Bihari’s Sat Sai – The ‘Seven Hundred Verses’ in Art



Did you know that the Satasai (Sat sai) or Bihari Satsai (Seven Hundred Verses of Bihari) was started to be written as a wake-up call for a king neglecting his royal duties? Let’s find out more! 

This work of literature is a famous work of the early 17th century by the Hindi poet Bihari Lal, in the Braj Bhasha dialect of Hindi spoken in the Braj region of northern India. It contains dohas, or couplets, on bhakti – ‘devotion’, neeti – ‘moral policies’ and shringara – ‘love, beauty, romance’. It is an important work in the Ritikavya Kaal or Ritikaal of Hindi literature. The collection consists of seven hundred verses (sai), hence the name “Sat Sai,” which translates to “Seven Hundred Sai.” Bihari Lal’s verses are celebrated for their depth, emotion, and philosophical insights. It is an excellent depiction of divine and erotic love’s pleasures and sorrows.

History of Bihari Sat Sai 

Bihari Lal, a highly acclaimed poet, earned recognition at the court of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. Raja Jai Singh of Amber/Amer (1611–1667) impressed by Bihari’s talent, invited him to his court.

“Both good and bad win riches, rubies, gems, and strings of pearls: fortune marks the brow of those gifted with the presence of Jai Shah”.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Maharaja-Jai-Singh-of-Amer-with-Maharaja-Gaj-Singh-of-Marwar
Maharaja Jai Singh of Amber/Amer (with raised hand) seen with Maharaja Gaj Singh of Marwar, circa 1630.Wikimedia

However, the Raja soon became infatuated with his new young wife, neglecting his royal duties and other wives. Concerned ministers and the senior wife sought Bihari’s help. Bihari cleverly sent a single couplet hidden among flower petals for the Raja’s bed:

“Nahin paraga nahin madhur madhu nahin vikasa yahi kal ali kali hi saun bandhyau again kaun haval.” 

“There is no pollen; there is no sweet honey; nor yet has the blossom opened. If the bee is enamoured of the bud, who can tell what will happen when she is a full-blown flower.”     

This verse served as a gentle wake-up call, reminding the Raja of his responsibilities and urging him to regain his composure. He asked Bihari to compose more couplets, and he gave him a gold coin for it everyday, eventually forming the Bihari Sat Sai and the rest is history! 

“With crowned head and girdled waist, with flute in hand and garland on your chest: in such a guise dwell ever in my heart, Biharilal”.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, The poet Bihari Lal approaches Krishna
The poet Bihari Lal approaches Krishna, from a Bihari Sat Sai, circa 1770. Image – The San Diego Museum of Art Collection/Flickr

As mentioned, the Sat Sai comprises around 700 couplets or dohas covering three main themes: bhaktipoems expressing devotion to various deities, primarily Krishna, neetiverse reflecting on values, life lessons, social commentary and shringara – couplets depicting various aspects of love, romance, and beauty. Bihari’s masterful use of language, vivid imagery, and wit elevated the Sat Sai to a timeless classic. It became a significant work in the Ritikaal period of Hindi literature, known for its focus on aesthetics and emotion. The Sat Sai continues to be celebrated today, with translations in various languages and depictions in Indian miniature paintings. In Bihari Satsai, there are  amorous narratives about the legendary lover Krishna and Radha as hero, nayaka and heroine, nayika which are reflected in artworks. The verses show Bihari Lal’s deep knowledge of the Braj region (in Uttar Pradesh) and life there. Bihari expresses through his verses youthful beauty, romantic trysts, and sorrow of separated lovers.

Sat Sai in Indian Miniature paintings

Let us check out some beautiful translated verses and interesting paintings from this wonderful work of early 17th century literature! It is mentioned here that the quoted verse may or may not tally with the inscription on the top of the painting but depicts the scenes in the compositions.  A painting from the Mewar school depicting people having multiple conversations; maybe discussing the king who is neglecting his royal duties.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Conversations, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Mewar, Rajasthan, 19th century.
Conversations, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Mewar, Rajasthan, 19th century. Wikimedia

The painting from Mewar shows Krishna along with Radha and other ‘gopis’, the cowherd maidens and others enjoying the feats of a juggler in a beautiful palace setting. Verdant ‘kadamba’ trees add to the composition. There are two women in dancing postures on the steps; a scene of merriment. 

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Krishna watches a juggler, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Mewar, Rajasthan, 18th century.
Krishna watches a juggler, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Mewar, Rajasthan, 18th century. Wikimedia

A painting shows Krishna and Radha in a decorated marble pavillion in a palace setting. Radha is angry with Krishna and turning away from him. Other ‘gopis’ seem to be cajoling Radha as Krishna too seems to be reasoning with her. The foliage in the forefront is of banana and ‘kadamba’ tree surrounding a fountain arrangement. A lover’s tiff captured in courtly splendour. 

“Her eyelids glisten with tears, for she’s just heard he’s soon to leave; an artful yawn conceals the cause even from her friends’’.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Krishna-and-Radha-in-a-pavilion
Krishna and Radha in a pavilion, page from a copy of the Sat Sai, Mewar, Rajasthan, early 18th century. Wikimedia

A scene of frolic as Krishna swims where the ‘gopis’ have arrived to bathe in the Yamuna. A ‘gopi’ is arguing with him and trying to get him to leave the river. The backdrop is a green bank with the bluest skies. Lotus float on the water as well! 

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Krishna-swims-with-gopis
Krishna swims with gopis, from a Bihari Sat Sai, circa 1719. Image – The San Diego Museum of Art Collection/Flickr

A painting in an oval format with arabesque pattern in the four corners, showing Radha hanging up a pot of curd, Krishna is speaking to her from a settee. A tree is in the background. 

Don’t hang the curd pot up! Nor take it down!  Stay as you are—just reaching for the hanging net, you look so fine”.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Radha-reaches-for-a-pot
Radha reaches for a pot, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Pahadi painting, 19th century. Image – The San Diego Museum of Art Collection/Flickr

Radha is pining for Krishna and seems to have developed a fever, two ‘sakhis’ (confidantes) are worried and tending to her, while a cowherd informs Krishna about her condition. Trees are the sentinels in this scene of grief due to separation. 

“Your absence is a rare and matchless fire:  it flourishes in monsoon rains. No waterfall, oh Lal, can douse its blaze”.

“Hari, Hari! She burns and burns. I’m done with cures. I swear, good doctor; your tonic alone can bring her fever down”.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Grief-of-separation
Grief of separation, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Mewar, Rajasthan, circa 1719. Image – A.Davey/Flickr

Radha sits under a tree leaving the comfort of the indoors as she waits pining for Krishna; her companions are seen discussing how to help her situation.

“Pining for your company, dear Lal, she sees the blazing volcano of love and consigns all happy comfort to the flames”.

The lovelorn heroine, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Garhwal, Pahadi school, 18th century.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, The lovelorn heroine, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Garhwal, Pahadi school, 18th century.
The lovelorn heroine, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Garhwal, Pahadi school, 18th century. Wikimedia

In this Pahadi painting Radha surreptitiously spies on Krishna as he looks for her confused. She is in half mind on whether to present herself. 

“Drawn equally by shyness and desire, she has no rest: she peeps on tiptoe, hides, and peeps—and, hiding, peeps again”

 “Now here’s a sight to charm the mind: see how she lingers as she stares, her fingers parting the blind”.

Bihari’s Sat Sai, Radha-spies-Krishna-in-front-of-her-doorway-through-a-window-blind
Radha spies Krishna in front of her doorway through a window blind, from a Bihari Sat Sai, Pahadi painting, circa 1820.Image – The San Diego Museum of Art Collection/Flickr

Thus, we see that sometimes inspiration can be driven by situations in life itself which is the biggest inspiration. Sat Sai Bihari is an amazing proof which is a timeless classic inspiring artists and lovers of poetry alike! 


  1. Snell, Rupert, tr. (2022) Bihari Lal – He spoke of love: selected poems from the Satsai, London: Murty Classical Library of India.
  2. Randhawa, M. S (1996) Kangra paintings of the Bihari Sat Sai National Museum: New Delhi. 
  3. (accessed 10.02.2024) 

Image credits: The copyright for the images used in this article belong to their respective owners. Best known credits are given under the image. For changing the image credit or to get the image removed from Caleidoscope, please contact us.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here



Featuring Indian Artists
Explore Indian Art Galleries
Explore Indian Folk Art Forms
Explore Indian Folk Dance Forms
Explore Indian Crafts
Explore Indian Fabric Art Forms