What are the major themes in Shakuntala by Kalidasa?

The play reflects the social-cultural and ecological consciousness of the playwright and his times. The theme of love and duty encompasses two of the four purushartas, namely, dharma (duty), artha (material/meaning), kama (desire) and moksha (liberation). The second theme proves Kalidasa’s non- binary thinking i.e., the harmonious blending of the humans and the non-humans in the pious hermitage.

Love and Duty

Dushyantaloves hunting but stops when reminded of his duty to protect the hermitage. He is bound to pay his respect to Sage Kanva and meets Shakuntala in Kanva’s absence. He falls in love at first sight but upholds social values (here caste) and inquires if Shakuntala was a Kshatriya (not a Brahmin) and if she was to be married. He reflects on the social order and proposes his love and suggests gandarva -vivah (marriage by mutual consent) only after ascertaining that she was a Kshatriya’s daughter. Shakuntala and her friends dutifully water the trees daily. She is duty-bound to extend hospitality to Sage Durvasa but her absent-mindedness makes her forget her duty resulting in the curse and separation of the lovers.

Ecology and Nature

There is a peaceful co-existence of humans, plants and animals in the hermitage. Shakuntala wears sirisha blossoms and lotus bracelets. Besides watering the trees which bloom during summer, she waters plants which are past their flowering time. She calls the spring-creeper as her sister and the young fawn as her adopted son.As Miller observes, infused with the spirit of interchange ability between the nayika (heroine) and nature’s elements, Shakuntala is depicted as an embodiment of the fertile nature and her bodily parts are equated with natural objects. (p.29) The mango-tree gestures to her and the jasmine vine chooses the strong mango-tree as husband (symbolic of Shakuntala and Dushyanta). The trees give gifts (silken marriage dress, lac-dye for feet), invisible fairies give gems and cuckoos sing a farewell song. Shakuntala employs nature imagery to express her anguish when she parts fromKanva “’I am torn from my father’s breast like a vine stripped from a sandal tree on the Malabar hill. How can I live in another soil? ‘(Ryder, Act IV, p.48).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *