The Academy: In the garden of the Kalidasa Akademi in Ujjain, we found a sculpture of Kavi Kulguru Kalidasa seated under a dark cloud—a representation from his elegiac poem Meghdoot. Inside this cultural organization, dedicated to the life and works of the famous Sankrit poet and dramatist Kalidasa, are sculptures inspired by his literary masterpieces, and seminar rooms named after them.
The Memorial: Visit the memorial to king Vikramaditya, at Vikram Teela, just off Harsiddhi Road. Called Singhasan Batteesi, it recreates Raja Vikramaditya’s court with him seated on his fabled throne, surrounded by the Navaratnas (Nine Jewels), chief among them Kalidasa.
Barring these sculptures, you’ll find no visible traces of the poet and playwright’s legacy in Ujjain.
The Legend: According to folklore, Kalidasa wasn’t always so talented. He was good looking, but a complete dunce. When some wise men saw him sitting on the wrong end of the branch of a tree while trying to saw it off, they conspired that he was the perfect match to teach the haughty princess Vidyottama a lesson. She took great pride in her intellect and vowed she would only marry someone who could defeat her in shastrartha (scholastic debate). Kalidasa was presented as a learned man who had undertaken a maun vrata (vow of silence) and would communicate only using sign language. During their exchange, the princess showed him one finger (to mean shakti is one). He thought she meant to poke his eye out, so he showed her two fingers to indicate he would poke both her eyes out. The wise men interpreted his response to mean shakti is the reflection of duality. Vidyottama then showed him her outstretched palm, to indicate the world is made of five elements. He thought she was going to slap him, and responded by showing his fist. She accepted it as a response that the five elements constitute the whole body.
The two were married, but soon after, the princess realized the truth and threw him out. Distraught, he came to the temple of Kali in Ujjain and offered to cut off his infernal tongue as a sacrifice. The goddess was appeased and granted him profound wisdom, and he took on the name Kalidasa (servant of Kali). When he returned home, Vidyottama asked in chaste Sanskrit “Asti kashchit vaag-vishesha” (Do you have anything special to say?). In response, Kalidasa is said to have used her words to write three poems of exceptional literary beauty. He began his epic poem Kumarasambhava with the words “asti-uttarasyaam dishi”. The lyrical poem Meghdoot began with“kashchit-kaantaa” and“vaag arthaaviva” were the opening words of Raghuvamsa.
The Temple: It is believed that Ujjain’s Gadhkalika Mandir is the same Kali temple frequented by Kalidasa, and renovated by Emperor Harshavardhan in 606 A.D. Local students often come here to pray, hoping the goddess will bless them with intellect and wisdom, or at the very least with good marks in their exams.
We reached in time for the afternoon arti, but could not locate Kalidasa’s legendary tree. However, the ardour of Kali’s devotees is clearly still the same across the centuries.
Kalidasa Sanskrit Akademi
Address: Kothi Road, University Road, Ujjain.
Tel: 0734 2515404
Hours: 11 a.m.- 5p.m.
Festive time: Kalidasa Akademi organizes Akhil Bhartiya Kalidas Samaroh, a week-long festival of plays, performances, seminars, and lectures in Ujjain on Kartika Shukla Ekadashi (sometime in Oct-Nov).
Address: 118 Garh Kalika Marg, Janki Nagar, Urdupura, Ujjain.
Hours: 6 a.m.–9 p.m.
Address: Harsiddhi Marg, Jaisinghpura, Ujjain.
Hours: 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
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