King Bhartrihari was a legendary king of India. Savant, scholar and benevolent monarch, his was a golden period.
A saint was passing by his capital on a pilgrimage. He had heard of this great king. He met the king and offered him a mango, saying, “This is a divinely-blessed fruit. O mighty king. Eating this will give you longevity and perfect health in body, mind and spirit. You deserve it, so that you continue to serve your countrymen”.
The king pondered and decided to give it to the person he thought was most devoted to him and loved him the most. He went to the palace of his youngest queen, and asked her to eat it. The queen took the fruit and gave it to the palace and city chief of security, with whom she was secretly in love. The chief of security was in love with a courtesan of great beauty and accomplishments. He gave the fruit to the courtesan and told her about the qualities of the fruit.
The courtesan was a truthful and god-fearing woman. She questioned herself, “Do I deserve to eat this magical fruit?” Prompt came the answer from within, “No”. Then she felt the only person who deserved it was the king. If he lived long and healthy, it would benefit the whole country rather than one insignificant individual. The king was surprised, but being benevolent, let her meet him. The courtesan took out the fruit and said it was a magical fruit and the king was the only person who deserved to eat it.
This had a deep impact on the king. He realised the illusory nature of worldly attachments, and immediately handed over the reigns of the kingdom to his successor and became a hermit.
He wrote the great Vairagya Shataka after his Neeti and Sringar Shatakas. In this text, he expatiates on the illusion this world is and how to conduct oneself in one’s quest for spirituality.