Verse 18 from Bhartihari's Nītiśataka says:

ambhojinī-vana-vihāra-vilāsam eva
haṃsasya hanti nitarāṃ kupito vidhātā |
na tv asya dugdha-jala-bheda-vidhau prasiddhāṃ
vaidagdha-kīrtim apahartum asau samarthaḥ ||

Which I translate as:

Extremely (nitarāṃ) angry (kupita) Brahma (vidhātṛ) destroys (hanti) only (eva) the game (vilāsa) of a swan (haṃsa) [that is a] play (vihāra) in a bed (vana) of lotus flowers (ambhojinī). But cannot (na tu samartha) he (asau) take away (apahartum) a glory (kīrti) of his (asya) wildly known (prasiddha) dexterity (vaidagdha) in ability (vidhi) to separate (bheda) milk (dugdha) from the water (jala).

My assumptions here:

  • Swan is a metaphor for paṇḍit (scholar).
  • Bhrahma is a metaphor for kings who can in some ways put scholars into trouble, but unable to take away their wisdom

The questions are:

  1. In Hinduism, what is the relationship between Brahma and swan that could result in such a behavior (Brahma destroys his game)?
  2. If swan stands for scholars, then what this "game" means from the scholar point of view?
  3. What lotus flower stands for and why the swan plays exactly there?
  • 2
    No swan can do that in reality so far as i know by the way.:)
    – user17294
    Mar 12, 2019 at 12:15
  • Swan = Hamsa in Sanskrit i.e. So ham ( life breath) its gods name it means God. It might mean like Brahma is not the deliverer of moksha to Jivas. Scholars are Jiva.. Metaphor, As swan discerns water from milk even the milk is mixed with water Brahma destroys one who don't know the difference between God and JIva as both are inside the same body that is Lotus
    – Prasanna R
    Mar 12, 2019 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


This is a subashita and not related to Hinduism.SE per se. (Note that subashitas are good sayings and part of Hindu tradition and culture. However, anyone with a decent amount of Sanskrit knowledge can create one, and we should be careful when considering it as tradition. Also, something which is a good saying is a good thing, whether it's part of Hinduism or not. This is from Bhartruhari whose shatakas are famous, and fits the Hindu tradition category)

There is a legend that if there is a bowl of milk mixed with water, a hamsa will drink only the milk and leave the water behind. It is an allegorical ability used to indicate the perceptive nature of the hamsa.

This subhashita basically means that while the bringer of fortune(vidhaataa, in the current context) can make people lose material things, they can never lose their innate abilities. So the hamsas will still retain their ability to seperate milk from water. This is a positive subashita which basically means: whatever fortunes may be taken away by providence, the tools which one is born with still remain and the fortune can be rebuilt. It is from his neeti-shataka (100 subashitas about morality).

(The vilasa (game) is the sporting of the bird in the water. The sporting is the verb form such as 'sporting in the water filled with a huge number (forest) of lotuses', and not a game such as football.

The subashita is a generic one for all humans with talents and not scholars alone.

Vidhaataa is a reference to the all-mighty lord and the colloquial usage is for one who brings/causes (mis)fortune. In scriptures it usually refers to Brahma.

Note that I have used hamsa throughout. There are many meanings of the word hamsa and people have loosely translated it to be something which is bigger than a duck but does water related activities. Some people consider that the hamsa is an extinct bird while many consider it to be a swan or a goose.)

  • @Partha True and I agree with that to some extent. The issue is that I can create a subashita about Jesus Christ today, and it will be a subashita. Can we consider that as part of our tradition? I personally accept subashitas which are about a 1000 years old like the current one and the rest of Bhartruhari's shatakas. But in general, I am not sure to accept any random one as part of Hinduism. However just because something isn't part of hinduism, it's not that it's bad. It's just not within the topic. Mar 12, 2019 at 17:07
  • 1
    @Partha agreed and I have put in a note for it. Thanks Mar 12, 2019 at 17:11
  • But i am really surprised by this ageold idea about hamsas which is incorrect so far as i know.How could this idea get generated is what bothers me a bit
    – user17294
    Mar 12, 2019 at 17:16
  • Yes, I also don't know but have seen it being mentioned by my elders and sanskrit gurus. There is also a reference to a bird that subsisted only on rain-water and is extinct now. However, they also mention the vyala and there are carvings of it in many many temples. They all seem quite similar but they don't exist in nature. Mar 12, 2019 at 17:20
  • yes these are called chataka-s in bengali and this idea also surprises me
    – user17294
    Mar 12, 2019 at 17:22

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