The Raghuvamsham, the largest of Kalidasa’s work in both scope and size, is not just a
mythological story of Raghu’s dynasty; it is a magnificent edifice of fact, mythology, political
morality and ethics in ancient India. While reading through the poem one marvels at the insight of
Kalidasa – inarguably one of the greatest poets of all times – into diverse fields and issues.
With a modern translation of the same, Raghuvamsham invites you to the world of Raghu and Rama,
Indumati and Sita – a world ruled by principles and ethics.
As with all the writings of Kalidasa, Raghuvamsham is rich in unique poetic images of nature,
sringara, viraha and of moral values. Kalidasa weaves deep religious and ethical issues into the
rich tapestry of the life of several kings of the dynasty.
Rajendra Tandon is a Master of Arts in English literature and a Bachelor of Law. He was a
member of the Indian Revenue Service. He has studied Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Mathematics,
Physics and Law. He takes a keen interest in Indian history, Indian miniature painting, astronomy,
fine arts, Indian and Western classical music and gardening. He lives in Mumbai.
Rama was already worshiped and was a household name when Kalidasa lived and wrote his great poems
and plays. He also had access to the Valmiki Ramayana. So, when he made up his mind to write a
poem on an epic scale, what could have been a better subject than the life and the glorious deeds
of he family of Rama, that is, the Raghuvamsham? He talks of this motivation in the shlokas 5 to 9
of the first canto of the Raghuvamsham.
Kalidasa meticulously planned the architecture of the epic that he was about to write. A mere
recital of the kings’ lives, of their mundane deeds, of the wars they had fought, of territories
they had conquered would not do. He cast a glance around. He was well versed with the lives of the
contemporary kings and queens. He had studied the textbooks available that dealt with rajaniti,
administration of an empire and of justice. He had a sound knowledge of Indian history and
geography. He knew reasonably well about warfare. He was already an accomplished poet of nature,
of shringara, viraha, karuna, vatsalya and other rasas of Sanskrit poetry, drama and literature.
He knew of the Indian seasons intimately. He was one with nature in all its aspects. He was well
versed in Indian mythology. So, Kalidasa decided to put all this knowledge into the writing of the
Raghuvamsham. And how well did he succeed?
Each of the nineteen cantos of the Raghuvamsham takes up a distinct theme for development. Of
course, Kalidasa writes of a king’s administrative policies and acumen several times. But that was
inevitable. He was writing about a dynasty of kings. He wrote of the personal qualities and the
character of quite a few kings, as well. Kalidasa, besides being a realist, was an idealist to the
core. Hence, besides writing about the existing practices like consultation with ministers on all
the important issues of the state, the poet laid emphasis on idealistic choices and desirable
Another remarkable feature of the Raghuvamsham is Kalidasa’s portrayal of the life in hermitages,
descriptions of the modes of travel, highlighting the proximity the rural folk and the hermits
could feel with the king. His detailed accounts of the journeys into the countryside are
illuminating. He does not miss even a pug mark or a bird’s song!
In the Raghuvamsham, Kalidasa takes the reader around India with the armies of Raghu. He describes
in sharp visuals the life of the soldiers on the battlefield and while traveling to their next
destination. He does not overlook the condition of the elephants and of the horses accompanying
the soldiers. He describes in cantos Kalidasa writers of the changing seasons, like vasanta, and
summer. He shows us the life of the kings and their women in private and in public. He writes of a
royal hunt and of fun and games in water, in different seasons, giving us an intimate look at the
modes of recreation among the royals.
In the Raghuvamsham the reader will find erotica as well as sadhana. Human emotions like a
father’s love for his child, a husband’s sense of loss over his wife’s death, and so on, have been
lovingly delineated. The last canto shows the reader a rake’s inevitable progress to his doom.
The epic has fascinating scenes of confrontation between Rama and Ravana, between Rama and
Parshurama and several other characters. There is never a dull moment in it.
Kalidasa’s knowledge of astronomy comes out strong in various references to the planets,
constellations and the stars. These have been explained in detail in the notes to the main text.
The Raghuvamsham narrative is replete with mythological references. All these fascinating tales
have been retold in the notes and explanations offered at the end of the book for the context of
In the next chapter, Raghuvamsham, A Critical Appreciation, I have highlighted some of the finest
portions of this work. It will help your appreciation of the magnificent words and literary acumen
of Kalidasa if you read this chapter carefully. It is my belief that while talking of Kalidasa to
a discerning audience it is my duty to bring to their notice the wealth of lofty thoughts and
unmatched images hidden in each word of this masterpiece.
I have translated the Sanskrit text in free flowing language. I have not made an effort to write
verse. That is not possible. However, I have tried to convey Kalidasa’s sense as truly as
possible. Every word, every phrase has been checked.
Extensive notes have been supplied for mythological, astronomical, political, economic,
ecological, social and other references in the text. I have not provided any notes to the chapter,
Raghuvamsham, A Critical Appreciation because all the references are covered by the notes appended
to the main text.
For the Sanskrit text I have relied upon Kalidasa Granthavali, edited by Sitaram Chaturvedi and
published by Bharat Prakashan Mandir, Aligarh and the Works of Kalidasa edited by C.R. Devadhar,
published by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi. I have made a generous use of
The Practical Sanskrit – English Dictionary by Vaman Shivram Apte, published by Motilal
Banarsidass, Delhi. The last is a monumental work of epic proportions. No expression of gratitude
is enough for the enlightenment provided by the learned author.
The translation is entirely mine.
I am indebted to my wife Swarn and my daughter, Bindu for going through the manuscript and
checking for errors if any. I am grateful to my publishers, Mr. R.K. Mehra and Mr. Kapish Mehra
for taking interest in my project of translating Sanskrit classics into English and publishing
these books for the discerning readers. They are doing a service to our civilization by bringing
out such books as a part of their diverse publishing programme.
I thank my editor, Mr. Kadambari Mishra for taking pains to edit the manuscript in her good
humoured yet meticulous fashion.
I owe a debt to my companions on the morning walks in ‘The Club’ at Andheri [West], Mumbai. I
share my love for Kalidasa’s writings with them on a daily basis. I use them as a sounding board
for several ideas. I pester them with Kalidasa’s detailed descriptions of flowers and birds, a
number of which are around us in the large, well endowed garden where we walk.
A request to my readers. Go through the writings of Kalidasa at leisure but in detail. His
writings are an ocean of literary gems. The more you dive, the more you will fid. You can never
have a surfeit of Kalidasa. His writing is always fresh. His similes are astonishing. His images
are original and stunning. Just keep your mind’s eye open when you read him. I have marveled at
his turn of the phrase each time I read a new shloka. You too will marvel.
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