This article is about the mythological character. For other uses, see Shakuntala (disambiguation).


Śakuntalā Looking Back to Glimpse Dushyanta (Scene from Kālidāsa's The Recognition of Śakuntalā as painted by Raja Ravi Varma)
Spouse(s) Dushyanta
Children Bharata

In Hinduism Shakuntala (Sanskrit: Śakuntalā) the wife of Dushyanta and the mother of Emperor Bharata. Her story is told in the Mahabharata and dramatized by many writers, the most famous adaption being Kalidasa's play Abhijñānaśākuntala (The Sign of Shakuntala).[1]


Rishi Kanva found her in forest as a baby surrounded by Shakunta birds (Sanskrit: शकुन्त, śakunta). Therefore, he named her Shakuntala (Sanskrit: शकुन्तला), meaning Shakunta-protected.[2][3]

In the Adi Parva of Mahabharata, Kanva says:

She was surrounded in the solitude of the wilderness by śakuntas,
therefore, hath she been named by me Shakuntala (Shakunta-protected).


King Dushyanta first encountered Shakuntala while travelling through the forest with his army. He was pursuing a male deer wounded by his weapon. Shakuntala and Dushyanta fell in love with each other and got married as per Gandharva marriage system. Before returning to his kingdom, Dushyanta gave his personal royal ring to Shakuntala as a symbol of his promise to return and bring her to his palace.[4]

Shakuntala spent much time dreaming of her new husband and was often distracted by her daydreams. One day, a powerful rishi, Durvasa, came to the ashrama but, lost in her thoughts about Dushyanta, Shakuntala failed to greet him properly. Incensed by this slight, the rishi cursed Shakuntala, saying that the person she was dreaming of would forget about her altogether. As he departed in a rage, one of Shakuntala's friends quickly explained to him the reason for her friend's distraction. The rishi, realizing that his extreme wrath was not warranted, modified his curse saying that the person who had forgotten Shakuntala would remember everything again if she showed him a personal token that had been given to her.[5]

Time passed, and Shakuntala, wondering why Dushyanta did not return for her, finally set out for the capital city with her foster father and some of her companions. On the way, they had to cross a river by a canoe ferry and, seduced by the deep blue waters of the river, Shakuntala ran her fingers through the water. Her ring (Dushyanta's ring) slipped off her finger without her realizing it.

Arriving at Dushyanta's court, Shakuntala was hurt and surprised when her husband did not recognize her, nor recollected anything about her.[6] She tried to remind him that she was his wife but without the ring, Dushyanta did not recognize her. Humiliated, she returned to the forests and, collecting her son, settled in a wild part of the forest by herself. Here she spent her days while Bharata, her son, grew older. Surrounded only by wild animals, Bharata grew to be a strong youth and made a sport of opening the mouths of tigers and lions and counting their teeth.[7][8]

Crying of Shakuntala

Meanwhile, a fisherman was surprised to find a royal ring in the belly of a fish he had caught. Recognizing the royal seal, he took the ring to the palace and, upon seeing his ring, Dushyanta's memories of his lovely bride came rushing back to him. He immediately set out to find her and, arriving at her father's ashram, discovered that she was no longer there. He continued deeper into the forest to find his wife and came upon a surprising scene in the forest: a young boy had pried open the mouth of a lion and was busy counting its teeth. The king greeted the boy, amazed by his boldness and strength, and asked his name. He was surprised when the boy answered that he was Bharata, the son of King Dushyanta. The boy took him to Shakuntala, and thus the family was reunited.[9]

Legend Variations

An alternate narrative is that after Dushyanta failed to recognize Shakuntala, her mother Menaka took Shakuntala to Heaven where she gave birth to Bharata. Dushyanta was required to fight with the devas, from which he emerged victorious; his reward was to be reunited with his wife and son. He had a vision in which he saw a young boy counting the teeth of a lion. His kavach (arm band/armour) had fallen off his arm. Dushyanta was informed by the devas that only Bharata's mother or father could tie it back on his arm. Dushyanta successfully tied it on his arm. The confused Bharata took the king to his mother Shakuntala and told her that this man claimed to be his father. Upon which Shakuntala told Bharata that the king was indeed his father. Thus the family was reunited in Heaven, and they returned to earth to rule for many years before the birth of the Pandava.

Vasanth Kannabiran, the founder of Asmita Recource Center, wrote a female empowerment version of Shakuntala Recognized in 2013. The play variation added the recognition of emotional abuse and violence against women. Manakaa is regarded a victim of the cultural tendency to portray women are dangerous seductresses. The most radical difference from the original legend is that Dushyanta is not the victim of a curse. Instead, he purposefully abandons Shakuntala in the forest after impregnating her because he prioritizes his duties as king over his duty to protect his new wife. Dushyanta does not experience the legendary change of heart which sent him begging Shekuntala for forgiveness. Instead, he briefly returns to take their son, his only male child, as the heir to the throne.[10]

Films and TV shows

The earliest adaptation into a film was the Tamil movie Shakuntalai featuring M.S.Subbulakshmi in the role of Shakuntala. Bhupen Hazarika made the Assamese film Shakuntala in 1961. It won the President's Silver Medal and was critically acclaimed. Shakuntala was also made into a Malayalam movie by the same name in 1965. It starred K. R. Vijaya and Prem Nazeer as Shakuntala and Dushyanta respectively. Rajyam Pictures of C. Lakshmi Rajyam and K. Sridhar Rao produced a Shakuntala film in 1966 starring N. T. Rama Rao as Dushyanta and B. Saroja Devi as Shakuntala. It is directed by Kamalakara Kameswara Rao.[11] V. Shantaram also made a Hindi film titled 'STREE' on this story. On Marathi stage there was a musical drama titled 'Shakuntal' on the same story.

Musical adaptations

Other adaptations

See also


  1. "Shakuntala - the Epitome of Beauty, Patience and Virtue". Dolls of India. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  2. Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva
  3. Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva (in Sanskrit)
  4. Miller, Barbara Stoler (1984). Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 122.
  5. "Shakuntala - the Epitome of Beauty, Patience and Virtue". Dolls of India. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  6. Glass, Andrew (June 2010). "Vasudeva, Somadeva (Ed. and Tr.), The Recognition of Shakúntala by Kālidāsa Olivelle, Patrick (Ed. and Tr.), The Five Discourses on Worldly Wisdom by Visnuśarman Mallinson, Sir James (Ed. and Tr.), The Emperor of the Sorcerers...". Indo-Iranian Journal.
  7. Kalidasa (2000). Shakuntala Recognized. Translated by G.N. Reddy. Victoria, BC, Canada: iUniverse. ISBN 0595139809.
  8. Yousaf, Ghulam-Sarwar (2005). "RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL VALUES IN KALIDASA'S SHAKUNTALA". Katha. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  9. "Shakuntala - the Epitome of Beauty, Patience and Virtue". Dolls of India. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  10. "Contemporary Mythology - Menakaa, Shakuntala and Ahalya retold | The Alternative". The Alternative. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  11. Shakuntala at the Internet Movie Database


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