Annual Kalidas Samaroh (reduced from usual seven days to three days ‘because of coronavirus’) was jointly inaugurated by Usha Thakur and Mohan Yadav in Ujjain on Devotthayini Ekadashi (November 25). Usha Thakur is Madhya Pradesh Minister of Tourism, Culture and Spirituality (Adhyatma) and Mohan Yadav is Minister of Higher Education. Both have post-graduate degrees but their biodata does not show that they have ever had any interest in literature or culture of ancient India. An occasion of immense literary/cultural importance (not only for people of Madhya Pradesh or India) has now been downgraded to a minor government function. That is when the BJP, swearing day in and day out by Sanskrit and Sanskriti, is the ruling party both in the State and at the Centre.
There was a time when the Samaroh attracted eminent scholars not only from India but abroad also; they presented papers and held discussions on different aspects of ancient Indian literature and culture. Sanskrit plays, penned by Kalidas as well as others also, were enacted by troupes from India and other countries. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took special interest in the activities of Samaroh till he lived. Apart from Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Radhakrishnan and Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma had graced the Kalidas Samaroh in the past. The Chief ministers and Governors of the State had always been associated with the Kalidas Samaroh which was considered a major event of the State.
The idea of holding the Kalidas Samaroh was conceptualised by Pandit Surya Narayan Vyas (later awarded the Padma Bhushana) in the late twenties. He had formed Kalidas Parishad (later converted into Kalidas Akademy) to enlist the support of the distinguished scholars and leaders across the nation. Kalidas has not hinted in his works at the date or place of his birth nor has he written anything that could throw light on his worldly activities. However, tradition has it, and it is supported by several eminent Indologists, that Kalidas was one of the nine gems (Navaratnas) in the court of King Vikramaditya of Ujjayini (that later became Ujjain). Vikramaditya, after whom the Vikrama Samvat was started in 56 BC, was believed to have ruled in the first century BC. The Devotthayini Ekadashi (the eleventh lunar day of the bright half of Kartika) was chosen as the day for celebrating Kalidas Jayanti. In Hindu mythology, the day is considered auspicious as the Devatas (or gods) wake up on that day from their six-month slumber.
After Independence, Vyas’s efforts caught the attention of Kailash Nath Katju, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. With cooperation and support from Katju, the first Kalidas Samaroh was held on a grand scale in 1958. It was inaugurated by then President Dr Rajendra Prasad. A large number of eminent scholars and dignitaries, not only from India but also from other countries like the Soviet Union, China, Iran and Germany, participated in the Samaroh. The following year, the Samaroh was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Several countries were represented in the Samaroh in those days by their ambassadors or high commissioners or their cultural attaches.
Most of the Indian States made generous contributions for the Samaroh and participated in the functions through their representatives. The Natya Samaroh and an All India exhibition of paintings and sculptures, organised by the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad at the Samaroh, attracted participation of the noted artists from all over the country. Well-known authorities on Kalidas like Dr V Raghavan of Madras University and Dr Gauri Nath Shastri of Calcutta produced the plays of Kalidas and also acted in them. Wu Shuch, who had staged “Abhigyan Shakuntalam” (of Kalidas) in Peking in 1957, also participated in the Drama Festival held on the occasion. The other notable foreign scholars, who had been associated with the Kalidas Samaroh, included Prof. Hideo Kimura of the Buddhist University, Kyoto (Japan), Walter Leifer of Germany and Dr A L Basham, a renowned British authority on Indology and author of “The Wonder that was India”, who had later settled in Australia.
The Samaroh started losing its importance when the BJP became the ruling party in the State. Its neglect became complete when the BJP captured Centre also under Narendra Modi.