Śakuntalā Summary

Śakuntalā is a Sanskrit play by Kālidāsa that tells the story of a water nymph and a king who fall in love.

  • Dushyanta, king of India, meets the water nymph Śakuntalā while out hunting. The two fall in love and are married, and Dushyanta gives Śakuntalā a ring.
  • A sage curses Śakuntalā so that Dushyanta will not remember her unless she can provide an object to remind him of their love.
  • The ring is lost but ultimately recovered. Śakuntalā and Dushyanta are reunited in heaven along with their son, then sent back to earth to live together.


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Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414


Śakuntalā begins with a prologue that frames the rest of the play. After a poem praising Shiva, an actor acting as the director of the play has an exchange with the lead actress in which he doubts the quality of the performance and she reassures him with a song.

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Act 1

The first act opens with Dushyanta, the king, stumbling on a hermitage as he hunts. He listens as a monk tells him he should not hunt there, and he proceeds, finding Śakuntalā—a beautiful maiden. While he initially believes her to be a commoner, it is later revealed that she is a water nymph who was adopted by one of the monks at the hermitage. The play makes it clear that she is an object of sexual desire and a symbol of beauty. Dushyanta introduces himself under a false identity, and the two begin to fall in love.

Act 2

One of the king's companions, a fool, gives a monologue noting how smitten the king is and providing him an excuse to stay at the hermitage. The king attempts to hide his true feelings for Śakuntalā, given that at this point he still believes her to be a commoner.

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Act 3

Śakuntalā and Dushyanta confess their love for each other. While Śakuntalā is initially worried about rushing into a marriage, she eventually decides to give in to her feelings, and the lovers consummate their relationship between the third and fourth scenes.

Act 4

The king returns to his palace to attend to some duties, and Śakuntalā, distracted by love, fails to feed a sage who arrives at the hermitage. Full of anger, the sage curses her so that Dushyanta will not remember her unless she can provide an object to remind him of their love. The king has given her a ring, so she does not worry about finding a suitable object.

Act 5

Śakuntalā arrives at the palace, having lost the ring. Dushyanta fails to recognize her, and she is thrown out of the palace and abandoned by the monks who traveled with her.

Act 6

A fisherman finds the ring in the mouth of a fish. He is interrogated by the police because the ring bears a royal symbol on it, and the ring eventually makes its way back to the palace, where Dushyanta sees it and remembers Śakuntalā.

Act 7

Finally, Śakuntalā and Dushyanta are reunited in heaven, along with their son. The gods are pleased and send the three back to earth to live together.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1166

Dushyanta, the king of India, is hunting one day when his chariot takes him into the sacred grounds of a religious establishment. A hermit stops the king and reminds him that he has sworn to protect the religious people who live there. The king leaves his chariot and wanders through the hallowed groves. As he walks, he hears voices and then sees three young women passing through the grove to water the plants growing there. When a bee, angered by their presence, flies at one of the young women, she playfully calls out for Dushyanta to rescue her, not knowing that the king is anywhere near.

Dushyanta, stepping from his hiding place, announces himself, but not as the king; rather, he says that he is the king’s representative appointed to oversee the safety of the grove and its inhabitants. While they talk, Dushyanta learns that akuntal, the young woman who had cried out, is no ordinary maid but the child of a Brahman and a water nymph. Dushyanta falls in love with her. akuntal also feels the first pangs of love for the king and believes that the Hindu god of love has struck her with his five flower-tipped arrows.

Mathavya, the king’s jester, complains to his master that the king and his retinue spend too much time in hunting and that this life is too hard on him. Ostensibly to humor the jester, but actually to have more time to seek out akuntal, the king calls off any further hunting and orders his retinue to camp near the sacred grove in which akuntal lives with her foster father, a hermit wise man named Kanwa. A short time later, word comes to the camp that the king’s mother wishes him to return to the capital to take part in certain ceremonies, but Dushyanta is so smitten with love for akuntal that he sends his retinue back while he remains at the sacred grove in the hope of seeing akuntal again.

Since their first meeting, both the king and akuntal have languished with love. At last Dushyanta finds an excuse and opportunity to revisit the grove, and there he meets akuntal again. Both are clearly in love, but neither knows how to tell the other. One of akuntal’s attendants finally conceives the idea of having her send a love note to the king. As akuntal writes the note, Dushyanta hears her speaking the words aloud. He steps from his place of concealment and tells her of his determination to make her his consort and the head of his household, above all his other wives. akuntal leaves, telling him that she will have to talk over the subject of marriage with her attendants, for her foster father, Kanwa, is absent and so cannot give his consent.

Sometime later, a scurrilous and eccentric sage comes to the sacred grove. He feels himself slighted by akuntal, who had not heard of his arrival and so has not accomplished the rites of hospitality to suit him. In his anger, he calls down a curse on the young woman, although she does not know of it. The curse is that her lover will not remember her until he sees once again the ring of recognition that he will give her. The attendants who hear the curse are afraid to tell akuntal for fear she will become ill with worry.

Before Dushyanta leaves the sacred grove to return to his palace, akuntal agrees to a secret marriage and becomes his wife, but she decides to remain at the grove until the return of her foster father. Before he leaves, the king gives her a ring as a sign of her new status. Not long after Dushyanta’s departure, Kanwa returns. Having the gift of omniscience, he knows all that has taken place, and as he reenters the sacred grove, a supernatural voice tells him that akuntal shall give birth to a son destined to rule the world. Kanwa, thus assured of the future, gives his blessing to the union of akuntal and Dushyanta. He has his people make the necessary preparations for sending the bride to her husband, to appear as the royal consort.

When the time comes for her departure, akuntal is filled with regret, for she loves the sacred grove where she was reared. In addition, she has premonitions that her future will not be a happy one. Kanwa insists, however, that she make ready to leave, so that her son can be born in his father’s palace.

When the hermits of the sacred wood appear in Dushyanta’s presence with akuntal, the curse proved true, for the king fails to remember akuntal and his marriage to her. The hermits, feeling that they have done their duty in escorting akuntal to her husband, leave her in the king’s household. akuntal, heartbroken at her husband’s failure to remember her, looks for the ring of recognition he had given her, but the ring has been lost during the journey from the sacred wood to the palace.

Not long after Dushyanta has sent akuntal from his presence, his courtiers come to tell him that a strange, winged being was seen flying into the palace gardens, where it picked up akuntal and carried her away into the heavens. The king is much disturbed by this, but he resolves to put the event from his mind. Later, the ring of recognition, bearing the king’s crest, is discovered in the hands of a poor fisherman, who had found it in the belly of a carp. The ring is carried to Dushyanta; no sooner has he set eyes on it than he remembers akuntal and their secret marriage, for the sight of the ring removes the curse.

Remembering akuntal does him no good; when she was snatched from the palace garden, she was lost to mortal eyes. Dushyanta grows sad and refuses to be comforted. Meanwhile, the nymph who stole akuntal from the palace garden keeps watch and takes note of the king’s unhappiness. Finally she takes pity on him and has the chariot of the god Indra sent down to earth to convey Dushyanta to heaven for a reunion with akuntal.

In heaven the king finds a young boy playing with a lion. He is amazed to see what the child is doing and feels a strong attraction toward him. While Dushyanta watches, an amulet falls from the child’s neck. The king picks it up and replaces it on the boy’s shoulders, much to the surprise of the boy’s heavenly attendants, for the amulet is deadly to all but the child’s parents. Dushyanta, recognized as the boy’s true father, is taken to akuntal, who readily forgives her husband, for she has heard the story of the curse. The gods, happy to see the pair reunited, send them back to earth, along with their little son Bharata, to live many years in happiness together.

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