In the sanctuary of the hermitage of sage Kanva, the exquisitely beautiful Shakuntala accompanied by her two friends Anasuya and Primavada approach a grove of trees to water them, while King Dushyant, hidden behind a grove of trees, gazes at them, enchanted. Glancing at Shakuntala, Dushyant is awestruck by her ethereal beauty and immediately smitten by her.
The bees ensconced in the flowers of the Mallika tree are agitated when Shakuntala waters it and buzz around their offender in protest. Shakuntala, frightened by the pursuing bees, attempts to swat and evade them, while her antics amuse her lady companions. Dushyant, waiting for an opportunity to reveal himself and meet Shakuntala, chooses this moment to divulge his presence and offer his assistance.
The artist compositionally divides the painting into two halves, laying emphasis on the narrative on the top which comes later in the story, while rendering the incident with the bees as a backdrop. In the lower foreground, the artist depicts Shakuntala surrounded by swarming bees with her hands raised up beseeching her friends to rescue her, while Shakuntala’s companions watch with gestures of astonishment. Dushyant, hidden behind the trees from the view of the maidens, keenly observes and listens to their conversation, waiting for an opportunity to intervene.
At the top, nestled between a grove of banana plantains, the artist depicts the hut of sage Kanva, and Dushyant is shown seated outside it against a bolster. Dushyant, now acquainted with the three women, is depicted as being ritually welcomed as an honoured guest into the hermitage by Shakuntala, who applies tilak on his forehead and sprinkles flowers on him, while her companions look on.
Some stylistic tendencies of painting borrowed from earlier Guler-Kangra styles can be observed in the painting - the twisting vines of a flowering creeper on a tree is an idiom derived from Guler-Kangra, while the style of rendering the features of the women and their pale colouring is derived from late Kangra painting style of the 1810-1825.
However, the unique manner and sheer variety in rendering the trees and a sense of earthiness in their rendition rather than a delicate ornateness of the foliage of the Kangra style distinguishes the Nalagarh style with these earlier idioms.
The manner of depicting Dushyant, however, suggests that painting at Nalagarh was increasingly influenced by other schools as well. The distinct manner of the turban and the attire of Dushyant follows a very obsolete fashion - such garments were worn around the mid seventeenth century in the Mughal court. The attire of the women, on the other hand, follows the contemporary fashion of the nineteenth century favoured by village women.