Mahakavi Vidyapati

Introduction

Mahakavi Vidyapati was a Sanskrit writer and Maithili poet who was referred to as ‘Maithil Kavi Kokil’ meaning the poet cuckoo of Maithili. Maithili was a language used by common people in Mithila a kingdom in ancient India and is still spoken now in Nepal and many Northern parts of India especially Bihar. Sanskrit was the language generally used for literary work and Maithili was considered to be closely related to the Abhatta form of early Bengali. The Devanagari script is used for writing Maithili and the poems and songs that he composed in Maithili are referred to as ‘Padavali poems’.

Birth of Vidyapati

Vidyapati is said to have been born in Madhubani village of Bisapi in the region of North Eastern Bihar known as Mithila around the year 1352 though this differs in many accounts as there are no exact records found on the actual date.

Early life

Legends state that Vidyapati was a great devotee of Shiva and composed many beautiful poems and songs known as Nacharis and Maheshbanis on Lord Shiva. The Lord pleased with his devotion took the form of a servant named Ugna and lived in his house though Vidyapati was unaware of Ugna’s real identity.  As time passed Vidyapati grew very fond of Ugna. Legend states that the King of Mithila Shivasimha invited Vidyapati to a royal function in the kingdom. Vidyapati left for the kingdom accompanied by Ugna. While travelling Vidyapati is said to have fainted due to excess thirst and Ugna revived him with Ganges water from his matted locks. On reviving and tasting the holy water Vidyapati realised that Ugna was no ordinary mortal and fell at his feet. Ugna blessed him revealing his identity as Lord Shiva with the condition that he would disappear if his identity was disclosed to anyone. Ugna is said to have remained with Vidyapati for many years and helped him miraculously in many situations. Vidyapati became the court poet of King Shivasimha. Once, Shivasimha was captured by the Emperor of Delhi Allaudin Khilji. Vidyapati and Ugna went to Delhi to help secure his release. To test him Allaudin Khilji arranged a scholarly debate against Vidyapati and his own court poet with the condition that it should be in Persian or any other mixed language. With the help of Ugna he defeated the court poet and succeeded in securing the release of Shivasimha.

Once when Vidyapati’s wife Sushila severely scolded the servant and even raised her hand to beat him, unable to bear it Vidyapati revealed Ugna’s true identity and the Lord is said to have disappeared. Heartbroken Vidyapati wandered through rivers, jungles and temples in search of him. Finally Vidyapati found Ugna in Nandanvana but Ugna informed him that he could not return but would always help him in times of need. The meeting place between Vidyapati and the Lord (as Ugna) is known as Ugnaasthan and a temple with a lingam has been installed in this holy site. Lord Shiva is still worshipped by the name Ugna in many regions.

Vidyapati’s poetry

Vidyapati is said to have been the propagator of Vaishnavism initiated by Ramanuja in the 11th century which advocated liberation through direct love of God and empowered the common man in his spiritual quest to be independent of the inbetween priestly class. The vehicle of his poetic excellence was the legend of Krishna. The Leelas of Krishna and the bhakti of the Gopis towards Krishna in particular the Radha-Krishna bhakti where Radha represents the individual soul longing for communion with the Universal Entity Krishna formed the eloquent expression of Vidyapati’s devotion. Of the nine forms of devotion, his poetry represented the Madhura Bhava and his compositions also had a subtle influence of the great 12th century poet saint Jayadeva.

Works of Vidyapati

Vidyapati also wrote on other topics like history, geography, ethics and law.

In Sanskrit

Vibhaagasara- On Division of inheritance

Purusha Pariksha- On Moral teachings

Bhu Parikrama- About Local geography

Danavakyavali- On Charity

Likhanavali- On Art and styles of Writing

Gayapattalaka- On various rites performed in Gaya

Gangavakyavali- On worship of Ganga

Saivasarvasvarasa- On worship of Shiva

Durgabhaktitarangini- On worship of Durga

Varshakrittiya- On various customs, rites and ceremonies performed throughout the year

In Abhatta

Keerttilata- Relating to the regaining of Mithila from Muslim invasion

Keerttipataka- In praise of the victorious Kings

In Maithili

Gorakshavijaya and Manimanjari Natika

Vidyapati’s influence on Bengali literature

The Bengali poets of the medieval period were so influenced by Vidyapati’s works that they developed a literary language known as Brajboli which was basically Mythili but modified to look like Bengali. Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee too have written in Brajboli.

Vidyapati’s influence on Oriya and Assamese literature

Through Bengal Vidyapati’s influence reached Odisha and Assam. Ramanand Raya a disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and many other notable Oriya poets including Assamese poets were influenced by Vidyapati’s works.

In Movies

Movies were also made on Vidyapati in Hindi and other languages which depicted his life history and devotional fervour to the Lord.

An example of his composition

O Maids, what joy is the coming of spring

Or the pleasant bowers of Vrindavan

Or the fragrance of the Sandal tree

Or the cool rays of the winter moon,

Or the bounty of the Kalpataru

When the Lord of my soul O Krishna

Is nowhere to be seen.

Vidyapati’s passing away

Vidyapati is said to have passed away in 1448 though it may differ as there are no records establishing the exact date.

Conclusion

Vidyapati was a renowned teacher and a great seer. He was a firm believer in truth and a man of wisdom and the number of works he has written is a testimony of his versatility and erudition. He felt the pulse of the common man and hence adopted and popularised the mother tongue Maithili through which he communicated his message to the masses. He did not lay any dogmatic creed and founded no sect. His poems are said to have inspired Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and were secular which spoke on unity of an ultimate Godhead. His rich poetry and devotional works have left a priceless heritage for posterity and helped millions of seekers on their onward quest for truth and self realisation.