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.

Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Prologue

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.

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.

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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Themes