The Dynasty of Raghu is an epic poem in nineteen cantos. It consists of 1564 stanzas, or something over six thousand lines of verse. The subject is that great line of kings who traced their origin to the sun, the famous “solar line” of Indian story. The bright particular star of the solar line is Rama, the knight without fear and without reproach, the Indian ideal of a gentleman. His story had been told long before Kalidasa’s time in the Ramayana, an epic which does not need to shun comparison with the foremost epic poems of Europe. In The Dynasty of Raghu, too, Rama is the central figure; yet in Kalidasa’s poem there is much detail concerning other princes of the line. The poem thus naturally falls into three great parts: first, the four immediate ancestors of Rama (cantos 1-9); second, Rama (cantos 10-15); third, certain descendants of Rama (cantos 16-19). A somewhat detailed account of the matter of the poem may well precede criticism and comment.
First canto. The journey to the hermitage. — The poem begins with the customary brief prayer for Shiva’s favour:
God Shiva and his mountain bride,
Like word and meaning unified,
The world’s great parents, I beseech
To join fit meaning to my speech.
Then follow nine stanzas in which Kalidasa speaks more directly of himself than elsewhere in his works:
How great is Raghu’s solar line!
How feebly small are powers of mine!
As if upon the ocean’s swell
I launched a puny cockle-shell.
The fool who seeks a poet’s fame
Must look for ridicule and blame,
Like tiptoe dwarf who fain would try
To pluck the fruit for giants high.
Yet I may enter through the door
That mightier poets pierced of yore;
A thread may pierce a jewel, but
Must follow where the diamond cut.
Of kings who lived as saints from birth,
Who ruled to ocean-shore on earth,
Who toiled until success was given,
Whose chariots stormed the gates of heaven,
Whose pious offerings were blest,
Who gave his wish to every guest,
Whose punishments were as the crimes,
Who woke to guard the world betimes,
Who sought, that they might lavish, pelf,
Whose measured speech was truth itself,
Who fought victorious wars for fame,
Who loved in wives the mother’s name,
Who studied all good arts as boys,
Who loved, in manhood, manhood’s joys,
Whose age was free from worldly care,
Who breathed their lives away in prayer,
Of these I sing, of Raghu’s line,
Though weak mine art, and wisdom mine.
Forgive these idle stammerings
And think: For virtue’s sake he sings.
The good who hear me will be glad
To pluck the good from out the bad;
When ore is proved by fire, the loss
Is not of purest gold, but dross.
After the briefest glance at the origin of the solar line, the poet tells of Rama’s great-great-grandfather, King Dilipa. The detailed description of Dilipa’s virtues has interest as showing Kalidasa’s ideal of an aristocrat; a brief sample must suffice here:
He practised virtue, though in health;
Won riches, with no greed for wealth;
Guarded his life, though not from fear;
Prized joys of earth, but not too dear.