Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shakuntala: human and divine

I was reading Colista's post as well as other people's comments from Nov 27th, and I decided to create a new entry in response.

I think it's important to remember that Shakuntala is both human and divine. She was born from a nymph who took human form to tempt the sage Kaushika away from his concentration in meditation because the Gods were jealous that his power was beginning to equal their power.

This point alone is quite inviting. Shakuntala's entire existence is the result of one man seeking spiritual liberation through meditation. What ever happens to Kaushika? What does it mean that the gods are jealous? How would Kalidasa or anyone claim to know what the gods think? I do believe, however, that when a person seeks spiritual liberation, they will come up against every obstacle that remains a personal hindrance for them. It is not so much the gods' jealousy, as it is Kaushika's own struggle with his judgments about sexual intimacy and passion. A beautiful person is born because of Kaushika's so called "weakness" in succumbing to the temptations of the nymph. Is Kaushiaka made a more compassionate person as a result of doing the thing he believes is wrong? How many good things come from our own humanity? Does grace constantly transform our shortcomings into something productive?

When Dushyanta learns about Shakuntala's birth story from her friends, he responds, "This quivering lightening flash is not a child of the earth." This is an essential detail. Shakuntala is different from her friends and from the other hermits at the hermitage in that she was born from a relation between the human and the divine.

This spiritual endowment empowers Shakuntala in a way that other women living and working within the cultural norms of 5th Century patriarchal Hindu society could not have experienced. She is different from the queens, she is different from her friends. I feel that she represents this "difference" that we all are called to be, but so often fail to be.

She lives out her truthfulness and transparent existence even in the face of complete rejection and humiliation from both Sharngarava and the King, and she is saved. This act of grace is incredibly powerful, more powerful than any human force of ego or desire. I think we are being reminded of the necessity of becoming our best selves and of living from this place even in the midst of great adversity.

1 comment:

George said...

Good quesitions... is it Casey? your post?
We have to remember that these categories mean something very different in the Hindu pantheon than they do in a Judeo-Christian context. The qualities that we attribute to the words "human" and "divine" given our cultural background vary tremendously from culture to culture. Look at the behavior of the "divines" ... for that matter look at "human" behaviour with a caste system that is set up and accepted by the main characters in the Bhagvad Gita. What is clear is that both of these categories have clear places within fixed roles that we may or may not understand. However to make any application in our current context we have to first understand the context of the original. Might be a good thing to find some research about as we go into table work this week!