Śakuntalā

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Sakuntala, ZakuntalA, shakuntalaa


Origin of Story of Śakuntalā

The origins of the well-known legend of Śakuntalā based on which the great poet Kālidāsa[1] wrote his immortal drama Abhijñāna-śākuntalam lay in the Mahābhārata[2] and also the Padmapurāṇa.[3]

Life of Śakuntalā

She was born to Menakā[4] from Viśvāmitra, to wreck whose austerities Indra, the king of the gods, had sent her. However, as both the parents abandoned her, the śakunta birds[5] took care of her, thereby getting her the name Śakuntalā. The sage Kaṇva who found the abandoned baby, carried her to his own hermitage and brought her up as his foster daughter.

When she had grown into a beautiful young woman, Duṣyanta, the king of the lunar race happened to visit Kaṇva’s hermitage. They fell in love with each other and married according to the gāndharva rites. The same was approved by the sage Kaṇva who came to know about it later. In course of time, Śakuntalā gave birth to a heroic child whose strength and valor astonished everyone. He was named Sarvadamana. He is famous as Bharata.

Later, when Śakuntalā went with Bharata and the disciples of the sage Kaṇva to Duṣyanta to live with him, he hesitated to accept her. At the intervention of an ākāśavāṇi,[6] he accepted her as his queen and coronated Bharata as the crown-prince. The name Bhāratavarṣa or Bhārata for India and the lineage of Bharatavaṅśa started from him.

Variation in the Story

There is a slight deviation in the story as given by Kālidāsa. Due to a curse of the sage Durvāsa, who was once ignored by Śakuntalā, Duṣyanta could not recognize her. However, when the signet ring he had given to her was accidentally lost but miraculously recovered and shown to him, he remembered everything and gracefully accepted her.


References

  1. He lived in 2nd century B. C.
  2. Ādiparva, Chapters 68-74
  3. Story of Śakuntalā is in the Svarga-khanda.
  4. Menakā was a nymph.
  5. These birds are known as ravens.
  6. Ākāśavāṇi means a celestial message from an unseen god.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore