Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala

In the Mahabharata, the story of Dushyanta, king of Hastinapur, and Shakuntala, daughter of Rishi Vishwamitra and the apsara (angel) Menaka, is described in the Adi Parva (Sambhava Upa-parva) section. Dushyanta is on a tour in the forest and he reaches Rishi Kanva’s hermitage where he encounters Shakuntala who is a great beauty. For the king, it’s love at first sight. Here’s an excerpt from the exchange between Dushyanta and Shakuntala:

Dushyanta said to Shakuntala: “Marry me according to the Gandharva form, for this form of marriage is said to be the best.”
Shakuntala: “O king, my father has gone from the hermitage to collect fruits. Kindly wait for a moment. He will bestow me upon you.”
Dushyanta: “O beautiful lady, O faultless beauty, I desire you yourself should accept me. Know that I exist for you. Know also, my heart is completely in you, One is certainly one's own friend, one can certainly depend on one's own self, Therefore, according to the ordinance (scriptures), you yourself should bestow your own self on others.”

Dushyanta and Shakuntala have a Gandharva marriage (in Hindu law, Gandharva marriage is contracted by mutual consent and without formal rituals). Soon it’s time for Dushyanta to leave for Hastinapur—he gives Shakuntala his ring as a proof of their marriage, and promises that he will return to take her to his kingdom. One day, Rishi Durvasa, known for his temper, arrives at the hermitage, but Shakuntala, being engaged in thinking about Dushyanta. forgets to serve food to Durvasa. In a fit of anger, Durvasa curses Shakuntala that the man, whose thoughts fill her mind, will forget her. Shakuntala is shocked; she pleads for mercy. Durvasa relents and proclaims that her man will remember her when she shows him the proof of their marriage.   

After that Shakuntala leaves for Hastinapur, carrying with her the ring that Dushyanta had given her. She hopes that Dushyanta will remember her when she shows him the ring. But on the way she has an accident and a fish swallows the ring. Now Shakuntala has no proof of her marriage with Dushyanta. When she arrives in Hastinapur, Dushyanta does not recognize her. But a sage who has managed to recover the ring from the fish arrives at the king’s court. Once Dushyanta sees the ring, his memory is rekindled and he remembers Shakuntala. 

There is a royal marriage between Dushyanta and Shakuntala, who becomes the queen of Hastinapur. Their son Bharata becomes the founder of the Kuru Dynasty and the ancestor of the Pandava and the Kaurava clans.

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