Ring of recollection
Yet another foundation myth
the foundling's child makes king
If ancient Indian writers had been immersed in modern American culture, they might have portrayed their founding father Bharata in the standard rags-to-riches paradigm of the poor country boy who makes good in the big city. He founded a powerful dynasty of "universal rulers" in the subcontinent, and yet he must have been a self-made man, for history admits that his mother was an orphan, and that his paternity was also in question. How did a person of such obscure origins become king in a society rigidly stratified by the caste system? Was it hard work, leadership skill, or just dumb luck that accounted for Bharata's getting ahead?
No, according to ancient Indian writers, Bharata was not an upstart or climber. They say he was a lawful successor to kingship by birthright. This is the spin of the Sakuntala story where it first appears, in the first book of Mahabharata. (The story is presented in note 7 below.) It makes Bharata the legitimate son of a powerful king named Dusyanta (which begs the question of how Bharata could have founded any dynasty). The story acknowledges that Bharata's mother as an infant had been found abandoned in the woods (Sakuntala's name means "bird-sheltered"), but it suggests that her mother was a goddess Menaka and herfather was an ascetic whose strength of mind frightened even the king of gods Indra (which begs the question of why such illustrious parents would abandon their child). Rumor had it that King Dusyanta and Sakuntala were never married -- and that Dusyanta was among those who denied the existence of such a marriage. The Sakuntala tale addresses the rumors of Bharata's bastardy by asserting that Dusyanta had secretly married Sakuntala, that he had promised that her son would be the next king, and that he had not really meant it when he publicly denied her claims to be his wife.
The Mahabharata version of the story seems problematic. Its Dusyanta publicly rejects and humiliates Sakuntala, and yet he claims to do so only to clarify that her child is his heir:
This apology seems less than convincing, and probably for that reason the playwright Kalidasa changes the king's motivation. In Kalidasa's revision Dusyanta has forgotten Sakuntala because of a mean but limited curse of an angry ascestic named Durvasas; the king remembers her again, the curse ends, when he is presented with a "ring of recollection," a memento that he had given her, and this too is part of Durvasas' curse, so nothing that the king does or doesn't do is his fault. It's rather his fate. She can't revive his memory right away on first meeting him again because she loses the necessary ring in the Ganges, and that's not her fault. It's just an accident. The miraculous finding of this ring produces the happy ending in which Bharata is recognized as legitimate heir by the king and by all men, gods, and fathers of gods.
The story may still seem incredible with Kalidasa's addition of the forgetting curse and remembering ring. The explanation for Bharata's legitimacy may still fall flat. How could Dusyanta have forgotten Sakuntala?
Left: Sakuntala image from South Indian temple carving (colorized). Note that in Kalidasa's play the king draws Sakuntala's picture and worships it (Damrosch A993).
The slandered bride
Sakuntala shares with Ramayana the story type of the slandered bride, seen in folktales and other literature around the world. This story type normally consists of four sequences: (1) courtship, (2) marriage, (3) separation of the family, usually connected with false allegations made about the bride's sexual conduct and paternity of a child, and (4) reunion of the couple, restoration of the bride's honor, and recognition of the offspring as legitimate. Often, the narrative presents a full life cycle, so that the ending comes one generation later than the beginning, a structure that suggests the whole of life has been presented. The structure also can be used to compare and contrast the first half and second half of life so that, for example, marriage prefigures recognition, rebirth or reunion.
In classical Indian asceticism, the life cycle was similarly divided into four stages: one was a student, then a householder, then a penitent withdrawn from society usually as a forester, and finally a purified being at one with the universe or reborn into a higher consciousness (Damrosch A827). The structure of Sakuntala can be described along these same lines. As Goethe poetically put it, "Sakuntala blends together the young years' blossoms and the fruits of maturity: it combines heaven and earth in one" (Damrosch A1012).
The relationship between youth and age is perhaps best expressed in the king's lines about his family in Act 7:
Dusyanta's son will succeed him, and he and Sakuntala will return one day to the calm of the hermitage (A978). Adaptation to the world and adaptation to deprivation of the world are in balance. As in Mahabharata and Ramayana, the righteous ruler is the one who can assume or resign his power and authority with equal grace. He does not expect to rule forever, is not addicted to power. This ideal is put in terms of a personal goal of self-fulfillment, the spiritual goal being higher than the political one, but voluntary exile into the forest and withdrawal from sexual activity would seem to have significant social purposes in easing transitions as generations come and go, especially in the context of over-population, a long-existing problem in south Asia.
Kalidasa's Dusyanta and Sakuntala are generalized rather than individualized characters. The are less historical or particular individuals than they are embodiments of the rhythm of being. She is the mango tree and he is the creeper vine that entwines itself on her; in a sense they are the grove, the place of retreat that purifies the heart. They are not only general exemplars of life conduct but also symbols that unify opposites in their relationships: male and female, sky and earth, city and country, hell and heaven, war and peace. It is her power as much as his that rules the play, and her power is not only that of physical charm in her youth but kindness and virtue in motherhood. Her trust in her "noble husband" is rewarded. Her power derives from submission as she follows the sage Kanva's advice: "If your husband seems harsh, don't be impatient . . . sullen girls bring their families only disgrace."
Shiva and his consort Parvati from a late Gupta period temple at Elephanta, Mumbai. Hindu gods tend to be married or to have consorts. .
I cannot read Sakuntala without thinking of Shakespeare plays that I happened to have read first, especially Much Ado About Nothing and the courtly pastoral romances The Winter's Tale and As You Like It. It is not simply that the plots are similar (Much Ado and The Winter's Tale are slandered bride plots) or that characters bear comparison (the exiled king in the forest in As You Like It, the king's clownish advisor, Dogberry and the comic cops in Much Ado, and others), but dramatic technique contain such significant parallels that one may imagine Shakespeare as Kalidassa's reincarnation. Shakespeare mixes verse and prose much as Kalidasa does, with courtly characters usually speaking verse while common characters speak prose. Shakespeare shows the inner unspoken thoughts of his characters through "asides" spoken directly to the audience but not heard by the other characters on stage, and Kalidasa's play is full of this technique. When, for example, Dusyanta rejects Sakuntala, we see not only what they say to one another but what they say to themselves, and this revelation of the inner speech helps us to understand what the characters are feeling. In this particular scene (Act 5) we know the king is really anxious to remember whether he married Sakuntala, and we know that she is full of fears that he will not remember, that she has lost her identity. He is not lying to her, and she is not trying to deceive him--interpretations that we might draw from the scene if it was written without asides.
Right: elaborate costume for a modern dance production of the play, as shown in The Hindu May 20, 2004. Photo: Vipinchandran
The aside is a self-consciously theatrical technique. We do not practice it in our everyday lives. When we see it, we know that we are looking at a play. Kalidassa, like Shakespeare, also uses prologue and epilogue to break the illusion and incorporate the audience into the event. The actors recognize that the audience is there. The sense of make-believe, as in child's play, pervades the experience, so that nobody ever quite forgets that the play is an imaginative effort to create a fictitious reality.
The illusion is a delicate one requiring the audience to play along. Scholars believe that Kalidasa had access to elaborate costuming, but it is thought that the stage, as in Shakespeare's Elizabethan theater, was bare, so that the actors had to create the setting through their words and actions. In attempting to paint the scenery in words, Kalidasa uses rich poetic imagery much as Shakespeare does. We see the hermitage, the king's pleasure garden, and the realm of the gods only through the descriptive language of the players and our own imaginations. What do you see when the king first enters and says: "Without being told one can see that this is a grove where ascetics live" (Damrosch A951).
same time that we never forget the pretend elements in his play, Kalidasa is an entertainer
who moves spectators. The theory
of ancient Sanskrit drama prescribed in The Drama Manual (Natyasastra)
contemporary with Kalidasa is based on
rasa or mood kindled in
the audience. This motive for playing is not dissimilar to that that of
ancient Greek theater which (according to
Poetics) sought to stimulate pity, fear and other
emotions. Sakuntala is a tour de force in this regard, as
it cultivates a variety of responses through its varying acts: 1.
erotic, 2. humorous, 3. erotic, 4. sad, 5. tense, 6. remorseful, and 7.
joyful. Its first three acts being comic and its second three acts being
tragic, this is recognizable
tragicomedy or romance of the kind
so much later practiced by Shakespeare where both humor and grief are
blunted and a "middle tone" between the comic and tragic is cultivated.
All of us come to new reading experiences in the context of our prior reading: we plug the new work into the network already existing in our minds.
Left: a Kutiyattam or ritual dance production of Kalidasa’s play directed by Gopal Venu has toured Europe in recent years. This show runs eleven hours and is performed over three days, contrary to western convention.
1. Sakuntala: what do you make of the king's treatment or mistreatment of Sakuntala?
Compare or contrast the Sakuntala story with Sita's story in Ramayana. How do these women fare compared with women in other ancient cultures? Consider polygamy, child marriage, asceticism or any other factors that you wish.
2. Youth and maturity: Goethe regarded Sakuntala as a prime example of "world literature," the term he invented to describe literary works that travel well from their place of origin to foreign parts. This appeal, Geothe thought, derives largely from the play's presentation of the life cycle, a universal in human experience everywhere. How does Kalidasa's portrayal of life goals from youth through maturity compare and contrast with life goals presented in other cultures or in other literary works with which you are familiar?
3. Theatricality: Sakuntala has been produced very frequently in India, but unfortunately we have no recording of this play to view, so our experience of it is not in the intended form. How well do you imagine that the play might work outside India as either a movie or a stage play? What elements in the play could be emphasized to attract an international audience? What elements in the play could be minimized to help the play with such an audience?
4. Web resources for Sakuntala:
The Recognition of Sakuntala, translated for Oxford Classics by W.J. Johnson on Google Books.
Sacoontala or the Lost Ring translated by Monier-Williams at Project Gutenberg.
Sir William Jones 1789 translation was the famous introduction of the English-speaking world to Sanskrit classics. Jones was the first to publicize the connections between Sanskrit and European languages.
Sacountala (1858) a ballet and pantomime by Théophile Gautier.
Paul Brian's study guide for Sakuntala.
5. Descriptions of nature and emotion are Kalidasa's specialties. Descriptions of the earth, as viewed from the heavens, are presented in Act 7. "Our speeding chariot makes the mortal world appear fantastic . . . The beauty of the earth is sublime" (A1000). The vision of earth from up above may come from experience in the Himalayas (the play is set in its foothills), but the extra-terrestrial view of planet earth is also reminiscence of the shield of Achilles in the Iliad.
Of deeper curiosity is how Kalidassa writing before 500 CE can have known that there are seven continents on planet earth. See Damrosch A1008. Bharata's chariot is supposed to have crossed all of the oceans.
In addition to Sakuntala, read the Meghaduuta ("The Cloud Messenger"), a charming poem of only 111 stanzas, in which a minor god has been sent into yearlong exile in the mountains of central India, far away from his beloved wife on Mount Kailasa in the Himaalayas. He asks a cloud to convey a message of consolation to his beloved while on its northward course. In the centerpiece of the poem, he describes all of the beauty the cloud will see on the journey.
6. Polygamy: Dusyanta has various wives at the court, and their jealousies and conflicts are noted in passing at several points in the play (e.g., the opening of Act 5, Lady Hamsapadika's song). With all of this competition around, how does Sakuntala emerge as the favorite wife, and the one whose son will succeed to the throne? Is this just a matter of her fate or luck?
7. Story of Sakuntala as told in the Mahabharata (book 1, ch 62-69, below) : how does the play compare to its source? What has Kalidassa maintained from the older narrative, and what has been changed?
Once upon a time mighty King Dusyanta went into the wild accompanied by a large force of . . . foot-soldiers, chariot-warriors, cavalry, and elephants. They were armed with swords and arrows, maces, stout clubs, lances and spears. With hundreds of these strong men roaring like lions, blasts of conchs [shells used as horns], thundering of drums, rattling of the chariot-wheels, trumpeting of huge elephants, neighing of horses and the clash of weapons of the variously armed attendants dressed in diverse gear, a deafening tumult surrounded the king . . .
From the porches of mansions, beautiful young women saw him go. They praised him as if he was the god of the thunderbolt, and they called out: "Here is that tiger among men who equals Vasus in war! Because of his mighty arms no enemies remain!" Lovingly they tried to please the king by showering flowers down on his head.
Troops of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras, followed him as if he were a king of the gods seated on the back of a proud elephant. The foremost of Brahmins uttered blessings all the way, and the king went toward the forest in great gladness of heart, eager to hunt deer. The citizens and lower classes followed him for some distance, but they at last turned back to the city as he commanded.
The whole earth and even the heavens were filled with the rattle of the king's chariot wheels of winged speed. As he went, he saw around him parts forested like Nandana itself (the celestial garden) with Vilwa, Arka, Khadira (catechu), Kapittha (wood-apple) and Dhava trees. He saw other parts where uneven ground was strewn with boulders that had fallen from nearby cliffs. He saw vast areas that extended for many Yojanas without water and without human beings. Where there were deer, there were also lions, and other terrible beasts of prey . . . and the king roamed about, killing the denizens of the wilderness sometimes with his sword and sometimes by fast-descending blows of his mace or heavy club.
The forest was shaken by the king's powerful blows and his attendants' warlike cries. Lions began running away, and herds deprived of their leaders screamed in fear and confusion as they fled in all directions. Fatigued with running, many fell down everywhere, but especially beside the dry river beds, where they were unable to drink, and there they were quartered and roasted in fires lit by the hungry hunters. Strong wild elephants, maddened with the wounds they received and terrified, also fled with trunks raised on high, urinating, defecating and vomiting blood in large quantities, and as they stampeded, they trampled many of the sportsmen to death. And that forest which had been full of animals, was by the king with his followers and their sharp weapons soon emptied of lions and tigers and other large creatures of the wilderness. Thousands of animals had been slaughtered.
It happened that the king and a single attendant became separated from the other hunters. Famished and thirsty, they found themselves in a vast desert beyond a remote part of the forest. They crossed this lifeless plain until they finally came upon another forest. Full of the retreats of monks, this place was beautiful to see, delightful to the heart, and cool with pleasant breezes. There were trees covered with blossoms, the soil overgrown with the softest and greenest grass, extending far around, and echoing with the sweet notes of winged warblers and the sounds of the male Kokila and the shrill cicala. Magnificent trees with outstretched branches formed a shady canopy overhead. Bees hovered over flowery creepers all around. There were beautiful bowers in every place. No tree was without fruits. None had thorns or swarms of stinging insects. The whole forest resounded with the melodies of song birds, and it was decked with the flowers of every season in the refreshing shades of blossoming trees . . .
A cluster of high trees stood together like bright poles erected to Indra's honor. There ascetics kept a sacred fire burning, and seated around it were numerous Yotis, Valakhilyas and Munis (orders of monks). Beside it flowed the sacred clear Malini with every species of water-fowl playing on its bosom. With its waves of milkwhite foam, the stream seemed like the mother of all things living there. That was the place where the monks performed ablutions, and on its banks there were many fawns, the sight of which delighted the king. And there the Kinnaras lived, and monkeys and bears too disported themselves in numbers.
Illustrious followers of Kasyapa, rishis of great ascetic merit, engaged in studies and meditations in that place. Their asylum was like that of Nara and Narayana by the water of the Ganges, and the king desired to enter and see the great Rishi Kanwa who possessed every virtue and who shone so brightly that he gazed at only with difficulty . . .
In this wood which was like Indra's garden, the king soon forgot his hunger and thirst, and he was pleased beyond measure. One place was graced with Brahmins who knew the laws of sacrifice of the Angas and the hymns of the Atharaveda. Other places again were filled with the harmonious strains of Saman hymns sung by vow-observing Rishis . . . A
And there were many Brahmins skilled in making sacrificial platforms and in the rules of sacrifices, conversant with logic and the mental sciences, and possessing a complete knowledge of the Vedas. There were those also who were fully acquainted with the meanings of all kinds of expressions; those that were conversant with all special rites, those also that were followers of liberation Dharma; those again that were well-skilled in establishing propositions; rejecting superfluous causes, and drawing right conclusions. There were those having a knowledge of the science of words (grammar), of prosody, of Nirukta; those again that were conversant with astrology and learned in the properties of matter and the fruits of sacrificial rites, possessing a knowledge of causes and effects, capable of understanding the cries of birds and monkeys, well-read in large treatises, and skilled in various sciences. There were learned Brahmins of rigid vows engaged in Japa (the repeated muttering of the names of gods) and Homa (burnt-offering). And the king was awed on beholding the beautiful carpets which those Brahmins offered to him respectfully. . .
He entered alone at the entrance of the hermitage of Kanwa, but found nobody there so he called loudly, "Hello, who is here?"
The sound of his voice echoed back, and there came out of the hut a girl beautiful as Sri herself but dressed as an ascetic's daughter, and this black-eyed fair one, as she saw king Dusyanta, welcomed him with due respect. She offered him a seat, and water to wash his feet. Once their introductions were over, she asked, 'What do you require, my king! I await your orders.'
She was faultless in features and sweet speech, and he answered her: 'I have come to see the highly-blessed Rishi Kanwa. Tell me, amiable and beautiful one, where has the illustrious Rishi gone?'
'My illustrious father has gone out to fetch fruit,' she replied. 'If you can wait, you will see him when he returns.'
The king saw that she was exceedingly beautiful, endowed with perfect symmetry of shape and sweet smiles, her ascetic penances, and her humility, and he saw that she was in the bloom of youth. So he asked her, 'Who are you? Whose daughter, beautiful one? Why do you live in these woods? Where do you come from with so much beauty and such virtues? Charming one, at the very first glance you have stolen my heart! Tell me all about yourself.'
The girl smiled and answered in sweet words, 'Dusyanta, I am the daughter of the virtuous, wise, high-souled, and illustrious ascetic Kanwa.'
''That's not likely, is it?' Dusyanta replied. 'The famous and blessed Rishi is chaste and abstinent. Dharma itself will waiver from its course before an ascetic will break such vows. So, fairest, how can you be his daughter?'
Sakuntala then replied, 'My king, I will tell you what I know about things that happened to me long ago. A Rishi once came here and asked Kanwa about my birth, and this is what Kanwa told him.
"Kanwa once practiced such austerity that Indra became alarmed. The god thought that the ascetic, by his penances, might gain such blazing power as to hurl him down from his high seat in heaven.
"So Indra summoned Menaka and told her, 'You are the first among celestial Apsaras, Menaka, and so, lovely one, you can help me the most. Listen to what I say. This great ascetic Viswamitra is becoming like the Sun in glory. He practices such severe of penances that my heart trembles with fear. Indeed, you can see that his soul is rapt in contemplation and austerities to the point where he might hurl me down from my seat. Go and tempt him, slender-wasted one. Frustrate his penances and help me. Tempt him with your beauty, youth, agreeableness, arts, smiles and speech.'
"Menaka replied, 'The illustrious Viswamitra is endued with great energy and is a mighty ascetic. He is very short-tempered too, as you know. If he makes you anxious, why should I not also be anxious? He it was who made even the illustrious Vasishtha bear the pangs of witnessing the premature death of his children. He it was who, though at first born as Kshatriya, subsequently became a Brahmin by virtue of his ascetic penances. He it was who, for purposes of his ablutions, created a deep river that can with difficulty be forded, and which sacred stream is known by the name of the Kausiki. It was Viswamitra whose wife, in a season of distress, was maintained by the royal sage Matanga (Trisanku) who was then living under a father's curse as a hunter. It was Viswamitra who, on returning after the famine was over, changed the name of the stream having his asylum from Kausik into Para. It was Viswamitra who in return for the services of Matanga, himself became the latter's priest for purposes of a sacrifice. The lord of the celestials himself went through fear to drink the Soma juice. It was Viswamitra who in anger created a second world and numerous stars beginning with Sravana. He it was who granted protection to Trisanku smarting under a superior's curse. I am frightened to approach him of such deeds. Tell me, Indra, the means that should be adopted so that I may not be burnt by his wrath. He can burn the three worlds by his splendor, can, by a stamp (of his foot), cause the earth to quake. He can sever the great Meru from the earth and hurl it to any distance. He can go round the ten points of the earth in a moment. How can a woman like me even touch such a one full of ascetic virtues, like unto a blazing fire, and having his passions under complete control? His mouth is like unto a blazing fire; the pupils of his eyes are like the Sun and the Moon; his tongue is like unto Yama himself. How shall, O chief of the celestials, a woman like me even touch him? At the thought of his prowess Yama, Soma, the great Rishis, the Saddhyas, the Viswas, Valakhilyas, are terrified! How can a woman like me gaze at him without alarm? Well, you are the king and I must obey your commands, so I shall somehow approach that Rishi. But, O king, protect me so that I may safely move about that Rishi. I think that when I begin to play before the Rishi, Marut (the god of wind) had better go there and rob me of my dress, and Manmatha (the god of love) had also, at thy command, better help me then. Let also Marut on that occasion bear thither fragrance from the woods to tempt the Rishi.'
"Menaka went to work, and Indra commanded him who could approach every place (viz., the god of the wind) to go with her. And the timid and beautiful Menaka then entered the retreat and saw Viswamitra who had burnt all his sins but was still engaged in ascetic penances. Saluting him, she began to sport before him, and Marut blew off her clothes that were white as the Moon, and she ran to catch them again, as if in great bashfulness and annoyed with Marut. Viswamitra was endued with energy like that of fire when he saw her naked, faultless of features with no marks of age on her body. That bull amongst Rishis was possessed with lust and showed that he desired her, and she accepted his invitation. They then passed a long time there sporting with each other, just as they pleased, and the Rishi begat on Menaka a daughter named Sakuntala.
"As her pregnancy came to term, Menaka went to the banks of the Malini coursing along a valley of the charming mountains of Himavat. There she gave birth to that daughter, and she left the new-born infant on the bank of that river and went away. There were no human beings in that place, but there were lions and tigers. Vultures surrounded the infant protected her so that no Rakshasas or carnivorous animals took its life.
"I went there to perform my ablution and beheld the infant lying in the solitude of the wilderness surrounded by vultures. I brought her away and made her my daughter. Indeed, the maker of the body, the protector of life, the giver of food, are all three, fathers in their order, according to the scriptures. And because she was surrounded in the wilderness by Sakuntas (birds), I named her Sakuntala (bird-protected). And so it is she became my daughter and regards me as her father.
"This is what I heard Kanwa say to the Rishi, king of men. Not knowing my real father, I call Kanwa my father. That is all I know about my birth!'"
King Dusyanta, hearing all this, said, 'All that you have said is spoken like a princess! Be my wife, beautiful one! What shall I do for you? Golden garlands, robes, ear-rings of gold, white and handsome pearls, from various countries, golden coins, finest carpets, I will give you this very day. Let the whole of my kingdom be yours today, beautiful one! Do not be shy. Come and marry me according to the Gandharva form, you of the tapering thighs. Of all forms of marriage, the Gandharva one is regarded as the first.'
Sakuntala replied, 'O king, my father has not gone far from here to find fruit. Wait but a moment, and he will give me to you.'
Dusyanta replied, 'O beautiful and faultless one, I want you for my life's companion. I exist only for you. My heart is yours. According to law, you can give thyself. There are, in all, eight kinds of marriages: Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha. Manu has spoken of the appropriateness of all these forms according to their order. The first four of these are fit for Brahmins, and the first six for Kshatriyas. As regards kings, even the Rakshasa form is permissible. The Asura form is permitted to Vaisyas and Sudras. Of the first five the three are proper, the other two being improper. The Paisacha and the Asura forms should never be practiced. These are the institutes of religion, and one should act according to them. The Gandharva and the Rakshasa form are consistent with the practices of Kshatriyas. Do not be afraid. There is not the least doubt that either according to any one of these last-mentioned forms, or according to a union of both of them, our wedding may take place. Fairest, I am full of desire, and if you are too, you may become my wife according to the Gandharva form.'
Sakuntala, having listened to all this, answered, 'If this course is lawful, if in fact I can give myself to you, then promise truly to give me what I ask. The son that I shall bear you shall become your heir. This, my king, is my fixed desire. If you grant this, Dusyanta, then let's be married.'
The monarch took no time to think this over. He answered at once: 'Let it be so. I will take you with me to my capital, with your delightful smiles. I will not lie, beautiful one, you deserve all of this.' And so saying, that first of kings wedded the lovely Sakuntala of graceful gait. He knew her as husband, and assured her clear repeatedly promises, 'I will send you an escort of my troops and they will bring you and your sweet smiles to my capital!"
Having promised this to her, the king went away. And as he retraced his way homewards to his capital, he began to wonder about Kanwa and what the illustrious ascetic would say when he learned what had happened.
The moment the king had left, Kanwa arrived home. Sakuntala did not go out to receive her father, from her sense of shame, but he knew what had happened for he possessed spiritual knowledge. In fact he was pleased, 'Amiable one,' he said, 'what has been done by you today in secret, without waiting for my blessing, your intercourse with a man, has not ruined your virtue. On the contrary, Gandharva marriage between a consenting woman and a desiring man is said to be the best kind of marriage for Kshatriyas, even though it lacks mantras. Dusyanta is the first of men, high-souled and virtuous, and you have accepted him for your husband. The son that you shall bear will be mighty and illustrious in this world. He will have power over the sea, an illustrious king of kings that no foes will be able to stop.'
Sakuntala then washed the feet of her fatigued father and took the load he had brought with him and put it away, 'Bless Dushmanta, my husband,' she said.
Kanwa replied, 'Fairest, for your sake I will bless him. Ask any boon that you want, blessed one.'
Sakuntala then asked the boon that all Paurava monarchs might always follow the path of virtue and never lose their thrones.
When her time had come, Sakuntala of the tapering thighs brought forth a boy of immeasurable energy. When this child was three years old, he glowed with glory like fire, beautiful, magnanimous, and accomplished. Kanwa caused all the rites to be performed so that the child thrived every day. The boy grew in beauty and strength, gifted with pearly teeth and shining locks, with all auspicious signs on his palm, and a broad expansive forehead, capable of slaying lions even then. Glorious like a celestial child, he grew up swiftly. When he was only six, he was strong enough to hold lions and tigers and bears and buffalos and even elephants and tie them to the trees that stood around that ashram. For play, he rode some of the animals, and chased others. And so it was that people who lived with Kanwa there began to call the boy Sarvadamana, which means the subduer of all.
The Rishi noted these extraordinary acts, and he told Sakuntala that the time had come for the boy's installation as prince. He commanded his disciples, saying, 'Take Sakuntala and her son from this home to that of her husband, and bless them. Women should not live long in the houses of their paternal or maternal relations. It destroys their reputation for good conduct and virtue. Therefore, do not delay in taking her away.'
So the disciples set out towards the city of the elephant (Hastinapura) with Sakuntala and her son going before them. She of fair eye-brows and eyes like lotus petals left the woods where she had been known by Dusyanta and took her boy celestially bright.
They were introduced to the king, the boy as splendid as the rising sun, and then the disciples returned to the ashram. And Sakuntala addressed the king according to proper form, and said, 'This is your son, great king! Let him be installed as your heir. He was begotten by you upon me, and so now it is time to fulfill your promise to me. Remember the agreement we made before I married you at Kanwa's ashram.'
The king remembered but said, 'I do not remember anything. Who are you, wicked woman dressed like an ascetic? I do not remember any connection to you in law, alliance or Kama. Go away or do what you please.'
Embarrassment struck the fair-colored innocent one. Grief took away her speech and she stood for a time like an wooden post, but then she began to blush like copper and her lips began to quiver. The glances she threw at the king seemed to burn him.
She collected her thoughts and managed to control her rising anger by extraordinary effort. Her heart both sorrowful and raging. she looked him in the eye as she spoke. 'Knowing everything, king, how can you debase yourself like a common person and claim you know it not? Your heart is a witness! Speak truly without degrading yourself and be understood for whom you are. A man who steals or robs his own character becomes capable of every evil. You think that nobody knows of your deed, but the Ancient, All-knowing One (Narayana) lives in your heart, and knows everything that you do. He that commits wrong thinks that nobody sees him, but the gods see him. He is seen by the Sun, the Moon, the Air, the Fire, the Earth, the Sky, Water, the heart, Yama, the day, the night, both twilights, and Dharma. Yama, the son of Surya, takes no account of the sins of him with whom Narayana is pleased, but if Narayana is not pleased, Yama tortures that person for his sins. The gods never bless those who misrepresent themselves: their own spirits will not bless them either. I am a devoted wife, and I have come here without your leave, it is true, but you must not disrespect me for that. I deserve respectful treatment because I am your wife. In the presence of so many here, why do you treat me like a common woman? I am not crying in the wilderness now--do you not hear me?
"If you refuse to do what I ask, Dusyanta, you will shatter into a hundred pieces! The husband is reborn in the form of his son, and that is why the Vedas say that a wife is Jaya (she of whom one is born). A son born to one who practices the Vedic Mantras rescues the spirits of his deceased ancestors. He saves them from hell (Put) and is therefore called Puttra (the savior from Put). By a son one conquers the three worlds. By a son's son, one enjoys the afterlife. And by a grandson's son, great-grand-fathers enjoy even lasting happiness . . .
'A wife is a man's most valuable possession. Even when the husband leaves this world and goes to the region of Yama, it is the devoted wife that accompanies him. A wife going before waits for the husband. But if the husband goes before, the chaste wife follows close. For these reasons, marriage exists. The husband enjoys the companionship of the wife both in this and in the other worlds . . .
'What happiness is greater than what the father feels when his son runs towards him for a hug, even when he is covered with dirt? Why then are you indifferent to this son of yours, who approaches you and wants to climb on your lap? Even ants care for their own, so why not you, virtuous man that you art, why will you not support your own child? . . . SO let this pretty child embrace you. Nothing in the world can be more agreeable . . .
'You know that Brahmins repeat this Vedic mantra on consecrating an infant son: Thou art born, O son, of my body! Thou art sprung from my heart. Thou art myself in the form of a son. Live thou to a hundred years! My life dependeth on thee, and the continuation of my race also dependeth on thee. Therefore, O son, live thou in great happiness to a hundred years . . .
'Urvasi, Purvachitti, Sahajanya, Menaka, Viswachi and Ghritachi, these are the six foremost of Apsaras. Amongst them Menaka, born of Brahman, is the first. Descending from heaven on Earth, after intercourse with Viswamitra, she gave birth to me. She brought me forth in a valley of Himavat. Bereft of all affection, she went away, cast me there as if I were the child of somebody else. What sinful act did I do, long ago, in some other life that I was in infancy cast away by my parents, and now I am cast away by you! Well, I am ready now to return to the ashram of my father, but you must not cast away this child who is your own.'
Hearing all this, Dusyanta said, 'Sakuntala, I do not know who begot this son on you. Women often tell lies. Who would believe your story? A loveless lewd Menaka was your mother? She cast you off on the Himavat like somebody throws away a used corsage after a festival of the gods? Your father, a Kshatriya, Viswamitra, unlike a real Brahmin, was lustful and destitute of all compassion? No! It can't be. Menaka is the first of Apsaras, and Viswamitra is the first of Rishis. If you are their daughter, why do talk such trash? Your words deserve no credit. Are you not ashamed to speak of them in this way before me? Go away! You are an evil woman dressed like an ascetic. Where is the great Rishis, or that Apsara Menaka? Go to them and take them your grown up child. You say he is a boy, but he is very strong. How can he have sprouted up so soon? You are low born. You speak like a low caste woman. I don't accept anything that you have said. I know you not. Go away, wherever you choose.'
Sakuntala replied, 'You point out the faults of others, even though they are as small as mustard seeds, but you do not notice your own faults, which are big as Vilwa fruits. Menaka is one of the celestials. indeed the first of celestials. My birth, therefore, Dusyanta, is far higher than yours. Your place is on Earth, but mine is in the skies! . . .
'He that having begotten a son who is his own image, regards him not, never attains to the worlds he desires, and the gods destroy his good fortune and possessions . . . Yet truth is more important than a hundred sons. A hundred horse-sacrifices once was weighed against Truth, and Truth was found heavier than a hundred horse-sacrifices. Truth is the equal to the entire Vedas and all ablutions in all holy places. There is no virtue equal to Truth: there is nothing superior to Truth. Truth is God himself. Therefore, do not violate your promise, O king! If you do not believe my words, I will go away, for your companionship is to be avoided. But Dusyanta, when you are gone, this son of mine will rule the whole Earth, the four seas, and the highest mountains.'
Sakuntala then left the royal presence, but as soon as she was gone, a voice from the skies, emanating from no visible shape, spoke to Dusyanta, and the voice was heard by all of his priests, preceptors, and ministers. And the voice said, 'The mother is but the sheath of flesh; the son sprung from the father is the father himself. Therefore, O Dusyanta, cherish thy son, and insult not Sakuntala. The son, who is but a form of one's own seed, saveth his ancestors from the region of Yama. Thou art the father of this boy. Sakuntala hath spoken truth. The husband, dividing his body in twain, is born of his wife in the form of son. Therefore, O Dusyanta, cherish, thy son born of Sakuntala. To live by forsaking one's living son is a very great misfortune. Therefore, O thou of Puru's race, cherish thy high-souled son born of Sakuntala--And because this child is to be cherished by thee as we ask, therefore his name shall be Bharata (the cherished).'
Hearing these words from heaven, the leader of Puru's race became overjoyed, 'Do you hear ye these words of the celestial messenger?' he asked. I now know this one to be my son. If I had taken him as my son only because Sakuntala said so, my people would not have believed her, and they would have regarded my son as illegitimate.'
The purity of his son established by the celestial messenger, the king became exceedingly happy. He then performed all those rites upon his son that a father should perform. He pressed the child's head to his lips and hugged him with affection. And the Brahmins began to bless him and the bards began to make songs. And the king then experienced the joy of fatherhood.
Dusyanta also received back his wife, and he spoke loving words to pacify her: 'O goddess, our love took place privately. I had to find some way to establish your innocence. Otherwise, my people would have thought that we were only lustfully united, and not as husband and wife. They would not have accepted this son of mine as my legitimate heir. They would have believed him to be one of impure birth. For every hard word that you have spoken to me, dearest, I forgive you.'
And Dusyanta then received his large eyed wife with offerings of perfume, food, and drink. He gave the name Bharata to his child, and installed him as the prince, and it was not long until the famous and bright wheels of Bharata's car, invincible like cars owned by the gods, traversed every region, filling the whole Earth with their rattle. Dusyanta's son reduced to subjection all kings of the Earth. He ruled virtuously and earned great fame . . . It is from him that the great people obtained their name. From the Bharata people have been born many godlike kings gifted with power like that of great Brahman himself. Their number is countless . . . blessed with great good fortune like gods, they have been devoted to truth and honesty.
-- the end --
Dushmanta's war against nature.
The king finds an earthly paradise
Meeting with Sakuntala
Dusyanta proposes to Sakuntala
Sakuntala is blessed
Sakuntala confronts the king
A heavenly voice declares the boy to be Bharata