King Dushyant in a chariot, pursuing an antelope, with a bow and quiver, attended by his Charioteer.
When I cast my eye on that black antelope, and on thee, O king, with thy braced bow, I see before me, as it were, the God Mahésa chasing a hart (male deer), with his bow, named Pináca, braced in his left hand.
King Dushyant: The fleet animal has given us a long chase. Oh! there he runs, with his neck bent gracefully, looking back, from time to time, at the car (chariot) which follows him. Now, through fear of a descending shaft, he contracts his forehand, and extends his flexible haunches; and now, through fatigue, he pauses to nibble the grass in his path with his mouth half opened. See how he springs and bounds with long steps, lightly skimming the ground, and rising high in the air! And now so rapid is his flight, that he is scarce discernible!
Suta: The ground was uneven, and the horses were checked in their course. He has taken advantage of our delay. It is level now, and we may easily overtake him.
King Dushyant: Loosen the reins.
Suta: As the king commands. – – He could not escape. The horses were not even touched by the clouds of dust which they raised; they tossed their manes, erected their ears, and rather glided than galloped over the smooth plain.
King Dushyant: They soon outran the swift antelope. –Objects which, from their distance, appeared minute, presently became larger: what was really divided, seemed united, as we passed; and what was in truth bent, seemed straight. So swift was the motion of the wheels, that nothing, for many moments, was either distant or near.
He must not be slain. This antelope, O king, has an asylum in our forest: he must not be slain.
Suta: Just as the animal presents a fair mark for our arrow, two hermits are advancing to interrupt your aim
King Dushyant: Then stop the car.
Suta: The king is obeyed.
Enter a Hermit and his Pupil.
Hermit: Slay not, O mighty sovereign, slay not a poor fawn, who has found a place of refuge. No, surely, no; he must not be hurt. An arrow in the delicate body of a deer would be like fire in bale of cotton. Compared with thy keen shafts, how weak must be the tender hide of a young antelope! Replace quickly, oh! replace the arrow which thou hast aimed. The weapons of you kings and warriors are destined for the relief of the oppressed, not for the destruction of the guiltless.
King Dushyant: It is replaced.
Hermit: Worthy is that act of thee, most illustrious; of monarchs; worthy, indeed, of a prince descended from Puru. Mayst thou have a son adorned with virtues, a sovereign of the world!
Pupil: Oh! by all means, may thy son be adorned with every virtue, a sovereign of the world!
King Dushyant: My head bears with reverence the order of a Bráhmin
Hermit: Great king, we came hither to collect wood for a solemn sacrifice; and this forest, and the banks of the Malini, affords an asylum to the wild animals protected by Shakuntala, (Shakuntala) whom our holy preceptor Kanva has received as a sacred deposit. If you have no other avocation, enter yon grove, and let the rights of hospitality be duly performed. Having seen with your own eyes the virtuous behaviour of those whose only wealth is their piety, but whose worldly cares are now at an end, you will then exclaim, 'How many good subjects are defended by this arm, which the bowstring has made callous!'
King Dushyant: Is the master of your family at home?
Hermit: Our preceptor is gone to Sómatirt'ha, in hopes of deprecating some calamity, with which destiny threatens the irreproachable Shakuntala, and he has charged her, in his absence, to receive all guests with due honour.
King Dushyant: Holy man, I will attend her; and she, having observed my devotion, will report it favourably to the venerable sage.
Both: Be it so; and we depart on our own business.
King Dushyant: Drive on Suta. By visiting the abode of holiness, we shall purify our souls.
Suta: As the king (may his life be long!) commands.
King Dushyant: That we are near the dwelling–place of pious hermits, would clearly have appeared, even if it had not been told.
Suta: By what marks?
King Dushyant: Do you not observe them? See under yon trees the hallowed grains which have been scattered on the ground, while the tender female parrots were feeding their unfledged young in their pendent nest. Mark in other places the shining pieces of polished stone which have bruised the oil fruit of the sacred Ingudì. Look at the young fawns, which, having acquired confidence in man, and accustomed themselves to the sound of his voice, frisk at pleasure, without varying their course. Even the surface of the river is reddened with lines of consecrated bark, which float down its stream.
Look again; the roots of yon trees are bathed in the waters of holy pools, which quiver as the breeze plays upon them; and the glowing lustre of yon fresh leaves is obscured, for a time, by smoke that rises from oblations of clarified butter. See too, where the young roes (deers) graze, without apprehension from our approach, on the lawn before yonder garden, where the tops of the sacrificial grass, cut for some religious rite, are sprinkled around.
Suta: I now observe holy habitation.
Dushm. This awful (awe inspiring)sanctuary, my friend, must not be violated. Here, therefore, stop the car; that I may descend.
Char. I hold in the reins. The king may descend at his pleasure.
King Dushyant: Groves devoted to religion must be entered in humbler habiliments (garments). Take these regal ornaments;– –and, whilst I am observing those who inhabit this retreat, let the horses be watered and dressed.
Suta: Be it as you direct!
King Dushyant: Now then I enter the sanctuary. – –Oh! this place must be holy, my right arm throbs. – –What new acquisition does this omen promise in a sequestered grove? But the gates of predestined events are in all places open.
Come hither, my beloved companions; Oh! come hither.
King Dushyant: Hah! I hear female voices to the right of yon arbour (tree). I am resolved to know who are conversing. – –There are some damsels, I see, belonging to the hermit's family who carry water–pots of different sizes proportioned to their strength, and are going to water the delicate plants. Oh! how charmingly they look! If the beauty of maids who dwell in woodland retreats cannot easily be found in the recesses of a palace, the garden flowers must make room for the blossoms of the forest, which excel them in colour and fragrance.
Enter Shakuntala, Anusuya, and Priyamvada.
Anusuya: O my Shakuntala, it is in thy society that the trees of our father Canna seem to me delightful; it well becomes thee, who art soft as the fresh–blown Mallicá, to fill with water the canals which have been dug round these tender shrubs.
Shakuntala: It is not only in obedience to our father that I thus employ myself, though that were a sufficient motive, but I really feel the affection of a sister for these young plants.
Priyamvada: My beloved friend, the shrubs which you have watered flower in the summer, which is now begun: let us give water to those which have passed their flowering time; for our virtue will be the greater when it is wholly disinterested.
Shakuntala: Excellent advice!
King Dushyant: How! is that Kanva's daughter, Shakuntala? – –The venerable sage must have an unfeeling heart, since he has allotted a mean employment to so lovely a girl, and has dressed her in a coarse mantle of woven bark. He, who could with that so beautiful a creature, who at first sight ravishes my soul, should endure the hardships of his austere devotion, would attempt, I suppose, to cleave the hard wood Samì with a leaf of the blue lotos (lotus). Let me retire behind this tree, that I may gaze on her charms without diminishing her confidence.
Shakuntala: My friend Priyamvada has tied this mantle of bark so closely over my bosom that it gives me pain: Anusúuya, I request you to untie it.
Priyamvada: Well, my sweet friend, enjoy, while you may, that youthful prime, which gives your bosom so beautiful a swell.
King Dushyant: Admirably spoken, Priyamvada! No; her charms cannot be hidden, even though a robe of intertwisted fibres be thrown over her shoulders, and conceal a part of her bosom, like a veil of yellow leaves enfolding a radiant flower. The water lily, though dark moss may settle on its head, is nevertheless beautiful; and the moon with dewy beams is rendered yet brighter by its black spots. The bark itself acquires elegance from the features of a girl with antelope's eyes, and rather augments than diminishes my ardour. Many are the rough stalks which support the water lily; but many and exquisite are the blossoms which hang on them.
Shakuntala: Yon Amra tree, my friends, points with the finger of its leaves, which the gale gently agitates, and seems inclined to whisper some secret. I will go near it.
Priyamvada: O my Shakuntala, let us remain some time in this shade.
Shakuntala: Why here particularly?
Priyamvada: Because the Amra tree seems wedded to you, who are graceful as the blooming creeper which twines round it.
Shakuntala: Properly are you named Priyamvada, or speaking lovingly (kindly).
King Dushyant: She speaks truly. Yes; her lip glows like the tender leaflet; her arms resemble two flexible stalks; and youthful beauty shines, like a blossom, in all her lineaments.
Anusuya: See, my Shakuntala, how yon fresh Malicá, which you have surnamed Vanàdósini, or Delight of the Grove, has chosen the sweet Amra for her bridegroom.
Shakuntala: How charming is the season, when the nuptials even of plants are thus publicly celebrated!
Priyamvada: Do you know, my Anusuya, why Shakuntala gazes on the plants with such rapture?
Anusuya: No, indeed: I was trying to guess. Pray, tell me.
Priyamvada: 'As the Grove's Delight is united to a suitable tree, thus I too hope for a bridegroom to my mind.' –That is her private thought at this moment.
Shakuntala Such are the sights of your own imagination.
Anusuya: Here is a plant, Shakuntala, which you have forgotten, though it has grown up, like yourself, under the fostering care of our father Kanva.
Shakuntala: Then I shall forget myself. –O wonderful! – –O Priyamvada! I have delightful tidings for you.
Priyamvada: What tidings, my beloved, for me?
Shakuntala: This Madhavi–creeper, though it be not the usual time for flowering, is covered with gay blossoms from its root to its top.
Both. Is it really so, sweet friend?
Shakuntala: Is it so? Look yourselves.
Priyamvada: From this omen, Shakuntala, I announce you an excellent husband, who will very soon take you by the hand.
Shakuntala A strange fancy of yours!
Priyamvada: Indeed, my beloved, I speak not jestingly. I heard something from our father Kanva. Your nurture of these plants has prospered; and thence it is, that I foretell your approaching nuptials.
Anusuya: It is thence, my Priyamvada, that she has watered them with so much alacrity.
Shakuntala: The Madhavi plant is my sister; can I do otherwise than cherish her?
King Dushyant: I fear she is of the same religious order with her foster–father. Or has a mistaken apprehension risen in my mind? My warm heart is so attached to her, that she cannot but be a fit match for a man of the military class. The doubts which awhile perplex the good, are soon removed by the prevalence of their strong inclinations. I am enamoured of her, and she cannot, therefore, be the daughter of a Brahmin, whom I could not marry.
Shakuntala: Alas! a bee has left the blossom of this Mallicá, and is fluttering round my face.
King Dushyant: How often have I seen our court damsels affectedly turn their heads aside from some roving insect, merely to display their graces! But this rural charmer knits her brows, and gracefully moves her eyes through fear only, without art or affectation. Oh! happy– bee, who touchest the corner of that eye beautifully trembling; who, approaching the tip of that ear, murmurs as softly as if thou wert whispering a secret of love; and who sippest nectar, while she waves her graceful hand, from that lip, which contains all the treasures of delight! Whilst I am solicitous to know in what family she was born, thou art enjoying bliss, which to me would be supreme felicity.
Shakuntala: Disengage me, I entreat, from this importunate insect, which quite baffles my efforts.
Priyamvada: What power have we to deliver you? The king Dushmanta is the sole defender of our consecrated groves.
King Dushyant: This is a good occasion for me to discover myself – –I must not, I will not, fear. Yet – –my royal character will thus abruptly be known to them. No; I will appear as a simple stranger, and claim the duties of hospitality.
Shakuntala: This impudent bee will not rest. I will remove to another space. – –Away! away! He follows me wherever I go. Deliver me, oh! deliver me from this distress.
King Dushyant: Ah! While the race of Puru govern the world, and restrain even the most profligate, by good laws well administered, has any man the audacity to molest the lovely daughters of pious hermits?
Anusuya: Sir, no man is here audacious; but this damsel, our beloved friend, was teased by a fluttering bee.
King Dushyant: Damsel, may thy devotion prosper!
Anusuya: Our guest must be received with due honours.
Priyamvada: Stranger, you are welcome. Go, my Shakuntala; bring from the cottage a basket of fruit and flowers. This river will, in the mean time, supply water for his feet.
King Dushyant: Holy maid, the gentleness of thy speech does me sufficient honour.
Anusuya: Sit down awhile on this bank of earth, spread with the leaves of Septaperna: the shade is refreshing, and our lord must want repose after his journey.
King Dushyant: You too must all be fatigued by your hospitable attentions; rest yourselves, therefore, with me.
Priyamvada: Come, let us all be seated: our guest is contented with our reception of him.
Shakuntala: At the sight of this youth I feel an emotion scarce consistent with a grove devoted to piety.
King Dushyant: How well your friendship agrees, holy damsels, with the charming equality of your ages, and of your beauties!
Priyamvada: Who can this be, my Anusuya? The union of delicacy with robustness in his form, and of sweetness with dignity in his discourse, indicate a character fit for ample dominion.
Anusuya: I too have been admiring him. I must ask him a few questions. – Your sweet speech, Sir, gives me confidence. What imperial family is embellished by our noble guest? What is his native country? Surely it must be afflicted by his absence from it. What, I pray, could induce you to humiliate that exalted form of yours by visiting a forest peopled only by simple anchorites?
Shakuntala: Perplex not thyself, O my heart! let the faithful Anusuúya direct with her counsel the thoughts which rise in thee.
King Dushyant: How shall I reveal, or how shall I disguise myself? – –Be it so. Excellent lady, I am a student of the Véda, dwelling in the city of our king, descended from Puru; and, being occupied in the discharge of religious and moral duties, am come hither to behold the sanctuary of virtue.
Anusuya: Holy men, employed like you, are our lords and masters.
Anusuya: Oh! if our venerable father were present–
Shakuntala: What if he were?
Anusuya: He would entertain our guest with a variety of refreshments.
Shakuntala: Go too; you had some other idea in your head; I will not listen to you.
King Dushyant: In my turn, holy damsels, allow me to ask one question concerning your lovely friend.
Both. The request, Sir, does us honour.
King Dushyant: The sage Kanva, I know, is ever intent upon the great Being; and must have declined all earthly connections. How then can this damsel be, as it is said, his daughter?
Anusuya: Let our lord hear. There is, in the family of Cusa, a pious prince of extensive power, eminent in devotion and in arms.
King Dushyant: You speak, no doubt, of Kausika, the sage and monarch.
Anusuya: Know, Sir, that he is in truth her father; while Canna bears that reverend name, because he brought her up, since she was left an infant.
King Dushyant: Left? The word excites my curiosity; and raises in me a desire of knowing her whole story.
Anusuya: You shall hear it, Sir, in few words. –When that sage king had begun to gather the fruits of his austere devotion, the gods of Swarga (heaven) became apprehensive of his increasing power, and sent the nymph Ménacà (Menaka) to frustrate, by her allurements, the full effect of his austerities.
King Dushyant: Is a mortal's austerity (piety) so tremendous to the inferior deities? What was the event?
Anusuya: In the bloom of the vernal season, Causica, beholding the beauty of the celestial nymph, and wasted (overpowered) by the gale of desire. –
King Dushyant: I now see the whole. Shakuntala then is the daughter of a king, by a nymph of the lower heaven.
Anusuya: Even so.
King Dushyant: The desire of my heart is gratified. – How, indeed, could her transcendent beauty be the portion of mortal birth? Yon light, that sparkles with tremulous beams, proceeds not from a terrestrial cavern.
King Dushyant: Happy man that I am! Now has my fancy an ample range. Yet, having heard the pleasantry of her companions on the subject of her nuptials, I am divided with anxious doubt, whether she be not wholly destined for a religious life.
Priyamvada: Our lord seems desirous of asking other questions.
King Dushyant: You know my very heart. I am, indeed, eager to learn the whole of this charmer's life; and must put one question more.
Priyamvada: Why should you muse on it so long? – One would think this religious man was forbidden by his vows to court a pretty woman.
King Dushyant: This I ask. Is the strict rule of a hermit so far to be observed by Kanva, that he cannot dispose of his daughter in marriage, but must check the natural impulse of juvenile love? Can she (oh preposterous fate!) be destined to reside for life among her favourite antelopes, the black lustre of whose eyes is far surpassed by hers?
Priyamvada. Hitherto, Sir, our friend has lived happily in this consecrated forest, the abode of her spiritual father; but it is now his intention to unite her with a bridegroom equal to herself.
King Dushyant: Exult, oh my heart, exult. All doubt is removed; and what before thou could have dreaded as a flame, may now be approached as a gem inestimable.
Shakuntala. Anusúuya I will stay here no longer.
Anusuya. Why so, I pray?
Shakuntala. I will go to the holy matron Gautami, and let her know how impertinently our Priyamvada has been prattling.
Anusuya. It will not be decent, my love, for an inhabitant of this hallowed wood to retire before a guest has received complete honour.
King Dushyant: Is she then departing? – –The actions of a passionate lover are as precipitate as his mind is agitated. Thus I, whose passion impelled me to follow the hermit's daughter, am restrained by a sense of duty.
Priyamvada. What should detain me?
Priyamvada. You owe me the labour, according to our agreement, of watering two more shrubs. Pay me first, to acquit your conscience, and then depart, if you please.
King Dushyant: The damsel is fatigued, I imagine, by pouring so much water on the cherished plants. Her arms, graced with palms like fresh blossoms, hang carelessly down; her bosom heaves with strong breathing; and now her dishevelled locks, from which the string has dropped, are held by one of her lovely hands. Suffer me, therefore, thus to discharge the debt. – –It is a toy unworthy of your fixed attention; but I value it as a gift from the king.
Priyamvada. Then you ought not, Sir, to part with it. Her debt is from this moment discharged on your word only.
Anusuya. You are now released, Shakuntala, by this benevolent lord –or favoured, perhaps, by a monarch himself. To what place will you now retire?
Shakuntala: Must I not wonder at all this if I preserve my senses?
Priyamvada: Are not you going, Shakuntala?
Shakuntala: Am I your subject? I shall go when it pleases me.
King Dushyant: Either she is affected towards me, as I am towards her, or I am distracted with joy. She mingles not her discourse with mine; yet, when I speak, she listens attentively. She commands not her actions in my presence; and her eyes are engaged on me alone.
Oh pious hermits, preserve the animals of this hallowed forest! The king Dushyanta is hunting in it. The dust raised by the hoofs of his horses, which pound tile pebbles ruddy as early dawn, falls like a swarm of blighting insects on the consecrated boughs which sustain your mantles of woven bark, moist with the water of the stream in which you have bathed.
King Dushyant: Alas! my officers, who are searching for me, have indiscreetly disturbed this holy retreat.
Beware, ye hermits, of yon elephant, who comes overturning all that oppose him; now he fixes his trunk with violence on a lofty branch that obstructs his way; and now he is entangled in the twining stalks of the Vratati. How are our sacred rites interrupted! How are the protected herds dispersed! The wild elephant, alarmed at the new appearance of a car, lays our forest waste.
King Dushyant: How unwillingly am I offending the devout forests! Yes; I must go to them instantly.
Priyamvada: Noble stranger, we are confounded with dread of the enraged elephant. With your permission, therefore, we retire to the hermit's cottage.
Anusuya. O Shakuntala, the venerable matron will be much distressed on your account. Come quickly, that we may be all safe together.
Shakuntala: I am stopped, alas! by a sudden pain in my side.
King Dushyant: Be not alarmed, amiable damsels. It shall be my care that no disturbance happen in your sacred groves.
Priyamvada: Excellent stranger, we were wholly unacquainted with your station, and you will forgive us, we hope, for the offence of intermitting awhile the honours due to you: but we humbly request that you will give us once more the pleasure of seeing you, though you have not now been received with perfect hospitality.
King Dushyant: You depreciate your own merits. The sight of you, sweet damsels, has sufficiently honoured me.
Shakuntala: My foot, O Anusúya is hurt by this painted blade of Kusha grass; and now my loose vest of bark is caught by a branch of the Curuvaca. Help me to disentangle myself, and support me.
King Dushyant: They are all departed; and I too, alas! must depart. For how short a moment have I been blessed with a sight of the incomparable Shakuntala I will send my attendants to the city, and take my station at no great distance from this forest. I cannot, in truth, divert my mind from the sweet occupation of gazing on her. How, indeed, should I otherwise occupy it? My body moves onward; but my restless heart runs back to her; like a light flag borne on a staff against the wind, and fluttering in an opposite direction.