Shakuntala or The Recognition of Shakuntala or Abhigyan Shakuntalam is Kalidasa’s most popular play. The story of Shakuntala is a love story between Shakuntala and King Duhsanta.
About the playwright- Kalidasa
Kalidasa is undoubtedly a major poet and dramatist in classical Sanskrit literature. Kalidasa wrote Abhigyan Shakuntalam.
Abhigyan Shakuntalam Summary
The story of Shakuntala begins with a Prologue. The Prologue consists of Benediction and a conversation between the director and an Actress. Just as ritual was an integral part of Greek dramas rituals also a part of the ancient Indian plays.
The “Benediction” is performed before the beginning of the play. The “Benediction” is invocation to Lord Siva for . The eight forms of Lord Shiva- Water, Fire, The Priest, Sun and Moonm Space , Earth and Air are gloriefided.
The director and the Actress talk about the play of the day. The readers are informed that a new play The Recognition of Shakuntala is going to be performed. The Actress performs a song on the present season- summer for the audience.
Act One or The Chase | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
The first Act of the play begins with King Duhsanta’s hunt. The King, with bow and arrow in hand, was in intense pursuit of a blackbuck in his chariot.
At the time of aiming, an ascetic asked him to not to kill the deer since the deer belongs to the Hermitage. He also asked the King Duhsanta to withdraw his pointed arrow from the poor animal and also reminded him of his duty as a king to protect distressed soul. The King agreed to what he has been told.
The ascetic informed the king that they were going to collect wood for the Sacrificial Fire and invited the King to pay a visit to the hermitage of Kanva. Kanva was not present at the hermitage but his daughter Shakuntala was in charge to serve guests.
The King appeared in front of them. Seeing the King in disguise they were taken aback especially Shakuntala who felt a spark of passion in her. the King introduced himself as the Minister in charge of Religious Affairs.
Suddenly a voice off-stage warned everyone about the king’s presence in the vicinity of the penance-grove. The meeting was interrupted and they were apart.
Act Two-The Concealment of the Telling | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
The King is in love. He wants to stay there in the grove as long as possible. King Duhsanta told about his obsession about Shakuntala to his companion and court jester Madhavya. King’s desire to be there in the grove was fulfilled by the request of two young hermits to protect them from demons during the sacred rites. Therefore they requested him to stay for some nights in the Hermitage to guard it which King Duhsanta pleasantly accepted.
Before entering the hermitage, the King concealed his royal identity and entered the hermitage as a gentle civilian. There he was awestruck to see Shakuntala. Shakuntala and her friends Anasuya and Priyamvada were engaged in nurturing the plants. Duhsanta hid behind the trees and started to watch Shakuntala’s mesmerizing beauty.
The physical beauty of Shakuntala is described even erotically at length. The girls imagine that the climbing of a feminine vine into masculine mango tree is deemed to be a marriage of vine and the mango tree.
Then Karabhaka, the royal messenger, brought a message from the Queen Mother, asked the King to be with her in the upcoming ritual fast “The Safeguarding of the Son’s Succession”. The King was in dilemma between his commitment to protect the grove and command of his mother.
Finally Madhavya was delegated to take his place as a son and perform all the ritual duties at the ceremony, to which Madhavya agreed to perform.
Act III- Love’s Fruition | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
Shakuntala had been too restless and despondent since she encountered the King. The reason of her sickness was is nothing but the King. She confessed in front of her friends, “ From that instant I am pining for love of him.” The King was elated to hear that.
Priyamvada asked Shakuntala to write a song that will convey her love to him. She wrote a little song and sang
I do not know your heart,
But my nights and days, O pitiless one!
Are haunted by Love,
As every part of me
Yearns to be one with you.205.
At that moment the King came out and confessed his love too in front of Shakuntala. They secretly married to each other in the form of the gandharva form of marriage.
Act IV Shakuntala’s Departure | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
After the marriage the King urgently returned to the capital. Anasuya and Priyamvada shared their doubt whether the King would remember the marraiage between him and their friend.
She was lost in her thoughts. For that reason she failed to receive sage Durvasa. Durvasa felt offended and cursed her that he would forget his memory about her:
though you goad his memory hard,
he shall fail to remember you,
even as a man drunk remembers not,
thereafter, the tale he told before.215.
Anasuya and Priyamvada were dismayed to hear that. Anasuya pleaded the sage to forgive her. The sage told her “My curse cannot prove false; but its power will cease the moment she present some ornament as a token of recognition.” Until he saw her ring he could not remember her. Both friends decided to keep that in secret.
Kanva, the foster father of Shakuntala, while entering the Sanctuary of the Mystic Fire, abodiles voice informed him that Shakuntala was bearing the son of King Duhsanta.
He was happy to hear that, and he decided to send Shakuntala to the Capital with an escort of ascetics. The women prepared Shakuntala for her departure to the royal household and she was adorned with rich ornaments.
Every being in the Hermitage was mourning at the time of Shakuntala’s departure. Priyamvada and Anasuya also felt sad at the thought of leaving their dearest friend, Shakuntala and suggested her to show Duhsanta the Ring that was inscribed with his name, in case he failed to recognize her. After that she tearfully left them and the Hermitage.
Act V The Repudiation of Shakuntala | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
Kanva’s men with Shakuntala reached the King’s court. Shakuntala sensed a bad omen as her right eye started to tremble. The King failed to recognize veiled Shakuntala. as Durvasa’s curse was in effect
The King was told that the lady was bearing his child and to accept her as his lawful wife, Kanva accepted their secret marriage. But the King, as Durvasa’s curse was in effect, could not recall the marriage and reluctant to accept her. He told that he could not accept a pregnant lady with whom he thought had no relation.
Since he was refusing Shakuntala, then she said that she would remove his suspicion by showing him the signet ring he had once given her. Unfortunately, she was dismayed to learn that the ring was missing from her finger. She forgot Durvasas’s curse and was shattered.
Shakuntala tried to make him remember by telling him an incident to which he sarcastically laughed at her for using “honeyed words.” her grief turns to anger as Duhsanta denies any connection with her.
Then Saradvata said that it was Duhsanta’s choice whether to accept Shakuntala or leave her since “a husband’s dominion over his wife is absolute.” She felt betrayed as she was abandoned both by her husband.
At last the High Priest suggested Duhsanta that Shakuntala should be sheltered in his house till she gave birth. Since it was predicted that Duhsanta’s first-born son was destined to be the Sovereign of the World. If the child would bear all the marks of a prince then he could accept her and if not then she should be sent back to her father’s Hermitage. The King agreed.
The heart-broken Shakuntala called Mother Earth to open wide and take her in. She left the court with the High Priest. After some moment the High Priest told Dusyanta that a marvelous thing just happened, a flash of light in woman shape took Shakuntala away and suddenly disappeared.
Act VI – Separation from Shakuntala | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
Two policemen caught a fisherman for hawking a Royal Signet-Ring with a priceless gem and King’s name engraved on it. The Chief of the City Police asked him how he got the ring.
The fisherman told them that when he was cutting up the big carp, he found the ring in the belly of the carp. Januka, the policeman, threatened the fisherman that he would be die soon, but the Chief of Police returned from the palace with a letter and order the two policemen to release the fisherman.
The King was flabbergasted to see the ring and according to the Chief of Police, the ring reminded the King someone very dear to him. The King ordered to reward fisherman, which would be equal in the ring’s value.
The two young female gardeners entered into garden and happy to see newly blossom mango. They were tossing the flower up in the air.
A Chamberlain entered and scolded them for plucking the mango buds when the King forbade the celebration of the Spring Festival. They asked the Chamberlain the reason for not celebrating the Spring Festival.
The chamberlain told them that the festival had been cancelled since the King found the ring he once offered Shakuntala, he remembered that he really did marry her in secret and rejected her claim due to some strange loss of memory. Celebration of the Spring Festival had been cancelled on account of King’s distraught state of mind.
The King sent a message to his court that he was ill to preside that day in the courtly matters and went to the garden with Madhavya to divert his mind. In the midst of garden, the King Duhsanta remembered his first meeting with Shakuntala.
Madhavya asked the King Duhsanta how the Ring entered the carp’s mouth. King told him that when she was worshiping the waters at Saci’s Pool, it fell off her finger.
Then the King’s attendant, Caturika approached to them wirh a portrait of Shakuntala painted by the King Duhsanta. The portrait was half done therefore Duhsanta wanted to continue the painting.
He noticed a bee in the painting and commanded to go away. The King’s attendant entered with a letter in her hand, informed him that the Chief Minister wanted the King to know this matter.
King Duhsanta read the letter and got to know that Dhana-Vredhi, a weathy merchant, was lost in a shipwreck. He was childless and had million worthy wealth.
This struck the King badly and he realized “Childlessness is a misery” (259) He worried that the future of his own family would be same as there would be no one to continue the dynasty of Puru.
At that time, Madhavya cried for help. The Chamberlain came in agitation, explained that an evil spirit had seized Madhavya and carried him off. Duhsanta dashed to help his friend.
Just as Duhsanta was about to release his arrow anyway, Indra’s charioteer, Matali, came with Madhavya. Duhsanta welcomed Matali, Matali explained the reason of her arrival.
Matali told that there was a race of Titans, the invincible brood of demon Kalanemi who would was destined to perish in the hands of Duhsanta. Duhsanta agreed to fulfill his duty.
Act VII- Shakuntala’s Prosperity | Abhigyan Shakuntalam
After successfully defeating the demons, the King and Matali were returning to earth on the Indra’s chariot. The king admired the beauty of the earth below.
The King noticed a range of mountains. Matali told him that the range of mountains was Hema-Kua, the home of Kimpurusas. The king wished to pay his respects to His Supreme Holiness, Marica.
While Duhsanta was waiting, he saw a little boy who was followed by two hermit women. Seeing the little boy, he sensed that he was someone of his own.
When he inquired about his parents, he was told that the boy’s mother was the daughter of an apsara and gave birth to him in that Hermitage. He came to know his mother was Shakuntala. Duhsanta picked the boy’s protective amulet up when his protective amulet fell off on the ground.
The two hermit women were shocked to see that nothing happened to the King since it had special power none except himself or his parents could safely pick that up, otherwise that person would transform into a serpent. The king finally was sure that the boy was his son.
Shakuntala came and both recognized each other. After the reunion, they went together to see Marica. Marica and his wife, Aditi blessed them.
Marica revealed the account of Durvasa’s curse. Marica also told them their son would be “Sovereign of the World.” Marica sent one of his disciples, Galava, to tell Kanva the happy message that the curse had finally terminated and Shakuntala and Duhsanta reunited.
The play ended with the King’s prayer to His Divine Holiness to set him free from cycles of birth and death forever.
N.B whether you write Shakuntal or Sakuntala, there is no need to worry. Both are okay.