Kalidasa’s Play on Shakuntala does not elaborate a scene where her conversation with Gautami, the venerable sage and foster mother of Shakuntala, takes place after Shakuntala’s tryst with Dushyant in the bower.
Here, however, the artist has digressed to elaborate on an imaginary scene of the meeting between the two, and in their tête-à-tête, Shakuntala divulges her love for Dushyant and the intimacy shared between them.
In Kalidasa’s narrative, Dushyant and Shakuntala’s intimate relations are known only to her friends, Anasuya and Priyamvada, and later come to be known to Sage Kanva himself. This interesting elaboration upon the narrative enhances Gautami’s role and importance as Shakuntala’s foster mother and her daughter’s confidante.
Their attachment, love and affection for each other is highlighted by the gamboling puppy that playfully leaps about its mother, depicted on the left of the folio. Apart from the fact that the animals are depicted in an empty space, so that the viewer’s attention is drawn towards them, a swooping bird diving in their direction also directs the viewer’s gaze towards them.
The depiction of the dogs, to elaborate and metaphorise the theme of vatsalya (maternal love), is quite uncommon, however. In rendering the theme of maternal love, the most obvious metaphor should have been the depiction of affection between a cow and a calf, but our unconventional artist chooses not to follow a well-trodden path. This is even more surprising as in Pahari paintings cows are possibly the most popularly depicted animals, reflecting the pastoral lifestyle of the region.
Analogous to the animals, Gautami and Shakuntala are depicted facing each other, seated on a straw woven mat, on the porch of Shakuntala’s little hut, their gazes meeting in a steady regard while they converse with each other. Shakuntala is depicted in a gesture recounting her account, while Gautami depicted with a passive countenance, listens patiently, only her gesture of twiddling fingers betrays her anxiety regarding Shakuntala’s admission.
A fresh stream flows near the bottom, and an egret looks upon its inviting waters that gush in a steady stream. Little boulders and grasses mushroom its margins. Above, mountainous vistas roll out as far as the eye can see, dressed up by shoots of young pines that dot its surface. A patch of pale blue lightened with sweeps of white render the sky.