A king called Kaushik a descendent of solar dynasty wants to become a sage. So, he gives up his material possessions, takes the vow of celibacy and starts performing ascetic practices. If successful he would become the more powerful than anybody in the world.
Fearing that Indra sends apsara called Menaka to distract Kaushik. Menaka is the most beautiful apsara of Swarga. Kaushik loses all control of his senses when she dances before him. He abandons his tapasya, forgets vow of celibacy and surrenders to Menaka. From that union a girl is born. The child is abandoned by both her parents. A sage called Kanva finds the abandoned child under the wings of a flock of Shakun birds. So, he names her Shakuntala, she who is found sheltered by birds. Sage Kanva raises her as his own daughter in his Ashram. Shakuntala grows up as a beautiful and loving woman.
The birth story of Shakuntala sets a context for us to understand her character. She is born as a result of a physical love. Her real father king Kaushik, a householder who wants to be a hermit, losses his ascetic powers gained through the years of tapasya due to this moment of physical love. In this moment there is physical attraction but no true connection of minds. King Kaushik is striving hard to get ascetic powers not to gain peace and wisdom but to overpower others. Therefore, when a girl is born, he cannot see divinity unfolding in a form of an innocent child. He can’t connect with a soul of baby and see Brahman in that little innocent soul. Instead of having love and compassion for little baby his mind is filled with disgust. However, birth of Shakuntala turns out as a leaning lesson for him to become real sage Vishwamitra, a hermit who is a friend to the world. His spiritual journey after birth of Shakuntala gradually helps him to understand the importance of true connection of mind that is in a form of love. So we can perceive that the birth of Shakuntala is a milestone in a long spiritual journey of a householder who strives hard to be a hermit.
While a girlchild Shakuntala is abandoned by her parents, she is raised by sage Kanva, a true hermit whose heart is filled with love and compassion. He is able to see a divinity being unfolded in a form of an innocent child. He can connect with a little soul. This helps him to perform his duties as a foster father like a householder. As a hermit, he knows true value of love and compassion. Under his love and care, Shakuntala grows up as a loving and caring woman.
One day Dushyant a descendent of lunar dynasty comes to Kanva’s Ashram while sage Kanva is away on a pilgrimage. In his absence Shakuntala welcomes him. Eventually, Dushyant falls in love with her. He proposes her. The innocent Shakuntala smitten by handsome king marries him with the trees as their witness. This marriage is called Gandharva vivah. Shakuntala’s consent to Gandharva vivah is symbolic. It shows her trust for love. It can be perceived that marriage is a result of true connection of mind which unfolds itself as natural love. And so when nature consents we don’t need any other social approval. Shakuntala and Dushyant spend days in Ashram making love. Sage Kanva does not return for long time and Dushyant cannot wait any longer. He thinks that it is not right to take her while sage is away.
Many weeks later sage Kanva returns. He gets to know that his daughter is pregnant with her lover’s child. He is delighted. Both daughter and father wait for Dushyant to return. In due course Shakuntala gives birth to a son. The son grows up in the care of Shakuntala and sage Kanva. Shakuntala pours unweathering motherly love on her son. Her motherly love gives her strength to do single parenting and to shape the character of her son as a future king.
One day the son asks who is my father? Then it is decided that instead of waiting for Dushyant to return Shakuntala would go to him and introduce the son to his father. Shakuntala with her son by her side ventures out of the forest.
Mahakavi Kalidas has poured beauty in this seen of Shakuntala bidding farewell to beautiful Ashram of sage Kanva. Every aspect of nature bids a warm farewell to her because she has been loving and caring for it while being with it. In this farewell there is no grief no regret but so much of love and hope. There is no holding back but a motivation and hope for new beginning. It gives strength to Shakuntala to look forward to new beginning for herself and her son.
However, when Shakuntala meets Dushyant and introduces herself and her son, Dushyant does not recognize her. When he asks are there any witness to their marriage? – Innocent Shakuntala replies I the trees.
Everyone in the court, including Dushyant laughs. Shakuntala a simple woman uncontaminated by the politics shows her courage. She says – I have come here not to seek a husband but to show my son his father. I have done so. I have raised him as a mother should. Now I request you to raise him as a father should. Saying so she turns back and proceeds for the forest. A love of mother gives Shakuntala strength to stand up for herself and her son. It gives her courage to let go her son for his benefit. This strength and courage driven by love helps Dushyant realizes his mistake. He then declares Shakuntala as his queen and Bharat, a son of Shakuntala as his heir. Shakuntala’s love wins heart of not only Dushyant but also everyone in the court laughing at her a while ago. Bharat – a son of Shakuntala born because of pure love is unique king a descendant of solar dynasty through his mother Shakuntala and lunar dynasty through her father Dushyant. Since his descendants rule India, the land itself called as Bharat after him.
A character of Shakuntala is considered as an epitome of beauty not only because of her physical beauty but also for beauty in the heart. Her life is a quest of pure love – that love which leads her to wisdom of life. We, the descendants of Bharat, treasure the gift of love given to us by a character of Shakuntala.