Shakuntala and Dushyanta – The Mahabharata version


Raja_Ravi_Varma_-_Mahabharata_-_Shakuntala

Although today’s prompt was to write a post about “Erasure: You have the choice to erase one incident from your past, as though it never happened. What would you erase and why?” I chose to liberally interpret the prompt and post about one of Indian mythology’s immortal love stories, that of Shakuntala and Dushyanta and one incident in their story which deals with ‘erasing the past’, so to speak.

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Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of Rishi Kanwa and the young king Dushyanta fell in love with each other when the king happened to see her in the forest near the rishi’s hermitage on one of his hunting expeditions. As is the norm with all clichéd love stories, their love was also ‘at first sight’ so to speak and they fell hopelessly in love with each other and got married. After the initial few days of being blissfully married, the king then goes back to his kingdom promising his new bride that he would come back soon to take her with him.

But once he reaches the kingdom, he gets so involved with the nitty-gritty’s of administration, politics, solving the problems of his subjects that he ends up forgetting his lovely Shakuntala. In the meantime, his wife, Shakuntala delivers a strong baby boy Sarvadamana (subdue of all) as a result of their union.

By the time the boy was six years old, he had proven to be brave beyond his age, courtesy a boon granted by his maternal grandfather to his mother. And around this time was when Rishi Kanwa told Shakuntala that it was time for her to take her son to Dushyanta and ask him to install the young boy as the heir apparent to the throne. It was time for the world to know of this wonderful son of Dushyanta.

However, when Shakuntala and her son reached the kingdom and had an audience with King Dushyanta, the king conveniently seemed to have forgotten all about his wife and the fact that they had married six years ago in the forest. He behaved as though this was one of those embarrassing incidents from his past life which he would not acknowledge and least of all make the young Sarvadamana as his heir apparent.

It was almost as if Dushyanta wanted ‘erasure’ of this particular incident and Shakuntala from his past as it did nothing but embarrass him in public.

Upon being accused of lying in open court, Shakuntala loses her temper and asks Dushyanta as to how he could have forgotten her and accuse her of such falsehood. She warns him of the fact that Lord Vishnu, the protector was well aware of their union and that any refusal to acknowledge the truth would result in grave consequences for him. Despite Shakuntala’s anger and grief, Dushyanta remains unmoved following which she leaves the palace in a huff.

As soon as she goes out, celestial voices are heard in the palace admonishing Dushyanta for his lies. These voices remind and reassure him that the boy is indeed his son and is destined for far more greatness than anybody can imagine. The voices then command him to accept his son and christen him Bharata.

On hearing these voices, Dushyanta then addresses the court and tells everyone present “If I had accepted the boy as my son purely based on lady Shakuntala’s words, then all of you would have been suspicious and my son would also have not been regarded as pure. However, now that all of you have heard the celestial voices from heaven stating the facts as they are, I will gladly publicly accept the boy as my son and name him Bharata as instructed.

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This post is written for WordPress Daily Prompts: 365 Writing Prompts where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided.

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The abhijnanasakuntala poem penned by Kalidasa has a version of the story where Shakuntala is cursed by Rishi Durvasa which ends up with Dushyanta forgetting all about her and then being reminded of her when he comes across a golden ring of his inside a fish’s stomach. However, the version I have presented above is based on the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata written by Veda Vyasa.

It is quite interesting to know that the Kalidasa version is the more popular one even though it is only an adaptation of the original text of the Mahabharata. And I am sure that not too many people are aware of the fact that the story of Shakuntala is a part of the Mahabharata. Most people treat it as a standalone story by itself.

And the image used at the very top of the post is none other than the one immortalized by Raja Ravi Varma titled Sakuntala looking back to glimpse Dushyanta, one of the many wonderful paintings that this legendary painter has painted using Indian mythology as the theme.

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24 thoughts on “Shakuntala and Dushyanta – The Mahabharata version

  1. As I read this well-written piece, I was wondering why you hadn’t mentioned Durvasa’s curse … and then, you explained why!

    Are there any explanations for the differences in the two versions of this story, or for the differences in various versions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana?

    • My my, what a “take” on the prompt. I was very curious when I saw Erasure and Mahabharata in the same sentence. Thought you were about to rewrite history. Nicely done. Just as Pro mentioned, I wondered about the Durvasa curse too. Nice job Jai….

      • @Sid, to be honest even I knew of only the Kalidasa version, but it was only when I started reading the English translation of the Mahabharata that I found out that Durvasa is not even mentioned in the same 😀

    • @Proactive Indian, no, based on my preliminary research so far, there really has been no reason stated for the difference in the versions. I am guessing that Kalidasa used his ‘poetic license’ to reimagine the story of Shakuntala the way he did, with Durvasa’s curse in it 😀 But will read up some more on that and hopefully publish a follow up post.

    • @Kalpana, I find almost all of Ravi Varma’s paintings very haunting, and given that he had painted Shakuntala, it was almost mandatory that I include the painting in this post 😀

    • @Bhagyashree, so they do 😀 It was only when I read an English translation of the Sambhava Parva of the Mahabharata that I found out that Durvasa and his curse don’t even find a mention there at all 🙂

  2. Wow! Loved reading this one. I was not aware of this version at all. As you mentioned, it is the ring version which has been popular. I am surprised that even my grandma never told me this version, which looks much more realistic and acceptable. Thanks for sharing this! The girl’s have a new story from Mahabore uncle. 🙂

  3. I too am one of those ignorant ones. I was wondering how you left out the Durvasa.. This is what I love about your blog there’s something new even about the age old stories that we’ve heard since childhood.

    • @obsessivemom, trust me when I say this, until I did the research for this post, even I was ignorant of the Mahabharata version of this particular story 🙂

  4. That was an excellent take on the prompt. It does seem as if Dushyanta wanted to erase that incident entirely. I really like the way you give mythology a thought and analyze different interpretations… helps us learn in the process too 🙂

    • @pratikshya, it was only when I started reading up for this post did I realize about the version of the story that I published in the post. Glad you liked this version 😀

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