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Story Of Shakuntala In Mahabharata And Abhijnanasakuntalam

The story of Shakuntala is one of the most beloved and enduring tales in Indian literature, originating from the Mahabharata and later elaborated by the classical Sanskrit playwright Kalidasa in his play "Abhijnanasakuntalam" (The Recognition of Shakuntala).

Shakuntala The Mahabharata Version

In the Mahabharata, Shakuntala is the daughter of the sage Vishwamitra and the apsara (celestial nymph) Menaka. Abandoned by her parents, she is found and raised by the sage Kanva in his hermitage. Shakuntala grows up into a beautiful and virtuous woman.

One day, King Dushyanta, while on a hunting expedition, encounters Shakuntala and falls deeply in love with her. They marry according to the Gandharva rite (a form of marriage by mutual consent without rituals). Dushyanta gives Shakuntala his royal ring as a token of his promise to return for her.

Shakuntala, now pregnant, waits for Dushyanta, but he does not return. One day, she is visited by the sage Durvasa, known for his temper. Absorbed in thoughts of Dushyanta, Shakuntala fails to greet Durvasa properly. Angered, Durvasa curses her, saying that the person she is thinking of will forget her. Realizing her mistake, Shakuntala begs for forgiveness, and Durvasa relents slightly, saying the curse will be lifted if Dushyanta sees the ring he gave her.

Shakuntala sets out to find Dushyanta but loses the ring in a river. Without the ring, Dushyanta fails to recognize her due to the curse. Heartbroken, Shakuntala returns to the hermitage and gives birth to a son, Bharata.

Later, a fisherman finds the royal ring in the belly of a fish and takes it to the king. Upon seeing the ring, Dushyanta's memory returns, and he sets out to find Shakuntala. He eventually reunites with her and acknowledges Bharata as his son. Bharata grows up to become a great king and ancestor of the Kuru dynasty, from which the Pandavas and Kauravas descend.

Kalidasa's "Abhijnana Shakuntalam"

Kalidasa's play adds poetic embellishments and dramatic elements to the original story. In this version, the love story between Shakuntala and Dushyanta is more elaborate, with greater emphasis on their emotional turmoil and romantic exchanges.

Shakuntala's curse and its consequences are central to the plot. The ring becomes a crucial element for Dushyanta's recognition of Shakuntala. The play highlights themes of love, separation, and reunion, with a focus on divine intervention and the moral virtues of the characters.

Kalidasa's version is celebrated for its lyrical beauty and depth of emotion, making it a classic of Sanskrit literature. The story of Shakuntala has been translated into many languages and adapted into various art forms, including dance, music, and film, continuing to captivate audiences with its timeless appeal.