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Tatam Tatamtam Tatatam Tatam Tah

Today is Basant Panchami or Vasanta Panchami, the fifth day of the waxing moon of the month of ‘Magha’. In the south it may be easily referred to as the fifth day after the Amavasya in the month of ‘Thai’. This day is said to be the birthday of Maa Saraswathi and is celebrated in a grand manner mainly in the North and East India. Many children start their studies or ‘Vidyabhyaasam’ on this day. My offering to Maa Saraswathi on this day is an episode from the life of Mahakavi Kalidasa.

Mahakavi Kalidasa is one of the greatest Sanskrit poets of Bharat. He is often compared to Maharishi Veda Vyasa and Rishi Valmiki. He is said to have lived between the fourth and fifth century CE. He was the court poet of Raja Bhoja. He has authored great classics like Raghuvamsham, Meghadootam and Abhijnana Shakuntalam to name a few. He is believed to have been an illiterate shepherd who was blessed abundantly by Maa Saraswathi or Vaagdevi – the ruler of speech that transformed him into the wonderful poet he was. It is our misfortune that though we have the literary works of this great poet, his life story has not been documented properly and it is through many legends that his life story is reconstructed.

Kalidasa seems to have had the complete blessings of Maa Saraswathi and this can be seen in many instances and this is one such interesting incident.

Once Raja Bhoja decided to honour Kalidasa with an award. This news spread among the courtiers and many were happy on hearing this. But there were other poets in the court of Raja Bhoja who saw Kalidasa as their competitor. Naturally this news was not music to their ears.

“Why is our King partial towards Kalidasa?” said one.

“True that Kalidasa has authored classics but even I would be able to create such works with my scholarly knowledge. It is only that I have not tried” shrugged another.  

“I also cannot see how he is different from us and why the King wants to honour him alone” grumbled yet another.

One of the close aides of  Raja Bhoja who was nearby, happened to hear these conversations and the matter was duly conveyed to the king.

Raja Bhoja smiled to himself. The Durbar (court) assembled in a short while and that day Kalidasa had not come to the Durbar since he had gone to the nearby town for some work.

After the routine speeches, Raja Bhoja spoke. “I am going to announce a poetry competition for all poets present here!” said he.

The court poets who had been talking about Kalidasa behind his back were surprised at this announcement.

“The king must have had an afterthought after he decided to award Kalidasa. He must have realized that there are equal if not better scholars than Kalidasa” whispered one poet in glee. All the others nodded in agreement.

As they looked up to the King with expectation, he spoke. “I will tell the last line of a verse and you will have to construct the previous lines of the verse in the proper *metre” he said.

*Metre loosely translated means ‘chandas’ in Sanskrit or ‘sandam’ in Tamil. It is the pace or rhythm in which a verse is recited.

“What an easy task!” thought the poets.

Raja Bhoja continued . “Tatam tatamtam tatatam tatam tah”, said he and smiled at the poets.

“Err.. If I am not mistaken, is that the metre of the line you are going to tell us Maharaj?” asked one poet.

“No!” said Raja Bhoja. “That is the last line of the verse and I want the previous three lines of this verse to be composed. I give you one day to compose and you shall read it in court tomorrow”.

He then repeated “Tatam tatamtam tatatam tatam tah”.

The poets were flabbergasted. What was this ‘tatam tatam tatatam’ and so on? The poets however, dared not ask anything more lest they display their ignorance and so they quietly dispersed. One went to the river bank to compose his lines. Another went to the temple and sat there expecting to complete the verse. The third one went to the nearby mountain to seek silence to kindle his creative mind. But nothing worked. They could just not think of any verse to rhyme with what Raja Bhoja had composed.

The next day the Durbar assembled and Kalidasa was also present. Raja Bhoja addressed the poets. “I am sure that all the accomplished poets in my Durbar would have finished composing the poem. I am eager to listen to all of you. Who will entertain me first?”

The poets could just not look at the King. With their eyes downcast they were hoping they would disappear into the ground beneath instead of facing this embarrassment, that too in front of Kalidasa!

Kalidasa was puzzled and looked enquiringly at Raja Bhoja as to what was all this about. Raja Bhoja briefed him about the contest he had announced the day before.

“And may I know what the last line was” asked Kalidasa humbly.

Pat came the reply from the king “Tatam tatamtam tatatam tatam tah”

A few moments of silence followed.

“May I try?” asked Kalidasa.

Raja Bhoja looked at the poets but they had not taken their eyes off the ground!

“Go ahead!” said the King.

Kalidasa recited the following verse:

राज्याभिषेके मदविह्वलायाः हस्तात् च्युतो हेमघटस्तरुण्याः ।
सोपान मार्गेषु करोति शब्दं टटं टटंठं ठठठं टठं ठः ll  

rAjyAbhishEkE madavihvalAyAh

hastAtchyutO hEmaghatastarunyAh

sOpanamArgEshu karOti shabdam 

tatam tatamtam tatatam tatam tah

The meaning of the verse is as follows:

A young maiden who was mad with excitement , was carrying water in a golden pot for the consecration of the king. The pot fell from her hand on the staircase and made the noise ‘Tatam tatamtam tatatam tatam tah’

Raja Bhoja was extremely pleased at this impromptu verse and rewarded Kalidasa with his golden bracelet.

As for the other poets they were nowhere to be seen!

That was an example of the abundant grace of Maa Saraswathi  showered on Mahakavi Kalidasa! Let us all pray to Her on this day to receive her blessings!


Vidaakkandan and Kodaakkandan – A folk tale from Tamil Nadu


Sri Sundaramoorthy Nayanar – the ‘harsh devotee’


  1. Badri

    Very interesting story ma!

  2. Bhavana

    Super ma! Short and sweet tale!

  3. R. Latha

    super vidhya. 👍

  4. Lalithambal Natarajan

    Nice narration Giving the original Sanskrit verse with English version and translation is good …It helps to get the correct pronunciation with meaning

  5. Vidya

    very nice story

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