Five Epic Kavyas


Lord Siva Giving the History of the Solar Races

Oct 22, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — Adapted from 'History of Sanskrit Literature' by Dr. V.C. Govindarajan.

Among the many epics found in Vedic literature are a number of great poems composed in Sanskrit. Known as Kavyas, this body of literature comprises the third stage of development in the history of Sanskrit literature, and is itself divided into three categories: Kavyas (poetry), Natakas (dramas), and Champu kavyas (dance dramas).

Five of the most notable Kavyas, described below, are the Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa, the Kumarasambhava of Kalidasa, the Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi, the Sisupalavada of Sri Maagha, and the Naishadham of Sri Harsha.


This is a work of Kalidasa. It describes the lives of the kings of the Solar Dynasty, beginning with Dilip, in 19 cantos. The life history of King Dilip, Raghu, Ajay, Dasaratha, Rama and his three descendants are described in detail. The list of Rama's ancestors differs from that given in Valmiki's Ramayana.

Kalidasa gives the list of kings of the Solar Dynasty up to Agnivarna, who died without a child. Later one of his wives who was pregnant was made Queen, and the work stopped at that point. Among the descriptions of the greatness of the Solar Dynasty are Dilip's journey to Vasista's ashram, and mention of Nandi, Raghu Digvijaya, and Indumathi swayamvara.


Kalidasa also composed this Kavya, which consists of 17 cantos. There is some controversy about whether or not only the first 7 or 8 cantos were actually penned by Kalidasa. This Kavya deals with the birth of the war God, Kumara (Subhrahmanya) and the killing of the enemy Taraka. Among the excellent narratives are the stories of Parvathi's penance, Siva's penance, Manmatha's death, Siva Stuthi by the seven sages, the conversation of Siva and Parvati, and their marriage.


Bharavi composed this Kavya in 18 cantos. It describes the story of Arjuna acquiring the Pasupatha-astra from Lord Siva. At the end of a period of penance, Siva in the disguise of a hunter (Kiratha) tested the strength and ability of Arjuna in an encounter. This story is also narrated in Vanaparva of Mahabharata. Bharavi has transformed the story in a beautiful poem, in a style known as 'Bharaveh Arthagauravam'.

Bharavi wrote this Kavya sometime in the 6th Century A.D. The 15th canto contains a number of stanzas illustrating all kinds of puns and alliterations. The descriptions of forests and mountains create brilliant images for the reader.


Magha composed this Kavya in the 8th Century A.D. The poem glorifies an incident described in Mahabharath, when Krishna kills Sisupala, the king of Chedi, during Yudhishtira's Rajasuya yajna.

Magha is also considered to be a remarkable poet. There is a proverb which says that the life of a person will end by reading Magha's work (Sisupalavadham) and Kalidasa's Meghadoot. Magha excels Bharavi in the artificiality of his style, imitating Bharavi in many respects. Magha is admired for his delightful style, profound thoughts and beautiful poetic similes. His vocabulary is vast and his knowledge of Sanskrit grammar very deep.

Naishadiya Charitam

Sriharsha (not to be confused with king Harshvardhana) composed this Kavya in the 12th Century A.D. He was the son of Hira and Maamalla devi, and was patronised by the kings Vijayachandra and Jayachandra of Kanauj.

Sriharsha authored many works. The Naishadiya Charitam was composed in 60 cantos, only 22 of which are extant. The theme of this work was taken from Nalopakyanam (the story of Nala and Damayanti) in Mahabharatha. The style of Harsha is called Narikela Pakam, 'like the coconut', and the work is praised as being 'medicine for scholars'.


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