Elements of Śaivism in Kālidāsa’s works

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Kālidāsa, the master poet has been widely acclaimed to have suggestively and poetically reflected the quintessence of ancient Indian tradition.

Aurobindo says “Vālmīki, Vyāsa and Kālidāsa are the essence of the history of ancient India, if all else were lost, they would still be its sole and sufficient cultural history.” It is but natural that poet of genius reflect or reproduce a vast spectrum of ideas – of variegated levels like philosophical, speculative, cultural and so on. In that sense, Kālidāsa was a poet, par-excellence. To quote Aurobindo’s own words.

“He himself must have been a man gifted with all the learning of his age, rich, aristocratic, moving wholly in high society, familiar with and fond of life in the most luxurious metropolis of his time, passionately attached to the arts, acquainted with the sciences, deep in law and learning, versed in he formalized philosophies .” 

The so-called Indian tradition has been influenced by many streams – vedic, tāntric, āgamic, purānic and even pre-aryan and folk elements. The poetic world having this external world as its material cause, naturally is removed from this real world, as has been noted by eminent thinkers. Hence it will be hazardous to jump upon conclusion from the material available in the poetic world. But for a careful researcher, speculations and reflections extracted from the poetic world is a rich source material. As regards Kālidāsa, he represents the vedic tradition and has exercised a strong influence on the later streams of Indian tradition. Here in this paper a humble attempt is been made to find out and analyze elements of Śaivic tradition in the world of Kālidāsa.

Popular tales, myths and legends, which prima facie seem to be trivial, from an academic point of view, actually assume importance, if we care to interpret them properly. Myths are not merely an exaggerated version of fairy tales but they provide certain symbols that constitute a royal path to collective unconscious realm of a civilization. Psychologists propose that mythological concepts give birth to archetypes and such archetypes have been engraved in the human minds right from the beginning of the evolution. Kālidāsa through his works excellently reinterpreted the mythical symbols and unfolded hitherto unseen realms of creative imaginations.

Sanskrit rhetoricians of ancient times unanimously declared that visionaries with a penetrating insights can only be poets. Though we have umpteen poets of the kind, what distinguished Kālidāsa from others is that his extraordinary creative speculations.

Ḳsemarāja, a 11th century Kashmirian scholar had pointed out that even in the ancient times the works of Kālidāsa were included with Purānas and Dharmaśāstras in curriculum.

पठेत् समस्तान् किल कालिदास- 

Indeed, Kālidāsa had given a new face to Indian culture through his excellent works. A genuine learner of Sanskrit literature can never think of a world without being represented by Kālidāsa.

His proficiency in all streams of Indian wisdom

It is obvious that Kālidāsa left no branch of literature untouched, no mater whether it is vedic or purānic or even tāntric. More than an elaboration of purānic motifs, his works encapsulate some profound vedantic principles which lie scattered throughout his works. Without doubt, a thorough learning of Kālidāsa’s works can sufficiently provide proper grounding in several streams of Indian canonical works.

It will not be wrong if stated that Kālidāsa was Śaiva. But it is very difficult to arrive at a conclusion to which sect of Śaivism he belonged. In ancient Indian tradition, any endeavour, especially academic, begins with a benediction. Kālidāsa begins his Vikramōrvaśīya, Mālavikāgnimitra, Abhijñānaśākuntala and Raghuvamśa with a praise of Śiva.


Satyapal Narang, in his article on ‘Mythological allusions in the works of Kālidāsa, seems to have spent a great deal of energy to show origin of certain epithets and their connection with Pāśupata sect of Śaivism. To fortify his argument he analyzes certain epithets like Pāśupati, Pinākin, Śūlin, Tryambaka, Ardhanārīśvara, Astamūrti, Nīlalōhita, Mahākāla etc. But the fact is that other than the usage of these epithets, no other elements of Pāśupata principles or rites can be seen anywhere in Kālidāsa’s works.

Śaivism and its schools

It is very difficult to determine the early history of Śaivism. The Śvetāśavatara Upanisad (400-200 BCE) is considered to be the earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Śaivism. The earliest historical evidence of Śaivism is from 8,000 year old Indus valley civilization in the form of Paśupati idol seated in yogic posture. In Rāmāyana, Rāma is said to have worshipped Śiva. Rāvana his rival is well known as an ardent devotee of Śiva.


There are six schools of Śaivism. They are:

1. Śaiva Sidhānta

2. Pāśupata Śaivism

3. Kāśmīr Śaivism

4. Vīra Śaivism

5. Siddha Siddhānta

6. Śiva Advaita


Since these schools are firmly based on the Vedas and Āgamas, they have several concepts in common. Some of these are as follows:

1. The five powers of Śiva - creation, preservation, destruction, concealing and grace.

2. The three categories viz. Pati, Paśu Pāśa.

3. The three Malas – Ānava, Kārmika and Māyīya

4. The three-fold powers of Śiva – Icchāśakti, Jñānaśakti and Kriyāśakti 

5. The thirty six tattvas

6. Importance of initiation from a Guru.


Śaiva elements in the works of Kālidāsa

As mentioned earlier, though there are no references of Śaivic principles or rites in Kālidāsa’s works, some elements of Śaivism can be seen scattered in some of his works. Some of such notable elements are as given below. 

I) It is interesting to note that if there is any reference of a temple that is only about the Mahākāla of Ujjain. In Meghadūta, Kālidāsa makes a striking sketch of Mahākala of Ujjain, in the following verses.

अप्यन्यस्मिन् जलधर महाकालमासाद्य काले
स्थातव्यं ते नयनविषयं यावदत्येत्ति भानुः।
कुर्वन् सन्ध्याबलिपटहतां शुलिनः श्लाघनीया-
मामन्द्राणां फलमविकलं लप्स्यसे गर्जितानाम्।।


पश्चादुच्चैर्भुजतरुवनं मण्डलेनाभिलीनः
सान्ध्यं तेजः प्रतिनवजपापुष्परक्तं दधानः
नृत्तारंभे हर पशुपतेरार्द्रानागाजिनेच्छाम् 
शान्तोद्वेगस्तिमितनयनं दृषटभक्तिर्भवान्य़ा।।

Interestingly, we do not find any reference to any other temple.

II) According to Tantric scriptures, the ultimate can be meditated in three forms, i.e. Sthūla (gross), Sūksma (subtle) and Parā (supreme). The great scholor Bhāskararāya Makhin mentions these three forms in his commentary on Lalitāsahasranāma. Commenting upon the passage of Yōgavāsistha, (which he happens to quote contextually)

सामान्यं परमं चेति द्वे रूपे विद्धिमेƒनघ
पाण्यादियुक्तं सामान्यं यत्तु मूढा उपासते।
परं रूपमनाद्यन्तं यन्मैकमनामयं 
ब्रह्मात्मा परमात्मादि शब्देनैतदुदीर्यते ।।

He remarks:

ईदृशप्रकाशविमर्शसामरस्यमापन्नाया देव्यास्त्रीणि रूपाणि स्थूलं सूक्ष्मं परं चेति। 
करचरणादि विशिष्टं स्थूलम्। 
मन्त्रमयं सूक्ष्मम्। वासनामयं परम्। ...................सामान्यं द्विविधं प्रोक्तं स्थूलसूक्ष्मविभेदता इत्यन्यत्रापि।

We can see these three forms of Siva, i.e. Sthūla, Sūksma and Parā in Kālidāsa’s works. Among these the grossest form of Siva is depicted in benedictory verse of Abhijñānaśākuntala as:

या सृष्टिः स्रष्टुराद्या वहति विधिहुतं या हविर्या च होत्री
ये द्वे कालं विधत्तः श्रुतिविषयगुणा या स्थिता व्याप्य विश्वम्।
यामाहुः सर्वभूतप्रकृतिरिति यया प्रणिनः प्राणवन्तः
प्रत्यक्षाभिः प्रपन्नस्तनुभिरवतु वस्ताभिरष्टाभिरीशः।।

In this verse, Śiva is praised in his Astamūrti form which consists of Pañca Bhūtas, sun, moon and Hōtr. It may be noted here that Kālidāsa seems to have used the term Hōtr, elsewhere also repeatedly. By doing so, Kālidāsa, in accordance with vedic tradition brings forth the theory that the inner structure of universe comes into existence as a consequence of rituals or sacrifices. In Rājasūya, there is a symbolic representation of rituals linking the world to the king, where he stands at the centre of the universe. It is upon the king, the natural, social and divine world begets a centre of sustenance and unified structure. In aesthetic experience, the poet is the sacrificing priest (Hōtr) who creates a structure of interrelationships among members of different categories of existence, so that the world emerges as a whole. Kālidāsa adroitly puts forth that the transformation of water, fire, ether, earth and air under the influence of sun, moon and sacrificer are essential for the evolution of the universe with a unified structure.

Related to this, all other epithets seen employed by Kālidāsa, which connotes the physical appearance of Śiva can be included in this category.

The sublte form of Śiva is depicted in the benedictory verse of Raghuvamśa thus;

वागर्थाविव संपृक्तै वागर्थप्रतिपत्तये
जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वतीपरमेश्वरौ।।

The subtle form is explained as Mantramaya. A mantra consists of two aspects viz. word and its meaning. Here Śakti represents the word and Śiva represents the other aspect, its meaning. Both of these inseperable principles illuminate the world. It is mentioned by Dandin as:

इदमन्धं तमः कृत्स्नं जायेत भुवनत्रयम्।
यदि शब्दाह्वयं ज्योतिः आसंसारं न दीप्यते।।

The Parā (supreme) form of Śiva is found in Kumārasambhava, in the description of his deep meditation. The verse runs as follows:

मनो नवद्वारनिषिद्धवृत्तिः 
हृदि व्यवस्थाप्य समाधिवश्यम्।
यमक्षरं क्षोत्रविदो विदुस्त-

Here in the above verse, the pharse " " can be equated with " " principle of Kāśmīr Śaivism. Kāśmīr Śaivism postulates two inseparable aspects of the ultimate reality (Paramaśiva) Prakāśa and Vimarśa. The ultimate is called as Prakāśavimarśamaya. The Prakāśa is conceived to be very much like a mirror. The word Vimarśa stands for that power which gives rise to self consciousness. In brief, Prakāśa is the illuminating aspect of self and Vimarśa implies the self consciousness.

Here in the verse, it is said that Śiva was perceiving his reflection with in himself. Hence this can be taken as a wonderful illustration of the concept that the ultimate is Prakāśavimarśamaya. 

Certainly all the epithets of Śiva used in the works of Kālidāsa can be included in one of these three forms (Sthūla, Sūksma and Parā) Thus, from this short analysis, we can see that a serious and meaningful interpretation of Śaiva elements reflected in Kālidāsian literature would definitely lead to rewarding results.

This Paper was Presented by 
Shri. Ajithan P.I. in a Seminar 
at Vikram University Ujjain , 2008.



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