Shakuntala - A tale of Love

Updated: Aug 26


Ancient India is a treasure box filled with beautiful tales of people from every age. It is indeed the richest contributor to literature for the whole world. These enchanting stories take us to a world unknown to all of us. The greatest books like Ramayana and Mahabharata is a compilation of several short stories. Today we are going to hear of one such beautiful tale from the book of Mahabharata. This is the story of Shakuntala and Dushyant who were the ancestors of Pandavas and Kauravas.


Long ago in the age of Sat Yuga there lived a sage named Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra was an extremely powerful and divine saint known for his spiritual powers. His power was such that it even made the Devas (Gods) insecure. One such God was Indra who very insecure and decided to break Vishwamitra's penance to subdue his powers. He sent the most beautiful apsara (nymph) from heaven to seduce Vishwamitra. This beautiful nymph was known as Menaka. She descended on Earth and as per the plan went to visit Vishwamitra. It didn't take much time for her to lure Vishwamitra into her divine beauty. Vishwamitra lost his control and made love to her. A beautiful girl child was born due to this act of love. Menaka was now successful in her mission. She retreated to the heavens leaving Vishwamitra and their daughter on Earth. Vishwamitra realised that all this made him lose much of his spiritual powers. He abandoned the child in the forest and went back to continue with his penance. This child was Shakuntala.


The baby girl was spotted by Rishi Kanva. He saw that baby was being guarded by birds. Sage Kanva decided to adopt the child and hence took her to his hermitage. He named her Shakuntala. Shakuntala grew up to be a beautiful maiden just like her mother. One day a king named Dushyant happened to encounter her in the forest. He was simply struck by Shakuntala's beauty and fell in love with her instantly. He proposed to her for marriage and Shakuntala agreed. They married as per Gandharva tradition in the presence of sage Kanva. Dushyant was a king from the Lunar dynasty and Shakuntala was the daughter of an ascetic. Hence it was not an ideal match. Dushyant needed time to make arrangements in his kingdom so that Shakuntala is accepted as his Queen. He decided to go back and promised Shakuntala that he will return soon to take her along. He also gifted her a ring as a token of their love.


After he left, Shakuntala gave birth to their child. He was named Bharat. Years passed but Dushyant did not return. He became very busy with his duties and kingship. Shakuntala waited for him but soon grew anxious and started losing her patience. She would be lost in his thoughts the whole day without talking much to anyone. One day sage Durvasa decided to visit Kanva's ashram. When he met Shakuntala she was lost in Dushyant's thoughts as usual and hence did not greet the sage respectfully. This enraged Durvasa and in the fit of his rage, he cursed her that whoever was in her mind shall forget her completely. Shakuntala begged for forgiveness and hence Durvasa gained his calm again. Realising that he overreacted he modified the curse and said that the person shall remember Shakuntala when she will show him any proof of their relation.


After this Shakuntala decided that she won't wait for further but rather go and see him by herself. She and her foster father then began their voyage towards the kingdom. To reach the kingdom they had to cross a river and hence they boarded a boat. Accidentally while sitting in the boat Shakuntala lost her wedding ring gifted to her by Dushyant. The ring fell off in the river. When Shakuntala finally met king Dushyant she was disheartened to see that the king had completely forgotten about her. She tried hard to make him remember everything, but in vain. Insulted with this she returned to her hermitage.


Meanwhile, the ring that fell in the river was consumed by a fish. A fisherman happened to catch this fish. When he cut the fish into pieces he found the ring inside. He realised that it was a royal ring and hence took to Dushyant's court. When the king saw this ring he instantly remembered everything. He realised that his wife Shakuntala was waiting for him. He then decided to find her and get her to his kingdom. Finally, he went back to Kanva's hermitage and the couple reunited again.


Art Credit: Unknown

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