Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Utkarsh Patel - Shakuntala

+Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

Utkarsh Patel is a professor of Comparative Mythology at Mumbai University.  He has put forth a different version of Shakuntala, whom we know as the wronged heroine of Kalidasa's famous play, Abijyanshakuntalam.

Patel goes to the source of the story, which is Mahabharata.  According to him, Shakuntala was the first female to make an appearance in the Epic.  Kalidasa used Rishi Durvasa to create a rift between two lovers.  But the original version in Ved Vyasas differed.

The novel starts with the story of Shakuntala's parents, Rishi Vishwamitra and Menaka, an Apsara sent from Heaven to divert the attention of Vishwamitra.

Menaka is ordered to abandon her child and return to Heaven by Indra, once the mission is accomplished.  Vishwamitra is incensed by the deception played on him by Indra and leaves too, to begin his meditation afresh.  The little baby girl is protected by Shakuntal (Blue Jay) birds.  She is discovered by Rishi Kanva who brings her up as his own child and names her Shakuntala.

Utakarsh Patel's Shakuntala is not only a wood nymph cavorting among nature as depicted in Kalidasa's drama.  She is deeply interested in various topics and can make up her mind about things. She is incensed when she learns about the story of Sati Ahalya.  Why is Ahalaya alone punished so severely for a transgression of which she was NOT guilty.  Why was Indradev let off so lightly.

Much later in the story Shakuntala is moved by the story of Madhavi, Yayati's daughter, who is loaned to various kings for begetting sons.

When she is accosted by the handsome king, Dushyant, she falls for him and believes him when he marries her and promises to make her son the heir to Hastinapur.  We do know the story from Kalidasa's version.  Patel tells us that Dushyant wilfully abandoned Shakuntala once he returned to Hastinapur.

The story is an eye-opener for us.  Not only does it enhance the image of Shakuntala as a strong woman who had the courage to give Dushyant a talking-to but also had the courage to leave him with her child and disappear into a world of her own.

The story is rather dense.  It is very sad as Shakuntala gets only a few days of pleasure with Dushyant and a lifetime of loneliness. In Patel's version Dushyant is not married either.  Despite him having a 'loose' character, he does not seem to cavort much with women. There does not seem to be cause enough for him to have not mentioned Shakuntala to anyone.

That apart, it is great to find Shakuntala turned into a fiery female.

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