Vidyapati (1352 – 1448), also known by the sobriquet Maithil Kavi Kokil (the poet cuckoo of Maithili) was a Maithili poet and a Sanskrit writer. He was born in the village of Bisfi in Madhubani district of Mithila Region of India and Nepal. He was son of Ganapati. The name Vidyapati is derived from two Sanskrit words, Vidya (knowledge) and Pati (master), connoting thereby, a man of knowledge.
Vidyapati’s poetry was widely influential in centuries to come, in the Hindustani as well as Bengali and other Eastern literary traditions. Indeed, the language at the time of Vidyapati, the prakrit-derived late abahatta, had just began to transition into early versions of the Eastern languages, Maithili, Bengali, Oriya, etc. Thus, Vidyapati’s influence on making these languages has been described as “analogous to that of Dante in Italy and Chaucer in England.”
Vidyapati is as much known for his love-lyrics as for his poetry dedicated to Shiva. His language is closest to Maithili, the language spoken around Mithila (a region in the north Bihar and region surrounding Janakpur in Nepal), closely related to the abahattha form of early Bengali.
The love songs of Vidyapati, which describe the sensuous love story of Radha and Krishna, follow a long line of Vaishnav love poetry, popular in Eastern India, and include much celebrated poetry such as Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda of the 12th century. This tradition which uses the language of physical love to describe spiritual love, was a reflection of a key turn in Hinduism, initiated by Ramanuja in the 11th century which advocated an individual self realization through direct love. Similar to the reformation in Christianity, this movement empowered the common man to realize God directly, without the intervention of learned priests. Part of the transformation was also a shift to local languages as opposed to the formal Sanskrit of the religious texts.
The songs he wrote as prayers to Lord Shiva are still sung in Mithila and form a rich tradition of sweet and lovely folk songs.
Folklore says that he was such a great devotee of Shiva that the lord was really pleased with him. And once He decided to come to live in his house as a servant. As the servant He is said to have taken the name Ugna. At several places in the region, Lord Shiva is still worshipped by this name. It is said that the lord in form of servant had imposed a condition on Vidyapati that he could not disclose his identity to anyone else or else he would go away. When Vidyapati’s wife was angry at her servant and started to beat him Vidyapati could not tolerate the same and asked his wife not to beat Lord Shiva himself and since then the lord disappeared and never was he seen again.According to the local legend, Vidyapati was an ardent devotee of Shiva. He composed several songs in the form of Nacharis and Maheshbanis to please the Lord. Impressed with the devotion and poetic creativity of the poet, Lord Shiva came to him in a disguised form of a cowherd boy called Ugna.
Ugna requested the poet that as he was an orphan boy he wanted to work in his house as his servant. With a little hesitation, the poet assigned him the job of looking after his cattle. Ugna became a very charming and affectionate servant to the poet within a very short period.
One day, Vidyapati received an invitation to participate in a royal function of the king of Mithila, Shivasimha. He took Ugna with him and they left for the king’s capital. On the way the poet became very thirsty but it was a huge barren land where he saw no drops of water.
The helpless poet finally requested Ugna to bring some water. Ugna too showed his inability to bring the water and requested him to travel some more distance, but Vidyapati refused to walk further and became unconscious. He fell on the ground. Now, Ugna, who was none but Lord Shiva himself, took out a jug of water from his matted hair (jata), revived him to consciousness and gave the poet water to drink. The poet felt the taste of Ganga-water and immediately asked Ugna wherefrom he had brought it.
Ugna tried to make some false story but failed to do so. He wanted to keep it a secret and that’s why he avoided deliberately the poet’s query, but as Ugna wanted to avoid it, the poet’s curiosity increased. Finally, he appeared as Shiva, in his original form, before the poet.
Vidyapati touched his feet and took the dust of Ugna’s feet into his hands. Ugna now warned him not to disclose the secret before anybody including the poet’s wife Sushila. Vidyapati assured Ugna to keep this secret with him.
According to the local legend, Vidyapati was an ardent devotee of Shiva. He composed several songs in the form of Nacharis and Maheshbanis to please the Lord.
Ugna remained with Vidyapati for many years and helped him miraculously in many critical situations. For instance, when Shivasimha was arrested by Emperor Allaudin Khilji of Delhi, Vidyapati accompanied by Ugna, came to Delhi to get him released. Knowing that Vidyapati was a poet, Allaudin arranged a scholarly debate between Vidyapati and his own court-poet.
Vidyapati was told to respond either in Persian or a mixed language alone. The poet with the heavenly blessings of Ugna defeated the Sultan’s poet and responded in poetry he had composed in the prescribed languages. Not only that, with the blessings of Ugna he got rid of many obstacles created by the Sultan and his men at Delhi and finally succeeded in getting his king released from the prison of Sultan.
Once, the wife of Vidyapati assigned some domestic responsibility to Ugna, which he failed to deliver according to her given instructions. She became angry with him and started beating him with a broom. This erratic behaviour of Sushila made Vidyapati frustrated that Shiva, of whom he was a great devotee, should be abused and humiliated. He could not control himself and shouted at her to stop, and at that very moment Ugna disappeared. Vidyapati realised his mistake. He left his house and wandered through many temples, rivers and jungles in search of Ugna. Finally, Vidyapati found Ugna in Nandanvana. Shiva told him that he would not go back to his house but would help him whenever required. The place where Ugna appeared before the poet as God is known as Ugnaasthan. A small lingam was enshrined by the local devotees.
Recently a temple has been made for that lingam.
Many people still worship Shiva while singing the devotional songs of Vidyapati.
Vidyapati and Oriya literature
Vidyapati’s influence reached Orissa through Bengal. The earliest composition in Brajabuli is ascribed to Ramananda Raya, the governor of Godavari province of the King of Orissa, Gajapati Prataprudra Dev. He was a disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He recited his Brajabuli poems to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, when he first met him on the bank of river Godavari at Rajahmundry, southern provincial capital of Kingdom of Orissa in 1511-12. Other notable Oriya poets influenced by Vidyapati’s poems were Champati Ray and king Pratap Malla Dev (1504–32).