Shakuntala, Dushyanta and the Birth of Bharata

- July 25, 2022


By Srinidhi Murthy

Shakuntala was the daughter of Sage Vishwamitra and Menaka, a heavenly nymph. She was raised by sage Kanwa and married to Dushyanta, the king of Hastinapur. Later, she gave birth to Bharata, the ancestor of the Kuru clan. Her story is an important part of the Mahabharata

Shakuntala’s Birth and Childhood
Script: Dalat Doongaji and A.K. Lavangia; Illustration: P.B. Kavadi

Menaka, a heavenly nymph, left her newborn baby, near the hermitage of Sage Kanwa. The baby girl was adopted by the sage and was named Shakuntala. The name Shakuntala was bestowed upon her by Kanwa as she was found surrounded by the Shakuntala birds. Shakuntala spent her entire childhood under the care of Kanwa and enjoyed taking care of the animals around her. Soon, she grew into a beautiful maiden.

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Gandharva Marriage 

One day, Dushyanta, the king of Hastinapur, visited the hermitage of Sage Kanwa. As the sage was not there at the time of Dushyanta’s arrival, Shakuntala received him with all due honour. Impressed by her beauty and grace, the king asked her to marry him. Shakuntala asked the king to wait for the return of her father as he would be the one to bestow his blessings upon their marriage. Upon hearing this, Dushyanta suggested Gandharva marriage, which required only the sanction of those who were to marry. Shakuntala agreed to wed him through Gandharva marriage with a condition that the son, born of their union, would be declared as his heir-apparent. Dushyanta agreed to her condition and they soon got married. He then left her, with a promise to send his troops to escort her to the capital as his wife and queen. 

Script: Dalat Doongaji and A.K. Lavangia; Illustration: P.B. Kavadi
Dushyanta and Shakuntala’s son 

When Kanwa returned, he learnt about the events that happened in his absence, through his ascetic power. He was pleased with the marriage and blessed Shakuntala, telling her that her son would be mighty and illustrious. Soon, Shakuntala gave birth to a healthy boy. Six years passed since Dushyanta had left Shakuntala, with a promise of return. The son of Shakuntala and Dushyanta grew into a strong boy and showed great courage. Soon, the sage decided that it was time for the boy to meet his father. Hence, Kanwa, Shakuntala and her son started their journey toward Hastinapur.

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Dushyanta’s Rejection 

Upon her arrival, Shakuntala presented her son to Dushyanta. Though he remembered everything, Dushyanta refused to acknowledge both Shakuntala and their son. Shakuntala felt angered and hurt by his rejection. She said, “God has witnessed everything. The truth cannot be hidden. I cannot bear this disrespect. I shall return to my father’s hermitage but acknowledge and accept our son.” However, Dushyanta refused to do so. Enraged, Shakuntala stated that one day her son would rule the earth. 

The Birth Of Bharatavarsha
Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: T.M.P. Nedungadi

As soon as Shakuntala spoke these words, a voice from the realms above addressed Dushyanta, confirming Shakuntala’s statement. The voice then asked Dushyanta to willingly accept her and their son. Hearing those words, Dushyanta was overjoyed. Addressing the court, he said that he knew that the boy was his son. He further stated that had he accepted the boy only because of Shakuntala’s claim, his paternity would always have been questioned. Now that the celestial voice had confirmed their truth, Dushyanta happily embraced Shakuntala and their son. He named their son, Bharata and announced him as his heir. Bharata, the son of Shakuntala and Dushyanta, reigned after his father, conquering all other kingdoms, and giving birth to our nation, Bharatavarsha. 

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