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Kalidasa's Shakuntalam
by Lavanya Shah

Kalidasa is perhaps the most famous poet author from ancient India. His prolific writings are comparable to William Shakespeare's in their sheer canvas, dimension and beauty. His most famous Dramas is Shakuntalam which describes the early life of Shunga dynasty. It is a romantic tale of a beautiful maiden left in the forest by a celestial nymph Menaka, who came down from Heaven and had a romantic yet brief encounter with a sage Vishwamitra. This lovely maiden is the outcome of this Union. Both the parents leave the baby who is fed b life-giving water gathered from plants by a Swan.

Just then another Sage named Kanva passes by and in his compassion picks up this lovely Child. From that she is raised by Kanva and he names this girl child Shakuntala meaning the one fed by a swan.

Shakuntala grows up to be a breath taking beauty just like her Celestial mother who was an Apsara, the lovely dancing & singing, ever youthful maidens residing in Heaven.

King Udyana sees this innocent forest girl and is smitten. He approaches her and wins her heart. Gives her his Royal seal, his Ring & leaves her in the absence of her foster father.

Another Sage named Durvasa, who is famous for his anger, comes visiting this Ashram.

Shakuntala ignores him as she is lost in the thoughts of her beloved. Sage Durvasa curses her with the following words, "One in whose thoughts she is lost , will soon forget her face."

Shakuntala and her friends implore the sage Durvasa to b kind and take back this curse. He relents and adds that when this person will see some personal object belonging to him, he will remember her face.

Shakuntala and her friends are reassured, thinking that the ring given by King Udayan will keep Shakuntala's memory alive in his heart.

Sage Kanva on his return finds that Shakuntala is pregnant and learns of King Udayana's visit and their marriage vows that took place in his Forest Ashram. So he decides to send Shakuntala to the King at his far away palace.

As Shakuntala crosses the River Ganga she dips her hand in its water to pray & her Ring slides from her finger and a fish swallows the ring ! The Curse comes true when King Udyana fails to recognize his beloved, his wife when she reaches and faces him at his palace.

Heart broken, Shakuntala flees away from there. She gives birth to a handsome
and brave prince, all alone in a forest, surrounded by lions!

After six years King Udayana is out on a hunt and is amazed to see a brave and good looking child playing with lion cubs. The Boy is opening their mouth and counting their teeth! This strange sight fills his heart with wonder and amazement and he asks the boy who he is.

The young Prince replies, "I am Bharat, son of Shakuntala and King Udayana!

Udayana is intrigued and begs the young Bharat to take him to his mother, Shakuntala. He remembers her now. Because a fisher man had caught the big fish and upon cutting the fish's belly had found the magnificent royal ring and had taken it to the Royal court in the hopes of getting a prize for this offering which surely belonged to his King ! As soon as King glanced at his ring, he remembered his tryst with the lovely maiden Shakuntala and their love marriage that had taken place in the hermitage of Sage Kanva.

He also remembers the sad encounter when he refused to recognize Shakuntala when she visited him at his Palace and told him she was bearing his child. King Udayan repents his folly for rejecting her and he vows to seek his beloved.

Today his search is over and he stands face to face with the lovely Shakuntala!

They embrace lovingly and he takes his son Bharat and his beloved wife Shakuntala back with him to his kingdom. They live happily ever after.

India got its name Bharat from the brave prince who was the symbol of the union of true love and went on to become one of the greatest kings ever.

Image : A scanned version from the print of Raja Ravi Varma's Painting

12-Mar-2006
 
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