Help Support the Blog

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Complete Shakuntala Story



Image result for bhishma
"Let me rest a while."
Remembering the vow of vengeance taken by Amba, Bhishma paused. The mysterious brahmaṇa boy who had attended Bhiṣma drew some water onto a cloth. Wringing it out he wiped the perspiration from the old man’s head. Bhishm coughed. "I grow weary with this tale," He said. The sun had dipped below the horizon. Venus appeared in the heavens. "Let me rest a while."

"We shall return to you in the morning," said Yudhisthira "The history of our dynasty is filled with many lessons. We are eager to hear more."

"Go now," said Bhishma. "Tomorrow I shall tell you of how Amba was transformed by fire into a warrior in the family of Drupada and how I met this terrible end. 

Go now and may your stars guide you."
Image result for morning star venus
The Pandavas returned to their camp. The brightly colored tents looked faded in the light of the campfire.

 Nakula and Sahadeva took their places by the fire and were joined by Arjuna and Bhima. After so much battle, finally a moment of peace. Now Venus had been joined with a thousand stars and their pinpoints of light shined in the heavens above Kurukshetra. Yudhisthira appeared with Kuntidevi their mother. And as they sat around the fire and watched the planets move through the sky, the conversation turned to the ancient dynasty of the Kurus.

The long war was over. Asvatthama had been banished. The ghosts of dead warriors stalked the battlefield, but their chariots would no longer clatter over the earth. No longer would thousands of car-warriors terrorize the towns and villages around Hastinapura. India would know peace under the reign of Yudhishtira, Pariksit, Janamejaya and subsequent kings of the Bharat dynasty. As the fire burned low, the modest Yudhisthira turned to his mother Kuntidevi and before the Pandavas seated there asked her, "O Mother. Bhishma spoke of Vichitravirya and Chitrangada, our ancestors. Tell us of our ancestors. We are called the sons of Bharata.  Tell us of the origins of the Kuru dynasty and of Bharat Who was Bharat? What were his origins." 
Image result for "indian history" "maharaj bharat"
Maharaj Bharat
The wise and expert Kunti explained. “The Kuru dynasty comes in the line of Bharat, who was born in the line of Puru. To better understand this history I must tell you the story of Shakuntala.”

The Story of Shakuntala
Image result for kuru dynasty shakuntala
Shakuntala at the Ashrama of Kanva Muni
 And so it was that Kunti told them the famous story of Shakuntala as she had heard it  when she was only a girl in the court of King Kambhoja.  She spoke as follows:

Dushyant  goes hunting

“Once upon a time there was a great king. His name was Dushyant and he came in the line of Puru. 
Image result for dushyant hunts deer
One day Dushyant was hunting with his charioteer in the deep forest and he came upon a spotted deer. The deer ran away, leading Dushyant and his charioteer deeper into the forest. 

Image result for hindu king hunting deer
Ramayana: Ram chases deer
They chased the spotted deer futher into the deep woods with Dushyant  tracing his movement with his bow. Just as Dushyant was ready to unleash a fatal arrow, a young monk from the nearby ashram of Kanva, appeared before him, with hands raised in supplication. He said, ‘Please don’t shoot. O king or prince, whoever you are, please spare the life of this spotted deer. 
Iranian miniature; deer-hunting
 This deer is the favorite pet of our guru, Kanva. You are close to the ashram of Kanva. Here there is no hunting; only peace.  The disciples of the humble Kanva live quietly contemplating the truth. The nimble spotted deer is sacred to Kanva and his disciples. Please don’t shoot. Rather put down your weapons in the spirit of ahimsa.’
With this, the king, still flushed with the heat of passion and eager for blood, steadied his mind, unstrung his bow and smiled. “If this fawn is the favorite of a holy man and his friends, so be it. I shall never harm an innocent animal. Tell me again of your master and his ashram. Let us speak of truth and peace. We shall have no more violence and blood sport.”

Kanva’s Ashram

The monk thanked the king and praised him. “Our ashram is near here,” he said. “Follow the bank of the river to the holy tirtha. Just there, nearby is a grove of tamarind trees above the river’s bank. Within that secret grove you will find the shelter of the holy Kanva and his disciples. Thank you again for your noble grace. I see that you are a great prince and the protector of the harmless. If it pleases your Lordship, why not stay for prasadam, our sacred food?”
The king was eager to attend to his entourage who awaited him in another part of the forest. Tomorrow was the birthday of the Prince, but hearing the words of the monk the king was keen to assure him that soon he would visit the humble ashram of the saint Kanva. 
Image result for kanva ashram shakuntala
Kanva Muni at his ashram
Bidding farewell to the monk, he gave orders to his man to drive the chariot a little farther on into the woods where there would be water for the horses. They drove for a while until they found good green pasture by the side of the river, and the water flowed clear and sweet.
The king gave orders to his man. “Untie the horses and let them roam or rest for a while as they will. See that they eat the cool grass of yonder pasture and find shade in those those tamarind trees. I will stretch my legs, and after walking a while, visit the ashrama of the saint Kanva, to pay my respects. If I am not back by sundown I will rest in the ashram and return in the morning.”
Image result for kanva ashram shakuntala
Shakuntala at Kanva's ashram
His horse-man agreed and took the chariot a little farther on into the woods.  King Dushyant decided that his son’s birthday party could wait and thought that it might be auspicious to pay a visit to the ashram of the saint Kanva. He began to walk a while and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the forest. A butterfly hung in the air before him. The fragrance of honey permeated the air. He walked through the tall trees by the river where the cranes fished in the early morning. The air was fresh and the river low, the rainy season having passed.
Shakuntala at the ashram of Kanva Muni
King Dushyant had understood from the monk where the ashram would be and so he crossed the river, wading through a shallow point. On the other side of the river he found the old holy tirtha with its deities and a bathing ghat with rich marble steps by a grove of tamarind trees.
As he followed the path, the grove of trees became thicker with creeping vines that flowered with jasmines. A tall mango tree shaded his path where up ahead between the vines he saw a clearing. In the clearing were a few small bamboo huts and a path. There was a rustic garden with papayas and some women were working, watering the plants and talking. Surprised by such an enchanting garden where he had expected the austere quarters of an old saint, King Dushyant stopped awhile by the mango tree and hid himself, listening. He could hear the women of the ashram talking.
Image result for dushyant and shakuntala
Shakuntala in the ashrama of Kanva Muni with deer
“Where has Kanva Prabhu gone?” said one of the girls, Priyamvada.
“He told me, Anasuya, that he had to visit a very sacred place in the forest.”
“But, Priyamvada, why would he leave today if he knows that we have an important sacrifice tonight?”
“I can’t tell you, Anasuya. He told me not to tell anyone.”
“But if you can’t trust me, who can you trust?” said Anasuya.
“Well all right, but don’t tell Shakuntala.” said Priyamvada. “It has to do with her. Something about her good fortune.”
“I worry about that girl,” said Anasuya.
“Me too,” said Priyamvada. “Kanva loves her as if she were his own daughter.”
“But Kanva isn’t her father, is he?”
“Of course not, silly. She was adopted by Kanva. Her mother left her when she was only a baby. It was a big mystery.”
Shakuntala at the Ashrama of Kanva Muni by Raja Ravi Varna
“Her mother was Menaka, the apsara, I heard. Didn’t she have something to do with Vishvamitra?”
“I’ve told you the story a million times. Vishvamitra was a great warrior who was determined to become a powerful brahmaṇa after he saw what the miracle cow of Vasistha could do.”
“So he was practicing austerities and penances for a long time, until even the gods were afraid of him.”
“What did they do?”
“Well, when they saw him practicing a powerful kind of yoga, they realized he was following a strict vow of brahmacharya.”
“Yes, silly, that’s when you give up women. Anyway, there he was on the banks of the Ganges practicing yoga and the gods decided to break his vow.”
“Why would they do such a thing?”
“Vishvamitra was becoming too powerful. If they didn’t break his vow he would become as powerful as the gods.”
“How did they break his vow?”

“They sent the most beautiful of all the river nymphs, the delicate Menaka. Her beauty was reknowned amongst the gods. No man could resist. Vishvamitra was sitting there, practicing his yoga. To disturb his concentration, Menaka the water nymph came to the banks of the Ganges and began to bathe in a fine silk sari, smiling all the time at the sage.”
Image result for menaka and vishvamitra
Temptation of Sage Vishvamitra by Menaka


In the forest ashram of the sage Kanva, the girls were gossiping.
“Yes, silly, that’s when you give up women. Anyway, there he was on the banks of the Ganges practicing yoga and the gods decided to break his vow.”
“Why would they do such a thing?”
“Vishvamitra was becoming too powerful. If they didn’t break his vow he would become as powerful as the gods.”
“How did they break his vow?”
“They sent the most beautiful of all the river nymphs, the delicate Menaka. Her beauty was reknowned amongst the gods. No man could resist. Vishvamitra was sitting there, practicing his yoga. To disturb his concentration, Menaka the water nymph came to the banks of the Ganges and began to bathe in a fine silk sari, smiling all the time at the sage.”
Image result for menaka and vishvamitra
Temptation of Vishvamitra Muni by Menaka
“What happened, Priyamvada? What happened then?”
Just as Priyamvada was about to finish her story about Shakuntala’s mother, the fair Shakuntala herself, appeared in the mango grove carrying a clay water pot on her head. Her bare feet barely touched the ground as she walked, so delicate was she, as beautiful and graceful as the first lotus flower of spring.
Image result for shakuntala
Ladies at Kanva's ashrama with Shakuntala
As she joined her friends, Shakuntala said, “Am I interrupting anything?” She smiled, her bee-black hair shining in the afternoon sun.
Her dear friends and fellow inmates of the ashram, Anasuya and Priyamvada giggled. "No, we were just talking,"
And joyful in springtime, they went about their duties, watering the papaya plants.
Observing them through the green leaves of the tamarind trees was Dushyant the descendant of Puru. He now smiled to himself in the shadow of the mango tree. The ashram of Kanva was the ideal place for the contemplation of peace and the harmonies of the universe. Now, it was time for him to make his entrance.
He made a great noise as if he had just arrived through the tamarind trees. King Dushyant walked up the path to the clearing in the mango grove.  The jasmine flowers made the air heavy with their fragrance. Moving with an exuberant royal swagger he called out, “Hello! Is anyone here?, O Kanva! Is this the ashram of the great saint Kanva?”
King Dushyant makes his entrance.
“Kanva is not here,” the ladies answered. “He has gone on pilgrimage. Who is there?”
Not wanting to reveal himself as the king and royal liege of the forest, Dushyant replied,
“I am a but humble officer of the king. He was hunting and came upon the fawn of the ashram here, a spotted deer. He spared its life from his voracious arrows and sent me here to salute the great saint. However, if Kanva is not here...”
Sage Kanva leaving the ashram.
“You are welcome,” said Priyamvada. “If you have protected the life of our fawn, then you are as welcome as any saint. Please stay and honour our prasadam. It is humble but will bless you with long life, as the food here is sacred.”
Image result for shakuntala dushyant
Shakuntala with fawn
“I agree. I thank you and salute you all. When will the sage Kanva return?”
“We expect he will return before the ceremony tomorrow. Stay with us a while and allow us to offer you our hospitality,” said Anasuya, smiling. As the bees plucked honey from the yellow orchids near the mango tree, King Dushyant noticed the elegant young girl who shyly watered the papaya plants and kept her distance. Following his glance, Priyamvada smiled and said, “Allow me to introduce Shakuntala. Shakuntala, don’t keep our visitor waiting, bring him water and a sitting place of the finest kusha straw.”
The fair and shy Shakuntala didn’t raise her eyes or look directly at the king.  She went to fetch more water with the clay pot that he held on her head. Her hips swayed gently as she left for the river by the holy bathing ghat.
Shakuntala fetching water
“Shakuntala is shy,” Priyamvada said. “Tell us, where is our fawn? Did you frighten him away?” King Dushyant told the story of the hunt, but changed it making himself the charioteer.
“So where is our king?” she said eagerly.
“The king has returned to his entourage deeper in the woods. I left the chariot and horses not far from here, to rest and take water. Soon I must return. Give my respect to the saint who attends you all so well in this ashram.”
In a few minutes Shakuntala returned with water and sitting places for all. 
Dushyant and Shakuntala
The sun had begun its climb into the heavens and the heat of the day began in earnest. So they sat under the welcoming shade of tamarind and mango trees by the papaya garden while the honey-bees busied themselves dancing amongst the champak flowers while kokil birds gave their afternoon concert. There in the comforting shade Shakuntala, Priyamvada, and Anasuya drank cool refreshing drinks of rosewater and mint with the king as the ladies described the mission of Kanva and his teachings.

As the sun grew even warmer and more time passed, Priyamvada and Anasuya detected a certain affection between the king and Shakuntala. Smiling to herself Priyamvada said, “You must excuse us now, for we have many duties to perform and the sun is sitting low on the horizon. Come Anasuya. Let the fair Shakuntala explain the precepts of our guide Kanva to the king’s officer.”

Image result for shakuntala dushyant

“I too have many duties to perform,” protested Shakuntala,  her face at once turning red as a rose.
“We must not violate the principles of hospitality,” said Priyamvada, with a firm smile. “You stay here with the king and explain the holy nature of this refuge in the forest. We shall return shortly.”
So they sat together, Shakuntala and King Dushyant and as the sun went down they laughed and talked of everything. 
The king was lost in her company and felt he had never been so charmed before in his life as when he saw the deep eyes and bee-black hair of the shy but charming Shakuntala. As the sun finished its glorious arc, the first star appeared on the horizon. The kokil birds once again took up the song they had left in the morning and began their vespertine concert. Just as Dushyant and Shakuntala were becoming even closer in thought and feeling,  they heard a terrible noise. Something was thrashing through the jungle, upsetting trees and animals.
A terrific trumpeting noise alarmed the birds who flew away. A enraged male elephant was rampaging through the grove, missing his mate. Priyamvada and Anasuya came running back to the place where Shakuntala and Dushyant sat.  They were in a panic. With them was Gautami, the matron of the ashram. “The elephant is mad! He may attack at any minute,” said Gautami. “We must run or take shelter. He may destroy the bamboo hut of Kanva. Hurry!”
Image result for mad elephant
Mad elephant charge
Everyone was afraid of the great bull elephant who rampaged through the forest overturning trees. Rising to his feet, the great King Dushyant touched the sharp sword on his left hip with his right hand and assuaged the ladies there. “By the power of my right hand, I shall defend you and the ashram of Kanva. Wait behind those trees.” He said.

 The ladies hid behind the tall mango tree and prayed to Vishnu for protection from the beast who ran through the forest.
Image result for vishnu traditional hindu

The mad elephant

Meanwhile the king left for the woods where he met the raging elephant. He was a huge bull elephant,  taller than a tree. 
Image result for raging elephant
He was pulling down bamboo trees with his trunk and sweeping the forest floor before him with the broken bamboo, trumpeting and screaming in combined rage and agony. Dushyant approached him slowly, picking up some mangos that had fallen to the ground and gathering them in his cape. He came around one side of the elephant which was as high as a wall.
As he uncovered the mangos he had in his cape, he began using special mantras he had learned from his own royal elephant trainer to Ganesh, the Lord of Elephants, saying, “ ओं गं गनपत्ययः नमः oṁ gaṁ ganapatyayaḥ namaḥ.”   
ओं गं गनपत्ययः नमः
Hearing this the elephant relaxed his grip on the bamboo, hesitated and looked squarely at King Dushyant. Dushyant offered him a handful of mangos. The elephant eagerly accepted the fruit as he was exhausted, both hungry and tired. Just as an expert mahout, King Dushyant pacified the elephant,  who soon forgot his rage and began chewing on the sugar cane breaks that grew there by the river. So pacifying the raging elephant, and realising that much time had passed, Dushyant returned through the woods to the clearing where he had left his chariot driver and the horses in the morning. Night was falling.
Image result for nightfall in jungleImage result for nightfall in jungle
“Let us return to our royal entourage,” said the king to his charioteer, “We shall make camp there, further in the forest.” So it was the king returned to his entourage to make camp. The next day the King Dushyant made preparations to return to his palace where his Queen had planned a celebration for the birthday of the prince. And as he was leaving he came upon some forest sages who stopped his horse and chariot saying, “O King. Help us! A terrible demon is preventing us from performing the ceremony of Vedic sacrifice.”
Image result for demons and rakshasasImage result for demons and rakshasas
The king decided it would be best to come to the aid of the forest sages and help them with their sacrifice, sending the royal entourage on to celebrate the birthday of the prince. He sets out to quell the disturbance in the forest. Using his powers as king, he punished the demon who was responsible for disrupting the ceremony.
Image result for vedic fire ceremony

Meanwhile, Shakuntala, not understanding what had happened with her guest, began to worry. When she consulted with her friends, she realized that she wasn’t worried, that what pierced her heart like an arrow was love. She was enchanted by their guest. 
Image result for shakuntala and dushyant
She was now feverish with love for the handsome stranger who had entered the grove and spoke so sweetly and who had bravely placated the mad elephant.
King Dushyant and Shakuntala at the ashrama of Kanva Muni
Shakunthala lost in thoughts
Shakuntala lost in thought by Raja Ravi Varma 19th C. Indian Painter

Shakuntala was lost in thought.

Meanwhile, Shakuntala, wondered about their guest. Who was this handsome young king. How dare he come to the forest and hunt. And for deer! Her fawn was the sweetest most innocent creature she had ever known. But what had become of the stranger? He had gone off to stop a mad elephant. What courage! But what if he were crushed by the elephant? She was worried. How could she be worried about a total stranger? It was all so confusing.
Image result for elephant attack
But when she consulted with her heart, she realized that she wasn’t worried. What pierced her heart like an arrow and made her head spin was love. She was enchanted by their guest, the handsome king.  She was  feverish with love for the stranger who had entered the grove.  He spoke so sweetly and ran bravely after the mad elephant.
Damayanti Vanavasa
All this gave Shakuntala a headache. She was now burning with passion, and felt feverish and sick. But why had he left so soon? She felt abandoned. It wasn’t the first time. Her mother was the beautiful apsara, Menaka. She had been sent to earth to break the vow of Vishvamitra Muni. 
Image result for indra and menaka
Everyone in the ashrama knew the story. Vishvamitra had been a king and a great Kshatriya warrior. But he was unsatisfied with his position. Once he had been hunting in the forest when he came upon the great sage Vasistha. Enamoured by his wish-fulfilling cow, he attempted to steal it, but Vasistha ordered the cow to produce an army of soldiers. The magic army defeated Vishvamitra. 
Thwarted, he was determined to understand the source of Vasishta’s power. How could a brahman be more powerful than an Kshatriya?  And so he resolved to become a greater mystic than Vasishta, by dint of severe penances and austerities. This was brought to the attention of Indra, the lord of rain, who decided to put a stop to Vishvamitra’s yogic practice.

Image result for vishwamitra and menaka
Menaka's dance

He had prevailed upon Menaka to seduce the sage. One  day Vishvamitra was meditating on the banks of the Ganges. Menaka gathered flowers by the river. As she approached the sage, he was moved by the fragrance of her perfume, the sweetness of her smile, her enchanting eyes. Still, he resolved to follow his vows. Menaka began to frolic and dance through the forest, picking flowers and smiling graciously at the sage. But Vishvamitra was firm in his vows.  Menaka continued to tempt Vishvamitra until he was captured by her intoxicating beauty and drawn into the web of her seductive wiles.
raja ravi varma  paintings
Temptation of Visvamitra by Raja Ravi Varma, 19th C. traditional painter
Before long, a child was born, a daughter as enchanting as her mother and as strong-willed as her father. With this the spell was broken. 
Birth of Shakuntala

Vishvamitra rejected his daughter and returned to his austerities and meditation. Menaka was an apsara dancing girl from the heavens. She grew restless and bored with the simple tasks of motherhood. 
Image result for menaka apsara
She longed to return to the court of Indra, king of the heavens. And so it was that she abandoned Shakuntala in the forest. One morning, when no one was to be seen, Menaka slipped into the forest and laid the infant girl on a bed of mango leaves by a tall tamarind tree near the ashram of Kanva the forest sage. 
She said mantras and prayers to the gods to protect the tiny girl and then returned to the heavens to dance in the court of the god of rain. Menaka had been abandoned by her father, the great sage Vishvamitra, and now by her mother, the beautiful apsara, Menaka.
Image result for shakunta birds
Shakuntha birds with baby girl
As fortune would have it, the birds took pity on her. A family of Shakuntha birds brought her food and sang her to sleep on her bed of leaves. Finally, the sage Kanva, enchanted by the song of those exotic birds, found the nest where the little girl slept. And seeing the helpless child, he resolved to care for her. The compassionate sage raised her in his ashram as his own daughter and named her Shakuntala in honor of the shakuntha birds that had fed her.
Image result for kanva shakuntala ashram
Sage Kanva and Shakuntala
And there in the ashrama of Kanva Shakuntala had passed nearly sixteen years. She was a devoted daughter, polite, and well-educated. All the animals of the forest loved her, especially the birds who would perch on her shoulder and sing to her. But her favorite was the fawn that had escaped the ashram and was nearly killed by the king who came to hunt, the noble Dushyant. 

Image result for shakunta birds

King Dushyant

Meanwhile, after he had taken care of the elephant, King Dushyant had to return to his camp and attend to his horses and chariots. He found his charioteer by the banks of the river. There he spent the night. As the moon rose over the tamarind trees, the King found that he could not stop thinking of the young maid who gathered papaya in a grove by Kanva's ashram. She was so attached to the little fawn that he had gone after with his bow and arrow. He found himself drawn to her.

Image result for dushyant and shakuntala

As the charioteer saw to the horses and the servants took down the pavilion of the king, the hunting party received a message from the royal court. The queen summoned them. It was time to return. The young prince was celebrating a birthday.
But the king found an excuse to pass a few more days in the forest. Courtiers arrived and escorted his friends and servants in the hunting party back to his royal court, leaving behind his only his fool, his court jester.
Image result for hindu hunting party

The king promised to return shortly. However he tried to clear his mind and stop thinking of this fresh girl with profound eyes and bee-black hair, his thoughts kept returning to her again and again. At this time, the king knew his heart was struck with a passion for Shakuntala. Bewildered and not knowing how to proceed, he consulted his fool, a wise court jester who traveled with him. 

After most of the courtiers had returned to the kingdom, Dushyant to return to the grove where the ashram of Kanva was by the side of the river. 
Image result for kanva ashram
Kanva's Ashrama

They entered the forest again on the king’s chariot. Then proceeded on foot,  the king armed only with his sharp sword. When he returned to the grove of Kanva, the ladies of the ashram were surprised to see him and asked about the elephant, thanking him. Shakuntala was overjoyed to see him.
The king too was transformed with love and drank in the sight of Shakuntala, her hair dark like midnight rain, her eyes of deepest ocean blue.

Dushyant with Shakuntala and friend

As the ladies of the ashram excused themselves to perform their afternoon duties, Shakuntala found an excuse to stay with the king and his friend on the plea of hospitality. The fool left them to walk by the riverside and play his flute by the bamboo next to the water. Alone at last they professed their love to each other in a shady grove by the tall mango tree.

They professed their love by the mango tree.

Kunti tells of Shakuntala, Mother of Bharata

Image result for campfire

The Sons of Pandu sat quietly and listened to their mother tell the tale of Shakuntala, the mother of Bharat, their forefather. As the dying embers of the fire shot sparks into the darkness, Kunti devi continued her story:

Image result for dushyant and shakuntala
Dushyant and Shakuntala

"The king too was transformed with love and drank in the sight of Shakuntala, her hair dark like midnight rain, her eyes of deepest ocean blue.

"As the ladies of the ashram excused themselves to perform their afternoon duties, Shakuntala found an excuse to stay with the king and his friend on the plea of hospitality. The fool left them to walk by the riverside and play his flute by the bamboo next to the water. Alone at last they professed their love to each other in a shady grove by the tall mango tree.

Image result for king dushyant and shakuntala

Shakuntala and King Dashyant in Love

They talked and laughed, the King now madly in love, entrusted Shakuntala with his royal ring as an emblem of his true heart. Shankuntala gave herself hopelessly to the descendant of Puru as they embraced. They embraced and shared their hopes, doing all the things that lovers do when enchanted by spring. As the sun went down they whispered a lovers pledge never to part.

Image result for dushyant ring shakuntala

"Some days passed. The fool meanwhile became involved in meditation and study, and the ladies of the ashram occupied themselves in their duties to their guru while the happy couple passed a fortnight together, meeting secretly in the evenings and admiring the setting sun through the trees of the forest.

 "In this way they passed many days in love. During this time,  Shakuntala and the King promised themselves to each other and exchanging garlands of flowers, they married privately in the Gandharva style.

Image result for ancient hindu jewelry wedding ring

"One night a group of marauding yakshas or forest spirits attacked the ashram of Kanva, and then returned to the forest. The following night, laying in wait for them as the full moon rose over the fire sacrifice performed by humble brahmaṇas, the king found the yakshas, defeated them and sent them into retreat. 

"Messengers from the court of the king then arrived in the grove, recalling Dushyant to the royal court. The king was obliged to return to his duties at the royal palace. With a heavy heart, before they could make public their love and formally marry, the king had to return. He gave Shakuntala his royal ring and his sworn pledge that they would be married soon in the formal royal style. He pledged his loyalty to Shakuntala and told her he would never forget her and left.
Terracota Yakshas, Sunga period (1st century BC), found in Chandraketugarh (West Bengal) - Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York
"In the mean time, the fair Shakuntala tended the ashrama awaiting the return of the hermit Kanva. As the papaya budded and bloomed in the garden so also did a child grow in her womb. Her child would be Bharat, the great ruler of India who gave his name for generations to India and to her story, the Mahabharata. Her child would be a fearless, compassionate king, worshipped by all, the ancestor of all you Pandavas."
Image result for kuntidevi
Artists Depiction of Kunti Devi, Mother of the Pandavas.

Kunti paused, staring at the fire. Being moved by the history that their mother was telling them, Yudhisthira her eldest son and foremost of  the Pandavas asked Kunti Devi, “What became of Shakuntala and Dushyant and how did their story end? Was our ancestor born in the ashram of Kanva?”

The Curse of Durvas Muni

Forest-dwelling Yakshas

At the petition of King Yudhishthira, Kunti, his mother continued the story of their ancestor Bharata.  As the horizon became clear with the first rays of morning, Kunti replied saying, “Well, It so came to pass that the erudite saint Durvasa Muni, who was known for his hot temper, passed by the ashram of Kanva. 

Image result for ashram of Kanva
Durvasa passes by the ashram of Kanva

At that time he was very hungry. The sweet young Shakuntala, now with child was so distracted by her love of Dushyant, that she neglected her service. 

She didn’t attend to the sage properly.  While preparing lunch for Durvasa Muni she forgot to fetch fresh water. The lunch was cold. Her fickle mind was lost as she pined for king Duhsyant and wondered, “Does he still remember me?”

Her absent-mindedness was not lost on the sage. The hot-tempered Durvasa became enraged at her treatment. Finally, he could tolerate her no more. “I curse you, girl.” 
Image result for Durvasa and Shakuntala
Durvasa curses Shakuntala for absent-mindedness
He said,  “As you have have been so absent-minded with  me, thinking all the while of one who is not here, so shall the one you love be inattentive with you. Whoever it is you pine for will forget all about you. He will remember neither you, nor your face. He shall no more think of you and shall forget your image in his heart. You will vainly strive to waken his remembrance but he shall disown you and cast you out from his court as a stranger.”
With this, the shy and devoted Shakuntala blushed red. “Forgive me, O blessed one,” She said. “I have sinned against you.”

Image result for Durvasa Shakuntala

Durvasa was impervious to her pleas. He refused to listen to her. Some time later, hearing of the terrible curse of the hot-tempered sage, Shakuntala’s friends Priyamvada and Anasuya did their best to mitigate the curse. Arriving on the scene they assuaged the saint with sweet words and cool drinks.
Serving the saint the richest and most sumptuous food and drink they knew how to prepare while cajoling him with sweet words, the girls finally managed to calm him.  When they saw he was peaceful within and satisfied with the repast, they said, “O saintly one, kindly mitigate the curse you have given our sister.” In this way they pleaded with him.
Image result for Durvasa Shakuntala
Durvasa Muni mitigates the curse
With this, Durvasa Muni, said, “Because you have shown me hospitality worthy of the great Kanva, I will try to relax the curse. I cannot change what has been said. The King will forget all about Shakuntala. But, at the sight of the ring he gave her, the spell will pass, and his memory of her will return.”

So it was that Durvasa Muni left Shakuntala with the fateful curse which would change her life and the life of her unborn son Bharata.

Image result for Shakuntala and Bharat


The king had left for his palace and court. Soon he became immersed in royal affairs and forgot all about Shakuntala. He had a vague memory that something interesting had happened while on his hunt in the forest, but even when he tried hard to think of what it was, it escaped him. He celebrated the prince's birthday with the queen and fell into the dull forgetfulness of everyday life.
Shakuntala was desperate to hear some news from Dushyant, but as the days went by no messenger arrived to escort her to the palace of the king. As her pregnancy began to show, people would ask about the father of her child. And when she told them, "He will be a great prince, as his father is the King, Dushyant," the people would scorn and laugh at her. 
Finally, she sat down and wrote Dushyant a letter, reminding the king of their love. She sent the letter with a brahmana who passed through the ashrama, and waited for a reply, but heard nothing.

Image result for dushyant and shakuntala
Shakuntala writes a letter

Finally Kanva returned from his long pilgrimage. He greeted Gautami, the matron of the ashram and asked her for the news. Gautami told him all about the yakshas who had attacked the sacred fire, and the elephant who tore through the bamboo and the story of Shakuntala and her infatuation with the King Dushyant. 
Image result for dushyant and shakuntala
Sage Kanva and Shakuntala
After Kanva rested and lit the sacrificial fire and spoke the Vedic truths to his disciples, he called for Shakuntala. When she told that hermit how she was with child, it was decided that the best thing to do would be to travel to the Palace of the great King Dushyant and remind him of his obligation toward his wife.
Image result for bw photo shakuntala play

They resolved to leave at once for the court of King Dushyant to plead their case. 

Image result for hindu king

The Court of King Dushyant

Shakuntala with ladies of Kanva's ashrama
Kunti continued, "When the time came, Shakuntala and the ladies bid farewell to  Kanva Muni and the members of his forest ashram. Kanva felt proud that his disciple would soon be the Queen of Hastinapura. No doubt her son would become a great king in his own right. He was sad to see her go; she was the only daughter he would ever know.

Image result for kanva and shakuntala

"And so it was that in joyful anticipation, the ladies of the ashrama set out together for the court of King Dushyant. Shakuntala said goodbye to the deer and parrots, and the family of Shakuntha birds that had saved her life. They went on through the lush green forest by the river where every creeper wept tears of nectar to see her go. 

"As she waved farewell to the forest of her childhood, Shakuntala glanced at her hand. The royal ring that Dushyant had placed on her slender lotus-like finger shined brilliantly in the morning sun. 'Perhaps the curse of Durvasa had affected the king's mind,' She thought.  "Perhaps that's why he never answered the letter. But once he sees the ring, the spell will be broken," 
Image result for rings

Anasuya and Priyamvada went along with Shakuntala.  The girls were accompanied by Gautami, the  matron of the ashram. Shakuntala was confident that when they arrived in court, everything would be settled. She had no idea of the misfortune that was to befall her. 
Kunti said, "In a few days they approached the great city of Hastinapura, where your ancestors ruled and where your descendants will also rule. Shakuntala and their company reached the Sachi river and could see the towers of the king's palace on the horizon. In the intense heat of the day they bathed in the cool waters of the river. 
"They heard the birdcalls of Shakuntha birds through the mango trees. The bamboo reflected in the stream gladdened their hearts. They frolicked in the stream for a while, laughing, splashing water and forgetting their cares, Shakuntala and her friends squeezed the sandy mud through their toes and giggled when the tiny fish wriggled through their feet.
Image result for river at sunset

 At night they made camp on the river's banks. Gautami enlivened them with talk of Shakuntala's royal prospects. How lovely she would look, dressed in the finest silk of the land, wearing the tiara of a queen. The ladies slept peacefully with visions of royalty in their heads.  
The following day, after bathing in the river again, they put on clean white saris and approached the imposing palace gates of the great city of Hastinapura. 

Image result for hastinapur palace

"Deep inside the cool halls and vaulted marble ceilings of the great palace was the royal court of King Dushyant. The King was absorbed in a game of chess with his minister of war. They discussed the disposition of elephants and horses and the defenses of the city. True to the curse of the hot-headed Durvasa Muni, the King had forgotten all about his long lost love, the fair Shakuntala. He had forgotten the moments of love and passion he had shared with the daughter of Menaka under the mango trees in the forest ashram of the sage Kanva. 
Image result for ancient chess game
'Your move,' said the minister of war with a sly grin.
'I'm thinking,' said the King. His position was lost. But perhaps the last-minute sacrifice of a piece might have bought him time enough defeat his rival. He contemplated his move on the chess-board. Seated on a fine silk pillow, sipping a cool drink, he stared at the chess-board. As his hand touched a piece he looked at his ring finger and wondered what happened to his signet ring. Where had he misplaced it? He would need to make some inquiry.
Just then a messenger burst into the chambers.
'Maharaja Dushyant Ki Jai!'
'What is it?' said the King?
Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
"What is it?" said the King
'I beg forgiveness for this discorteous interruption, Sire, but it seems you have some visitors.'
'Visitors?' said the king, holding the chess piece in his hand. He looked up from the board.  
'Yes, Sire. The ladies of Kanva's forest ashrama.'
'Kanva Muni? What does he want?'
'Not Kanva, Sire. The ladies of his ashrama.'
Seeing an opportunity to confuse his minister, the King played the knight sacrifice. 'Check!' he said.
'Sire, these ladies have arrived in court, desiring an audience with the king.'
'Right away,' said the King, and stood to go. 'Study that move,' he said to the minister, smiling.
And so the King,  a busy man oppressed with the weighty cares of government, left his chambers. 
Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
Shakuntala at court
With much pomp and ceremony the heralds announced the arrival of the lady hermits and their charges and the chamberlains ushered the king into his court. They bowed as he approached his throne and sat. The ladies of Kanva's ashram bowed. Only Shakuntala remained standing, smiling.
King Dushyant made himself comfortable on his royal throne, adjusting his silk garments. An attendant brought him a silver bowl filled with fruit and placed it on a stand. The king began to peel a grape. He looked at the ladies present and at his courtiers. The girl who was standing was unusually beautiful, but he had never seen her before.

“What brings you all here?” said the King. “Whenever noble saints and sages grace this court with their presence, we feel blessed. And when angelic ladies come to bless us we feel doubly graced. How is Kanva Muni? I've been meaning to make a pilgrimage. His ashram is in the forest somewhere isn't it? Is he in good health?”
With this the ladies greeted the king and bowed again. Gautami stood and took Shakuntala by the hand, approaching the king.
Gautami said, "My dear King: the humble sage Kanva, our preceptor, sends his humble obeisances and respects. He regrets that when you visited his ashrama and met the lady Shakuntala he was out on holy pilgrimage. But he has sent me along with your wife and soon to be mother of your child. We missed you so much. But now that we are all reunited, we are happy to see you again. Here is your beloved wife, Shakuntala."
Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
The King smiled. "I'm very sorry, but I don't remember visiting Kanva's ashrama. Shakuntala? Who is she?"
Shakuntala stepping forward, smiled, radiant. At last she was standing before her beloved Dushyant.
“My Lord.” she said. “It's been so long since we last saw each other. But the day that we professed our love under the mango tree seems like yesterday to me. I know it isn't your fault. The fault is all mine. You promised to send a chariot for me to bring me here to your court. I have written you so many letters, but because of the curse of  Durvasa Muni you haven't replied to any of them. I can no longer wait for your return to the ashram by the banks of the river Ganges. Forlorn and forgotten I have come to surrender myself to you that you might do with me as you please.”
Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
“Curse? Who is this woman?” asked the king, frowning, his memory shattered by the curse of Durvasa.
“Don’t you recognize your own wife?” asked Gautami, the matron of the ashrama, shocked and indignant at the king’s insensitivity.
“My wife?” said the king. “I'm not sure I see the humor in your remarks. My wife, the Queen, awaits in her chambers. Why wouldn't I recognize her. What is the meaning of all this? Who is this woman, I say?”
"Don't you remember me?"
“O, my love. Don’t you know me? It is I, Shakuntula. Don’t you remember when we talked together in the mango grove and sipped the clear water of the Ganges in a cup you made of lotus leaves?”
“I remember nothing of the kind,” said the king. “What are you implying. Are you saying I know this girl? That I....?  Listen my child. You're a very nice young lady, and very pretty if I do say, but   If I accepted all the women who claimed I had married them, I would have to maintain a harem. If you need some charity, my Lord the minister of charity will be happy to help you. Kanva was always honorable with my father. If he wants gold and silver all he needs to do is ask. But you are accusing me of what?  Fathering your child?  This is an outrage!– Guards! remove them.”

"Have you no shame? Where is your honor? You are a king. Is your promise worth nothing? Oh, but you must be under the spell of the curse. The curse of Durvasa Muni!"
"Curse! You dare to curse me? Guards!"
The guards began to move from their posts. They stood close to Shakuntala to escort her from the royal court.
Image result for rings
The ring had vanished
“Wait!” cried  Shakuntala. Everyone looked at her. She held out her hand. "Look!" she said. "Behold   

the royal signet ring of Dushyant!" She held up her hand for all to see.

But alas! The ring had vanished from her hand.

Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
Add caption

Dear readers: I hope you are enjoying my retelling of the story of Shakuntala. As source materials I have culled from the Ganguli translation of Mahabharata, the Arthur Ryder translation of Kalidas, and the retelling of my own Guru Maharaja, Bhakti Rakshak Shridhar Dev Goswami, as I heard it from him at his ashram in 1982.  

One may wonder about the value of recounting this story, which appears on its face to be an ordinary romance. The story of Shakuntala is an important part of Indian history and culture, as Shakuntala herself is the mother of the famous Bharata. 

In a sense, she is the mother of India itself, as India proper is known as Bharata. Sanskrit students love the poetry of Kalidas, who, writing in around the 5th century or so, took certain liberties with the original Mahabharata version. Shridhar Maharaja himself could quote passages from memory, as he was a great expert in the Sanskrit language. Without any further justification, we continue with the story. Michael Dolan, B.V. Mahayogi

The Ring

Kunti held her children spellbound with the tale. She continued her narration.

Add caption

"Shakuntala held up her hand to show all the royal signet ring of King Dushyant with which her had married her and pledged eternal loyalty. But it was gone.
“The ring!” She cried. “Where is the ring?”

The ring had disappeared as if by magic from her hand.

Image result for rings

 Shocked as she beheld her bare fingers, Shakuntala was dumbfounded. "The curse!" She said.

As the king had no idea what she was referring to, and being under the curse of Durvasa Muni, he sat there puzzled as the courtiers laughed.
Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
Turning to the court brahmaṇa, the King asked, “O wise one, what is your council? What should we do with this innocent girl? She believes me to be her husband and has lost her wits. And yet, she is under the protection of Kanva Muṇi. She is obviously with child and should be protected.”

Gandhari, the matron of the ashrama, crossed her arms. Shakuntala looked at the wise old brahmaṇa. The court was still. The brahmaṇa thought a while. 
Image result for a brahman
Then he said, “O King. We must take the middle path. You may know the girl. With all respect for your lordship, you are a warrior and sometimes stay in faraway places during your adventures. You may not be as innocent as you pretend to be.
You may have forgotten this child. She is an innocent so perhaps she has a real case. We should proceed with caution. There is a test. We can wait until she bears the child and see if the child has the royal marks. All children born in the line of Puru must be born with the royal mark of the lotus in the palms of their hands. We can agree to take care of this girl until then. She can stay in the ashram here at court until such time as she bears the child. Then we shall see who is the father.”
Image result for Dushyant rejects Shakuntala
The King smiled. "Make it so." he said, and stood up, prepared to leave the hall.

Shakuntala, hearing this was disgusted. She had heard enough. Shocked at the king’s insensitivity, she could tolerate no further insults to her purity. 
Image result for dushyant insults shakuntala
She ran from the court and from the palace. Anasuya and Priyamvada ran after her, but Shakuntala was fleet of foot and raced past the palace gates and kept running. Soon she reached the place by the river where they had bathed the day before. Perhaps she had lost the ring in the river when they were bathing. It all seemed so long ago.

But as she stared into the waters of the Sachi River, she was witness to a miracle. An airship approached from the sky and came towards her. An angelic figure appeared from the biman airship and bid Shakuntala to join her. Once aboard,  the airship bore Shakuntala up to the heavens. 

An airship appeared from the sky
From a distance, Priyamvada and Anusuya watched Shakuntala run into the forest. But they were astonished to see the descent of the celestial ariship and as they  witnessed this miracle they were amazed and offered prayers. 

Image result for biman hindu mahabharata

The king in his amnesia returned to his chambers where the Queen and prince awaited him. 

Gandhari, Priyamvada, Anusuya and the other followers of Kanva, with prayers on their lips, and wonder in their hearts at the ways of the gods, returned to their ashram in the forest. Shakuntala had disappeared.

Biman from Ramayana

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.