The legend of "Bharat"

Like many of India's great leaders, including Gautama Buddha, Bharata was born to the warrior caste, the Kshatriya, to King Dushyanta and his Queen, Shakuntala. His early years were not the life of a privileged prince of the realm, nor even that of a pampered palace brat.

His parents met when his father, King Dushyanta, was out hunting and wounded a deer. Tracking the deer, he came upon it being nursed by Shakuntala, a young woman from the secluded little village of Rishi Kanva. Heart-struck by her compassion, kindness, and beauty, he was instantly and completely in love. The two married after the fashion of the Ghandarvas, a ceremony that requires no witnesses, and the king gifted her with a ring to proclaim her status as his wife. He needed to return right away but Shakuntala required some time to organize her affairs and then she would follow him. Unfortunately, as soon as he returned home, the love he discovered faded until he regarded it as merely a youthful peccadillo. In the meantime, Shakuntala had misplaced the ring. Without the ring, the king, relieved to be freed of an embarrassing burden, refused to acknowledge her. Devastated, Shakuntala returned to her home in the woods where she bore a strong, healthy son.

When he was six, his mother took him to his father and, once again, was repudiated. Exasperated, she warned Dushyanta that Lord Vishnu knew the truth and stormed out of the palace. The moment she left, mysterious voices warned Dushyanta of the penalties for lying, foretold that the boy was destined for greatness, and commanded that he be named Bharata. Dushyanta advised the court that had he merely taken Shakuntala in, she would never have been accepted but since the gods had spoken, he would willingly acknowledge both wife and son.

Bharata grew up to become a benevolent, beloved ruler with three wives by whom he fathered nine sons before adopting Bhumanyu, a twin who was born prematurely, some say when he was kicked out of the womb by his brother to be rejected again, this time by by his mother. As Emperor, Bharata had a much more democratic leadership style. Rather than one ruler over all India, he acted more like a CEO except that the board members were all kings and nobles. Under his rule, India grew and flourished. Unfortunately, his sons did not inherit his ability.

When the time came to choose a crown prince, Bharata was at a loss - none of his sons had what it took to be a wise and just king. Some stories say that the mothers killed their boys in disappointment but this is probably negative propaganda. After considerable thought, he appointed his adopted son, Bhumanyu, as crown prince. When it was pointed out that the law said the eldest must inherit, he reasonably argued that surely ability counted for more than accident of birth? His argument carried the day and his wise rule continued on for many generations.

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