Recently I discovered some old writings and scribbles of mine in the attic of The Meditation Center in Minneapolis, USA. The scribbles, this one going back to 1967 in Holland, included the verse of Bhrtrhari (in Sanskrit) and the jottings for a poem. These have now been refined here to share.
Many in traditional India hold that Bhartrhari the scholar-king and Bhartrhari, the brother of Vikramaditya, the king of Ujjain, are one and the same. The scholars disagree on the identity of the two being the same. The former is mentioned by Yi-Zing, the Chinese pilgrim traveller to India in 7th century A.D., as a well known philosopher of grammar.
The one reputed to be the brother of Vikramaditya is known throughout North India as the saint Bharthari. His samadhi is still a sacred spot of pilgrimage near Sariska and Alwar in Rajashthan. He is known as the disciple of Jalandhar Natha or of Gorakhnatha himself. A variety of legends about his vairagya (the well known yoga ideal of dispassion and disinterest in the attractions of the world) and renouncing the kingdom to become a renowned yogi of great power and wisdom are sung throughout North India. Those who can read something other than mere English will be very familiar with these legends in all the North Indian languages from Bangla to Chattisgarhi to Rajasthani and Punjabi and so on.
Besides his classic work on the philosophy of grammar titled Vakyapadiya, he composed 300 verses of high poetic value, in three batches of approximately 100 verses each. The last of these collections is on vairagya. Of the 100 verses on vairagya, the one quoted below is the very last one, seems like the closing of the book of life, bidding farewell, to then enter into divine Union.
When I leave my body, I would like this verse sung (in original Sanskrit) together with the 63rd poem of the Gitanjali of Tagore, “Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not...”, sung in original Bangla (kot ojaanaare Jonaaile tumi...).
Maatar medini taata maaruta sakhe tejah subandho jala
Bhraatar vyoma ni-baddha eSha bahavataam antyah praNaamaanjalih
jnaanaapaasta-samasta-moha-mahimaa leeye para-brahmaNi.
My mother ever nourishing Earth; my father the Wind-god;
friend Fire; beautiful kin Water; brother Sky;
with hands clasped, here my last prostration to you.
By the power of association with you I have earned beautiful merit [good karma]
that has expanded into the vibrating immaculate knowledge
vanquishing all force of delusion and darkness,
I dissolve into the Absolute Supreme.
— Bharthari’s Vairaagya-shataka verse 100
What adorable family I have.
Earth my mother,
Prana my father,
Noble mountains have I for strong sturdy brothers.
Ah so many rivers my loving sisters, ever pure virgins of our illustrious family. Night, thinly blue-clad with star sequins a-twinkle, long-dark-haired, with the moon face; she fans me all night, embraces all my limbs in her soothing caress, covers me with clean white sheet of moonlight, her kindly glance, watches over me lovingly all through her reign while I sleep with my head comfortably in her lap --- how blessed am I.
Dawn, the Night’s rosy cheek child is my sibling and so is dusk.
I thank those among men who have smiled for me, and those who have burned with envy. Them I thank who have heaped the darkness of their ignorance around me and those who have bathed me with the luminous milk of their knowledge-ocean.
But to all these I can give nothing, for utterly destitute I, I have not even large sea shells to give and my pearls are invisibly puny.
So I have been abandoned and left alone, a blossom to bloom alone in a green wilderness, for futile attempts to meditate on you, my family of gods, as I sit on this sacred grass seat.
But my destitution hits me. I creak and break into fragments. Do you see the hither and thither scattered pieces of my mind?
Having wandered so long among men I have forgotten our family tongue and I can scarcely converse with you. But wherever I have gone in my wanderings, you, out of your deep love, have followed me, Oh Earth, Oh Sun, Oh Rivers and Mountains. Everywhere I have seen you quietly watching over me and guarding me ever since I was a lonesome child who might have easily gotten lost.
My sisters the rivers, ever so affectionate, have tied a (rakShaa-sutra) charm of protection around my wrists and have kept a hidden guard in every pool of water. Whenever I have slipped, I have been rescued and brought back to the shore of life.
But tired of my wanderings, of begging at the doors of men for a little love, of asking the puny miserly hands in vain for few grains to break my fast, I cry: Oh gods, my only kin, save! Save! Save!
You who were Kama’s father, and you the father of Hanuman, you Ganga who took Shiva’s burning seed from Agni, that brought forth the gods’ demon-destroying commander, ye I call upon for help and nourishment. Ganga, give this exile a drop of nourishment from your ample-flowing breast.
Come, oh cosmic maidens. Saraswati, do incarnate! I would wed you.
Akasha-ganga, come down to earth to be wrapped around me.
If I invite Lakshmi, the consort of Dwarf-incarnation, no trespasser shall I be, for, am I also not a dwarf reaching out for the moon on palm branch?
Having mistaken myself long for a man, I would live in company of the gods, renounced by all others. I would declare the gods to be my only kin, wanting in my burning thirst only a drop of amrita of affection. Have I a right to it – a mere man, I?
Do you, too, gods, mistake me for a mere man? I would retrieve my godhood among my kin, for, is it not that one becomes what his thoughts most adore?
Knowing not how I should address you all, oh gods, my only kith and kin, I cry – save! Save! Save! Each of my words here is a tear, each thought a cry, each movement a faltering step towards returning home to your embrace for a little touch of affection and comfort, my mind’s healing and a rest.
Swami Veda Bharati (then Usharbudh Arya)