Saturday 5 January 2013

When Kalidasa was not offered a seat

It was sometime around 385 AD and Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the Emperor of  the Gupta Empire, had just got his favourite daughter Prabhavathi married to the Vakataka king Rudrasena the second. The Gupta empire practically stretched the whole of north India and extended upto Gujarat.
Chandragupta was holding court in Ujjian and among those in the court were Kalidasa, the poet, Varahimitra the astronomer and seven other gems-part of the Navaratna.
Chandragupta had been hearing about the rise of the Kadambas of Banavasi. The Kadambas had taken on the mighty Pallavas and managed to wrest control of coastal and south Karnataka from them. Mayurasharma, the founder of the Kadambas, had built the first Kannada kingdom with Banavasi as its capital
Chandragupta who has ascended the Gupta kingdom in 375 AD had been keenly following the fate of other kingdoms in India and among them was the Kadambas. His interest was not misplaced. A keen judge of men and events, Chandragupta had already seen two Kadamba kings-Kangavarma and Bhagitara consolidate their empire.
Kanga Varma in 365 AD had fought  the Vakatas but had been defeated. By its King Prithvisena. Yet, he had managed to safeguard the kingdom. His son Bhagitara had retrieved his fathers losses.
Chandragupta was not only a warrior par excellence but also a shrewd political scientist. He knew the advantage of  winning over allies and offering the hand of friendship. But what better way to seal the friendship than by entering into matrimonial alliances.
Chandragupta got the support of the powerful Vakatakas by giving his daughter in marriage to its King Rudresena. He thus had safeguarded the western border of his province.
Now, Chandragupta turned his attention to the south where he found the Kadambas equal in bravery and thought it best to seal a matrimonial alliance with them. Like the Guptas, the Kadambas were Brahmins and, hence, Chandragupta thought it fit to send an ambassador to call on the Kadamba King.
Chandragupta then sent a team of high-tanking officers to the Kadamba Kingdom under his favourite Navaratna-Kaviratna Kalidasa.
Though the name of the Kadamba King who received Kalidasa is not very clear, it should be either Bhagitara or Kakustha Varma. When Kalidasa first saw Banavasi, he fell in love with the beautiful city and described it in his magnum opus Meghadoota.
Locals of Banavasi will tell you that Kalidasa was captivated by the beauty of a forest which is now called Pampa Vana and he has give a graphic account of it in Meghadoota. (The Pampa Vana exists even today and it is a sight to behold)
The serene river of Varada which flows around Banavasi and the many temples of Banavasi, its trees and grooves gave a lot of pleasure to Kalidasa.
Kalidasa also visited Gokarna and prayed at the famous temple. He mentions the “Lord of Gokarna” in another of his later work called Raghuvamsha.
However, a major shock awaited Kalidasa when he called on the Kadamba King. He found the King seated on a throne. When Kalidasa presented his credentials, the King accepted them gracefully but he did not offer him a seat.
The Kadamba King asked Kalidasa to be seated on the ground. The King thus showed Kalidasa that he was the master of his land and that he could not be cowed down by anybody.
Kalidasa ruefully sat down on the ground and interacted with the Kadamba King while the rest of his team stood around, shuffling uncomfortably. Historians view this act as one of assertion by the Kadambas who considered themselves equal to the imperial Guptas.
A contemporary Sanskrit work, “Aichitya Vichara Charcha” by Kshemendra quotes portions of  Kunthalesvara Dautya by Kalidasa where he describes his visit to the Kadamba kingdom as an ambassador where he was not offered a seat in the court of the Kadamba king and had to sit on the ground.
The Sanksrit poet Hemachandra also mentions about Kalidasa not having been honored with a seat by the Kadamba King. Another reference to Kalidasa’s  visit to Banavasi is by Bhoja Raja in his work Sringaraprakasika.    
All we know is that Chandragupta did not marry any Kadamba Princess but he got one for his grandson, Skanda Gupta. The immediate successor to the Kadamba throne after Raghu was his brother Kakusthavarma.
Kakusthaverma is described as the most ferocious and powerful ruler of the kingdom. He maintained marital relations with even the imperial Guptas, according to the Talagunda inscription.
One of his daughters was married to Kumara Gupta's son Skanda Gupta, while another daughter was married to the Vakataka king Narendrasena.
Kalidasa is supposed to have visited Banavasi during the reign of Kakasthavarma. Whatever be the name of the king, one thing is sure. Kalidasa was not offered a seat and he ruefully said he sat on a permanent throne (earth) which would never unseat him. 
The Guptas forged an alliance with both the Kadambas and Vakatakas and the three were a formidable force in ancient India.

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