Friday 5 August 2011


Bharthruhari was an invincible grammarian and a genius, ranking among the greatest scholars India has ever seen.  He was not a yogi, but a master of the highest spiritual attainments.
There are two versions about his poorvashraman (the first half of one’s life, before taking to asceticism).  One says that he was a Brahmachari (unmarried man) throughout his life.  Another version says he had a wife, but became a detached man in the prime of his youth and took to sanyas.  The circumstances that led him into spirituality are believed to be as follows.
It was a serene morning, when a yogi (an ascetic) came to Bharthruhari’s house.  He was impressed by the unalloyed warmth and hospitality extended by the host.  So the yogi gave a divine fruit to Bharthruhari.  “This is not an ordinary mango.  It has divine powers.  If you eat it, you will not be affected by old age.  You will be blessed with eternal youth.  And you will live a long life too,” he disclosed, before he left.
Bharthruhari was very fond of his wife.  So he gave the fruit to her.  He also revealed its miraculous power to her.  But the lady was not a Pativrata (a woman devoted to her husband).  She had an eye for her husband’s horse keeper.  She gave the mango to her paramour and revealed its secret.  He, on the other hand, was fond of his wife, who was a maid at Bharthruhari’s house.  He called her aside and gave it to her.
In the evening, she was preparing to return home after completing her chores at Bharthruhari’s house.  She took the mango and set off.  Meanwhile, Bharthruhari was returning home after attending a grammar session in a school, a little away from his house.  He saw the maid carrying the fruit, which he had very lovingly given to his wife.  He became suspicious.
“Where did you get this fruit?” He queried.
“This is a gift from my husband”, she said gaily.
He immediately summoned the horse keeper and quizzed him.   At first he did not yield.  But when his master repeatedly questioned him, he had to tell the truth.  Bharthruhari was deeply hurt and grief stricken.  He could not get over his wife’s disloyalty.
“I have showered my wife with so much love and affection.  But she has given her affections to the horse keeper.  Women are not trustworthy.  However, I will not ask her anything about the fruit,” he decided.  He then floundered into his bedroom and lay on the cot, lost in melancholy.  Soon news reached his wife through a servant sent by the horse keeper.  She was upset.  She was sure her husband would kill her paramour and involve her in a scandal.  Her fear made her decide to kill her husband.  She rushed to the kitchen and quickly prepared a pan cake and mixed poison in it.  She then took it to her husband.  “It will take some time for me to cook supper.  Here, have this pan cake now.  By the time you enjoy a short nap, supper will be ready.”  She offered the poisoned pan cake to Bhattathiri (or Bharthruhari) with a coy smile.  He took it from her, well aware of her malicious intent.  At that instant, he decided to leave her and enter sanyasa (asceticism).
“This pan cake shall set this house ablaze,” he uttered and sprang to his feet.  He came out of the house, squeezed the pan cake into the gable of the roof and left, taking only an earthen pot with him.  After he left, a sudden fire broke out and his house was burnt to ashes.
He began to lead the life of an ascetic, wandering from place to place, completely detached from the material world.  After a few years, he settled down permanently in the premises of a temple (it is believed that he settled down at the famous shrine of Lord Siva at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu).  There was already an ascetic named Pttanathu Pillai who had settled down in the eastern gopuram (gate house).  So Bharthruhari chose to settle down in the western gopuram, with his earthen pan.  People began to give him bhiksha (alms) and he lived on that.  There were days when he had to starve.  But out of practice, he was able to starve for days together and still be healthy and energetic.
One day a beggar approached Pattanathu Pillai to seek alms.  I am a beggar like you.  I don’t have anything to give you.  But there is a rich guy sitting in the western gopuram.  If you go to him probably he will give you something”, Pattanathu Pillai said to get rid of the beggar.  Without wasting time, the beggar went to the western gopuram and met Bharthruhari.
“I too am a beggar.  How can I help you?” Bharthruhari said helplessly.
“But the sage at the eastern gopuram told me that you are rich,” disclosed the beggar innocently.
Bharthruhari was astonished at this.  But in a moment, the actual import of Pattanathu Pillai’s remarks dawned on him.  He realised that what Pattanathu Pillai was actually targeting was his earthen pan, which symbolised the act of taking or moha (desire, one of the five aspects of materialism).  He was convinced that a true ascetic would never expect alms of any kind from anybody.  He realised his folly and immediately threw away the earthen pot, which was shattered to pieces.
From then, he completely devoted himself to literary pursuits.  All his acclaimed works were penned during his stay at the temple.
Article by : Sreekumari Ramachandran
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 September 2008
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