Vidyapati (1352?-1448): Love Songs to Krishna

Vidyapati was born in the village of Bisapi in Madhubani, on the eastern side of north Bihar. Courtier, scholar, and prose-writer, Vidyapati, though a Bengali poet, is primarily known for his love-lyrics composed in Maithili, a language spoken in the towns and villages of Mithila. In the well-known tradition of the Kama Sutra and the influential early Indian poem called Gita Govinda by Jayadeva, Vidyapati's love-songs re-create and reveal the world of Radha and Krishna, the major erotic figures of Indian mythology and literature. Such poems convey the devotion of Krishna's worshippers through the metaphor of human erotic love. While Jayadeva's poem celebrates Krishna's love and pays comparatively little attention to Radha the woman, Vidyapati is primarily concerned with the intense passion of Radha's love. At once sensuous and sensual, descriptive and dramatic, Vidyapati's songs range beyond the mythological only to find their place in the heart of a human lover whose dreams and desires never die, whose sighs and cries never end.


In this poem, Krishna expresses his devotion to Radha, his principal consort. Bites and fingernail marks are considered signs of passion in Indian tradition (the Kama Sutra devotes an entire chapter to the different patterns that may be made by fingernails on the lover's skin; the associations are not sadistic, but more like "hickeys" in American tradition). The language is violent, to express the power of the union between worshipper and god; but note how the god plays the submissive role in this poem, almost as if he were worshipping the human woman.


For heaven's sake, listen, listen, O my darling

How could you interpret some of these lines in religious terms?

For heaven's sake, listen, listen, O my darling:
Do not dart your cruel, angry glances at me,
For I swear by the lovely pitchers of your breasts,
And by your golden, glittering, snake-like necklace:
If ever on earth I dare touch anyone except you,
Let your necklace turn into a real snake, and bite me;
And if ever my promise and words prove false,
Chastise me, O darling, in the way you want to.
But, now, don't hesitate to take me in your arms,
Bind, bind my thirsty body with yours; bruise me
With your thighs, and bite, bite me with your teeth.
Let your fingernails dig deep, deep into my skin!
Strangle me, for heaven's sake, with your breasts,
And lock me in the prison of your body forever!


All my inhibition left me in a flash

Krishna is a playful god, associated with tricks and games. In one of the most famous incidents in the Krishna legend, he steals the clothing of a group of bathing cowherds' wives (gopis) and exhorts them to come forth from the water to reveal themselves. The religious significance of this incident is that the believer must not hold back from uniting fully with the divine, must be utterly devoted to the god. Similar attitudes are expressed in the following poem in relation to Radha.

What different emotions are expressed in this poem?


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!

True, the god of love never hesitates!
He is free and determined like a bird
Winging toward the clouds it loves.
Yet I remember the mad tricks he played,
My heart restlessly burning with desire
Was yet filled with fear!

He promised he'd return tomorrow

In the final poem, Radha has to deal with her jealousy. Krishna is the lover of all women (representing all humanity), and she cannot hope to keep him to herself.

What functions do you think such a poem as this might play in a polygamous society? Does it express women's feelings, or teach how they should feel?

He promised he'd return tomorrow.
And I wrote everywhere on my floor:
"Tomorrow."

The morning broke, when they all asked:
Now tell us, when will your "Tomorrow" come?
Tomorrow, Tomorrow, where are you?
I cried and cried, but my Tomorrow never returned!

Vidyapati says: O listen, dear!
Your Tomorrow became a today
with other women.

Translated by Azfar Hussain



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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.

The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:

Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. If, after examining the table of contents of the complete volume, you are interested in considering it for use at your own campus, please contact Paul Brians.

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