Chapter 19: Dushyanta and Shakuntala

Kaushika was a king of kusha dynasty and was the descendant of the sun (Surya-vamsi). He realized that the power achieved by penances is much superior to the physical power of a king so he wanted to become a Rishi. He changed his name to Vishwamitra and he gave up his material wealth. Then he went to the highest mountain to perform severe `Tapasya`. If the tapasya went successful, he would become more powerful than any man or even god.Indra, the king of gods feared that Vishwamitra will intend to displace him. So he sent Menaka, one of the apsara to distract Vishwamitra from meditation. Menaka is most beautiful celestial nymph of heaven. Vishwamitra lost his control of his senses when she danced before him. He abandoned his tapasya and the two made love for many years. However, she fell in sincere love with him. When Vishwamitra realized that he had been tricked by Indra, he was enraged towards Menaka. But due to Menaka’s sincere love, he merely cursed Menaka to be separated from him forever. However Menaka gave birth to Vishwamitra’s child and it was a girl. Vishwamitra rejects the child and Menaka was also realized that she could not leave the child with him. So they both abandoned the child on the forest. This new born child was found by Kanva Rishi and at that time it was surrounded by Shakun birds. They sheltered the child. So he named her Shakuntala. Shakuntala grew up beautiful and also a cultured woman in Kanva’s hermitage in the forest.

Once Dushyanta, the descendant of Pururava went to hunting in the forest. King Dushyanta met Shakuntala while travelling through the forest. At that time, he was chasing a male deer injured by his own weapon. Dushyanta fell in love with Shakuntala upon meeting. Dushyanta requested Shakuntala to marry him, but she told to ask Kanva. Unfortunately, Kanva was no there at that time. He was away on a pilgrimage. Dushyanta want to marry Shakuntala as a Gandharva Marriage (man and woman unites based on mutual consent without the permission of parents) with trees as their witness. The innocent Shakuntala fallen in handsome king’s words and agreed the marriage after some hesitation since their tradition does not allow this. After that Dushyanta stayed there for several days in the hermitage by making love to her wife. Finally Dushyanta recognizes it was time for him to return to his kingdom. But Kanva had still not returned and Dushyanta was not able to wait more. So Dushyanta left for his kingdom, promising to come back soon and take Shakuntala with him.

After several weeks, Kanva returned. He realizes that his daughter was in love with Dushyanta and she is bearing a child in her stomach. He was delighted and conducted an event for joy and then waited for Dushyanta to return. Shakuntala spent much time dreaming of her days with husband. One day, a great rishi, Durvasa came to Kanva’s hermitage. Since Shakuntala was always in dream of her husband, she failed to greet the rishi properly. Annoyed by this slight, Durvasa cursed Shakuntala that the person she was dreaming all time would forget about her altogether. But after hearing the incidents of Shakuntala and Dushyanta from her friend, Durvasa found that his curse was not reasonable. So he altered his curse by saying that the man who had forgotten her would memorize all again if she showed him a special gift given to her.

Time passed and by the time, Shakuntala gave birth to a son and was named Bharata. Bharata grew up in Kanva’s hermitage. Yet there was no sign of Dushyanta and everybody slowly started to forget Dushyanta and his promise. But the boy, Bharata once inquired his mother about his father. Kanva realize that Bharata should know about his father. Kanva decided to send Shakuntala along with his son, Bharata to Dushyanta rather than waiting for invitation. Shakuntala agreed and set out for the capital city of Dushyanta with his son. On the way, they had to cross a river. They slowly started to walk across the river and attracted by the flowing blue water, Shakuntala ran her fingers through the water. Suddenly the royal ring presented by Dushyanta was slipped off her finger, but she did not notice it.

Arriving at Dushyanta's court, Shakuntala introduced herself and her son, but she was hurt by the king. The king asked, whether there is any witnesses for their marriage. She replied ‘’the trees”. Upon the reply, everybody in the court of king laughed and she was surprised when her husband did not recognize her. She tried to remind Dushyanta, but was failed and the only evidence of royal ring is also lost. Then she came back to forest and shifted their home to the wild part of the forest. Time passed and Bharata became a strong youth. He lived with the wild animals in the forest.

Meanwhile, a fisherman got a ring in the stomach of a fish. Recognizing that it is a royal, he took it to the palace and given it to the king. Upon seeing the ring, Dushyanta remember his lovely bride, Shakuntala and also her visit along with Bharata. He immediately sent his army to Kanva’s hermitage, but he found that she was no longer there. Dushyanta continued his search in the deeper forest also. During the search, he saw a young boy, who opened the mouth of a lion and was busy counting its teeth. The king surprised with the bravery and strength of that boy and much more to his curiosity, the boy answered that his name is Bharata, the son of King Dushyanta. Bharata took him to Shakuntala. The king apologized for his behavior towards Shakuntala and then declared publicly that Shakuntala his queen and Bharata his heir. Bharata was one among the unique kings who has an ancestral lineage from both surya vamsa (solar line) and Chandra vamsa (lunar line). His mother, Shakuntala was from surya vamsa and his father Dushyanta was from Chandra vamsa.