Once upon a time, Hastinapur was ruled by a powerful and kind hearted king named Dushyant of the Puru dynasty. One day, while he was desperately following a deer on a hunting spree, his men fell behind, lost the track in the forest and the deer lured the king to enter the picturesque garden of an Asrama or hermitage, located by the side of the gently flowing River Malini. It was a pleasant place, carpeted by green grass, dotted with peaceful cottages of the hermits and decorated with dancing peacocks, birds chirping on the branches of the trees and a soothing breeze blowing all over, carrying the sweet fragrance of the blooming flowers. The king found several deer roaming around fearlessly, munching the tender grass and young hermits were engaged in several jobs, while others were chanting the slokas or Sanskrit verses, from the Vedas with enchanting melody.
Dushyanta became mystified by the ambience of the situation and felt he had unknowingly entered the Garden of Paradise. But soon he came to his senses when he was interrupted by the young hermits, who noticed him following a deer, armed with his bow and arrow. However, he laid down his bow, as he was informed that the killing of animals is not allowed in the area for the maintenance of peace and harmony of the holy hermitage.
While the hermits were pleased with the gentle attitude of the intruder, they became delighted to know that he was Dushyanta, the noble, gentle and well-mannered king of the land, who is brave, strong, intelligent and honest, respects the elders and teachers, while loves and protects his people. As the king was informed by them that the hermitage belongs to the great elderly sage Kanva, he decided to meet him and seek his blessings. However, he was informed that for the time being Rishi Kanva is away in Somatirtha and according to his prior instruction, the hermits requested him to stay in the hermitage as a guest, till he comes back and Dushyanta agreed to it.
While roaming around the garden area, the king suddenly became aware of the sound of female laughter and from behind a tree observed three hermit young girls with coiffure hair and flowery ornaments watering the flower beds. Suddenly, the most beautiful among the three became frightened and cried for help, as a bee chased her.
However, her friends made fun of it and one of the other two jokingly said that the bee came to suck honey from her face, as it resembles a beautiful lotus. At that moment Dushyanta came out from behind the tree to chase away the bee, introduced himself to the girls and came to know that the girl whom he saved, is Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of Rishi Kanva, while the other two are her intimate friends, Anasuya and Priyambada. Shakuntala was born to Vishwamitra, who once started to meditate so intensely to earn the status of a Brahmarshi that Indra, the King of the gods, became scarred that he might want his throne and sent Menaka, an apsara, one of the celestial courtesans, to lure him and bring him out of his penance. Menaka successfully seduced Vishwamitra and gave birth to a female child, but left her before she went back to heaven, as her mission was completed. During that time, the child was taken care of by a type of bird, called Shakuntala, until Rishi Kanva found the helpless child and adopted her as the foster father and named her Shakuntala, as she was found in the nest of a Shakuta bird.
Dushyanta and Shakuntala fell in love almost immediately at first sight and as the king was supposed to return to his court without much delay, they were married, even in the absence of Rishi Kanva, in a ceremony of the Gandharva form of marriage, simply based on love and mutual consent, with mother Nature as the witness. Before leaving for his palace, Dushyanta put on his signet ring on the finger of his beloved Shakuntala and promises to send an envoy to escort her to his palace.
The departure of the king from the hermitage made Shakuntala morose and unmindful, always thinking about her lover even during attending to her daily chores. One day, while she was sitting alone outside their cottage, deeply engrossed in her thoughts, the short tempered Rishi Durvasa arrived at the hermitage to meet Rishi Kanva in his asrama. However, as nobody welcomed him as a revered guest, Durvasa felt insulted, became enraged, announced her arrival at the top of his voice and looked around to find Shakuntala lost in her thoughts about Dushyanta. Immediately he cursed the unmindful girl that the person about whom she was dreaming of would forget about her altogether.
Priyambada, who was plucking flowers for worship, heard the angry voice of Durvasa, guessed about some imminent catastrophe of her dear friend and came running to fall at the feet of the angry Rishi, requesting him to forgive her friend. When she explained to him the reason for her friend’s distraction, the Rishi modified his curse by adding that although the man would forget all about his memory relating to poor Shakuntala, he would remember everything again, if she could show him any personal memento that he gifted her.
Before Rishi Kanva returned from Somatirtha, Shakuntala could realise that she was carrying Dushyanta’s child. But before she confessed the story behind it, Kanva understood everything through his spiritual vision. He blessed Shakuntala and said that she did not make any mistake by marrying Dushyanta, as he is a good soul and their son would be one of the greatest rulers on the Earth. However, as a reasonable time has already lapsed by that time and nobody came on behalf of the king to escort her to the palace, Kanva made arrangements to send her to the court, along with his two disciples. Before the commencement of the journey, the situation became gloomy, as all the residents of the hermitage, even the birds and the deer, became aggrieved for the imminent separation. Even, a deer tugged the hem of her sari, imploring her not to leave. Finally, she left her dear hermitage, after a longing lingering look behind.
However, on the way, they had to cross a river by a boat and attracted by the blue waters of the river, Shakuntala could not restrain herself to dip her fingers in the flowing water, when she unfortunately lost her ring, gifted by Dushyanta, slipped off her finger without her knowledge. But her world was shattered when in the royal court, the king, her husband, could not recognise her, as he completely lost his memory relating to her at the impact of the curse of Rishi Durvasa. Shakuntala never thought about the disastrous situation even in her worst nightmare and to prove her point, she desperately extended her hand to show the king’s signet ring on her finger. But to her utter surprise, she found it lost. As there was no other way to prove her claim, Shakuntala had to leave the court, feeling insulted and humiliated.
After a few years, one day a fisherman produced a signet ring in the court of Dushyanta, which he found in the stomach of a big fish, trapped in his net. As soon as the king looked at the ring, the spell of the curse of Durvasa was broken and the memory of Shakuntala came back to his mind. Immediately, a sense of guilt made him sick, he repented for his injustice towards his loving wife and decided to find and bring her to the palace, as soon as possible. By that time, Shakuntala gave birth to a son, named Bharata. When Dushyanta entered the forest on his way to the hermitage, he found a boy playing with a lion and trying to count its teeth. Amazed by the boldness of the child, the king asked his name and became pleasantly surprised, when he introduced himself as Bharata, the son of King Dushyanta. The story ended, when at the request of Dushyanta, the boy took him to his mother, Shakuntala and made the family became happily reunited.
The story of the beautiful Shakuntala and Dushyanta, the King of Hastinapur, is depicted in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, which was later adapted by the great poet Kalidas in his immortal play Abhigyan Shakuntalam, which stands for The Sign of Shakuntala.