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Abhijnana Shakuntalam Story – Summary – Meaning

The meaning of Abhijnana Shakuntalam is the recognition of Shakuntala. The story is from the Hindu epic Mahabharata and is the name of a Sanskrit play (drama) in seven acts by Kalidasa (4th century CE). Here is a summary of Abhijnana Shakuntalam.

King Dushyanta, the hero of the play, enters Kanava’s hermitage to pay his respects and sees Shakuntala, the foster-daughter of Kanva. They fall in love and the king secretly marries her and presents her with his ring. Having stayed there for some time, Dushyanta leaves her, promising her to take her to his palace through a proper escort. Overtaken by the painful separation, the now pregnant Shakuntala forgets to welcome the wrathful ascetic Durvasa. Durvasa gets angry and curses her to be forgotten by her lover. She asks forgiveness and Durvasa relents. He says that her lover may remember her on the sight of any sing of their love (this alludes to the process of abhijnana). Kanava returns and a heavenly voice narrates to him all that has happened. He sends Shakuntala to Dushyanta’s palace. Under the impact of the curse, Dushyanta refuses to recognize her. Desperate, Shakuntala goes to the ahsrama (hermitage) of Sage Maricha.

One day, a guard shows Dushyanta a ring which was found by a fisherman inside a fish. It was the ring that Dushyanta had given to Shakuntala. Shakuntala had incidentally dropped the ring while bating in the river on her way to the king’s palace. The sight of the ring reminds Dushyanta of everything that had happened between Shakuntala and him and he is filled with remorse. However, Shakuntala is not to be found anywhere.

While returning from a mission, Dushyanta comes across a gallant boy playing with lions in Hemakuntha, the mountain home of Sage Maricha. To his surprise, he learns that this boy is his son. Sage Maricha advocates Dushyanta’s innocence to Shakuntala and helps the two meet.

The story was adapted from Mahabharata and the Padma Purana. The poetic genius of Kalidasa has immortalized it in literature.

Abhijnana Shakuntalam was the first work of Kalidasa to be translated into English. The German translation (published in 1791 CE), based on this English translation, was praised so much by Goethe that it became famous all over the world.