King Bhartruhari was the ruler of Ujjain. He was learned and benevolent, loved by his subjects. But the king had little time or inclition to apply his mind to matters of state. The joys of the flesh occupied him constantly. So much so, he authored the ‘Shrungara Shataka’, a treatise on sensual pleasures written in verse.
A hundred beautiful queens made up the king’s harem, though his favorite was Pingala, the youngest and most ravishing of the lot. Ujjain would have fallen to ruins because of its king’s negligence. Fortutely his loyal step-brother Vikramaditya was always by side to shoulder efficiently the royal burden.
Vikramaditya would occasiolly chide the king for not taking responsibilities. He also knew that Pingala had a secret liaison with the king’s charioteer. When Vikramaditya advised the king to banish her for the sake of the kingdom, the besotted Bhartruhari paid no heed. Instead, when Pingala came to know she had been found out, her anger was terrible. With great determition and cunning, she manipulated the king to exile Vikramaditya instead.
One day a hermit came to Bhartruhari’s court and presented him with an apple, which he said would bless its eater with youth and longevity. The king gave Pingala the apple to eat, as he wanted his beloved to remain forever young for him.
But the queen’s heart was set on the king’s charioteer. She gave him the apple so he would always be young and strong. The charioteer, in turn, was in love with a courtesan, to whom he handed over the apple.
Now the courtesan thought it would be better if someone deserving ate the apple. She had long been an ardent admirer of king Bhartruhari for his many noble qualities. If he lived long, it would bring peace and prosperity to the people of Ujjain. So she went to the king and presented him the apple.
Recognizing the apple and surprised to see it with the courtesan, the king asked how she had got it. When she told him of the charioteer, the king summoned him to his presence. The terrified charioteer confessed of his liaison with the queen, and how he had received the apple from her.
At the moment of his great shame before the royal court, king Bhartruhari suddenly realized the fleeting ture of pleasure from worldly objects. He would later on refer to this life-changing experience in his ‘Niti Shataka’, in which he penned a hundred stanzas on moral conduct.
“(She) on whom I contemplate, has no passion for me, but loves another;
(He) whom she loves, loves another;
One whom he loves, loves another.
Refuse that woman, that man, Cupid, me.”
A deep disenchantment arose within king Bhartruhari’s heart. His addiction to his young queen’s charms fell away suddenly like a spring fever. With his mind now clear, the king realized his mistake and brought back Vikramaditya. After raising his brother to the throne and crowning him king, Bhartruhari renounced the world, living the rest of his life as an ascetic.
Vikramaditya would go on to become one of the greatest morchs ever. The Indian calendar system still used was founded during his golden era. Sage Bhartruhari’s legacy is equally abiding through works like Niti-Shataka and Vairagya Shataka he penned in his later years.