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This beautiful, tender, sorrowful, and ultimately blissful love story was written by the fifth century Indian poet/playwright Kalidasa. It is a journey that begins with passion, which leads to shame and separation, and ends with reunion. The early love between Sakuntala and Dushyanta is of the flesh, but through pain, remorse, and inner growth, their final relationship is a union of their souls.

The first act begins as King Dushyanta and his charioteer pursue a deer through the forest. As the King prepares his arrow, two hermits stop him, saying that the deer belongs to the hermitage, and must not be killed. The King halts, and bows in the presence of the holy men. Filled with joy, the Brahman blesses Dushyanta: "May you beget a son to rule heaven and earth" and invites the King to receive hospitality at the hermitage of Father Kanva, where dwells the beautiful Sakuntala as guardian deity. The King dismounts his horse to enter the hermitage, when he hears the voices of girls. They are watering the young trees who are their "sisters". Dushyanta hides to listen to the young ladies, but shows himself when a bee frightens Sakuntala.
    The King does not reveal who he is, and is eager to know about them, particularly Sakuntala. She calls Father Kanva her father, but her natural father was the sage Kaushika who was tempted by the nymph Menaka and succumbed to her. Abandoned by her parents, Sakuntala was raised by Father Kanva.
    The King does not quickly return home. He reveals who he is by handing the girls a ring, and it is obvious that he is smitten by Sakuntala's beauty. Sakuntala is innocent and naïve, and falls ill with a fever, the cause being passion. They declare their love for each other and marry, then the King returns to the city.
    Sakuntala must now prepare to leave the hermitage, This causes her great anguish because here she is loved and cared for and kept in innocence. The plants and animals are her family, too. While she is in a daydream, she fails to recognize the hot-tempered sage Durvasas, who puts a curse on her that her lover will not recognize her when she returns to him. Unaware of her offending act, Sakuntala's friend Anusuya quickly softens Durvasas. Though he cannot retract the curse, he says it will be lifted when the King sees the ring he has given Sakuntala on her finger.
    So the day of her departure arrives. Though she longs to be with Dushyanta, it is with great sorrow that she says goodbye to the hermitage: the people, the trees and vines, the little fawns. She also knows that she is pregnant.
    Along the way, before her entourage reaches the royal household, the ring slips from Sakuntala's finger as she is worshipping the Ganges, and is lost. When she arrives, the King indeed does not remember her. Ashamed and humiliated, with her heart torn in two, she departs, but she cannot return to her beloved hermitage. Sakuntala is no longer innocent; she has grown and cannot be protected by the love and peace of her former home. "Her relation with the universe had changed." She goes to the hermitage of Marichi to live a life of penance.
    Presently, a fisherman is arrested for trying to sell a ring he found inside a carp. The King pardons him, and recognizes the ring. With great remorse and despair, he now remembers Sakuntala and knows what he has done to his beloved.

This edition provides an extensive and enlightening introduction by Rabindranath Tagore. The play, like all great works of art, can be explored again and again, reaching deeper levels of meaning each time it is read. Highly recommended.


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