Here the poem ends, in the form in which it has come down to us. It has been sometimes thought that we have less than Kalidasa wrote, partly because of a vague tradition that there were once twenty-three cantos, partly because the customary prayer is lacking at the end. These arguments are not very cogent. Though the concluding prayer is not given in form, yet the stanzas which describe the joy of the universe fairly fill its place. And one does not see with what matter further cantos would be concerned. The action promised in the earlier part is completed in the seventeenth canto.
It has been somewhat more formidably argued that the concluding cantos are spurious, that Kalidasa wrote only the first seven or perhaps the first eight cantos. Yet, after all, what do these arguments amount to? Hardly more than this, that the first eight cantos are better poetry than the last nine. As if a poet were always at his best, even when writing on a kind of subject not calculated to call out his best. Fighting is not Kalidasa's forte; love is. Even so, there is great vigour in the journey of Taraka, the battle, and the duel. It may not be the highest kind of poetry, but it is wonderfully vigorous poetry of its kind. And if we reject the last nine cantos, we fall into a very much greater difficulty. The poem would be glaringly incomplete, its early promise obviously disregarded. We should have a Birth of the War-god in which the poet stopped before the war-god was born.
There seems then no good reason to doubt that we have the epic substantially as Kalidasa wrote it. Plainly, it has a unity which is lacking in Kalidasa's other epic, The Dynasty of Raghu, though in this epic, too, the interest shifts. Parvati's love-affair is the matter of the first half, Kumara's fight with the demon the matter of the second half. Further, it must be admitted that the interest runs a little thin. Even in India, where the world of gods runs insensibly into the world of men, human beings take more interest in the adventures of men than of gods. The gods, indeed, can hardly have adventures; they must be victorious. The Birth of the War-god pays for its greater unity by a poverty of adventure.
It would be interesting if we could know whether this epic was written before or after The Dynasty of Raghu. But we have no data for deciding the question, hardly any for even arguing it. The introduction to The Dynasty of Raghu seems, indeed, to have been written by a poet who yet had his spurs to win. But this is all.
As to the comparative excellence of the two epics, opinions differ. My own preference is for The Dynasty of Raghu, yet there are passages in The Birth of the War-god of a piercing beauty which the world can never let die.