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Mahabharat Ep4: Shakuntala and the Birth of Bharata

Mahabharat Ep4: Shakuntala and the Birth of Bharata

“Bharata grew up with the wild animals – very brave, very strong, very much a part of the earth upon which he lived.”


In the last episode, we saw the stories of the Chandravamshi ancestors till Puru, from whom the Pandavas and kauravas descend, and his half-brother Yadu, from whom the Yadavas descended. In today's story, Sadhguru tells us the popular tale of Shakuntala and Dushyanta, and the birth of Bharata.

The Birth of Shakuntala

Sadhguru: From Puru, a few generations down the line, there was Vishwamitra, a king, who was also known as Kaushika. Seeing the power the rishis and the sages had, he somehow felt the power of the king is too little in comparison. Therefore, he wanted to become a sage, though he was born a king. He went into the forest and started doing serious austerities.

Seeing the intensity with which he was going for it, Indra felt, if Vishwamitra achieved what he was aspiring for, his own supremacy would be in danger. He sent one of his “honey-trap agents”, the apsara Menaka. Menaka's job was to seduce Vishwamitra and distract him from his austerities and sadhana. She was successful and bore a girl child.

After some time, Vishwamitra realized that all he had earlier earned through his sadhana, he had lost because of this distraction. He became furious and walked away, abandoning mother and child. Being an apsara, Menaka was just a visitor in this world with a limited visa! She wanted to go back. Since she could not leave the girl with the father, because the father did not want her, she left the girl on the banks of river Malini and went away.

Some Shakun birds there noticed this little girl, somehow took to her, and protected her from other creatures. One day, Sage Kanva came that way and saw this strange situation where a little infant was being protected by birds. He picked up the child, took her to the ashram, and brought her up. Because she had been protected by the Shakun birds, he called her Shakuntala. She grew up into a fine young woman.

One day, King Dushyanta went on a campaign. On the way back from the battle, he wanted to feed his soldiers. He went into the forest and indiscriminately killed as many animals as he could to feed the army. When he shot a very large male stag, his arrow found its mark, but still the stag ran away. Dushyanta followed it and found it in the hands of Shakuntala. It was her pet stag, and she was nursing it with great compassion. When he saw this, he fell in love with her, stayed back for some time, and with Kanva's permission, married her there.

Then Dushyanata had to go back. His whole army was waiting at the edge of the forest. He told Shakuntala that he would go and set things right in his kingdom and come back afterwards. As a mark of remembrance and of the consummated marriage, he took off his official ring and put it on Shakuntala's finger. Naturally, it did not fit properly. He left saying, “I'll come back for you.”

Shakuntala was constantly in a dream state – this forest girl had suddenly become a queen, an empress! One day, Sage Durvasa came to Kanva's ashram. He was an angry man. He addressed Shakuntala, but she did not respond – her eyes were open, but she could not see anything. He felt insulted and said, “Whoever is holding your attention right now, may he forget you forever.” She suddenly came to her senses and cried, “It cannot be! Why did you do this?”

People in the ashram explained to Durvasa that Shakuntala got married to the king, and that she was waiting for him to come back and take her with him. “She was daydreaming – please pardon her,” they said. By then, they had provided hospitality to Durvasa, and he was a little cooler. He said, “Okay, let me correct it. Yes, he has forgotten you, but the moment you show something that reminds him of you, he will remember.”

The Birth of Bharata

Shakuntala waited and waited, but Dushyanta never came. She bore a child whom she called Bharata. It is his name that the nation carries today. This nation was named Bharat or Bharatvarsh after this emperor for his many, many qualities. He was an ideal human being.

Bharata grew up in the forest. One day, Kanva told Shakuntala, “You should go and remind King Dushyanta that you are his wife, and that you have a son. It is not appropriate that a king's son is growing up without being in touch with his father.” Shakuntala took this young boy and set out for the palace. They had to cross a river. She was still in a dream of love. When they were crossing a river in a boat, she put her hand out, just to feel the water, and the oversized ring slipped into the river. She did not even realize it.

She was innocent of the ways of the kings and palaces. In the king's court, when Dushyanta asked, “Who are you?” she said, “Well, don't you remember? I am your wife Shakuntala. This is your son.” Dushyanta became furious. “How dare you! Who are you to even say such things?” She was ousted from the place. She did not understand what happened. “He loved me so much! And now, he completely blanked out his memory?”

She went back, distressed. For the first time, she had had a brush with society, and then this happened. She went deeper into the forest behind the ashram and lived with her son in the wilderness. Bharata grew up with the wild animals – very brave, very strong, very much a part of the earth upon which he lived.

Later, after Dushyanta found his ring again, he came hunting in this forest. He saw a young boy playing with full-grown lions, riding elephants. He looked at him and asked, “Who are you? Are you some kind of superhuman being? Are you a god? Have you come from elsewhere?” The boy said, “No, I am Bharata, the son of Dushyanta.” The king said, “I am Dushyanta. How come I don't know you?” Then Kanva came and explained the whole story. Finally, Dushyanta took Shakuntala and Bharata to the palace.

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