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Shankuntala
by Dr. CS Shah

Once, nobody knows when, sage Vishwamitra was engaged in great austerities and penance that would give him almost absolute power over kingdom of Earth and Heaven. He had successfully completed requisite sacrificial rituals and now was engaged in meditation and Yogic practices.

The king of Heaven, God Indra, was shaken to know this effort of Vishmamitra that could pose danger to his throne! Therefore, Indra decided to put obstacles in his austerities and thereby break his sadhana - spiritual discipline. Indra thought of using weapon of lust to this end. 

Accordingly, the most beautiful and ever youthful Apsara, Menaka, was sent from heaven to distract and seduce Vishwamitra, who was gaining alarming levels of yogic power through his concentrated meditation. (Apsara in Hindu mythology, heavenly nymph of great beauty, is often represented as a dancer at the court of the Hindu god Indra in his heavenly kingdom.) She descended down to earth from heaven and tried to tempt Vishmamitra by various charming dances and songs. After some efforts Vishmamitra fell to the lure of her beauty and youthful attraction.

They were married and the tapas of Vishmamitra was broken. A beautiful daughter was born to them whom they named Shakuntala.

Her assignment completed, Menaka left back to the kingdom of heaven, and Vishmamitra, his tapas broken, left for forest retreat after handing over the new born baby to the sage Kanva, head of a forest ashrama. Under his fatherly love and care Shakuntala grew up as a simple but most beautiful lady. Her voice was sweet and her manners sober and graceful. 

Dushyanta and Shakuntala

Once, the great king of the region, King Dushyanta, happened to come near the ashrama of Shakuntala by way of hunting. He caught sight of Shakuntala and lost his heart to her beauty and grace. The king proposed to Shakuntala and they were married secretly. Dushyanta stayed overnight and left for his capital city promising Shakuntala that he would soon send for her. He gave his precious ring to his wife cautioning her not to lose it.

As the destiny had it, in his busy schedule of affairs of the kingdom, the king Dushyanta forgot all about his love � Shakuntala.

Here, in the ashrama, Shakuntala was worried as news of her husband did not reach her, nor did he send anyone to take her to his palace. The worry almost turned into panic because of the fact that she was pregnant, and soon her condition was sure to reveal this truth. And indeed, sage Kanva and ladies of the ashrama noticed the change in Shakuntala. On inquiry, the truth became known to all. Sage Kanva had brought up Shakuntala as her daughter and hence he decided to send her to her husband, king Dushyanta, where she should be accepted as his queen. 

The day was fixed for Shakuntala to leave. She was dressed in most beautiful silk attire and left for the kingdom of her husband in a ferry boat. The cool and balmy breeze put her to sleep and the royal ring slipped out of her finger. Soon it was swallowed by a fish. Shakuntala was not even aware of this fact.

She reached the court of Dushyanta, and a message was sent to the king of the arrival of 'a woman who claimed to be his wife'. Dushyanta had lost his memory about Shakuntala and all about their stay together. He refused to accept Shakuntala as his wife. The pitiful Shakuntala tried to remind her husband about the night they had stayed together in the forest ashrama of Kanva, etc.; but of no avail. The king had forgotten that part of his life. As a last resort, the pleading Shakuntala told him about the ring and tried to show the same, but in stead there was tragic dismay on her face when she did not find the ring on her finger!

Dejected and disappointed, Shakuntala left for the forest all alone and decided to give birth to the child. Gradually her self confidence returned, her fear vanished, and in due course of time she gave birth to a most beautiful and well developed son. She named him Bharata.

Bharata grew without any human company other than her mother. All around in the jungle he encountered wild animals, plants and trees. He developed into a fearless, healthy, and active child. Lions and tigers were his friends, and he used to ride them as we ride horses! The mother taught him, as a prince should be taught, skills in archery, and use of other weapons; as also acquainted him with Scriptures: Veda, and Upanishad. Bharata soon grew up as handsome, intelligent and fearless youth - a prince in exile!

There in the kingdom of Dushyanta, one fisherman caught the fish that had swallowed the royal ring that had slipped from the finger of Shakuntala. When he cut open the fish, he found the ring. He rushed to the royal court, and narrated the story to the king. On seeing his ring, the king remembered everything about Shakuntala and his love for her. He was sorry to send her pregnant wife away with such rudeness. He sent his men all around the kingdom in search of Shakuntala.

And one day the good news reached him when his minister told him about Shakuntala and her handsome son safe in the heart of the forest. The king went to fetch his wife and son, begged their pardon and with due honor and festivity brought them to the palace.�Later, Bharata became the king of ancient India. His rule extended over vast area, almost all over India. Righteousness and justice prevailed everywhere. There was no want, no misery, nor any disease in his kingdom. Since then India is also known as Bharatavarsha - the Land of Bharata. 

8-Jul-2001
 
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