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Kālidāsa’s Abhijñānaśākuntalam has an iconic status in the history of Indian literatures. It is a tale of love found, forgotten and restored between Duṣyanta, the hero king, and Śākuntalā, an innocent maiden.
Bringing together linguists, literary critics, historians, Indologists and Sanskritists, Revisiting Abhijñānaśākuntalam analyses the play as more than just a figment of imagination—as a rich terrain for exploring links between culture, history and politics, as an interplay of memory, desire and languages. Divided into three sections, it focuses on the continuity as well as the change in the narrative of Śākuntalā, locating it in contexts of class, caste, gender, patriarchy and monarchy.
The first section, ‘The Biography of a Narrative’, addresses the earliest appearance of the narrative in the epic Mahābhārata, its best known form Abhijñānaśākuntalam as nāÔaka, and William Jones’ Orientalist interpretation of the play. It also critically examines the varied representations of the play in diverse forms such as art, theatre and cinema.
Contrary to popular perception today that Śākuntalā is the central protagonist of Abhijñānaśākuntalam, the second section, ‘The Hero King’, addresses how and why Duṣyanta is posited as the hero. It examines the representation of the king as the ideal in literature and its material reality in the context of the Gupta Period, the construction of kingship in different genres, and the politics of a courtly culture and patronage within which the articulation of the heroic king takes place.
The control of the womb is central to the reproduction of feudal and caste patriarchies. The third section, ‘Of Love, Marriage and Family’, deconstructs the politics of romantic love, marriage and motherhood in the play. The strategies of surveillance, regulation and control of sexuality by state and society as deployed in it are the focus of this section. The book thus looks into how the transactions within the play, whether dealing in love or land, through different languages, mark not only hierarchies of gender, caste and status, but also of spheres of influence and of knowledge.
A rich storehouse of diverse perspectives, this volume would be invaluable to students and scholars of literature, culture studies, history, linguistics, and performance studies.
Saswati Sengupta is Associate Professor, Department of English, Miranda House, University of Delhi.
List of Figures
Foreword by Romila Thapar
Saswati Sengupta and Deepika Tandon
Section one: The Biography of a Narrative
1. The First Reading of Sakuntala: A Window on the Original and the Second Reading by Kalidasa
2. Staging Abhijñanasakuntalam 38
3. ‘The Celestial Fruit of Collected Virtues’: A Reading of William Jones’ Sacontalá
4.‘Gani Sakuntal Racito’: Annasaheb Kirloskar’s Sangit Sakuntal as Marathi Opera
5. The Making of Sakuntala: The Erotica and the Paradox of Representation
Parul Dave Mukherji
6. Shakuntala on Celluloid: The Framing of an Archetype in Colonial and Post-Colonial Hindi Cinema
Section two: The Hero King
7. Seeing and Hearing: Representations of Kingship in the Abhijñanasakuntalam and the Raghuvamsam of Kalidasa
8. When the King is the Subject: The Play of Power in Abhijñanasakuntalam
Saswati Sengupta & Sharmila Purkayastha
9. Can Men Change? Kalidasa’s Seducer King in the Thicket of Sanskrit Poetics
David L. Gitomer
10. The Inarticulate Nymph and the Eloquent King
11. The King’s Companion: The Vidusaka in Abhijñanasakuntalam
C. M. Neelakandhan
Section three: Of Love, Marriage and Family
12. The Rejection of Sakuntala in the Mahabharata: Dynastic Considerations
13. A Royal Hunt for a Lineage: Kshatriyas, Apsarases and the Gandharva Marriage
14. The Many Mothers of Abhijñanasakuntalam: Constructing, Celebrating and Confining Motherhood
15. The Ring and the Amulet: Love and Memory in Kalidasa’s Abhijñanasakuntalam
‘ … [With] fascinating contributions from a multidisciplinary group of scholars from India and abroad … [this book] opens Kalidasa’s famous Sanskrit drama, Abhijnanasakuntalam, to a host of new insights and interpretations and stimulates much new thinking on its role as a seminal document for an understanding of traditional attitudes toward gender, class and power relations in pre-modern India.…’
Robert P. Goldman, Professor of Sanskrit, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley
‘ … In this collection ... literary critics, Sanskritists and historians analyse … the Abhijnanasakuntalam from multiple points of view. The book explores the mutation of the story into variant versions, their material and performative contexts, the ambivalences in the representations of an idealised king and the politics of romantic love, marriage and motherhood. [It] should prove indispensable to students of both literature and history.’
Kunal Chakrabarti, Professor of Ancient History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi