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Abhijnanasakuntalam – One of world’s Best Play

Abhijñānashākuntala or Abhijñānaśākuntalam , is a well-known Sanskrit Play by Kavi Kalidas, dramatizing the story of Shakuntala told in epic Mahabharata. It is considered to be the best of Kalidasa’s works. Its date is uncertain, but Kalidasa is often placed in the period between the 1st century BCE and 4th century CE.

The Sanskrit title means pertaining to the recognition of Śākuntalā, so a literal translation could be Of Śākuntalā who is recognized. The title is sometimes translated as The token-for-recognition of Śākuntalā or The Sign of Śākuntalā.

About Kalidasa :

Kalidasa’s status as the major poet and dramatist is unquestioned in classical Sanskrit literature. His accomplishment is distinguished not only the excellence of the individual works, but by many sided talent which the whole achievement displays. He is a dramatist, a writer of epic and a lyric poet of extra-ordinary scope. The poet has also drawn a veil of silence round himself so complete that even his real name is unknown to posterity. His works include Ritusamharam, Meghdootam, Kumarsambhavam, Malvikagni – mitram, Vikramorvashiam and Abhijnanasakuntalam.

Abhijnanasakuntalam is a play which is divided into seven acts. The title means “recognition of Sakuntala”. It is the last play by Kalidasa. The play is based on the story of Dushyanta in Adiparav of Mahabharta. The title of the play allows us an entry into the theme of the play which denotes “ a play about Sakutala focusing on her recognition by means of the ring (token.). The play is supposed to be written between 1 B.C. 400 A.D. and is considered as the best work of Kalidasa. Abhijnanasakuntalam is inspired from the chapter 62 – 68 of Mahabharta. Kalidasa, keeping in mind the original story, molded the characters in such a way so as to show them as ideal characters. He also introduced different characters like Sakuntala’s friends who did serious talking on her part in the play but originally never existed. He also introduces the different dramatic devices such as the ring given to Sakuntala by Dushyant, the curse of Rishi Durvasa to make the characters seem perfect in every role of the play and to shift the blame of their mistakes to the particular device to idealise the characters. In the play, Kalidasa shows the identification of Sakuntala from time and again. In Act 6, a fisherman is arrested by the officers of Dushyanta’s kingdom because he was thought of as a thief by the officers. It was so because he had a very precious ring that had king’s name engraved on it. The ring is shown to Dushyanta and he immediately recognizes it and feels guilty for the remembering the love of his life, that is Sakuntala and publicly humiliating her. The king is in grief and decides not to celebrate the spring time and kingdom feels gloomy all over. He also paints a painting of Sakuntala which looks exactly like her. In this act, the king is also given a message of the death of a merchant whose wife is pregnant. He orders that all the wealth of the merchant goes to his pregnant wife rather than in the kingdom’s treasure, as per rule. He, here also realizes or is again pained with the thought that he has no son and he had lost Sakuntala who was pregnant when he abandoned her.

Summary : Abhijnanasakuntalam is a beautiful tale of love and romance. Sakuntala was the daughter of Rishi Vishwamitra and Apsara Menaka. Menaka was sent to distract Vishwamitra during his meditation, by Lord Indra in the fear that Vishwamitra might gain more powers than the Gods if he continues to meditate. Meneka succeeds in distracting him and give birth to their daughter Sakuntala. Vishwamitra abandons both of them, knowing that Menaka cannot take the child up to heaven. He was infuriated by his lost of chastity. Sakuntala was left alone in the forest by Menaka. The birds took care of Baby Sakuntala until sage Kanava took her as his child and named her Sakuntala. Sakuntala grows up to be a beautiful young lady just like her mother Meneka. One day, King Dushyant, while on hunt, stop at the hermit’s cottage to seek his blessings. He looks at Sakuntala and he is mesmerized by her beauty. But he does not come out of his hiding. He continues to listen to the conversation of Sakuntala with her two friends. He comes out of the hiding only when he is sure of her birth. He comes to know that the sage is not in the cottage at the moment and will come after few days. He accepts the hospitality of Sakuntala and her friends and confesses his love for her and promises her that the son born from her will the heir – apparent of the kingdom. They get into a gandharva marriage and the king is called back in the kingdom because of some work. But he leaves his ring with his name inscribed on it and gives it to Sakuntala as his token of love and also promises to return soon and take Sakuntala with him. Sakuntala is compared to the Green nature again and again in the play. She is as soft, tender and loving as the Mother Nature. She is portrayed as a true beautiful lady.

While the sage Kanva was still not as the cottage was visited by sage Durvasa, who was very well known for his anger. When no one at the cottage attends him he gets angry and curses Sakuntala (seeing as she was the only one in the cottage) that whoever she was thinking about will forget about her. But after many pleas by Sakuntala and her friends to the sage, he agrees to omit the curse as he cannot take it back. He says that on offering something to the person she was thinking about that belongs to him (i.e. the ring), he will remember everything. (Sakuntala was thinking about Dushyanata). After months of waiting, when she fails to hear anything from the king, Sage Kanva arranges for the visit of Sakuntala to the royal court of king Dushyanta. On her way she stops to drink water by a lake and unfortunately the ring slips from her finger and swallowed by a fish. She was pregnant with her son here. She reaches the court and Dushyanta praises her beauty but fails to recognize her. She pleads but it is of no use. She ultimately is taken away by same kind of mystical light. Later, the king gets his ring back that he was given to Sakuntala and immediately he feels guilty of not recognizing her and publically humiliating and abandoning her especially when she was pregnant with his own child. He wishes to bring her back and apologize to her and make everything right but he does not know where to start his search from. He becomes a mourning mess. This is where we see the transformation of love to spiritual love from physical love. Dushyanta is also aware of his childless state and all the stress of thinking causes him to fell unconscious. He returns to his consciousness when he hears his friend Madhavya’s cries for help. He challenges the enemy to fight him and leave Madhavya but it is not an enemy but Lord Indra’s charioteer Matali who has come to take Dushyanta with him to Lord Indra’s decree. Dushyanta leaves with Matali to fight the demons in the celestial regions as instructed by Indra, the king of heavens.

After the fulfillment of his mission, Dushyanta ask Matali to stop by hermitage of Marica to get the sage’s blessings. There, while waiting for Matali to get the sage’s permission to meet him, Dushyanta meets a small boy, playing with the cub. He instantly feels drawn towards him. The two ladies, attending child, on seeing Dushyanta ask him to help them to persuade the child to leave the cub alone but the child does not listen and says that he is not afraid. The child is wearing an amulet and no one other than his parents and sage can touch the child. If done, the amulet would turn into a serpent and bite the person. Dushyanta notices the resemblance between him and the child. He comes to know that the child is of Puru race and his mother’s name is Sakuntala. He is then sure of the child as his own and falls to Sakuntala’s feet and ask for her forgiveness and also asks her to come back to him with their child. Sakuntala forgives him and they both go to see the sage and seek his blessings. The sage tells him of Rishi Durvasa’s curse and thus frees him of his guilt. The sage Marichi and his consort Aditi bless the two with their child Sarvadhaman and give them their love. Thus, the play comes to an end with prayer of Lord Shiva.

Kalidas has an unparalleled reputation as a poet not only in India, but also all over the world. Globalisation opened up its doors to Kalidas’ works in 1789 when Sir William Jones translated his play Abhigyan Shakuntalam. These facts will bring you closer to history as well as Kalidas’ brilliance.

Eight Facts about Abhigyan Shakuntalam



1. Whole story of presented in Seven Acts :

The seven act play is about the Recognition of Shakuntala or Abhijana Shakuntalam. King Dushyanta marries Shakuntala, but has to leave for Hastinapur to fulfil his commitments. Dushyanta gives Shankuntala a ring, to be shown to the king when she goes to his courts, to claim her place as the queen.  Shakuntala is lost in her thoughts and fails to attend to the sage Durvasa. The angry sage curses her by casting a spell over Dhushyanta to forget about her existence. The King can be freed from the spell only if Shakuntala shows him the ring. The encounter, marriage, separation and reunion of Dushyanta and Shankuntala are what we get to see in this play.

Bharat , India birth

2. Connection with origin of country name ‘Bharat’:

Abhigyan Shakuntalam is a play which revolves around the love story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala. Shakuntala was the daughter of sage Vishwamitra and the Apsara Meneka. Abandoned at birth by her parents, Shakuntala was brought up in the secluded hermitage of the sage Kanva , and grows up into an attractive, but innocent maiden. Shakuntala married King Dushyanta and gave birth to Bharat, after whom India was named Bharat.

Shakuntlam Real Love Story

3. Story related to Pure Stroke of Luck

Dushyanta was out for hunting when he was interrupted by a hermit when he was about to shoot an antelope with his arrow. The King was told that the antelope belongs to the sage Kanva and the sanctity of the place should not be violated by killing the antelope. The King abstained from killing the antelope and was invited to the hermitage. It was here that the King had his first encounter with Shankuntala.

True Love Story based

4. Lost and Regained Memory of King Dushyanta

A fisherman discovered the ring in the stomach of a fish, which he caught. Shakuntala had lost the ring in the river when she ran her hand through the water while crossing it. The ring was shown to the king by the policemen, who had caught the fisherman for theft. The king then regained his memory of marrying Shakuntala.


5. The Play Was First Translated by Sir William Jones

The first Indian drama ever to be translated into a western language was Abhigyan Shakuntalam. The translation was done by Sir William Jones in 1789. Till 1889 the play was translated in 46 languages.


6. No Tragedy in Love Story

The unique feature of the play is the absence of tragedy. Since the play is a love drama the only negative emotions introduced in the play are worry, anxiety, sorrow and heartburn, but these emotions are just momentary.


7. More brief of the play described in Mahabharata

The version of Abhigyan Shakuntalam in the famous epic of Mahabharata is slightly different from the original version. In the Mahabharata, Shakuntala had to stay apart from her husband, King Dushyanta, for a very long time. It is only when their son Bharat was born that Dushyanta found him playing in the forest with a couple of lion cubs, opening their mouth with his bare hands, trying to count their teeth. Seeing a little boy playing with such courage amongst lions, Dushyanta becomes curious about the boy and asks him about his parents. The little boy then takes him to the sage Kanva’s ashram where Dushyanta meets Shakuntala and remembers everything.


8. Translated and Narrated By Several International Communities

The musical adaption of the play was done in many countries including Austria, France, Italy, Hungary and Norway. It has also been staged internationally. The play gained a lot of international acclaim after its translation and was admired by many great philosophers and theater personalities.