Classical Sanskrit

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In Indian literature, it is hard to draw a line between religious and secular (non-religious) works, especially as secular stories often symbolize a religious theme. Some forms of Sanskrit literature were written for pleasure and for the entertainment of the royal court. This entertainment was for an audience of knowledgeable experts. The entertainments were dramas designed to appeal to those well educated in the subtleties of character and feeling. The audience had to be at home with the Sanskrit language, which was the tongue of the nation's educated upper classes. Although some minor characters in the dramas used the more familiar spoken language of Prakrit, the playwright's skill in Sanskrit was essential to the play's value.

The most admired Sanskrit dramatist was Kalidasa, who lived in the A.D. 400's. He is considered as one of the greatest dramatist ever born and is known as the 'Shakespeare of India'. His best-known play, Abhigyana Shakuntala, named after its heroine, is based on a romantic story from the Mahabharata. Kalidasa was also a master of the epic poetry form called kavya. In this tradition, literary style and form tend to assume more importance than the theme of the story. Kalidasa's narrative poem Meghaduta (The Cloud Messenger) describes how a cloud acts as a go-between for two separated lovers. It contains many elaborate descriptions of love and nature.

The Gitagovinda (The Song of Govinda), an important lyric poem by Jayadeva (a poet of the 1100's), describes the lovemaking of Govinda (another name for Krishna) and Radha and is set on the bank of the Jumna River. The poem is full of descriptions of nature and was popular as a subject for song and dance drama.

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