Bhāravi Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bhāravi (BAW-rah-vee) is the author of Kirātārjunīya (seventh century c.e.; Bharavi’s Poem Kiratarjuniya, 1912), one of six of the most famous Sanskrit mahākāvyas (short epics) ever written. Bhāravi’s mahākāvya is based on an episode in the Mahābhārata (400 b.c.e.-400 c.e., present form by c. 400 c.e.; The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, 1887-1896) in which the hero Arjuna, while worshiping Lord Śiva, is provoked into a fight by a kirāta, or mountaineer, who is out hunting. In actuality, the hunter is a disguised Lord Śiva, who is testing the valor of his devotee. When Arjuna discovers the true identity of his invincible adversary, he falls down and worships him. Lord Śiva is satisfied with Arjuna’s bravery, skill, and piety and presents him with a pāśupata, a magical weapon for use against his enemies.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bhāravi’s kāvya contains brilliant descriptions of natural scenery while being marred by artificiality and verbal tricks that quickly become tiresome. Some lines give the same sense and sound whether read forward or backward, and certain couplets can be read four different ways with four different meanings, while some stanzas have only certain syllables and sounds. Yet Bhāravi’s work sets forth a felicity of expression and mastery of verse that remain unequaled among kāvya writers, and his story of Arjuna and the “mountain man” is highly regarded in Indian literature.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Chandrasekharan, K., and B. H. S. Sastri. Sanskrit Literature. Bombay, India: International Book House, 1951.

Gangopadhyaya, Mrinalkanti. Bharavi. New Delhi, India: Sahitya Akademi, 1991.

Har, Saktipada. Bharavi and “Kiratarjuniyam”: A Critical Study. Calcutta, India: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1983.

Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra, Achut Dattatraya Pusalkar, and Asoke Majumdar. The Vedic Age. Bombay, India: Bharatiya Vidya Bhaban, 1951.

Roodbergen, J. A. F., ed. Mallin-atha’s Ghant-apatha on the Kir-at-arjun-iya. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1984.