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"maximum India" at the Kennedy Center

Dance drama “Shakunthalam” by the Natyalakshana group led by Usha Venkateshwaran on March 7 at 6.00 pm

(Sponsored by Indian Council of Cultural Relations)


The well-known Drama, written by the great Sanskrit Poet, KALIDASA


 King Dushyanta, during the Royal Hunt, enters the peaceful sylvan environs of the Ashram of the Rishi, Kanva. He is transfixed by the serene beauty of the place. Suddenly, he sees SHAKUNTHALA, the daughter of Rishi Kanva, who is an embodiment of beauty and grace. Enchanted by her charm, he hides and watches her. Shakunthala and her friends, Anasuya and Priyamvada, are enjoying their daily routine, when a bee chases Shakunthala. Dushyanta promptly comes and chases the bee away. The sudden contact of beauty and chivalry lights a passionate fire in them. On his asking them about her, Dushyanta is told by the Sakis:”The celestial nymph, Menaka, was sent by the Devas to disrupt the powerful penance of the Royal Sage, Vishvamitra. And Shakunthala was born out of their union.”

 Shakunthala is inflamed by her passion for Dushyantha and pines for him. And so does he. Her friends persuade her to write a letter to him. She writes to him on a lotus leaf. Dushyanta reads the letter and openly declares his love for Shakunthala and persuades her to have a Ghandharva Vivaha. [Marriage without the knowledge of the Elders.] He then departs, promising that his Emissaries will come and fetch her to the palace and gives her his Signet Ring, as a token.

 Shakunthala is sad and restless, waiting to see Dushyanta. On the scene arrives Rishi Durvasa, who is known for his hot temper. Seeing that Shakunthala is pre-occupied and not hastening to perform her obligatory hospitality to him, Durvasa curses saying that the person that she is thinking about will forget her. Her Sakis, without her knowledge, run to Durvasa and plead with him to forgive Shakunthala and to mitigate his Curse. He relents and says she will be remembered when the token of love is seen.

 Shakunthala becomes pregnant, and shares her happiness with her friends. Sage Kanva returns to the Ashram and arranges to send Shakunthala to Dushyanta’s palace with all formalities. The whole magical forest showers Shakunthala with her Bridal Gifts and bids a sad farewell to her.

 During the journey, Shakunthala bathes and prays at the Ganga. She does not realize that the ring given to her by Dushyanta has slipped into the river.

 Shakunthala enters Dushyanta’s Court and finds that he fails to recognize her. He refuses to believe the message of Sage Kanva that she is his wife. She removes her veil and addresses him, but to no avail. When she holds her hand up to show him the Ring, to her dismay it is not there. Dushyanta then laughs and says that the cunning of womankind is evident. The Ashramites decide to depart and leave Shakunthala behind in her husband’s home. She bitterly reproaches Dushyanta and charges him for his Adharmic behavior. She then runs out of the palace, in distress, asking Mother Earth to take her back. There is a big flash of light, and Shakunthala vanishes.

 Dushyanta is greatly disturbed in his mind. At this point, a fisherman is brought into the court by the palace guard for stealing the ring of the King. This is the same Signet Ring that Dushyanta had given to Shakunthala. Dushyanta’s memory comes flooding back to him. He writhes with remorse and guilt and mourns for Shakunthala. He paints her picture and shows it to his friend and then decides to set out and search for her. He prohibits all festivities in the Kingdom and embarks on a long and arduous journey, crossing mountains and rivers and finally enters a forest. Here he sees a child playing with lion cubs. He is surprised, and plays with him when his mother comes to see who has had the audacity to touch her son. When Shakunthala and Dushyanta see each other, he kneels before her and asks for her forgiveness. The Gods shower their blessings on the reunited couple.

 King Bharatha, the son of Shakunthala and Dushyanta, subsequently rules India and thus it is that India has been eversince called Bharata Varsha.