Bhavabhūti: A Portrait - 4

This article is part 4 of 4 in the series Bhavabhūti: A Portrait

Bhavabhūti valued love and friendship deeply. His expression assumes a rare depth and force while describing human affection. In Mālatī-mādhava, he has pictured the unfolding of various shades of love: infatuation, the yearning and ‘sweet agony’ that follows, the physical and mental turmoil that unrequited love brings, the inexplicable thrill of union, romance, amorous escapades, and so on. Friendship finds a mirror to see itself in Mādhava and Makaranda. Kāmandakī and her disciples go out of their way to assist young lovers. Kāmandakī suggests that mutual love is the only true basis of marriage.[1]

Here are boys and girls willing to offer their lives for the sake of their beloved. Here are people eager to embrace death for the cause of friendship. Here are elders who are happy in the pleasure of the young. These characters reflect a miniature of Indian cultural society. The values they uphold are the same ones that manifested in the conduct of the people who embodied our civilization for eons.

In Uttara-rāma-carita, Bhavabhūti has inimitably pictured the mellowed love between a married couple. Sītā’s love for Rāma was only matched by his affection for her. Content in each other’s company, they could forget the whole world. Holding each other tight in an embrace, exchanging sweet nothings softly, they could lie cheek by cheek blissfully oblivious to the passing time till the night ended.[2]

Rāma was able to abandon his wife but not his grief at her ultimate separation. When he went to the Daṇḍaka forest after twelve years, familiar sights and sounds released his suppressed sorrow, making him swoon several times.   

The following statements record Bhavabhūti’s grandest defence of love and friendship:

            स्नेहश्च निमित्तसव्यपेक्षश्चेति विप्रतिषिद्धमेतत्। पश्य—

व्यतिषजति पदार्थानान्तरः कोऽपि हेतु-

र्न खलु बहिरुपाधीन् प्रीतयः संश्रयन्ते॥ (Mālatī-mādhava, 1.24)

It is a contradiction to say friendship depends on an external cause. You see,

An inexplicable internal reason brings people together. Love and affection do not depend on external adjuncts.

अहेतुः पक्षपातो यस्तस्य नास्ति प्रतिक्रिया।

स हि स्नेहात्मकस्तन्तुरन्तश्छिद्राणि सीव्यति॥ (Uttara-rāma-carita, 5.17)

One can offer nothing in return to fondness that springs without a cause. This thread of affection sews the torn patches in our hearts.

अद्वैतं सुखदुःखयोरनुगुणं सर्वास्ववस्थासु य-

            द्विश्रामो हृदयस्य यत्र जरसा यस्मिन्नहार्यो रसः।

कालेनावरणात्ययात्परिणते यत्स्नेहसारे स्थितं

            भद्रं तस्य सुमानुषस्य कथमप्येकं हि तत्प्राप्यते॥ (Uttara-rāma-carita, 1.39)

True love remains the same in joy and sorrow. It adapts itself perfectly to all conditions. Our heart finds respite in it. Old age cannot rob its essence. As the veil [of reservations] disappears with time, it matures into abiding affection. Fortunate is the one who obtains this singular blessing somehow.     

While most Sanskrit poets are happy by describing the innocent prattle of children and the joy that a child brings to its parents, Bhavabhūti goes a step forward. He forms a philosophy of the concept and states that a child is a knot of bliss that binds together the hearts of parents, as it is the common object of the couple’s love.[3]

*             *             *

Bhavabhūti places language and the faculty of speech on a high mantle. True to his Vedic learning, he considers speech immortal, as a part—an integral, enjoyable part—of brahma.[4] He refers to the Rāmāyaṇa as the foremost manifestation of śabda-brahma.[5] According to him, seers use speech to reveal their thoughts, never to conceal. Their words are measured and honeyed with courtesy.[6] They never utter harsh words out of hauteur because they consider such words demonic (rākṣasī vāk). Unsurprisingly, meaning runs after their words.[7] Sweet, truthful speech is like a divine cow: It fulfils our desires, dispels misery, begets fame and slays sin. It is the mother of all blessings.[8]

Bhavabhūti never refers to people and objects of reverence without prefixing them with such elevating adjectives as bhagavān and bhagavatī. Words enlivened by the pulse of culture are his favourites. Examples include śreyas, puṇya, tirtha, tapas and yajña. Shallow and offensive phrases are unknown to him. His style breathes grandeur and dignity, and that is a clear index of his cultured conduct.     

*             *             *

At the beginning of this essay, I have referred to Bhavabhūti’s encyclopaedic Vedic learning. The following are a few verses that demonstrate it:

Mahāvīra-carita, 1.14 (Yājñavalkya teaching the brahma-tattva in Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad), 1.62 (abhicāra-mantras in Atharvaveda), 2.24 (abhicāra-mantras in Atharvaveda), 2.43 (Yājñavalkya teaching the brahma-tattva in Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad), 3.26 (Yājñavalkya teaching the brahma-tattva in Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad).

Uttara-rāma-carita, 2.12 (vairāja-loka; Ṛgveda, 9.113.11), 4.9 (Yājñavalkya teaching the brahma-tattva in Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad), 4.18 (vāci nikṣiptā bhadrā lakṣmīḥ; Ṛgveda, 10.71.2), 5.29 (rākṣasī vāk; Aitareya-brāhmaṇa, 6.7.7), 6.6 (vivarta).

All this learning led Bhavabhūti to develop a sharp sense of pride. So much so that he would not stop from patting his own back, from praising his own compositions.[9]

Bhavabhūti refers to the concept of vivarta while positing that pathos is the only rasa. The analogy he uses is starkly similar to the one that Bhagavatpāda Śaṅkara gives in the Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya. Here is his verse followed by Śaṅkara’s words:

एको रसः करुण एव निमित्तभेदा-

            द्भिन्नः पृथक् पृथगिवाश्रयते विवर्तान्।

आवर्तबुद्बुदतरङ्गमयान् विकारा-

            नम्भो यथा सलिलमेव हि तत्समस्तम्॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, ३.४७)

समुद्रादुदकात्मनोऽनन्यत्वेऽपि तद्विकाराणां फेनवीचीतरङ्गबुद्बुदादीनामितरेतरविभाग इतरेतरसंश्लेषादिलक्षणश्च व्यवहार उपलभ्यते॥ (शारीरकभाष्यम्, २.१.१३)

In the first act of Mahāvīra-carita, Bhavabhūti narrates the story of Ahalyā in a style reminiscent of the brāhmaṇa portion of the Vedas:

अहल्या नाम गौतमस्य महर्षेरौचथ्यस्य धर्मपत्नी, यस्याः शतानन्द आङ्गिरसोऽजायत। तामिन्द्रश्चकमे। तस्मात्तं गौतमदारावस्कन्दिनमहल्याजार इति निर्दिशन्ति। अथ भगवान्मन्युमाप। तस्यां पाप्मानमन्धतामिस्रमभ्यध्यायत। सेयमद्य रामभद्रतेजसा तस्मादेनसो निरमुच्यत॥ (महावीरचरितम्, १.२६ गद्यम्)

*             *             *

Bhavabhūti had a seismic effect on later-day writers. What William Hazlitt said of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is true of him: “He cast a great stone into the pool of contemporary thought, and the circles have grown wider and wider.”[10]

Unfortunately, his successors were inspired not by his best work, but by the lesser of his plays. While playwrights such as Murāri, Rājaśekhara and Jayadeva took inspiration from Mahāvīra-carita, Uddaṇḍa and Rājacūḍāmaṇi-dīkṣita got inspired from Mālatī-mādhava. Their plays, respectively, are Anargha-rāghava, Bāla-rāmāyaṇa, Prasanna-rāghava, Mallikā-māruta and Kamalinī-kalahasa. They tried to imitate Bhavabhūti’s phraseology but could not invest it with his surcharged emotions; they tried to take liberties with the story of the Rāmāyaṇa like he did but failed to create anything memorable.

*             *             *

Śatāvadhānī R Ganesh makes a pointed observation. Four poets stand out in Sanskrit literature because of their emotional intensity and expressive energy: Bhartṛhari, Bhaṭṭa Bāṇa, Bhavabhūti and Bhallaṭa. Bhavabhūti, as is clear from the foregoing, shows us what it is like to be intensely human.

For sincerity of feeling, for depth of expression and for a noble perspective on life that has an exalting influence, Bhavabhūti deserves our appreciation. 

To conclude, I offer this verse as a tribute to the great poet:

भवभूतिर्भरतागमान्वयचणः शास्त्रौघसीमाद्रुमः

            प्रकृतिप्रीतिपरिष्कृताः कृतिहिता नैका न्यभान्त्सीत्कृतीः।

गहनोड्डामरभावनैकरसिकश्चेतः सतां श्च्योतयन्

            करुणोषर्बुधहेतिभिर्विजयते शिष्टाशयो वश्यवाक्॥

*             *             *


Primary Works

  1. Dhvanyāloka (Edited with English translation by Krishnamoorthy, K). Ānandavardhana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982
  2. Gauḍavaho (Edited with Hindi translation by Mishra, Mithilesh Kumari). Vākpati. Patna: Vani Vatika Prakashan, 1990
  3. Mahā-vīra-carita (Ed. Todar Mall). Bhavabhūti. London: Oxford University Press, 1928
  4. Mahā-vīra-carita (Edited with the commentary of Vīrarāghava by Ratnam Aiyer, T R). Bhavabhūti. Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1982
  5. Mālatī-mādhava (Along with English translation and notes by Karmarkar, R D). Bhavabhūti. Delhi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2003
  6. Mālatī-mādhava (Edited with the commentary of Jagaddhara by Bhandarkar, R G). Bhavabhūti. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1970
  7. Manusmṛti (Edited with Kullūkabhaṭṭa’s commentary by Acharya, Narayan Ram). Manu. Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1946
  8. Rājataraṅgiṇī (Vol. 1; Ed. Durgaprasad). Kalhaṇa. Bombay: Government Central Book Depot, 1892
  9. Rāma’s Last Act (English translation of Uttara-rāma-carita with introduction and notes by Pollock, Sheldon). New York: JJC Foundation (Clay Sanskrit Library), 2007
  10. Suvṛtta-tilaka (Edited with a Hindi commentary by Jha, Vrajmohan). Kṣemendra. Varanasi: The Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1968
  11. Uttara-rāma-carita (Along with Sanskrit and Hindi commentaries by Tripathi, Ramakanta). Bhavabhūti. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, 2019
  12. Uttara-rāma-carita (Edited with the commentary of Vīrarāghava and translated into English by Kale, M R). Bhavabhūti. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1934
  13. Vakrokti-jīvita (Edited with English translation by Krishnamoorthy, K). Kuntaka. Dharwad: Karnatak University, 1977

Secondary Works

  1. Bhavabhūti (Kannada). Sriranga (Adya Rangacharya). Bangalore: Ankana Prakashana, 1985
  2. Bhavabhūti (Translated into Kannada from Marathi by Gai, G S). Mirashi, V V. Mysore: The Director, Prasaranga, University of Mysore, 1991
  3. Bhavabhūti. Bhat, G K. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1979
  4. Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle. Heffer, Simon. London: Weidendfeld and Nicolson, 1995
  5. Saṃskṛta Nāṭaka (Kannada). Krishna Sastri, A R. Bangalore: Hemantha Sahitya, 2012
  6. Some Old Lost Rāma Plays. Raghavan, V. Annamalainagar: Annamalai University, 1961

Academic Papers and Articles

  1. Bhavabhūti and Arthaśāstra. Raghavan, V. Berlin: New Indology, 1971, pp. 433–39
  2. Bhavabhūti and the Veda. Raghavan, V. Bombay: Journal of the Asiatic Society, 1956–57, pp. 218–21
  3. Dhik Prahasanam in Upāyana (Kannada; Festschrift volume of Narasimhachar, D L). Subbanna, K V. Bangalore: Prof. D.L.N. Felicitation Volume Committee, 1967, pp. 407–11

[1] इतरेतरानुरागो हि दारकर्मणि परार्ध्यं मङ्गलम्॥ (मालतीमाधवम्, १.२ गद्यम्)

[2] किमपि किमपि मन्दं मन्दमासत्तियोगा-

               दविरलितकपोलं जल्पतोरक्रमेण।


               रविदितगतयामा रात्रिरेव व्यरंसीत्॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, १.२७)

[3] अन्तःकरणतत्त्वस्य दम्पत्योः स्नेहसंश्रयात्। आनन्दग्रन्थिरेकोऽयमपत्यमिति गीयते॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, १.१७)

[4] वन्देमहि च तां वाचममृतामात्मनः कलाम्॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, १.१)

[5] अथ स भगवान् प्राचेतसः प्रथमं मनुष्येषु शब्दब्रह्मणस्तादृशं विवर्तमितिहासं रामायणं प्रणिनाय॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, २.५ गद्यम्)

[6] प्रियप्राया वृत्तिर्विनयमधुरो वाचि नियमः॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, २.२)

[7] ऋषीणां पुनराद्यानां वाचमर्थोऽनुधावति॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, १.१०)

[8] कामान् दुग्धे विप्रकर्षत्यलक्ष्मीं

               कीर्तिं सूते दुष्कृतं या हिनस्ति।

तां चाप्येतां मातरं मङ्गलानां

               धेनुं धीराः सूनृतां वाचमाहुः॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, ५.३१)

[9] वश्यवाचः कवेर्वाक्यम्॥ (महावीरचरितम्, १.४); अहो सरसरमणीयता संविधानकस्य॥ (मालतीमाधवम्, ६.१३); अस्ति वा कुतश्चिदेवम्भूतमद्भुतं विचित्ररमणीयोज्ज्वलं प्रकरणम्॥ (मालतीमाधवम्, १०.२३); यं ब्रह्माणमियं देवी वाग्वश्येवानुवर्तते॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, १.२); अहो संविधानकम्॥ (उत्तररामचरितम्, ३.४७)

[10] Quoted in Moral Desperado, p. 5

I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Śatāvadhānī R Ganesh. Apart from providing incredible insights into the works and personality of Bhavabhūti, he handheld me throughout this essay. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Prof. L V Shantakumari, G S Raghavendra, Sandeep Balakrishna and Hari Ravikumar for their valuable inputs. I am indebted to several scholars from whose valuable works on Bhavabhūti I have benefited immensely. Of them, I must name V V Mirashi and G K Bhat. While Mirashi’s work is instructive and comprehensive, Bhat’s book is insightful and eminently readable. 






Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...