2- Gandharva Vivah
Updated: Mar 3
(Dushyanta and Shakuntala)
Rishi Vaishampayan said, ‘O best of kings Janamejaya! With your desirous mind to know the history of your ancestors, I feel blessed! Listen to the amazing story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala one of your ancestors:
Long ago King Dushyant of Hastinapur was named as the lion among the kings. He earned his name and fame not only in his kingdom but across the land. The mighty king was well versed with royal administration and the art of war too. He was brave, virtuous, truthful, and very loyal to all his subjects. People lived there without any fear. During his reign, there was timely rain, no diseases, no famine. People were very happy and contented.
Once King Dushyant started his journey to a forest with his troops. He was an excellent hunter. Chasing a wounded animal, he entered into another forest which was full of holy hermitages. The beauty of that forest was astounding! The king was mesmerized looking at the surrounding. The sweet chirping sound of the birds, the free movement of fearless animals, the sweet fragrance of the flowers seemed to be not less than divine garden Nandana Vana- the garden of Lord Indra Dev! He was so impressed that he asked his troops to halt in the outskirts and not to disturb the sanctity of the forest.He, accompanied by his minister and priest only, went to see the ascetics hermitages. A beautiful river was flowing nearby that forest. Among the hermitages, the most attractive one was Rishi Kanva’s hermitage near the bank of the river. Leaving behind his attendants, he went alone.
He wished to meet the illustrious ascetic sage Kanva. But instead of that, he saw a beautiful maiden in the garb of ascetics whose beauty was not less than Shree herself! He was completely lost in her charm. The young lady welcomed him with due respect and offered the king her hospitality. King Dushyant was overwhelmed with joy at her decent, amicable behaviour. Without knowing who she was, Dushyant fell in love with her at the first sight! While he asked about the sage, she humbly reported that her father had gone for collecting fruits. She requested him to wait for him. Dushyant was surprised at once hearing the word ‘father’! He said, ‘O beautiful lady, how can you be his daughter? Quench my doubt saying in detail.’
Shakuntala softly said, ‘O king! Listen to me what I heard from my noble father Rishi Kanva saying to a Rishi who had asked him about whence I come—-
Long ago Vishwamitra- a powerful king was engaged in austere asceticism. Beholding his great ascetic penance, Indra was highly terrified. Feeling insecure about his throne, he requested the most reliable and beautiful Menaka to break his penance by alluring him with her physical beauty. At first, Menaka was unwilling but forced to obey the command of Indra- the lord of devas. She heard the wrath of great Rishi Viswamitra who was a Kshatriya by birth but turned into a Brahmin by his asceticism. He was so powerful that he could create another world, stars, rivers anything using his celestial prowess. And he was capable of turning into ashes anything he wanted to.
Thus, knowing the attributes of Rishi, she was scared but being duty-bound she hovered around Rishi Vishwamitra exposing her youthfulness as much as she could. At last, Viswamitra was trapped in her seductive body language and desired her companionship leaving behind his divine Tapasya. Menaka had succeeded in her mission. Days after days, months, years passed. They enjoyed their life with utmost earthly pleasure. At a certain point, Viswamitra left Menaka and went away. The nymph Menaka after giving birth to a daughter-( that's me), returned to her abode- Devlok. She left her newborn daughter on the bank of the river Malini.
Seeing a beautiful baby alone, a Shakuna (a huge bird) spreading its wings protected the child from other wild animals. The next day Rishi Kanva had visited the river for certain work and found the girl surrounded by a flock of Shakunas. His heart suffused with fatherly love and he adopted that girl as his daughter. He named her Shakuntala as she was protected by Shakunas.
‘That girl is me- Shakuntala! I don't know what sin I did in my past life, I was abandoned by my parents ruthlessly! But from my childhood, I perceived Rishi Kanva as my father.' Shakuntala relieved a deep sigh after revealing her birth secret to Dushyant.
‘O ravishing lady! Whatever may be your birth, I want you to be my spouse!’ passionately King Dushyant surrendered himself to Shakuntala to accept him as her husband.
Both fell in love with each other! In the absence of Rishi Kanva, they got married keeping trees, animals, birds as their eye-witness. Time passed fast. And King Dushyant bid adieu to Shakuntala promising her to reunite with her in his kingdom soon. Shakuntala indulged in love, spent her time alone with apprehension.
Returning from the forest, Rishi Kanva could comprehend the situation fully with his spiritual power. ‘They have done Gandharva Vivah,’ the Rishi whispered in the air. He was delighted knowing Shakuntala being chosen by the righteous effulgent King Dushyant. A few months later, she gave birth to a beautiful ever radiant son who was later named Bharata- the heir- apparent of Kuru Race. The boy grew up in the tranquility, friendly environment of the forest. And Rishi Kanva performed all the rites ordained by the scriptures on Bharat who grew up day by day.
Bharat was so powerful that at the age of six he was playing with lion cubs and could control any wild animal. Seeing the boy’s splendid achievements, Rishi Kanva thought that the right time has approached for Shakuntala and son Bharat to reunite with King Dushyanta.
Escorted by a few ascetics Sakuntala and Bharat headed towards Hastinapur and finally reached there. The royal attendants sent the message of her arrival to the king. But king Dushyant, fully aware of who she was , declined his acceptance to her.
Outraged with anger, Sakuntala went to the royal court and pronounced, ‘O wise King! How can you forsake your wife? Have you forgotten the day we got married in the forest?? The trees, the animals, the birds of that forest were witnesses of our sacred marriage! You promised to bring me back to your kingdom after my father Rishi Kanva comes back to his hermitage. How can you betray your love and your son?!’
Seeing the fierce gesture of Shakuntala, king Dushyant added insult to injury. In front of everyone, he announced, ‘O lewd ascetic lady! Go back to the place where you belong. Neither I ever got married you nor the child belongs to me. Low grade women like you always find fault with others and you want to degrade me. I do not know who you are!’
Being humiliated, Shakuntala harshly said, ‘O king of the noble race! My dignity is much higher than yours, remember! I haven't come here to implore you for my shelter! At least, be a worthy father to your son. I am leaving now!’ Declaring her anguish, she turned her face away from Dushyant.
The moment she began her journey, a voice from the sky echoed, ‘O king Dushyant! Accept your wife Shakuntala and son Bharat! She is as sacred as fire and pure like Ganga!’
Hearing the spiritual voice, King Dushyant very earnestly begged Sakuntala to come back to him and addressed to all the crowd present in the court, ‘Neither I had forgotten Sakuntala nor I deny my heir-apparent Bharat, I spoke all the evil words to the noble lady just to convince my fellowmen that I didn't accept her just because she forced me. I wished the testimony of our Gandharva Vivah should be announced divinely.’
And then, Shakuntala was installed as the queen of Hastinapur, and the wise king Dushyanta with his divine wife and radiant son Bharat lived happily thereafter.
[Shakuntala with deep grief mentioned to King Dushyant about her misfortune of abandonment by her parents. The same practice is continued at present time too! Today also, thousands of children, legitimate or illegitimate are abandoned by their parents in the orphanage.
In ancient times, Gandharva Vivah (marriage between a willing man and a willing woman) was accepted as one of the best marriages for the Kshatriya. That is what Sage Kanva defined when he came to know about the secret marriage of his daughter Shakuntala and king Dushyant.
The prowess of Sage Vishwamitra proves that in the days of yore, scientific knowledge was much more advanced too. Chanting of mantras could do anything!
Besides love, marriage and relationship, Vyasa dev has beautifully depicted the human nature in anger in pretext of conversation between Dushyanta and Sakuntala in the Royal court. ]