Bharavi was a Sanskrit poet known for his Mahakavya (epic), the Kiratarjuniya (Arjuna and the Mountain Man) in 18 cantos based on an episode from the Mahabharata.
As with most Sanskrit poets, very few concrete details are available about Bharavi's life, and inferences must be made from references to him. A Chalukya inscription from 634 CE mentions him and Kalidasa as famous poets of the past. In another inscription, the king Durvinita of the Western Ganga Dynasty mentions having written a commentary on the fifteenth canto of Bharavi's Kiratarjuniya. The Western Ganga Dynasty ruled from about the middle of the fourth century, and Durvinita is usually believed to have lived in the latter half of the sixth century.
The Kiratarjuniya, an epic poem in eighteen cantos, is his only known work. It is regarded to be the most powerful poem in the Sanskrit language. Despite using extremely difficult language and rejoicing in the finer points of Sanskrit grammar, he achieves conciseness and directness. His alliteration, "crisp texture of sound", and choice of meter closely correspond to the narrative. His poetry is characterized by its intricate styles and ethereal expressions. Like Kalidasa for his similes (upama) and Dandin for his wordplay (padalalityam), Bharavi is known for his "weight of meaning" (arthagauravam). He influenced the 8th century CE poet Magha.
Kiratarjuniya is a Sanskrit kavya by Bharavi, written in the 6th century or earlier. It is an epic poem in eighteen cantos describing the combat between Arjuna and lord Shiva in the guise of a kirata or mountain-dwelling hunter. Along with the Naisadhacarita and the Shishupala Vadha, it is one of the larger three of the six Sanskrit mahakavyas, or great epics. It is noted among Sanskrit critics both for its gravity or depth of meaning, and for its forceful and sometimes playful expression. This includes a canto set aside for demonstrating linguistic feats, similar to constrained writing. Later works of epic poetry followed the model of the Kiratarjuniya.
The Kiratarjuniya predominantly features the Vira rasa, or the mood of valour. It expands upon a minor episode in the Vana Parva ("Forest book") in the Mahabharata: While the Pandavas are exiled in the forest, Draupadi and Bhima incite Yudhisthira to declare war with the Kauravas, while he does not relent. Finally, Arjuna, at the instruction of Indra, propitiates god Shiva with penance (tapasya) in the forest. Pleased by his austerities, Shiva decides to reward him. When a demon named Muka, in the form of a wild boar, charges toward Arjuna, Shiva appears in the form of a Kirata, a wild mountaineer. Arjuna and the Kirata simultaneously shoot an arrow at the boar, and kill it. They argue over who shot first, and a battle ensues. They fight for a long time, and Arjuna is shocked that he cannot conquer this Kirata. Finally, he recognises the god, and surrenders to him. Shiva, pleased with his bravery, gives him the powerful weapon, the Pashupatastra, which later in the Mahabharata aids him against Karna and the Kauravas during the Kurukshetra war.
The work was popular among critics, with more than 42 commentaries written on it. The style of his work, with cantos 4 to 9 having no relation to the plot but instead being merely an excuse for beautiful descriptive poetry, was influential on all later Sanskrit epic poetry, in which the action was often ignored entirely. Over a tenth of the verses from this work are quoted in various anthologies and works on poetics. The most popular verse is the 37th from the eighth canto, which describes nymphs bathing in a river, and is noted for its beauty. Another verse from the fifth canto is noted for its imagery, and has given Bharavi the sobriquet of "Chhatra Bharavi", as he describes the pollen of the lotus flowers being blown by the wind into a golden umbrella (Chhatra) in the sky. Thus, for having verses that are pleasing to lay people as well as clever verses appreciated by scholars, the work is considered to have 'harmony' or 'appropriateness' at all levels, and has been said to possess samastalokarañjakatva, the quality of delighting all the people.
Bharavi's "power of description and dignity of style" were an inspiration for Magha's Shishupala Vadha, which is modelled after the Kiratarjuniya and seeks to surpass it. While Bharavi uses 19 different types of metres, Magha uses 23; while Bharavi praises Shiva, Magha extols Vishnu; and he has his own instances of one-consonant (dadadoduddaduddadi…) and sarvatobhadra palindromic verses.
A vyayoga (a kind of play), also named Kiratarjuniya and based on Bharavi's work, was produced by the Sanskrit dramatist Vatsaraja in the 12th or 13th century.
The authoritative commentary on the Kiratarjuniya, as on the other five mahakayvas, is by Mallinatha (c. 1500 CE). His commentary on the Kiratarjuniya is known as the Ghantapatha (the Bell-Road) and explains the multiple layers of compounds and figures of speech present in the verses.