Kalidasa was one of the most famous among the ancient Sanskrit poets. His works, especially, the play called “Abhijnana Sakuntalam” is world renowned. He became famous after he wrote the great poem “the dynasty of Raghu (Raghu Vamsam)”.
Kalidsa shines in several aspects of poetry. His narrations of nature are superb. Probably, he is best known for his similes.
Simile comes so naturally to him that there is one in almost every stanza in Raghuvamsam. Almost all of them can be quoted for their beauty and imagination. But, the one which earned him the adjective of “torchlight (deepaSikha) Kalidasa” is the most famous.
The wedding of princess Indumati
The poem starts the narration of kings in the dynasty in Raghuvamsam with king Dileepa. His son was named Aja. He was one of the invitees at the time of the wedding of the princess Indumati of Vidarbha. As was the common practice in those days among the royals, Indumati could make her free will (Swayamvara), while choosing a prince from those assembled as her groom.
The arrangement used to be to seat the invited kings on suitable thrones around a marriage hall. The princess, then, would be taken around by her friends. As the party neared a particular king the friends of the bride would go into the qualities of the prospective groom. They would narrate the history of the dynasty with details of some famous kings in that. They, then, would go into the merits, including the wars won, of the prospective groom.
The king on his part would have already known about the beauty and other accomplishments of the bride. Naturally, each among those assembled would have lost his heart for the princess. As the procession leading the princess in front approached a king even from a distance, his face would light up with expectation. The nearer the princess came the brighter would be the face of the king. If the princess rejected him and proceeded ahead without placing the garland of acceptance around his neck, his face would naturally fall. This mood is what is described in the following four lines by Kalidasa.
“sancaariNee deepaSikhaiva raatrou
yam yam vyateeyaaya patimvaraa saa
narendra margaatta iva prapede
vivarNabhaavam sa sa bhoomipaalah”
Moving like a torch light at night, she (Indumati), that suitor of a husband, (the face of ) each (king) whom she left behind and went ahead, like a house along the royal arcade (on the approach of the burning torch), turned bleak. (The face brightening up earlier on her approach is thereby implied)
The simile was so acclaimed that Kalidasa became famous as “deepasikhaa Kalidasa” or Kalidasa of Deepasikha fame.