There was a great, great, great poet of ancient India named Kalidasa. As in English literature the author Shakespeare is an immortal figure, even so, in the firmament of Indian literature, Kalidasa is definitely an immortal figure. He wrote his plays and poems in Sanskrit. His most beloved epic poem is Megha Dutam, the cloud-messenger.
Kalidasa lived during the reign of a good, kind, benevolent and powerful king named Vikramaditya. To encourage inspiring, illumining and divine activities in his court, he appointed nine extraordinary figures, who were known as navaratna, the nine gems. They were experts in various fields, such as medicine, astronomy, painting and so on. Kalidasa happened to be one of those nine gems. He was the asthana kavi, the poet of the royal court.
This is the story of how Kalidasa became a great poet. When he was still a young man, there lived a king who had a very beautiful daughter. She was extremely well versed in the scriptures. Unfortunately, pride very successfully entered into her mind and she declared that she would marry only the person who could defeat her in philosophical or spiritual argument. Many, many pundits and great Sanskrit scholars who knew Indian scriptures accepted her challenge. But, to their extreme sorrow, one by one they were all defeated and badly humiliated. The disappointed suitors wanted to find a way to retaliate against the princess for their humiliation, but no matter how hard they tried they could not succeed.
One day, four of these pundits happened to be in a tiny village when they saw a young shepherd. The shepherd was unclean and untidy; his face appeared to be dull, to say the least. When they first saw him, he was sitting on a branch of a tree, enjoying some fruits. At the same time, he was chopping off the very branch on which he was sitting!
A brilliant idea flashed across the foreheads of those pundits. They said, “We shall play a trick on the princess and get even with her by bringing her this shepherd and pretending that he is the greatest scholar. Who knows, perhaps this unparalleled idiot will even defeat the princess in argument.”
So they brought him down from the tree, helped him to take a bath, gave him most delicious food and put nice clothes and a turban on him. Now he looked like a real pundit. Then they escorted him to the city and advised him: “You have to keep absolutely silent, for we are going to take you to the princess.”
The young man got frightened: “The princess? What for?”
They told him, “So that you will be able to defeat her in argument and marry her.”
On the one hand, the poor shepherd was frightened to death; on the other hand, he was tempted. He was ready to go and defeat the princess in argument. The pundits told him, “Whenever the princess asks you a question, only answer with gestures — by raising your hands and fingers.”
When the shepherd and the pundits entered the palace, they told the princess that the shepherd was a great saint who had taken a vow of silence. When the princess asked him her first question, she pointed one finger at him. The shepherd knew nothing, but since she had shown him one finger, it came to him to show her two fingers in reply. Then the pundits gave a wonderful explanation of what his gesture meant. Like that, she asked him many questions, and whatever came to this idiot’s mind, with his fingers he answered. Then the clever pundits gave super-excellent explanations. The princess was highly pleased with the shepherd and his answers, and she said, “I am now prepared to marry this great scholar.” The pundits also received generous rewards from the princess for bringing such a great scholar to her.
So the princess and the young man got married. Oh God, hardly two hours had elapsed before she came to discover that this fellow was the worst possible fool in God’s entire creation! When he started talking, nothing made any sense. She was miserable that she had been fooled by the pundits, but what could she do? She said to her new husband, “I will keep you as my husband provided that you listen to my request. Otherwise, I am going to throw you out of my palace.”
He said fearfully, “Yes, I will listen to you.”
She told him to go to the Mother Kali temple that very evening and bolt the door from the inside. Then he had to pray to Mother Kali. When Mother Kali knocked at the door, he had to tell Her that he would allow Her to come in only if She agreed to bless him and make him a great scholar.
The young man obeyed his wife. He went to the Mother Kali temple and bolted the door from the inside. Then he started praying most devotedly. After a few hours, Mother Kali came and knocked at the door. As he was opening the door for Her, he said, “Mother, Mother, I will let You in only if You bless me. Otherwise, I will not allow You to come inside.”
Seeing his sincerity, Mother Kali looked at him and poured all Her Compassion into him. She said, “Open your mouth and show Me your tongue.” When he did so, She wrote down on his tongue an esoteric mantra — something most sacred and secret. Immediately, he was endowed with divine gifts: he became very cultured; he was able to speak Sanskrit fluently and he started composing poems.
When he returned home later that night, his wife was so pleased with his transformation. To her greatest joy, he had become a great scholar and poet overnight. The two lived very happily together. The young man became known as Kalidasa. ‘Dasa’ means slave or servant. He received wisdom-light from Mother Kali; that is why his name was Kalidasa — the servant of Mother Kali.