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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

The Recognition of Shakúntala
(अभिज्ञानशाकुन्तलम् trans. Somadeva Vasudeva)


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To purchase The Recognition of Shak˙ntala

Title: The Recognition of Shakúntala
Author: Kālidāsa
Genre: Drama
Written: ca. 400 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 363 pages
Original in: Sanskrit
Availability: The Recognition of Shakúntala - US
The Recognition of Shakúntala - UK
The Recognition of Shakúntala - Canada
Sakuntala - Deutschland
  • Sanskrit title: अभिज्ञानशाकुन्तलम्
  • Translated, Edited, and with an Introduction by Somadeva Vasudeva
  • Includes a (Romanized) version of the original text
  • Includes an appendix of chāyā -- Sanskrit paraphrases of the Prakrit passages
  • See also reviews of other translations of Abhijnanasakuntala:
  • There are many other translations of this play; among those available online are those by Monier Monier-Williams and Arthur W. Ryder (pdf)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : handy, useful edition, solid (though less than ideal) translation

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Recognition of Shakúntala, a 2006 translation by Somadeva Vasudeva, offers yet another English rendering of Kālidāsa's play -- the single most famous and influential (certainly in Europe) Sanskrit drama. A volume in the estimable Clay Sanskrit Library-series, it offers several advantages over other currently available editions -- among them its handy size, as well as the fact that it is a bilingual edition, presenting the Sanskrit text facing the English translation (albeit, as throughout this series, in a Romanized version, rather than the original devanāgarī script). Vasudeva also provides a moderately useful Introduction: he unfortunately fails to discuss the previous translations, as well as the long-term literary reception and influence of the play, but does provide useful background and information about text-specific matters.
       The Recognition of Shakúntala is an accessible and timeless work. Elements are comfortingly reminiscent of Greek and Western theater -- including a Prologue, in which the Stage Director and an Actress discuss the play that is to be performed, as well as an almost Shakespearean fool-figure, the Buffoon --, yet there is also a great deal of novelty.
       The story is a fairly simple one, which begins when King Dushyánta spies Shakúntala in an ascetic retreat (a "penance grove" as Vasudeva's unfortunate rendering has it) and falls in love with her. Of course, this sacred hermitage is devoted to a higher spiritual plane, and so Shakúntala is troubled when she finds she too is moved:

What is this ? No sooner have I seen him than I have become susceptible to feelings out of place in this penance grove.
       They're in luck, however: Shakúntala was born from a nymph, and hence is ripe for the plucking (i.e. she's not a completely off-limits ascetic) -- and so the two come together and (secretly) marry. Of course, not everything goes smoothly: "The attainment of desires is beset by difficulties." Curses don't help either .....
       Shakúntala is right to be concerned when the King is called back to the city: "will he remember what happened here or not ?" Of course, the answer is: not. But there's a ring inscribed with his name he gave her, and all she has to do is show it to him and it'll all come back to him. But, of course, she loses the ring, and when she appears before him again, even though he is quite taken by her, he has to say: "Though I reflect, I cannot recall marrying her ladyship." And so they're tragically parted -- even as the King admits to himself:
Though I cannot recall marrying
       The sage's daughter I rejected,
but my sorely pained heart seems to want me to.
       The year's pass, the principals quite miserable ("He's suffering another bout of the 'Shakúntala'-disease, I don't know how he can be cured", the Buffoon complains) -- but then the ring is found and the King's memory restored. Of course, Shakúntala still has to forgive him for rejecting her all those years before ... but, yes, there's a happy ending.
       The Recognition of Shakúntala is a long, seven-act play and the story is related in a variety of ways. Much of the action is played out directly on stage, but some of what happens is related only in dialogue between characters; there are also numerous asides, as characters speak only to themselves (and the audience). The different approaches, and how the story unfolds make for a surprisingly exciting and appealing play.
        Despite the many unlikely and supernatural occurrences, the play is also remarkably grounded -- due mainly to the way that the King and Shakúntala are presented: while the hurdles they face are unlike those any reader ever would, their feeling and actions are those of any lovers.
       Vasudeva's translation is fairly literal and lacks most of the poetry and more natural elegance of those by Miller and Ryder. There is, however, a lot to be said for his textual fidelity -- and the advantage of having the Sanskrit text alongside the English one is that comparison with Kālidāsa's original words is easy. So, while Vasudeva's rendering does not stand ideally on its own, it is a helpful gloss on the original.
       If much of the translation is more stilted than Miller's (much less Ryder's much freer rendering), Vasudeva occasionally does well -- as in when he has a go at conveying a compound (which Sanskrit is, of course, full of):
This bákula tree seems to hasten me on with its wind-stirred-tendril-fingers.
       Miller has the same scene as:
The new branches on this mimosa tree are like fingers moving in the wind, calling to me.
       If not completely a tin ear, Vasudeva does not have a fine one, and while some of his word-choices and phrasings can be excused on the grounds of stricter textual fidelity, it's a shame he did not take this a step further, and, for example, offer more such compounded expressions.
       With a helpful appendix of chāyā (Sanskrit paraphrases of the Prakrit passages (such as the one just cited)) and the original Sanskrit alongside Vasudeva's workmanlike translation, this inexpensive and handy edition of The Recognition of Shakúntala should be the default choice for any reader whose interest extends -- even if just slightly -- to the Sanskrit original. However, readers who care only to get a feel for the Sakuntala-story likely will be better served with one of the earlier translations.
       [Note: This is a volume in the Clay Sanskrit Library. While bilingual, the Sanskrit text is not printed in the traditional devanāgarī script, but rather Roman/Latin letters (unlike, for example, the M.R.Kale editions of Sanskrit texts). This can take some getting used to, but is relatively straightforward; usefully, also, this allows for the divisions of compound words (samāsa) to be indicated throughout.]

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 January 2010

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The Recognition of Shakúntala: Abhijnanasakuntala: Kalidasa: Other translations of Abhijnanasakuntala under review: Other works by Kālidāsa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Kālidāsa (कालिदास) probably lived during the reign of Candragupta II (ca. 380-413). Only three dramas and a few poems of his survive, but he continues to be revered as one of the greatest Sanskrit playwrights and poets.

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