Dr. Christopher L. Diamond (The Australian National University)

Paper Title:

A Torrent of Songs: Locana Das’ Rāgataraṅgiṇī, the Darbhanga Raj, and the Making of the Maithili Tradition

Paper Abstract:

By the middle of the twentieth century, the Darbhanga Raj was one of the most prominent ruling families in North India. The intellectual, financial, and political influence of the Khaṇḍavāla dynasty was not a surety from the earliest days of their reign starting with their appointment by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1557 CE as caretaking administrators of this productive region of North Bihar. In the politically unstable region of Mithila/Tirhuta, the Khaṇḍavālas were the second clan of Maithil Brahmins to be given suzerainty of the region. Under the previous Oinvāra ruling family of Brahmins (r. 1325-1526 CE), literature, and especially lyric poetry in the vernacular Maithili began to flourish starting with the lyrics of Vidyāpati Ṭhākura (c. 1360-1450 CE), a court poet and scholar attached to their court.

The Khaṇḍavālas commissioned the poet Locana Dās to create a collection of songs documenting and elaborating the Maithili musical tradition to connect themselves in cultural and literary succession to the Oinvāra court. The result, the Rāgataraṅgiṇī (‘The Waves of Melody’), contained documentation and theorisation of the Maithil traditions of lyrics, melody, and rhythm. Between complex and sometimes beguiling explanations of Maithil systems of rāga (melody) and tāla (rhythm) in Sanskrit and Braj Bhasha, Locana used examples of Maithili lyrical poems (padas) as illustrative examples. Vidyāpati’s songs have a place of primacy amongst the developing body of Maithili lyric poetry.

Locana’s Khaṇḍavāla patrons, at the beginning of their own precarious reign over Mithila, evoked a uniquely Maithili cultural ethos defined by the court of their Oinvāra predecessors. This paper analyses the methods by which Locana defined the Maithili tradition and why it was a useful tool of cultural and literary power consolidation for the early rulers of the Darbhanga Raj. 

Participant Bio:

Chris is a Lecturer in Hindi in the School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL) in the College of Asia & the Pacific (CAP) at the ANU, where he primarily teaches Hindi. Trained as a philologist, Chris’ primary research interests lie in the premodern literary, devotional, and performance cultures of North India, Nepal, and Bengal. His current monograph and translation projects focus on the vernacular lyrical poetry of the 15th century polymath-poet Vidyapati. Specifically, Chris is looking at the construction of a new vernacular literary cosmopolis that emerged through an interplay of caste, masculinity, music, and memory across several small royal courts in North India and Nepal from the 15th to 19th centuries CE. In this multilingual context, Chris works across several languages, including Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, Sanskrit, Maithili, Braj Bhasha, Avadhi, Apabhramsha, and Persian.

Chris is also the co-director of ANUBhasha, a collective of textual scholars of South Asia interested in using digital tools for textual scholarship and engaged community work.

He is also the Deputy-Director of ANU’s South Asia Research Institute (SARI).