Dushyanta (Sanskrit: दुष्यन्त) was a great king of India in Indian literature. He was the husband of Shakuntala and the father of the Emperor Bharata. He appears in the Mahabharata and in Kalidasa's play The Recognition of Sakuntala (c. 300 CE). His name is also transliterated as Dusyanta or Dushyant, and means "Destroyer of the Evil" in Sanskrit.
According to the Mahābhārata, Dushyanta is the son of Ilina and Rathantara. Dushyanta was made the king for he was the eldest among his siblings Sura, Bhima, Pravashu, and Vasu. He was king of Hastinapur and ancestor of the Kuru dynasty. Dushyant met his wife Shakuntala while on an excursion from his kingdom at the hermitage of sage Kanva. Dushyanta and Shakuntala had a son named Bharata who went on to become an emperor.
The story of Dushyanta's encounter, marriage, separation and reunion with his queen, Shakuntala, has been immortalized in the Mahabharata and in The Recognition of Shakuntala by the great Sanskrit poet Kalidas.
Dushyant meets Shakuntala, who is a daughter of sage Vishvamitra and apsara Menaka, while on an excursion from his kingdom. Depending on the source, Dushyant is either the crown prince, or is waiting to win back his kingdom from an enemy. Either way, he sees Shakuntala in the ashram of rishi Kanva and falls in love. He and Shakuntala have a gandharva marriage there. Having to leave after some time, Dushyant gives Shakuntala a royal ring as a sign of their love, promising her that he will return to her.
When Dushyant becomes king, he becomes too absorbed for many years in affairs of the state. Shakuntala waits and despairs. One day, sage Durvasa visits the hermitage, but Shakuntala, who is too absorbed in her love for Dushyant, forgets to serve him food. In a fit of anger, sage Durvasa curses her that the person she is thinking about will forget her. A shocked Shakuntala begs for forgiveness and the sage, after recollecting his calm, assures her that the person will remember her again when she shows proof of their acquaintance.
Shakuntala sets off to the capital, Hastinapur, to remind Dushyant of their love. An accident occurs by which a fish consumes the royal ring, leaving Shakuntala with no proof.
Dushyanta does not remember Shakuntala, but his memory and love are rekindled when a sage recovers the ring and brings it to the king's court. Dushyanta weds Shakuntala, who becomes his queen and mother of his son, Bharata.
A different version of the story involves Shakuntala's father, the great and legendary sage Vishwamitra, who is said to have bowed his head to none. Dushyant's forgetting of Shakuntala was a plot invented by the other sages, including Vashishta, to make Vishwamitra bow. For the sake of his daughter, the great sage is said to have bowed before the great king Dushyant to persuade him to accept his daughter. The sages, delighted, immediately brought the memory of Shakuntala into the mind of Dushyant.
According to many literary sources, Dushyanta was the father of Bharata, who is generally credited with uniting India under his rule (see origin of India's name). According to the Mahābhārata Adiparva, Bharata was born while Shakuntala awaited Dushyanta at her hermitage. Later they were reunited.