Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Shakuntala included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Śakuntalā

Foster-daughter of sage Kaṇva.

1) Birth. Śakuntalā was a daughter born to Viśvāmitra of the Apsarā woman called Menakā. Viśvāmitra was engaged in intense tapas on the banks of river Mālinī in the Himālayas. Indra deputed Menakā to break the maharṣi’s tapas. She enticed him away from his tapas and got pregnant by him. But she forsook the child on the banks of Mālinī and returned to Devaloka.

2) Childhood. Birds gathered round the forsaken orphan-child. While Śakuntas i.e. birds were petting the child Kaṇva came that way, saw the child and took it with him to the āśrama. As śakuntas had petted it, the child was named Śakuntalā.

As queen.

King Duṣyanta of the lunar dynasty married Śakuntalā and to the couple was born the famous Bharata. This is the original story about Śakuntalā’s married life. All the Indian languages contain two different versions of Śakuntalā’s life. One version is that related in Vyāsa’s Bhārata and the second is that contained in Kālidāsa’s Śākuntala. Many scholars opine that in the matter of the Śakuntalā episode Kālidāsa has gone a step further and for the better, and therefore both the versions of the story are to be carefully studied by us.

(i) Vyāsa’s Śakuntalā. Śakuntalā, now grown up as a maiden, was alone in the āśrama when King Duṣyanta, out in the forest on a hunting expedition, came there. In the absence of her foster-father Kaṇva, Śakuntalā welcomed the King. They fell in love with each other and the King married Śakuntalā according to the Gāndharva way of marriage and lived with her for a few days. Śakuntalā became pregnant. The King returned to his palace.

Kaṇva returned to the āśrama and he was pleased that what had been destined to take place had happened. In due course of time Śakuntalā delivered a boy, who was named Sarvadamana. When the child was grown up, Kaṇva sent his mother along with him to Duṣyanta’s palace. The King did not recognise them, but a celestial voice convinced him that the child was his own son. The King heartily welcomed his wife and son and Śakuntalā lived in the palace as his honoured wife.

(ii) Kālidāsa’s Śakuntalā. Kaṇva brought up Śakuntalā born to Viśvāmitra of Menakā in his āśrama and she had two companions called Anasūyā and Priyaṃvadā. All the three grew up and became maidens.

King Duṣyanta, who went out hunting in the forest followed a deer to Kaṇva’s āśrama where he saw Śakuntalā watering the garden with her companions. Kaṇva was then away at Cakratīrtha. Duṣyanta, who fell in love with Śakuntalā, married her according to the Gāndharva rules and lived with her at the āśrama for a few days. Meanwhile Śakuntalā became pregnant, and emissaries from the palace came and the King returned with them. He left the āśrama after promising Śakuntalā that he would soon return to her. He gave her his signet ring.

Sad over the separation from Duṣyanta and immersed in thought about him, Śakuntalā was sitting there in the āśrama when Durvāsas came there. She did not see the maharṣi nor welcome him respectfully. He got angry at this and cursed her that she be forgotten by him about whom she was so intensely thinking. Śakuntalā did not hear the curse either, but her companions who heard it begged pardon of the muni on behalf of Śakuntalā and prayed for absolution from the curse. Then he said that if Śakuntalā showed the King any sign about their relationship the King would remember her. Her companions did not tell Śakuntalā about the above incidents. Kaṇva gladly welcomed Śakuntalā’s wedding with Duṣyanta.

Days and months passed by, yet Duṣyanta did not return and Kaṇva sent Śakuntalā, in whom signs of pregnancy had become prominent, to the palace of the King in the company of Gautamī and Śārṅgarava. Anasūyā reminded Śakuntalā to take particular care of the signet ring. On their way to the palace Śakuntalā and others bathed in the Somavāratīrtha, and nobody noticed Śakuntalā losing from her finger the ring in the tīrtha. They reached the King’s palace. None noticed them. Duṣyanta did not remember having even seen her. The signet ring was missing. After leaving Śakuntalā at the palace her companions returned to the āśrama. Menakā, whose heart melted at the pathetic wailings of Śakuntalā led her to Kaśyapa’s āśrama, left her there and returned to Devaloka.

The signet ring lost by Śakuntalā was swallowed by a fish, which was netted by a fisherman, who went about the streets to sell the ring extracted from inside the fish. Servants of the King took the fisherman captive. At the sight of the ring thoughts about the past dawned on the King and he remembered all about Śakuntalā. His days became sad pondering over separation from Śakuntalā.

Śakuntalā delivered a boy at the āśrama of Kaśyapa. The child was named Sarvadamana and he grew up as a courageous boy.

On his return from the devāsura war, Duṣyanta entered Kaśyapa’s āśrama where he saw Sarvadamana counting the teeth of a lion he had captured. Having heard details about him from the boy the King went inside the āśrama and saw Kaśyapa and Śakuntalā. He returned with Śakuntalā and the boy to the palace with Kaśyapa’s blessings. It was this boy Sarvadamana, who afterwards became Bharata, the famous emperor of India.

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