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...
(The entire section is 1166 words.)