Union and Separation as Metadrama in Sakuntalam

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Portrayal of Union and Separation Taking the form of Meta-drama in the Śākuntalam

Kālidāsa’s intention in the Śākuntalam is to show love in its full manifestation by portraying the different facets of ś®ïgāra-rasa. However, at the end of act III, when love finds its consummation in the union Dußyanta and Śakuntalā, it may seem strange to a cultured spectator that the ideal of a spiritual discipline, which, indeed, is the ultimate goal of Kālidāsa, is presented in terms that are not acceptable even in the secular realm of aesthetics. Ethically one may resist such a relationship – in spite of Dußyanta’s high-sounding declaration that the Gāndharva mode of marriage has the approval of recognized authority – but it remains a fact that the energies of love are not constrained by socio-ethical norms, a point which Kālidāsa, as a keen student of humanity, drives home to his reader’s mind by depicting the pre-marital dalliance of Dußyanta and Śakuntalā. The force of this apparent scandalousness is not to be underestimated: it adds to love’s intensity. And it accords with the basic nature of love, for love presupposes two “others” whom it binds together. In the same way, without a separation between the two lovers, love would be without any occasion whatever. Hence, Kālidāsa effects an alienation between Dußyanta and Śakuntalā and recasts all the events already dealt with, once again, on a meta-dramatic plane in the latter half of the play.

Yet, the ontological value of this alienation (resulting in what is technically called Parakīya-bhāva, a state of mind in which one of the lovers feels that he/she does not belong to the other) in aesthetics has its limits. If it were external it would preclude any possibility of ultimate realization. Furthermore, extra-marital or pre-marital liaisons, being unethical, cannot serve as the ultimate moral standard; being obscene they destroy the value of any artistic experience of which they might form a part.

It is only in the cause of generating intense longing that the ultimate belonging of one to the other is obscured and the lovers appear separated. They later discover themselves to be husband and wife, in accordance with their deeper nature, and this produces a wonderful happiness which gives the assurance of a long-lasting relationship. Their illicit status serves the purpose of intensifying the bond of emotion that connects the two poles. Their separation is not the cause of Rasa, for that subsists eternally; it only augments it.

In the final analysis such alienation is perceived only out of ignorance. The possibility for such a misconception arises only because the play of love takes place on two different planes. Parakīya (one of the lovers feeling that he/she does not belong to the other) is what is manifest; Svakīya (the lovers feeling that they are each other’s ‘mine’) belongs to what is unmanifest. Although the illicit form of love is what is more immediately manifest, it is not ultimately different from the unmanifest play that undergirds it – a līla in union. The manifest is contained in the unmanifest; their differences are only apparent. The two categories are interconnecting, even redundant. The playing out of the unmanifest is not visible to the naked eye; but, then, there is no denying the fact that it is the idealized reality which has the power to transform the apparent separation/alienation – which is a mere dream (Svapna) or illusion (Māya), or the result of some mental aberration – into its own nature. The transformation is effected by the simultaneous playing out of the manifest and the unmanifest. Hence the meta-drama.