The event depicted in the painting is used by Kalidasa in his text to highlight Shakuntala’s compassion, generosity and love for the trees and plants of the forest, and their reciprocal affection, as well as contrast the difference between the two spaces of the forest and the court of Hastinapur, where one is marked out as a sanctuary far removed from worldly wealth and its acquisition while the other founded in the very accumulation of objects of wealth.
After Shakuntala has taken the ritual bath before beginning her bridal ceremonies, her companions wistfully rue the lack of jewellery that the beautiful Shakuntala ought to wear, especially as she will enter the palace where such worldly accoutrements are required. As Shakuntala’s friends give voice to their wish, according to Kalidasa’s text, a young sage from the hermitage comes bearing fabulous jewelled ornaments and rich garments of silk for Shakuntala to wear.
When asked how such opulent ornaments could enter the space of the hermitage, where these objects are shunned and have no value, the sage revealed that these jewels were the gifts of the trees and plants of the forest. When the hermits were asked by sage Kanva to gather flowers from the trees to adorn Shakuntala, the celestial beings residing in the trees themselves lavished gifts of a silken marriage dress, lac-dye for adorning Shakuntala’s feet, and ornaments fashioned of rich gems.
These gifts were a token of their appreciation and their parting gift to Shakuntala as she had selflessly engaged herself in their ministrations. Her friends take these gifts as a gracious token of the queenly happiness that Shakuntala would enjoy in the palace of Hastinapur.
The artist however, eschews Kalidasa’s narrative of the otherworldly forest beings bestowing gifts on Shakuntala, in favour of depicting two celestial beings who have descended from the heavens bearing gifts for the new bride. As she is just about to be adorned by her companions, the celestial beings are shown entering her humble dwelling from the right - one bearing a tray of jewels, while the other carrying clothes draped across his shoulders and his arms which as Kalidasa’s text says were as ‘luminous as the moonlight’.