There is no two views on the fact that the legendary fourth century poet of India, Kalidasa brilliantly epitomised Indian poetry besides dominating it almost comprehensively. The big question is how could he possibly make a lasting impact on the minds of the Western creative writers and dramatists? Or has his works been successful in realising this as claimed by many an Indian arts-pundit?
To have an insight into this context, a description of some of India’s presents to the world cited by the great Indian seer, Swami Vivekanada might come handy. According to him, the Indian epics, poems and drama in the field of literature were ranked high as those of any other language of the world. For instance, he points to the summarisation of Kalidasa’s Shakunthala as heaven and earth united by the greatest poet of Germany. There is hardly a better testimony for the impression Kalidasa has created on the Western creative writers with his works.
American historian and philosopher Will Durant’s highlighting of Sakunthala’s impact on the West came as he addressed the need of a profounder study of the culture of India in The Story of Civilisation: Our Oriental Heritage. However, the most exciting piece comes from Alexander Von Humboldt, the nineteenth century German naturalist and statesman, who has written on the poetry of India. The German technocrat observes that Kalidas is a master describer of nature’s influence on the lovers’ minds; with his tenderness in expressing feeling and sumptuousness of creative fancy has earned a lofty place among the world poets.
Abhijnana Shakunthala of Kalidasa became the first Sanskrit drama to be translated into any European language. This was performed by Sir William Jones in 1789. This occurrence turned out to be the display of a sample of India’s gems of Hindu drama, to an admiring European literary world. His first translation of the drama had been completed in Latin by Jones, although it was rendered word for word in English later on particularly by not suppressing even one material sentence. He had also freed it from the severity of a foreign idiom ideal for a faithful translation.
Jones’ translation of Shakunthala into English came as Shakunthala or the Fatal Ring. Within one decisive decade, Jones shot to international fame as Shakunthala’s translator. Jones’ translation inspired many more of a European writer to follow suit. It was the turn of the Germans now, followed by Italians, French and the Danes. Five times had Shakunthala been reprinted in England during the last decade of eighteenth century and the first of the nineteenth. It is also noteworthy that it appeared after Jones’ momentous translation in forty six translations in as wide as twelve European languages.
Exhorted by the success of his first effort, Jones marched on to translate another Kalidasa gem in 1792 – Rithusamhara. The title given to the English version was, The Seasons, A Descriptive Poem, as he had it published from Calcutta. It is understood that a legendary literary figure of Europe among others that was impressed much by Jones’ Shakunthala had been Percy Bysshe Shelly. The buck seldom stops here as more men of creative words including Robert Southey, Thomas Moore and Alfred Tennyson joined the juggernaut along with some more English poets of the nineteenth century such as Marie ED Meester.
1855 was an eventful year as far as the Kalidasa-Western literature link was concerned. Sir Monier Monier-Williams, the famous Sanskrit lexicographer, presented the English public with his free translation of Shakunthala. A second edition followed in 1876 and the gentleman who had long back come under Sankrit’s eternal charm wrote in his introduction:
“The most celebrated drama of the great Indian Shakespeare. The need felt by the British public for such a translation as I have here offered the most popular of the Indian dramas, in which the customs of the Hindus, their opinions, prejudices, and fables; their religious rites, daily occupations, and amusements are reflected as in a mirror”
Germany saw a deluge of Kalidasa works during the 1970s. That was the time when Oriental research was established in Weimar, Jena, Bonn, Berlin, Tubingen and Heidelberg. This helped to a great extent in-depth studies of translations of works such as Sakunthala, Gita Govinda and the Laws of Manu; igniting in the process an ardent intensity for the subject in receptive German minds. These works gained for the German minds that tended to venture into them, a sense of exaltation owing to their contact with the original and universal Indian religion. Incidentally, Shakunthala also became the first work to influence the curiosity of Johan Gottfried von Herder with far reaching effects.
(to be continued…….)