Bhartrhari Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Accounts of Bhartrhari’s (BAHR-tree-HAH-ree) life vary. The chief sources for details are the dramatic work by Harihara, Bhartrharinirveda (n.d.; The Bhartrharinirveda of Harihara, 1904), and the journals and notebooks kept by Chinese Buddhist scholars who studied in northern India during the Gupta Empire (fourth to sixth century c.e.). Most accounts concur that Bhartrhari was native to Ujjain, Mālwa state, where he also died. He was born into nobility, perhaps the elder brother of King Vikramāditya or a king himself. Bhartrhari studied under the grammarian Vasurāta and may have worked in the court of Maitraka, king of Valabhī, in the state of Gujarāt. In accordance with Hindu practice, Bhartrhari eventually renounced his material wealth to live as an ascetic, or sannayāsin, in a cave near Ujjain, in order to devote himself to his studies.

The works attributed to Bhartrhari, all fifth century c.e., are the Srngāraśataka, the Nītiśataka and the Vairāgyaśataka (translated together as The Nitisataka and Vairagyasataka of Bhartrhari, 1902), a collection of poems entitled Bhattī kāvya, and his grammar study, for which he is best known, the Vākyapadīya (The Vakyapadiay of Bhartrhari, 1977). In his grammar, Bhartrhari drew from yoga and other Hindu philosophies to assert that words (sphota) bear both universal, spiritual meaning and spiritual powers linking humans to brahman.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Living during the golden age of Indian culture, Bhartrhari became, along with the poet Kālidāsa and the philosopher Dinnāga, a major representative of Sanskrit culture. By articulating the spiritual power of language and the Vedas, he helped to assure the continuation of Brahmanical ideals.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Coward, H. G. Bhartrhari. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Sundararajam, K. R., and B. Mukerju, eds. Hindu Spirituality I: Vedas Through Vedanta. New York: Crossroads, 1997.