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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times

Shakuntala - A Woman of Desire

Shakuntala in hindu mythology is known as the mother of Bharata and the wife of king Dushyanta. The original story of Shakuntala comes from the epic Mahabharata where Shakuntal is married to king Dushyanta as per the gandharva vivah, after which he moves back to his kingdom and gets busy with his courtly affairs and other wives. Shakuntala in the hermitage is by then pregnant by Dushyanta’s child and has given birth to his son Bharta who is destined to be the next sovereign of the world. She is sent back to Dushyanta who refuses to accept her because he is afraid that the legality of the marriage might be doubted as it was as per the gandharva vivah. Despite being blazed like fire by his insults and humiliation by him, she puts her mind out by giving many valid arguments for her rights and decided to leave such a man who cannot even accept his own actions. At this point a divine power intervened and made Dushyant accept his acts. Finally he accepts her and her son and Shakuntala returns to him.

This story is later adopted by many writers and directors to develop it into new dimensions, where the main plot is constant. One such adoption is by Kalidas, known as AbhijnanaShakuntalam - the Recognition of Shakuntala. Kalidas has developed the story into a play of total seven acts.

AbhijnanaShakuntalam, however, has many elements invented by the playwright to suit the conventions of the society that he is writing in. The entire description of the physical beauty and grace of shakuntala is via the male gaze of the king where he is smitten by her physical beauty and has no control to let go of his desires for her. His character is only concerned about the caste of the lady and his desires, which later falls according to his wishes.

Kalidas’s Shakuntala is portrayed as a meek,coy and shy woman whose personal desires are suppressed by the playwright to produce the aesthetic emotion in the play; it is in stark contrast to the Shakuntala of Mahabharat who is of 'great spirit and courage'. She is persuaded by the king into the gandharva vivah and left in the hermitage with a promise to call her back. But he very conveniently forgets her after moving to the world of court. Kalidas however has justified his act of defiance by inventing an element of curse by sage Durvasa given to Shakuntala. This element not just takes away the responsibility from the king to be intentionally defiant and being irresponsible but as Shakuntala is cursed it hints that she is punished for her fault that led to the forgetfulness of the king.

Even though the play is entitled as the recognition of shakuntala, the story is more about the evolution of the king as a character and him remembering his own deed that he has very easily forgotten given the situation. Later on when he does remember her it's not just the realization of his relation with shakuntala that hurts him, he is driven by a more strong wish to have his male apparent-heir back to him. Shakuntala is taken back by him only when she has turned to a mother and not just a virgin with her Dearing sexuality. Her appearance is also transformed by the playwright with that of motherly affection and not an unmarried woman!

The additions done by Kalidas is indeed a reflection of the society he was writing in but the parallels between the then society and the present society of the 21st century can really make us wonder!

How things have not actually "changed".

A woman's sexuality is still a threat to sharif adami. Not only is she expected to be shy, quiet and meek all the time she is penalized when she refuses to do that. She has to face consequences for her boldness and outspoken nature.

A woman having physical desires is still looked down upon as if the only purpose that women serve is to serve to the needs of a man either with consent or without it. A woman who vocalises her sexual needs is taken to be either a bitch or a slut. It's the women who are treated wrong due to the wrong doings of certain men. Women are still expected to be loving, soft, feminine and motherly.

Sitting in an age of technological advancements and being the generation of equality there are still so many cracks that need to be looked at and filled with the right education and positive approach.

The agency that an individual holds over it's rights, it's actions and its desires are irrespective of his sexuality. It is saddening that due to the taboos and stigmas around the sexuality of a woman there are so many women who are still unaware of the ways in which their body functions and what are actually their wants .

Being brought up in a manner to be motherly and silent just makes it feel alien to them to live for their own selves.

We all might have all of these traits of fierceness, outraging and motherly affection but it's very normal if it's not likewise. We are all unique in our own ways and we need to give ourselves that recognition more than anybody else. It's our body,our wants and our choices. Let's not give this authority to someone else and live for ourselves right now, later, today , tomorrow and everyday.

- Deepanshi

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