Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Damn the cupid....

The word "Centurion" means "The commanding officer of a roman army, of one hundred men". This word is often used now with reference to a cricketer who scores hundred runs in a match.  The terms "Double centurion" and "Triple centurion" are used to describe an achievement of scoring two hundred and three hundred runs respectively.

Poet and philosopher Bhartruhari  is the Original Triple Centurion.  All other centurions are only his followers.  Except that Bhartruhari did not play Cricket.  The game or its name were not known in his time.  In many Indian languages, including Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Marathi, a hundred is called a "Shataka".  Bhartruhari has scored three hundreds by writing his three famous works "Shringara Shataka", "Vairagya Shataka" and "Neeti Shataka".  He might have even scored many more, but this is what we are left with now.  At least this much, to our good fortune.

Not much is known for sure about Bhartrihari.  He is reckoned as one of the great philosopher and lyrical poets of India, widely read and quoted even today. Some opine that he was the Buddhist grammarian mentioned by the Chinese traveler I-tsing, who visited India in the 7th century AD.  But a study of his celebrated works indicate that Bhartruhari was a worshiper of Shiva and not a follower of Buddha. Some stories say that he was a King of Ujjain, a city in present Madhya Pradesh or Central India, and lived in the 1st century BC.  He is also said to be the elder brother of King Vikramaditya (of Vikram-Betal fame?) after whom Vikrama Shaka (Computing time and years) is reckoned.  It is said that Bhartruhari abdicated the throne in favor of his brother Vikramaaditya after an incident which created disgust in him, after learning about his queen's infidelities. Vikramaditya is said to have two brothers, one of whom was by name Bhartruhari.  But it is also argued by some that Bhartruhari was younger to Vikramaditya.  What he was or who he was is not of importance now. What really matters is the worth of his works and the essence they carry even today.

Bhartrihari is considered as the author three collections or Shatakas of poems. There is also an opinion that he was the author of a Sanskrit Grammar work by name "Vaakyadeepika". Some others feel that the two Bhartruharis are different. The Sringara Shataka gives us little pictures of love. The Vairagya Shataka describes a gradual withdrawal from worldly matters, and the Neeti Shataka deals with ethical conduct. Bhartrihari portrays Sanskrit at its best: a lot is said in a two or four stanza verse on which pages of commentary can be written.  There is a deep sense of maturity displayed in all these creations.

One of the slokas in his "Neeti Shataka" is said to be the result of an event that occurred in his life.  He was engrossed in his life as a King and also enjoyed his domestic life.  He had a beautiful Queen and was deeply loving her.  A sage came to meet the King once and wanted to have an audience with him privately.  When only the two of them were together, the sage took out a fruit from his bag and handed it to the King.  He told the King that it was a divine fruit and should be given by him to the person he loved most in this world.  After the sage left, the King gave the fruit to his queen as she was the person he loved the most.  While giving the fruit to her, he told her about the visit of the sage and his instructions to give the fruit to his most loved one.

Next morning, one of the servant maids of the palace came to him and presented the same fruit!  He was surprised and asked her how she got the fruit.  She very shyly told him that one of the servants of the palace gave it to her as she was his beloved, but she loved the King and hence she was giving it to him.  When he called the servant and inquired from him, the servant reluctantly told the King that the Queen had given him the fruit.  The King realized the futility of worldly love and decided to renounc the throne.  He handed over the reins to his brother Vikramaaditya and went away to lead the life of an ascetic and later on wrote the three Shatakas.

The second verse of the "Neeti Shataka"sums up this episode thus:

यां चिन्तयामि सततं मयि सा विरक्ता, साप्यन्यमिच्तिजनं सजनोन्यसक्तः |
अस्मत्कृते च परितुष्यति काचिदन्या, धिक् तां च तं च मदनं च इमां च मां च ||

Yaam chintayami satatam mayi saa viraktaa, saapyanyamichhatijanam sajanonyasaktaha,

Asmatkrute cha paritushyati kaachidanya, dhik taam cha tam cha madanam cha imam cha maam cha 

"I am always thinking of her but she is not interested in me.  She is interested in some other man. That other man is not interested in her but he is fond of another woman.  That other woman is fond of me.! (All of us are chasing someone who is not interested in us). Damn her, damn him, damn the Cupid.  Damn her and damn me as well".

Thank God, the sage had only one such fruit with him and did not give similar fruits to others in this world!  Otherwise more than half in the world would have renounced the world ended up as hermits.

Ujjain is a beautiful place. The magnificent Mahakaala temple is a key attraction and the Shivalinga therein is one of the twelve jyotirlingas.  A half a day local sight seeeing trip in beautiful horse carts (Victoria or tongas) takes us to different locations of Ujjain along the banks of the river Shipra.  One such spot is called "Bhartruhari Gufaa" or the cave in which he is said to have lived in the later years of his life.  It is a stone structure and one of the stone slabs in the roof is broken in the middle and standing without support.  The imprint of a palm can be seen below this slab, at the point where the two broken pieces stand.  Legend has it that Lord Indra became scared of the penance by Bhartruhari and used his "Vajrrayudha", a celestial weapon to destroy the structure. But Bhartruhari used his palm to defend himself and keep the structure from falling down.

The three Shatakas are a source of time tested wisdom.  Bhartruhari has been my companion whenever I am traveling and helps me in easily putting up with hours of travel and seemingly endless waiting in airports and railway stations.  Each time one reads and contemplates on his verses, new meaning and insight unfold.  His two line or four line pieces will keep the flame of eternal knowledge burning for generations to come.


  1. Bhartruhari was my favourite poet too and Neethishataka was one of the texts prescribed.
    My Sanskrit lecturer, Shri K.R.A was our favourite teacher, who not only taught us sanskrit, he also
    taught true values in life. His influence on me is immense. No day passes without remembering him.
    Your above article is well written and motivating me to read the other two great works of Bhartruhari. Thanks to you.

  2. Really liked this post of yours........

  3. The real beauty of the verse cannot be brought out in least by me.

    Dhik taam cha tam cha madanam cha imaam cha mam cha ! First two words, taam and tam refer to the maid and man servant..(they). Imam refers to the queen and mam means me. Madanam is of course Cupid. Cupid is separating me and my woman...using the other set of him and her... excellent use of the simple words... many different interpretations can be given... It is like Khandasari Sugar.(Kallu sakkare)..Keep it in the mouth and go on sucking the sweetness...

  4. My exposue to Classics was confined to the little we studied at school and college - a bit of BANA and Kalidasa. Having left the country over 46 years ago I never got into reading these great works. Your blog motivates me to redress this.Thank you.

  5. Thanks Keshava! Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

  6. The good sage was a transformational teacher!

  7. Thanks for sharing the greatness of Bhartruhari. I was not aware about this great writer , thinker and philosopher !