Book Review| Decoding life and works of Mahakavi Vidyapati 

Dr Manchala Jha’s book “Mahakavi Vidyapati Aur Nepal” reminisces the contributions of the great poet by highlighting the historical facts and his notable works.

Jivesh Jha

  • Read Time 5 min.

Many authors have written a good deal of literature on Vidyapati, the great poet of Maithili literature. Dr Manchala Jha, by highlighting the historical facts and notable works of Vidyapati, reminisces the contributions of the great poet in her book entitled Mahakavi Vidyapati Aur Nepal published by Mahamana Malaviya Mission-Nepal. The book hosts seven chapters which depict the life and writings of the great poet. It is the element of novelty that each paragraph provides the works and stories that relate to Kavi Kokil which is the most intriguing about this collection.

Dr Jha, a former Commissioner of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, borrows the words of Professor Krishna Prasad Upadhyay to trace the historical legacy of Vidyapati with Nepal. Prof Upadhyay argues that Vidyapati was born in 1407 BS in modern India and Nepal’s ancient Mithila.

Vidyapati was born in ancient Nepal’s Mithila’s Darbhanga district’s Bisapi village, which at present falls under India’s Madhubani district. He was son of Ganapati Thakur and Ganga Devi. The name Vidyapati is derived from two Sanskrit words, Vidya (knowledge) and Pati (master), meaning a man of knowledge. He is widely known for his love-lyrics and poetries dedicated to lord Shiva and goddess Durga. Vidyapati is also known by the nickname of ‘Maithil Kavi Kokil’ (the poet cuckoo of Maithili).

In the first chapter, she has accessed the historical facts and life of Vidyapati. Though scholars are at odds regarding the actual date of birth of the great poet, the historical facts suggest that he could have been born in 1350 AD. “In, Songs of Vidyapati, Dr Subhadra Jha writes that Vidyapati was with us from 1352 to 1448,” writes Jha on page 13.    

 In the second chapter, she discusses the writings of Vidyapati.  The ‘Kavi Kokil’ floated the idea of promoting the local literature and culture by proposing a saying: ‘Desil Baina Sabhjan Mitha’, which means the local literature, culture, among others is the sublime thing, writes Dr Jha on page 25. Apart from Maithili, the great poet has penned many scholarly books in Sanskrit which include Bhuparikrama, Purushpariksha, and Likhnavali.

Vidyapati’s writings could be chiefly categorized into three—erotic, devotional and miscellaneous,” writes Dr Jha on page 35. He has written scores of poems to persuade Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga and others. Romanticism, which includes a peculiar sense of delight in devotion, is the spirit of Vidyapati’s poetry, argues Dr Jha.

In the third chapter, she devotes a good deal of portion to access Vidyapati’s religious affection. Vidyapati’s songs are considered auspicious among Mithila people. Till today, the temples and governmental and non-governmental bodies of India and Nepal provide full patronage to the classical songs/writings of the great poet. On page 37, she writes, the myths say that he was such a great devotee of Shiva that the Lord was pleased with him in such a way that once he decided to come to live in Vidyapati’s house as a servant. As a servant he is said to have taken the name of Ugna. At several places in the region, Lord Shiva is still worshiped by this name. He composed several songs in the form of Nacharis to please the Lord.  Ugna Temple in Madhuvani district is dedicated to this divine incident.

In Vidyapati’s writings, we can find the mixed flavor of devotion and romance. The fourth chapter of the book aims to find whether Vidyapati is a devotional or romantic poet.  In writings, he dives deep into romanticism and emerges with devotion,” argues Dr Jha, adding, “On the basis of Vidyapati’s Padavali, scholars argue that he was a poet of the romantic genre.”

“Though we can find that Sanskrit literatures had significant impacts on Vidyapati’s writings, his literatures are unique and unparalleled,” she writes in the fifth chapter.

The book’s sixth chapter delves deep to debunk the nexus of Vidyapati with Nepal.  Nepal’s Saptari district had the privilege to host Vidyapati for 12 years,” writes she on page 86. He stayed in Nepal from 1406 to 1418. On page 117, she quotes Satya Mohan Joshi, a cultural expert, to substantiate her claims. Joshi maintains, “The songs of Vidyapati may not be chanted by Maithili speakers of Nepal and India on a daily basis but there has been a practice of observing songs of great poet everyday by Newar community members.” 

Joshi further says that Vidyapati is famous among Kathmandu valley people for a number of reasons. Firstly, Kathmandu valley loves Maithili and secondly, Tirhutiya Brahmin had made strong influence in the capital back then.   

Dr Jha has debunked the historical facts associated with the great poet Vidyapati. She devotes a good deal of section for governmental initiatives undertaken to honor Vidyapati. 

She puts facts which prove that Vidyapati is famous among non-Maithili speakers too. As a matter of fact, the great poet’s song is chanted everyday at Lalitpur’s Krishna temple by Newari community members.

In the sixth chapter, Dr Jha discusses the praiseworthy initiatives undertaken by the governments to commemorate the great poet Vidyapati. His literary works have been preserved by the Department of Archaeology, Kathmandu in digital form.

In Nepal, the Vidyapati Memorial Day is celebrated every year on the day of ‘Troyodashi’ of ‘Kartik Suklapakasha’ to remember the literary contributions of the greatest poet. The Day is observed with full enthusiasm by reciting the Maithili and Sanskrit verses of Vidyapati. Conceived in 2011 [2068 BS] by then Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikary, Vidyapati Puraskar Kosh  (Vidyapati Award Fund) is one of the highest literary awards bestowed upon authors by the government of Nepal every year. The award is given in five different genres—Maithili literature, Maithili art and culture, Maithili research, Maithili script and Maithili translation—to the writers for their outstanding performance in protection and promotion of Maithili. The government of Nepal declares the names of recipients every year on Vidyapati Memorial Day and the award is distributed before the end of the fiscal year. In addition to this, Madhesh Province government had allotted Rs 130 million in 2021 to construct a monument of Vidyapati and beautify the ponds bearing the name of the great poet. It’s a matter of pride and honor to see that big monuments of Kavi Kokil have been explicitly created in Janakpur and Ilam to keep the memory alive.

In “Epilogue,” Dr Jha has discussed the historical facts associated with the great poet. On page 154, she writes that it’s high time to establish libraries, research centers, scholarships, and research grants in the name of Vidyapati to protect and promote the Maithili literature. “The governments’ actions to commemorate Vidyapati are praiseworthy; however, they don’t appear to be adequate,” she writes. Finally, she mentions some of the famous songs and stanzas of the great poet in the appendix section.

Dr Jha has debunked the historical facts associated with the great poet Vidyapati. She does not only discuss the writings of the Kavi Kokil but also devotes a good deal of section for governmental initiatives undertaken to honor Vidyapati. Her book should be a mandatory reading for journalists covering Maithili literature and culture, cultural experts, teachers and students of various streams, including that of literature, social sciences and history.  

Jivesh Jha, formerly a Lecturer of Law at Kathmandu University School of Law, is currently a Judicial Officer at Dhanusha District Court, Janakpurdham.

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