hands,

Groans now when bisons from the jungle lash

It with their clumsy horns, and roil its sands.

The peacock-pets are wild that once were tame;

They roost on trees, not perches; lose desire

For dancing to the drums; and feel no shame

For fans singed close by sparks of forest-fire.

On stairways where the women once were glad

To leave their pink and graceful footprints, here

Unwelcome, blood-stained paws of tigers pad,

Fresh-smeared from slaughter of the forest deer.

Wall-painted elephants in lotus-brooks,

Receiving each a lily from his mate,

Are torn and gashed, as if by cruel hooks,

By claws of lions, showing furious hate.

I see my pillared caryatides

Neglected, weathered, stained by passing time,

Wearing in place of garments that should please,

The skins of sloughing cobras, foul with slime.

The balconies grow black with long neglect,

And grass-blades sprout through floors no longer tight;

They still receive but cannot now reflect

The old, familiar moonbeams, pearly white.

The vines that blossomed in my garden bowers,

That used to show their graceful beauty, when

Girls gently bent their twigs and plucked their flowers,

Are broken by wild apes and wilder men.

The windows are not lit by lamps at night,

Nor by fair faces shining in the day,

But webs of spiders dim the delicate, light

Smoke-tracery with one mere daub of grey.

The river is deserted; on the shore

No gaily bathing men and maidens leave

Food for the swans; its reedy bowers no more

Are vocal: seeing this, I can but grieve.

The goddess therefore begs Kusha to return with his court to the old capital, and when he assents, she smiles and vanishes. The next morning Kusha announces the vision of the night, and immediately sets out for Ayodhya with his whole army. Arrived there, King Kusha quickly restores the city to its former splendour. Then when the hot summer comes, the king goes down to the river to bathe with the ladies of the court. While in the water he loses a great gem which his father had given him. The divers are unable to find it, and declare their belief that it has been stolen by the serpent Kumuda who lives in the river. The king threatens to shoot an arrow into the river, whereupon the waters divide, and the serpent appears with the gem. He is accompanied by a beautiful maiden, whom he introduces as his sister Kumudvati, and whom he offers in marriage to Kusha. The offer is accepted, and the wedding celebrated with great pomp.

Seventeenth canto. King Atithi.—To the king and queen is born a son, who is named Atithi. When he has grown into manhood, his father Kusha engages in a struggle with a demon, in which the king is killed in the act of killing his adversary. He goes to heaven, followed by his faithful queen, and Atithi is anointed king. The remainder of the canto describes King Atithi’s glorious reign.

Eighteenth canto. The later princes.—This canto gives a brief, impressionistic sketch of the twenty-one kings who in their order succeeded Atithi.

Nineteenth canto. The loves of Agnivarna.—After the twenty-one kings just mentioned, there succeeds a king named Agnivarna, who gives himself to dissipation. He shuts himself up in the palace; even when duty requires him to appear before his subjects, he does so merely by hanging one foot out of a window. He trains dancing-girls himself, and has so many mistresses that he cannot always call them by their right names. It is not wonderful that this kind of life leads before long to a consuming disease; and as Agnivarna is even then unable to resist the pleasures of the senses, he dies. His queen is pregnant, and she mounts the throne as regent in behalf of her unborn son. With this strange scene, half tragic, half vulgar, the epic, in the form in which it has come down to us, abruptly ends.

If we now endeavour to form some critical estimate of the poem, we are met at the outset by this strangely unnatural termination. We cannot avoid wondering whether the poem as we have it is complete. And we shall find that there are good reasons for believing that Kalidasa did not let the glorious solar line end in the person of the voluptuous Agnivarna and his unborn child. In the first place, there is a constant tradition which affirms that The Dynasty of Raghu originally consisted of twenty-five cantos. A similar tradition concerning Kalidasa’s second epic has justified itself; for some time only seven cantos were known; then more were discovered, and we now have seventeen. Again, there is a rhetorical rule, almost never disregarded, which requires a literary work to end with an epilogue in the form of a little prayer for the welfare of readers or auditors. Kalidasa himself complies with this rule, certainly in five of his other six books. Once again, Kalidasa has nothing of the tragedian in his soul; his works, without exception, end happily. In the drama Urvashi he seriously injures a splendid old tragic story for the sake of a happy ending. These facts all point to the probability that the conclusion of the epic has been lost. We may even assign a natural, though conjectural, reason for this. The Dynasty of Raghu has been used for centuries as a text-book in India, so that manuscripts abound, and commentaries are very numerous. Now if the concluding cantos were unfitted for use as a text-book, they might very easily be lost during the centuries before the introduction of printing-presses into India. Indeed, this very unfitness for use as a school text seems to be the explanation of the temporary loss of several cantos of Kalidasa’s second epic.

On the other hand, we are met by the fact that numerous commentators, living in different parts of India, know the text of only nineteen cantos. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Kalidasa left the poem incomplete at his death; for it was, without serious question, one of his earlier works. Apart from evidences of style, there is the subject-matter of the introductory stanzas, in which the poet presents himself as an aspirant for literary fame. No writer of established reputation would be likely to say:

The fool who seeks a poet’s fame,

Must look for ridicule and blame,

Like tiptoe dwarf who fain would try

To pluck the fruit for giants high.

In only one other of his writings, in the drama which was undoubtedly written earlier than the other two dramas, does the poet thus present his feeling of diffidence to his auditors. It is of course possible that Kalidasa wrote the first nineteen cantos when a young man, intending to add more, then turned to other matters, and never afterwards cared to take up the rather thankless task of ending a youthful work.

The question does not admit of final solution. Yet whoever reads and re-reads The Dynasty of Raghu, and the other works of its author, finds the conviction growing ever stronger that our poem in nineteen cantos is mutilated. We are thus enabled to clear the author of the charge of a lame and impotent conclusion.

Another adverse criticism cannot so readily be disposed of; that of a lack of unity in the plot. As the poem treats of a kingly dynasty, we frequently meet the cry: The king is dead. Long live the king! The story of Rama himself occupies only six cantos; he is not born until the tenth canto, he is in heaven after the fifteenth. There are in truth six heroes, each of whom has to die to make room for his successor. One may go farther and say that it is not possible to give a brief and accurate title to the poem. It is not a Ramayana, or epic of Rama’s deeds, for Rama is on the stage during only a third of the poem. It is not properly an epic of Raghu’s line, for many kings of this line are unmentioned. Not merely kings who escape notice by their obscurity, but also several who fill a large place in Indian story, whose deeds and adventures are splendidly worthy of epic treatment. The Dynasty of Raghu is rather an epic poem in which Rama is the central figure, giving it such unity as it possesses, but which provides Rama with a most generous background in the shape of selected episodes concerning his ancestors and his descendants.

Rama is the central figure. Take him away and the poem falls to pieces like a pearl necklace with a broken string. Yet it may well be doubted whether the cantos dealing with Rama are the most successful. They are too compressed, too briefly allusive. Kalidasa attempts to tell the story in about one-thirtieth of the space given to it by his great predecessor Valmiki. The result is much loss by omission and much loss by compression. Many of the best episodes of the Ramayana are quite omitted by Kalidasa: for example, the story of the jealous humpback who eggs on Queen Kaikeyi to demand her two boons; the beautiful scene in which Sita insists on following Rama into the forest; the account of the somnolent giant Pot-ear, a character quite as good as Polyphemus. Other fine episodes are so briefly alluded to as to lose all their charm: for example, the story of the golden deer that attracts the attention of Rama while Ravana is stealing his wife; the journey of the monkey Hanumat to Ravana’s fortress and his interview with Sita.

The Rama-story, as told by Valmiki, is one of the great epic stories of the world. It has been for two thousand years and more the story par excellence of the Hindus; and the Hindus may fairly claim to be the best story-tellers of the world. There is therefore real matter for regret in the fact that so great a poet as Kalidasa should have treated it in a way not quite worthy of it and of himself. The reason is not far to seek, nor can there be any reasonable doubt as to its truth. Kalidasa did not care to put himself into direct competition with Valmiki. The younger poet’s admiration of his mighty predecessor is clearly expressed. It is with especial reference to Valmiki that he says in his introduction:

Yet I may enter through the door

That mightier poets pierced of yore;

A thread may pierce a jewel, but

Must follow where the diamond cut.

He introduces Valmiki into his own epic, making him compose the Ramayana in Rama’s lifetime. Kalidasa speaks of Valmiki as “the poet,” and the great epic he calls “the sweet story of Rama,” “the first path shown to poets,” which, when sung by the two boys, was heard with motionless delight by the deer, and, when sung before a gathering of learned men, made them heedless of the tears that rolled down their cheeks.

Bearing these matters in mind, we can see the course of Kalidasa’s thoughts almost as clearly as if he had expressed them directly. He was irresistibly driven to write the wonderful story of Rama, as any poet would be who became familiar with it. At the same time, his modesty prevented him from challenging the old epic directly. He therefore writes a poem which shall appeal to the hallowed associations that cluster round the great name of Rama, but devotes two-thirds of it to themes that permit him greater freedom. The result is a formless plot.

This is a real weakness, yet not a fatal weakness. In general, literary critics lay far too much emphasis on plot. Of the elements that make a great book, two, style and presentation of character, hardly permit critical analysis. The third, plot, does permit such analysis. Therefore the analyst overrates its importance. It is fatal to all claim of greatness in a narrative if it is shown to have a bad style or to be without interesting characters. It is not fatal if it is shown that the plot is rambling. In recent literature it is easy to find truly great narratives in which the plot leaves much to be desired. We may cite the Pickwick Papers, Les Misérables, War and Peace.

We must then regard The Dynasty of Raghu as a poem in which single episodes take a stronger hold upon the reader than does the unfolding of an ingenious plot. In some degree, this is true of all long poems. The Æneid itself, the most perfect long poem ever written, has dull passages. And when this allowance is made, what wonderful passages we have in Kalidasa’s poem! One hardly knows which of them makes the strongest appeal, so many are they and so varied. There is the description of the small boy Raghu in the third canto, the choice of the princess in the sixth, the lament of King Aja in the eighth, the story of Dasharatha and the hermit youth in the ninth, the account of the ruined city in the sixteenth. Besides these, the Rama cantos, ten to fifteen, make an epic within an epic. And if Kalidasa is not seen at his very best here, yet his second best is of a higher quality than the best of others. Also, the Rama story is so moving that a mere allusion to it stirs like a sentimental memory of childhood. It has the usual qualities of a good epic story: abundance of travel and fighting and adventure and magic interweaving of human with superhuman, but it has more than this. In both hero and heroine there is real development of character. Odysseus and Æneas do not grow; they go through adventures. But King Rama, torn between love for his wife and duty to his subjects, is almost a different person from the handsome, light-hearted prince who won his bride by breaking Shiva’s bow. Sita, faithful to the husband who rejects her, has made a long, character-forming journey since the day when she left her father’s palace, a youthful bride. Herein lies the unique beauty of the tale of Rama, that it unites romantic love and moral conflict with a splendid story of wild adventure. No wonder that the Hindus, connoisseurs of story-telling, have loved the tale of Rama’s deeds better than any other story.

If we compare The Dynasty of Raghu with Kalidasa’s other books, we find it inferior to The Birth of the War-god in unity of plot, inferior to Shakuntala in sustained interest, inferior to The Cloud-Messenger in perfection of every detail. Yet passages in it are as high and sweet as anything in these works. And over it is shed the magic charm of Kalidasa’s style. Of that it is vain to speak. It can be had only at first hand. The final proof that The Dynasty of Raghu is a very great poem, is this: no one who once reads it can leave it alone thereafter.

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Second canto. Brahma’s self-revelation.—At this time, the gods betake themselves to Brahma, the Creator, and sing a hymn of praise, a part of which is given here.

Before creation, thou art one;

Three, when creation’s work is done:

All praise and honour unto thee

In this thy mystic trinity.

Three various forms and functions three

Proclaim thy living majesty;

Thou dost create, and then maintain,

And last, destroyest all again.

Thy slow recurrent day and night

Bring death to all, or living light.

We live beneath thy waking eye;

Thou sleepest, and thy creatures die.

Solid and fluid, great and small,

And light and heavy—Thou art all;

Matter and form are both in thee:

Thy powers are past discovery.

Thou art the objects that unroll

Their drama for the passive soul;

Thou art the soul that views the play

Indifferently, day by day.

Thou art the knower and the known;

Eater and food art thou alone;

The priest and his oblation fair;

The prayerful suppliant and the prayer.

Brahma receives their worship graciously, and asks the reason of their coming. The spokesman of the gods explains to Brahma how a great demon named Taraka is troubling the world, and how helpless they are in opposing him. They have tried the most extravagant propitiation, and found it useless.

The sun in heaven dare not glow

With undiminished heat, but so

As that the lilies may awake

Which blossom in his pleasure-lake.

The wind blows gently as it can

To serve him as a soothing fan,

And dare not manifest its power,

Lest it should steal a garden flower.

The seasons have forgotten how

To follow one another now;

They simultaneously bring

Him flowers of autumn, summer, spring.

Such adoration makes him worse;

He troubles all the universe:

Kindness inflames a rascal’s mind;

He should be recompensed in kind.

And all the means that we have tried

Against the rogue, are brushed aside,

As potent herbs have no avail

When bodily powers begin to fail.

We seek a leader, O our Lord,

To bring him to his just reward—

As saints seek evermore to win

Virtue, to end life’s woe and sin—

That he may guide the heavenly host,

And guard us to the uttermost,

And from our foe lead captive back

The victory which still we lack.

Brahma answers that the demon’s power comes from him, and he does not feel at liberty to proceed against it; “for it is not fitting to cut down even a poison-tree that one’s own hand has planted.” But he promises that a son shall be born to Shiva and Parvati, who shall lead the gods to victory. With this answer the gods are perforce content, and their king, Indra, waits upon the god of love, to secure his necessary co-operation.

Third canto. The burning of Love.—Indra waits upon Love, who asks for his commands. Indra explains the matter, and asks Love to inflame Shiva with passion for Parvati. Love thereupon sets out, accompanied by his wife Charm and his friend Spring. When they reach the mountain where Shiva dwells, Spring shows his power. The snow disappears; the trees put forth blossoms; bees, deer, and birds waken to new life. The only living being that is not influenced by the sudden change of season is Shiva, who continues his meditation, unmoved. Love himself is discouraged, until he sees the beauty of Parvati, when he takes heart again. At this moment, Shiva chances to relax his meditation, and Parvati approaches to do him homage. Love seizes the lucky moment, and prepares to shoot his bewildering arrow at Shiva. But the great god sees him, and before the arrow is discharged, darts fire from his eye, whereby Love is consumed. Charm falls in a swoon, Shiva vanishes, and the wretched Parvati is carried away by her father.

Fourth canto. The lament of Charm.—This canto is given entire.

The wife of Love lay helpless in a swoon,

Till wakened by a fate whose deadliest sting

Was preparation of herself full soon

To taste the youthful widow’s sorrowing.

Her opening eyes were fixed with anxious thought

On every spot where he might be, in vain,

Were gladdened nowhere by the sight she sought,

The lover she should never see again.

She rose and cried aloud: “Dost thou yet live,

Lord of my life?” And at the last she found

Him whom the wrathful god could not forgive,

Her Love, a trace of ashes on the ground.

With breaking heart, with lovely bosom stained

By cold embrace of earth, with flying hair,

She wept and to the forest world complained,

As if the forest in her grief might share.

“Thy beauty slew the pride that maidens cherish;

Perfect its loveliness in every part;

I saw that beauty fade away and perish,

Yet did not die. How hard is woman’s heart!

Where art thou gone? Thy love a moment only

Endured, and I for ever need its power;

Gone like the stream that leaves the lily lonely,

When the dam breaks, to mourn her dying flower.

Thou never didst a thing to cause me anguish;

I never did a thing to work thee harm;

Why should I thus in vain affliction languish?

Why not return to bless thy grieving Charm?

Of playful chastisements art thou reminded,

Thy flirtings punished by my girdle-strands,

Thine eyes by flying dust of blossoms blinded,

Held for thy meet correction in these hands?

I loved to hear the name thou gav’st me often

‘Heart of my heart.’ Alas! It was not true,

But lulling phrase, my coming grief to soften:

Else in thy death, my life had ended, too.

Think not that on the journey thou hast taken

So newly, I should fail to find thy track;

Ah, but the world! The world is quite forsaken,

For life is love; no life, when thee they lack.

Thou gone, my love, what power can guide the maiden

Through veils of midnight darkness in the town

To the eager heart with loving fancies laden,

And fortify against the storm-cloud’s frown?

The wine that teaches eyes their gladdest dances,

That bids the love-word trippingly to glide,

Is now deception; for if flashing glances

Lead not to love, they lead to naught beside.

And when he knows thy life is a remembrance,

Thy friend the moon will feel his shining vain,

Will cease to show the world a circle’s semblance,

And even in his waxing time, will wane.

Slowly the mango-blossoms are unfolding

On twigs where pink is struggling with the green,

Greeted by koil-birds sweet concert holding—

Thou dead, who makes of flowers an arrow keen?

Or weaves a string of bees with deft invention,

To speed the missile when the bow is bent?

They buzz about me now with kind intention,

And mortify the grief which they lament.

Arise! Assume again thy radiant beauty!

Rebuke the koïl-bird, whom nature taught

Such sweet persuasion; she forgets her duty

As messenger to bosoms passion-fraught.

Well I remember, Love, thy suppliant motion,

Thy trembling, quick embrace, the moments blest

By fervent, self-surrendering devotion—

And memories like these deny me rest.

Well didst thou know thy wife; the springtime garland,

Wrought by thy hands, O charmer of thy Charm!

Remains to bid me grieve, while in a far land

Thy body seeks repose from earthly harm.

Thy service by the cruel gods demanded,

Meant service to thy wife left incomplete,

My bare feet with coquettish streakings banded—

Return to end the adorning of my feet.

No, straight to thee I fly, my body given,

A headlong moth, to quick-consuming fire,

Or e’er my cunning rivals, nymphs in heaven,

Awake in thee an answering desire.

Yet, dearest, even this short delay is fated

For evermore a deep reproach to prove,

A stain that may not be obliterated,

If Charm has lived one moment far from Love.

And how can I perform the last adorning

Of thy poor body, as befits a wife?

So strangely on the path that leaves me mourning

Thy body followed still the spirit’s life.

I see thee straighten out thy blossom-arrow,

The bow slung careless on thy breast the while,

Thine eyes in mirthful, sidelong glance grow narrow,

Thy conference with friendly Spring, thy smile.

But where is Spring? Dear friend, whose art could fashion

The flowery arrow for thee? Has the wrath

Of dreadful Shiva, in excess of passion,

Bade him, too, follow on that fatal path?”

Heart-smitten by the accents of her grief

Like poisoned darts, soothing her fond alarm,

Incarnate Spring appeared, to bring relief

As friendship can, to sore-lamenting Charm.

And at the sight of him, she wept the more,

And often clutched her throat, and beat her breast;

For lamentation finds an open door

In the presence of the friends we love the best.

Stifling, she cried: “Behold the mournful matter!

In place of him thou seekest, what is found?

A something that the winds of heaven scatter,

A trace of dove-grey ashes on the ground.

Arise, O Love! For Spring knows no estranging,

Thy friend in lucky hap and evil lot;

Man’s love for wife is ever doubtful, changing;

Man’s love for man abides and changes not.

With such a friend, thy dart, on dainty pinion

Of blossoms, shot from lotus-fibre string,

Reduced men, giants, gods to thy dominion—

The triple world has felt that arrow sting.

But Love is gone, far gone beyond returning,

A candle snuffed by wandering breezes vain;

And see! I am his wick, with Love once burning.

Now blackened by the smoke of nameless pain.

In slaying Love, fate wrought but half a slaughter,

For I am left. And yet the clinging vine

Must fall, when falls the sturdy tree that taught her

Round him in loving tenderness to twine.

So then, fulfil for me the final mission

Of him who undertakes a kinsman’s part;

Commit me to the flames (my last petition)

And speed the widow to her husband’s heart.

The moonlight wanders not, the moon forsaking;

Where sails the cloud, the lightning is not far;

Wife follows mate, is law of nature’s making,

Yes, even among such things as lifeless are.

My breast is stained; I lay among the ashes

Of him I loved with all a woman’s powers;

Now let me lie where death-fire flames and flashes,

As glad as on a bed of budding flowers.

Sweet Spring, thou camest oft where we lay sleeping

On blossoms, I and he whose life is sped;

Unto the end thy friendly office keeping,

Prepare for me the last, the fiery bed.

And fan the flame to which I am committed

With southern winds; I would no longer stay;

Thou knowest well how slow the moments flitted

For Love, my love, when I was far away.

And sprinkle some few drops of water, given

In friendship, on his ashes and on me;

That Love and I may quench our thirst in heaven

As once on earth, in heavenly unity.

And sometimes seek the grave where Love is lying;

Pause there a moment, gentle Spring, and shower

Sweet mango-clusters to the winds replying;

For he thou lovedst, loved the mango-flower.”

As Charm prepared to end her mortal pain

In fire, she heard a voice from heaven cry,

That showed her mercy, as the early rain

Shows mercy to the fish, when lakes go dry:

“O wife of Love! Thy lover is not lost

For evermore. This voice shall tell thee why

He perished like the moth, when he had crossed

The dreadful god, in fire from Shiva’s eye.

When darts of Love set Brahma in a flame,

To shame his daughter with impure desire,

He checked the horrid sin without a name,

And cursed the god of love to die by fire.

But Virtue interceded in behalf

Of Love, and won a softening of the doom:

‘Upon the day when Shiva’s heart shall laugh

In wedding joy, for mercy finding room,

He shall unite Love’s body with the soul,

A marriage-present to his mountain bride.’

As clouds hold fire and water in control,

Gods are the fount of wrath, and grace beside.

So, gentle Charm, preserve thy body sweet

For dear reunion after present pain;

The stream that dwindles in the summer heat,

Is reunited with the autumn rain.”

Invisibly and thus mysteriously

The thoughts of Charm were turned away from death;

And Spring, believing where he might not see,

Comforted her with words of sweetest breath.

The wife of Love awaited thus the day,

Though racked by grief, when fate should show its power,

As the waning moon laments her darkened ray

And waits impatient for the twilight hour.

Fifth canto. The reward of self-denial.—Parvati reproaches her own beauty, for “loveliness is fruitless if it does not bind a lover.” She therefore resolves to lead a life of religious self-denial, hoping that the merit thus acquired will procure her Shiva’s love. Her mother tries in vain to dissuade her; her father directs her to a fit mountain peak, and she retires to her devotions. She lays aside all ornaments, lets her hair hang unkempt, and assumes the hermit’s dress of bark. While she is spending her days in self-denial, she is visited by a Brahman youth, who compliments her highly upon her rigid devotion, and declares that her conduct proves the truth of the proverb: Beauty can do no wrong. Yet he confesses himself bewildered, for she seems to have everything that heart can desire. He therefore asks her purpose in performing these austerities, and is told how her desires are fixed upon the highest of all objects, upon the god Shiva himself, and how, since Love is dead, she sees no way to win him except by ascetic religion. The youth tries to dissuade Parvati by recounting all the dreadful legends that are current about Shiva: how he wears a coiling snake on his wrist, a bloody elephant-hide upon his back, how he dwells in a graveyard, how he rides upon an undignified bull, how poor he is and of unknown birth. Parvati’s anger is awakened by this recital. She frowns and her lip quivers as she defends herself and the object of her love.

Shiva, she said, is far beyond the thought

Of such as you: then speak no more to me.

Dull crawlers hate the splendid wonders wrought

By lofty souls untouched by rivalry.

They search for wealth, whom dreaded evil nears,

Or they who fain would rise a little higher;

The world’s sole refuge neither hopes nor fears

Nor seeks the objects of a small desire.

Yes, he is poor, yet he is riches’ source;

This graveyard-haunter rules the world alone;

Dreadful is he, yet all beneficent force:

Think you his inmost nature can be known?

All forms are his; and he may take or leave

At will, the snake, or gem with lustre white;

The bloody skin, or silk of softest weave;

Dead skulls, or moonbeams radiantly bright.

For poverty he rides upon a bull,

While Indra, king of heaven, elephant-borne,

Bows low to strew his feet with beautiful,

Unfading blossoms in his chaplet worn.

Yet in the slander spoken in pure hate

One thing you uttered worthy of his worth:

How could the author of the uncreate

Be born? How could we understand his birth?

Enough of this! Though every word that you

Have said, be faithful, yet would Shiva please

My eager heart all made of passion true

For him alone. Love sees no blemishes.

In response to this eloquence, the youth throws off his disguise, appearing as the god Shiva himself, and declares his love for her. Parvati immediately discontinues her religious asceticism; for “successful effort regenerates.”

Sixth canto. Parvati is given in marriage.—While Parvati departs to inform her father of what has happened, Shiva summons the seven sages, who are to make the formal proposal of marriage to the bride’s parents. The seven sages appear, flying through the air, and with them Arundhati, the heavenly model of wifely faith and devotion. On seeing her, Shiva feels his eagerness for marriage increase, realising that

All actions of a holy life

Are rooted in a virtuous wife.

Shiva then explains his purpose, and sends the seven sages to make the formal request for Parvati’s hand. The seven sages fly to the brilliant city of Himalaya, where they are received by the mountain god. After a rather portentous interchange of compliments, the seven sages announce their errand, requesting Parvati’s hand in behalf of Shiva. The father joyfully assents, and it is agreed that the marriage shall be celebrated after three days. These three days are spent by Shiva in impatient longing.

Seventh canto. Parvati’s wedding.—The three days are spent in preparations for the wedding. So great is Parvati’s unadorned beauty that the waiting-women can hardly take their eyes from her to inspect the wedding-dress. But the preparations are complete at last; and the bride is beautiful indeed.

As when the flowers are budding on a vine,

Or white swans rest upon a river’s shore,

Or when at night the stars in heaven shine,

Her lovely beauty grew with gems she wore.

When wide-eyed glances gave her back the same

Bright beauty—and the mirror never lies—

She waited with impatience till he came:

For women dress to please their lovers’ eyes.

Meanwhile Shiva finishes his preparations, and sets out on his wedding journey, accompanied by Brahma, Vishnu, and lesser gods. At his journey’s end, he is received by his bride’s father, and led through streets ankle-deep in flowers, where the windows are filled with the faces of eager and excited women, who gossip together thus:

For his sake it was well that Parvati

Should mortify her body delicate;

Thrice happy might his serving-woman be,

And infinitely blest his bosom’s mate.

Shiva and his retinue then enter the palace, where he is received with bashful love by Parvati, and the wedding is celebrated with due pomp. The nymphs of heaven entertain the company with a play, and Shiva restores the body of Love.

Eighth canto. The honeymoon.—The first month of marital bliss is spent in Himalaya’s palace. After this the happy pair wander for a time among the famous mountain-peaks. One of these they reach at sunset, and Shiva describes the evening glow to his bride. A few stanzas are given here.

See, my belovèd, how the sun

With beams that o’er the water shake

From western skies has now begun

A bridge of gold across the lake.

Upon the very tree-tops sway

The peacocks; even yet they hold

And drink the dying light of day,

Until their fans are molten gold.

The water-lily closes, but

With wonderful reluctancy;

As if it troubled her to shut

Her door of welcome to the bee.

The steeds that draw the sun’s bright car,

With bended neck and falling plume

And drooping mane, are seen afar

To bury day in ocean’s gloom.

The sun is down, and heaven sleeps:

Thus every path of glory ends;

As high as are the scalèd steeps,

The downward way as low descends.

Shiva then retires for meditation. On his return, he finds that his bride is peevish at being left alone even for a little time, and to soothe her, he describes the night which is now advancing. A few stanzas of this description run as follows.

The twilight glow is fading far

And stains the west with blood-red light,

As when a reeking scimitar

Slants upward on a field of fight.

And vision fails above, below,

Around, before us, at our back;

The womb of night envelops slow

The world with darkness vast and black.

Mute while the world is dazed with light,

The smiling moon begins to rise

And, being teased by eager night,

Betrays the secrets of the skies.

Moon-fingers move the black, black hair

Of night into its proper place,

Who shuts her eyes, the lilies fair,

As he sets kisses on her face.

Shiva and Parvati then drink wine brought them by the guardian goddess of the grove, and in this lovely spot they dwell happily for many years.

Ninth canto. The journey to Mount Kailasa.—One day the god of fire appears as a messenger from the gods before Shiva, to remonstrate with him for not begetting the son upon whom heaven’s welfare depends. Shiva deposits his seed in Fire, who departs, bent low with the burden. Shortly afterwards the gods wait upon Shiva and Parvati, who journey with them to Mount Kailasa, the splendid dwelling-place of the god of wealth. Here also Shiva and Parvati spend happy days.

Tenth canto. The birth of Kumara.—To Indra, king of the gods, Fire betakes himself, tells his story, and begs to be relieved of his burden. Indra advises him to deposit it in the Ganges. Fire therefore travels to the Ganges, leaves Shiva’s seed in the river, and departs much relieved. But now it is the turn of Ganges to be distressed, until at dawn the six Pleiades come to bathe in the river. They find Shiva’s seed and lay it in a nest of reeds, where it becomes a child, Kumara, the future god of war.

Eleventh canto. The birth of Kumara, continued.—Ganges suckles the beautiful infant. But there arises a dispute for the possession of the child between Fire, Ganges, and the Pleiades. At this point Shiva and Parvati arrive, and Parvati, wondering at the beauty of the infant and at the strange quarrel, asks Shiva to whom the child belongs. When Shiva tells her that Kumara is their own child, her joy is unbounded.

Because her eyes with happy tears were dim,

’Twas but by snatches that she saw the boy;

Yet, with her blossom-hand caressing him,

She felt a strange, an unimagined joy.

The vision of the infant made her seem

A flower unfolding in mysterious bliss;

Or, billowy with her joyful tears, a stream;

Or pure affection, perfect in a kiss.

Shiva conducts Parvati and the boy back to Mount Kailasa, where gods and fairies welcome them with music and dancing. Here the divine child spends the days of a happy infancy, not very different from human infancy; for he learns to walk, gets dirty in the courtyard, laughs a good deal, pulls the scanty hair of an old servant, and learns to count: “One, nine, two, ten, five, seven.” These evidences of healthy development cause Shiva and Parvati the most exquisite joy.

Twelfth canto. Kumara is made general.—Indra, with the other gods, waits upon Shiva, to ask that Kumara, now a youth, may be lent to them as their leader in the campaign against Taraka. The gods are graciously received by Shiva, who asks their errand. Indra prefers their request, whereupon Shiva bids his son assume command of the gods, and slay Taraka. Great is the joy of Kumara himself, of his mother Parvati, and of Indra.

Thirteenth canto. Kumara is consecrated general.—Kumara takes an affectionate farewell of his parents, and sets out with the gods. When they come to Indra’s paradise, the gods are afraid to enter, lest they find their enemy there. There is an amusing scene in which each courteously invites the others to precede him, until Kumara ends their embarrassment by leading the way. Here for the first time Kumara sees with deep respect the heavenly Ganges, Indra’s garden and palace, and the heavenly city. But he becomes red-eyed with anger on beholding the devastation wrought by Taraka.

He saw departed glory, saw the state

Neglected, ruined, sad, of Indra’s city,

As of a woman with a cowardly mate:

And all his inmost heart dissolved in pity.

He saw how crystal floors were gashed and torn

By wanton tusks of elephants, were strewed

With skins that sloughing cobras once had worn:

And sadness overcame him as he viewed.

He saw beside the bathing-pools the bowers

Defiled by elephants grown overbold,

Strewn with uprooted golden lotus-flowers,

No longer bright with plumage of pure gold,

Rough with great, jewelled columns overthrown,

Rank with invasion of the untrimmed grass:

Shame strove with sorrow at the ruin shown,

For heaven’s foe had brought these things to pass.

Amid these sorrowful surroundings the gods gather and anoint Kumara, thus consecrating him as their general.

Fourteenth canto. The march.—Kumara prepares for battle, and marshals his army. He is followed by Indra riding on an elephant, Agni on a ram, Yama on a buffalo, a giant on a ghost, Varuna on a dolphin, and many other lesser gods. When all is ready, the army sets out on its dusty march.

Fifteenth canto. The two armies clash.—The demon Taraka is informed that the hostile army is approaching, but scorns the often-conquered Indra and the boy Kumara. Nevertheless, he prepares for battle, marshals his army, and sets forth to meet the gods. But he is beset by dreadful omens of evil.

For foul birds came, a horrid flock to see,

Above the army of the foes of heaven,

And dimmed the sun, awaiting ravenously

The feast of demon corpses to be given.

And monstrous snakes, as black as powdered soot,

Spitting hot poison high into the air,

Brought terror to the army underfoot,

And crept and coiled and crawled before them there.

The sun a sickly halo round him had;

Coiling within it frightened eyes could see

Great, writhing serpents, enviously glad

Because the demon’s death so soon should be.

And in the very circle of the sun

Were phantom jackals, snarling to be fed;

And with impatient haste they seemed to run

To drink the demon’s blood in battle shed.

There fell, with darting flame and blinding flash

Lighting the farthest heavens, from on high

A thunderbolt whose agonising crash

Brought fear and shuddering from a cloudless sky.

There came a pelting rain of blazing coals

With blood and bones of dead men mingled in;

Smoke and weird flashes horrified their souls;

The sky was dusty grey like asses’ skin.

The elephants stumbled and the horses fell,

The footmen jostled, leaving each his post,

The ground beneath them trembled at the swell

Of ocean, when an earthquake shook the host.

And dogs before them lifted muzzles foul

To see the sun that lit that awful day,

And pierced the ears of listeners with a howl

Dreadful yet pitiful, then slunk away.

Taraka’s counsellors endeavour to persuade him to turn back, but he refuses; for timidity is not numbered among his faults. As he advances even worse portents appear, and finally warning voices from heaven call upon him to desist from his undertaking. The voices assure him of Kumara’s prowess and inevitable victory; they advise him to make his peace while there is yet time. But Taraka’s only answer is a defiance.

“You mighty gods that flit about in heaven

And take my foeman’s part, what would you say?

Have you forgot so soon the torture given

By shafts of mine that never miss their way?

Why should I fear before a six-days child?

Why should you prowl in heaven and gibber shrill,

Like dogs that in an autumn night run wild,

Like deer that sneak through forests, trembling still?

The boy whom you have chosen as your chief

In vain upon his hermit-sire shall cry;

The upright die, if taken with a thief:

First you shall perish, then he too shall die.”

And as Taraka emphasises his meaning by brandishing his great sword, the warning spirits flee, their knees knocking together. Taraka laughs horribly, then mounts his chariot, and advances against the army of the gods. On the other side the gods advance, and the two armies clash.

Sixteenth canto. The battle between gods and demons.—This canto is entirely taken up with the struggle between the two armies. A few stanzas are given here.

As pairs of champions stood forth

To test each other’s fighting worth,

The bards who knew the family fame

Proclaimed aloud each mighty name.

As ruthless weapons cut their way

Through quilted armour in the fray,

White tufts of cotton flew on high

Like hoary hairs upon the sky.

Blood-dripping swords reflected bright

The sunbeams in that awful fight;

Fire-darting like the lightning-flash,

They showed how mighty heroes clash.

The archers’ arrows flew so fast,

As through a hostile breast they passed,

That they were buried in the ground,

No stain of blood upon them found.

The swords that sheaths no longer clasped,

That hands of heroes firmly grasped,

Flashed out in glory through the fight,

As if they laughed in mad delight.

And many a warrior’s eager lance

Shone radiant in the eerie dance,

A curling, lapping tongue of death

To lick away the soldier’s breath.

Some, panting with a bloody thirst,

Fought toward the victim chosen first,

But had a reeking path to hew

Before they had him full in view.

Great elephants, their drivers gone

And pierced with arrows, struggled on,

But sank at every step in mud

Made liquid by the streams of blood.

The warriors falling in the fray,

Whose heads the sword had lopped away,

Were able still to fetch a blow

That slew the loud-exulting foe.

The footmen thrown to Paradise

By elephants of monstrous size,

Were seized upon by nymphs above,

Exchanging battle-scenes for love.

The lancer, charging at his foe,

Would pierce him through and bring him low,

And would not heed the hostile dart

That found a lodgment in his heart.

The war-horse, though unguided, stopped

The moment that his rider dropped,

And wept above the lifeless head,

Still faithful to his master dead.

Two lancers fell with mortal wound

And still they struggled on the ground;

With bristling hair, with brandished knife,

Each strove to end the other’s life.

Two slew each other in the fight;

To Paradise they took their flight;

There with a nymph they fell in love,

And still they fought in heaven above.

Two souls there were that reached the sky;

From heights of heaven they could spy

Two writhing corpses on the plain,

And knew their headless forms again.

As the struggle comes to no decisive issue, Taraka seeks out the chief gods, and charges upon them.

Seventeenth canto. Taraka is slain.—Taraka engages the principal gods and defeats them with magic weapons. When they are relieved by Kumara, the demon turns to the youthful god of war, and advises him to retire from the battle.

Stripling, you are the only son

Of Shiva and of Parvati.

Go safe and live! Why should you run

On certain death? Why fight with me?

Withdraw! Let sire and mother blest

Clasp living son to joyful breast.

Flee, son of Shiva, flee the host

Of Indra drowning in the sea

That soon shall close upon his boast

In choking waves of misery.

For Indra is a ship of stone;

Withdraw, and let him sink alone.

Kumara answers with modest firmness.

The words you utter in your pride,

O demon-prince, are only fit;

Yet I am minded to abide

The fight, and see the end of it.

The tight-strung bow and brandished sword

Decide, and not the spoken word.

And with this the duel begins. When Taraka finds his arrows parried by Kumara, he employs the magic weapon of the god of wind. When this too is parried, he uses the magic weapon of the god of fire, which Kumara neutralises with the weapon of the god of water. As they fight on, Kumara finds an opening, and slays Taraka with his lance, to the unbounded delight of the universe.

Here the poem ends, in the form in which it has come down to us. It has been sometimes thought that we have less than Kalidasa wrote, partly because of a vague tradition that there were once twenty-three cantos, partly because the customary prayer is lacking at the end. These arguments are not very cogent. Though the concluding prayer is not given in form, yet the stanzas which describe the joy of the universe fairly fill its place. And one does not see with what matter further cantos would be concerned. The action promised in the earlier part is completed in the seventeenth canto.

It has been somewhat more formidably argued that the concluding cantos are spurious, that Kalidasa wrote only the first seven or perhaps the first eight cantos. Yet, after all, what do these arguments amount to? Hardly more than this, that the first eight cantos are better poetry than the last nine. As if a poet were always at his best, even when writing on a kind of subject not calculated to call out his best. Fighting is not Kalidasa’s forte; love is. Even so, there is great vigour in the journey of Taraka, the battle, and the duel. It may not be the highest kind of poetry, but it is wonderfully vigorous poetry of its kind. And if we reject the last nine cantos, we fall into a very much greater difficulty. The poem would be glaringly incomplete, its early promise obviously disregarded. We should have a Birth of the War-god in which the poet stopped before the war-god was born.

There seems then no good reason to doubt that we have the epic substantially as Kalidasa wrote it. Plainly, it has a unity which is lacking in Kalidasa’s other epic, The Dynastyof Raghu, though in this epic, too, the interest shifts. Parvati’s love-affair is the matter of the first half, Kumara’s fight with the demon the matter of the second half. Further, it must be admitted that the interest runs a little thin. Even in India, where the world of gods runs insensibly into the world of men, human beings take more interest in the adventures of men than of gods. The gods, indeed, can hardly have adventures; they must be victorious. The Birth of the War-god pays for its greater unity by a poverty of adventure.

It would be interesting if we could know whether this epic was written before or after The Dynasty of Raghu. But we have no data for deciding the question, hardly any for even arguing it. The introduction to The Dynasty of Raghu seems, indeed, to have been written by a poet who yet had his spurs to win. But this is all.

As to the comparative excellence of the two epics, opinions differ. My own preference is for The Dynasty of Raghu, yet there are passages in The Birth of the War-god of a piercing beauty which the world can never let die.


This plan is slight and fanciful. A demigod, in consequence of some transgression against his master, the god of wealth, is condemned to leave his home in the Himalayas, and spend a year of exile on a peak in the Vindhya Mountains, which divide the Deccan from the Ganges basin. He wishes to comfort and encourage his wife, but has no messenger to send her. In his despair, he begs a passing cloud to carry his words. He finds it necessary to describe the long journey which the cloud must take, and, as the two termini are skilfully chosen, the journey involves a visit to many of the spots famous in Indian story. The description of these spots fills the first half of the poem. The second half is filled with a more minute description of the heavenly city, of the home and bride of the demigod, and with the message proper. The proportions of the poem may appear unfortunate to the Western reader, in whom the proper names of the first half will wake scanty associations. Indeed, it is no longer possible to identify all the places mentioned, though the general route followed by the cloud can be easily traced. The peak from which he starts is probably one near the modern Nagpore. From this peak he flies a little west of north to the Nerbudda River, and the city of Ujjain; thence pretty straight north to the upper Ganges and the Himalaya. The geography of the magic city of Alaka is quite mythical.

The Cloud-Messenger contains one hundred and fifteen four-line stanzas, in a majestic metre called the “slow-stepper.” The English stanza which has been chosen for the translation gives perhaps as fair a representation of the original movement as may be, where direct imitation is out of the question. Though the stanza of the translation has five lines to four for the slow-stepper, it contains fewer syllables; a constant check on the temptation to padding.

The analysis which accompanies the poem, and which is inserted in Italics at the beginning of each stanza, has more than one object. It saves footnotes; it is intended as a real help to comprehension; and it is an eminently Hindu device. Indeed, it was my first intention to translate literally portions of Mallinatha’s famous commentary; and though this did not prove everywhere feasible, there is nothing in the analysis except matter suggested by the commentary.

One minor point calls for notice. The word Himálaya has been accented on the second syllable wherever it occurs. This accent is historically correct, and has some foothold in English usage; besides, it is more euphonious and better adapted to the needs of the metre.



A Yaksha, or divine attendant on Kubera, god of wealth, is exiled for a year from his home in the Himalayas. As he dwells on a peak in the Vindhya range, half India separates him from his young bride

On Rama’s shady peak where hermits roam,

Mid streams by Sita’s bathing sanctified,

An erring Yaksha made his hapless home,

Doomed by his master humbly to abide,

And spend a long, long year of absence from his bride.


After eight months of growing emaciation, the first cloud warns him of the approach of the rainy season, when neglected brides are wont to pine and die.

Some months were gone; the lonely lover’s pain

Had loosed his golden bracelet day by day

Ere he beheld the harbinger of rain,

A cloud that charged the peak in mimic fray,

As an elephant attacks a bank of earth in play.


Before this cause of lovers’ hopes and fears

Long time Kubera’s bondman sadly bowed

In meditation, choking down his tears—

Even happy hearts thrill strangely to the cloud;

To him, poor wretch, the loved embrace was disallowed.


Unable to send tidings otherwise of his health and unchanging love, he resolves to make the cloud his messenger.

Longing to save his darling’s life, unblest

With joyous tidings, through the rainy days,

He plucked fresh blossoms for his cloudy guest,

Such homage as a welcoming comrade pays,

And bravely spoke brave words of greeting and of praise.


Nor did it pass the lovelorn Yaksha’s mind

How all unfitly might his message mate

With a cloud, mere fire and water, smoke and wind—

Ne’er yet was lover could discriminate

’Twixt life and lifeless things, in his love-blinded state.


He prefers his request,

I know, he said, thy far-famed princely line,

Thy state, in heaven’s imperial council chief,

Thy changing forms; to thee, such fate is mine,

I come a suppliant in my widowed grief—

Better thy lordly “no” than meaner souls’ relief.


O cloud, the parching spirit stirs thy pity;

My bride is far, through royal wrath and might;

Bring her my message to the Yaksha city,

Rich-gardened Alaka, where radiance bright

From Shiva’s crescent bathes the palaces in light.


Hinting at the same time that the cloud will find his kindly labour rewarded by pleasures on the road,

When thou art risen to airy paths of heaven,

Through lifted curls the wanderer’s love shall peep

And bless the sight of thee for comfort given;

Who leaves his bride through cloudy days to weep

Except he be like me, whom chains of bondage keep?


and by happy omens.

While favouring breezes waft thee gently forth,

And while upon thy left the plover sings

His proud, sweet song, the cranes who know thy worth

Will meet thee in the sky on joyful wings

And for delights anticipated join their rings.


He assures the cloud that his bride is neither dead nor faithless:

Yet hasten, O my brother, till thou see—

Counting the days that bring the lonely smart—

The faithful wife who only lives for me:

A drooping flower is woman’s loving heart,

Upheld by the stem of hope when two true lovers part.


further, that there will be no lack of travelling companions.

And when they hear thy welcome thunders break,

When mushrooms sprout to greet thy fertile weeks,

The swans who long for the Himalayan lake

Will be thy comrades to Kailasa’s peaks,

With juicy bits of lotus-fibre in their beaks.


One last embrace upon this mount bestow

Whose flanks were pressed by Rama’s holy feet,

Who yearly strives his love for thee to show,

Warmly his well-belovèd friend to greet

With the tear of welcome shed when two long-parted meet.


He then describes the long journey.

Learn first, O cloud, the road that thou must go,

Then hear my message ere thou speed away;

Before thee mountains rise and rivers flow:

When thou art weary, on the mountains stay,

And when exhausted, drink the rivers’ driven spray.


Beginning with the departure from Rama’s peak, where dwells a company of Siddhas, divine beings of extraordinary sanctity.

Elude the heavenly elephants’ clumsy spite;

Fly from this peak in richest jungle drest;

And Siddha maids who view thy northward flight

Will upward gaze in simple terror, lest

The wind be carrying quite away the mountain crest.


Bright as a heap of flashing gems, there shines

Before thee on the ant-hill, Indra’s bow;

Matched with that dazzling rainbow’s glittering lines,

Thy sombre form shall find its beauties grow,

Like the dark herdsman Vishnu, with peacock-plumes aglow.


The Mala plateau.

The farmers’ wives on Mala’s lofty lea,

Though innocent of all coquettish art,

Will give thee loving glances; for on thee

Depends the fragrant furrow’s fruitful part;

Thence, barely westering, with lightened burden start.


The Mango Peak.

The Mango Peak whose forest fires were laid

By streams of thine, will soothe thy weariness;

In memory of a former service paid,

Even meaner souls spurn not in time of stress

A suppliant friend; a soul so lofty, much the less.


With ripened mango-fruits his margins teem;

And thou, like wetted braids, art blackness quite;

When resting on the mountain, thou wilt seem

Like the dark nipple on Earth’s bosom white,

For mating gods and goddesses a thrilling sight.


The Reva, or Nerbudda River, foaming against the mountain side,

His bowers are sweet to forest maidens ever;

Do thou upon his crest a moment bide,

Then fly, rain-quickened, to the Reva river

Which gaily breaks on Vindhya’s rocky side,

Like painted streaks upon an elephant’s dingy hide.


and flavoured with the ichor which exudes from the temples of elephants during the mating season.

Where thick rose-apples make the current slow,

Refresh thyself from thine exhausted state

With ichor-pungent drops that fragrant flow;

Thou shalt not then to every wind vibrate—

Empty means ever light, and full means added weight.


Spying the madder on the banks, half brown,

Half green with shoots that struggle to the birth,

Nibbling where early plantain-buds hang down,

Scenting the sweet, sweet smell of forest earth,

The deer will trace thy misty track that ends the dearth.


Though thou be pledged to ease my darling’s pain,

Yet I foresee delay on every hill

Where jasmines blow, and where the peacock-train

Cries forth with joyful tears a welcome shrill;

Thy sacrifice is great, but haste thy journey still.


The Dasharna country,

At thine approach, Dasharna land is blest

With hedgerows where gay buds are all aglow,

With village trees alive with many a nest

Abuilding by the old familiar crow,

With lingering swans, with ripe rose-apples’ darker show.


and its capital Vidisha, on the banks of Reed River.

There shalt thou see the royal city, known

Afar, and win the lover’s fee complete,

If thou subdue thy thunders to a tone

Of murmurous gentleness, and taste the sweet,

Love-rippling features of the river at thy feet.


A moment rest on Nichais’ mountain then,

Where madder-bushes don their blossom coat

As thrilling to thy touch; where city men

O’er youth’s unbridled pleasures fondly gloat

In caverns whence the perfumes of gay women float.


Fly on refreshed; and sprinkle buds that fade

On jasmine-vines in gardens wild and rare

By forest rivers; and with loving shade

Caress the flower-girls’ heated faces fair,

Whereon the lotuses droop withering from their hair.


The famous old city of Ujjain, the home of the poet, and dearly beloved by him;

Swerve from thy northern path; for westward rise

The palace balconies thou mayst not slight

In fair Ujjain; and if bewitching eyes

That flutter at thy gleams, should not delight

Thine amorous bosom, useless were thy gift of sight.


and the river, personified as a loving woman, whom the cloud will meet just before he reaches the city.

The neighbouring mountain stream that gliding grants

A glimpse of charms in whirling eddies pursed,

While noisy swans accompany her dance

Like a tinkling zone, will slake thy loving thirst—

A woman always tells her love in gestures first.


Thou only, happy lover! canst repair

The desolation that thine absence made:

Her shrinking current seems the careless hair

That brides deserted wear in single braid,

And dead leaves falling give her face a paler shade.


The city of Ujjain is fully described,

Oh, fine Ujjain! Gem to Avanti given,

Where village ancients tell their tales of mirth

And old romance! Oh, radiant bit of heaven,

Home of a blest celestial band whose worth

Sufficed, though fallen from heaven, to bring down heaven on earth!


Where the river-breeze at dawn, with fragrant gain

From friendly lotus-blossoms, lengthens out

The clear, sweet passion-warbling of the crane,

To cure the women’s languishing, and flout

With a lover’s coaxing all their hesitating doubt.


Enriched with odours through the windows drifting

From perfumed hair, and greeted as a friend

By peacock pets their wings in dances lifting,

On flower-sweet balconies thy labour end,

Where prints of dear pink feet an added glory lend.


especially its famous shrine to Shiva, called Mahakala;

Black as the neck of Shiva, very God,

Dear therefore to his hosts, thou mayest go

To his dread shrine, round which the gardens nod

When breezes rich with lotus-pollen blow

And ointments that the gaily bathing maidens know.


Reaching that temple at another time,

Wait till the sun is lost to human eyes;

For if thou mayest play the part sublime

Of Shiva’s drum at evening sacrifice,

Then hast thou in thy thunders grave a priceless prize.


The women there, whose girdles long have tinkled

In answer to the dance, whose hands yet seize

And wave their fans with lustrous gems besprinkled,

Will feel thine early drops that soothe and please,

And recompense thee from black eyes like clustering bees.


and the black cloud, painted with twilight red, is bidden to serve as a robe for the god, instead of the bloody elephant hide which he commonly wears in his wild dance.

Clothing thyself in twilight’s rose-red glory,

Embrace the dancing Shiva’s tree-like arm;

He will prefer thee to his mantle gory

And spare his grateful goddess-bride’s alarm,

Whose eager gaze will manifest no fear of harm.


After one night of repose in the city,

Where women steal to rendezvous by night

Through darkness that a needle might divide,

Show them the road with lightning-flashes bright

As golden streaks upon the touchstone’s side—

But rain and thunder not, lest they be terrified.


On some rich balcony where sleep the doves,

Through the dark night with thy belovèd stay,

The lightning weary with the sport she loves;

But with the sunrise journey on thy way—

For they that labour for a friend do not delay.


The gallant dries his mistress’ tears that stream

When he returns at dawn to her embrace—

Prevent thou not the sun’s bright-fingered beam

That wipes the tear-dew from the lotus’ face;

His anger else were great, and great were thy disgrace.


The cloud is besought to travel to Deep River.

Thy winsome shadow-soul will surely find

An entrance in Deep River’s current bright,

As thoughts find entrance in a placid mind;

Then let no rudeness of thine own affright

The darting fish that seem her glances lotus-white.


But steal her sombre veil of mist away,

Although her reeds seem hands that clutch the dress

To hide her charms; thou hast no time to stay,

Yet who that once has known a dear caress

Could bear to leave a woman’s unveiled loveliness?


Thence to Holy Peak.

The breeze ’neath which the breathing acre grants

New odours, and the forest figs hang sleek,

With pleasant whistlings drunk by elephants

Through long and hollow trunks, will gently seek

To waft thee onward fragrantly to Holy Peak.


The dwelling-place of Skanda, god of war, the child of Shiva and Gauri, concerning whose birth more than one quaint tale is told.

There change thy form; become a cloud of flowers

With heavenly moisture wet, and pay the meed

Of praise to Skanda with thy blossom showers;

That sun-outshining god is Shiva’s seed,

Fire-born to save the heavenly hosts in direst need.


God Skanda’s peacock—he whose eyeballs shine

By Shiva’s moon, whose flashing fallen plume

The god’s fond mother wears, a gleaming line

Over her ear beside the lotus bloom—

Will dance to thunders echoing in the caverns’ room.


Thence to Skin River, so called because it flowed forth from a mountain of cattle carcasses, offered in sacrifice by the pious emperor Rantideva.

Adore the reed-born god and speed away,

While Siddhas flee, lest rain should put to shame

The lutes which they devoutly love to play;

But pause to glorify the stream whose name

Recalls the sacrificing emperor’s blessèd fame.


Narrow the river seems from heaven’s blue;

And gods above, who see her dainty line

Matched, when thou drinkest, with thy darker hue,

Will think they see a pearly necklace twine

Round Earth, with one great sapphire in its midst ashine.


The province of the Ten Cities.

Beyond, the province of Ten Cities lies

Whose women, charming with their glances rash,

Will view thine image with bright, eager eyes,

Dark eyes that dance beneath the lifted lash,

As when black bees round nodding jasmine-blossoms flash.


The Hallowed Land, where were fought the awful battles of the ancient epic time.

Then veil the Hallowed Land in cloudy shade;

Visit the field where to this very hour

Lie bones that sank beneath the soldier’s blade,

Where Arjuna discharged his arrowy shower

On men, as thou thy rain-jets on the lotus-flower.


In these battles, the hero Balarama, whose weapon was a plough-share, would take no part, because kinsmen of his were fighting in each army. He preferred to spend the time in drinking from the holy river Sarasvati, though little accustomed to any other drink than wine.

Sweet friend, drink where those holy waters shine

Which the plough-bearing hero—loath to fight

His kinsmen—rather drank than sweetest wine

With a loving bride’s reflected eyes alight;

Then, though thy form be black, thine inner soul is bright.


The Ganges River, which originates in heaven. Its fall is broken by the head of Shiva, who stands on the Himalaya Mountains; otherwise the shock would be too great for the earth. But Shiva’s goddess-bride is displeased.

Fly then where Ganges o’er the king of mountains

Falls like a flight of stairs from heaven let down

For the sons of men; she hurls her billowy fountains

Like hands to grasp the moon on Shiva’s crown

And laughs her foamy laugh at Gauri’s jealous frown.


The dark cloud is permitted to mingle with the clear stream of Ganges, as the muddy Jumna River does near the city now called Allahabad.

If thou, like some great elephant of the sky,

Shouldst wish from heaven’s eminence to bend

And taste the crystal stream, her beauties high—

As thy dark shadows with her whiteness blend—

Would be what Jumna’s waters at Prayaga lend.


The magnificent Himalaya range.

Her birth-place is Himalaya’s rocky crest

Whereon the scent of musk is never lost,

For deer rest ever there where thou wilt rest

Sombre against the peak with whiteness glossed,

Like dark earth by the snow-white bull of Shiva tossed.


If, born from friction of the deodars,

A scudding fire should prove the mountain’s bane,

Singeing the tails of yaks with fiery stars,

Quench thou the flame with countless streams of rain—

The great have power that they may soothe distress and pain.


If mountain monsters should assail thy path

With angry leaps that of their object fail,

Only to hurt themselves in helpless wrath,

Scatter the creatures with thy pelting hail—

For who is not despised that strives without avail?


Bend lowly down and move in reverent state

Round Shiva’s foot-print on the rocky plate

With offerings laden by the saintly great;

The sight means heaven as their eternal fate

When death and sin are past, for them that faithful wait.


The breeze is piping on the bamboo-tree;

And choirs of heaven sing in union sweet

O’er demon foe of Shiva’s victory;

If thunders in the caverns drumlike beat,

Then surely Shiva’s symphony will be complete.


The mountain pass called the Swan-gate.

Pass by the wonders of the snowy slope;

Through the Swan-gate, through mountain masses rent

To make his fame a path by Bhrigu’s hope

In long, dark beauty fly, still northward bent,

Like Vishnu’s foot, when he sought the demon’s chastisement.


And at Mount Kailasa, the long journey is ended;

Seek then Kailasa’s hospitable care,

With peaks by magic arms asunder riven,

To whom, as mirror, goddesses repair,

So lotus-bright his summits cloud the heaven,

Like form and substance to God’s daily laughter given.


Like powder black and soft I seem to see

Thine outline on the mountain slope as bright

As new-sawn tusks of stainless ivory;

No eye could wink before as fair a sight

As dark-blue robes upon the Ploughman’s shoulder white.


Should Shiva throw his serpent-ring aside

And give Gauri his hand, go thou before

Upon the mount of joy to be their guide;

Conceal within thee all thy watery store

And seem a terraced stairway to the jewelled floor.


I doubt not that celestial maidens sweet

With pointed bracelet gems will prick thee there

To make of thee a shower-bath in the heat;

Frighten the playful girls if they should dare

To keep thee longer, friend, with thunder’s harshest blare.


Drink where the golden lotus dots the lake;

Serve Indra’s elephant as a veil to hide

His drinking; then the tree of wishing shake,

Whose branches like silk garments flutter wide:

With sports like these, O cloud, enjoy the mountain side.


On this mountain is the city of the Yakshas.

Then, in familiar Alaka find rest,

Down whom the Ganges’ silken river swirls,

Whose towers cling to her mountain lover’s breast,

While clouds adorn her face like glossy curls

And streams of rain like strings of close-inwoven pearls.



The splendid heavenly city Alaka,

Where palaces in much may rival thee—

Their ladies gay, thy lightning’s dazzling powers—

Symphonic drums, thy thunder’s melody—

Their bright mosaic floors, thy silver showers—

Thy rainbow, paintings, and thy height, cloud-licking towers.


Where the flowers which on earth blossom at different seasons, are all found in bloom the year round.

Where the autumn lotus in dear fingers shines,

And lodh-flowers’ April dust on faces rare,

Spring amaranth with winter jasmine twines

In women’s braids, and summer siris fair,

The rainy madder in the parting of their hair.


Here grows the magic tree which yields whatever is desired.

Where men with maids whose charm no blemish mars

Climb to the open crystal balcony

Inlaid with flower-like sparkling of the stars,

And drink the love-wine from the wishing-tree,

And listen to the drums’ deep-thundering dignity.


Where maidens whom the gods would gladly wed

Are fanned by breezes cool with Ganges’ spray

In shadows that the trees of heaven spread;

In golden sands at hunt-the-pearl they play,

Bury their little fists, and draw them void away,


Where lovers’ passion-trembling fingers cling

To silken robes whose sashes flutter wide,

The knots undone; and red-lipped women fling,

Silly with shame, their rouge from side to side,

Hoping in vain the flash of jewelled lamps to hide.


Where, brought to balconies’ palatial tops

By ever-blowing guides, were clouds before

Like thee who spotted paintings with their drops;

Then, touched with guilty fear, were seen no more,

But scattered smoke-like through the lattice’ grated door.


Here are the stones from which drops of water ooze when the moon shines on them.

Where from the moonstones hung in nets of thread

Great drops of water trickle in the night—

When the moon shines clear and thou, O cloud, art fled—

To ease the languors of the women’s plight

Who lie relaxed and tired in love’s embraces tight.


Here are the magic gardens of heaven.

Where lovers, rich with hidden wealth untold,

Wander each day with nymphs for ever young,

Enjoy the wonders that the gardens hold,

The Shining Gardens, where the praise is sung

Of the god of wealth by choirs with love-impassioned tongue.


Where sweet nocturnal journeys are betrayed

At sunrise by the fallen flowers from curls

That fluttered as they stole along afraid,

By leaves, by golden lotuses, by pearls,

By broken necklaces that slipped from winsome girls.


Here the god of love is not seen, because of the presence of his great enemy, Shiva. Yet his absence is not severely felt.

Where the god of love neglects his bee-strung bow,

Since Shiva’s friendship decks Kubera’s reign;

His task is done by clever maids, for lo!

Their frowning missile glances, darting plain

At lover-targets, never pass the mark in vain.


Here the goddesses have all needful ornaments. For the Mine of Sentiment declares: “Women everywhere have four kinds of ornaments—hair-ornaments, jewels, clothes, cosmetics; anything else is local.”

Where the wishing-tree yields all that might enhance

The loveliness of maidens young and sweet:

Bright garments, wine that teaches eyes to dance,

And flowering twigs, and rarest gems discrete,

And lac-dye fit to stain their pretty lotus-feet.


And here is the home of the unhappy Yaksha,

There, northward from the master’s palace, see

Our home, whose rainbow-gateway shines afar;

And near it grows a little coral-tree,

Bending ’neath many a blossom’s clustered star,

Loved by my bride as children of adoption are.


With its artificial pool;

A pool is near, to which an emerald stair

Leads down, with blooming lotuses of gold

Whose stalks are polished beryl; resting there,

The wistful swans are glad when they behold

Thine image, and forget the lake they loved of old.


Its hill of sport, girdled by bright hedges, like the dark cloud girdled by the lightning;

And on the bank, a sapphire-crested hill

Round which the golden plantain-hedges fit;

She loves the spot; and while I marvel still

At thee, my friend, as flashing lightnings flit

About thine edge, with restless rapture I remember it.


Its two favourite trees, which will not blossom while their mistress is grieving;

The ashoka-tree, with sweetly dancing lines,

The favourite bakul-tree, are near the bower

Of amaranth-engirdled jasmine-vines;

Like me, they wait to feel the winning power

Of her persuasion, ere they blossom into flower.


Its tame peacock.

A golden pole is set between the pair,

With crystal perch above its emerald bands

As green as young bamboo; at sunset there

Thy friend, the blue-necked peacock, rises, stands,

And dances when she claps her bracelet-tinkling hands.


Its painted emblems of the god of wealth.

These are the signs—recall them o’er and o’er.

My clever friend—by which the house is known.

And the Conch and Lotus painted by the door:

Alas! when I am far, the charm is gone—

The lotus’ loveliness is lost with set of sun.


Small as the elephant cub thou must become

For easy entrance; rest where gems enhance

The glory of the hill beside my home,

And peep into the house with lightning-glance.

But make its brightness dim as fireflies’ twinkling dance.


The Yaksha’s bride.

The supremest woman from God’s workshop gone—

Young, slender; little teeth and red, red lips,

Slight waist and gentle eyes of timid fawn,

An idly graceful movement, generous hips,

Fair bosom into which the sloping shoulder slips—


Like a bird that mourns her absent mate anew

Passing these heavy days in longings keen,

My girlish wife whose words are sweet and few,

My second life, shall there of thee be seen—

But changed like winter-blighted lotus-blooms, I ween.


Her eyes are swol’n with tears that stream unchidden;

Her lips turn pale with sorrow’s burning sighs;

The face that rests upon her hand is hidden

By hanging curls, as when the glory dies

Of the suffering moon pursued by thee through nightly skies.


The passion of love passes through ten stages, eight of which are suggested in this stanza and the stanzas which follow. The first stage is not indicated; it is called Exchange of Glances.

Thou first wilt see her when she seeks relief

In worship; or, half fancying, half recalling,

She draws mine image worn by absent grief;

Or asks the cagèd, sweetly-singing starling:

“Do you remember, dear, our lord? You were his darling.”


In this stanza and the preceding one is suggested the second stage: Wistfulness.

Or holds a lute on her neglected skirt,

And tries to sing of me, and tries in vain;

For she dries the tear-wet string with hands inert,

And e’er begins, and c’er forgets again,

Though she herself composed it once, the loving strain.


Here is suggested the third stage: Desire.

Or counts the months of absence yet remaining

With flowers laid near the threshold on the floor,

Or tastes the bliss of hours when love was gaining

The memories recollected o’er and o’er—

A woman’s comforts when her lonely heart is sore.


Here is suggested the fourth stage: Wakefulness.

Such daytime labours doubtless ease the ache

Which doubly hurts her in the helpless dark;

With news from me a keener joy to wake,

Stand by her window in the night, and mark

My sleepless darling on her pallet hard and stark.


Here is suggested the fifth stage: Emaciation.

Resting one side upon that widowed bed,

Like the slender moon upon the Eastern height,

So slender she, now worn with anguish dread,

Passing with stifling tears the long, sad night

Which, spent in love with me, seemed but a moment’s flight.


Here is suggested the sixth stage: Loss of Interest in Ordinary Pleasures.

On the cool, sweet moon that through the lattice flashes

She looks with the old delight, then turns away

And veils her eyes with water-weighted lashes,

Sad as the flower that blooms in sunlight gay,

But cannot wake nor slumber on a cloudy day.


Here is suggested the seventh stage: Loss of Youthful Bashfulness.

One unanointed curl still frets her cheek

When tossed by sighs that burn her blossom-lip;

And still she yearns, and still her yearnings seek

That we might be united though in sleep—

Ah! Happy dreams come not to brides that ever weep.


Here is suggested the eighth stage: Absent-mindedness. For if she were not absent-minded, she would arrange the braid so as not to be annoyed by it.

Her single tight-bound braid she pushes oft—

With a hand uncared for in her lonely madness—

So rough it seems, from the cheek that is so soft:

That braid ungarlanded since the first day’s sadness,

Which I shall loose again when troubles end in gladness.


Here is suggested the ninth stage: Prostration. The tenth stage, Death, is not suggested.

The delicate body, weak and suffering,

Quite unadorned and tossing to and fro

In oft-renewing wretchedness, will wring

Even from thee a raindrop-tear, I know—

Soft breasts like thine are pitiful to others’ woe.


I know her bosom full of love for me,

And therefore fancy how her soul doth grieve

In this our first divorce; it cannot be

Self-flattery that idle boastings weave—

Soon shalt thou see it all, and seeing, shalt believe.


Quivering of the eyelids

Her hanging hair prevents the twinkling shine

Of fawn-eyes that forget their glances sly,

Lost to the friendly aid of rouge and wine—

Yet the eyelids quiver when thou drawest nigh

As water-lilies do when fish go scurrying by.


The trembling of the limbs are omens of speedy union with the beloved.

And limbs that thrill to thee thy welcome prove,

Limbs fair as stems in some rich plantain-bower,

No longer showing marks of my rough love,

Robbed of their cooling pearls by fatal power,

The limbs which I was wont to soothe in passion’s hour.


But if she should be lost in happy sleep,

Wait, bear with her, grant her but three hours’ grace,

And thunder not, O cloud, but let her keep

The dreaming vision of her lover’s face—

Loose not too soon the imagined knot of that embrace.


As thou wouldst wake the jasmine’s budding wonder,

Wake her with breezes blowing mistily;

Conceal thy lightnings, and with words of thunder

Speak boldly, though she answer haughtily

With eyes that fasten on the lattice and on thee.


The cloud is instructed how to announce himself

“Thou art no widow; for thy husband’s friend

Is come to tell thee what himself did say—

A cloud with low, sweet thunder-tones that send

All weary wanderers hastening on their way,

Eager to loose the braids of wives that lonely stay.”


in such a way as to win the favour of his auditor.

Say this, and she will welcome thee indeed,

Sweet friend, with a yearning heart’s tumultuous beating

And joy-uplifted eyes; and she will heed

The after message: such a friendly greeting

Is hardly less to woman’s heart than lovers’ meeting.


The message itself.

Thus too, my king, I pray of thee to speak,

Remembering kindness is its own reward;

“Thy lover lives, and from the holy peak

Asks if these absent days good health afford—

Those born to pain must ever use this opening word.


With body worn as thine, with pain as deep,

With tears and ceaseless longings answering thine,

With sighs more burning than the sighs that keep

Thy lips ascorch—doomed far from thee to pine,

He too doth weave the fancies that thy soul entwine.


He used to love, when women friends were near,

To whisper things he might have said aloud

That he might touch thy face and kiss thine ear;

Unheard and even unseen, no longer proud,

He now must send this yearning message by a cloud.


According to the treatise called “Virtue’s Banner,” a lover has four solaces in separation: first, looking at objects that remind him of her he loves;

‘I see thy limbs in graceful-creeping vines,

Thy glances in the eyes of gentle deer,

Thine eyebrows in the ripple’s dancing lines,

Thy locks in plumes, thy face in moonlight clear—

Ah, jealous! But the whole sweet image is not here.


second, painting a picture of her;

And when I paint that loving jealousy

With chalk upon the rock, and my caress

As at thy feet I lie, I cannot see

Through tears that to mine eyes unbidden press—

So stern a fate denies a painted happiness.


third, dreaming of her;

And when I toss mine arms to clasp thee tight,

Mine own though but in visions of a dream—

They who behold the oft-repeated sight,

The kind divinities of wood and stream,

Let fall great pearly tears that on the blossoms gleam.


fourth, touching something which she has touched.

Himalaya’s breeze blows gently from the north,

Unsheathing twigs upon the deodar

And sweet with sap that it entices forth—

I embrace it lovingly; it came so far,

Perhaps it touched thee first, my life’s unchanging star!


Oh, might the long, long night seem short to me!

Oh, might the day his hourly tortures hide!

Such longings for the things that cannot be,

Consume my helpless heart, sweet-glancing bride,

In burning agonies of absence from thy side.


The bride is besought not to lose heart at hearing of her lover’s wretchedness,

Yet much reflection, dearest, makes me strong,

Strong with an inner strength; nor shouldst thou feel

Despair at what has come to us of wrong;

Who has unending woe or lasting weal?

Our fates move up and down upon a circling wheel.


and to remember that the curse has its appointed end, when the rainy season is over and the year of exile fulfilled. Vishnu spends the rainy months in sleep upon the back of the cosmic serpent Shesha.

When Vishnu rises from his serpent bed

The curse is ended; close thine eyelids tight

And wait till only four months more are sped;

Then we shall taste each long-desired delight

Through nights that the full autumn moon illumines bright.


Then is added a secret which, as it could not possibly be known to a third person, assures her that the cloud is a true messenger.

And one thing more: thou layest once asleep,

Clasping my neck, then wakening with a scream;

And when I wondered why, thou couldst but weep

A while, and then a smile began to beam:

“Rogue! Rogue! I saw thee with another girl in dream.”


This memory shows me cheerful, gentle wife;

Then let no gossip thy suspicions move:

They say the affections strangely forfeit life

In separation, but in truth they prove

Toward the absent dear, a growing bulk of tenderest love.’ ”


The Yaksha then begs the cloud to return with a message of comfort,

Console her patient heart, to breaking full

In our first separation; having spoken,

Fly from the mountain ploughed by Shiva’s bull;

Make strong with message and with tender token

My life, so easily, like morning jasmines, broken.


I hope, sweet friend, thou grantest all my suit,

Nor read refusal in thy solemn air;

When thirsty birds complain, thou givest mute

The rain from heaven: such simple hearts are rare,

Whose only answer is fulfilment of the prayer.


and dismisses him, with a prayer for his welfare.

Thus, though I pray unworthy, answer me

For friendship’s sake, or pity’s, magnified

By the sight of my distress; then wander free

In rainy loveliness, and ne’er abide

One moment’s separation from thy lightning bride.


The Temple press Letchworth England

[1 ]These verses are translated on pp. 123, 124.

[2 ]The passage will be found on pp. 190-192.

[1 ]This matter is more fully discussed in the introduction to my translation of The Little Clay Cart (1905).

[1 ]Lévi, Le Théâtre Indien, p. 163.

[1 ]The Hindu equivalent of “for better, for worse.”

[1 ]Le Théâtre Indien, pages 368-371. This is without competition the best work in which any part of the Sanskrit literature has been treated, combining erudition, imagination, and taste. The book is itself literature of a high order. The passage is unfortunately too long to be quoted entire.

[1 ]If a king aspired to the title of emperor, or king of kings, he was at liberty to celebrate the horse-sacrifice. A horse was set free to wander at will for a year, and was escorted by a band of noble youths who were not permitted to interfere with his movements. If the horse wandered into the territory of another king, such king must either submit to be the vassal of the horse’s owner, or must fight him. If the owner of the horse received the submission, with or without fighting, of all the kings into whose territories the horse wandered during the year of freedom, he offered the horse in sacrifice and assumed the imperial title.

[1 ]This is not the place to discuss the many interesting questions of geography and ethnology suggested by the fourth canto. But it is important to notice that Kalidasa had at least superficial knowledge of the entire Indian peninsula and of certain outlying regions.

[2 ]A girl of the warrior caste had the privilege of choosing her husband. The procedure was this. All the eligible youths of the neighbourhood were invited to her house, and were lavishly entertained. On the appointed day, they assembled in a hall of the palace, and the maiden entered with a garland in her hand. The suitors were presented to her with some account of their claims upon her attention, after which she threw the garland around the neck of him whom she preferred.

[1 ]See footnote, p. 128.