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.
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!
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?
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:
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
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:
Department of English
Washington State University
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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