Shakuntala (play)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Shakuntala Looking Back to Glimpse Dushyanta, scene from Shakuntala painted by Raja Ravi Varma

Shakuntala, also known as The Recognition of Shakuntala, The Sign of Shakuntala, and many other variants (Devanagari: अभिज्ञानशाकुन्तलम् – Abhijñānashākuntala), is a Sanskrit play by the ancient Indian poet Kālidāsa, dramatizing the story of Shakuntala told in the epic Mahabharata. It is considered to be the best of Kālidāsa's works.[1] Its date is uncertain, but Kālidāsa is often placed in the period between the 1st century BCE and 4th century CE.[2]

Origin of Kālidāsa's play[edit]

Shakuntala elaborates upon an episode mentioned in the Mahabharata, with minor changes made (by Kālidāsa) to the plot.[citation needed]


Manuscripts differ on what its exact title is. Usual variants are Abhijñānaśakuntalā, Abhijñānaśākuntala, Abhijñānaśakuntalam and the "grammatically indefensible" Abhijñānaśākuntalam.[3] The Sanskrit title means pertaining to the recognition of Shakuntala, so a literal translation could be Of Shakuntala who is recognized. The title is sometimes translated as The token-for-recognition of Shakuntala or The Sign of Shakuntala.[citation needed] Titles of the play in published translations include Sacontalá or The Fatal Ring and Śakoontalá or The Lost Ring.[4][5]


Crying of Shakuntala[citation needed]

The protagonist is Shakuntala, daughter of the sage Vishwamitra and the apsara Menaka. Abandoned at birth by her parents, Shakuntala is reared in the secluded hermitage of the sage Kanva, and grows up a comely but innocent maiden.

While Kanva and the other elders of the hermitage are away on a pilgrimage, Dushyanta, king of Hastinapura, comes hunting in the forest and chances upon the hermitage. He is captivated by Shakuntala, courts her in royal style, and marries her. He then has to leave to take care of affairs in the capital. She is given a ring by the king, to be presented to him when she appears in his court. She can then claim her place as queen.

The anger-prone sage Durvasa arrives when Shakuntala is lost in her fantasies, so that when she fails to attend to him, he curses her by bewitching Dushyanta into forgetting her existence. The only cure is for Shakuntala to show him the signet ring that he gave her.

She later travels to meet him, and has to cross a river. The ring is lost when it slips off her hand when she dips her hand in the water playfully. On arrival the king refuses to acknowledge her. Shakuntala is abandoned by her companions, who return to the hermitage.

Fortunately, the ring is discovered by a fisherman in the belly of a fish, and Dushyanta realises his mistake - too late. The newly wise Dushyanta defeats an army of Asuras, and is rewarded by Indra with a journey through heaven. Returned to Earth years later, Dushyanta finds Shakuntala and their son by chance, and recognizes them.

In other versions,[relevant? ] especially the one found in the Mahabharata, Shakuntala is not reunited until her son Bharata is born, and found by the king playing with lion cubs. Dushyanta enquires about his parents to young Bharata and finds out that Bharata is indeed his son. Bharata is an ancestor of the lineages of the Kauravas and Pandavas, who fought the epic war of the Mahabharata.[relevant? ] It is after this Bharata that India was given the name "Bharatavarsha", the 'Land of Bharata'[relevant? ].[6]


By the 18th century, Western poets were beginning to get acquainted with works of Indian literature and philosophy.[citation needed] Shakuntala was the first Indian drama to be translated into a Western language, by Sir William Jones in 1789. In the next 100 years, there were at least 46 translations in twelve European languages.[7]

Sanskrit literature[edit]

Introduction in the West[edit]

Sacontalá or The Fatal Ring, Sir William Jones' translation of Kālidāsa's play, was first published in Calcutta, followed by European republications in 1790, 1792 and 1796.[4][8] A German and a French version of Jones' translation were published in 1791 and 1803 respectively.[8][9][10] Goethe published an epigram about Shakuntala in 1791, and in his Faust he adopted a theatrical convention from the prologue of Kālidāsa's play.[8] Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel's plan to translate Shakuntala in German never materialised, but he did however publish a translation of the Mahabharata version of Shakuntala's story in 1808.[11]Goethe's epigram goes like this[12]:

Wilt thou the blossoms of spring and the fruits that are later in season,

Wilt thou have charms and delights,

Wilt thou have strength and support,

Wilt thou with one short word encompass the earth and the heaven,

All is said if I name only, Shakuntla, thee.

Unfinished opera projects[edit]

When Leopold Schefer became a student of Antonio Salieri in September 1816, he had been working on an opera about Shakuntala for at least a decade, a project which he did however never complete.[13] Franz Schubert, who had been a student of Salieri until at least December of the same year, started composing his Sakuntala opera, D 701, in October 1820.[13][14] Johann Philipp Neumann based the libretto for this opera on Kālidāsa's play, which he probably knew through one or more of the three German translations that had been published by that time.[15] Schubert abandoned the work in April 1821 at the latest.[13] A short extract of the unfinished score was published in 1829.[15] Also Václav Tomášek left an incomplete Sakuntala opera.[16]

New adaptations and editions[edit]

Kālidāsa's Shakuntala was the model for the libretto of Karl von Perfall [de]'s first opera, which premièred in 1853.[17] In 1853 Monier Monier-Williams published the Sanskrit text of the play.[18] Two years later he published an English translation of the play, under the title: Śakoontalá or The Lost Ring.[5] A ballet version of Kālidāsa's play, Sacountalâ, on a libretto by Théophile Gautier and with music by Ernest Reyer, was first performed in Paris in 1858.[16][19] A plot summary of the play was printed in the score edition of Karl Goldmark's Overture to Sakuntala, Op. 13 (1865).[16] Sigismund Bachrich composed a Sakuntala ballet in 1884.[16] Felix Weingartner's opera Sakuntala, with a libretto based on Kālidāsa's play, premièred the same year.[20] Also Philipp Scharwenka's Sakuntala, a choral work on a text by Carl Wittkowsky, was published in 1884.[21]

Bengali translations:[relevant? ]

Tamil translations include:[relevant? ]

Felix Woyrsch's incidental music for Kālidāsa's play, composed around 1886, is lost.[22] Ignacy Jan Paderewski would have composed a Shakuntala opera, on a libretto by Catulle Mendès, in the first decade of the 20th century: the work is however no longer listed as extant in overviews of the composer's or librettist's oeuvre.[23][24][25][26] Arthur W. Ryder published a new English translation of Shakuntala in 1912.[27] Two years later he collaborated to an English performance version of the play.[28]

Alfano's opera[edit]

Italian Franco Alfano composed an opera, named La leggenda di Sakùntala (The legend of Sakùntala) in its first version (1921) and simply Sakùntala in its second version (1952).[29]

Further developments[edit]

Chinese translation:[relevant? ]

Fritz Racek's completion of Schubert's Sakontala was performed in Vienna in 1971.[15] Another completion of the opera, by Karl Aage Rasmussen, was published in 2005[30] and recorded in 2006.[14] A scenic performance of this version was premièred in 2010.[citation needed]

Norwegian electronic musician Amethystium wrote a song called "Garden of Sakuntala" which can be found on the CD Aphelion.[citation needed][relevant? ] According to Philip Lutgendorf, the narrative of the movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili[when?] recapitulates the story of Shakuntala.[31][relevant? ]

In Koodiyattam, the only surviving ancient Sanskrit theatre tradition, performances of Kālidāsa's plays are rare. However, legendary[peacock term] Kutiyattam artist and Natyashastra scholar Nātyāchārya Vidūshakaratnam Padma Shri Guru Māni Mādhava Chākyār has choreographed a Koodiyattam production of The Recognition of Sakuntala.[32]

A production directed by Tarek Iskander was mounted for a run at London's Union Theatre in January and February 2009.[citation needed] The play is also appearing on a Toronto stage for the first time as part of the Harbourfront World Stage program.[not in citation given] An adaptation by the Magis Theatre Company [1][not in citation given] featuring the music of Indian-American composer Rudresh Mahanthappa had its premiere at La MaMa E.T.C. in New York February 11–28, 2010.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Quinn, Edward (2014). Critical Companion to George Orwell. Infobase Publishing. p. 222. ISBN 1438108737.
  2. ^ Sheldon Pollock (ed., 2003) Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, p.79
  3. ^ Stephan Hillyer Levitt (2005), "Why Are Sanskrit Play Titles Strange?" (PDF), Indologica Taurinensia: 195–232, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-22
  4. ^ a b Jones 1789.
  5. ^ a b Monier-Williams 1855.
  6. ^ Apte, Vaman Shivaram (1959). "भरतः". Revised and enlarged edition of Prin. V. S. Apte's The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary. Poona: Prasad Prakashan.
  7. ^ Review of Figueira's Translating the Orient: The Reception of Sakuntala in Nineteenth-Century Europe at the complete review website.
  8. ^ a b c Evison 1998, pp. 132–135.
  9. ^ Jones 1791.
  10. ^ Jones 1803.
  11. ^ Figueira 1991, pp. 19–20.
  12. ^ Mueller, Max A History Of Ancient Sanskrit Literature
  13. ^ a b c Manuela Jahrmärker and Thomas Aigner (editors), Franz Schubert (composer) and Johann Philipp Neumann (librettist). Sacontala (NSE Series II Vol. 15). Bärenreiter, 2008, p. IX
  14. ^ a b Margarida Mota-Bull. Sakontala (8 june 2008) at
  15. ^ a b c Otto Erich Deutsch, with revisions by Werner Aderhold and others. Franz Schubert, thematisches Verzeichnis seiner Werke in chronologischer Folge. (New Schubert Edition Series VIII: Supplement, Vol. 4). Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1978. ISBN 9783761805718, pp. 411–413
  16. ^ a b c d Boston Symphony Orchestra Twenty-Third Season, 1903–1904: Programmepp. 125–128
  17. ^ Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 104 (Thursday 14 April 1853): p. 1662
  18. ^ Monier-Williams 1853.
  19. ^ Gautier 1858.
  20. ^ Hubbard, William Lines (1908). Operas, Vol. 2 in: The American History and Encyclopedia of Music. Irving Squire, p. 418
  21. ^ § "Works without Opus Number" of List of works by Philipp Scharwenka at IMSLP website
  22. ^ Felix Woyrsch – Werke at Pfohl-Woyrsch-Gesellschaft website
  23. ^ Riemann, Hugo (editor). Musik-Lexikon [wikisource:de], 7th edition. Leipzig: Hesse, 1909, p. 1037
  24. ^ List of works by Ignacy Jan Paderewski at IMSLP website
  25. ^ Małgorzata Perkowska. "List of Works by Ignacy Jan Paderewski" in Polish Music Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter 2001
  26. ^ Catulle Mendès at
  27. ^ Ryder 1912.
  28. ^ Holme & Ryder 1914.
  29. ^ Background to the opera from The Opera Critic on Retrieved 8 May 2013
  30. ^ Sakontala (score) at Edition Wilhelm Hansen website
  31. ^ Ram Teri Ganga Maili Archived 2011-12-28 at the Wayback Machine. at Notes on Indian popular cinema by Philip Lutgendorf
  32. ^ Das Bhargavinilayam, Mani Madhaveeyam"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-15. Retrieved 2008-02-15. (biography of Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar), Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala, 1999, ISBN 81-86365-78-8[not in citation given]


External links[edit]