The Indian origins of the Cinderella story
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Cinderella in India

Indian ring

November 2016 - This story comes from the Sanskrit epic poem the Mahabarata. It was probably being told at least by 500 BC, during the Vedic period, and was written down by 300 BC or so. This is the earliest version of the Cinderella story that we know.

In this story, an unfortunate mother had to abandon her baby, Shakuntala, in the forest, where the birds brought her up, and then Kanva Rishi took Shakuntala into an ashram - like a monastery- in the Himalaya mountains.

One day King Dushyanta was hunting in the forest and shot a deer. When he rode up to finish killing the deer, he saw Shakuntala crying over it, because it was her pet deer. The king fell in love with Shakuntala at first sight. He begged her forgiveness for killing the deer, and soon they were married.

Dushyanta gives the ring to Shakuntala (Nepal, ca. 1050 AD)
(Metropolitan Museum, New York)

Soon King Dushyanta had to go back to the city. He gave Shakuntala his ring, and said he would send for her soon. But while she was waiting, Shakuntala was accidentally rude to a visiting magician. The magician cursed her. He said that whoever she was dreaming of would forget all about her! But then he felt sorry for her, and changed his curse so that King Dushyanta would remember her again if he saw the ring. But the magician didn't tell Shakuntala anything about the curse.

Read the rest of this story
A later version of Cinderella from ancient Egypt
An even later Cinderella story from ancient China

Bibliography and further reading about the Mahabharata:

More Indian literature
More about ancient India home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 29 April, 2017