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Durable Link to this BlogWednesday, August 30, 2006

Timeless Subhashitas of Bhartrihari

Bhartrihari (C 7th century C.E)

Bhartrihari the royal saint's subhashitas or epigrams in verse are very popular in Sanskrit. As is usual with all ancient writers of India, his biographical details are not available. Some legends state that he was a king of Ujjain and tradition exists that he gave up his throne to his brother Vikramaditya, being fed up with fraudulent, materialistic world and became a recluse.

Bhartrihari's three shatakas (collections consisting of hundred verses) are most quoted in innumerable works in Sanskrit. They are:
• On all nuances of carnal love and its treachery (Shringara sataka)
• On pure and pious life (neetisataka), and
• the last one extolling virtues of asceticism (Vairagya sataka),

These, Subhashita Trishati (three hundred wise sayings) were translated from Sanskrit into Dutch language as back as 1651 A.D by Abraham Roger. Bhartrihari's epigrams are universal. They are timeless. Human weaknesses and materialistic pursuits are made fun of, in a subtle way. Pious but precocious life is insisted upon.

An incident in Bhartrihari's life made him renounce worldly life. According to a legend, he had married a most beautiful woman Pingala, and was very fond of her. But she herself was enamoured of the security officer of the palace and had secret affair with him.

Once, a Brahmin came to his court and offered a fruit to him stating that after penance and meditation, God had given this fruit of eternal youth. But he had remained utterly poor, and had no use of fruit. Hence he wanted to part with it in return of some wealth and property.

The king at once obliged him with huge amount of money and took the fruit. However he gave it to Pingala, explained its virtues and told to eat it so that she may remain ever young and beautiful, and please him.

But Pingala gave that fruit to the security officer so that he would remain youthful. The officer himself was infatuated with a dancing girl of the king's court and presented the rare gift to her, hoping to monopolise her affection and youth.

The dancing girl not only respected Bhartrihari the king, but secretly cherished his attention and had unrequited love. She valued less of physical charms and thought of presenting this most valuable gift to the king, whom she thought, worthiest of all.

Seeing the same fruit of eternal youth, coming back to him, Bhartrihari was shocked and got traced its journey in full circle, through secret agents. This incident broke all his worldly attachments, exposing treachery in most naked form! He renounced throne, wife, world and every thing and became a recluse.

Here are few verses from his Neeti sataka translated from Sanskrit.

"The king (or ruler) is ruined by a wicked adviser, the monk by worldly attachments, the son by pampering, and the learned would turn dull without constant study. One loses status in bad company. The alchoholic is ruined with drinks and agriculture is ruined by non attention. Love and attachment are lost by constant travels. Friendship suffers due to lack affection and prosperity by renunciation or lethargy".

"A wealthy person alone is considered noble and learned. He alone is considered connoisseur of all learning. He alone is extolled as orator, and handsome. All virtues in this world are believed to reside in wealth, indeed!".

"Wealth can be used for charity or for the benifit of others. At least oneself can enjoy it. A wealthy person who does not offer (some) to others or who does not even use it for self, would get it all lost, in the long run."

Perhaps Pingala's story is born out of Bhartriharis utterances or vice versa. It runs like this "The damsel about whom I always dream is indifferent. She craves for another man. He in fact, runs after another woman. Some other woman pines for me. Woe begone to that woman that man, this man, this woman, g

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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