Among the five most outstanding Mahakavyas in Sanskrit literature, Indian scholarship includes two compositions of Kalidasa, viz; Kumarasambhava and Raghuvamsa. While Bharavi, Magha and Sri Harsa have each the honour of having one of their Mahakavyas included in this ranking, Kalidasa has the rare distinction of having two of his included therein. Although the Raghuvamsa is a later and therefore mature work of Kalidasa, yet the Kumarasambhava has not failed to appeal (probably its appeal is greater) even to non-Indian scholars by its poetic beauty, wealth of natural description, varying situations, and human interest. The poem is not preserved in a uniform length : in some Mss, it ends at the seventh canto. On the other hand, it is found to contain as many as seventeen cantos. That the eighth canto is every inch a Kalidasan one is not disputed by any-one, though exception has been taken to the propriety of its contents both by modern scholars and ancient Indian critics on slightly different grounds. Anandavardhana, the famous protagonist to the Dhvani school of poetry, finds fault with Kalidasa for his having described the amorous pleasures of so venerable a pair as Siva and Parvati. It was even commonly believed that Parvati became angry with Kalidasa for the sacrilegious manner of describing her conjugal sports and cursed him; consequently the poet could not proceed with his work further on. In any case Mallinatha has commented upon this poem only upto the end of the eighth canto. Modern criticism suggests that probably Kalidasa did not proceed with the work on account of the fierce adverse criticism to which his eighth canto was subjected. Be that as it may, cantos 9-17 are inferior to the first eight "from every point of view." There are feeble repetitions the texture of the story is not so well-knit the classical propriety and dignified restraint which characterize the first eight cantos are lacking-in short, these cantos smack of the ordinary Purana atmosphere and appear to have been composed by some one who thought that the poem which was called "Birth of Kumara" was incomplete without the description of his birth and therefore also of his supreme exploit of killing the Taraka demon, and so carried it on to seventeen cantos.
Indeed, the title of the poem is in itself a sufficient argument in favour of the opinion that it must end at the eighth canto. For, had it been the intention of the poet to carry on the narrative to the destruction of Tarakasura, he would certainly have chosen a more adequate title. More-over, it is argued in favour of the genuineness of the last nine cantos that in the second canto the destruction of Tarakasura is demanded by gods and, as Brahma points out, only Siva's son can bring it about; the purpose which is thus referred to in the second canto must needs be fulfilled.
The fact is that the second canto shows what dire necessity had arisen for the birth of a son from Mahadeva's loins to lead the armies of gods against the demon. In the first canto Parvati's father, Himalaya, is shown to be resolved upon giving his daughter to Siva : in the second, the poet attempts to show that it was not merely, to satisfy such individual or personal considerations that Siva and Parvati should be united in wedlock; the union of this pair was an indispensable necessity for the deliverance of the world from the overmastering forces of Evil. This union brought about, the poet proceeds to describe the amours of Siva and Parvati in the eighth canto, adding at the conclusion of the canto that Siva passed five-and-twenty years in the company of his bride as if they were a single night! How cleverly he has left the divine pair to their love-sports and in what an atmosphere of subtle suggestion of the birth of Kumara he has concluded the canto! How well the title Kumara-sambhava-in which Sambhava may also mean possibility or likelihood—points at the poem having ended at the eighth canto which along with the preceding seven preserves the unity of purpose of the poem!
Introducing the work, M. Krishnamachariar the renowned historician of classical Sanskrit literature has succinctly noted the various problem regarding the title, contents and extent of the poem as follows.
Kumarasambhava, a poem in 17 cantos, describes the birth of Kumara, the War God. As antecedent history, the poem narrates the supplication of the Gods of Lord Siva for the creation of a general for the forces of the Gods, capable of destroying their enemy Taraka, whose depradations they were then unable to bear. Then follow the birth of Parvati as the daughter of daughter of Himacala, Siva's penance in the Himalayas and his marriage with Parvati. With the union of Siva and Parvati, the 8th canto closes and the remaining cantos describe the story of the birth of Kumara and destruction of Taraka. Kalidasa was a great votary of Valmiki and named his poem after the verse of Ramayana: एष ते राम गङ्गाया: विस्तरोऽभिहितों मया। कुमारसंभवश्चैव धन्यःपुण्यस्तवैव च॥ . "The birth of the War God", says Griffith "was either left unfinished or time has robbed us of the conclusion. The latter is the more probabe supposition, tradition informing us that the poem originally consisted of 22 cantos." The language of cantos 9 to 17 is inferior to the language of cantos 1 to 8, and commentators have noticed only cantos 1 to 8; it is therefore said that cantos 9 to 17 are not the work of Kalidasa. There are some who say that canto 8 in which the amorous pleasures of actual union between Siva and Parvan are described is also not the work of Kalidasa, because it is a sacrilege and Kalidasa would not have not been guilty of it. These objections are answered by Narayana Pandita in his commentary vivarana.
Going through the various editions and commentaries one finds three versions up to 8 cantos as authoritative since Mallinatha has commented: (2) upto seven cantos omitting the eighth as it describes amorous sports of the divine couple and (3) upto the seventeenth canto as is found even in printed versions. Before discussing the comparative merits of these positions a brief account of the contents of the entire poem is given here, as narrated by Prof. G.C. Jhala.
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