Dushyanta and Shakuntala

In the previous article, we saw that Dushyanta entered the ashram, but did not see Rishi Kanva anywhere. He called out ‘Is anyone there’ in a deep baritone that shook the forest. From the inner spaces of the ashram came out a beautiful young woman dressed in the clothes of a mendicant. She welcomed Dushyanta and sang a beautiful hymn praising him and asking the reason for his coming.

The king replied that he had come to have darshan of Rishi Kanva and asked for him. She replied that her father had gone to gather fruit. At this moment, Dushyanta realised that he was greatly attracted to this beautiful woman and in a glance observed that she was of a higher being. Her eyes and face shone with the lustre of deep yogic practices. She had conquered her senses and had a divine laughter – the kind he had never heard before. Dushyanta asked her who she was despite her having introduced herself. She re-affirmed to being the daughter of Rishi Kanva. Dushyanta was puzzled as he was aware that the great rishi had sublimated his sex energies through a process called urdhvaretas; how was it then possible for the rishi to have a daughter?

She narrated to Dushyanta the story of her birth as she had heard it from her father. A great rishi, Vishwamitra, was transforming his sex energy through the same process. The king of the gods, Indra, became very disturbed by his austerities and wanted to stop his progress on this path. Indra sought the help of Maneka, an apsara (a divine danseuse). Indra asked Maneka to use her beautiful form, youth, softness, smile, and sweet words to entice and lead Vishwamitra astray. Maneka was very disturbed and reminded Indra of Vishwamitra’s powers – that he could reduce her to ashes. She mentioned that she was obliged to carry out his orders but requested protection from the anger of Vishwamitra. She also requested Indra that the gods Pavan, Kamadeva and Vayu assist her in her task, to which Indra agreed.

Maneka went to Vishwamitra’s ashram where he was sitting in deep meditation and started dancing in front of him. At that very moment, the wind (Pavan) blew her clothes away. Vishwamitra saw her trying to hold on to her clothes in the wind, but desire (Kamadeva) entered his heart making Vishwamitra lose his state of awareness, filling him with great passion and excitement. The forest was filled with sweet hypnotising scents (Vayu) and the great rishi Vishwamitra fell in love with Maneka. They stayed together till Maneka gave birth to a daughter. At this point, Vishwamitra realised how he had fallen from his aim of sublimating his energies. He then left Maneka to go back to deep austerities. Maneka left the newborn child on the banks of the river Malini and went back to the heavens. The birds of the forest protected the baby from wild animals. Rishi Kanva, when going for a dip in the river, saw her and took her to his ashram as his daughter. He called her Shakuntala, meaning the one who is brought up by birds.

Let us understand the deeper meaning of the characters and the stories. Kanva means to sound. As the sex energies rise up the yogi’s backbone to the higher areas of the brain, he enters the realm of divine sounds, or Akash tattva. Dushyanta entering the ashram is symbolic of this. Here he meets Shakuntala, meaning a bird. When a bird flies in the sky it leaves behind no footprints, but in every action that man performs there is always something left over and this becomes the seed for new actions. Say, if someone meets me and we get into a quarrel; that person then goes away but there is still anger left in me and this leftover anger becomes the cause for future expressions of anger. Before the sex energies enter the realm of total sublimation, the student must learn to perform all actions without residue; he must learn to be Shakuntala (i.e. fly like the birds).

Whenever we laugh at a situation, subconsciously we are only throwing out suppressed emotions. This is a form of catharsis – in actuality we are not laughing, but crying. Once we are free of the law of karma, we realise that real laughter is not the vomiting of tensions, but the overflowing of divine energies. Dushyanta was attracted to Shakuntala’s divine laughter; the divine laughter symbolises Shakuntala’s being filled with divine energies.

Indra is the lord of the senses or the energy of sensitivity. The word Vishwamitra means a universal friend or cosmic consciousness. The yogi frees his five senses from all forms of excitement and when this happens, the yogi becomes the lord of his senses. Then, his consciousness would be steady and can merge with the cosmic consciousness. Indra would then, lose lordship of the senses and that was the reason he sent Maneka to excite Vishwamitra. Maneka means mental effort; she marries Vishwamitra or cosmic consciousness. Through the meeting of mind and consciousness is born Shakuntala. Hence, the deeper meaning of Shakuntala is also potentiality.

If all students of yoga and meditation can discriminate between mind and consciousness, then the deeper potentialities which lie as seeds in all of us can one day flower into an actuality or as often put, there will be the flowering of divine consciousness.