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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Vaisampayana said, ‘The monarch then, as he proceeded, left even his reduced retinue at the entrance of the hermitage. And entering quite alone he saw not the Rishi (Kanwa) of rigid vows. And not seeing the Rishi and finding that the abode was empty, he called loudly, saying, ‘What ho, who is here?’ And the sound of his voice was echoed back. And hearing the sound of his voice, there came out of the Rishi’s abode a maiden beautiful as Sri herself but dressed as an ascetic’s daughter. And the black-eyed fair one, as she saw king Dushmanta, bade him welcome and received him duly. And, showing him due respect by the offer of a seat, water to wash his feet, and Arghya, she enquired about the monarch’s health and peace. And having worshipped the king and asked him about his health and peace, the maiden reverentially asked, ‘What must be done, O king! I await your commands.’ The king, duly worshipped by her, said unto that maiden of faultless features and sweet speech, ‘I have come to worship the highly-blessed Rishi Kanwa. Tell me, O amiable and beautiful one, where has the illustrious Rishi gone?’
“Sakuntala then answered, ‘My illustrious father hath gone away from the asylum to fetch fruit. Wait but a moment and thou wilt see him when he arrives.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘The king not seeing the Rishi and addressed thus by her, beheld that the maiden was exceedingly beautiful and endued with perfect symmetry of shape. And he saw that she was of sweet smiles. And she stood decked with the beauty of her faultless features, her ascetic penances, and her humility. And he saw that she was in the bloom of youth. He therefore asked her, ‘Who art thou? And whose daughter, O beautiful one? Why hast thou come into the woods also? O handsome one, gifted with so much beauty and such virtues, whence hast thou come? O charming one, at the very first glance hast thou stolen my heart! I desire to learn all about thee; therefore tell me all.’ And thus addressed by the monarch, the maiden smilingly replied in these sweet words, ‘O Dushmanta, I am the daughter of the virtuous, wise, high-souled, and illustrious ascetic Kanwa.’
“Dushmanta, hearing this, replied, ‘The universally-worshipped and highly-blessed Rishi is one whose seed hath been drawn up. Even Dharma himself might fall off from his course but an ascetic of rigid vows can never fall off so. Therefore, O thou of the fairest complexion, how hast thou been born as his daughter? This great doubt of mine it behoveth thee to dispel.’
“Sakuntala then replied, ‘Hear, O king, what I have learnt regarding all that befell me of old and how I became the daughter of the Muni. Once on a time, a Rishi came here and asked about my birth. All that the illustrious one (Kanwa) told him, hear now from me, O king!
“My father Kanwa, in answer to that Rishi’s enquiries, said, ‘Viswamitra, of old, having been engaged in the austerest penances alarmed Indra, the chief of the celestials, who thought that the mighty ascetic of blazing energy would, by his penances, hurl him down from his high seat in heaven.’ Indra, thus alarmed, summoned Menaka and told her, ‘Thou, O Menaka, art the first of celestial Apsaras. Therefore, O amiable one, do me this service. Hear what I say. This great ascetic Viswamitra like unto the Sun in splendour, is engaged in the most severe of penances.
My heart is trembling with fear. Indeed, O slender-waisted Menaka, this is thy business. Thou must see that Viswamitra of soul rapt in contemplation and engaged in the austerest penances, who might hurl me down from my seat. Go and tempt him and frustrating his continued austerities accomplish my good. Win him away from his penances, O beautiful one, by tempting him with thy beauty, youth, agreeableness, arts, smiles and speech.’ Hearing all this, Menaka replied, ‘The illustrious Viswamitra is endued with great energy and is a mighty ascetic. He is very short-tempered too, as is known to thee. The energy, penances, and wrath of the high-souled one have made even thee anxious. Why should I not also be anxious?
He it was who made even the illustrious Vasishtha bear the pangs of witnessing the premature death of his children. He it was who, though at first born as Kshatriya, subsequently became a Brahmana by virtue of his ascetic penances. He it was who, for purposes of his ablutions, created a deep river that can with difficulty be forded, and which sacred stream is known by the name of the Kausiki. It was Viswamitra whose wife, in a season of distress, was maintained by the royal sage Matanga (Trisanku) who was then living under a father’s curse as a hunter. It was Viswamitra who, on returning after the famine was over, changed the name of the stream having his asylum from Kausik into Para. It was Viswamitra who in return for the services of Matanga, himself became the latter’s priest for purposes of a sacrifice. The lord of the celestials himself went through fear to drink the Soma juice. It was Viswamitra who in anger created a second world and numerous stars beginning with Sravana. He it was who granted protection to Trisanku smarting under a superior’s curse.
I am frightened to approach him of such deeds. Tell me, O Indra, the means that should be adopted so that I may not be burnt by his wrath. He can burn the three worlds by his splendour, can, by a stamp (of his foot), cause the earth to quake. He can sever the great Meru from the earth and hurl it to any distance. He can go round the ten points of the earth in a moment. How can a woman like me even touch such a one full of ascetic virtues, like unto a blazing fire, and having his passions under complete control? His mouth is like unto a blazing fire; the pupils of his eyes are like the Sun and the Moon; his tongue is like unto Yama himself.
How shall, O chief of the celestials, a woman like me even touch him? At the thought of his prowess Yama, Soma, the great Rishis, the Saddhyas, the Viswas, Valakhilyas, are terrified! How can a woman like me gaze at him without alarm? Commanded, however, by thee, O king of the celestials, I shall somehow approach that Rishi. But, O chief of the gods, devise thou some plan whereby protected by thee, I may safely move about that Rishi. I think that when I begin to play before the Rishi, Marut (the god of wind) had better go there and rob me of my dress, and Manmatha (the god of love) had also, at thy command, better help me then. Let also Marut on that occasion bear thither fragrance from the woods to tempt the Rishi.’ Saying this and seeing that all she had spoken about had been duly provided, Menaka went to the retreat of the great Kausika.’”
Kanwa continued, ‘And Sakra, thus addressed by her, then commanded him who could approach every place (viz., the god of the wind) to be present with Menaka at the time she would be before the Rishi. And the timid and beautiful Menaka then entered the retreat and saw there Viswamitra who had burnt, by his penances, all his sins, and was engaged still in ascetic penances. And saluting the Rishi, she then began to sport before him. And just at that time Marut robbed her of her garments that were white as the Moon. And she thereupon ran, as if in great bashfulness, to catch hold of her attire, and as if she was exceedingly annoyed with Marut. And she did all this before the very eyes of Viswamitra who was endued with energy like that of fire. And Viswamitra saw her in that attitude. And beholding her divested of her robes, he saw that she was of faultless feature.
And that best of Munis saw that she was exceedingly handsome, with no marks of age on her person. And beholding her beauty and accomplishments that bull amongst Rishis was possessed with lust and made a sign that he desired her companionship. And he invited her accordingly, and she also of faultless features expressed her acceptance of the invitation. And they then passed a long time there in each other’s company. And sporting with each other, just as they pleased, for a long time as if it were only a single day, the Rishi begat on Menaka a daughter named Sakuntala. And Menaka (as her conception advanced) went to the banks of the river Malini coursing along a valley of the charming mountains of Himavat. And there she gave birth to that daughter. And she left the new-born infant on the bank of that river and went away. And beholding the new-born infant lying in that forest destitute of human beings but abounding with lions and tigers, a number of vultures sat around to protect it from harm. No Rakshasas or carnivorous animals took its life. Those vultures protected the daughter of Menaka.
I went there to perform my ablution and beheld the infant lying in the solitude of the wilderness surrounded by vultures. Bringing her hither I have made her my daughter. Indeed, the maker of the body, the protector of life, the giver of food, are all three, fathers in their order, according to the scriptures. And because she was surrounded in the solitude of the wilderness, by Sakuntas (birds), therefore, hath she been named by me Sakuntala (bird-protected). O Brahman, learn that it is thus that Sakuntala hath become my daughter. And the faultless Sakuntala also regards me as her father.’
“This is what my father had said unto the Rishi, having been asked by him. O king of men, it is thus that thou must know I am the daughter of Kanwa. And not knowing my real father, I regard Kanwa as my father. Thus have I told thee, O king, all that hath been heard by me regarding my birth!’”
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘King Dushmanta, hearing all this, said, ‘Well-spoken, O princess, this that thou hast said! Be my wife, O beautiful one! What shall I do for thee? Golden garlands, robes, ear-rings of gold, white and handsome pearls, from various countries, golden coins, finest carpets, I shall present thee this very day. Let the whole of my kingdom be thine today, O beautiful one! Come to me, O timid one, wedding me, O beautiful one, according to the Gandharva form. O thou of tapering thighs, of all forms of marriage, the Gandharva one is regarded as the first.’
“Sakuntala, hearing this, said, ‘O king, my father hath gone away from this asylum to bring fruit. Wait but a moment; he will bestow me on thee.’
“Dushmanta replied, ‘O beautiful and faultless one, I desire that thou shouldst be my life’s companion. Know thou that I exist for thee, and my heart is in thee. One is certainly one’s own friend, and one certainly may depend upon one’s own self. Therefore, according to the ordinance, thou canst certainly bestow thyself. There are, in all, eight kinds of marriages. These are Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha, the eighth. Manu, the son of the self-create, hath spoken of the appropriateness of all these forms according to their order. Know, O faultless one, that the first four of these are fit for Brahmanas, and the first six for Kshatriyas. As regards kings, even the Rakshasa form is permissible.
The Asura form is permitted to Vaisyas and Sudras. Of the first five the three are proper, the other two being improper. The Paisacha and the Asura forms should never be practised. These are the institutes of religion, and one should act according to them. The Gandharva and the Rakshasa form are consistent with the practices of Kshatriyas. Thou needst not entertain the least fear. There is not the least doubt that either according to any one of these last-mentioned forms, or according to a union of both of them, our wedding may take place. O thou of the fairest complexion, full of desire I am, thou also in a similar mood mayst become my wife according to the Gandharva form.’
“Sakuntala, having listened to all this, answered, ‘If this be the course sanctioned by religion, if, indeed, I am my own disposer, hear, O thou foremost one of Puru’s race, what my terms are. Promise truly to give me what I ask thee. The son that shall be begotten on me shall become thy heir-apparent. This, O king, is my fixed resolve. O Dushmanta, if thou grant this, then let our union take place.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘The monarch, without taking time to consider at once told her, ‘Let it be so. I will even take thee, O thou of agreeable smiles, with me to my capital. I tell thee truly. O beautiful one, thou deservest all this.’ And so saying, that first of kings wedded the handsome Sakuntala of graceful gait, and knew her as a husband. And assuring her duly, he went away, telling her repeatedly, ‘I shall send thee, for thy escort, my troops of four classes. Indeed, it is even thus that I shall take thee to my capital, O thou of sweet smiles!”
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘O Janamejaya, having promised so unto her, the king went away. And as he retraced his way homewards, he began to think of Kasyapa. And he asked himself, ‘What will the illustrious ascetic say, after he has known all?’ Thinking of this, he entered his capital.
“The moment the king had left, Kanwa arrived at his abode. But Sakuntala, from a sense of shame, did not go out to receive her father. That great ascetic, however, possessed of spiritual knowledge, knew all. Indeed beholding everything with his spiritual eye, the illustrious one was pleased, and addressing her, said, ‘Amiable one, what hath been done by thee today in secret, without, having waited for me–viz., intercourse with a man–hath not been destructive of thy virtue. Indeed, union according to the Gandharva form, of a wishful woman with a man of sensual desire, without mantras of any kind, it is said, is the best for Kshatriyas.
That best of men, Dushmanta, is also high-souled and virtuous. Thou hast, O Sakuntala, accepted him for thy husband. The son that shall be born of thee shall be mighty and illustrious in this world. And he shall have sway over the sea. And the forces of that illustrious king of kings, while he goeth out against his foes shall be irresistible.’
“Sakuntala then approached her fatigued father and washed his feet. And taking down the load he had with him and placing the fruits in proper order, she told him, ‘It behoveth thee to give thy grace to that Dushmanta whom I have accepted for my husband, as well as his ministers!’
“Kanwa replied, ‘O thou of the fairest complexion, for thy sake I am inclined to bless him. But receive from me, O blessed one, the boon that thou desirest.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Sakuntala, thereupon, moved by desire of benefiting Dushmanta, asked the boon that the Paurava monarchs might ever be virtuous and never deprived of their thrones.’”