Shakuntalā – 2nd Day of Lenaia 2021

Since the Mahābhārata epic, Shakuntalā is famous as the girl who married king Dushyanta. In Kālidāsa’s work, she is an abandoned girl who encounters the king during his hunt. After they marry, king Dushyanta gives Shakuntalā a ring as a proof of their wedding when she will join him in the capital. Unfortunately, a curse was aimed at making the king forget about her.

The following excerpt shows the painful moment when Shakuntalā argues and defends the memory of her wedding with the king. The dramatic scene is a famous classic that had many reproductions in literature. And the familiar melancholy the public feels here, has its roots in a cruel sadness and a universal fear: the loss of memory of one’s partner and the extreme loneliness of those who remember but who are not believed for unfair reasons. And this terrible truth about mistrust finally rips the air: 「thou measurest all the world by thy own bad heart.」

JSD


GAUTAMI

Great king, thou hast a mild aspect; and I wish to address thee in few words.

DUSHYANTA

[Smiling.] Speak, venerable matron.

GAUTAMI

She waited not the return of her spiritual father; nor were thy kindred consulted by thee. You two only were present, when your nuptials were solemnized; now, therefore, converse freely together in the absence of all others.

SHAKUNTALA

[Aside.] What will my lord say?

DUSHYANTA

[Aside, perplexed.] How strange an adventure!

SHAKUNTALA

[Aside.] Ah me! how disdainfully he seems to receive the message!

SARNGARAVA

[Aside.] What means that phrase which I overheard, “How strange an adventure?”—[Aloud.]—Monarch, thou knowest the hearts of men. Let a wife behave ever so discreetly, the world will think ill of her, if she live only with her paternal kinsmen; and a lawful wife now requests, as her kindred also humbly entreat, that whether she be loved or not, she may pass her days in the mansion of her husband.

DUSHYANTA

What sayest thou?—Am I the lady’s husband?

SHAKUNTALA

[Aside with anguish.] O my heart, thy fears have proved just.

SARNGARAVA

Does it become a magnificent prince to depart from the rules of religion and honour, merely because he repents of his engagements?

DUSHYANTA

With what hope of success could this groundless fable have been invented?

SARNGARAVA

[Angrily.] The minds of those whom power intoxicates are perpetually changing.

DUSHYANTA

I am reproved with too great severity.

GAUTAMI

[To Shakuntala] Be not ashamed, my sweet child; let me take off thy mantle, that the king may recollect thee.

[She unveils her.

DUSHYANTA

[Aside, looking at Shakuntala] While I am doubtful whether this unblemished beauty which is displayed before me has not been possessed by another, I resemble a bee fluttering at the close of night over a blossom filled with dew; and in this state of mind, I neither can enjoy nor forsake her.

WARDER

[Aside to Dushyanta] The king best knows his rights and his duties; but who would hesitate when a woman, bright as a gem, brings lustre to the apartments of his palace?

SARNGARAVA

What, O king, does thy strange silence import?

DUSHYANTA

Holy man, I have been meditating again and again, but have no recollection of my marriage with this lady. How then can I lay aside all consideration of my military tribe, and admit into my palace a young woman who is pregnant by another husband?

SHAKUNTALA

[Aside.] Ah! Wo is me—Can there be a doubt even of our nuptials?—The tree of my hope, which had risen so luxuriantly, is at once broken down.

SARNGARAVA

Beware, lest the godlike sage, who would have bestowed on thee, as a free gift, his inestimable treasure, which thou hadst taken, like a base robber, should now cease to think of thee, who art lawfully married to his daughter, and should confine all his thoughts to her whom thy perfidy disgraces.

SARADWATA

Rest awhile, my Sarngarava, and thou Shakuntala, take thy turn to speak; since thy lord has declared his forgetfulness.

SHAKUNTALA

[Aside.] If his affection has ceased, of what use will it be to recall his remembrance of me?—Yet, if my soul must endure torment, be it so; I will speak to him.—[Aloud to Dushyanta]—O my husband!—[Pausing.]—Or (if the just application of that sacred word be still doubted by thee) O son of Puru, is it becoming, that, having been once enamoured of me in the consecrated forest, and having shown the excess of thy passion, thou shouldst this day deny me with bitter expressions.

DUSHYANTA

[Covering his ears.] Be the crime removed from my soul!—Thou hast been instructed for some bad purpose to vilify me, and make me fall from the dignity which I have hitherto supported; as a river which has burst its banks and altered its placid current, overthrows the trees that had risen aloft on them.

SHAKUNTALA

If thou sayst this merely from want of recollection, I will restore thy memory by producing thy own ring, with thy name engraved on it!

DUSHYANTA

A capital invention!

SHAKUNTALA

[Looking at her finger.] Ah me! I have no ring. [She fixes her eyes with anguish on Gautami]

GAUTAMI

The fatal ring must have dropped, my child, from thy hand, when thou tookest up water to pour on thy head in the pool of Sachitirtha, near the station of Sacravatara.

DUSHYANTA

[Smiling.] So skilful are women in finding ready excuses!

SHAKUNTALA

The power of Brahma must prevail: I will yet mention one circumstance.

DUSHYANTA

I must submit to hear the tale.

SHAKUNTALA

One day, in a grove of Vetasas, thou tookest water in thy hand from its natural vase of lotos leaves—

DUSHYANTA

What followed?

SHAKUNTALA

At that instant a little fawn, which I had reared as my own child, approached thee; and thou saidst with benevolence: “Drink thou first, gentle fawn.” He would not drink from the hand of a stranger, but received water eagerly from mine when thou saidst, with increasing affection: “Thus every creature loves its companions; you are both foresters alike, and both alike amiable.”

DUSHYANTA

By such interested and honied falsehoods are the souls of voluptuaries ensnared.

GAUTAMI

Forbear, illustrious prince, to speakharshly. She was bred in a sacred grove where she learned no guile.

DUSHYANTA

Pious matron, the dexterity of females, even when they are untaught, appears in those of a species different from our own.—What would it be if they were duly instructed!—The female Cocilas, before they fly towards the firmament, leave their eggs to be hatched, and their young fed, by birds who have no relation to them.

SHAKUNTALA

[With anger.] Oh! void of honour, thou measurest all the world by thy own bad heart. What prince ever resembled, or ever will resemble, thee, who wearest the garb of religion and virtue, but in truth art a base deceiver; like a deep well whose mouth is covered with smiling plants!

Kālidāsa, The Recognition of Shakuntalā


Shakuntala by Kailash Raj

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