Shakuntala and Dushyanta gave birth to a boy who would rule his namesake, Bharata. And their fish story is no fish story. No yarn; only a sincere yearning.
While love found them in a split second, luck was a bit of a laggard.
Born to Sage Vishwamitra and the celestial nymph Menaka, Shakuntala, was left to be raised by Sage Kanva when her parents returned to their heavenly duties. She inherited the intelligence of her father and the beauty of her divine mother. King Dushyanta, a fine and handsome warrior; noble in every regard, encountered her on a hunting expedition in the forest during which he was lured into the Sage’s hermitage by the charming garden surrounding it.
He was smitten. First by the garden and then the maiden.
When he confessed that he had fallen desperately for her and proposed marriage, Shakuntala, swept off her feet, conceded. However, she wished to wait for her adoptive father to return before she married. He was going to be away for a while, performing penances. And she didn’t think it right to marry without the consent of her guardian.
Dushyanta, restless to make her his own, beseechingly said, “It is true that the common practice is to seek the consent of guardians before marriage, however, under extraordinary circumstances, the scriptures allow a Gandharva Vivaha (when two people in love marry with only each other as witnesses since a guardian cannot be reached immediately for assent or denies giving it). Please do not torment me any longer, for I cannot imagine life without you. Marry me, Shakuntala.”
Shakuntala gave in and they wed without further ado.
After spending a pleasant few weeks together, it was time for the King to resume his duties in his kingdom. He wished to take his Queen to her palace. But Shakuntala thought it proper to wait for Sage Kanva to come back (she feared he’d be worried to find her missing upon his return), explain to her father all that had transpired in his absence and let him give her away to the King and his entourage when they came to take her.
Dushyanta saw good reason in her denial to depart with him. He slipped his signet ring onto her finger – a symbol of togetherness and affection. Then, with a heavy heart and a promise to return soon, the King left his bride.
Shakuntala spent her days engrossed in the memory of her lover. She soon discovered she was carrying their child.
More than ever, she waited and ached for Dushyanta to reappear. Alas! The course of true love never did run smooth.
Stuck in her reverie one day, she fails to acknowledge the presence of Sage Durvasa at her doorstep. The Sage, infamous for his short fuse, mercilessly curses her that the one whom she is thinking about will forget her. Shakuntala was crushed. She prays for his forgiveness, simultaneously explaining her situation.
The sage, now regretful of his impulsive behaviour and feeling sympathy for Shakuntala, mitigated the severity of the curse. “If the King sees some memorabilia that he has given you, he will be reminded of everything”, he affirmed.
Sage Kanva came home to a distressed daughter who let him in on all that he had missed. He arranges for Shakuntala to be escorted by a group of Brahmins traveling to the land of King Dushyanta. As fate would have it, in the course of their journey, while bathing in the river, Shakuntala’s ring slips off into the water and is irretrievable.
Neverthless, unwilling to give up hope, she walks into the royal court and presents herself in front of her husband. The King had no memory of her whatsoever. Despite varied attempts to remind him of the time they had spent together, Dushyanta was void of any reminiscence. The curse had taken effect. And poor Shakuntala was politely asked to leave.
She went back to her father, spiritless and forlorn. The Sage was optimistic that her tale would turn around. He told her that a Queen will always turn pain into power. If she was indeed one, she should “have faith. The reward of patience in the face of misfortune is more than what has been lost.” When her son was born, he advised her to raise him right, like a King, fearless and friendly and dignified like his father. And she did just that.
Bharata was a gifted child – a reflection of his lineage. When he was no longer an infant, a fisherman from Dushyanta’s empire found a ring with the King’s seal on it in his catch. Fiercely loyal to his King, the faithful fisherman took the ring to his court. When Dushyanta saw it, the curse was lifted. In a flash, the latent memory of Shakuntala surfaced. Lamenting his inability to recognize her earlier, he set out with his retinue to set things straight.
Far into the forest, he runs into a daring little boy playing with the cubs of a lioness, opening their mouths and counting their teeth. Curious to know whose child he was, the King asks the little one to take him to his parents. Bharata, truly destiny’s child, had fortuitously reunited his mother and father. Dushyanta begged for the Sage and his Queen’s pardon. It was quite rightly given, for he was powerless in the face of the curse levied upon them. The King sought permission from Sage Kanva to take his wife and heir home. Shakuntala had believed it would and it did happen. Her father benevolently blessed them good bye.
The family returned to their kingdom. While the rest is history, the fish certainly made this story!
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