Abhigyan Shakuntalam: A Summary
Kalidasa is a major poet and playwright in classical Sanskrit literature. It is he who composed Abhigyan Shakuntalam. This play starts with a Prologue. This Prologue consists of benediction and a conversation between the director and an actress. The benediction is performed before the beginning of the play. The benediction is an invocation to Lord Siva. The actor-manager and the actress talk about the play of the day. The readers are informed that a new play by Kalidasa is going to be staged. On the request of the manager, the actress sings a romantic song about the summer season for the audience.
Act I of Abhigyan Shakuntalam begins with the description of the summer season by the narrator. He also introduces king Dushyanta who is on hunt. Chasing a deer king Dushyanta enters the ashram of sage Kanva in his Chariot. He has bow and arrow in his hands. The king aims at the deer but an ascetic forbids him to hunt in the premises of sage Kanva. He reminds him of his duty as a king to protect distressed souls. The King follows his suggestion. The ascetic says to the king that he is going to collect wood for the sacrificial fire. Then the ascetic invites the king to the ashram of sage Kanva. The king accepts his invitation. He pays a visit to the hermitage of Kanva. Shakuntala with her two companions, Priyamvada and Anusuya, welcomes the royal guest. The king is surprised to see the fantastic beauty of Shakuntala. Dushyanta talks to Shakuntala and her companions. He comes to know that Shakuntala is the daughter of a royal sage Vishwamitra and a nymph,Menaka . The king is informed that Kanva is Shakuntala’s foster father. The King feels happiness to learn that he and Shakuntala are actually of the same class. Both Dushyanta and Shakuntala fall in love with each other.
King Dushyanta is in deep love with Shakuntala. He wants to stay there as long as possible. King Dushyanta tells his companions about his love. He says to the fool that he cannot live without Shakuntala. He asks him to manage his stay there for some more time. King’s desire is fulfilled by the request of two young hermits. They request him to protect them from demons during the sacred rites. Therefore, they requested him to stay for some nights in the hermitage to guard it. The king happily agrees. In the meantime the messengers from the kingdom inform the king about his mother’s instructions to bring the king. Dushyanta sends his army back and himself stays back. He also forbids the fool not to reveal this secret to his other queens. He decides to make Shakuntala his queen.
In Act III Shakuntala confesses her love for Dushyanta. She feels sickness and restlessness. She is pining for love of him. She composes a love song and sings it. At that moment the King comes out and he also confesses his love for Shakuntala. By taking help of the gandharva form of marriage they secretly marry.
In Act IV After the Dushyanta spends some time with Shakuntala. After that he leaves the ashram and returns back to the capital to look after his kingdom. He assures Shakuntala that Very soon he would carry her to his capital. Since that day Shakuntala begins to feel loneliness. One day when she is sitting on the door of her hut, sage Durvasa appears at once. Since she is lost in her thoughts, she fails to welcome him. Durvasa feels insulted and curses her that her husband would forget her forever. At this her companions apologize to the sage and request him to help Shakuntala. The sage tells them that his curse cannot prove false. But if she presents any ornament to him as a token of recognition, he will surely remember her. Shakuntala’s companions know about the curse of Durvasa but Shakuntala is unaware of all this. They know that the signet ring of Dushyant is with Shakuntala. That is why they assume that the presence of the signet ring will neutralize the impact of the curse. So they maintain secrecy. When sage Kanva returns back, he listens to a prophecy. By this prophecy he comes to know about the marriage of Shakuntala with king Dushyanta. He also learns that Shakuntala is pregnant. He is happy to know that. He approves of that marriage. On the other hand, the curse of Durvasa shows its effect. The king has completely forgotten his relationship with Shakuntala. No one comes to take her. Then sage Kanva decides to send Shakuntala to the capital. He makes all necessary arrangements to send her to her husband. She is adorned with rich ornaments. Everyone in the hermitage is mourning at the time of Shakuntala’s departure. Priyamvada and Anasuya suggest her to show Dushyanta the ring that was inscribed with his name, in case he fails to recognize her. Along with a woman Gautami and two ascetics, Shakuntala reaches the kingdom of king Dushyanta.
Shakuntala appears before the king. She senses a bad omen. Her right eye starts trembling. The king is informed that Shakuntala is his wife. But king Dushyanta is under the spell of the curse. That is why he fails to recognize her. Gautami shows him the face of Shakuntala. But he does not recognize her. Now Shakuntala tries to show the signet ring of Dushyanta. Unfortunately, that is missing. On the way, the ring slips from her finger and falls into a river. The ascetics try their best to convince the king but of no use. Leaving Shakuntala there, the ascetics and Gautami depart. Shakuntala weeps and mourns. At last Dushyanta consults with a court priest. He suggests Dushyanta to house Shakuntala until she gives birth. The King agrees. The heart-broken Shakuntala calls Mother Earth to open wide and take her in. Moments later, the court priest informs king that Shakuntala suddenly disappears.
Two policemen take a fisherman in custody with a priceless Royal Signet-Ring on which King’s name is engraved. The Police chief enquires of him how he got the ring. The fisherman reports them that he got it from the belly of a carp. The King is amazed to see the ring. It reminds him of his previous love. He at once remembers his marriage with Shakuntala. The King orders to reward fisherman and to divert his mind he goes to the garden. There he remembers his first meeting with Shakuntala. In the meantime Indra’s charioteer, Matali, arrives to see him and explains the reason of his arrival. Dushyanta at once has to go to heaven to fight against the mighty demons and to assist gods.
The king successfully defeats the demons. Lord Indra honours him and bids him farewell to the earth. On his way back to the earth, Dushyanta is attracted by the beauty of Hemkoot Mountain. He is informed that a great sage Marica meditates there in an ashram. The king wishes to pay his respects him. When Dushyanta is waiting to see him, he sees a little but healthy boy playing with a lion. He is trying to count the teeth of the lion. The king is impressed to see that boy. He develops an intimacy with that baby. He comes to know that his mother is Shakuntala. At once he realizes that he himself is the father of that boy. At once Shakuntala appears on the scene. Both recognize each other. The king apologizes for everything that has happened with Shakuntala. After the reunion, they go together to see Marica. Marica and his wife, Aditi bless them. Marica reveals the account of Durvasa’s curse. The play ends on a happy note.