D. D. Kosambi
Even the comprehensive work of Winternitz (Geschichte d. lndischen Literatur III, 137-145) gives us next to no definite information about the person of Bhartrihari, one of the greatest of all Indian poets and the first to be presented to the West. The reason is simply that no substantial information exists that would seem convincing to any critical mind. The poet could not have been a king, nor the brother of Vikramaditya, whatever the fablists narrate. That he was not a Buddhist is clear from the ardent and perhaps sincere vedantic verses in praise of Shiva that occur in his Centuries (V. 85-91 etc.). His identity with the author of the Bhaktikavya, or with the grammarian, or with the royal disciple of Gorakshanatha is very doubtful. Some of these negations need no proof, others will be justified later in passing. Only the uniformity of Indian tradition remains to assure us of the existence of a single person who wrote the Niti- shataka (N) , the Vairagyashataka (V) and the ShriIigara- shataka. Certainly, these works in their present form, whether the work of one or of many authors, succeed in creating a marked impression of a pronounced literary physiognomy.
It is the Bhartrihari or the pseudo-Bhartrihari, or even the Bhartrihari syndicate of the N. and the V. that I mean to analyse here as a literary personality without further discussing the vexed question of his existence. The nature of the dissection must, therefore, deal less with the author as a historical personage than with the total mass of literary tradition handed down to us in his name; it will also affect the class of people whose extraordinary powers of appreciation enabled them to preserve a dazzling poetical treasure while completely erasing the author's biography. Well in keeping with the lopsided traditions of this uncritically appreciative class is the (sixth) edition, cited here, of the N. and the V. by M. R. Kale, still so popular as a text in our schools and colleges. Kale's own able Sanskrit commentary, with the slipshod printing of the text itself, and his positively gruesome English translation (which can be used only as a powerful argument against the employment of English as a medium of instruction in India) are all completely characteristic. In what follows N., N'. and V., V'. indicate the verses that Kale takes as authentic and as apocryphal in the two books respectively.
It must be understood at the very outset that the poet is worthy of any critic's efforts: that he is a great poet. When confronted with the lines written and the sentiments expressed by some of the world's greatest poets, the comparison will not always be in his favour. But let it be clear that at the very least he sustains the comparison, as no second-rate poet would, without fading immediately into obscurity. Many in India have tried to imitate his verses, without even approaching his success. If for nothing else, Bhartrihari would deserve a place in the front rank of world literature for his consummate handling of so difficult a language as Sanskrit. Variety , ease, facility, clarity, emphasis, and, when necessary, ornate imagery are all at his command without degenerating into the mere rank floridity of later "poet's poets". Few could exceed the force of his epigrams, the finality with which the sentiment is rounded out in many of his concluding half-lines. No ordinary versifier could possibly write such polished phrases, the translator's despair, as: "Life leaks away like water from a cracked jug" (V.39)
"unsipped, at moonrise, the potion of the fair one's tender lips; our youth has passed away fruitless like a light (burning) in an empty house" (V.47: "how lovely the beloved's face stained with hot, scintiIlating tears of anger. (V .80:
The senseless and sometimes revolting mannerisms such as the ever ferocious lion, the rutting elephant (N .29, 30,38), and the mythical rain-thirsty chataka bird are unhappily too discernible, but not fatal as they would have been to a lesser craftsman. It would be difficult to match the sweetness of (N. 51; apocryphal) :
"O friend rain-bird, listen carefully for a moment (to my advice). There are many clouds in the sky, but they are not all alike. Some drench the earth with their downpour, and some just thunder in vain; don't beg pitifully from everyone that you see.
In fact, our Bhartrihari must have been not only a poet by profession, but one fully conscious of the nobility and permanence of his calling. According to him, if a good poet went unrewarded, it was the heavy- witted king and not the poet himself who was at fault (N. 15). He speaks in the first person when matching a king's neglect with his own royal scorn (V. 52,53). Poetry confers immortality:
"Victorious are the great poets, masters of sentiments and emotions, alchemists possessed of the elixir of life; the body of their fame fears neither senility nor death." (N. 24 ). Here the poet transcends time and space to join a kindred spirit, Dante, in his reliance on fame as a second life ( cf. the seconda morte): "If I should be a timid friend to Truth, I fear to lose my life among those who will call this time antiquity" (Par. XVII, 118- 120: e s' io al vero son timido amico/temo di perder viver tra coloro/ che questo tempo chiameranno antico. ) .
Unfortunately, our hero does not always show the same fol1rsquare stance to the blows of fortune as does Dante ( "Iosto ben tetragono ai colpi della fortuna"). Both speak of the misery of enforced voyages in strange places, the bitter taste of a stranger's bread (Tu proverai si come sa di sale/lo pane altrtrl e come e duro calle/lo scendere e'l salir per l'altrui scale. Par. XVII, 58-60). But Dante's exile was due to a firm stand by his civic principles (Epistole, XII), a refusal of amnesty with even the slightest tinge of dishonour. Bhartrihari claims only the motivation of greed, and his chief lament is that there was, after all, no real gain: (V. 4) .
"I wandered through difficult mountainous territory quite fruitlessly, rendered service after jettisoning proper pride of class and family-unrewarded; with a complete abandon of self- respect, I ate in strangers' houses with the timidity of a crow (picking up scraps); and thou, o sin-loving greed, waxest and art not yet satisfied."
Our poet claims to have tried other trades: dug for treasure, smelted ores, crossed the ocean, served kings, slept in cemeteries to fulfil magic rites; and he begs greed to leave him because he gained never a penny (V. 3). By contrast with the divine restlessness of Dante's Ulysses (Inf. XXVI, 112-120) Bhartrihari's efforts as well as his renunciation seem ignoble, earth-bound. No sense of adventure, none of the true explorer's spirit, the exhiliration of visiting absolutely unknown territory, the joy of treading where no human foot had trod before (non vogliate negar l'esperienza/di retro al sol del mondo senza gente ) seems ever to have moved any Indian poet who has survived the passage of time. Rather than with Dante, one is led to compare Bhartrihari with that thoroughly earthy figure of the Italian Renaissance, Benvenuto Cellini; and here again our poet suffers by the comparison. Cellini too served princes, crossed the Alps, worked with metals-without actually smelting ores, and tried necfomancy by night ( V ita, I, xiii) .But whatever he gained or lost, he had no regrets, remained always the whole man, the typical Renaissance figure concentrating all his energies on the task in hand. And he took pleasure in the effort, whether the end was merely the satisfaction of his lust or the production of a masterpiece in the history of art. The world was always the richer for his activities; even his autobiography, with its blunt, forthright, unadorned prose remains a master- piece of its kind.
Old age brings no peace of mind to our poet nor any real repentance for the misdeeds of youth: only regret for pleasures no longer accessible:-
"The body is contracted, the gait totters, teeth fall out, eye sight is lost, deafness increases, and the mouth slobbers. Relatives no longer respect one's utterance, one's wife neglects her care; alas for the travails of old age when even the son becomes unfriendly (V.74). On seeing white hair on the head, the white hag of a man's surrender to old age, the girls avoid you from afar as they would a well for untouchables marked by its bundle of (bleached) bones (hung on top as a warning)" (V. 75). All these sentiments ring painfully true but, as means of inspiring renunciation, rather ignoble. Even that most thoroughgoing of rakes, Casanova, took old age more gracefully than this.
We know of at least one great European poet who felt in his ripe old age the pangs of unrequited love, the mortification of having his advances repulsed by a young maiden. Further, Goethe was also dependent on a petty Court and served, in various capacities, the princeling of Weimar. He actually did the many things Bhartrihari only claims to have done, and had an excellent technical knowledge of many trades-mining and refining ores among them. Goethe had a tremendous literary store and mastery of many. verse forms some of which he was the first to introduce into his own language. From such a person, one might expect something similar to the two shlokas cited above, and yet one finds this:
Ueber allen Gipfeln,
Ist Rub, In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vogelein schweigen im Walde,
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
[ Over all the peaks is peace, in all the tree-tops can'st thou discern hardly the stir of a breath; the little birds fall ; silent in the woods. But wait, thou too shalt soon have thy rest. ]
This famous 'Wandrers Nachtlied' conveys its message in the simplest possible language. Night must fall and with it will come rest for the wanderer, whether it be rest from the wandering of a day or the final rest from the long journey of a whole lifetime. Goethe's Faust, blind and near death, still plans with his last remaining spark of life the vast project of draining a fenland (Faust, II, Act V, 11559-11586) and thinks that the achievement of this service to his people might be the finest moment of his life. But it is to be noted that Faust hates the very idea of renunciation; for him activity is life itself; therefore he typifies the restless German ef the age of industrial expansion following Goethe, just as Dante's Ulysses foreshadows all the great trade-seeking explorers of the Renaissance. Renunciation is, after all, a form of negation; and negation is the function of Mephistopheles: Ich bin der Geist, der stets vemeintl
But surely the comparison with an European poet of so recent a date is hardly fair to Bhartrihari, because of the difference in the means of production of their respective environments. So let us first look at the poetry of Sadi, also an oriental poet. one who lived in a world whose means of production could not have been unrecognizably different from those that prevailed in the time of the Indian. As both addressed essentially the same type of audience, the similarities between them are profound, Sa'di's Karimti is filled with maxims comparable to those of the N., and written with a clarity that dooms it like- wise to use as a school text, Some resemblances of phrase might even seem too close to be purely accidental (N.70):
= nehad shakh pur meval. sar bar zamin,
The tree or the branch loaded with fruit becomes humble, bows down to the ground. Perhaps, Sa'di's traditional visit to the court of Delhi might have something to do with this concordance, though this is not the place for tracing the origin of the particular phrase or of other resemblances between the two poems. What must interest us much more is the striking difference between the two poets. With the use of simpler language, the Persian (Gulistan ) is far more vivid and colourful, more of a human being, because of the range of his sympathies and experience. He did not wander for sordid motives. but for the love of travel and adventure. He knew the routine of courts, of camps, and of caravans. His figures of speech do not disdain even the trader.s vocabulary, Bhartrihari mentions trade and agriculture only once ( N. 107 ), and then shows about as much acquaintance with them as he does with aviation when-in the very next line-he mentions the possibility ol "passing birdlike through the broad sky, with the utmost effort.
;besides, the moral of the couplet is that the force of destiny is superior to all human endeavour. As a good Muslim, Sa'di must have believed in destiny, but the tough old man who could chide his soul for not having lost its childishness at the age of forty (chehal sal 'umre .azizat guzasht mizaje, to az hale tifli nagasht) would hardly have given up so easily.
Comparing Bhartrihari with foreign poets can only lead to defects in the structure of his philosophy. No criticism can be called substantial that does not judge an author on the basis of his own axioms, within the frame-work of the author's own implicit universe of discourse. For this purpose, the N. is of very little value, since what maxims it does contain are of a lower middle-class outlook on life; and there is no real arrangement or unification, in spite of various efforts by commentators, that could show the full contours of a pragmatic philosophy. As a guide to action the N. is practically useless. The sensuous love-poetry of the Shringara would be better, but no one dares take it as the author's highest effort, whatever its beauty of expression. In fact, the point even of those lascivious verses is supposed to be the vanity of mere enjoyment, preparation for a final renunciation of the worldly life. I take the liberty of doubting this common assumption, because I for one find it difficult to say, in many cases, without a conscious effort of memory and on the basis of internal evidence alone, to which of the three centuries a given sloka belongs. Let us, therefore, not take any of the three centuries as characteristic, but rather look critically at Bharhihari's summum bonum: let us see with clear and unprejudiced eyes just what sort of vairaigya the poet desires: (V.99)
"Fixed in the padmasana seat upon a Himalayan slab on the banks of the Ganges, lost in a yogic trance in the contem- plation of the Eternal, shall I ever see those blessed days, when old untimid stags rub their bodies against mine?" Now, clearly, this is not the utterance of a man who has actually tried the joys of yogic contemplation, but of one who feels how happy he might be if he achieved it, in the yet distant future. The composer of these lines still hankers after physical sensation, such as that of the stags rubbing themselves against him: sensation which would be completely inhibited by any really successful trance, yogic or otherwise. The perfect yogi must, as in all Indian tradition, beg his food, wear rags (V.66, V.l00); in addition, Bhartrihari wants the performance to take place at Banaras:
(II v. 66, also v. 88, V'. 13). The begging and the rags are apparently an end in itself, an actual part of the final achievement. The Buddhist almsman, on the other hand, was made to beg for entirely different reasons, at least by the founder of the religion. He was to have no attachment to any sacred place; begging was necessary to prevent the accumulation of property and the return of worldly attachmentS therewith. The Buddhist monk was originally supposed to be a wandering public teacher, one,whose function was to educate society in a new social doctrine. Bhartrihari's is a purely individual effort which could never have been adopted by the whole of society; one which does not involve any social obligations, not even a thought for that unfortunate portion of the popula. tion which has no such renunciatory yearnings and is therefore condemned to produce the grub that the yogi must beg and to weave the original cloth from which the yogi's garment of rags must be pieced together.
The real nature of this renunciation becomes clearer when we look at its fruits ( V. 95, cf. V'. 31) .
"The earth an attractive bed, his arm an ample pillow, the sky a canopy, the breeze a serviceable fan, the moon for a bright lamp and detachment his mistress, the peaceful ash-besmeared ascetic sleeps as happy as any king". That is, our ascetic at bed- time fairly wallows in all the pleasures of the worldly life which he claims to have renounced, down to a mistress. Only, instead of the real thing, he has substitutes. I-tsing wrote of a Bhartrihari who alternated no less than seven times between the pleasures of worldly and monastic life, and Winternitz believes the legend to be derived from the history of our poet. But the couplet just cited seems at best to indicate neither the monastic ideal nor a full share of worldly enjoyment; only the satisfaction of a man who utilised, contemplative life to find palatable substitute, for, what he he has mised during his pursuit of the vita activa. A look at the Dhammapada how the real thing should have gone:
"Happily ,shall we live, those who have nothing at all; on the food of universal love, we have become like the abhassara gods." (At best V' 16, which is the only verse I can find of Buddhist type, has a very faint resemblance to this.) By contrast, Bhartrihari's can only be called "Ersatz- Entasgung". One should no longer be surprised on finding that this renunciation is not recommended for all: (V 67)
"If, before you, you have the songs of accomplised southern poets and behind you tbe tinkle of ornaments worn by whisk-bearing attendant, maidens, then be a glutton for worldly pleasures; but if yon haven't these things, o mind, hasten to enter into undisturbed contemplation". That is if you are a king and can make a good thing of it, carry on; otherwise, give up the pleasures of the world which are beyond your reach. At the very least, this should dispose of the legend that Bhartrihari actully was a king; one feels that he would have taken his own advice and carried on.
Starting with praise and recognition of a high literay position, we have kicked Bhartrihari all the way down the literary ladder. Before closing this note, we have to raise him up again to his proper level, to show that whatever his failures by his own or by any other standards, he does achieve one outstanding success which explains rge survival of his poetry and which gives him an indisputable cklain to greatness.
I hope that I have dismissed the superstition that the East is naturally more philosophical than the West, and in particular that it is Bhartrihari's professed philosophy that makes for his greatness. As a matter of fact, for appreciation of pure intellectual beauty, none of his verses will compare with Shelly's Ode; Keats is more of a kindred spirit. Horace shows a far deeper appreciation of the duties and of the lasting pleasures of life, pleasures that do not lead to the renunciation of satiety or of non-attainment. But then Horace knew what it meant to renounce the wide range of careers offered to any well- connected Roman by the early empire, and to achieve a proper renunciation by concentrating, not without effort, upon his poetry; so, he also knew enough to envy the "tough guts of the peasants". Virgil planned and began, if he did not live to com- plete, what would probably have been the most grandiose ')f the world's literary masterpieces; but the author of the Aeneid was still enough of a rustic to write good poetry in the Georgics. In a different medium, Holbein's dance of death (Totentanz) expresses more real philosophy than one can easily distil out of the Centuries. Sometimes, it seems to me that more philosophical content than in a dozen slokas is expressed by Holbein's single diminutive woodcut of a toil-bent peasant behind his plough, helped on by compa:osionate Death towards a shining city on the sunset horizon. Certainly, Giotto's campanile and its reliefs convey more to me of the worthiness of human life in its various possible fields of endeavour than does the whole of the N.
Nevertheless, I repeat, Bhartrihari is a great poet for what he does succeed in portraying. He is unmistakably the Indian intellectual of his period, limited by caste and tradition in fields of activity and therefore limited in his real grip on life. The only alternatives open to any member of his class seem to have been the attainment of patronage at court, or retirement to the life of an almsman. The inner conflict, the contradiction latent in the very position of this class, could not have been made clearer than by the poet's verses. This also explains the "popularity" of the verses themselves in the face of far superior and more philosophically inclined doctrine available in all Indian literary forms. That is, precisely this class was, and still is, interested in the preservation of Bhartrihari's poetry.
The varying aspects of such class-life naturally render any orderly arrangement of the subject matter superfluous, and had hitherto made it impossible to do anything in the why of stripping the quasi- philosophic renunciatory guise from the writings themselves. Had the limited aspirations, the general futility of that class-life been made explicit and unmistakable, a more complete negation presented beyond the "renunciation", the poetry would have become intolerable to the class itself, and would not have survived. The poetical physiognomy of Bhartrihari is actually the physiognomy of the Indian intelligentsia of an age that has not yet passed away.
We might illustrate this in detail by inspecting Bhartiihari's attitude towards women. They have a frank lustful attraction for him which he reveals with gusto. A young nymph crushed by the act of love ( N.44
, a beautiful woman's ripe breasts and thighs (V.46:
devastating glances (V. 48:
N. 85: :
generate attraction, admiration, desire, which he can never conceal even in these two centuries. The third, of course, is devoted almost exclusively to the topic with an appetite that makes Ovid seem pale and colourless in comparison. Entrancing maidens (N. 104):
are among the fine gifts of good fortune! There is no overspiced Hellenistic aberration here, and certainly no Freudian repression of the libido; not even Archilochus could have been more frank and unashamed as to his weaknesses. One can only pity the miserable pedagogue who, even in the strongly anaesthetic atmosphere of a modern Indian classroom, has the completely unenviable task of paraphrasing in an unerotic and decent manner, to a mixed class of adolescent boys and girls, such juicy bits as:
By degrees, excess and satiety creep in, women become snares and temptations, (V.65, V'.9, 19, 20, 34, 38-44) to be treated with hydriotaphic avoidance (V'.19:
The logical destiny of this attitude is to lead to absolute disgust for what once seemed charming-and may again become irresistible (V. 17)
:etc., which should be compared for repulsive effect with Juvenal's description of the female after finishing her gladiatorial exercises. But there is always the notable distinction that the Roman wants a cure for the social evils of his time, whereas the Indian only looks to his own individual salvation. There seems in Bhartrihari to be not even the consciousness of the fact that woman is herself a human being, has her share of this world's sufferings, and might also feel the need for renunciation, for freedom from: her own peculiar sorrows and problems.
Yet, the picture so far is not only incomplete, it is actually false to the poet's own sentiments. One stanza breaks with quite incredible force through the general impression hitherto produced to give the unbiassed reader a profound if brief glimpse of the truth usually missed by professional critics and litterateurs, true but not very worthy members of Bhartrihari's own class. (V.22: )
"If he did not visualize his wife as sad-faced, unfed, miserable, with her worn raiment constantly tugged at by pitiful, hungry, crying children, what man of self-respect would ever beg for the sake of his own accursed belly, in quavering, broken words that die in his very throat for fear of refusal?" ( cf. also V'.12).
This betrays the real fear of the poet's life, the grim spectre of starvation that confronts him and his family unless he can beg his way into favour. No member of the modem un- propertied, technically incompetent, intelligentsia in this country can read the lines without a shudder; those who talk of the peculiar situation of the Bhadralok in Bengal might consider whether the same dread does not stalk them too. Surely.. this is not the obvious attitude for a man who shuttled between the court and the monastery, who alternately enjoyed and re- pented of his enjoyment of life. The solitary effort shows a far deeper feeling for the family tie than would be proven by a whole new Century on the virtues of a householder's life. Even in bourgeois-capitalist countries, the dread of unemployment is always the most potent factor in the maintenance of an outworn productive system; with what greater force must this motive have acted when the capitalist forms of production had not cast their shadow upon India, and no real employment existed for our intelligentsia apart from the favour of a wealthy patron or resort to the almsbowl?
The promiscuity of the Centuries is not so much a characteristic of this country as of the class and of certain forms of the artistic temperament; it exists to as great an extent in the West except that no one there ever has had the courage to express it so frankly. For the rest, Bhartrihari did know something about women of pleasure, as he mentions varangana (N.47), panyangana (V.66). And he did not live in a society that professed belief in the ideal of monogamy, whatever may have been its general practice. So, his single lapse into sincere consideration for wife and children seems all the more significant, by sheer contrast.
Whether or not it might seem to us a proper subject for poetry or social philosophy, the appreciation of a little wealth and the extreme dread of poverty are quite convincing in our poet's words. "All those identical limbs, the same actions, that undamaged intellect and the very speech: yet how strange, that without the warmth of wealth, the same man becomes instantaneously someone else" (N.40):
(Also, N. 39, 41, 44, 49). This is even more strikingly put in an epigram which the editor relegates to the apocrypha:
An exhausted penniless being rushes to the cemetery and begs a corpse to rise and take off his load of poverty for an instant, in order that he might enjoy forever its death-bom happiness; but the corpse, knowing that death was far, far better than poverty, is silent! (V'18) :
From this economic oppression, escape was possible only by the sudden accession of wealth, or renunciation of all such desire. For the first, there were no regular social paths; no success stories of the "From Log Cabin To White House" type, nothing to interest Horatio Alger. Only luck can bring a windfall; hence the general fatalistic bent, at its strongest in N . 90-108. On the other hand, renunciation too requires a strength of character not usually developed by our penurious intellectual. Either the gain of wealth or successful renunciation are impossible for the entire class as such without a complete social revolution; even the individual achieving either thereby manages to declass himself. So, we have a more practical way of escape, the purely literary expression of sensual enjoyment (which in actual practice would be impossible except for one of considerable means); or, its continuation, an equally literary expression of the joys of renunciation. Bhartrihari's verse does not express the supposed "dual personality of the Indian", forever oscillating between two extreme poles: renunciation of the senses and their voluptuous gratification. It is on the contrary, and par excellence, literature of escape. Bhartrihari's philosophical beauty is just a facade erected by the members of his class, to mask their real use of his poetry .
Bhartrihari, then, is the poet of his class; a class that had not fulfilled its function, and a poet who, try as he might, could not but lay bare the class yearnings and weaknesses. This at once explains his success and his failure. But he is not a poet of the people. The Indian poets who made a real and lasting place for themselves in the hearts of the people came from the people themselves, and not from this narrow helpless stratum shut off from the masses by birth, training, occupation or the lack of it, language and culture. Those poets spoke the languages of the people, addressed themselves to the people and not to the court. Every child knows their names, and every peasant their songs. Even our intellectuals, as scholiasts and editors, try to suck a little of their vital blood. Kabir, Tukarama, Tulasidasa: what portion of the country does not pussess its own poet of the sort? But only one Bhartrihari sufficed, because the intelligentsia could and in fact needs must take the trouble to learn his language; and he had put their case in words that could not be matched. This class was perhaps the most convenient tool of the ruling power, whether indigenous or foreign, in the enslavement of the Indian people. To a considerable extent, it still maintains this anomalous position.
One of my critics holds that all Sanskrit literature is im- personal; that neither Bhartrihari nor any other Indian poet of unknown biography can be judged by what he claims to have done, in his own verses. This would be relevant if my critique were directed towards the private life, and not the writings alone, of Bhartrihari. After all "impersonality" is a characteristic of all literature, not specially of Indian poetry. The great author need only project himself into an experience, not neces- sarily have had the experience itself; as witness so many touch- ing passages relating the thoughts and behaviour of a character on the point of death. But the mechanism of this projection, the images and phrases which the writer utilizes, must unconsciously reflect the structure of the society in which he func- tions, must inevitably bear the stamp of the class to which he belongs.
That Bhartrihari must have been a brahmin seems reasonably certain. His most convincing figures of speech ~re brah- manical (N. 42,48). The king's wrath burns even those who serve him, as the fire might its officiating priest ( N. 57:
(original in Sanskrit missing)
When begging, the pious high caste people whose doorways are blackened with the smoke of many sacrificial fires are to be approached by preference (V. 24:
(original in Sanskrit missing)
What is the point of reading scriptures (V. 72: (original in Sanskrit missing)
when realizing the inner joy is the proper "activity" for man? If there be wealth, all the virtues and caste itself might go to the nether world (N. 39:
(original in Sanskrit missing)
By con- trast with these, the rare mention of the kshatriya's profession seems ridiculous, such as "splitting elephants' heads with the sword" (V. 47:
(original in Sanskrit missing)
But he must have been a brahmin of a comparatively late period. Certainly, he could not have belonged to that earliest of all stages when the brahmins were yet to develop as an in- integral part.of the social system; when they were still fulgitivcs in the woods, living spiritually on the exaggerated memories of a culture destroyed by fighting invaders ( later to become the kshatriya caste) and subsisting upon roots, wild fruit, cattle. This period, however, left its mark on the language in the form of two bits of wish- thinking: the cow and the vine that fulfil all desire: kamadhenu and kalpalata; these are reflected in the advice our poet gives to the king as to the best means of exploiting the earth (N. 46). Even the later ideal of retiring to a sylvan life after having enjoyed that of a householder is absent in Bhartrihari, whose renunciation hardly rises above complete aesthetic paralysis (V. 97, V'. 8, 29: N. 81). He can only have belonged to the period after the Mauryan "universal monarchy', after the brahmins had saturated all petty royal courts as ministers and advisers, had saturated the lower sociaI strata as priests, had finished their chief contribution to religious and productive organization by outmoding the age of great monasteries, and were at the beginning of their last great phase, a literary expansion of secular type. This can hardly have been much before the fourth century A.D., and might not have taken place simultaneously over the whole country. Any attempt to assign a very early date for Bhartrihari would have to cope with the reference to the ten incarnations of Vishnu (N. 100:
,and to the hermaphrodite Shiva (V. 18:
(original in Sanskrit missing)
The authenticity of these two stanzas can be challenged, as also of the Shringara verse
, which extols the pale golden complexion of Shaka maidens. But the word samanta, originally 'neighbour', can only mean 'feudal baron' in V. 42. This usage, though current in the 6th century, would be difficult to establish before the Gupta period. Therefore, the late 3rd century A.D. would be the earliest reasonable period for the Bhartrihari who saw this beginning of Indian feudalism, but no empire of any size.
At no period had the brahmin caste, whether priests or not, a position fully comparable with that of the Roman clergy. It lacked the organization, the popular recruitment that gave a possibility of close contact with the masses; it could never have performed the function of sheltering the germination of new productive forms concentrated in the free ecclesiastical cities, which meant the end of feudalism in Europe. It had never a regular and official means of livelihood. At best, the caste was like the mistletoe: a beautiful parasite regarded witll superstitious reverence by the multitude, but whose unlimited proliferation was at least a symptom if not the cause of decay.
The greatness of an author does not lie in mere handling of words. Indeed, the finest craftsmanship of such manipula- tion is impossible without the expression of a new class basis. This does not mean that every writer who seeks enduring fame must express only the glory of the dictatorship of the proletariat: it is doubtful if Shakespeare could have grasped the meaning of the word (proletariat) itself except perhaps as a mass of Calibans. But in Shakespeare's day there were other classes, the new trading gentry for example, that had begun to force their way to the front and had yet to become, in their turn, obstacles to human progress. One must remember that, 'dur- ing the course of its struggle against the old, every new class tends to assimilate and identify itself with the entire oppressed section of the human race-to take its own victory as the total desideratum of the progress of civilisation. In our own day and country, we have seen the worst aspect of this phenomenon only too often. How many talk of India and its needs when they are really making a case for a little greater share of the spoils for themselves and their minute group?
[This brings us, in passing, to the problem of literature for a classless society, after a socialist revolution. How is it that the new literature in those countries where such revolutions have been completed does not yet show the same relative power in the way of new authors and impressive new literary forms that may be seen with the earlier social changes? In all pre- vious cases, the new class had formed in the womb of the old, and had begun to express its new ideals, needs, and aspirations in literary form precisely because political expression was not feasible at the earliest stage. This is manifestly impossible in a true socialist revolution where the common working-class people, the vast and often illterate majority, must necessarily assume power. The transition has never been smooth, according to modem history, but on the contrary the result of the grimmest possible social and economic disasters. The urgent problem before such a post-revolutionary society is to overtake and to surpass the anti-socialist but technically more advanced countries. At the same time, there is a costly struggle with this hostile environment, which constantly attempts to crush the dangerous innovation, to strangle the new social forms. Nothing in all extant literature was composed in or for a society without division into antagonistic classes- not even the utopias that visualized such societies. The writers who continue to function in the new society bear the stamp of the old. Even the 'progressive' writers cannot help the smell of decay which they carry from the rotting away of the class that supplied their models, to which they generally belonged, and towards which they were oriented in their formative years. This inner contradiction, which leads so often to the. dismal 'boy-loves-tractor' school of literature, is not to be cured by party directives, nor by fiery resolutions at writers' conferences. The cure can only come through the fully developed literary taste of the entire new society, which means universal literacy, and full availability of the classical writing in that particular language. The development of new art forms and the changed relative position of literature has also to be considered. The cinema, television, radio should have, at least on occasion, produced scripts that could be additions to literature. But the deadly influence of the newspaper with its advertising meant to sell any goods for private profit, its processing of news to sell shoddy ideas for class profit, and the vile sensation-mongering that sells the paper while diverting attention from serious cracks in the foundations of the social structure-all these have completely changed the function of the written word even in bourgeois society. The new society will, in some way, have to link its aesthetic problems directly to those of production. New social art forms must develop in a radically different way, just as dance, music, poetry, drama, painting, and sculpture developed out of primitive, pre-class fertility rites, initiation ceremonies, and sympathetic magic. It is difficult to imagine Plato's "music and gymnastics" in a modern factory, only because we have not yet begun to develop the units and forms of real social production that will dominate the future, and therefore not even visualized the innate harmony and the unforced natural rhythm that must accompany such production.]
The great poet in a class society must not only express the position and aspirations of an important class, but must also transcend the class barriers, whether explicity or implicity .He must lay bare some portion of the structure of society, pointing the way to its future negation. (Where Bhartrihari fails to do this effectively his greatness is fictitious, loaned to him by the class itself ). This is most easily done in the period of class emergence, and explains why, in so many great literatures, the greatest names come at the beginning and not at the end of their historical development; why the Alexandrians could only gloss the Homeric epics, not create them. It also explains the power of such writing to attract readers centuries after the society that was heralded arose, flourished, and passed away. Often, the newly developing class takes so much time to assume its rightful place that the new poet has little chance of contemporary material success, and passes his life in obscurity.
The Indian asks for far less. Having forgotten his petty lusts. trifling fears, vain longings, he speaks to his relations the elements, with the loving and noble humility of a St. Francis of Assisi, a gentle word in that final moment of the ultimate sublimation of personality .
Fergusson & Willingdon College Magazine, (Poona), 1941. under the pseudonym "Vidydrthi". Reprinted with minor changes in Bhliratiya Vidyd, vol. IV, 1946, pp. 49-62. The critical text or Bhartrihari's stanzas is in my editio princeps: "The Epigrams Attributed to Bhartrihari" (original in Sanskrit missing) Singhi Jain Series no.23, Bombay 1948.