Kalidasa is generally considered to be the greatest Indian (more specifically, Sanskrit) dramatist who ever lived. Not much is known about his life, but we do do know that he lived between 170 BC and 634 AD. 'Kalidasa' means 'slave of Kali', and indeed legend has it that the poet was a devoted worshipper of Kali. Legend also has it that Kalidasa was noticed by a princess who married him because of his incredible beauty.

However, the princess soon became ashamed of the low-born Kalidasa, who appeared ignorant and coarse. Kalidasa prayed to his goddess for help, and was rewarded by a gift of sudden and extraordinary wit. He became a poet and a playwright, although only three of his plays have survived.

His first play, Malavika and Agnimitra, tells of a King, Agnimitra, who falls in love with a slave girl named Malavika. However, Malavika is imprisoned when the queen finds out about the affair. But Malavika is in fact a true-born princess and Agnimitra marries her. This story seems to based on real events.

His second play, Urvashi Conquered by Valor, is a very mystical story. A king, Purvanas falls in love with a celestial nymph named Urvashi. After writing him a love letter on a birch leaf, Urvashi returns to the heavens to perform in a play. Unfortunately, she is so besotted with Purvanas that she forgets her lines and says her suitor's name during the performance. For this crime, she is banished from the heavens until her mortal lover sees the child she will bear him, at which point she is cursed to return to the heavens. However, after a humorous sequence of events, such as the nymph's transformation into a vine, the curse is lifted and the lovers stay together on Earth. The play has drawn comparisons to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Kalidasa's masterpiece was Shakuntala, a tale of a king, Dushyanta, falling in love with a low-born slave girl, Shakuntala. The couple is happily married, and life seems idyllic until Shakuntala unintentionally offends a saint, who puts a curse on her removing all memory of Shakuntala from Dushyanta's mind. The saint then concedes that her lover's memory will return -- if Shakuntala returns a ring that he gave to her as a gift. But the ring is lost while the young girl is bathing, and all seems lost when she discovers that she is pregnant. But a fisherman finds the ring and once again, true love prevails. Shakuntala is noted for its beautiful love poetry and gentle humour that suffuses the play from beginning to end.

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