Thursday, August 08, 2013

Shakunthala & Dushyantha

अभिज्ञान शाकुन्तलम् represents the best of  Kalidasa. It is his magnum opus. In this work he interprets the Mahabharatha story involving the falling in love of Dushyantha and Shankunthala. This great love story was a particular favorite of my father. His fascination with this love story led to a couple of things - my name and of course a constant telling and retelling of this tale and its beautiful layers as I was growing up. 

Shakunthala was this stunningly beautiful daughter of Vishwamitra and Menaka. Dushyantha was the king of Hastinapura. Dushyantha happens to meet Shakunthala, falls in love, impregnates her :-) and then has to leave back to Hastinapura due to certain circumstances. Shakunthala meanwhile earns the misfortune of being cursed by - who else - the eternal angry old sage Durvasa. As a result of this curse Dushyantha completely loses memory of ever meeting Shakunthala. How circumstances led him to remember her forms the rest of the story.

My favorite interpretation of this love story is how this separation and reunification happens across life and birth cycles. Each husband and wife pair is a version of Dushyanthan and Shakunthala story. A man and woman in love and united in marriage play out the Dushyantha and Shakunthala in an infinite loop. The live a fulfilling life of marriage and die. The next birth makes them forget each other for a while but at the right time the man's thoughts are sparked off the way Dushyantha's was when he saw the ring. Ultimately the man searches, knocks door after door until he finally finds his Shakunthala and asks her in marriage. Almost always it feels like they were meant to be united. That they had known each other for several years but for some reason had forgotten. In every birth Dushyantha and Shakunthala may wander, may get lost, they may even get married to the wrong person. But come the moment their destiny leads them towards each other. This story is so fascinating that even the gods love to participate in this game. This is why Meera meets her Krsna. Andal meets her Rangamannar.

p.s: I am not the most romantic person. But this story does intrigue me.
p.s2: The image is Raja ravi Varma's painting of Shakunthala looking longingly at Dushyantha



3 comments:

Venkat Hari said...

I find the interpretation you offer a little far fetched or even force fitted.

This is the part that I'm not convinced with :

"The next birth makes them forget each other for a while but at the right time the man's thoughts are sparked off the way Dushyantha's was when he saw the ring."

especially - "the man's thoughts are sparked off the way"..

I'd rather interpret it as representing any marriage union between man and wife. Sage Durvasa probably represents the ego or the emotive state that prevents one from appreciating the value of the other and the ring represents the realization of this value at some point and the resulting regret or course correction post realization...

Alex Mathew said...

I agree with Venkat Hari's interpretation. I would say there's an element of Karma at play here, causing the upheavals and happily ever afters in our lives.

Alex Mathew said...

I agree with Venkat Hari's interpretation. Must add there's an element of Karma at play here. The story also highlights the fact that no one can escape the outcome of their (bad)karma's.