By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Revisiting Abhijañânasâkuntalam: Love, Lineage and Language in Kalidâsa’s Nâtaka, edited by Saswati Sengupta and Deepika Tandon, Orient BlackSwan, Pp 327 (HB), Rs 695
Poet par excellence Kalidasa immortalised love and romance in his play Abijnanashakuntalam. Though the story had been around for centuries before him, (its first recorded mention is in Satapatha Brahmana, about 900 BC), he reinvented it, as it were and gave it a new twist too. He exonerated Dushyanta, in forgetting Shakuntala by inserting the Durvasa rishi curse scene.
Goethe after reading the play remarked it as the best poetry ever written. Down the centuries, Kalidasa continues to enchant the readers.
The play became the theme of the routine Friday seminars of the Miranda College’s English Department and metamorphosed into an international conference. The result or the fruit of that is a beautiful volume Revisiting Abhijañânasâkuntalam: Love, Lineage and Language in Kalidâsa’s Nâtaka, edited by Saswati Sengupta and Deepika Tandon, Associate Professors of English in Miranda House, in Delhi University who took the initiative.
Explaining the apparent lack of connection between classic Sanskrit text and the modern English reading, the editors say that this play had been included in the classical reading in the syllabus. “Kalidasa’s Abhijananashakuntalam has an iconic status in the history of Indian literature and within the ideologies of nationalism and domesticity of nineteenth century elite Indian societies that drew from brahminical social values and still continue to dominate lives and politics in contemporary India… In revising the play, we hoped to understand not only the intricacies of the multilayered play but also the impulses, which helped preserve the play as a nation’s canonical text.”
The Foreword to the book has been written by Romila Thapar, whose book Shakuntala: Texts, Readings, Histories was, the editors say, the starting point of this volume. Her work had focused on the changes that have happened to the text in various points of history.
The book Revisiting Abhijanasakuntalam is divided into three parts, the first dealing with the ‘Biography of the Narrative’ with informed papers contributed by such eminent scholars as Mandakranta Bose, Shampa Roy, Parul Dave Mukherjee and Urmila Bhirdikar. There is also an essay on the film versions of the play. Then the book moves on to the representation of Dushyanta ‘The Hero King’ with the essays from Somadeva Vasudeva, CM Neelakandhan, and David L Gitomer, among others. Essays on ‘Of Love, Marriage and Family’ form the third part. The essays cover a vast area of scholarship. Both the editors have also contributed an essay each.
The collection is a rich contribution to literature. While Shakuntalam has been looked at from different points, the bringing together of all streams of scholarship has immensely enriched the discourse. It is a book one must read to reacquaint with Kalidasa and his Dushyanta and Shakuntala, their love and et all.
(Orient BlackSwan, 3-6-752, Himayatnagar, Hyderabad-500 029)