Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Veda Vyasa's Shakuntala - Part 1 of 2

In Hindu mythology, the story of Shakuntala is quiet famous.

It is the story of how King Dushyanta falls in love with Shakuntala, who is a simple girl living with her father, sage Kanva in a hermitage. King Dushyata visited the hermitage when sage Kanva was not there. 

The king smitten by Shakuntala's beauty marries her then and there without waiting for the sage to come back. Immediately afterwards news comes to the king that he is wanted at the kingdom immediately.

King Dushyanta gives her his ring while leaving. He promises her that he would come back and take her to the kingdom in a manner befitting a queen.

After the king leaves Shakuntala keeps thinking about King Dushyanta all the time. It was at this time that Sage Durvasa comes there. Caught up her thoughts she fails to look after the sage. The sage curses her that the person she was thinking about would forget her.

However at the request of Shakuntala's friends, sage Durvasa modifies the curse saying that the person would remember her if she shows him any insignia of his, which was with her.

Days pass into years, the king because of the curse forgets all about Shakuntala. Shakuntala gives birth to a son Sarvadhama.

Realizing that Dushyanta is not coming for her, Shakuntala goes to see King Dushyanta carrying the ring with her. But as she was taking a bath in the river, the ring falls into the river and is swallowed by a fish.

Later, when Shakuntala visited the KIngdom and stands before the king with her son, the king refuses to recognize her due to the curse. Shakuntala is broken hearted and starts crying.

It was at that time that a fisherman comes there with the ring, which he had found inside a fish. Looking at the ring, the king remembers everything.

Shakuntala and Dushyanta marry and live happily ever after. Their son is named as Bharatha and he is crowned the next king after Dushyanta....

However this is the version of Kalidasa's Shakuntala. But do you know that this story was written by Veda Vyasa in the Mahabharatha? That story is quiet different from Kalidasa's story. In fact there is no ring in the story.

Here is Veda Vyasa's story

Long ago there lived a king called Illila. He had many sons. When he became old, he crowned his eldest son Dushyanta as the king and retired to the forests.

When Dushyanta became the king, he first expanded the borders of the kingdom. He first brought all the neighbouring kingdoms under his control. Then Dushyanta ruled the entire kingdom. He was a very good king. He was kind, firm and just. It was said that during his rule, people never knew hunger. Thieves were totally abolished from his country....

One morning in court as Dushyanta was hearing about the affairs of his kingdom, a very haggard looking man rushed inside the king's court. His dress looked dirty and torn and the man was short of breath, with dark circles under his eyes. The man looked like he had not slept or eaten for a long time. The man saw the king and gasped. 'Your majesty! Your majesty! You have to help us...You have to help us or we are doomed!'

The guards of the king came near the man and looked at the king questioningly. What could have happened to this man....The guards had not seen any person in such a bad state for as long as they could remember....

The king signaled his guards to stand back. 'Who are you, my man? He asked the man sharply.

The man took a deep breath and looked at the king, 'Your majesty! The animals....our village....Our village is near a very big forest....The animals from the forest have entered the village and....' The man shuddered, 'They are wrecking havoc in our village....' The man wiped fresh tears from his eyes. 'If you do not come fast, I am afraid....I am afraid...' The man sobbed, 'There may be no one left in my village....'

The king looked straight at the man, 'Do not worry. I will take care of it....' Such was the confidence of the king that the man for a second felt his worries vanish. He felt instinctively that his village was safe...He nodded calmly. The king called one of his guards. 'Take this man and make sure he is well-fed and rested...' The guard nodded his head and led the man away from him. The man realizing that the king would take care of the problem, forgot his worries and went with the guard.

The king called his minister, 'I want to leave for the village now!' The minister was a man of small words and nodded his head. 'Prepare a small army to accompany me...The army should have archers and people who are good at fighting animals....' The minister nodded his head again. 'And handle all the matters here in the capital, while I am away...' The minister nodded his head for the third time.

The king left for his chambers to prepare himself.

As the king traveled through the capital in his chariot, his people stared at him in awe...

'Look at our king, he looks magnificent like Indra himself....'

'I don't think our king can ever be defeated in war....' The people whispered among themselves.

As the whispers reached the king, he smiled to himself as he raced out of the capital towards the other village, a small army following him....

As the king had planned he was near the village soon. There he heard the screams of people, the roars and trumpets of the animals....He swiftly gave the order to his army and dispatched them to different parts of the village....He took out his bow and arrow and aimed it straight..... 

Soon the threat to the village was no more....The king and his army chased the wild animals back to the forests...There the king and his army hunted the animals....

As the king strung his arrow and aimed it at the last of the few elephants...he stopped...Suddenly jumping before the elephant was one of the most beautiful deers he had ever seen....The king almost fumbled with the arrow. But by sheer practice, he pulled the arrow back instead of letting it go....

The deer also suddenly looking around seemed to realize the danger it was in and ran....It ran as fast as it could, away from it....far away from it....The king was however mesmerized by the beauty of the deer....He ordered his charioteer to go behind the deer. The king followed the deer and behind him came his army......

As the king raced behind the deer, soon they entered into another forest....a captivating forest....The king could not describe it, but he knew that the forest was different from the one he had just left or any other forest he had seen...It was serene, calm and infinitely more beautiful...The forest was mysteriously peaceful....

The king was still chasing the deer when he saw a majestic river flow through the forest. The sound of the river passing through the forest seemed to be melodic and in tune with everything else in the forest....The king forgot the deer and smiled as he looked around....The view around the river took his breath away. The king had never seen such a beautiful place....He felt tranquil, peaceful....

He now knew where he was....

The river was the Malini and near the river were beautiful small hermitages. The king smiled to himself and ordered for his army to stop, 'We will all wait here...No hunting in these parts!' He looked at his soldiers who were half looking surprised and half enjoying their surroundings. 'This is the hermitage of the great sage Kanva! That is the reason, the forests here look....' The king gestured with his hands all around them. The soldiers nodded. The king continued, 'The sage would not appreciate it, if a huge army entered his hermitage. But I have to go and pay respects to the sage! So I will go with our priest!' He looked at his soldiers who nodded as one. 'I will be back soon! We have to get back to the other forest! Though there is no danger to the villagers as of now, we still have to make sure that the villagers are safe from further harm!'

Leaving the army behind, the king and his priest entered the hermitage.

However as the king walked inside the main hermitage and was surprised. There was no one there. The priest and the king looked around. Still there was no sign of anyone in the main hermitage....

'Hello?' The king called out. The king turned as he heard a rustle of clothes behind him. He whirled around and when he turned....The king felt like as if the world stopped still....Standing before him was a girl wearing a simple ashrama's dress looking ravishing and charming.

The king did not know it but the girl herself was stunned on seeing the king. The king looked powerful and strong and his face shone out with the power he wielded....

The two of them looked at each other for long without realizing anything. Finally the girl seemed to shake herself out of her reverie. Before the king could ask her anything, the girl came towards him and properly welcomed him inside the hermitage.

Still a little stunned, the king sat down on the offered seat and looked at the girl, who looked as beautiful as the Goddess Lakshmi herself.....The king had the refreshments given to him by the girl and finally collected him, 'Who are you? I thought this was the hermitage of Sage Kanva! I never expected to find a girl like you here!' He took a deep breath and said again, 'Who are you?' He repeated again.

The girl looked at him and smiled, 'I am Shakuntala!' The king found the voice of the girl soft and melodious. 'I am the daughter of Sage Kanva!'

The king shook his head to himself. No way Sage Kanva could have a daughter. And if she was the daughter of Kanva, then the king could never marry her....He looked at the girl, 'Sage Kanva is a rishi! He has never married! Then how is it that...' The king looked at Shankuntala hoping she would explain.

Shakuntala smiled to herself, 'I am his adopted daughter! My real father is Kaushika.'

The king blinked, 'Kaushika? You mean the great King Kaushika, who performed severe penance and then went on to become Brahmarishi Vishwamitra! That Kaushika?' The king looked at Shakuntala a little stunned.

Shakuntala smiled to herself and nodded, 'Yes! When King Kaushika was performing the great penance, Indra sent one of his apsaras Menaka to break his penance. Menaka succeeded in breaking the penance....Kaushika married Menaka and I am their daughter!'

The king breathed a little freely. In those days it was custom, that a king could marry either another king's daughter or a warrior's daughter. If Shakuntala had been the daughter of a rishi, there was no way, he could marry her....But there was another worry bothering him now.

'How are you here?' The king asked pointing around the hermitage.

'Once when King Kaushika realized that this was a ploy by Indra, he...' Shakuntala shrugged, 'He left me in the care of Sage Kanva! My mother went back to the kingdom of Indra...That is the reason I was called Shakuntala! When my father left me, the 'Shakun' birds looked after me!'

The king smiled and asked her the question foremost in his mind now, 'I am Dushyanta! I am a king of the Paurava line! I am the son of Illila! Shakuntala, will you marry me? 

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