Shakuntala by KālidāsaOr, The Lost Ring

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M.A., D.C.L., LL.D., PH.D.


The fact that the following translation (first published in 1855) of India’s most celebrated drama has gone through seven editions, might reasonably have absolved me from the duty of revising it.

Three years ago, however, I heard that Sir John Lubbock had thought ‘[S’]akoontala’ worthy of a place among the hundred best books of the world, and had adopted my version of the original. I therefore undertook to go through every line and once again compare the translation with the Sanskrit, in the hope that I might be able to give a few finishing touches to a performance which, although it had been before the public for about forty years, was certainly not perfect. The act of revision was a labour of love, and I can honestly say that I did my best to make my representation of Kalidasa’s immortal work as true and trustworthy as possible.

Another edition is now called for, but after a severely critical examination of every word, I have only detected a few minor unimportant points–and those only in the Introduction and Notes–in which any alteration appeared to be desirable. Indeed it is probable that the possessors of previous editions will scarcely perceive that any alterations have been made anywhere.

Occasionally in the process of comparison a misgiving has troubled me, and I have felt inclined to accuse myself of having taken, in some cases, too great liberties with the Sanskrit original. But in the end I have acquiesced in my first and still abiding conviction that a literal translation (such as that which I have given in the notes of my edition of the Sanskrit text) might have commended itself to Oriental students, but would not have given a true idea of the beauty of India’s most cherished drama to general readers, whose minds are cast in a European mould, and who require a translator to clothe Oriental ideas, as far as practicable, in a dress conformable to European canons of taste.

And most assuredly such a translation would never have adapted itself to actual representation on a modern stage as readily as it now appears that my free version has done. It has gratified me exceedingly to find that youthful English-speaking Indians–cultured young men educated at the Universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay–have acted the [S’]akoontala, in the very words of my translation with the greatest success before appreciative audiences in various parts of India.

And lest any one in this country should be sceptical as to the possibility of interesting a modern audience in a play written possibly as early as the third or fourth century of our era (see p. xvi), I here append an extract from a letter received by me in 1893 from Mr. V. Padmanabha Aiyar, B.A., resident at Karamanai, Trivandrum, Travancore.


_’May 1, 1893_.

‘The members of the “Karamanai Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society” acted your translation of “[S’]akoontala” on the 3rd and 5th of September last year, in the Government Museum Theatre, Trivandrum.

‘It was acted in two parts. On the first day Acts I to IV were acted, and on the second the remaining three Acts.

‘All our chief native officials and many Europeans and their ladies honoured the occasion with their presence. We acted it a second time at the special request of H.H. the Second Prince of Travancore, in the Palace of His Highness’ mother, the Junior Ranee.

‘The public were kind enough to pronounce it a success. In many cases the applause given was not so much for the acting as for the beauty of your translation. The Hindus have a great liking for this play, and not one of the enlightened Hindu community will fail to acknowledge your translation to be a very perfect one. Our object in acting Hindu plays is to bring home to the Hindus the good lessons that our ancient authors are able to teach us. If there is one lesson in these days more than another which familiarity with the fountains of Western literature constantly forces upon the mind, it is that our age is turning its back on time-honoured creeds and dogmas. We are hurrying forward to a chaos in which all our existing beliefs, nay even the fundamental axioms of morality, may in the end be submerged; and as the general tenor of Indian thought among the educated community is to reject everything that is old, and equally blindly to absorb everything new, it becomes more and more an urgent question whether any great intellectual or moral revolution, which has no foundations in the past, can produce lasting benefits to the people.

‘”I desire no future that will break the ties of the past” is what George Eliot has said, and so it is highly necessary that the Hindus should know something of their former greatness.

‘The songs in [S’]akoontala, one in the Prologue and another in the beginning of the fifth Act, very easily adapted themselves to Hindu tunes.’

Towards the end of his letter Mr. Aiyar intimated that he himself took the part of Ma[T.]Havya. He also mentioned that a few modifications and additions were introduced into some of the scenes.

In a subsequent letter received from Mr. Keshava Aiyar, the Secretary of the Society, I was informed that my version of the Play was acted again at Trivandrum in 1894.

These descriptions of the successful representation of the [S’]akoontala in Travancore justified me in expressing a hope that, as Kalidasa has been called the Shakespeare of India, so the most renowned of his three dramatic works might, with a few manifestly necessary modifications, be some day represented, with equal success, before English-speaking audiences in other parts of the world and especially here in England. This hope has been realized, and quite recently my translation has been successfully acted by amateur actors before a London audience.

I venture, therefore, to add the expression of a further hope that with the daily growth of interest in Oriental literature, and now that the [S’]akoontala forms one of Sir John Lubbock’s literary series, it may be more extensively read by the Rulers of India in all parts of the Empire. Those who study it attentively cannot fail to become better acquainted with the customs and habits of thought, past and present, of the people committed to their sway.

And it cannot be too often repeated that our duty towards our great Dependency requires us to do something more than merely rule justly. We may impart high education, we may make good laws, we may administer impartial justice, we may make roads, lay down railroads and telegraphs, stimulate trade, accomplish amazing engineering feats–like that lately achieved at Periyar–increase the wealth and develop the resources of our vast Eastern territories; but unless we seek to understand the inhabitants, unless we think it worth while to study their ancient literatures, their religious ideas, and time-honoured institutions, unless we find in them something to admire and respect, we can never expect any reciprocity of esteem and respect on their part–we can never look forward to a time when the present partition-wall, which obstructs the free Interchange of social relations between European and Asiatic races, will be entirely removed.



About a century has elapsed since the great English Orientalist, Sir William Jones, astonished the learned world by the discovery of a Sanskrit Dramatic Literature. He has himself given us the history of this discovery. It appears that, on his arrival in Bengal, he was very solicitous to procure access to certain books called Nataks, of which he had read in one of the ‘Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses’ written by the Jesuit Missionaries of China. But, although he sought information by consulting both Brahmans and Europeans, he was wholly unable for some time to satisfy his curiosity as to the nature of these books. It was reported to him that they were not histories, as he had hoped, but that they abounded with fables, and consisted of conversations in prose and verse held before ancient Rajas, in their public assemblies. Others, again, asserted that they were discourses on dancing, music, and poetry. At length, a sensible Brahman, conversant with European manners, removed all his doubts, and gave him no less delight than surprise, by telling him that the English nation had compositions of the same sort, which were publicly represented at Calcutta in the cold season, and bore the name of ‘plays.’ The same Brahman, when asked which of these Nataks was most universally esteemed, answered without hesitation, ‘[S’]akoontala.’

It may readily be imagined with what interest, the keen Orientalist received this communication; with what rapidity he followed up the clue; and, when at length his zeal was rewarded by actual possession of a MS. copy of one of these dramas, with what avidity he proceeded to explore the treasures which for eighteen hundred years had remained as unknown to the European world as the gold-fields of Australia.

The earliest Sanskrit drama with which we are acquainted, the ‘Clay-cart,’ translated by my predecessor in the Boden Chair at Oxford, Professor H.H. Wilson, is attributed to a regal author, King [S’]udraka, the date of whose reign cannot be fixed with any certainty, though some have assigned it to the first or second century B.C. Considering that the nations of Europe can scarcely be said to have possessed a dramatic literature before the fourteenth or fifteenth century of the present era, the great age of the Hindu plays would of itself be a most interesting and attractive circumstance, even if their poetical merit were not of a very high order. But when to the antiquity of these productions is added their extreme beauty and excellence as literary compositions, and when we also take into account their value as representations of the early condition of Hindu society–which, notwithstanding the lapse of two thousand years, has in many particulars obeyed the law of unchangeableness ever stamped on the manners and customs of the East–we are led to wonder that the study of the Indian drama has not commended itself in a greater degree to the attention of Europeans, and especially of Englishmen. The English student, at least, is bound by considerations of duty, as well as curiosity, to make himself acquainted with a subject which elucidates and explains the condition of the millions of Hindus who owe allegiance to his own Sovereign, and are governed by English laws.

Of all the Indian dramatists, indeed of all Indian poets, the most celebrated is Kalidasa, the writer of the present play. The late Professor Lassen thought it probable that he flourished about the middle of the third century after Christ. Professor Kielhorn of Goettingen has proved that the composer of the Mandasor Inscription (A.D. 472) knew Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara. Hence it may be inferred that Lassen was not far wrong[1]. Possibly some King named Vikramaditya received Kalidasa at his Court, and honoured him by his patronage about that time. Little, however, is known of the circumstances of his life. There is certainly no satisfactory evidence to be adduced in support of the tradition current in India that he lived in the time of the _great_ King Vikramaditya I., whose capital was Ujjayini, now Oujein.

From the absence of historical literature in India, our knowledge of the state of Hindustan between the incursion of Alexander and the Muhammadan conquest is very slight. But it is ascertained with tolerable accuracy that, after the invasion of the kingdoms of Bactria and Afghanistan, the Tartars or Scythians (called by the Hindus ‘[S’]akas’) overran the north-western provinces of India, and retained possession of them. The great Vikramaditya or Vikramarka succeeded in driving back the barbaric hordes beyond the Indus, and so consolidated his empire that it extended over the whole of Northern Hindustan. His name is even now cherished among the Hindus with pride and affection. His victory over the Scythians is believed to have taken place about B.C. 57. At any rate this is the starting-point of the Vikrama (also called the Malava and in later times the Samvat) era, one of the epochs from which the Hindus still continue to count. There is good authority for affirming that the reign of this Vikramarka or Vikramaditya was equal in brilliancy to that of any monarch in any age. He was a liberal patron of science and literature, and gave splendid encouragement to poets, philologists, astronomers, and mathematicians. Nine illustrious men of genius are said to have adorned his Court, and to have been supported by his bounty. They were called the ‘Nine Gems’; and a not unnatural tradition, which, however, must be considered untrustworthy, included Kalidasa among the Nine.

To Kalidasa (as to another celebrated Indian Dramatist, Bhavabhuti, who probably flourished in the eighth century) only three plays are attributed; and of these the ‘[S’]akoontala’ (here translated) has acquired the greatest celebrity [2].

Indeed, the popularity of this play with the natives of India exceeds that of any other dramatic, and probably of any other poetical composition [3]. But it is not in India alone that the ‘[S’]akoontala’ is known and admired. Its excellence is now recognized in every literary circle throughout the continent of Europe; and its beauties, if not yet universally known and appreciated, are at least acknowledged by many learned men in every country of the civilized world. The four well-known lines of Goethe, so often quoted in relation to the Indian drama, may here be repeated:

‘Willst du die Bluethe des fruehen, die Fruechte des spaeteren Jahres,
Willst du was reizt und entzueckt, willst du was saettigt und naehrt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde, mit einem Namen begreifen:
Nenn’ ich, [S’]akoontala, Dich, und so ist Alles gesagt.’

‘Would’st thou the young year’s blossoms and the fruits of its decline,
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed?
Would’st thou the Earth and Heaven itself in one sole name combine?
I name thee, O [S’]akoontala! and all at once is said.’

_E.B. Eastwick_.

Augustus William von Schlegel, in his first Lecture on Dramatic Literature, says: ‘Among the Indians, the people from whom perhaps all the cultivation of the human race has been derived, plays were known long before they could have experienced any foreign influence. It has lately been made known in Europe that they have a rich dramatic literature, which ascends back for more than two thousand years. The only specimen of their plays (Nataks) hitherto known to us is the delightful [S’]akoontala, which, notwithstanding the colouring of a foreign clime, bears in its general structure a striking resemblance to our romantic drama.’

Alexander von Humboldt, in treating of Indian poetry, observes: ‘Kalidasa, the celebrated author of the [S’]akoontala, is a masterly describer of the influence which Nature exercises upon the minds of lovers. This great poet flourished at the splendid court of Vikramaditya, and was, therefore, cotemporary with Virgil and Horace. Tenderness in the expression of feeling, and richness of creative fancy, have assigned to him his lofty place among the poets of all nations’.

These considerations induced me, in 1853, to compile and publish an edition of the text of the ‘[S’]akoontala’ from various original MSS., with English translations of the metrical passages, and explanatory notes. A second edition of this work has since been published by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press. To the notes of that edition I must refer all students of Sanskrit literature who desire a close and literal translation of the present drama, and in the Preface will be found an account of various other editions and translations.

The following pages contain a _free_ translation, and the first English version in prose and metre, of the purest recension of the most celebrated drama of the Shakespeare of India.

The need felt by the British public for some such translation as I have here offered can scarcely be questioned. A great people, who, through their empire in India, command the destinies of the Eastern world, ought surely to be conversant with the most popular of Indian dramas, in which the customs of the Hindus, their opinions, prejudices, and fables, their religious rites, daily occupations and amusements, are reflected as in a mirror. Nor is the prose translation of Sir W. Jones (excellent though it be) adapted to meet the requirements of modern times. That translation was unfortunately made from corrupt manuscripts (the best that could then be procured), in which the bold phraseology of Kalidasa has been occasionally weakened, his delicate expressions of refined love clothed in an unbecoming dress, and his ideas, grand in their simplicity, diluted by repetition or amplification. It is, moreover, altogether unfurnished with explanatory annotations. The present translation, on the contrary, while representing the purest version of the drama, has abundant notes, sufficient to answer the exigencies of the non-oriental scholar.

It may be remarked that in every Sanskrit play the women and inferior characters speak a kind of provincial dialect or _patois_, called Prakrit–bearing the relation to Sanskrit that Italian bears to Latin, or that the spoken Latin of the age of Cicero bore to the highly polished Latin in which he delivered his Orations. Even the heroine of the drama is made to speak in the vernacular dialect. The hero, on the other hand, and all the higher male characters, speak in Sanskrit; and as if to invest them with greater dignity, half of what they say is in verse. Indeed the prose part of their speeches is often very commonplace, being only introductory to the lofty sentiment of the poetry that follows. Thus, if the whole composition be compared to a web, the prose will correspond to the warp, or that part which is extended lengthwise in the loom, while the metrical portion will answer to the cross-threads which constitute the woof.

The original verses are written in a great variety of Sanskrit metres. For example, the first thirty-four verses of ‘[S’]akoontala’ exhibit eleven different varieties of metre. No English metrical system could give any idea of the almost infinite resources of Sanskrit in this respect. Nor have I attempted it. Blank verse has been employed by me in my translation, as more in unison with the character of our own dramatic writings, and rhyming stanzas have only been admitted when the subject-matter seemed to call for such a change. Perhaps the chief consideration that induced me to adopt this mode of metrical translation was, that the free and unfettered character of the verse enabled me to preserve more of the freshness and vigour of the original. If the poetical ideas of Kalidasa have not been expressed in language as musical as his own, I have at least done my best to avoid diluting them by unwarrantable paraphrases or additions. If the English verses are prosaic, I have the satisfaction of knowing that by resisting the allurements of rhyme, I have done all in my power to avoid substituting a fictitious and meagre poem of my own for the grand, yet simple and chaste creation of Kalidasa.

The unrestricted liberty of employing hypermetrical lines of eleven syllables, sanctioned by the highest authority in dramatic composition, has, I think, facilitated the attainment of this object. One of our own poets has said in relation to such lines: ‘Let it be remembered that they supply us with another cadence; that they add, as it were, a string to the instrument; and–by enabling the poet to relax at pleasure, to rise and fall with his subject–contribute what most is wanted, compass and variety. They are nearest to the flow of an unstudied eloquence, and should therefore be used in the drama[4].’ Shakespeare does not scruple to avail himself of this licence four or five times in succession, as in the well-known passage beginning–

‘To be or not to be, that is the question’;

and even Milton uses the same freedom once or twice in every page.

The poetical merit of Kalidasa’s ‘[S’]akoontala’ is so universally admitted that any remarks on this head would be superfluous. I will merely observe that, in the opinion of learned natives, the Fourth Act, which describes the departure of [S’]akoontala from the hermitage, contains the most obvious beauties; and that no one can read this Act, nor indeed any part of the play, without being struck with the richness and elevation of its author’s genius, the exuberance and glow of his fancy, his ardent love of the beautiful, his deep sympathy with Nature and Nature’s loveliest scenes, his profound knowledge of the human heart, his delicate appreciation of its most refined feelings, his familiarity with its conflicting sentiments and emotions. But in proportion to the acknowledged excellence of Kalidasa’s composition, and in proportion to my own increasing admiration of its beauties, is the diffidence I feel lest I may have failed to infuse any of the poetry of the original into the present version. Translation of poetry must, at the best, resemble the process of pouring a highly volatile and evanescent spirit from one receptacle into another. The original fluid will always suffer a certain amount of waste and evaporation.

The English reader will at least be inclined to wonder at the analogies which a thoroughly Eastern play offers to our own dramatic compositions written many centuries later. The dexterity with which the plot is arranged and conducted, the ingenuity with which the incidents are connected, the skill with which the characters are delineated and contrasted with each other, the boldness and felicity of the diction, are scarcely unworthy of the great dramatists of European countries. Nor does the parallel fail in the management of the business of the stage, in minute directions to the actors, and various scenic artifices. The asides and aparts, the exits and the entrances, the manner, attitude, and gait of the speakers, the tone of voice with which they are to deliver themselves, the tears, the smiles, and the laughter, are as regularly indicated as in a modern drama.

In reference to the constitution and structure of the play here translated, a few general remarks on the dramatic system of the Hindus may be needed[5].

Dramatic poetry is said to have been invented by the sage Bharata, who lived at a very remote period of Indian history, and was the author of a system of music. The drama of these early times was probably nothing more than the Indian Nach-dance (Nautch) of the present day. It was a species of rude pantomime, in which dancing and movements of the body were accompanied by mute gestures of the hands and face, or by singing and music. Subsequently, dialogue was added, and the art of theatrical representation was brought to great perfection. Elaborate treatises were written which laid down minute regulations for the construction and conduct of plays, and subjected dramatic composition to highly artificial rules of poetical and rhetorical style. For example, the Sahitya-darpana divides Sanskrit plays into two great classes, the Rupaka or principal dramas, and the Uparupaka or minor dramas. At the head of the ten species of Rupaka stands the Nataka, of which the ‘[S’]akoontala’ is an example. It should consist of from five to ten Acts; it should have a celebrated story for its plot; it should represent heroic or godlike characters and good deeds; it should be written in an elaborate style, and be full of noble sentiments. Moreover, it should be composed like the end of a cow’s tail; so that each of the Acts be gradually shorter.

In India, as in Greece, scenic entertainments took place at religious festivals, and on solemn public occasions. Kalidasa’s ‘[S’]akoontala’ seems to have been acted at the commencement of the summer season–a period peculiarly sacred to Kama-deva, the Indian god of love. We are told that it was enacted before an audience ‘consisting chiefly of men of education and discernment.’ As the greater part of every play was written in Sanskrit, which, although spoken by the learned in every part of India even at the present day, was certainly not the vernacular language of the country at the time when the Hindu dramas were performed, few spectators would be present who were not of the educated classes. This circumstance is in accordance with the constitution of Hindu society, whereby the productions of literature as well as the offices of state, were reserved for the privileged castes[6].

Every Sanskrit play opens with a prologue, or, to speak more correctly, an introduction, designed to prepare the way for the entrance of the _dramatis personae_. The prologue commences with a benediction or prayer (pronounced by a Brahman, or if the stage-manager happened to be of the Brahmanical caste, by the manager himself), in which the poet invokes the favour of the national deity in behalf of the audience. The blessing is generally followed by a dialogue between the manager and one or two of the actors, in which an account is given of the author of the drama, a complimentary tribute is paid to the critical acumen of the spectators, and such a reference is made to past occurrences or present circumstances as may be necessary for the elucidation of the plot. At the conclusion of the prologue, the manager, by some abrupt exclamation, adroitly introduces one of the dramatic personages, and the real performance commences.

The play, being thus opened, is carried forward in scenes and Acts; each scene being marked by the entrance of one character and the exit of another, as in the French drama. The _dramatis personae_ were divided into three classes–the inferior characters (nicha), who were said to speak Prakrit in a monotonous accentless tone of voice (anudattoktya); the middling (madhyama), and the superior (pradhana), who were said to speak Sanskrit with accent, emphasis, and expression (udattoktya). In general, the stage is never left vacant till the end of an Act, nor does any change of locality take place until then. The commencement of a new Act is often marked, like the commencement of the piece, by an introductory monologue or dialogue spoken by one or more of the _dramatis personae_, and called Vishkambha or Prave[S’]aka. In this scene allusion is frequently made to events supposed to have occurred in the interval of the Acts, and the audience is the better prepared to take up the thread of the story, which is then skilfully carried on to the concluding scene. The piece closes, as it began, with a prayer for national plenty and prosperity, addressed to the favourite deity, and spoken by one of the principal personages of the drama.

Although, in the conduct of the plot, and the delineation of character, Hindu dramatists show considerable skill, yet they do not appear to have been remarkable for much fertility of invention. Love, according to Hindu notions, is the subject of most of their dramas.

The hero, who is generally a king, and already the husband of a wife or wives (for a wife or two more or less is no encumbrance in Indian plays), is suddenly smitten with the charms of a lovely woman, sometimes a nymph, or, as in the case of [S’]akoontala, the daughter of a nymph by a mortal father. The heroine is required to be equally impressible, and the first tender glance from the hero’s eye reaches her heart. With true feminine delicacy, however, she locks the secret of her passion in her own breast, and by her coyness and reserve keeps her lover for a long period in the agonies of suspense. The hero, being reduced to a proper state of desperation, is harassed by other difficulties. Either the celestial nature of the nymph is in the way of their union, or he doubts the legality of the match, or he fears his own unworthiness, or he is hampered by the angry jealousy of a previous wife. In short, doubts, obstacles, and delays make great havoc of both hero and heroine. They give way to melancholy, indulge in amorous rhapsodies, and become very emaciated. So far, it must be confessed, the story is decidedly dull, and its chain, however, does not commence until the Fourth Act, when the union of the heroine with King Dushyanta, and her acceptance of the marriage-ring as a token of recognition, are supposed to have taken place. Then follows the King’s departure and temporary desertion of his bride; the curse pronounced on [S’]akoontala by the choleric Sage; the monarch’s consequent loss of memory; the bride’s journey to the palace of her husband; the mysterious disappearance of the marriage-token; the public repudiation of [S’]akoontala; her miraculous assumption to closes, as it began, with a prayer for national plenty and prosperity, addressed to the favourite deity, and spoken by one of the principal personages of the drama.

Although, in the conduct of the plot, and the delineation of character, Hindu dramatists show considerable skill, yet they do not appear to have been remarkable for much fertility of invention. Love, according to Hindu notions, is the subject of most of their dramas.

The hero, who is generally a king, and already the husband of a wife or wives (for a wife or two more or less is no encumbrance in Indian plays), is suddenly smitten with the charms of a lovely woman, sometimes a nymph, or, as in the case of [S’]akoontala, the daughter of a nymph by a mortal father. The heroine is required to be equally impressible, and the first tender glance from the hero’s eye reaches her heart. With true feminine delicacy, however, she locks the secret of her passion in her own breast, and by her coyness and reserve keeps her lover for a long period in the agonies of suspense. The hero, being reduced to a proper state of desperation, is harassed by other difficulties. Either the celestial nature of the nymph is in the way of their union, or he doubts the legality of the match, or he his own unworthiness, or he is hampered by the angry jealousy of a previous wife. In short, doubts, obstacles, and delays make great havoc of both hero and heroine. They give way to melancholy, indulge in amorous rhapsodies, and become very emaciated. So far, it must be confessed, the story is decidedly dull, and its pathos, notwithstanding the occasional grandeur and beauty of the imagery, often verges on the ridiculous.

But, by way of relief, an element of life is generally introduced in the character of the Vidushaka, or Jester, who is the constant companion of the hero; and in the young maidens, who are the confidential friends of the heroine, and soon become possessed of her secret. By a curious regulation, the Jester is always a Brahman, and therefore of a caste superior to the king himself; yet his business is to excite mirth by being ridiculous in person, age, and attire. He is sometimes represented as grey-haired, hump-backed, lame, and ugly. In fact, he is a species of buffoon, who is allowed full liberty of speech, being himself a universal butt. His attempts at wit, which are rarely very successful, and his allusions to the pleasures of the table, of which he is a confessed votary, are absurdly contrasted with the sententious solemnity of the despairing hero, crossed in the prosecution of his love-suit. His clumsy interference in the intrigues of his friend only serves to augment his difficulties, and occasions many an awkward dilemma. On the other hand, the shrewdness of the heroine’s confidantes never seems to fail them under the most trying circumstances; while their sly jokes and innuendos, their love of fun, their girlish sympathy with the progress of the love affair, their warm affection for their friend, heighten the interest of the plot, and contribute not a little to vary its monotony.

Fortunately, in the ‘[S’]akoontala’ the story is diversified and the interest well sustained by a chain of stirring incidents. The first link of the chain, however, does not commence until the Fourth Act, when the union of the heroine with King Dushyanta, and her acceptance of the marriage-ring as a token of recognition, are supposed to have taken place. Then follows the King’s departure and temporary desertion of his bride; the curse pronounced on [S’]akoontala by the choleric Sage; the monarch’s consequent loss of memory; the bride’s journey to the palace of her husband; the mysterious disappearance of the marriage-token; the public repudiation of [S’]akoontala; her miraculous assumption to a celestial asylum; the unexpected discovery of the ring by a poor fisherman; the King’s agony on recovering his recollection; his aerial voyage in the car of Indra; his strange meeting with the refractory child in the groves of Kasyapa; the boy’s battle with the young lion; the search for the amulet, by which the King is proved to be his father; the return of [S’]akoontala, and the happy reunion of the lovers;–all these form a connected series of moving and interesting incidents. The feelings of the audience are wrought up to a pitch of great intensity; and whatever emotions of terror, grief, or pity may have been excited, are properly tranquillized by the happy termination of the story.

Indeed, if a calamitous conclusion be necessary to constitute a tragedy, the Hindu dramas are never tragedies. They are mixed compositions, in which joy and sorrow, happiness and misery, are woven in a mingled web–tragi-comic representations, in which good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are allowed to blend in confusion during the first Acts of the drama. But, in the last Act, harmony is always restored, order succeeds to disorder, tranquillity to agitation; and the mind of the spectator, no longer perplexed by the apparent ascendency of evil, is soothed, and purified, and made to acquiesce in the moral lesson deducible from the plot.

The play of ‘[S’]akoontala,’ as Sir W. Jones observes, must have been very popular when it was first performed. The Indian empire was then in its palmy days, and the vanity of the natives would be flattered by the introduction of those kings and heroes who were supposed to have laid the foundation of its greatness and magnificence, and whose were connected with all that was sacred and holy in their religion, Dushyanta, the hero of the drama, according to Indian legends, was one of the descendants of the Moon, or in other words, belonged to the Lunar dynasty of Indian princes; and, if any dependence may be placed on Hindu chronology, he must have lived in the twenty-first or twenty-second generation after the Flood. Puru, his most celebrated ancestor, was the sixth in descent from the Moon’s son Budha, who married a daughter of the good King Satya-vrata, preserved by Vishnu in the Ark at the time of the Deluge. The son of Dushyanta, by [S’]akoontala, was Bharata, from whom India is still called by the natives Bharata-varsha. After him came Samvarana, Kuru, Santanu, Bhishma, and Vyasa. The latter was the father of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, the quarrels of whose sons form the subject of the great Sanskrit epic poem called Maha-bharata, a poem with parts of which the audience would be familiar, and in which they would feel the greatest pride. Indeed the whole story of [S’]akoontala is told in the Maha-bharata. The pedigree of [S’]akoontala, the heroine of the drama, was no less interesting, and calculated to awaken the religious sympathies of Indian spectators. She was the daughter of the celebrated Vi[s’]wamitra, a name associated with many remarkable circumstances in Hindu mythology and history. His genealogy and the principal events of his life are narrated in the Ramayana, the first of the two epic poems which were to the Hindus what the Iliad and the Odyssey were to the Greeks. He was originally of the regal caste; and, having raised himself to the rank of a Brahman by the length and rigour of his penance, he became the preceptor of Ramachandra, who was the hero of the Ramayana, and one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. With such an antecedent interest in the particulars of the story, the audience could not fail to bring a sharpened appetite, and a self-satisfied frame of mind, to the performance of the play.

Although in the following translation it has been thought expedient to conform to modern usage, by indicating at the head of each Act the scene in which it is laid, yet it is proper to apprise the English reader that in scenery and scenic apparatus the Hindu drama, must have been very defective. No directions as to changes of scene are given in the original text of the play. This is the more curious, as there are numerous stage directions, which prove that in respect of dresses and decorations the resources of the Indian theatre were sufficiently ample.

It is probable that a curtain suspended across the stage, and divided in the centre, answered all the purposes of scenes. Behind the curtain was the space or room called _nepathya_, where the decorations were kept, where the actors attired themselves, and remained in readiness before entering the stage, and whither they withdrew on leaving it. When an actor was to enter hurriedly, he was directed to do so ‘with a toss of the curtain.’

The machinery and paraphernalia of the Indian theatre were also very limited, contrasting in this respect unfavourably with the ancient Greek theatre, which appears to have comprehended nearly all that modern ingenuity has devised. Nevertheless, seats, thrones, weapons, and chariots, were certainly introduced, and as the intercourse between the inhabitants of heaven and earth was very frequent, it is not improbable that there may have been aerial contrivances to represent the chariots of celestial beings, as on the Greek stage. It is plain, however, from the frequent occurrence of the word _natayitwa_, ‘gesticulating,’ ‘acting,’ that much had to be supplied by the imagination of the spectator, assisted by the gesticulations of the actors.

For further information relative to the dramatic system of the Hindus, the reader is referred to the notes appended to the present translation. It is hoped that they will be found sufficient to explain every allusion that might otherwise be unintelligible to the English reader.



[Footnote 1: In the Aihole Inscription (edited by Dr. Fleet) of the Western Chalukya King Pulike[S’]in II, dated [S’]aka 556=A.D. 634-35, actual mention is made of Kalidasa and Bharavi by name, and Professor Kielhorn has informed me that he found a verse from the Raghu-van[S’]a quoted in an inscription dated A.D. 602.]

[Footnote 2: As to the other two, the most celebrated, called Vikramorva[S’]i, has been excellently translated by Professors H.H. Wilson and E.B. Cowell, and the Malavikagnimitra, by Professor Weber, the eminent Orientalist of Berlin.]

[Footnote 3: The following is an extract from, the _Bombay Times_ of February 3, 1855. It is given _literatim_, and the orthographical errors and mutilation of the story prove that in those days a good and complete version of India’s most celebrated drama was not obtainable.


‘An outline of the play to be performed at the Theatre this night.

‘After a short discourse between the Sutradhar (the chief actor) and the Vidushaka (the clown), Surswati (the Goddess of learning) will appear. Sutradhar will call his wife (Nati), and they will determine on performing the play of Shakuntala. They both will sing songs together, after which Nati will go away. The play will then regularly commence. Dushanta Rajah will appear in the Court, and order his Pradhan (the Minister) to make preparations for a hunting excursion. The Rajah, sitting in his carriage, will pursue a stag, the stag will disappear, upon which Dushanta will ask his coachman the cause thereof, this being known, the Rajah in his carriage will proceed farther, when they will see the stag again, upon which he will aim an arrow at the stag. The stag will run and reach the retirement of Waikhanas Rushi. The sage will come out of his hut and remonstrate with the Rajah against his killing the harmless animal. The Rajah will obey the injunctions of the sage, who will pronounce benedictions upon him. According to the Rushi’s instructions, he will prepare to proceed to the residence of another sage named Kunwa. Bidding each other farewell, the Rushi will go to procure material for his religious ceremonies. After reaching Kunwa’s place, and commanding his coachman to groom the horses, the Rajah will walk forth to the sage’s hut. Observing on his way thither Shakuntala with her fellow mates watering the trees, he will hide himself behind a tree. Shakuntala will praise to her mates the beauty of the Keshar tree. Charmed with overhearing her discourse, Dushanta will try to find out her descent. Shakuntala will be very much teased by a Bhramar (fly) hovering about her face. The Rajah will then come forward and ask the cause of the disturbed state of her mind. After a mutual exchange of polite respect they all take their seats beneath a shady tree, Dushanta will inform her of his country and descent, whereupon they will all go to the Rushi’s hut.

‘Here there is a pause. A pleasing farce will then be performed.’

I have already stated that the ‘[S’]akoontala’ in the words of my own translation has been since performed at Bombay and recently at Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore (see Preface to this edition, p. vii, &c).]

[Footnote 4: Rogers’ Italy, note to line 23.]

[Footnote 5: The admirable Essay by Professor H.H. Wilson, prefixed to his Hindu Theatre, is the principal source of the information which I have here given.]

[Footnote 6: Wilson’s Hindu Theatre, p. xii.]


Observe, that in order to secure the correct pronunciation of the title of this Drama, ‘Sakuntala’ has been spelt ‘[S’]akoontala,’ the _u_ of [S’]akuntala being pronounced like the _u_ in the English word _rule_.

The vowel _a_ must invariably be pronounced with a dull sound, like the _a_ in _organ_, or the _u_ in _gun, sun. Dushyanta_ must therefore be pronounced as if written _Dooshyunta_. The long vowel _a_ is pronounced like the _a_ in _last, cart_; _i_ like the _i_ in _pin, sin_; _i_ like the _i_ in _marine_; _e_ like the _e_ in _prey_; _o_ like the _o_ in _so_; _ai_ like the _ai_ in _aisle_; _au_ like _au_ in the German word _haus_, or like the _ou_ in _our_.

The consonants are generally pronounced as in English, but _g_ has always the sound of _g_ in _gun, give_, never of _g_ in _gin_. S with the accent over it (s), has the sound of _s_ in _sure_, or of the last _s_ in _session_.

* * * * *


* * * * *

DUSHYANTA, _King of India_.

MA[T.]HAVYA, _the jester, friend, and companion of the King_.

KANWA, _chief of the hermits, foster-father of_ [S’]AKOONTALA.

} _two Brahmans, belonging to the hermitage of KANWA_. [S’]ARADWATA, }

MITRAVASU, _brother-in-law of the King, and superintendent of the city police_.

JANUKA _and_ SUCHAKA, _two constables_.

VATAYANA, _the chamberlain or attendant on the women’s apartments_.

SOMARATA, _the domestic priest_.

KARABHAKA, _a messenger of the queen-mother_.

RAIVATIKA, _the warder or doorkeeper_.

MATALI, _charioteer of Indra_.

SARVA-DAMANA, _afterwards_ BHARATA, _a little boy, son of_ DUSHYANTA by [S’]AKOONTALA.

KA[S’]YAPA, _a divine sage, progenitor of men and gods, son of_ MARICHI, _and grandson of_ BRAHMA.

[S’]AKOONTALA, _daughter of the sage_ VI[S’]WAMITRA _and the nymph_ MENAKA, _foster-child of the hermit_ KANWA.

PRIYAMVADA _and_ ANASUYA, _female attendants, companions of_ [S’]AKOONTALA.

GAUTAMI, _a holy matron, Superior of the female inhabitants of the hermitage_.


SANUMATI, _a nymph, friend of_ [S’]AKOONTALA.

TARALIKA, _personal attendant of the Queen_.

CHATURIKA, _personal attendant of the King_.

VETRAVATI, _female warder or doorkeeper_.


MADHUKARIKA,} _maidens in charge of the royal gardens_.

SUVRATA, _a nurse_.

ADITI, _wife of_ KA[S’]YAPA; _granddaughter of_ BRAHMA _through her father_ DAKSHA.





I[S’]a preserve you [1]! he who is revealed In these eight forms[2] by man perceptible– Water, of all creation’s works the first; The Fire that bears on high the sacrifice Presented with solemnity to heaven;
The Priest, the holy offerer of gifts; The Sun and Moon, those two majestic orbs, Eternal marshallers of day and night;
The subtle Ether, vehicle of sound, Diffused throughout the boundless universe; The Earth, by sages called ‘The place of birth Of all material essences and things’;
And Air, which giveth life to all that breathe.


[_After the recitation of the benediction_.]

[_Looking toward the living-room_.]

Lady, when you have finished attiring yourself, come this way.



Here I am, Sir; what are your commands?


We are here before the eyes of an audience of educated and discerning men[3]; and have to represent in their presence a new drama composed by Kalidasa, called ‘[S’]akoontala; or, the Lost Ring[4].’ Let the whole company exert themselves to do justice to their several parts.


You, Sir, have so judiciously managed the cast of the characters, that nothing will be defective in the acting.


Lady, I will tell you the exact state of the case,

No skill in acting can I deem complete, Till from the wise the actor gain applause; Know that the heart e’en of the truly skilful, Shrinks from too boastful confidence in self.

ACTRESS. [_Modestly_.]

You judge correctly And now, what are your commands?


What can you do better than engage the attention of the audience by some captivating melody?


Which among the seasons shall I select as the subject of my song?


You surely ought to give the preference to the present Summer season[5] that has but recently commenced, a season so rich in enjoyment. For now

Unceasing are the charms of halcyon days, When the cool bath exhilarates the frame; When sylvan gales are laden with the scent Of fragrant Patalas[6]; when soothing sleep Creeps softly on beneath the deepening shade; And when, at last, the dulcet calm of eve Entrancing steals o’er every yielding sense.


I will:–


Fond maids, the chosen of their hearts to please, Entwine their ears with sweet [S’]irisha flowers[7], Whose fragrant lips attract the kiss of bees That softly murmur through the summer hours.


Charmingly sung! The audience are motionless as statues, their souls riveted by the enchanting strain. What subject shall we select for representation, that we may ensure a continuance of their favour?


Why not the same, Sir, announced by you at first? Let the drama called ‘[S’]akoontala; or, the Lost Ring,’ be the subject of our dramatic performance.


Rightly reminded! For the moment I had forgotten it.

Your song’s transporting melody decoyed My thoughts, and rapt with ecstasy my soul; As now the bounding antelope allures
The King Dushyanta[8] on the chase intent.



SCENE-_A Forest_.

_Enter King_ DUSHYANTA, _armed with a bow and arrow, in a chariot, chasing an antelope, attended by his_ CHARIOTEER.


[_Looking at the deer, and then at the_ KING.

Great Prince,

When on the antelope I bend my gaze, And on your Majesty, whose mighty bow
Has its string firmly braced; before my eyes The god that wields the trident[9] seems revealed. Chasing the deer that flies from him in vain.


Charioteer, this fleet antelope has drawn us far from my attendants. See! there he runs:

Aye and anon his graceful neck he bends To cast a glance at the pursuing car;
And dreading now the swift-descending shaft, Contracts into itself his slender frame; About his path, in scattered fragments strewn, The half-chewed grass falls from his panting mouth; See! in his airy bounds he seems to fly, And leaves no trace upon th’ elastic turf.

[_With astonishment_.]

How now! swift as is our pursuit, I scarce can see him.


Sire, the ground here is full of hollows; I have therefore drawn in the reins and checked the speed of the chariot. Hence the deer has somewhat gained upon us. Now that we are passing over level ground, we shall have no difficulty in overtaking him.


Loosen the reins, then.


The King is obeyed.

[_Drives the chariot at full speed_.]

Great Prince, see I see!

Responsive to the slackened rein, the steeds, Chafing with eager rivalry, career
With emulative fleetness o’er the plain; Their necks outstretched, their waving plumes, that late Fluttered above their brows, are motionless[10]; Their sprightly ears, but now erect, bent low; Themselves unsullied by the circling dust, That vainly follows on their rapid course.

KING. [_Joyously_.

In good sooth, the horses seem as if they would outstrip the steeds of Indra and the Sun[11].

That which but now showed to my view minute Quickly assumes dimension; that which seemed A moment since disjoined in diverse parts, Looks suddenly like one compacted whole; That which is really crooked in its shape In the far distance left, grows regular; Wondrous the chariot’s speed, that in a breath, Makes the near distant and the distant near.

Now, Charioteer, see me kill the deer.

[_Takes aim_.


Hold, O King! this deer belongs to our hermitage. Kill it not! kill it not!

CHARIOTEER. [_Listening and looking_.

Great King, some hermits have stationed themselves so as to screen the antelope at the very moment of its coming within range of your arrow.

KING. [_Hastily_.

Then stop the horses.


I obey.

[_Stops the chariot_.

_Enter a_ HERMIT, _and two others with him_.]

HERMIT. [_Raising his hand_.

This deer, O King, belongs to our hermitage. Kill it not! kill it not!

Now heaven forbid this barbed shaft descend Upon the fragile body of a fawn,
Like fire upon a heap of tender flowers! Can thy steel bolts no meeter quarry find Than the warm life-blood of a harmless deer? Restore, great Prince, thy weapon to its quiver. More it becomes thy arms to shield the weak, Than to bring anguish on the innocent.


‘Tis done.

[_Replaces the arrow in its quiver_.


Worthy is this action of a Prince, the light of Puru’s race[12].

Well does this act befit a Prince like thee, Right worthy is it of thine ancestry.
Thy guerdon be a son of peerless worth, Whose wide dominion shall embrace the earth.

BOTH THE OTHER HERMITS. [_Raising their hands_.

May heaven indeed grant thee a son, a sovereign of the earth from sea to sea!



I accept with gratitude a Brahman’s benediction.


We came hither, mighty Prince, to collect sacrificial wood. Here on the banks of the Malini you may perceive the hermitage of the great sage Kanwa[13]. If other duties require not your presence, deign to enter and accept our hospitality.

When you behold our penitential rites Performed without impediment by saints
Rich only in devotion, then with pride Will you reflect:–Such are the holy men Who call me Guardian; such the men for whom To wield the bow I bare my nervous arm, Scarred by the motion of the glancing string.


Is the Chief of your Society now at home?


No; he has gone to Soma-tirtha[14] to propitiate Destiny, which threatens his daughter [S’]akoontala with some calamity; but he has commissioned her in his absence to entertain all guests with hospitality.


Good! I will pay her a visit. She will make me acquainted with the mighty sage’s acts of penance and devotion.


And we will depart on our errand.

[_Exit with his companions_.


Charioteer, urge on the horses. We will at least purify our souls by a sight of this hallowed retreat.


Your Majesty is obeyed.

[_Drives the chariot with great velocity_.

KING. [_Looking all about him_.

Charioteer, even without being told, I should have known that these were the precincts of a grove consecrated to penitential rites.


How so?


Do not you observe?

Beneath the trees, whose hollow trunks afford Secure retreat to many a nestling brood Of parrots, scattered grains of rice lie strewn. Lo! here and there are seen the polished slabs That serve to bruise the fruit of Ingudi[15]. The gentle roe-deer, taught to trust in man, Unstartled hear our voices. On the paths Appear the traces of bark-woven vests[16] Borne dripping from the limpid fount of waters.

And mark!

Laved are the roots of trees by deep canals [17], Whose glassy waters tremble in the breeze; The sprouting verdure of the leaves is dimmed By dusky wreaths of upward curling smoke From burnt oblations; and on new-mown lawns Around our car graze leisurely the fawns.


I observe it all.

KING. [_Advancing a little further_.

The inhabitants of this sacred retreat must not be disturbed. Stay the chariot, that I may alight.


The reins are held in. Your Majesty may descend.

KING. [_Alighting_.

Charioteer, groves devoted to penance must be entered in humble attire. Take these ornaments.

[_Delivers his ornaments and bow to CHARIOTEER_.]

Charioteer, see that the horses are watered, and attend to them until I return from visiting the inhabitants of the hermitage.


I Will.


KING. [_Walking and looking about_.

Here is the entrance to the hermitage. I will now go in.

[_Entering and feeling a throbbing sensation in his arm_.

Serenest peace is in this calm retreat, By passion’s breath unruffled; what portends My throbbing arm[18]? Why should it whisper here Of happy love? Yet everywhere around us Stand the closed portals of events unknown.


This way, my dear companions; this way.

KING. [_Listening_.

Hark! I hear voices to the right of yonder grove of trees. I will walk in that direction.

[_Walking and looking about_.]

Ah! here are the maidens of the hermitage coming this way to water the shrubs, carrying water-pots proportioned to their strength.

[_Gazing at them_.]

How graceful they look!

In palaces such charms are rarely ours; The woodland plants outshine the garden flowers.

I will conceal myself in this shade and watch them.

[_Stands gazing at them_.

_Enter [S’]AKOONTALA, with her two female companions, employed in the manner described_.


This way, my dear companions; this way.


Dear [S’]akoontala, one would think that father Kanwa had more affection for the shrubs of the hermitage even than for you, seeing he assigns to you, who are yourself as delicate as the fresh-blown jasmine, the task of filling with water the trenches which encircle their roots.


Dear Anasuya, although I am charged by my good father with this duty, yet I cannot regard it as a task. I really feel a sisterly love for these plants.

[_Continues watering the shrubs_.


Can this be the daughter of Kanwa? The saintly man, though descended from the great Kasyapa, must be very deficient in judgment to habituate such a maiden to the life of a recluse.

The sage who would this form of artless grace Inure to penance, thoughtlessly attempts To cleave in twain the hard acacia’s stem[19] With the soft edge of a blue lotus-leaf.

Well! concealed behind this tree, I will watch her without raising her suspicions.

[_Conceals himself_.


Good Anasuya, Priyamvada has drawn this bark-dress too tightly about my chest. I pray thee, loosen it a little.


I will. [_Loosens it_.

PRIYAMVADA. [_Smiling_.

Why do you lay the blame on me? Blame rather your own blooming youthfulness which imparts fulness to your bosom.


A most just observation!

This youthful form, whose bosom’s swelling charms By the bark’s knotted tissue are concealed, Like some fair bud close folded in its sheath, Gives not to view the blooming of its beauty.

But what am I saying? In real truth this bark-dress, though ill-suited to her figure, sets it off like an ornament.

The lotus[20] with the [S’]aivala[21] entwined Is not a whit less brilliant; dusky spots Heighten the lustre of the cold-rayed moon; This lovely maiden in her dress of bark Seems all the lovelier. E’en the meanest garb Gives to true beauty fresh attractiveness.

[S’]AKOONTALA. [Looking before her.

Yon Ke[S’]ara-tree[22] beckons to me with its young shoots, which, as the breeze waves them to and fro, appear like slender fingers. I will go and attend to it.

[_Walks towards it_.


Dear [S’]akoontala, prithee, rest in that attitude one moment.


Why so?


The Ke[S’]ara-tree, whilst your graceful form bends about its stem, appears as if it were wedded to some lovely twining creeper.


Ah! saucy girl, you are most appropriately named Priyamvada (‘Speaker of flattering things’).


What Priyamvada says, though complimentary, is nevertheless true. Verily,

Her ruddy lip vies with the opening bud; Her graceful arms are as the twining stalks; And her whole form is radiant with the glow Of youthful beauty, as the tree with bloom.


See, dear [S’]akoontala, here is the young jasmine, which you named ‘the Moonlight of the Grove,’ the self-elected wife of the mango-tree. Have you forgotten it?


Rather will I forget myself.

[_Approaching the plant and looking at it_.]

How delightful is the season when the jasmine-creeper and the mango-tree seem thus to unite in mutual embraces! The fresh blossoms of the jasmine resemble the bloom of a young bride, and the newly-formed shoots of the mango appear to make it her natural protector.

[_Continues gazing at it_.


Do you know, my Anasuya, why [S’]akoontala gazes so intently at the jasmine?


No, indeed, I cannot imagine. I pray thee tell me.


She is wishing that as the jasmine is united to a suitable tree, so, in like manner, she may obtain a husband worthy of her.


Speak for yourself, girl; this is the thought in your own mind.

[_Continues watering the flowers_.


Would that my union with her were permissible[23]! and yet I hardly dare hope that the maiden is sprung from a caste different from that of the Head of the hermitage. But away with doubt:

That she is free to wed a warrior-king My heart attests. For, in conflicting doubts, The secret promptings of the good man’s soul Are an unerring index of the truth.

However, come what may, I will ascertain the fact.

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_In a flurry_.

Ah! a bee, disturbed by the sprinkling of the water, has left the young jasmine, and is trying to settle on my face.

[_Attempts to drive it away_.

KING. [_Gazing at her ardently_.

Beautiful! there is something charming even in her repulse.

Where’er the bee his eager onset plies, Now here, now there, she darts her kindling eyes; What love hath yet to teach, fear teaches now, The furtive glances and the frowning brow.

[_In a tone of envy_.

Ah, happy bee! how boldly dost thou try To steal the lustre from her sparkling eye; And in thy circling movements hover near, To murmur tender secrets in her ear;
Or, as she coyly waves her hand, to sip Voluptuous nectar from her lower lip!
While rising doubts my heart’s fond hopes destroy, Thou dost the fulness of her charms enjoy.


This impertinent bee will not rest quiet. I must move elsewhere.

[_Moving a few steps off, and casting a glance around_.]

How now! he is following me here. Help! my dear friends, help! deliver me from the attacks of this troublesome insect.


How can we deliver you? Call Dushyanta to your aid. The sacred groves are under the King’s special protection.


An excellent opportunity for me to show myself. Fear not–

[_Checks himself when the words are half-uttered; Aside_.]

But stay, if I introduce myself in this manner, they will know me to be the King. Be it so, I will accost them, nevertheless.


[_Moving a step or two further off_.

What! it still persists in following me.

KING. [_Advancing hastily_.

When mighty Puru’s offspring sways the earth, And o’er the wayward holds his threatening rod, Who dares molest the gentle maids that keep Their holy vigils here in Kanwa’s grove?

[_All look at the_ KING, _and all are embarrassed_.


Kind Sir, no outrage has been committed; only our dear friend here was teased by the attacks of a troublesome bee.

[_Points to_ [S’]AKOONTALA.

KING. [_Turning to_ [S’]AKOONTALA.

I trust all is well with your devotional rites[24]?

[[S’]AKOONTALA _stands confused and silent_.]


All is well indeed, now that we are honoured by the reception of a distinguished guest. Dear [S’]akoontala, go, bring from the hermitage an offering of flowers, rice, and fruit. This water that we have brought with us will serve to bathe our guest’s feet[25].


The rites of hospitality are already performed; your truly kind words are the best offering I can receive.


At least be good enough, gentle Sir, to sit down awhile, and rest yourself on this seat shaded by the leaves of the Sapta-parna tree[26].


You, too, must all be fatigued by your employment.


Dear [S’]akoontala, there is no impropriety in our sitting by the side of our guest; come, let us sit down here.

[_All sit down together_.

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_Aside_.

How is it that the sight of this made me sensible of emotions inconsistent with religious vows?

KING. [_Gazing at them all By turns_.

How charmingly your friendship is in keeping with the equality of your ages and appearance!


Who can this person be, whose lively yet dignified manner, and polite conversation, bespeak him a man of high rank?


I, too, my dear, am very curious to know. I will ask him myself.


Your kind words, noble Sir, fill me with confidence, and prompt me to inquire of what regal family our noble guest is the ornament? what country is now mourning his absence? and what induced a person so delicately nurtured to expose himself to the fatigue of visiting this grove of penance?

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_Aside_.

Be not troubled, O my heart, Anasuya is giving utterance to thy thoughts.

KING. [_Aside_.

How now shall I reply? shall I make myself known, or shall I still disguise my real rank? I have it; I will answer her thus. [_Aloud_.] I am the person charged by his Majesty, the descendant of Puru, with the administration of justice and religion; and am come to this sacred grove to satisfy myself that the rites of the hermits are free from obstruction.


The hermits, then, and all the members of our religious society, have now a guardian.

[[S’]AKOONTALA _gazes bashfully at the_ KING.


[_Perceiving the state of her feelings, and of the_ KING’S. _Aside to_ [S’]AKOONTALA.

Dear [S’]akoontala, if father Kanwa were but at home to-day–

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_Angrily_.

What if he were?


He would honour this our distinguished guest with an offering of the most precious of his possessions.


Go to! you have some silly idea in your minds, I will not listen to such remarks.


May I be allowed, in my turn, to ask you maidens a few particulars respecting your friend?


Your request, Sir, is an honour.


The sage Kanwa lives in the constant practice of austerities. How, then, can this friend of yours be called his daughter?


I will explain to you. Sir. You have heard of an illustrious sage of regal caste, Vi[s’]wamitra, whose family name is Kau[S’]ika[27].


I have.


Know that he is the real father of our friend. The venerable Kanwa is only her reputed father. He it was who brought her up, when she was deserted by her mother.


‘Deserted by her mother!’ My curiosity is excited; pray let me hear the story from the beginning.


You shall hear it, Sir. Some time since, this sage of regal caste, while performing a most severe penance on the banks of the river Godavari, excited the jealousy and alarm of the gods; insomuch that they despatched a lovely nymph named Menaka to interrupt his devotions.


The inferior gods, I am aware, are jealous[28] of the power which the practice of excessive devotion confers on mortals.


Well, then, it happened that Vi[s’]wamitra, gazing on the bewitching beauty of that nymph at a season when, spring being in its glory–

[_Stops short, and appears confused_.


The rest may be easily divined. [S’]akoontala, then, is the offspring of the nymph.


Just so.


It is quite intelligible.

How would a mortal to such charms give birth? The lightning’s radiance flashes not from earth.

[[S’]AKOONTALA _remains modestly seated with downcast eyes_. _Aside_.]

And so my desire has really scope for its indulgence. Yet I am still distracted by doubts, remembering the pleasantry of her female companions respecting her wish for a husband.


[_Looking with a smile at [S’]AKOONTALA, and then turning towards the KING.]

You seem desirous, Sir, of asking something further.

[[S’]AKOONTALA _makes a chiding gesture with her finger_.


You conjecture truly. I am so eager to hear the particulars of your friend’s history, that I have still another question to ask.


Scruple not to do so. Persons who lead the life of hermits may be questioned unreservedly.


I wish to ascertain one point respecting your friend.

Will she be bound by solitary vows
Opposed to love, till her espousals only? Or ever dwell with these her cherished fawns, Whose eyes, in lustre vying with her own, Return her gaze of sisterly affection?


Hitherto, Sir, she has been engaged in the practice of religious duties, and has lived in subjection to her foster-father; but it is now his fixed intention to give her away in marriage to a husband worthy of her.

KING. [_Aside_.

His intention may be easily carried into effect.

Be hopeful, O my heart, thy harrowing doubts Are past and gone; that which thou didst believe To be as unapproachable as fire,
Is found a glittering gem that may be touched.

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_Pretending anger_.

Anasuya, I shall leave you.


Why so?


That I may go and report this impertinent Priyamvada to the venerable matron, Gautami[29].


Surely, dear friend, it would not be right to leave a distinguished guest before he has received the rites of hospitality, and quit his presence in this wilful manner.

[[S’]AKOONTALA, _without answering a word, moves away_.


[_Making a movement to arrest her departure, but checking himself. Aside_.

Ah! a lover’s feelings betray themselves by his gestures.

When I would fain have stayed the maid, a sense Of due decorum checked my bold design;
Though I have stirred not, yet my mien betrays My eagerness to follow on her steps.


[_Holding [S’]AKOONTALA back_.

Dear [S’]akoontala, it does not become you to go away in this manner.

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_Frowning_.

Why not, pray?


You are under a promise to water two more shrubs for me. When you have paid your debt, you shall go, and not before.

[_Forces her to turn back_.


Spare her this trouble, gentle maiden. The exertion of watering the shrubs has already fatigued her.

The water-jar has overtasked the strength Of her slim arms; her shoulders droop, her hands Are ruddy with the glow of quickened pulses; E’en now her agitated breath imparts
Unwonted tremor to her heaving breast; The pearly drops that mar the recent bloom Of the [S’]irisha pendent in her ear,
Gather in clustering circles on her cheek; Loosed is the fillet of her hair; her hand Restrains the locks that struggle to be free. Suffer me, then, thus to discharge the debt for you.

[_Offers a ring to_ PRIYAMVADA. _Both the maidens, reading the name_ DUSHYANTA _on the seal, look at each other with surprise_.


Nay, think not that I am King Dushyanta. I am only the King’s officer, and this is the ring which I have received from him as my credentials.


The greater the reason you ought not to part with the ring from your finger. I am content to release her from her obligation at your simple request.

[_With a smile_.]

Now, [S’]akoontala, my love, you are at liberty to retire, thanks to the intercession of this noble stranger, or rather of this mighty prince.

[S’]AKOONTALA. [_Aside_.

My movements are no longer under my own control.


Pray, what authority have you over me, either to send me away or keep me back?

KING. [_Gazing at_ [S’]AKOONTALA. _Aside_.

Would I could ascertain whether she is affected towards me as I am towards her! At any rate, my hopes are free to indulge themselves. Because,

Although she mingles not her words with mine, Yet doth her listening ear drink in my speech; Although her eye shrinks from my ardent gaze, No form but mine attracts its timid glances.


O hermits, be ready to protect the animals belonging to our hermitage. King Dushyanta, amusing himself with hunting, is near at hand.

Lo! by the feet of prancing horses raised, Thick clouds of moving dust, like glittering swarms Of locusts, in the glow of eventide,
Fall on the branches of our sacred trees Where hang the dripping vests of woven bark, Bleached by the waters of the cleansing fountain.

And see!

Scared by the royal chariot in its course, With headlong haste an elephant invades The hallowed precincts of our sacred grove; Himself the terror of the startled deer, And an embodied hindrance to our rites. The hedge of creepers clinging to his feet, Feeble obstruction to his mad career,
Is dragged behind him in a tangled chain; And with terrific shock one tusk he drives Into the riven body of a tree,
Sweeping before him all impediments.

KING. [_Aside_.

Out upon it! my retinue are looking for me, and are disturbing this holy retreat. Well! there is no help for it; I must go and meet them.


Noble Sir, we are terrified by the accidental disturbance caused by the wild elephant. Permit us to return to the cottage.

KING. [_Hastily_.

Go, gentle maidens. It shall be our care that no injury happen to the hermitage.

[_All rise up_.


After such poor hospitality, we are ashamed to request the honour of a second visit from you.


Say not so. The mere sight of you, sweet maidens, has been to me the best entertainment.


Anasuya, a pointed blade of Ku[s’]a-grass [30] has pricked my foot; and my bark-mantle is caught in the branch of a Kuruvaka-bush[31]. Be so good as to wait for me until I have disentangled it.

[_Exit with her two companions, after making pretexts for delay, that she may steal glances at the_ KING.


I have no longer any desire to return to the city. I will therefore rejoin my attendants, and make them encamp somewhere in the vicinity of this sacred grove. In good truth, [S’]akoontala has taken such possession of my thoughts, that I cannot turn myself in any other direction.

My limbs drawn onward leave my heart behind, Like silken pennon borne against the wind.

* * * * *


SCENE.–_A plain on the skirts of the forest.

Enter the Jester_ [32] MA[T.]HAVYA, _in a melancholy mood_.

MA[T.]HAVYA. [_Sighing_.

Heigh-ho! what an unlucky fellow I am! worn to a shadow by my royal friend’s sporting propensities. ‘Here’s a deer!’ ‘There goes a boar!’ ‘Yonder’s a tiger!’ This is the only burden of our talk, while in the heat of the meridian sun we toil on from jungle to jungle, wandering about in the paths of the woods, where the trees afford us no shelter. Are we thirsty? We have nothing to drink but the dirty water of some mountain stream mixed with dry leaves, which give it a most pungent flavour. Are we hungry? We have nothing to eat but roast game[33], which we must swallow down at odd times, as best we can. Even at night there is no peace to be had. Sleeping is out of the question, with joints all strained by dancing attendance upon my sporting friend; or if I do happen to doze, I am awakened at the very earliest dawn by the horrible din of a lot of rascally beaters and huntsmen, who must needs surround the wood before sunrise, and deafen me with their clatter. Nor are these my only troubles. Here’s a fresh grievance, like a new boil rising upon an old one! Yesterday, while we were lagging behind, my royal friend entered yonder hermitage after a deer; and there, as ill-luck would have it, caught sight of a beautiful girl, called [S’]akoontala, the hermit’s daughter. From that moment, not another thought about returning to the city! and all last night not a wink of sleep did he get for thinking of the damsel. What is to be done? At any rate I will be on the watch for him as soon as he has finished his toilet.

[_Walking and looking about_.]

Oh! here he comes, attended by the Yavana women[34], with bows in their hands, wearing garlands of wild flowers. What shall I do? I have it. I will pretend to stand in the easiest attitude for resting my bruised and crippled limbs.

[_Stands leaning on a staff_.

_Enter King_ DUSHYANTA, _followed by a retinue, in the manner described_.


True, by no easy conquest may I win her, Yet are my hopes encouraged by her mien, Love is not yet triumphant; but, methinks,