Monday, July 12, 2010

"Penitence" in Shakuntala

This seems to be a constant theme in the production:
Dushyanta meets his love in a grove of penitence... and even before this receives an omen of happy love. Why does the story have this in a "penitential grove?" Remember we spent a good deal of discussion on how to name the grove in our adaptation.
Some thought penitential sounded to prison like.
Others said it was too negative, too much focusing on sin.
Yet the balance seems to lie in Dushyanta's affirmation:

Yet to inevitable things

Doors open everywhere.--

Is it therefore "inevitable" that there will be a need for penitence in their relationship?
Or is it just dramatic contrast?
Either way, the idea of penitence does not seem negative to the inhabitants. They seem to be earnest folk who do penance not only for themselves but for others.
Remember that Shakuntala and Dushyanta reconcile in a different place of penance.. this time on Golden Peak.
Dushyanta's long self inflicted penance after rejecting Shakuntala is perhaps the thing that sets the stage for his doing battle with the Kalanemi. Is he facing his own demons?
I wonder if we experienced this a little in our own engagement of this text.
Likewise when he confesses to Shakuntala, she is ready to forgive and to take the blame upon herself:

Surely, it was some old sin of mine that broke my happiness--though it has turned again to happiness. Otherwise, how could you, dear, have acted so? You are so kind.

Significant as well: both Shakuntala's "father" and Dushyanta's mother are engaged in prayer ceremonies at the time of the meeting of the two.

In our process we spoke about the demon forces working as distractions to the good fortune of these two lovers, perhaps as an attempt to avert the birth of Bharata the "all-tamer."
This realization led us to compose the storyteller's line:

How fast upon the heels of good do evil forces strike!

It is important to note as well that Shakuntala was born from an moment when Vishwamitra was distracted from his austerities. Why was Menaka sent? As a test? A challenge? An attack on his good intentions? Or a humbling of a spiritual pride that was sterile?

What is the message about penance/prayer that Kalidasa is aking us to consider?

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