Sunday, March 9, 2008

The story of Sakuntala (Part 2)

Sarvadamana was six years of age when sage Kanva thought that it was time for Sakuntala to go to Dushyanta with her son. He asked his disciples to accompany the pair to the king.

The meeting

The party announced their arrival to the king as was the custom and then entered the royal court. Dushyanata received the visitors seated on his throne. He did not give out any hint of recognizing his wife, wedded by mutual consent (Gandharava Vidhi).

Sakuntala bowed before the king and announced herself and her son. “King, here is your son whom you have promised to make the heir apparent. Please accept him and keep your word”.

Dushyanta feigned ignorance and spoke words that would have hurt the feelings of any woman in that situation. He said. “I do not recognize you nor do I remember giving any such words. You must be a cunning woman appearing in the guise of a hermit. I refuse to accept you or your son. You may leave or remain as you like”.

Poor Sakuntala was shocked with the turn of events which was so unexpected. She stood hanging her head down and sending angry side glances towards the king. She could not speak for a few moments.

Then she spoke going into the details of her birth, how she was adopted by sage Kanva, how Dushyanta happened to meet her in the hermitage, how they got into marriage and finally how the boy was born as a result. She concluded asking “why do you pretend ignorance of things that you surely know about? The sun, the moon and other elements of nature stood witness to our affairs”

Dushyanta went a step further to insult Sakuntala saying, “if that was how you were born, I am not surprised that you made this false allegation against me”.

There were some hot exchanges between Sakuntala and Dushyanta, each giving the other lessons on moral codes. The king maintained his stand till the very end. Finally Sakuntala said. “If you refuse to honour your words I shall leave with my son. But, remember, this son of yours is destined to rule the entire world when he grows up”.

It is said that at the very instant a voice was heard from heaven which said. “Dushyanta, what Sakuntala said is true. Accept her and her son who is yours as well. He shall rule your land and become famous by the name of Bharata (one who rules admirably)”

Dushyanta accepts Sakuntala

Dushyanta heard the words and turned to all present in the court including the priests and elders of the society. “Did you all hear the words from heaven? I knew the truth of Sakuntala’s words even earlier. But, if I had accepted her merely on her words without any convincing evidence, doubts might have lingered in some of your minds. The lineage of the future monarch of this country should never be in question. That is why I had to pretend ignorance at the beginning even at the cost of hurting my legally wedded queen”.

Thus, Sakuntala was accepted by the king along with her son. Sarvadamana grew up to become the monarch of the vast kingdom and earned the name of Bharata as prophesied. India, and the epic Mahabhaaratam, got the name because of him.

Kalidasa’s Sakuntalam

Kalidasa makes the story a lot more interesting through a couple of twists in the plot. He introduces a curse on Sakuntala from the mercurial sage, Durvasa, that Dushyanata would fail to recognize her when she went to him. That was because Sakuntala, lost in thought of Dushyanta, failed to notice the visiting sage. When pacified, the sage toned the curse down saying that any identification would help the king to get back his memory. Hence the name, “of Sakuntala with the signet for identification (Abhijnana Sakuntalam)”

Kalidasa’s Sakuntala was sent to Dushyanta while she was still pregnant. She had taken with her the royal signet that the king had given her before parting (in Kalidasa’s Sakuntalam). Unfortunately, that was lost in the river on the way. No one noticed the loss at that time. Naturally, Dushyanata refused to recognize Sakuntala, genuinely in Kalidasa’s version. She tried to remind the king quoting events of their honeymoon in the hermitage. That did not help him either. In utter despair, Sakuntala appealed to mother earth to take her into her fold, away from the king. The poet says that a divine person appeared there at that time and carried Sakuntala away from the scene. She was taken to the hermitage of sage Mareeca where she delivered a boy and lived happily.

The ring was swallowed by a fish which happened to be caught by a fisherman. Soldiers hearing about the incident took the fisherman along with the ring to the king. The sight of the ring brought back the lost memory of Sakuntala to Dushyanta. He started repenting for not recognizing and accepting Sakuntala.

Later, while on an expedition to fight against a demon, Dushyanta reached the hermitage where Sakuntala lived with her boy. The happy re-union of the king with his wife and son took place there.

Extra characters

Kalidasa has introduced a few additional characters for effectiveness. The king was accompanied by his court jester (Vidooshaka) most of the time in the play. Sakuntala has two friends in the hermitage of Kanva with whom she was close. There was also a deer that was her pet. These characters added a lot more life to the story in the play, especially in the parting scene.

Kalidasa’s poetry and drama

The whole play by Kalidasa is packed with drama brought out by poetry of extreme beauty. The very first act has one stanza which is worth quoting. The king’s entry to the hermitage is highly dramatic, chasing a deer in his chariot. He describes the movements of the escaping animal to his jester thus:

“Look at the deer. He is running ahead constantly turning his back to me fearing my arrow. Thus, his head appears to be broken at the neck, as though. The half chewed grass is being dropped all along his path. He is taking such long leaps into the air that he hardly touches the ground in between”. It is a three dimensional and highly dynamic picture that the four lines of poetry so deftly portray.

At that very time there is a voice from the background, “this is a hermitage and everything around this place, including this animal, is part of it. No killing here, please!”

Dushyanta’s first meeting with Sakuntala is another good example of Kalidasa’s poetic excellene. She was plucking flowers for use by the hermits and is being harassed by a bee. At the same time she is aware of the arrival of the king with his companion on the scene, but, pretends ignorance. She is darting her glances slyly here and there with exaggerated movement of her eye lashes. She is also taking steps from one flower to the other, at the same time preventing the attack of the bee. On the whole she was moving “like a danseuse without the accompaniment of (drum) music”.

Let us go to the scene after the king recovered from the curse and recollected his days with Sakuntala. He was highly nostalgic and wanted to paint the scenes in the hermitage. He talks with his court jester.

“I want to paint the river (Malini by name) that flows gently, along with the pair of swans which usually takes rest on its sandy banks. I want to include the hill which rises behind that with its gentle slopes. There is that old tree which stands bare after it has pealed its skin off its trunk. Resting under the tree is the usual pair of deer. The female is gently rubbing its eye against the horn of its partner and there by is trying to get relief from the itching. (There is so much peace and mutual trust)”

There is no end, if we try to go into the highly dramatic scenes in the play. Sakuntala’s farewell to the in-mates of Kanva’s hermitage is worth mentioning. Sage Kanva who was a recluse exclaimed. “The thought of Sakuntala’s departure fills my eyes with tears, chokes my throat and turns my mind blank. If that is my state who has abandoned all worldly ties, what will be the condition of householders in the same circumstance?”

It is so frustrating and almost ridiculous to try to narrate Kalidasa’s world famous play in a few lines. Yet, we have to do what is possible for the sake of comparison.



Jayanthan B said...

I remember you mentioning the poem you heard at Cambridge? I wonder if translating some of Kalidasa's poems will interest everyone.

Kunjunny said...

I have translated that particular stanza and posted to this site under the name, "Kaliasa's famous simile". The professor, who occupied the chair for Sanskrit at Cambridge University, had spent the entire class on this particular stanza.

Melissa said...

Although you say it is frustrating, as a reader with no experience of the original, I don't know what I am missing. The images you convey in translation are very vivid and lovely.

Kunjunny said...

Thanks, Melissa.

krishnabai said...

when I read what you present of Kalidasa, I cannot but think of Bhavabhuti (Sri Kanta); it is so much like him.