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The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in…

The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in Seven Acts

by Kalidasa

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Written in 400 A.D., this drama is an absolutely lovely combination of prose and poetry, humans and gods, and spirituality and sensuality. It really is all about love, is it not? Such a pleasure! ( )
  hemlokgang | Mar 1, 2015 |
The forthright ardour of a smitten king. Cautious allure making a tripping retreat. Blood boiling, happy enough to shout, more alive than killing demons with Indra. Just for a moment, the sage-raised girl become the soul of mischief, looking back for a second because under your apprehensions you know he's the one. He smells just. Her hair is so. It's really really really gonna happen, of course, because these heroes are charming in a world-is-new way, all clean white teeth, and everything is promised them. When the sage Durvasas comes along to throw a curse into the mix, there's no knife to anyone's guts, no Mantuan crypt--he just wiggles his eyebrows (clean as all the rest, just an irascible old man chasing butterflies) and gives everybody an excuse to fret and gossip and explore the nature of love and duty in irrepressible prose-verse (oh, to read Sanskrit!).

And remember, this is a story about true, romantic love in a world where the king already has two wives and has to leave all the time to fight demons, where he never sees his kid until he's four years old and then the kid's all "you're not my dada!" (The kid is also the personification of India. Indra's charioteer makes fun of Dusyanta for being overawed by the sky god's sweet ride. The comic, the smiling Bollywood or sitcomic even, sits so comfortably within and around the epic here). This is a love story that, with all its ambiguities and little fears teasened out by circumstances only so they can be swept away by passion and happily-ever-after, a post-fallow fruition like all the real stories--this is a love story that can speak to us now, not as a part of our archetypal monogamous-nuclear-family-style romantic heritage (monogamonucleosis?) but against the odds as reflecting the real circumstances of our lives.

I've already alluded to Shakespeare twice. Shit. This play is fuller of sap and mood swings than Romeo and Juliet. It's a lusher, more magnificent cosmic verdation than The Winter's Tale, which I expected this book to recall for me. I didn't expect to think of Much Ado About Nothing--but Sakuntala's fuller of that fascinating mix of the placid and fearsome, the joy of the young and divine that can't quite banish the troubling social and gender dynamics burbling underneath. I can do better than just comparing this to Shakespeare. But I'll have another chance. New seasons will come in their multiplicity, and I'll visit Sakuntala's bower again. ( )
5 vote MeditationesMartini | Jan 8, 2012 |
Let us muse on perfect beauty, an image cast before us by the poet, an image that can only make the heart sing. This beauty is not skin-deep, but informed by a spiritual upbringing and a strong sense of righteousness, compassion, and propriety. Yes, the king, musing with us, is taken by this beauty, this perfect body and soul, so much so that his jester and his general enjoy some great laughs and good times at the expense of the poor regal sap. Yet somehow, despite the ernest ridiculousness of his passion, a deeper bond is forged between the king and the beauty.

Unfortunately, duty calls the king, and Sakuntala, the beauty, while lost in her love, fails in her duties to a visiting sage and is cursed by that sage; the irony (for curses are always ironic) being that as she failed to properly recognize the sage, her beloved shall fail to recognize her. Her failure shall lead to more; the beautiful tapestry shall unravel, and we must call on the commoners and the gods to weave it back together.

From these twisted together circumstances, rival duties and deeply felt emotions, the story of the birth of Bharata is crafted. Bharata is the ultimate ancestor of the warring factions in the Mahabharata and, in a deeply symbolic sense, the father of India. Bharata is a bastard born of the mixing of castes, the violations of duties, and the trickery of people and gods - what other culture has such a proudly sullied heritage?

Kalidasa writes with great humor, some bawdy, some sublime, as he runs his characters through a series of conflicting duties and hapless missteps that are more fundamental to the identities of the characters than even Romeo and Juliet. It is a work that reaches across the Millennia to speak to me in a way otherwise done, in drama, only by four Greeks. For the first Europeans to discover Sakuntala, the play raised fundamental aesthetic questions, rending the old Aristotelian based classifications by drawing out dramatic tension in a way neither comedy nor tragedy attempted. We will not see such sophisticated humor on the European stages, certainly, for almost 1000 years after Sakuntala, and, then, we see it only sparingly and occassionally.

Reading Sakuntala today is a uniquely engaging experience, since the interpretation of the recognition of Sakuntala so entwines both our European and the Indian traditions. There is a morass of difficult but fascinating questions about how we relate to and understand literature bound up in the simplicity and beauty of this story. For me, a western reader, the story may not naturally be in my literary dna; references to particular dieties, old stories, and occassionally concepts require explication, and the structure of the work itself, with it's tendancy to pause to let us take in a scene full of symbolism, full of references, and laden with emotion challenges a tendancy in Western drama to just keep getting on with it. Thus, there are ways in which this play challenges the way I look at and think of drama just as much as many modern works (isn't Godot nothing but a pause?), or many works that hide in the forgotten branches of the Western cannon. There is an almost operatic element that has been purged from Western drama, and that we studiously ignore in staging the Greeks. There are also ways in which this play speaks quite directly to "our" cannon: we see the chorus, the theatrical asides, the jester so beloved by the Elizabethans. The pondering of this play thus involves all the questions of similiarty and difference among cultures, questions of cultural identity and fusion, of universality and locality, of this, of that, of whatever and all else - no end to the pesky yet necessary and inevitable questions.

Still, don't we have to set some of those questions aside, still the cacophony in our heads, and just read, and enjoy what is a marvelous tale? And it is, indeed, a marvelous tale. We must find a staging. ( )
7 vote A_musing | Aug 8, 2011 |
Kalidasa is considered India's Shakespeare, though in the tradition of Sanskrit/Hindu/Buddhist drama, all of his plays are romances. Sakuntala is a charming, mythic tale of a king who falls in love with a nature maiden -- troubles ensue caused by the curse of angry monk, nymphs and gods come to the rescue and all ends happily. Wonderful contrasts between the natural world and the artistic world of the court. Although reading it can never capture the multi-art (poetry, dialogue, dance, song) performance, it's still a delight. (Review of Barbara Stoler Miller's translation in THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF WORLD LITERATURE) ( )
3 vote janeajones | Nov 2, 2009 |
Fascinating Indian folk tale in a beautiful book package here. ( )
  stpnwlf | Jul 17, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (33 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kalidasaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Deleu, JozefTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, Sir WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olthof, AljeDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vasudeva, SomadevaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 019283911X, Paperback)

Kalidasa's play about the love of King Dusyanta for Sakuntala, a monastic girl, is the supreme work of Sanskrit drama by its greatest poet and playwright (c.4th century CE). Overwhelmingly erotic in tone and in performance, The Recognition of Sakuntala aimed to produce an experience of aesthetic rapture in the audience, comparable to certain types of mystical experience.
The pioneering English translation of Sakuntala in 1789 caused a sensation among European composers and writers (including Goethe), and it continues to be performed around the world. This vibrant new verse translation includes the famous version of the story from the Mahabharata, a poetic and dramatic text in its own right and a likely source for Kalidasa. The introduction discusses the play in the aesthetic and cultural context of ancient India.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:44 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Written by the greatest of the ancient Indian playwrights, this 5th-century work of Sanskrit drama offers a classic introduction to Indian theater and aesthetics. A king encounters a lovely maiden by chance, and the course of their passionate love sweeps the audience from a forest hermitage to a dazzling palace to ethereal celestial realms.… (more)

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