Regarding the Hundred Pearls from Bhartrihari… नीतिशतकम् (2)

Once again, Bhartrihari maintains his staunch dislike for the stupid, presumably the ones who do nothing about it.

There is a special ring to the meaning of ‘stupid’ – मूर्ख. Popularly, a stupid person is dim, slow and thick because the person is ‘like that’, so nothing can be done about them and their dimness/thickness/slowness.

Often in the Sanskrit literature, the term stupidity – thickness or obtuseness of intellect – is described as ‘जाड्यांधकार’ (=darkness caused by/in the form of obtuseness or thickness of intellect), which prevents the light of knowledge from piercing it.

But it is possible to move from darkness to light, albeit slowly and excruciatingly. One can and must strive for it. This makes a person fairly responsible for one’s obtuseness. Those who do nothing are derided for their inertia, and not quite so much for the obtuseness per se.

कालिदास  is an example. Legend has it that he was uneducated and dull-witted. There was an erudite princess who refused many proposals for marriage because she wanted a groom who at least equalled her if not bettered, in intellect and capabilities. Someone who wanted to take a revenge for her refusal, prepared Kaalidas as a मौन scholar and somehow got the princess to be married to him. When she found out the truth, she kicked कालिदास out. Insulted, rejected and hurt, Kaalidas went away to study and returned gems of Sanskrit literature (Kumaara Sambhavam, Meghadootam, Raghuvansham). He turned himself from a मूर्ख to a writer of timeless glory.

Therefore, सरस्वती, the goddess of knowledge, is glorified as the one ‘who removes obtuseness tracelessly (नि:शेष जाड्यापहा)’. one of the most cherished desire expressed to god is ‘तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय’ (May we shift from darkness to light). Obviously, the reference is not to the physical light and darkness, but the metaphorical ones.

In the same tradition, Bhartrihari is in no mood of sparing people stuck in the state of जाड्य. In the following मुक्तक he suggests that there is no external cure for a stupid: ‘there is a proven cure for all afflictions, but no remedy against a fool. Read it again, and consider: does he mean that there is no EXTERNAL cure? Does it mean that only a fool can bring himself out of foolishness? If so, it must mean that foolishness is a curable state, but only the sufferer has to step out of it:


शक्यो वारयितुं जलेन हुतभुक् छत्रेण सुर्यातपो

नागेन्द्रो निशिताङ्कनेन समदो दण्डेन गोगर्दभौ ।

व्यादिभेषजसंग्रहैश्च विविधैर्मन्त्रप्रयोगैर्विषम्

सर्वस्यौषधमस्ति शस्त्रविहितं मूर्खस्य नास्त्यौषधम् ॥ ११ ॥


शक्यो वारयितुं = (it is) possible to control/stop/thwart     हुतभुक् जलेन = fire by water      छत्रेण सुर्यातपो = harsh sun rays by a shade     नागेन्द्रो निशिताङ्कनेन समदो = mad elephant by sharp goad      दण्डेन गोगर्दभौ = ox and donkey with a rod     व्यादिभेषजसंग्रहैश्च = ailment with a collection of medicines    विविधैर्मन्त्रप्रयोगैर्विषम् = venom with use of mantra     सर्वस्यौषधमस्ति शास्त्रविहितं = (there is) a शस्त्र-मेन्तिओनेद् (= systematically derived, proven, appropriate?) cure for all     मूर्खस्य नास्त्यौषधम् = (but) there is no cure against a मूर्ख

Who are these stupid people? Some clues are here. Though Bhartrihari does not use the word “stupid” or refer to obtuseness, thickness, lack of refined, polished, sharp intellect; we can see what a serious lack of some true-blue elements in life can do.

साहित्यसङ्गीतकलाविहीन: साक्षात्पशु: पुच्छ्विषाणहीन:।

तृणं न खादन्नपि जीवमानस्तद्भागदेयं परमं पशुनाम् ॥ १२ ॥

साहित्यसङ्गीतकलाविहीन: = the ones unaware of / untouched by literature, music, (some/any form of) art     साक्षात्पशु: पुच्छ्विषाणहीन: = (are) animals without tails and horns     तृणं न खादन्नपि जीवमान = they live on even without eating a blade of grass     तद्भागदेयं परमं पशुनाम् = that is the ultimate destiny of those beasts

Have you noted that he, who has once been a prince and a king, does not mention money or power?

He says that being untouched by literature, art and music is to be a beast.

[Note to myself: Blow the dust off from my music notes, join some art class 😦 ]

While we are still hankering about keeping beast-dom at bay, read a bit more about the animals:


 येषां न विद्या न तपो न दानं ज्ञानं न शीलं न गुणो न धर्म: ।

ते मर्त्यलोके भुवि भारभूता मनुष्यरूपेण मृगाश्चरन्ति ॥ १३ ॥

येषां = in whom     न विद्या न तपो न दानं ज्ञानं न शीलं न गुणो न धर्म: = (there is) no ‘correct knowledge’ or clarity, no persistent pursuit (of a goal), knowledge, character, good qualities or sense of duty     ते मर्त्यलोके भुवि भारभूता = they are a burden on this earth     मनुष्यरूपेण मृगाश्चरन्ति = animals wandering in the human form

… so, not all is lost. Excellence in art and literature is a fine achievement to have, but there are ways to prevent one’s self from leading the life of animals that don’t eat grass, and add to the burden on this earth – seek additional knowledge. Gain more clarity, relinquish what you like for a while in pursuit of something higher, develop some good qualities, perform duties towards someone or something – including self! Make life meaningful and stay away from the obtuseness. Because a lot of people would prefer a fate much more uncomfortable physically, over a luxurious time out with a fool:

वरं पर्वतदुर्गेषु भ्रान्तं वनचरै: सह ।

न मूर्खजनसम्पर्क: सुरेन्द्रभवनेष्वपि ॥ १४ ॥

वरं = preferable     पर्वतदुर्गेषु भ्रान्तं = to lose way / wander on a mountain fortress     वनचरै: सह = with wild animals     न मूर्खजनसम्पर्क: = but not contact with a मूर्ख     सुरेन्द्रभवनेष्वपि = even in the home of the king of gods, ईन्द्र himself

I now understand the contempt and exasperation with which people utter the phrase ‘insufferable fool!’ ..

But being stupid, obtuse and foolish is a degree. Bhartrihari does not acknowledge a cut-off to cross or a green-zone to enter where you can seek refuge forever.

यदा किञ्चिज्ज्ञोऽह्ं द्विप इव मदान्ध: समभवम्

तदा सर्वज्ञोऽस्मीत्यभवदलिप्तं मम मन।

यदा किंञ्चित्किंञ्चिद् बुधजनसकशादवगतम्

तदा मूर्खोऽस्मीति ज्वर इव मदो मे व्यपगत॥ ८॥

यदा = when     किञ्चिज्ज्ञोऽह्ं  = I knew a little      द्विप इव मदान्ध: समभवम् = became blind with pride just like an elephant    तदा = then     सर्वज्ञोऽस्मीत्यभवदलिप्तं = became overcome with (a notion) that I know everything     मम मन = in my mind     किंञ्चित्किंञ्चिद् = little by little     बुधजनसकशादवगतम् = when I became associated with learned/enlightened people      तदा = then     मूर्खोऽस्मीति = that I am a fool     ज्वर इव = like a fever     मदो मे व्यपगत = my pride disappeared

He says that when I was knowing little bit, I was filled with pride just like a wild elephant. Little by little, in the company of the discerning, wise people, I came to know what a fool I had been – and with that my pride disappeared like a fever.

So who is enlightened, who is in the zone of light and who is still fighting the demons in the light is all relative. Someone who has more thickness to deal with does not become laughable, but this thickness or obtuseness should be removed – not ‘once and for all’, but in a life-long journey of seeking.



3 thoughts on “Regarding the Hundred Pearls from Bhartrihari… नीतिशतकम् (2)

  1. Nayan Raval says:

    Albert Einstein said:” The difference between a genius and stupid is that the genius has limits”.

    Liked by 1 person

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