In Hindu mythology, Bharata(Sanskrit: भरतः, Bharata i.e., "The cherished") was an emperor and the founder of the Bhārata dynasty and thus an ancestor of the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata. Though the Bhāratas are prominent tribe in the Rigveda, the story of Bharata is first told in the Adi Parva of Mahabharata, wherein he is the son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. The story of his parents and his birth, is also related in Kalidasa's famous play, Abhijnanashakuntala.
There are also many references to "Bharata Chakravarti" in the sacred Jain texts, where he is referred as son of first Tirthankara Lord Rushabhdeva. In Jain mythology, Bharata conquers all of earth and the worlds above and reaches the top of Mount Meru(the center of the world) to place a flag. But upon reaching the top he sees numerous such flags of world conquerors who preceded him. Thus chastened he takes diksha and attains nirvana. He is succeeded as an emperor by his son Arkakirti.
अभूतिर् एषा कस् त्यज्याज् जीवञ् जीवन्तम् आत्मजम्
शाकुन्तळं महात्मानं दौःषन्तिं भर पौरव
भर्तव्योऽयं त्वया यस्माद् अस्माकं वचनाद् अपि
तस्माद् भवत्व् अयं नाम्ना भरतो नाम ते सुतः
abhūtir eṣā kas tyajyāj jīvañ jīvantam ātmajam
śākuntalaṃ mahātmānaṃ dauḥṣantiṃ bhara paurava
bhartavyo 'yaṃ tvayā yasmād asmākaṃ vacanād api
tasmād bhavatv ayaṃ nāmnā bharato nāma te sutaḥ
Therefore, O thou of Puru's race, cherish thy high-souled son born of(Queen) Shakuntala
and because this child(Bharata) is to be cherished by thee even at our word,
therefore shall this thy son be known by the name of Bharata("the cherished").
In his childhood, Bharata was known by the name Sarvadamana(Sanskrit: सर्वदमनः, Sarvadamanah), meaning the subduer of all. The dwellers at Sage Kanva's asylum called him by this name because, even in the age of six, he was able to seize and restrain wild animals.
Bharata In Literature
According to Mahābhārata(Adi Parva), Bharata was the son of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala and thus a descendant of the Lunar Dynasty of the Kshatriya Varna. He was originally named Sarvadamana("the subduer of all"); the Mahābhārata traces the events in his life by which he came to be known as Bharata("the cherished"). Bharata's exploits as a child prince are dramatised in Kalidasa's poetic play Abhijñānaśākuntalam.
Bharata In The Rig Veda
The Rig Veda knows of Bharata only as an ancestor of contemporary dynasties, tribes and clans. There is nothing in the Rig Veda about Bharata the person, let alone Bharata the emperor. There is absolutely no mention of any wars that he may have fought, enemies that he vanquished or territories annexed, not even the wealth he may have amassed or gifted(as danastutis). But nevertheless, he was important, for reasons that are not clear based on the Rig Veda alone. Every family of priests that represent the composers of Mandala II to VII, seem eager to showcase their association and allegiance to a descendant of the Bharatas. There are several references to "sons of Bharata" or where contemporary kings or chiefs are referred to as a "Bharata", always suggestive of a virtue or praise.
Story Of Bharata
Story Of Shakuntala
An Apsara called Menaka had come down to Earth from Svarga at the behest of Indra, to distract the great sage Vishvamitra from his deep penance. She succeeded and bore a child, by him. Vishwamitra, angered by the loss of the virtue gained through his many hard years of strict asceticism, distanced himself from the child and mother to return to his work. Realizing that she could not leave the child with him and having to return to the Heavenly realms, Menaka left the newborn baby on the banks of the Malini River flowing in the Shivalik mountain ranges of Himalayas. The Malini River on whose banks Menaka the Apsara left the girl child is located in the Sivalik Hills of the Himalaya and Malini flows about 10 km west of a town Kotdwara in Uttarakhand, India. This is corroborated by the famous poet Kalidasa in his Abhijnanasakuntalam. The child was found by a Rishi called Kanva surrounded and protected by birds(Shakunton in Sanskrit) and so she was named "Shakuntala".
Shakuntala was brought up by Sage Kanva in his hermitage. King Dushyanta of Hastinapura encountered Shakuntala while travelling through the forest with his army. Pursuing a male deer wounded by his arrow into the hermitage, he saw Shakuntala nursing the deer, her pet and fell in love with her. He profusely begged her forgiveness for harming the deer and Dushyanta married Shakuntala there in the hermitage. King Dushyanta left hermitage after some time due to unrest in the capital city. At the time of leaving, he gave her a ring as a memory of their time spent together and promised her to come back later.
In due course, Shakuntala gave birth to a child. The Sage Kanva named him as Sarvadamana. Surrounded by wild animals, Sarvadamana grew to be a strong child and made a sport of opening the mouths of tigers and lions and counting their teeth.
Time passed on and the King Dushyanta never came back. So, Shakuntala reached King's palace with her son. During the journey, she lost the ring while crossing a river. Arriving at King's court, Shakuntala was hurt and surprised when her husband did not recognize her, nor recollected anything about her. Since she lost the ring, she didn't have any proof as well. A few days later, a fisherman found that ring inside a fish and presented it before the king. After a long course of arguments made by Shakuntala, King accepted her as his wife, because King supported his child after hearing the speech of Celestial Messenger, that Shakuntala's son came to be called Bharata(the cherished, the supported).
In his youth, Bharata became the King. Young Bharata conquered and ruled the entire sub continent of India, from sea to Himalaya. His empire was named Bharatavarsha, the land of Bharata.
Vishnu Purana accounts the extent of Bharatavarsha,
उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।
वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।
uttaraṃ yatsamudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇam
varṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ
"The country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata."
He ruled virtuously and earned great fame and was known by the titles of "Chakravarti" (emperor) and "Sarvabhauma" (Sanskrit: सार्वभौमः).
He performed many sacrifices and Sage Kanva was the chief priest at those sacrifices. Bharata had a son named Bhumanyu. The Mahabharata, in the Adi Parva, tells two different stories about Bhumanyu's birth. The first story says that Bharata married Sunanda the daughter of Sarvasena, the King of Kashi Kingdom and begot upon her the son named Bhumanyu. According to the second story, Bhumanyu was born out of a great sacrifice that Bharata performed for the sage Bharadwaja.
- Indian Myth and Legend, CHAPTER IX: Prelude to the Great Bharata War, Sacred Texts.com