KALIDASA’S SAKUNTALA: A VIEWPOINT
K. HANUMANTHA RAO
Department of Technology, Osmania University
“Ramyaani veekshya madhuraanscha nisamya sabdaan
Paryutsuko bhavathi yat sukhitopi jantuh
Tat chetasaa smarathi noona mabodhapoorvam
Bhaavasthiraani jananaantara sowhridaani.”
(Seeing beautiful things and hearing melodious sounds, if one becomes grievous though happy; then verily he recollects feelings of his previous birth which were deep in his memory due to attachment.)
This verse occurs in Abhijnana Sakuntalam of Kalidasa in the beginning of the Fifth Act. King Dushyanta married Sakuntala secretly and returned to his capital but had forgotten that affair due to Durvasa’s curse. Sitting in his palace with his friend Vidushaka, he hears a sweet song sung by Hamsapadika, a lady of the harem:
tatha parichumbya chutamanjareem
kamala vasati matra nirvruto
madhukara vismrutosyenaam kathaam.”
(You are ever desirous of nectar of new flowers. Oh bee! having thus kissed the mango flower how could you now forget that altogether, happy in the abode of lotus.)
Hearing this song Dushyanta was stricken with a subtle melancholy, a feeling of separation from his beloved. He infers that the cause of this is the recollection of attachments of his previous birth. Due to the effect of Durvasa’s curse Dushyanta’s mental remembrance of Sakuntala was wiped off. But the deeper inner attachment of husband and wife was not lost. Unclear like the feelings coming from the previous birth, the pangs of seperation from his beloved Sakuntala were within his heart. Placing Dushyanta in this singular mood and bringing Sakuntala along with Kanwa’s students on to the stage, Kalidasa evinces here superb dramatic technique and deep reading of human thoughts.
Critics say that by creating the incident of Durvasa’s curse, Kalidasa ennobled Dushyanta in his drama from Mahabharata. In Mahabharata Dushyanta really forgot Sakuntala, or though remembering, kept quiet being afraid of Kanva and the people. It is a disgraceful act. In Abhijnana Sakuntalam Dushyanta forgets her due to Durvasa’s curse. He is a noble person. Thus critics often opine.
But this view of critics does not stand to reasoning. Even a dissolute person does not altogether forget the woman whom he once loved. How the great king Dushyanta praised in Mahabharata as “righteous, noble and greatest of men (Dharmatma, Mahatma, Purushottamah)” would forget? Though remembering he pretended forgetfulness anticipating with immense belief the Divine voice to intervene and remove suspicion of the people.
In reading pouranic stories readers are prone to commit one mistake often. That is, viewing the story partly as real and partly fictitious. In the story of Dushyanta one should not think that only the incident of Dushyanta forgetting Sakuntala is real and the Divine voice fictitious, just an imaginary incident forced into the story to save the character of the king. Dushyanta disowning Sakuntala, and the Divine voice are inseparable incidents for it is only Dushyanta’s firm anticipation of the Divine voice which made him to disown his wife. The two incidents should be believed or disbelieved together. Similarly Sita’s entering fire should not be separated and believed from the Fire-god bringing her back, and Parasurama killing his mother from her immediate resurrection. A story should be viewed as a story in entity, not as a history partially.
In literature ideas are the main things. Incidents in literature are only means to the ends of ideas. Writers create and represent such incidents of life, real or imaginary, which exhibit their ideas. For example, there is another incident in the first act of Sakuntala that a bee was flying about Sakuntala’s face mistaking it for a lotus. This is sheer poetic imagination. But Kalidasa dramatised this mere poetic convention with marvellous ability and made it an important event in the drama. In fact Kalidasa’s poetry is more imaginary than real. To understand the idea of this incident the discussion of whether bees really fly about the faces of lovely women is not at all helpful. Similarly in Dushyanta’s story his upright moral behaviour, in Sita’s story the greatness of Paativrarya, and in parasurama’s story, the devotion of a son to his father are the poetic ideas.
Hence in Mahabharata, Dushyanta disowning Sakuntala and the Divine declaration are poetic incidents to show the righteousness of the king. In Mahabharata after the divine declaration it is written:
“Tat Srutvaa powravo raja vyahrutam tridivowkasaam
Purohitamamaaryaanrcha samprahrushto braveedidam
Srunvantetad bhavantosya devadutasya bhaashitam
Ahamchaapyevamevainam jaanaami swayamaatmajam
Yadyaham vachanaadeva grahinyaami svamaatmajam
Bhaveddhi sankyo lokasya naiva suddho bhavedayam
Tam visodhya tathaa raja devadutena Bharata
Hruhtah pramuditaschapi Pratijagraha tam sutam.”
(Having heard the declaration of the Gods the king spoke with joy to the priest and the ministers thus: Listen to the speech of the Divine messenger. I too know that this boy is my own son. But if I accept him readily he would be looked by the people with suspicion. Thus making everything clear and removing the suspicion through the Divine messenger he accepted his son gladly.)
When Sakuntala stood in the court claiming that she was his wife and with a son who had the right to become king in future, it became necessary to prove his genesis. This is proved poetically through divine message in Mahabharata.
Hence Dushyanta is noble in Mahabharata also. The changes that Kalidasa made in his drama from the original Mahabharata story are only to render the undramatic pouranic story fit for a drama. It is a mistake to think that Kalidasa ennobled the original story of Mahabharata by these changes.