Dr. Mithilesh Kumar Jha (IIT-Guwahati)

Paper Title:

Vidyapati’s Purush Pariksha and its rediscoveries in the early Twentieth-Century

Paper Abstract:

Vidyapati Thakur (1350-1448) was a great scholar, diplomat, and poet in the royal court of Raja Shiv Singh of the Oiniwar dynasty (14th – 16th C) in Mithila, North Bihar. He wrote many Sanskrit treatises and historical texts such as Kirti Pataka, Kirtilata, and Likhnawali. He also composed numerous songs/verses in Maithili. They are deeply embedded in the socio-religious and cultural milieu of Mithila. These songs are widespread across the literary spheres of present-day Bengal, Assam, Orissa, and Nepal. They are sung by love-struck souls, laymen, women doing their daily chores, and Lord Shiva and Shakti devotees. 

Vidyapati’s literary style has inspired many poets. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) wrote Bhanusinher Padavali imitating Vidyapati. Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) too was inspired by Vidyapati’s works and translated his numerous verses into English. Vidyapati’s Purush Pariksha (The Test of Man) influenced many colonial and native scholars and administrators in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Vidyapati has become a towering figure in the early twentieth-century literary milieu in North India. Numerous linguistic groups have claimed and counterclaimed, including modern Bengali, Hindi, and Maithili, to appropriate and re-appropriate Vidyapati and his work in their respective literary traditions. This paper mainly focuses on how Vidyapati and his works, particularly Purush Pariksha, were received and transmitted across the linguistic spheres in modern India. To understand the rediscovery of Vidyapati and his texts, this paper examines the numerous biographies and compilations of his works published in Hindi, Maithili, and English since the second half of the 19th Century in Modern India. It attempts to understand this avatar/rediscovery of Vidyapati and his works and how these are distinct from the ‘historical’ Vidyapati? It also discusses his association with modern Maithili’s literary and cultural symbols. 

Participant Bio:

Mithilesh Kumar Jha teaches Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati. He previously taught at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, from where he completed his PhD in 2014. Dr. Jha was a University Teaching Assistant in the Department and a recipient of the University Grant Commission’s Junior and Senior Research Fellowship. He also received the Charles Wallace Fellowship and the Indian Council of Social Science Research Fellowship for Data Collection Abroad in 2012.

Dr. Jha’s research interests are political thought, theory, and Indian politics.

He is the author of Language Politics and Public Sphere in North India: Making of the Maithili Movement (Oxford University Press, 2018). He has also edited and compiled a book on Grierson’s letters to his contemporary Maithili writers and scholars entitled Glimpses of Mithila and Maithili: The Correspondence of George Abraham Grierson. This book was published under the Bihar Heritage Series of the Kalyani Foundation, Darbhanga, in 2013. Dr. Jha’s articles and review articles have appeared in journals like EPWStudies in Indian PoliticsContributions to Indian SociologySeminarThe Book ReviewLSE Review of BooksSablog, and Qurius. He has also contributed chapters in edited volumes published by SageOrient BlackSwan, and Springer.