Book Review: Shakuntala, The Woman Wronged

Review Oct 30, 2019

Author: Utkarsh Patel

Genre: Mythology, fiction

I remember pleading with my grandma once to tell me a story. She told me the story of the lovelorn Shakuntala. I recall asking Grandma for Shakuntala's story again after a few days. She recited the story to me rather reluctantly. I asked her yet again, she denied. I don't even know what made the story intriguing.

Years later, I was searching for a book in the library when I came across this book. Who wouldn't want to read the detailed version of the story they loved?

Shakuntala was one of the first woman who came into view in the Mahabharata. Often her character is misapprehended by the common folks. Perhaps, to abide by the rules of Natyashashtra, Kalidasa portrayed her character as a weakling, but the personality you'd see in this book is completely different.  According to the Mahabharata, Sage Durvasa never cursed Shakuntala for daydreaming when he wanted a proper greeting. It was an appropriate twist in the tale to hide the fact that King Dushyant, the protagonist himself, was accused of moral turpitude. A king, who should be everybody's ideal cannot set such an example in front of the commoners.

As I mentioned before, Shakuntala from Abhinyaanshakuntalam and Shakuntala from the Mahabharata are poles apart. The one about which we read in this book is not a damsel in distress shedding copious tears when her husband fails to recognize her. It is about a woman, ready to fight for her rights, ready to fight everyone in her way to achieve her goals.

Shakuntala believed that she was a ‘product of lust’ between King Kaushik AKA Sage Vishwamitra and Apsara Menaka (which wasn't true though) and she was determined to make sure that her son will never be labelled a product of lust between her and King Dushyant.

The book might actually change your direction of thinking. Even if we think that somebody is being unfair to somebody else, we'd try to think from the points of view of both of them and not just one's. It shows us that the world doesn't always work the way we want it to. Besides, in tough situations, we’re often held back by our ethics and moral values. King Yayati found it more pressing to help the people in his kingdom than protect his own daughter Madhavi. Ram abandoned Sita against his own wish for the sake of his kingdom. Both of them prioritized being a people's king over their personal life. This book is seriously worth a read.

- Nidhi Isloor

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