Tuesday, 31 August 2021

The Incredibly Selfless Bhamati


Vachaspati Mishra was a philosopher of the Advaita Vedanta tradition. He is believed to have lived in the ninth or tenth century ECE, in Bihar. He had written extensively and his bhasyas (commentaries) on texts of Hindu philosophy are highly respected by scholars even today.

‘Bhamati’, one of his most famous works, is a bhashya on Adi Sankara’s Brahma Sutra. Later, a sub-school of Advaita Vedanta came to be called Bhamati.

The word ‘Bhamati’ sounds like the name of a woman. Why was a philosophical treatise named so? Who was Bhamati? What is the connection between the Brahma sutra and this lady?

Though very little authentic details are available regarding Vachaspati Misra and ‘Bhamati’, the story that connects them, is truly fascinating.

Young Vachaspati  Misra had no interest in the normal life of a householder. He was a great scholar and was firmly rooted on the path of spirituality. He had decided that he would become an ascetic after completing the commentary on ‘Brahma Sutra’.

But, his mother Vatsala wanted to get him married and hoped that after the wedding, his attitude would change. She spoke to the father of a girl from a neighbouring village and almost finalised the alliance.

When Vachaspati came to know of this, he wrote to the bride’s father confessing that he had no intention of taking the responsibilities of a house holder and planned to leave the village after completing his work.

Bhamati's (bride) father was upset when he got the letter but glad that he knew about it before the wedding and decided to call it off. But Bhamati, who heard about this, was impressed by Vachaspati’s mission and was moved by his honesty.  She insisted on marrying Vachaspati. The father was surprised, but seeing that his daughter was firm, got her married to Vachaspati on the auspicious ‘Guru Poornima’ day. Soon after the wedding, Bhamati left for her husband’s house.

Vachaspati busied himself in writing. He did not realize the passage of time. He did not earn anything and was not even conscious that there was another person in the house.

The young and beautiful Bhamati somehow managed to run the house and always made sure that her husband got food at the correct time and his lamp had enough oil.  Misra would eat when he was hungry without even looking up to see who was serving him food. And then, he would go back to his work. He did not know how he got food and who provided it. Nor did he bother to know. His only focus was his work.

Seven years passed like this. And then, one day, Vachaspati Misra completed his magnum opus. With great relief, he looked up and was surprised to find a young lady in his house.

"Who are you young lady? What are you doing in my house?" he asked.

"I'm your wife, Bhamati. We were married seven years ago," replied Bhamati.

Vachaspati could immediately recollect their wedding. He realised  that it was she, who had taken care of him all these years. He remembered the set of hands that served him food, and poured oil into his lamp.

"Show me your hands," asked Vachaspati. Bhamati showed her hands. "Yes. These are the same hands I have been seeing every day, all these years.”

He said, "Bhamati! I have completed my work. This will be my contribution to humanity. Now that I have fulfilled my duty, I want to renounce this world."

"My lord! Do as you wish, I will not stop you." said Bhamati.

"Dear, how will you manage after I am gone?”, Vachaspati asked her feeling guilty that he was leaving a young woman, all alone.

"The merciful force that took care of me all these years will take care of me hereafter, also. Don't worry about me. I will consider myself fortunate that I got to serve you while you were making an extraordinary contribution to the world."

Instead of protesting and throwing tantrums, Bhamati made it easy for Vachaspati Misra to pursue his goal.

Vachaspati saw that she was an extraordinary woman with an enormous generosity. He was overwhelmed. How can a person be so utterly selfless?

He said, "I will forever be grateful to you, Bhamati. I surrender all my life's work at your feet. I will name this book "BHAMATI" so that everyone would come to know about you and hear about your selfless sacrifice. You will become immortal.”

Though he renounced his householder’s life, he remembered her gratefully as long as he lived.

Though Bhamati had nothing to do with the Advaita Vedanta discussed in the book that carried her name, it is a fact that the book became possible because of her selfless support and sacrifice.

True to Misra’s prediction, more people know about Bhamati than about the composer, Vachaspati Misra!

B. Ramadevi





The Couplet that saved a life


Mahakavi Bharavi is known for his immortal epic ‘Kirataarjuneeyam’. Its main theme is the ferocious fight between Lord Shiva and Arjuna.  Towards the end of the Pandavas’ exile, Arjuna leaves to propitiate Lord Shiva and receive the powerful weapon Pasupata Astra from Him. After a long penance, Arjuna is able to please Shiva. Nevertheless, Shiva wants to test Arjuna’s prowess.  He appears in front of Arjuna in the form of a Kirata (a tribal from a mountain) and creates an opportunity to fight with him. Arjuna brings out all his skill to defeat the Kirata, which is not easy. The thoroughly impressed Shiva appears in front of Arjuna in His true form and presents the Astra to Arjuna.

The above couplet appears in the course of this story, before Arjuna leaves for his penance.

Very little authentic information is available about this great poet ‘Bharavi’ , whose name means ‘lustre of the Sun’. However, certain facts are accepted as probably true. His original name was Damodara and he seems to have flourished during the reigns of the King Durvinita of the Western Ganga dynasty and King Simhavishnu of the Pallava dynasty.

Bharavi’s poetry is characterized by its intricate styles and lofty expressions. If Kalidasa is famous for his similes, (‘Upama Kalidasasya’ )Bharavi is celebrated  for his ‘weight of meaning’ (arthagauravam). (उपमा कालिदासस्य भारवेरर्थगौरवम् )


There is an interesting story about the shloka Sahasaa Vidadheeta na kriyaam’ that appears in Kirataarjuneeyam.


The shloka goes like this.


'सहसा विदधीत क्रियाम्
अविवेकाः परमापदाम् पदम।
व्रुणुते हि विम्रुश्य कारिणम्
गुणलुब्धाः स्वयमेव सम्पदाः॥'


Sahasaa Vidadheeta na kriyaam|

Avivekaa: parama aapadaam padam |

Vrunute hi vimrushya kaarinam |

Gunalubdhaa: svayameva sampadaa:||


(It means – Do not do anything in haste. Thoughtless action will lead to great danger. Wealth likes only those who act sensibly and will come to them willingly.)


And now, the story –––


A Brahmin named Mahadeva lived on the banks of River Godavari. His eldest son Bharavi was blessed with an extraordinary memory power and could compose poems effortlessly.  His popularity grew day by day and his fame started spreading far and wide.


But there was one person, who did not care for his abilities. It was none other than his own father. He never appreciated his son. Whenever Bharavi showed his father some trophy he had won, his father would only say, “How childish! What is so great about it? Go and mind your business.”


Bharavi was very upset about his father’s attitude. Bharavi longed for one word of praise from his father. But his father continued to insult and belittle him.


As he grew older, Bharavi’s sorrow turned into anger. One day, his father went too far in disparaging  Bharavi.  The son could bear it no longer. He decided to kill his father. Bharavi got a heavy club to beat his father with. As he tried to open the door of his house with the club in hand, he heard his mother say something to his father. He paused, looked through the keyhole and listened.


His mother was telling his father, “Why do you hurt our son Bharavi like this? Poor boy! He is longing for some recognition from you. You are consistently insulting him. This is not the way to treat a grown up young man.”


His father laughed and replied, “Alas! Even you have not understood me.  I am extremely proud of our son Bharavi. But I do not praise him because, too much of praise will make one arrogant. Once a person becomes arrogant, he will make no progress. Worse, he will start deteriorating. Our Bharavi has a great future. One day, the whole world will celebrate him. I am waiting to see that day.”


Hearing these words, the club slipped from Bharavi’s hand. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He knocked at the door and entered the house. He fell at the feet of his father and cried, “Father! I am a great sinner. I was also stupid.  I could not understand your good heart. I actually came here to kill you with a club. I just happened to overhear the conversation between you and Amma. If I had not heard that, I would have killed you by now. Please give me a suitable punishment.”


His father raised him with great affection. “Get up, my child! This is not your mistake alone. I too have exceeded my limit in insulting you. Forget it. Now you have realized your mistake. That is enough. You do not need any punishment.”


But Bharavi did not agree.


He said, “If you do not give me the punishment I deserve, I will not be at peace. Please do not show any mercy towards me. I will do anything you tell. What should I do?”


 His father Mahadev thought for a while and said, “Yes; what you are telling is also correct. Punishment will cleanse you and purify you. Take your wife and go to your father in law’s house. Be there till I call you back. ”


This peculiar punishment surprised Bharavi. ‘Life at the father in law’s house will be comfortable and enjoyable. One will get a lot of love and respect there. How can it be a punishment?’


But he did not argue with his father. He took his wife Janaki and left for his father in law’s house.


Bharavi’s father in law was a great scholar, too. He had two more sons besides his daughter, who was Bharavi’s wife. The sons lived with the father as a joint family. They had some land and were leading a reasonably comfortable life.


Seeing Bharavi and Janaki, they welcomed them with great joy. Narrating the whole story, Bharavi informed them that he would be staying with them till his father called him back.  The father in law’s face changed after hearing this. He said curtly, “Okay; get inside.”


Bharavi had a totally different experience at the father in law’s house, this time. All the work had to be done by his wife. He had to take care of the outside work. Nobody invited them for meals. They had to go and eat if they felt hungry. On festive occasions, the other members bought new clothes for themselves, but did not include Bharavi or Janaki in anything. Life was miserable. Bharavi was longing to go back to his house.


Despite all this, Bharavi’s ability to write poetry became more and more refined.


One day, Janaki came to him and told him with great excitement, “ I have a friend who is very wealthy. She is fond of poetry. Please compose a good poem for her. She will pay me well for that. Our position in this house may improve if we give them some money.”


“Oh! Really? Who is she? You have never mentioned her before.”


“I met her recently after many years.   Hers is a strange story. Her husband left home when her son was seven years old, in order to expand his business. He did not return after that. Many years have passed. My friend’s attempts to trace him were futile. Finally, she took over the family business. Her business has flourished. She has become quite rich. She has remodeled her old house beautifully. Her son has also grown up and is helping her in her business. She does a lot of charitable work and is hoping that someday her husband will come back.”


Bharavi immediately wrote a couplet and gave it to his wife. (This couplet is given above with the meaning.) “This couplet will find a place in the epic I am planning to compose. Your friend will be the first one to see this couplet. Give it to her with my regards.”


Janaki was very happy. She gave the couplet to her friend. Her friend was overjoyed and gave Janaki a lot of gifts.

Janaki’s friend was so impressed with the couplet that she got it written on a silk cloth and hung it at her bed room’s entrance . She wanted to see it every day and remember what it said.


In the mean time, her husband had made good progress in his business.  After eleven years, he decided to go back to his family and spend the rest of his life with them. As he rode on his horse, cartloads of silk, jewels and expensive gifts followed.


It was a full moon day. The moon had covered the whole world with its silver light. The merchant left the carts outside the city and rode into the city by himself. The sight of the familiar streets and houses filled him with joy. He came to the place where his house used to be. It was not there. A huge mansion stood in its place. He became worried. Slowly, he dismounted the horse and knocked at the door with hesitation.


The old servant who came to open the door recognized him and was about to shout in joy. The merchant asked him to be silent and moved slowly towards the bedroom. The windows were open. His wife was sleeping peacefully. She had become more beautiful with age.


But, who is that good looking young man, who was sleeping next to her?


The merchant was filled with rage. He wanted to kill the young man who dared to sleep next to his wife. He drew his sword and tried to enter the bedroom.


At that time, his eyes stopped at the silk cloth with a couplet written on it. The beauty of the words and their depth of meaning impressed him so much that he read it again and again.


The couplet said, “Never do anything in haste. A hasty mind is the abode of all dangers. One who thinks and acts will always be prosperous.”


These words went straight to his heart. He slowed down and knocked at the door. His wife opened the door and shrieked in joy. The next minute she noticed the suspicion and anger in his eyes. She woke up the young man. “Get up, son! Your father has come.”


When the merchant knew that the young man was his own son, he was overjoyed. As he embraced him, he shuddered to think what would have happened if he had not read the couplet.


The next day, he invited Bharavi and his wife home, fell at their feet and gave them a lot of gold and other gifts.


This news spread fast and Bharavi became even more famous. His father also heard about it. He felt very happy and invited him and his wife back home.


Bharavi composed many great poems after that. His ‘Kirataarjuneeyam’ in which the couplet found a place, is considered to be the best of his creations.



https://www.freepressjournal.in/latest-news/bharavi-the-great-sanskrit-poet https://www.indianetzone.com/67/sanskrit_litterateurs.htm



Gargi Vachaknavi and Yajnyavalkya



Gargi Vachaknavi (born around c. 700 BCE), daughter of Rishi Vachaknu was an ancient Indian philosopher and one of the nine gems in the court of Mithila’s king Janaka. She was known as Gargi because she came in the lineage of Rishi Garga. Her last name comes from her father Vachaknu. In Vedic literature, Gargi is honoured as a great natural philosopher and an expounder of the Vedas.  She was also referred to as a Brahmavadini (One who understood the Brahman and could talk about it). She remained unmarried and spent all her life in the quest of the Brahman. Gargi composed several hymns in Rigveda that questioned the origin of all existence. Yoga Yajnavalkya, a classical text on Yoga is a dialogue between Gargi and Sage Yajnavalkya. The Brihadarayaka Upanishad gives a detailed account of this dialogue.

Janaka, the king of Mithila was a great scholar and was very much interested in philosophical debates. He would organise conferences at frequent intervals and thus create opportunities for the learned ones to exhibit and exchange their deep knowledge.


Once, Janaka performed an elaborate yajna (sacrifice). A lot of sages and scholars were present. Gargi also attended. King Janaka was quite impressed by the vast assembly of scholars. After the yajna,  he announced–– “O Wise scholars! I wish to gift a thousand cows with their horns tied with gold coins to the one, who is acknowledged as the best philosopher among you. The one, who is confident, can come forward and claim the gift. However, he should be able to convince the others that he deserves this gift.”


For some time, there was absolute silence. Then Yajnavalkya, the court philosopher stood up, called one of his disciples and asked him to drive the cows to his ashram. Those who were sitting quietly till then, not having the confidence to claim the gift, started to object.

“How can you claim that you are the best?”

Yajnavalkya said, “I am not saying I am the best. The cows will be useful to me. The students in my ashram need the cows’ milk. However, if any of you wish to examine me, please go ahead. Ask your questions.”

A few of them asked him profound questions about the Brahman and Yajnyavalkya gave them convincing replies. When all kept quiet, Gargi Vachaknavi, the only woman philosopher in the whole group of scholarly men, stood up and asked Yajnyavalkya a few questions.

(The conversation between Gargi and Yajnyavalkya fills us with amazement with its depth and utter honesty. That a woman could question the scholar of Yajnyavalkya’s calibre and that he answered her with so much clarity and patience, are rare to find even in these days of feminine equality. A small part of the conversation is given below.)

Gargi: Maharshi Yajnyavalkya! It is believed that brahmacharyam is absolutely essential for realizing the Self. You are twice-married. (Yajnyavalkya had two wives – Katyayini and Maitreyi) Don’t you think you are setting a bad precedent?”

Yajnyavalkya: Tell me, Gargi, who is a brahmachari?

Gargi: One who is immersed in the quest of the Absolute truth. (Etymologically, the word means this. However, we generally use it to refer to a celibate.)

Yajnyavalkya: Why do you think a householder cannot seek the Absolute Truth?

Gargi: Only a person, who is free, can seek the Truth. Marriage is bondage.

Yajnyavalkya: Marriage is bondage?

Gargi: Without any doubt.

Yajnyavalkya: How?

Gargi: Maharshi! A married person has to take care of others. He is involved in many things. If he has children, the responsibilities increase. In this situation, where is the freedom to seek the Truth?

Yajnyavalkya : Does one take care of others because of love or bondage?

Gargi: Love is also a bondage, Maharshi!

Yajnyavalkya: No, Gargi! True love emancipates. When love is selfish, it becomes bondage. The problem is not with love; it is with selfishness.

Gargi: Love is always selfish, Maharshi!

Yajnyavalkya: When desire is blended with love, love turns selfish. Such a love is certainly bondage. But that love, which knows only to give and does not expect anything, can never be bondage. It emancipates.

Gargi: What you are saying is quite impressive, Maharshi! But, can you give examples to prove your point?

Yajnyavalkya: Look around you, Gargi! The sun embraces the earth with his rays. When his light falls on the earth, lives are born. The earth does not expect anything from the sun. She only knows to bloom when the sunlight touches her. The sun also does not try to establish his right over the earth. He burns himself and gives life to the beings on the earth. This is selfless love. We are all born out of such selfless love. How can love be an obstacle in the path of a seeker?

Gargi was quite satisfied with this reply. Still, she had other questions regarding the true nature of things.

Gargi wanted to know what the elements such as the earth, water, fire, air and sky are made of. She demanded specific replies and Yajnyavalkya answered all her questions elaborately and convincingly. However, when Gargi wanted to know what was the Brahman made of, Yajnyavalkya asked her to stop asking questions as any further discussion would only disturb her mental balance. Surprisingly, Gargi agreed. With great satisfaction, she declared Yajnyavalkya to be the greatest ‘Brahmajnani’ (knower of the Brahman) and the whole court cheered him.

We will learn more about this great rishi in the sequel Yajnyavalkya and Maitreyi.







B. Ramadevi



(Sathya Kama Jabala)


 (Sathya Kama Jabala)



A poor woman called Jabala stayed in a small hut with her son Sathya Kama. She had named her son so because of her strong faith in being truthful. (

‘Sathya Kama’, meant–– the one who loves the truth).

When he was about eight years old, he came to his mother and said,

“Mother! I want to learn Brahmavidya from a suitable guru.”


Jabala became very happy. She knew she would have to be separated from her son. But she would do anything to make her son happy.

She said, “My child! I am very happy. Find a guru and obey him implicitly. Whatever happens, tell only the truth.”

Jabala fell at her feet, took her blessings and walked in search of a guru.


Those days, teachers taught students in their hermitages. The students had to stay with the gurus and obey their instructions. Their gurus taught them what they thought was suitable for them.

Sathyakama walked for many days and came to the hermitage of a sage named Haridrumata Gautama. He prostrated before him and requested politely, “Master! I want to learn Brahmavidya. Kindly accept me as your disciple.”


Goutama welcomed him and asked him the usual question, “Child! What is your gothra? What is your father’s name?”


Sathyakama replied, “ Master! My mother’s name is Jabala. When I asked her about my father, she said, “I have worked in many places. I am not sure as to who is your father.”


Though this reply surprised the guru, he was also immensely pleased with Sathyakama’s honesty. He said, “Sathyakama! You are able to tell the truth without any hesitation. You certainly have the right to learn Brahmavidya. I will take you as my disciple. You will be known as ‘Sathyakama Jabala’ from today.”


He took him inside the hermitage and from the next day, started teaching him how to meditate. Sathyakama learnt with great interest and started practicing meditation sincerely.


After a few days, the guru called him and said, “Look, Sathyakama! Here are 400 cows. Take them to the jungle and stay there. They will get enough grass there and you can manage with the fruits and tubers available there.  When they multiply to 1000, bring them back to me.”


The cows were old and weak. But Sathyakama did not question his guru. He took his guru’s blessings and moved to the forest driving the herd of cattle with him.


For a few days, life was difficult. But slowly, he got used to that life. He had nobody to talk to except the trees, birds, insects and his herd of cows. He spent most of the time meditating. He found an inexplicable peace inside him. He did not notice the passage of time. Hours passed into days, days to months and months to years. He lost the count of time. The pregnant cows gave birth to calves and the calves grew to young cows and bulls. They flourished in the verdant forest that had rich greenery. The herd grew in size but Sathyakama did not even bother to count their number. He was quite happy with his meditation.

One day, a fully grown bull came near him and spoke to him in human voice.

“Sathyakama! Our number has reached a thousand now. Please take us to your guru’s ashram. Before that, I will teach you one part of the Brahmavidya. Know this! The Brahmam is that which pervades everywhere. It spreads its brilliance from the east to the west and from the north to the south. Agni will teach you another portion of the Brahmavidya.”


Sathyakama offered his respects to the Bull and accepted its ‘upadesha’. The next day, he started driving his herd back towards his guru’s ashram. In the evening, he stopped at a place and lit a fire to fight the piercing cold. The cows and bulls stood around him.

As the flames burst high, Agni appeared before him. He said, “ Sathyakama! I will teach you another part of the Brahmavidya. This earth, this atmosphere, the sky, the ocean ––– all are the Brahmam. The Brahmam is limitless and endless. You will receive your next lesson from a swan.” And, Agni disappeared.


The next day, Sathyakama began walking with his herd, and stopped at a place in the evening for rest. That day also, he lit the fire and sat near it for warmth. Suddenly, from nowhere, a lovely swan came, flying. It landed near Sathyakama and began to talk.


“Sathya kama! The Brahmam is the Sun. The Brahmam is the Moon. The Brahmam is the light of life. Understand this.” A water fowl will teach you the final portion, tomorrow.” Saying this, the swan flew away.


The next evening, as Sathyakama stopped to take rest along with his herd and lit the fire, a colourful bird flew by and sat in front of him.

“Sathyakama! I have come to teach you the final part of Brahmavidya. The Brahmam is our breath. The Brahmam is our sight. The Brahmam is our ability to hear. The Brahmam is our mind. Brahmam has its abode in all these things. In fact, it resides in everything. Remember this.” And, the bird flew away.


And then, Sathyakama drove his herd to his guru’s hermitage. Guru Haridrumata Gautama was very happy to see his disciple after a long time with a large herd of healthy cows and bulls. 


From the glow on the face of Sathyakama, the guru understood that his disciple had already learnt what he came to learn.


Giving him a hearty welcome, Gauthama said, “Son! I can see peace emanating from your face. A blissful smile adorns your face. Your mind seems relaxed and your vision is sharp. I am sure your have already received Brahmavidya.”


Sathyakama prostrated before his guru and said, “Master! I want to learn Brahmavidya through you, too. Please teach me.”


The guru was very impressed with Sathyakama’s humility. He said, “Sure, my child!” Then he taught everything about Brahman in detail that included all that was taught by the Bull, the Agnidev, the swan and the colourful bird. He continued. “The one who knows oneself is the knower of the Brahmam. You are limitless. You are resplendent. You are all-pervading. Realising this is acquiring Brahmavidya. You have acquired it.'


The guru blessed Sathyakama wholeheartedly.


Later, Sathyakama Jabala became a very famous sage and helped many disciples to attain true knowledge.


 (The details about Sathyakama Jabala are found in Chhaandhogya Upanishad. His life is proof for the fact that when a person is truthful and dedicated, what he wants, comes to him.)

––– B. Ramadevi