The Nepal Manuscript
Many intact manuscripts in Old Maithili, survive in state and private collections in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. A combination of environmental degradation and political machinations have left most Maithili-language manuscripts in the low-lying, flood prone region of Mithila, in the north of the Indian state of Bihar and in southeastern Nepal, destroyed or lost. This large collection also provides evidence for a robust and intricate network of brahmins, artists, and other elites migrating from the lowlands into the Kathmandu Valley and the language and literary tradition that they brought with them. The texts of the Maithili manuscript of Nepal primarily consist of lyrical anthologies and devotional dramas in Maithili and Newari scripts and on a variety of materials.
The Nepal Manuscript
This palm-leaf manuscript consists of 108 folia. The last leaf is numbered as 109. Leaf number 104 is marked as number 105 in error. Each leaf is approximately 8 × 2.25. The Nepali label, which is super-inscribed in Nepali Nāgarī, reads “Vidyāpati ko Gīta” (“the Songs of Vidyāpati”) (Jha 1954: 115). The oldest and most “authoritative” palm-leaf manuscript (tālapatra) still available, the Nepal Manuscript (hereafter NM) has been the standard source for twentieth-century scholars of both Mithilā and Bengal as the authoritative source by which later collections were assessed. It is written in the Maithili script, variously called Mithilākṣara or Tirhutā. Chronologically, the NM provides the earliest waypoint, by which we can refer all other later manuscripts until such time as an older source can be found.
This manuscript contains 288 total padas, of which 261 are ascribed to Vidyāpati in the bhaṇitā. According to Subhadra Jha, a few stanzas are missing in various padas. He assesses that this is not due to any degradation of the manuscript but to scribal omission, through inference from missing end-rhymes and interlinear poetic allusions (Jha 1954: 113–27). Twenty-six other poets’ padas are included in this collection. Thirteen padas are ascribed to eleven different poets, and thirteen are unattributed. Thematically, Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, and Śakti are the focal subjects of the padas. The poems dedicated to Śiva and Śakti/Devī (also called Nacārīs) are usually interpreted as devotional, while the nominally Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa-centric padas as more overtly erotic, mannerist, and courtly. Many twentieth-century collections of Vidyāpati’s padas have included the padas of the NM with varying levels of acceptance and authority. Bengali scholar Nagendranath Gupta’s influential collection included 219 of the 261 padas (Gupta 1909). This edition has been influential for later editors in Bengali and Hindi language collections alike. A recently republished edition of the NM, by the Bihār-Rāṣṭrabhāṣā-Pariṣad, has made the task of collating occurrences of padas much easier with its collation between the three main manuscript sources (Vidyāpati 1961).
Like many of the practical songbook manuscripts of Nepal and North India, this manuscript does not include a colophon or other detailed information about its original provenance or scribal origin. Because it is written in only Maithili in Maithili script (rather than Newari), it is likely that the scribe and musician-users were Maithil in origin. It is difficult to determine if it is lowland (Mithila) or Himalayan in origin. It is likely to have been held in a royal collection in the Kathmandu Valley for at least the past 200 years. This manuscript was first reported by historian and Indian nationalist Kāśī Prasād Jayasvāl in 1936 in the Government Library of Nepal (a.k.a. The Nepal Darbar Library). Later, the Maharaja of Darbhanga, Kāmeśvara Siṁha (1907–1964), sponsored two copies of the manuscript to be made and deposited in the Patna College Library and the Patna University Library. Since then, those copies have been “misplaced”.
Purpose of Collection:
It is likely that this manuscript, and those like it, were practical items, used as lyrical handbooks for professional musicians. Although some conjecture has been made about the loose thematic organisation of the songs in this anthology, the songs seem to be catalogued as a matter of record keeping for a professional musician.
Benīpurī, Rāmavṛkṣa. 1936. Vidyāpati Kī Padāvalī: Ṭippaṇī-Sahita. Laheriyāsarāya: Pustaka-Bhaṇḍāra
Gupta, Nagendranath, ed. 1909. Vidyāpati Ṭhākurera Padāvalī. Kalikātā: Baṅgīya-Sāhitya-Pariṣat.
Jhā, Subhadra. 1954. The Songs of Vidyapati/Vidyāpati Gīt Sangraha. Banaras: Motilal Banarsidass.
Jhā, Subhadra. 1985. The Formation of the Maithilī Language. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Kapūra, Shubakāra. 1968. Vidyāpati Kī Padāvalī. Lucknow: Ganga Pustakamālā Kāryālaya.
Mitra, Śrī Khagendra Nātha, and Śrī Bimāna Bihārī Majumdāra, eds. 1952. Vidyāpatira Padāvalī. Kalikātā: Śrī Śaratkumāra Mitra.
Śrīvāstava ‘Candra’, Rāmacandra. 1963. Vidyāpati Padāvalī. Āgrā: Rāmaprasāda Eṇḍa Saṁsa.
Tieken, Herman. 2010. ‘Songs Accompanied by So-Called Bhaṇitās in Dramatic Texts’. In Indische Theater: Text, Theorie, Praxis., edited by Karin Steiner and Heidrun Brückner, 63–75. Drama Und Theater in Südasien 8. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Vidyāpati. 1522. ‘Gaṅgāvākyāvalī’. Palm leaf. Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Bibliothèque Nationale de France. https://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cc97624f.
Vidyāpati. 1961. Vidyāpati-Padāvalī (Prathama Bhāga: Nepāla se Prāpta Vidyāpati ke Padoṃ kā Saṅgraha). 1st ed. Patna: Bihāra-Rāshṭrabhāshā-Parishad.
Vidyāpati. 1979. Vidyāpati-Padāvalī (Tīsrā Bhāga: Baṅgāl Meiṁ Upalabdha Vidyāpati Ke Padoṃ Kā Saṅgraha]. Edited by Śrīlakṣmīpati Siṁha and Aravindanārāyaṇa Sinhā. 1st ed. Vol. 3. 3 vols. Pataṇā: Bihāra-Rāṣṭrabhāṣā-Pariṣad.
Vidyāpati. 16th cent. CE. ‘Vidyāpati Gīta [Nepal Manuscript]’. Palm leaf. Kathmandu. A21/16. National Archives of Nepal.