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The Enchanting Legacy of Shaakuntalam: A Glimpse into Kalidasa’s Celebrated Quartets

Sanskrit literature, beyond the revered epics and Puranas penned by sages, is a treasure trove of novels and plays crafted by illustrious poets. Many of these literary gems draw inspiration from the epics and Puranas, captivating our hearts and immersing us deeply in their narratives. As we delve into these literary treasures, we may find ourselves entangled in the intricate web of characters and plots, making it difficult to disengage.

Even those new to Sanskrit are likely familiar with Mahakavi Kalidasa and his magnum opus, the play “Shaakuntalam.” This exquisite romantic drama, based on the epic Mahabharata, showcases Kalidasa’s mastery of alankaras (ornaments of poetry) and vivid imagery. His skillful use of poetic devices transports readers to an enchanting world of art, from which returning to the ordinary world seems almost impossible.

There is a saying:




tatrā’pi ca caturtho’ṅkastatraślokacatuṣṭayam॥)

Translation: “Among literary works, plays are the most enchanting; among plays, Shakuntala stands out; within Shakuntala, the fourth act is the pinnacle; and within the fourth act, the four verses are the most sublime.”

This profound statement underscores the unparalleled beauty of Kalidasa’s “Shaakuntalam.” In this article, we will delve into these four mesmerizing verses, allowing ourselves to be fully immersed in the enchanting world of Shakuntalam. While there may be some scholarly differences regarding which verses are deemed the most exquisite, in this article, we shall examine the four verses that are widely acknowledged and celebrated in the southern part of Bhārat.

Since all four verses are found in the fourth chapter, let us explore the story leading up to this point. Shakuntala, the daughter of Viswamitra and Menaka, was brought up by Sage Kanva in his hermitage after being abandoned by her parents. She blossomed into a beautiful maiden.

One day, King Dushyanta visited the ashram, where he fell deeply in love with Shakuntala and married her according to the Gandharva tradition. Before leaving on urgent business, he gave her his royal ring and promised to return soon to take her to his kingdom.

Shakuntala, consumed by her love and memories of Dushyanta, often found herself lost in thought, neglecting her surroundings. During one such moment, Sage Durvasa visited the hermitage. Unaware of his presence, Shakuntala failed to show him the due respect. Angered by this, Sage Durvasa cursed her, declaring that she would be forgotten by the very person she thought of so deeply that she neglected her duties and insulted the sage. Shakuntala’s friends, apologizing on her behalf, implored the sage to reconsider his curse. Moved by their plea, Sage Durvasa decreed that the person who forgot her would remember upon seeing a token he had given her.

Unaware of the curse, Shakuntala discovered she was carrying the King’s heir. Her foster father, Sage Kanva, decided it was time to send her to her husband’s palace. It is during Shakuntala’s poignant farewell that the four moving verses are found.

The first verse captures Sage Kanva’s fatherly emotions as he prepares to send his daughter to her husband’s home:


कंठ: स्तम्भितबाष्पवृत्तिकलुषःचिन्ताजडंदर्शनम्।




kaṃṭha: stambhitabāṣpavttikaluacintājaadarśanam

vaiklavya mama tāvadīdṛśamahosnehādarayaukasa

pīḍyanteghiakatha nu tanayāviśleadu:khairnavai)

Translation – “The mere thought of Shakuntala’s departure fills my heart with sorrow. My throat tightens with the tears I struggle to hold back, and my eyes grow still in deep contemplation. If such is the intensity of grief for a forest-dweller like me, how much greater must be the anguish of householders facing the separation from their newly-wed daughters?”

The brilliance of Mahakavi Kalidasa in capturing a father’s emotions is unparalleled, especially when Kanva poignantly reflects that if a hermit like him, accustomed to a life of detachment, feels such profound sorrow, one can only imagine the immense grief of ordinary men bidding farewell to their own daughters. Nowhere else do we encounter verses so vividly and poignantly expressing these deep-seated feelings.

The next verse features Sage Kanva addressing all the plants and trees in his hermitage:









Translation –“Shakuntala, who never drank water without first quenching your thirst, who loved and cherished you so much that she never plucked your flowers or leaves despite her fondness for adorning herself, who celebrated your first blossoms and fruits as if they were her own child’s birth, is now leaving for her husband’s palace. May you all bid her a heartfelt farewell and bless her journey.

This verse beautifully illustrates the profound connection between humans and nature, portraying trees and plants as integral members of the family. It underscores how deeply entwined our lives were with the natural world, where every plant and tree held a special place in our hearts and homes. The affectionate farewell to Shakuntala from the flora of the hermitage serves as a poignant reminder of this lost connection, urging us to rekindle our respect and love for the natural world around us.

The next verse captures Sage Kanva’s heartfelt message to his son-in-law, King Dushyanta. It reflects the deep wisdom and immense love of a father entrusting his precious daughter to her husband’s care:

अस्मान्साधुविचिन्त्यसंयमधनानुच्चै: कुलंचात्मन-




(asmānsādhuvicintyasaṃyamadhanānuccai: kulaṃcātmana-

stvayyasyākathamapyabāndhavakṛtāmsnehapravṛttiṃ ca tām।


bhāgyāyattamataḥparaṃnakhalutadvācyaṃvadhūbandhubhiḥ ||)

Translation – “Considering that we hermits possess only the wealth of tapasya, and acknowledging your noble birth and Shakuntala’s deep love for you, which was independent of her relatives, you, as her husband, should grant her equal status and affection among your wives. Beyond this, her fate and fortune will determine her standing, a matter in which her relatives have no influence.”

Sage Kanva’s words are not merely advice but a solemn plea to honor the sanctity of marriage and uphold the values of love, respect, and equality. His message emphasizes the importance of treating Shakuntala with the same affection and esteem as his other wives, recognizing her noble birth and the genuine love that brought them together.

In the next verse, Sage Kanva, embodying the wisdom and love of a devoted father, imparts invaluable guidance to Shakuntala on how to navigate life at her husband’s palace. His advice, rich with compassion and foresight, is aimed at ensuring her harmony and happiness in her new home:





śuśrūṣasvagurūn kuru priyasakhīvṛttiṃsapatnījane


bhūyiṣṭhaṃ bhava dakṣiṇāparijanebhāgyeṣvanutsekinī


Translation – “Heed the advice of your elders, treating them with respect. Consider the other wives of the King as your close friends. Even in moments of anger with your husband, maintain your composure and avoid acting impulsively. Be kind and generous to your servants, and remain humble despite your good fortune. By adhering to these principles, you will embody the essence of a true wife. Those who neglect these values bring great distress to the family.”

Simply reading these four verses stirs a rollercoaster of emotions within us. It’s no wonder that “Shaakuntalam” is celebrated as the pinnacle of Sanskrit literature. Admirers of this literary tradition find themselves drawn to this masterpiece repeatedly, enchanted by its depth and beauty. The full credit goes to the poet, whose words evoke such powerful emotions. If you haven’t yet explored “Shaakuntalam,” you are truly missing out on a remarkable experience.

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