Biography of Vidyapati Thakur
Vidyapati Thakur, also known by the sobriquet Maithil Kavi Kokil (the poet cuckoo of Maithili) was a Maithili poet and a Sanskrit writer. He was born in the village of Bishphi in Madhubani district of Bihar state, India. He was son of Ganapati. The name Vidyapati is derived from two Sanskrit words, Vidya (knowledge) and Pati (master), connoting thereby, a man of knowledge.
Little is known of Vidyāpati's life. Two other great Vaishnava poets, Chandī Dās and Umāpati, were his contempories. His patron Rājā Shivasimha Rūpanārāyana, when heir-apparent, gave the village of Bisapī as a rent-free gift to the poet in the year 1400 A.D. (the original deed is extant). This shows that in 1400 the poet was already a man of distinction. His patron appears to have died in 1449, before which date the songs here translated must have been written. Further, there still exists a manuscript of the Bhāgavata Purāna in the poet's handwriting, dated 1456. It is thus evident that he lived to a good age, for it is hardly likely that he was under twenty in the year 1400. The following is the legend of his death: Feeling his end approaching, he set out to die on the banks of Gangā. But remembering that she was the child of the faithful, he summoned her to himself: and the great river divided herself in three streams, spreading her waters as far as the very place where Vidyāpati sat. There and then he laid himself, it is said down and died. Where his funeral pyre was, sprang up a Shiva lingam, which exists to this day, as well as the marks of the flood. This place is near the town of Bāzitpur, in the district of Darbhangā.
Vidyāpati's Vaishnava padas are at once folk and cultivated art—just like the finest of the Pahārī paintings, where every episode of which he sings finds exquisite illustration. The poems are not, like many ballads, of unknown authorship and perhaps the work of many hands, but they are due to the folk in the sense that folk-life is glorified and popular thought is reflected. The songs as we have them are entirely the work of one supreme genius; but this genius did not stand alone, as that of modern poets must—on the contrary, its roots lay deep in the common life of fields and villages, and above all, in common faiths and superstitions. These were days when peasants yet spoke as elegantly as courtiers, and kings and cultivators shared one faith and a common view of life—conditions where all things are possible to art.
Influence on The Literature
It is little wonder that Vidyāpati's influence on the literature of Eastern Hindustān has been profound, and that his songs became the household poetry of Bengal and Behar. His poems were adopted and constantly sung by the great Hindū lover, Cāitanya, in the sixteenth century, and they have been adapted and handed down in many dialects, above all in Bengālī, in the Vaishnava tradition, of which the last representative is Rabindranāth Tagore. A poem by the latter well resumes and explains the theory of the Vaishnava lovers:
Not my way of Salvation, to surrender the world!
Rather for me the taste of Infinite Freedom,
While yet I am bound by a thousand bonds to the wheel:
In each glory of sound and sight and smell
I shall find Thy Infinite Joy abiding:
My passion shall burn as the flame of Salvation,
The flower of my love shall become the ripe fruit of Devotion.
It is quite true, as Mr. Nicholson says, that students of oriental poetry have sometimes to ask themselves, 'Is this a love-poem disguised as a mystical ode, or a mystical ode expressed in the language of human love?' Very often this question cannot be answered with a definite 'Yes' or 'No': not because the poet's meaning is vague, but because the two ideas are not at all mutually exclusive. All the manifestations of Kama on earth are images of Pursuit or Return.
As Vidyāpati himself says (No. LXIII):
The same flower that you cast away, the same you use in prayer.
And with the same you string the bow.
It is quite certain that many poems of Vidyāpati have an almost wholly spiritually significance. If some others seem very obviously secular.
This point may be illustrated by a comparison with poetry of Western Europe. Take for example a poem such as the following, with a purely secular significance (if any true art can be said to be secular):
Oh! the handsome lad frae Skye
That's lifted a' the cattle, a'oor kye.
He's t'aen the dun, the black, the white.
And I hae mickle fear
He's t'aen my heart forbye.
Had this been current in fifteenth century Bengal, every Vaishnava would have understood the song to speak as much of God and the Soul as of man and maid, and to many the former meaning would have been the more obvious. On the other hand, there are many early medieval Western hymns in which the language of human love is deliberately adapted to religious uses, for example:
When y se blosmes springe,
And here foules songe,
A suete love-longynge
Myn herte thourh out stong;
Al for a love newe,
That is so suete and trewe.
That gladieth al mi song.
Here the 'new love' is Christ.
Finally, there are other Western lyrics, and very exquisite ones, that could equally be claimed as religious or secular, for example:
Long ago to thee I gave
Body, soul and all I have—
Nothing in the world I keep.
The Western critic who would enquire what such a poem meant to its maker and his hearers must be qualified by spiritual kinship with him and with them. Ther is a similar qualification from those who propose to speak of Oriental poetry:
Wer den Dichter will verstehen.
Muss in Dichter's Lande gehen,—
if not in physical presence, at least in spirit.
It should not be forgotten that Vidyāpati's songs, like those of all the Vaishnava poets—from Jayadeva to Rabīndranath Tagore—were meant to be sung; and as the latter says himself, "In a book of songs the main thing is left out: to set forth the music's vehicle, and leave out the music itself, is just like keeping the mouse and leaving out Ganapati himself" ('Jiban-smrti,' p. 148). The padas of Vidyāpati may still be heard on the lips of Bengali singers, albeit often in corrupt forms.
Vidyapati's poetry was widely influential in centuries to come, in the Hindustani as well as Bengali and other Eastern literary traditions. Indeed, the language at the time of Vidyapati, the prakrit-derived late abahatta, had just began to transition into early versions of the Eastern languages, Bengali, Oriya, Maithili, etc. Thus, Vidyapati's influence on making these languages has been described as "analogous to that of Dante in Italy and Chaucer in England."
Vidyapati is as much known for his love-lyrics as for his poetry dedicated to Lord Shiva. His language is closest to Maithili, the language spoken around Mithila (a region in the north Bihar), closely related to the abahattha form of early Bengali.
The love songs of Vidyapati, which describe the sensuous love story of Radha and Krishna, follow a long line of Vaishnav love poetry, popular in Eastern India, and include much celebrated poetery such as Jayadeva's Gita Govinda of the 12th century. This tradition which uses the language of physical love to describe spiritual love, was a reflection of a key turn in Hinduism, initiated by Ramanuja in the 11th century which advocated an individual self realization through direct love. Similar to the reformation in Christianity, this movement empowered the common man to realize God directly, without the intervention of learned priests. Part of the transformation was also a shift to local languages as opposed to the formal Sanskrit of the religious texts.
The songs he wrote a prayers to Lord Shiva are still sung in Mithila and form a rich tradition of sweet and lovely folk songs.
Folklore says that he was such a great devotee of Lord Shiva that the lord was really pleased with him. And once He decided to come to live in his house as a servant. As the servant He is said to have taken the name Ugna. At several places in the region, Lord Shiva is still worshipped by this name. It is said that the lord in form of servant had imposed a condition on Vidyapati that he could not disclose his identity to anyone else or else he would go away. When Vidyapati's wife was angry at her servant and started to beat him Vidyapati could not tolerate the same and asked her wife not to beat Lord Shiva himself and since then the lord disappeared and never was he seen again. This incident is supposed to symbolize the traditional Indian saying that "Gods are slaves to their devotees".
Vidyapati Thakur's Works:
Vidyapati, mainly known for his love songs and prayers for Lord Shiva, also wrote on other topics including ethics, history, geography, and law. His works include:
Puruṣa Parīkṣā deals with moral teachings.Recently Publications Division of Government of India has brought out the Hindi Translation of Purusha Pariksha by Akhilesh Jha. There are 25 stories in the book selected from 44 stories in the original work. Besides, there are scholarly introductions to both Vidyapati and Purusha Pariksha in the book.
Likhanabali is about writing
Bhu-Parikrama, literal meaning, around the world, is about local geography
Vibhāgasāra is autobiographical in nature
Dānavākyāvalī is about charity
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