Shakuntala / शकुन्तला
- Shakuntala was a daughter of the sage Vishvamitra by the Apsara Menka. Not wanting the child, Menka left the baby in the forest, where it was looked after by birds, till the sage Kanva found her and took her to his hermitage and reared her as his daughter. He named her Shakuntala. Shakuntala was married to king Dushyant and had by him a son named Bharat.
- The love, marriage, separation and reunion of Shakuntala and Dushyant has two versions, one in Vyas's Mahabharat and the other in Kalidas's play "Shakuntala", which differ in several respects. Since the story of Kalidas's Shakuntala is also very popular, both the versions have been related by us.
According to Vyas
- King Dushyant, who was out on a hunting expedition, happened to come to the hermitage of sage Kanva. Since sage Kanva was not present, Shakuntala received him. Her beauty so enamoured the king that he fell immediately in love with her and they were married according to the Gandharv form, promising her that her son should become the heir apparent.
- He stayed with her a few days, and then departed saying that he would send his troops to escort her to his capital. When Kanva returned from his journey, he realised through his spiritual power what had happened, and was pleased.
- Shakuntala had become pregnant in the meanwhile and soon delivered a son. He was named Bharat. When still no escort party had arrived to take Shakuntala, Kanva sent her and her son with two of his disciples to Hastinapur. When they arrived there, Dushyant failed to recognize her.
- Shakuntala reminded him of their meeting, etc. but when he still failed to recollect, she started to leave the palace. Just then a celestial voice declared that Shakuntala was his wife and Bharat his son. Shakuntala was then accepted and Bharat was installed on the throne.
According to Kalidas
- When Dushyant left Shakuntala he gave her his signet ring, and told her that he would send his troops to take her to his capital. Shakuntala was so disheartened by Dushyant's departure, that she failed to notice the arrival of sage Durvasa and did not get up to receive him. The short-tempered sage became furious and cursed her that the person whom she was thinking of would forget her.
- Shakuntala still lost in her thoughts did not realise what had happened, but her friends Anusuya and Priyamvada pleaded with the sage to recall the curse, who said that on seeing the signet ring Dushyant would recognize her. When Shakuntala became pregnant, and still no emissary had arrived from Hastinapur, the sage Kanva sent her with two of his disciples to Hastinapur.
- On their way, Shakuntala took a bath in the river. She did not notice that the ring had slipped of her finger. When they arrived at Hastinapur, Dushyant failed to remember her and dejected she returned to her foster-father. In a short while Shakuntala delivered a courageous son named Bharat.
- Meanwhile, a fisherman had caught the fish which had swallowed the signet ring. While trying to sell it he was caught by the king's soldiers and was taken to the court of Dushyant. On seeing the ring, Dushyant instantly recollected everything, and went to the hermitage. Here he came across his son playing with a lion cub which he had caught. Dushyant asked the child who he was, and on hearing all about himself from the boy, he realised that it was his son he was talking to. Having taken leave from sage Kanva, he returned to Hastinapur with Shakuntala and Bharat.