ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Literature and a New Universalism in Sultanate India

Vidyapati’s Mithila

A Political History of Literature: Vidyapati and the Fifteenth Century by Pankaj Jha, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018; pp 304, Rs 1,095.

 

Vidyapati, a poet and courtier from the 15th century, is a household name in North Bihar. He is widely remembered as a literary luminary who not only composed in several languages but had an astonishing command of a wide variety of genres. A contemporary of Kashmiri saint–poet Nund Rishi (1378–1440), most of Vidyapati’s writings date back to the period between 1400 and 1440. His enduring popularity in Bihar owes more to the songs he composed in his native Maithili. These songs are an archive of the everyday life in Mithila and have become entangled with the cultural and political imaginations of Bihar as a region. If Vidyapati finds mention in Mughal chronicler Abul Fazl’s Ā’īn-e Akbarī in the 16th century, he also became a model of ins­piration for Bengali poet Rabin­dranath Tagore in the 20th century. Historian Pankaj Jha’s A Political History of Literature: Vidyapati and the Fifteenth Century is a definitive study of Vidyapati that seeks to situate his writings in the political and literary culture of North India in the 15th century. Jha not only brings us near to the genius of Vidyapati but advances historical insight into the processes that were to shape the eventual rise of Mughal political and literary culture in the 16th century.

It is not just Vidyapati that interests Jha in this book but the flowering of literary expression in what he calls the “atypical region” (p xx) of Mithila in the 15th century. There is a growing body of work on political culture and the literary culture of medieval India. But to study the one in relation to the other, des­pite the surge in publications on ­India’s pre-modern poetic traditions, is rare. Jha’s approach to Vidyapati is unique in that he considers Vidyapati’s texts as conversations between different genres, lang­uages and regions. But even more signi­ficantly, he relates Vidyapati’s texts to their “outside”: the political life of 15th century Mithila. This turn to literature offers a wealth of material in understanding the history of political culture in the region.

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Updated On : 28th Mar, 2021

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