Shakuntala and Her Friends Listen to the Recital of Holy Scriptures

UnknownMid 19th Century

National Museum - New Delhi

National Museum - New Delhi
New Delhi , India

After the successful completion of the sacred sacrifices of the sages of the hermitage, King Dushyant proceeded to his capital at Hastinapur, leaving a pining Shakuntala behind, with the promise that he shall welcome her as his queen at his palace at an appropriate time, once he has settled the matters of the court.

Kalidasa’s text describes the pining Shakuntala in detail as she pensively reminisces about Dushayant. Engaged in day dreaming, she neglects her activities. This neglect of duties costs her dearly.

Offended by Shakuntala’s lack of due courtesy in appropriately receiving and honouring him as a guest of the hermitage as she is preoccupied by thoughts of Dushyant, the powerful sage Durvasa known for his irascible temperament curses Shakuntala that Dushyant will forget her.

Our artist depicts the listless day-dreaming Shakuntala as a contrast to her friends who listen to a story of the astonishing exploits of the gods with deep fascination. While her friends Priyamvada and Anasuya listen in rapt attention to the young sage's tale, their hands on their chins, their attention focussed upon the young sage, Shakuntala, who is absorbed in thoughts of Dushyant, sits staring at the young sage and seems unmoved by the tale, her hands knotted at her knees her thoughts engaged elsewhere.

The artist depicts the scene as an everyday occurrence in the life of rural women who collect to listen to the tales from the scriptures as an act of piety resulting in the accumulation of good karma. The artist brings out simple details of rural life, in the depiction of the little mud-plastered hut of Shakuntala, its surrounding porch, the pots and vessels inside and outside the hut, the sage’s accoutrements, such as his water vessel kamandala next to him, the deer skin wrap around his shoulders or the deer skin mat that he sits on. The sage is given an honoured status as the women have seated him on a mat - they however in deference to his pious sanctity have chosen to sit on the ground. Around the figures an assortment of lush foliage of exuberant trees with differently shaped leaves fan out. In the background the jagged edges of a mountain mark the left of the painting.


  • Title: Shakuntala and Her Friends Listen to the Recital of Holy Scriptures
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Mid 19th Century
  • Physical Dimensions: 33 x 37 cm
  • Style: Nalagarh / Hindur
  • Accession Number: 89.503/17

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