Vidyapati (1352?–1448?), 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 Bisfi in Madhubani district of Mithila Region of India and Nepal. 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.
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, Maithili, Bengali, Oriya, etc. Thus, Vidyapati's influence on making these languages has been described as "analogous to that of Dante in Italy and Chaucer in England."
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Vidyapati is as much known for his love-lyrics as for his poetry dedicated to Shiva. His language is closest to Maithili, the language spoken around Mithila (a region in the north Bihar and region surrounding Janakpur in Nepal), 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 poetry 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 as 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 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 his wife not to beat Lord Shiva himself and since then the lord disappeared and never was he seen again.According to the local legend, Vidyapati was an ardent devotee of Shiva. He composed several songs in the form of Nacharis and Maheshbanis to please the Lord. Impressed with the devotion and poetic creativity of the poet, Lord Shiva came to him in a disguised form of a cowherd boy called Ugna.
Ugna requested the poet that as he was an orphan boy he wanted to work in his house as his servant. With a little hesitation, the poet assigned him the job of looking after his cattle. Ugna became a very charming and affectionate servant to the poet within a very short period.
One day, Vidyapati received an invitation to participate in a royal function of the king of Mithila, Shivasimha. He took Ugna with him and they left for the king's capital. On the way the poet became very thirsty but it was a huge barren land where he saw no drops of water.
The helpless poet finally requested Ugna to bring some water. Ugna too showed his inability to bring the water and requested him to travel some more distance, but Vidyapati refused to walk further and became unconscious. He fell on the ground. Now, Ugna, who was none but Lord Shiva himself, took out a jug of water from his matted hair (jata), revived him to consciousness and gave the poet water to drink. The poet felt the taste of Ganga-water and immediately asked Ugna wherefrom he had brought it.
Ugna tried to make some false story but failed to do so. He wanted to keep it a secret and that's why he avoided deliberately the poet's query, but as Ugna wanted to avoid it, the poet's curiosity increased. Finally, he appeared as Shiva, in his original form, before the poet.
Vidyapati touched his feet and took the dust of Ugna's feet into his hands. Ugna now warned him not to disclose the secret before anybody including the poet's wife Sushila. Vidyapati assured Ugna to keep this secret with him.
According to the local legend, Vidyapati was an ardent devotee of Shiva. He composed several songs in the form of Nacharis and Maheshbanis to please the Lord.
Ugna remained with Vidyapati for many years and helped him miraculously in many critical situations. For instance, when Shivasimha was arrested by Emperor Allaudin Khilji of Delhi, Vidyapati accompanied by Ugna, came to Delhi to get him released. Knowing that Vidyapati was a poet, Allaudin arranged a scholarly debate between Vidyapati and his own court-poet.
Vidyapati was told to respond either in Persian or a mixed language alone. The poet with the heavenly blessings of Ugna defeated the Sultan's poet and responded in poetry he had composed in the prescribed languages. Not only that, with the blessings of Ugna he got rid of many obstacles created by the Sultan and his men at Delhi and finally succeeded in getting his king released from the prison of Sultan.
Once, the wife of Vidyapati assigned some domestic responsibility to Ugna, which he failed to deliver according to her given instructions. She became angry with him and started beating him with a broom. This erratic behaviour of Sushila made Vidyapati frustrated that Shiva, of whom he was a great devotee, should be abused and humiliated. He could not control himself and shouted at her to stop, and at that very moment Ugna disappeared. Vidyapati realised his mistake. He left his house and wandered through many temples, rivers and jungles in search of Ugna. Finally, Vidyapati found Ugna in Nandanvana. Shiva told him that he would not go back to his house but would help him whenever required. The place where Ugna appeared before the poet as God is known as Ugnaasthan. A small lingam was enshrined by the local devotees. Recently a temple has been made for that lingam.
Many people still worship Shiva while singing the devotional songs of Vidyapati.
- All My Inhibition
All my inhibition left me in a flash,
When he robbed me of my clothes,
But his body became my new dress.
Like a bee hovering on a lotus leaf
He was there in my night, on me!
Ugna Mahadev Shiva Mandir, Vidyapati Nagar Railway station, Vidyapati Block, Vidyapati college, Vidyapati High School, Vidyapati Thana, Vidyapati cold storage, Vidyapati SBI bank, etc., established on Samastipur district Bihar on the name of maithil kokil kavi Vidyapati. Vidyapati Nagar is also famous for end of life of Kavi Vidyapati. Lord Shiva and Maa Ganga meat with Vidyapati in the end of his life. Vidyapati mandir is 3 (three) km from Chamtha Ghat where Maa Ganga is established.
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
Vidyapati and Bengali literature
The influence of the lyrics of Vidyapati on the love of Radha and Krishna on the Bengali poets of the medieval period was so overwhelming that they largely imitated it. As a result, an artificial literary language, known as Brajabuli was developed in the sixteenth century. Brajabuli is basically Maithili (as prevalent during the medieval period) but its forms are modified to look like Bengali. The medieval Bengali poets, Gobindadas Kabiraj, Jnandas, Balaramdas and Narottamdas composed their padas (poems) in this language. Rabindranath Tagore composed his Bhanusingha Thakurer Padabali (1884) in a mix of Western Hindi (Braj Bhasha) and archaic Bengali and named the language Brajabuli as an imitation of Vidyapati (he initially promoted these lyrics as those of a newly discovered poet, Bhanusingha). Other 19th century figures in the Bengal Renaissance like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee have also written in the Brajabuli.
Vidyapati and Oriya literature
Vidyapati's influence reached Odisha through Bengal. The earliest composition in Brajabuli is ascribed to Ramananda Raya, the governor of Godavari province of the King of Odisha, Gajapati Prataprudra Dev. He was a disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He recited his Brajabuli poems to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, when he first met him on the bank of river Godavari at Rajahmundry, southern provincial capital of Kingdom of Odisha in 1511–12. Other notable Oriya poets influenced by Vidyapati's poems were Champati Ray and king Pratap Malla Dev (1504–32).
In popular culture
Legendary theatre actor, director, and film actor Prithviraj Kapoor had played the role of Vidyapati in the 1937 film Vidyapati, which had received a lot of appreciation, especially for Kapoor's performance as Vidyapati.
- Majumdar, R.C. (ed.) (2006). The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. VI, pp.515–6
- Bisfi.in Website
- Birth place of Vidyapati
- 27 poems transl. Deben Bhattacharya, from Love Songs of Vidyapati, (UNESCO) 1963
- Vidyapati Padmavati
- Maharsi Sri Aurobindo on Vidyapati by Binod Bihari Verma
- Vidyāpati: Bangīya padābali; songs of the love of Rādhā and Krishna