Shakuntala’s companions, convinced that her physical affliction is brought about by her lovesickness, coax her to reveal her feelings, suggesting that “a cure can only be found if the disease is known”.
Our heroine after much hesitation relents to her companions’ prodding and eventually gives in, bashfully confessing her love for King Dushyant. Anusuya and Priyamvada are delighted to hear Shakuntala’s admission of her feelings of love towards Dushyant, as is Dushyant who, hiding behind a clump of trees is overjoyed to hear his beloved’s admission of love for him.
Shakuntala, however, is gripped with the uncertainty of whether her feelings will be reciprocated by Dushyant, and is dejected by the prospect of his rejection. Prodded and encouraged by her friends she however, in Kalidasa’s narrative, sits to write a letter confessing her love on a lotus leaf.
When she reads aloud the contents of her letter to her friends, seeking their approval for her expressions of attachment, the king who is hiding behind a clump of trees, finds it impossible to restrain himself any longer. Delighted by Shakuntala’s confession of her love for him he emerges to reveal himself to the three women and declares his love for Shakuntala:
“Love torments you, slender girl,
but he completely consumes me—
daylight spares the lotus pond
while it destroys the moon”
The artist of the painting ignores the romantic narrative of Shakuntala writing a letter to reveal her feelings to Dushyant, as we find no traces of the letter anywhere in the painting. Here she is depicted keenly listening to Dushyant, flanked by her two companions, her centralising figure echoing the manner of rendering of a deity or royalty. We discern none of the bashful behaviour of the textual Shakuntala, as our painted Shakuntala stares confidently at her beloved, meeting his eyes in a steady gaze.
The environment also echoes the artist’s inclination for a rustic realism as opposed to the fantastical environment described in the text - of a forest comprising of Kalpa-Vrikshas - wish-fulfilling trees - and where the flowing waters acquire a golden hue from the lotus pollen. In the painting, on the other hand, two majestic pines loom over on the left and countless others intersperse the mountainous scapes. The realism of the environment is also augmented by the simple and homely hut, half hidden behind two shady trees.