Duṣyanta – “Listening to the story you just narrated confirms that you indeed are a princess from a royal lineage. Please be my wife! Tell me what you desire to have! Golden necklaces, clothing, earrings, bangles, gems and gold coins – I will give them all. My entire kingdom will be yours. Please be my wife. Let us get married through gāndharva-vivāha. It is the best among the various kinds of marriages.”
Śakuntalā – “O King! My father is gone to fetch fruits. Once he comes back, he will hand me over to you!”
Duṣyanta – “You come to me on your own. I am here only for your sake. My heart has dissolved in you. A person should always be independent. Handover yourself to me on your own – this will certainly not be against dharma. For a kṣatriya, gāndharva and rākṣasa-vivāhas are dhārmic too. You and I are in love with each other. Thus, become my wife through the gāndharva-marriage.
Śakuntalā – “If you say that this is dhārmic and that I have the freedom to offer myself to you, I would like to make an agreement with you before I proceed. The son born to me through you should become the crown-prince. He should occupy the throne after you. Only if you agree with my condition, I will proceed to unite with you.”
The king, without thinking twice declared – “So be it!”. With these words, they became got into a wedlock and consummated their marriage.
“I will send my entire retinue of army to fetch to my palace!” - the king kept telling her so again and again to gain her confidence in him. The king returned to his city constantly fearing what Kaṇva would think and do to him.
After a while, the sage Kaṇva returned to the āśrama. Śakuntalā felt embarrassed to even see him. Kaṇva came to know about everything that had transpired through his divine sight. He called his daughter to his side and spoke words filled with love to her – “O dear one, you have got into the contact of the king without consulting me – doing so does not count towards transgressing dharma. Gāndharva-vivāha is sacred for a kṣatriya. Duṣyanta, the man you have married with intense love is known for his adherence to dharma. You will beget a great son who will rule the entire earth with its expance until the oceans”
Śakuntalā washed her father’s feet, received the fruits he had brought home and requested him – “O father, you should bless Duṣyanta, my husband!”
Kaṇva – “Dear child! I am happy with Duṣyanta and have nothing against him. Tell me what else you desire to have”
Śakuntalā requested her father to bless Duṣyanta such that he will remain dhārmic at all times and that he will not lose the kingdom that he is ruling. Kaṇva consented.
After a few months, Śakuntalā gave birth to a charming and radiant son. Kaṇva performed jātakarma and other rites on the child. The child was very brave and even in his sixth year, he would combat wild animals such as lions, boars, elephants, buffaloes and tie them to a tree. He would play with them. He would climb on their backs and ride on them around the forest. The residents of the āśrama who saw his valour named him ‘Sarvadamana’. Looking at his strength and capability, Kaṇva thought that it was time to anoint him as the crown prince. He called his students and said – “Drop off Śakuntalā and her son at her husband’s place. It is not right for women to stay at her relatives’ place for long. It will spoil their name, dharma and character”
Accordingly, the students escorted Śakuntalā and her son to Duṣyanta’s kingdom. She saw the king, bowed down before him and said – “O Emperor! This is my son – born to me through you. Coronate him as the crown-prince! Please adhere to your words. Recall the promise that you made to me when we met in Kaṇva’s āśrama!”
The king, upon hearing these words, said that he did not remember a thing, though he recalled all the incidents. He said – “You cruel ascetic! Who are you? I can’t recall having united with you either for dharma, artha or kāma! Go back! Or, if you would like to stay, you may! Do whatever you want!”
The tender-hearted Śakuntalā was humiliated by the king’s words. She felt as though she was going to lose her consciousness. She could not think of anything and stood like a tree with its branches cut off. She got back to her senses and with rage and quivering lips and eyes, she said – “O Emperor! Though you know everything that transpired very well, why do you speak like a lowly person and claim that you know nothing at all? Your heart knows what is true. Don’t cheat your conscience by lying. A person who cheats himself is the worst kind of sinner. Your antarātmā watches over every deed you perform! Thus, don’t be under the presumption that there is no one to monitor your actions. Sūrya, Candra, Vāyu, Agni, Ākāśa, Bhūmi, Jala, Hṛdaya, Yama, Day, Night, Sandhyā and Dharma – these keep a check on man’s actions. Don’t shun me away just because I have come by myself to take refuge in you. I am a pativrata. You should honour your noble wife. Seems like my words are like a cry in the forest to you. They don’t fall on your ears. Duṣyanta! If you don’t listen to my words though I beg you to, your head will break into a thousand pieces. What more joy can a father have, than having his child jump over him, after having played outdoors? When such a child has come on its own and is looking at you helplessly, why do you want to reject it? Even ants protect their eggs. They don’t break them apart. When such is the case, a dhārmic person like you should not be discarding away your own son! I don’t know what sins I had performed in my previous birth. My parents abandoned me when I was a child. If you shun me away now, I will return to the āśrama. I beg you not to send this child away, though!”
Duṣyanta – “I cannot identify the child born to you. Women are known to be liars. Who can trust their words. Your mother Menakā is a whore. She discarded you at the foothills of the Himālayas just like doing away with a garland that is worn out. Your father too is a heartless man. He was born as a kṣatriya and desired to become a brāhmaṇa. He was lustful in his deeds. Don’t you feel ashamed to utter these words which no one can believe? You speak in such a manner in front of me! Go out, you evil tāpasī! Where is the demonic sage? Where is the apsara Menakā? How are you related to the two of them, you pitiable woman? How was your son born and how did he grow? Has he grown as tall as a shaala-vrksha at such a young age? You were born to Menakā as an illicit child and you also appear like a whore to me. Go back on the same path you arrived here!
Śakuntalā – “O king! You seem to point out at the minutest of the faults of the others; You are oblivious to your own shortcomings which are of greater magnitude. Menakā stays in the world of the devatās. The devatās too spend time with her. Therefore, my birth is of a better kind than yours. Duṣyanta! You can only walk on the earth but I can move around in the skies. The difference between you and me is like the difference between the Meru mountain and a mustard seed. I’ll give you an example, please excuse me for doing so. An ugly person thinks that he is more handsome and charming than everyone else until he looks at himself in the mirror. Only after he looks at the mirror and realises how ugly looking he is, will he be able to estimate the value of the others. It pains a noble-hearted person to humiliate the other but a wicked one finds tremendous joy in defaming others. What’s more ridiculous than a wicked person calling a noble soul as an evil one? An atheist too fears a wicked person like fearing a poisonous snake. When such is the case, should we say anything about the theists? If you discard a son born to you, the devatas will destroy all your wealth. Such a person will be doomed with ill-fate. Thus, don’t get rid of your son because of your immoral nature. O king! There is no other dharma greater than satya. There is no sin that is graver than falsehood. Keep you your words and you will be recognised as an honest man. If you have no faith in me and want to resort to dishonesty, I will go away from here. I don’t desire to have the company of a person like you. My son can take care of the world even without your help.”
With these words, Śakuntalā started leaving from the place. Right at the moment, an incorporeal voice spoke from the skies. The voice was heard by the ministers and the purohita as well. It said – “O Duṣyanta! Protect your son. Don’t reject Śakuntalā. You are his father and what Śakuntalā has said so far is true; A wife begets a part of her body as her child. Pray listen to us. He will soon become famous as Bharata.”
Listening to this, Duṣyanta addressed the assembly of ministers there – “You all heard the words of the divine messenger, right? I know that the child is my son; However, if I just welcome him and accept him as mine only with an oral testimony, the entire world will ridicule me later on. His name would get tarnished too. Now that the divine messenger has given his words, I am delighted!”
With these words, Duṣyanta embraced the child and smelled his head. He welcomed Śakuntalā with great honour and consoled her – “Devī! The world does not know that we have spent time together. I wanted your name to be unblemished and thus spoke all this. I have pardoned everything that you said out of your anger.”
Śakuntalā became his beloved wife. They named their son Bharata was coronated him as the yuava-rāja. Bharata grew into a powerful king, performed several yajñas and yāgas.
His lineage came to called the Bharata-vaṃśa and the people belonging to the lineage are called the ‘Bhārata’. The lineage gave birth to several noble kings, who were known for the moral values and integrity.
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.