When we open up Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection we’ll ask a simple but important question: what is the process by which the King enters the hermitage? It’s a pretty simple context: if the king doesn’t go into the “tranquil place” of the hermitage, he’ll never encounter Sakuntala. I won’t necessarily ask whether the hermitage itself is significant as a setting, though it may matter, as the hermitage is a “tranquil place.” As we all know from stories, tranquil places are a great places to get the heart thumping.
Wild rice grains under trees
where parrots nest in hollow trunks,
stones stained by the dark oil
of crushed ingudi nuts,
. . .
I’ll ask the students to consider how the king progresses from outside to inside.
I might ask about about the hunt, as hunts are great metaphors for conflict and narrative development. The hunt has a subject. The hunt has an object. The hunt has ritual. The space in Kalidasa’s work is ripe. The king is hunting at the top of the play and within the circle of the hunt is the grove wherein is the hermitage, which will be penetrated by the king, and once inside the hermitage the king will assume a different shape and he will penetrate still deeper into the circle taking us with him. Prior to entering, the king says, “We shouldn’t disturb the grove.” He tells his charioteer that he shouldn’t enter the hermitage with his hunting gear. At the appropriate time, the king says, “This gateway marks the sacred ground. I will enter.” Ah, the crossing.
Hopefully the students’ reading of the Mahabharata will assist them in their reading of the king’s thinking about entering the grove and his little twinge: ” . . . do I feel a false omen of love / or does fate have doors everywhere.” Sometimes we wonder about the significance of our actions, especially when we don’t know what’s beyond the door. If nothing of consequence occurs, no worries; if consequence follows, then we have narrative importance.