Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection – Kalidasa, early 5th century
Kalidasa, Sanskrit playwright, reveals his naturalistic values in Sakuntula and the Ring of Recollection. The play takes place in the mullai forest and is a love story about a King named Dushyanta and a beautiful woman named Sakuntula. Sakuntala is the adopted daughter of a sage and lives in a sacred asthetic forest, among birds, flora, and animals. The King enters the forest while on a hunting expedition and the two fall in love. The story is about overcoming obstacles to their love, but it is also a story of how Sakuntula teaches King Dushyanta to love and revere nature. Through Sakuntala, the playwright Kalidasa is provided a platform for his naturalistic philosophy. As Sakuntula teaches and transforms the values of the fictional King, Kalidasa teaches and tranforms the values of the living readers and watchers of the play.
When the King first sees Sakuntala, he creates an explicit floral metaphor for her, saying:
…her lips are fresh rose buds, her arms are tendrils, impatient youth is poised to blossom in her limbs (Kalidasa, 236)
The metaphor for the king in this scene is the bee that pesters Sakuntula. In Tamil poetry, too, the bee and the flower symbolize lover’s union.
Sakuntula is watering the sapling trees in the grove, while the King hides in the shadows. As the King watches, he overhears Sakuntala telling her friend that “I feel a sister’s love for them (the trees).” (Kalidasa, 236) In watering the trees Sakuntula is their protector and preserver, and she does so willingly and lovingly. The deity Visnu, the protector and preserver of all living things, also waters and fulfills nature through rain. As the rain season and the mullai forest are unified in Tamil poetic conventions, they are symbolically linked in this play, too.
Kalidasa, Sakuntula and the Ring of Recollection, in The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Middle Period, 100 C.E. – 1450. Bedford/St. Martins: Boston, New York, 2004. Print.