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A little stone statue of a woman wearing a sari

Indian woman from the Mauryan period (ca. 200 BC), about the time of this Cinderella story

How old is the story of Cinderella?

This story comes from the Sanskrit epic poem the Mahabharata. Story-tellers were probably telling this story at least by 500 BC, during the Vedic period, and somebody wrote it down by 300 BC or so. This is the earliest version of the Cinderella story that anybody knows.

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Shakuntala had no mother

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

Buddhist monasteries
Hindu religion
Himalaya mountains

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

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

She meets the king

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.

Shakuntala marries the king

The king fell in love with Shakuntala at first sight. He begged her forgiveness for killing the deer, and soon they were married.

But they’re separated!

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 made it so that 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:

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