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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Maha Bharata - Some Hidden Gems - 2


From Book 1, Adiparva of Mahabharatha. Section 71-78 - Shakuntala addresses Dushyanta  

             Controlling her anger with extraordinary effort, Shakuntala (Shankunta is a bird; Shakuntala was so called because she was protected by birds when she was left behind by Menaka, her mother) addresses Dushyanta:
             “Knowing everything, O monarch, how can you act like an inferior person. You know the truth. You think no one else knows the truth. When people do sinful deeds they think that no one observed him. But, he is observed by the gods and by Him also who is in every heart. The Sun, the Moon, the Air, the Fire, the Earth, the Sky, Water, the heart, Yama, the day, the night, both twilights, and Dharma, all witness the acts of man. I am a wife devoted to my husband. I have come of my own accord, it is true. But do not, on that account, treat me with disrespect. I am your wife and, therefore, deserve to be treated respectfully. In the presence of so many, why dost thou treat me like an ordinary woman?

Even rishis cannot beget children without women. Don’t you know that the husband entering the womb of the wife cometh out himself in the form of the son?  That is why the wife is also called  Jaya (she of whom one is born). And the son that is so born rescues the spirits of deceased ancestors. That is why he is called putra, the one who saves (his ancestors) from the hell called Put.

She is a true wife who handles household affairs with care, is devoted to her husband and who has borne a son. Only those with wives can perform religious acts. The wife is a man's half and is the first of friends. The wife is the root of dharma, artha and kama. The wife is the root of salvation.

Since it is considered that a man is born as the son, a man whose wife hath borne a son should be looked upon as his mother. No man, even in anger, should ever do anything that is disagreeable to his wife, seeing that happiness, joy, and virtue--everything depends on the wife. Therefore, why are you treating me like this?

I brought your son up on my own and have brought him to you. Is there any happiness better than hugging a son who comes running towards you? Even ants support their own eggs without destroying them. Why are you not supporting your own child? Let this handsome son of yours hug you".
Then, Shakuntala recounts her story of how she was born of Viswamitra and Menaka and how she was abandoned and was brought up by Sage Kanva etc. (There is a statement in this section of Mahabharatha that “the maker of the body, the protector of life and the giver of food are all fathers) Dusyanta says he does not believe all that story (in essence he criticizes her mother’s “indiscretion”) and he does not remember her. Shakuntala says “how it is easy to find fault with others and ignore one’s own. Wicked people look for bad things when someone speaks both good and evil things, like swine do.  Noble ones look for good things even when mixed with evil, just like a swan separates milk from water (This seems to be the most original site for this common expression). You are taking the weak things I have said and ignoring the important things I said”.

Then, she mentions five kinds of sons: one from the wife, one gifted by someone, one purchased, one reared out of affection and one from another woman not wedded. She seems to suggest that a son is a son and it is the father’s duty to protect and love him. She says: “Take this son of yours and protect him. Be truthful because truth is the highest vow, there is nothing higher than truth and it is as high as the study of the Vedas. If you give no credit to my word, I will leave, but leaving our son with you, so he may rule at the end of your reign” and she walks out. (Remember, the son is Bharatha, whose name is still the name of India)

            Then, a celestial voice comes and tells Dushyanta and all his royal assembly how Shakuntala told the truth and that Bharatha is indeed his son and that he should accept them. Dushyanta does, but after saying that he was sorry he caused pain to Shakuntala. He had to do it, he said, in order to convince his subjects and household that indeed he had married Shakuntala and it was not a lustful union. (Remember a similar situation when Rama accepts Sita after she was imprisoned by Ravana)

            One other side-story is Kalidasa’s version of this story. In that version, a ring given by Dushyanta is the reminder to him of their wedding and not a celestial voice. More important in Kalidasa’s version is an eloquent, beautiful poetry from the mouth of sage Kanwa (Kalidasa calls him Kashyapa), when he sends Shakuntala to her husband’s house. It is so beautiful in its original Sanskrit that I encourage anyone who knows how to understand even a little Sanskrit to go and read.
                There are several passages in Act 4 on this topic of a daughter going to her husband’s house for the first time. The special one is poem 5, Act 4.  Kanwa (Kashyapa) says: “Shakuntala is going to leave today to her husband’s house. I am choking with emotions. My eyes are tearing. My eye sight is blinded with anxiety. If this is the feeling of a father, that too a forest dweller, who just happened to have raised her, how will a parent feel when the daughter leaves home".

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