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Bhartrahari - Peter Malakoff

Bhartrahari is known as one of the greatest Sanskrit poets of all time. Born in fifth-century India he was a king who loved women and reveled in his appreciation of their form and delighted in amorous play with them. Along with his well-developed eye for erotic and physical beauty he came to realize the limitations and suffering of the sexual pleasures he indulged in as well as the orientation of his life towards satisfaction altogether. In this way, he also came to yearn for spiritual liberation. This was a felt impulse he gained from observation and experience,

it was not derived from morality.


Considering the pleasures of the flesh to be opposed to the ascetic practices of a renunciate, he felt a dilemma between his desires to choose between the pleasures of erotic love and the company of beautiful young maidens, or the liberation oriented ascetic life of a renunciate in the forest. To Bhartrahari, they were mutually exclusive and he could not have both.

His poetry celebrates the many aspects of physical and romantic love between a man and a woman and mixes the metaphors of erotic love with the yearning for liberation in the common cup of ‘desire’- the quality he found in both.

Sculpture image from temple at Khajurahao

The Poetry of Bhartrahari

Translated from the Sanskrit by Barbara S Miller


I do indeed speak without bias;
this is acknowledged as truth among men.
Nothing enthralls us like an ample-hipped woman;
Nothing else causes such pain.


Your hair well-combed, your eyes reaching to your ears,
your mouth filled with ranks of teeth that are white by nature,
your breasts charmingly adorned with a necklace of pearls,
slim girl, your body, though at rest, disturbs me

What is supreme among visions?

The face of a fawn-eyed maiden delighted by love.

Among fragrances? The breath of her mouth.

Among sounds? Her Speech.

Among tastes? The nectar of her budlike lips.

Among textures? Her soft body.

What is most worthy of a lover's attention?

Her distraction with love in youth's early bloom.

Sculpture image from temple at Khajurahao

Cut off all envy, examine the matter,

Tell us decisively you noble men,

Which we ought to attend upon:

The sloping sides of wilderness mountains

Or the buttocks of women abounding with passion

When I was ignorant in the dark night of passion
I thought the world completely made of women
But now my eyes are cleansed with the salve of wisdom
And my clear vision sees only God in everything


As long as the body is healthy and strong
as long as old age is far away
as long as your senses are still able to function
as long as you still have many years to live
you should work for your spiritual growth by
remembering the Lord


– Bhartrahari


Bhartrihari discovered that his favorite queen desired someone else;
but this queen’s lover was in love with a beautiful courtesan
and this courtesan was in love with him - Bhartrahari.

As a result of this, Bhartrahari became disgusted with life and amorous love

and he renounced the world and became a recluse and a poet.

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