While on a hunting trip, King Dushyant of the Puru dynasty meets the hermit-girl Shakuntala. They fall in love with each other and, in the absence of her father, Shakuntala weds the king in a ceremony of 'Ghandharva', a form of marriage by mutual consent with mother Nature as the witness. When the time comes for Dushyant to return to his palace, he promises to send an envoy to escort her to his castle. As a symbolic gesture he gives her a signet ring.
One day when the hotheaded hermit Durvasa stops at her hut for hospitality, Shakuntala, lost in her love thoughts, fails to hear the guest's calls. The temperamental sage turns back and curses her: "He whose thoughts have engrossed you would not remember you anymore." On the plea of her companions, the enraged sage relents and adds a condition to his curse-statement: "He can only recall you upon producing some significant souvenir."
Days roll by and nobody from the palace comes to fetch her. Her father sends her to the royal court for their reunion, as she was pregnant with Dushyant's child. En route, Shakuntala's signet-ring accidentally drops into the river and gets lost.
When Shakuntala presents herself before the king, Dushyant, under the spell of the curse, fails to acknowledge her as his wife. Heart-broken, she pleads to the gods to vanquish her from the face of earth. Her wish is granted. The spell is broken when a fisherman finds the signet ring in the guts of a fish - the same ring that Shakuntala had lost on her way to the court. The king suffers from an intense feeling of guilt and injustice. Shakuntala forgives Dushyant and they are reunited happily. She gives birth to a male child. He is called Bharat, after whom India gets her name.