‘Lotus of Delight’
(A Critical Appreciation of Vidyapati)
By PARSHARAM C. BATRA, M.A.
A reader may take the poems of Vidyapati in whichever way he pleases. If he is one of those who can see no more in them than a collection of rich and sensuous love-lyrics, he has the right to enjoy them in that light. If he thinks of the poems as a unique collection dealing with the Divine Love, while employing the language of human love for its expression, he will (though I have no quarrel with the first) be nearer to my way of thinking.
Except for one or two bare facts we know little of Vidyapati’s life. He lived in Bihar in the first half of the fifteenth century and wrote his works under the patronage of Raja Shivasimha Rupanarayana. He wrote many works in Sanskrit but the lyrical poems are cast in Maithili, his mothertongue. (Maithili is a blend of Hindi and Sanskrit. It is a rich and vivid dialect.)
Vidyapati Thakur is a mystic poet of the Vaishnava School. Vaishnava poets have all along accepted the joys and pleasures that life offers them in all its varied manifestations. As mystics they ceaselessly aspire towards union with God. Both these experiences, namely, of the human and the Divine Love are harmoniously blended in their poetry. Not only that. The experience of the human love is taken as a stepping stone to the understanding of the joy in Divine Love. So we find the language, or better, the symbolism of the human love employed to draw our attention to those thoughts which lie beyond the reaches of the human soul.*
“Not my way of salvation to surrender the world,” says a Vaishnava poet. He however, also means to be true to his mystic experience. For that too is real to him. He like a true genius will so temper and harmonise the two experiences that one should lead to the other:
“ My passion shall burn as the flame of my salvation,
The flower of my love shall become the ripe fruit of my devotion.”
There was one theme to which Vidyapati was deeply devoted, a theme which has inspired several poets of our Motherland–namely, Radha’s love for Krishna. His Bangya Padabli is a cycle of love lyrics celebrating the love of Krishna and Radha–courtship of God and the Soul–enumerating the various phases it has to live through before achieving ultimate union.
In the first part of the cycle, we have Lord Krishna passing through the forest that lay near by Gokula; the milk-maids are making merry and the Lord espies them all. One amongst them overpowers him. She is Radha. On beholding this ‘phantom of delight’ the Lord is spell-bound–
“Even an instant to behold such loveliness
Suffices to eclipse the triple worlds:
But could I see her once again,
My mourning may depart!”
He must pursue this phantom with a lotus-like face and sun-bright eyes, with jet-black flowing tresses that fall over her snow-white breasts as if jealously guarding them, or know no peace of mind. He is that ravished–madan-maddened as the poet calls him.
God is on the chase. Will He overtake the Soul? In Vidyapati’s delineation of Radha, there is everything to be enraptured about: a woman one feels mad to kiss; a face and a shape that swells into reality. And no wonder he is mistaken for a mere voluptuous poet. There is, however, more in him than meets the eye. Let us pause and consider the poem which follows them, a poem which sums up the thought underlying them all: –
“He honey life, you honey-heap,
Already hiding hoarded sweets, –
The maddened bee has neither home
Nor rest without your jasmine self.”
It means just this. God knows no rest without the Soul. Enamoured Krishna tries to get in touch with Radha. Were she but to see Him once, she would pine a hundred-fold more intensely than what He does for her. One day Radha when playing with her gopis beholds the Lord:
“Her partridge-eyes beholding Krishna's moon-fair face,
Were drinking draughts of dew:
Each on the other gazing, spread abroad the taste of bliss,
That Vidyapati knoweth well.”
In the second phase of the cycle we have the Soul yearning for God. Soul, in the shape of Radha, fearfully and diffidently approaches its God-head, incarnate in Krishna. It is Radha’s fate now to bewail her lot:
“How shall I tell of Kanu’s beauty,
Who shall describe the dream shape?”
“I cannot tell what the dear thief has done to me:
When I beheld him he did steal my heart, and went away,
And as he went he showed so many signs of love:
The more I would forget, the less I may.”
Radha is fond and foolish–an artless maid who knows not the art of dalliance. Waves of emotion sweep through her. Who is to save her when she is about to lose her identity in him? It is a consummation devoutly wished for, and yet, the heart trembles at the thought of it; the fear of the unknown overpowers her. The bridge has to be crossed; a leap into the unknown has to be taken. Let Radha make her resolve.
Radha prepares to face the Lord. Who is to do her toilet: she cannot bind her own hair? She trembles so. With side-long glances she appeals to her sakhis to help her. Leaning on their support she enters the bridal chamber. This is how she afterwards recounted the eventful night:
“My body shivered at the sight of him,
He was so eager that he sprang on me;
I lost my wits in his embrace,
How can 1 tell what amorous play he played?”
The Lord, too, is overjoyed: –
“How many ways she kissed me,
Laughing light and low in gladness,
My dream of delight!”
“What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet.” Vidyapati delights in closely following the similes of human love. All he means by this allegorical language is that the Soul has tasted the joy of union.
When Krishna fails to turn up when the night falls, Radha goes forth to meet him. Dangers beset her path, but nothing can hold her back:
“The night is very thick and black,
But Love lights up the gloom.”
That is very true: nothing can stay the God-tormented Soul.
Then follows separation.
Radha is devoured by the pangs of loneliness; she feels uprooted. There is no mirth in her talk; the lovely dimple on her cheek dies away; smiles no more play on her lips. How can the soul brook to be thwarted from it God-head?
Radha stands the ordeal of separation with fortitude and courage. At times, though, the anguish is overpowering: –
“What can I say of the pangs of disunion,
Hearken, most cruel Kanu?”
and again, momentarily overcome by her grief, she is led to suspect his fidelity:
“What like is she my Lord has met,
That he is so enamoured?
Some maid he must have found, my Lord is glad,
And plunges in my heart an arrow.”
These thoughts are, however, like a passing summer shower.
At last Radha realises that true love and service is self-realization and self-expression. Krishna returns to Gokula, and with tears of joy she hears her Lord’s whisper: “Can I forget my dear and gentle lady?” The meeting of the two lovers is a treat to behold:
“Rare was the meeting of one with the other
The grief of disunion vanished afar,”
“ He has taken her hand and put her down on the painted seat,
The jewel Shyama disports with the jewel–damsel.”
Rangya Padabli is verily a bouquet of delight in which and lyrical note are indissolubly merged in each other.
* Rabindtanath Tagore is the latest representative of the Vaishnava School of poets.