On seeing a portrait of the king of Lanka, the 'dunce' pronounced Ravana as Rabhana; this made the princess burst into peals of laughter. Vararuchi and his accomplices ably defended the stupid fellow through an improvised shloka. The purport of the shloka is – the names of the Lanka monarch’s brothers are Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana, therefore Ravana, born in the rakshas family, has to be Rabhana and not Ravana. The learned princess was impressed by the logic and agreed to the marriage. After the marriage, she realized that the fellow was actually a fool. She was faced with a difficult situation – a learned person was married to an idiot. There are two versions of how she handled the situation. According to one story, the idiot was summarily turned out of the palace. Stung to the quick, he reportedly locked himself up in a Kali mandir while the goddess was away on her nocturnal rounds, and refused to open the door till she agreed to transform him into a learned man. When he opened the door, following repeated requests of the deity, she asked him to stretch out his tongue. Kali then wrote some consecrated word on it; he thus became a scholar. From then onwards he came to be known as Kalidasa (the servant of Kali). The Bengalis rest their claim on this episode. But Dr K.C. Jain in his book, Kalidasa and His Times, maintains that it was highly unlikely as Kalidasa had mentioned Kali only once in Kumarasambhavam.
According to another version, it was Princess Vasanti who advised him to seek divine blessings. After becoming a scholar, the former dunce presented himself before the princess. She asked a question, “Asti kaschit vagardhau?” – “Is there anything special in your speech?’’ She set a samasya with these words to test him. (Samasya is part of a stanza to be completed and only a scholar could do it.) After becoming a scholar, he completed the samasya by beginning his three works – Kumarasambhavam, Meghadutam and Raghuvamsham with the words the princess had set in the samasya:
Astyutarasyãm disi devatatmã,
himalayo nama nagadhirãjã.
“There exists in the northern region the divine-souled Himalaya, the king of mountains.”
Kaschit kãntã viraha gurunã svãdhi kãratmapramattamãha Sarpenastamagamitã
Yakshachakre janakatanayãsnanupunyodakeshu snigdahchayatarushu vastim ramagiryãshrameshu.
Purport: A yaksha (semi-divine being) angered his master by neglecting his duties. The master cursed him to stay separated from his wife for a year. He stayed in the hermitages of Ramagiri (the Vindhya range) covered with shady trees and containing waters purified by Janaka’s daughter (Sita) as she used them for her ablutions.
Vagardhãviva sampruktau vãgardhapratipattaye,
Jagathah pitarau vande pãrvati parameshwarau.
“I bow down to Parvati and the Supreme Lord, the world’s parents, who like word and meaning are unified, that I may attain right knowledge of word and sense.”
Kalidasa appears to be familiar with ancient Ujjayini. In Meghadutam, the cloud messenger is specially asked to look out for the Mahakala (or Shiva) Mandir in Ujjayini. According to a traditional source, the poet died in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in a house of ill-repute owing to Parvati’s curse. The goddess was furious at the way the poet had described her dalliance with Shiva in Kumarasambhavam and hence the curse. It may be mentioned here that Kumarasambhavam appears to be written by a different author after the eighth canto. Experts of literature have pronounced the latter part to be inferior to the earlier cantos.
The time given by historians of Kalidasa’s time of existence ranges from 200 BCE to 600 CE. The Bhitari copper plate found in archaeological excavations has yielded the earlier date.