Reading through Kalidasa


Romila Thapar is something of a living legend. Professor Emerita in Ancient Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, she was awarded the Kluge Prize (effectively the "American" Nobel Prize) for Lifetime Achievement in the field of History in 2008.

Her Śakuntalā: Texts, Readings, Histories, first published by Kali for Women, is being reissued this month by Women Unlimited. Professor Thapar has written extensively on many aspects of our past. Her best-known books are, Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas; From Lineage to State; History and Beyond; Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History; Early India; Somanatha: the Many Voices of a History; and The Aryan: Recasting Constructs.

The importance of Śakuntalā as personifying Indian womanhood in Indian literature and culture is undisputed. This book attempts to explore some of the links between culture, history and gender, and between literature and history, through reading variant versions of the narrative of Śakuntalā. These include the stories in the Mahābhārata, the play by Kālidāsa, and the 18th century kathā in Braj. The transformation of Śakuntalā from an autonomous assertive figure in the Mahābhārata, to the quintessential submissive woman in the Kālidāsa version, is carefully examined by the author through a fascinating reading of texts and translations of the play in India and Europe.

The Telegraph called it ... the best book on Indian history to be published in the Nineties. The Hindu lauded Thapar's retelling of [the story] and her careful assumption of the role of a literary detective.

In our Gender Studies and History sections, in paperback, 282 pages, Rs 375. ISBN: 9788188965601

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