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Chandidas
Chandidas
Description
About the Book

Among the sweetest flowers of Old Bengali Vaishnav poetry are the lyrics ascribed to Chandidas. But who was Chandidas and what was he, where did he flourish and when—are questions that have baffled the most assiduous research by reputed scholars of Bengali language and literature. The earliest reference to Chandidas is to be found in Chaitanyacharitamrita wherein Krishnadas Kaviraj, a junior contemporary of the Master, records that in his later years Chaitanya received emotional sustenance from the songs of Jayadeva (in Sanskrit), Vidyapati (in Maithili) and Chandidas (in Bengali). That would give the approximate date of Chandidas somewhere between the later part of the 15th and the early part of 16th C. Date apart, the multiple identity of Chandidas and the stories associated with his alter egos make a most fascinating reading.

About the Author

Dr Sukumar Sen, a recognized authority on the history of Bengali language and literature, has dealt with all such questions with a scholar’s acumen and a narrator’s delight. Dr Sen is inclined to favour Baru Chandidas to be the one to have ranked with Jayadeva and Vidyapati—as his detailed examination of the Sri Krishnakirtan shows. Finally, he holds the scale between Baru and Dvija and says Even a single Chandidas is second to no other name / What of a pair of Chandidases in matters of love in the Vraja?

Introduction

Vaishnav songs, or lyrics (poems) as they now appear to us, are the flowers of Old Bengali poetry, and those containing the name of Chandidas are among the sweetest. It is generally accepted that much that is significant in the life and culture of the Bengali people is due to Chaitanya : his personality and his activities. He was indirectly responsible for the preservation of the name and fame of Chandidas from falling into the depth of oblivion. Krishnadas Kaviraj, the most dependable biographer of Chaitanya, younger contemporary of the master, records that during his later years Chaitanya received emotional sustenance from the songs of Jayadeva (in Sanskrit), Vidyapati (in Maithili) and Chandidas (in Bengali). Jayadeva had an all-India vogue but the other two poets were known within limited areas. Vidyapati perhaps and Chandidas surely would have been entirely forgotton like many other good writers of lyrical songs but for the stamp of Chaitanya's apprecia- tion pressed indelibly by his best biographer.

There was no Bengali literature as such for the common man (other than an educated or literate Vaishnav) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and to no one in the earlier centuries. It was the scholars and the Vaishnav gurus and the laity who read books in Bengali; the others enjoyed only songs, long and short, and chanting of narrative verse with music accompanied at times by puppet-show or mimicry. All reading matter, except the Vaishnavite, was in Sanskrit (and some very few perhaps in Persian .also).

Two of the earliest biographical poems on the life and activities of Chaitanya were the first books written in Bengali that were intended to be read, and the second of them Krishnadas's Chaitanyacharitamrita, had never been chanted or sung. This book exerted a tremendous influence on the Bengal Vaishnavas from the very beginning, and as it supports esoterism it was accepted and acknowledged as the supreme authority by that section of the Vaishnavs that followed the path of emotional approach (raga tmika- paddhati). It was this section of the mystic Vaishnavas, who were the precursors of the sect now loosely called the "Baul" (literally 'mad') or "sahajiya" (literally 'a follower of the easy path') that adopted as their oldest masters Chandidas, Vidyapati and Jayadeva, the three writers or songs on the human love of the divine lovers Krishna and Radha. The three poets were regarded as the three original gurus of the cult of the Easy Path, who were believed to have realised through their own experience the passionate love of Krishna and Radha and expressed it in their own writings. Accordingly, each was believed to have a "Radha" in his own consort. Jayadeva's Padmavati is historical although we are not sure whether she was his married wife. We have no evidence to prove or to reject the opinion that Vidyapati had liaison with Lachima the wife (?) of a patron of the poet; the only connection between the two lies in the fact that two names appear in the colophon of some of his songs. The difficulty in regard to Chandidas is that the only female name that occurs in the colophon of his songs is Basalt or Basuli another name of the emaciated, hungry goddess generally known as Camunda. In the traditional stories of the cult, Basuli is naturally substituted by a human female who could in esoteric tantric practice live as a companion of a human male. She was a washerwoman, but there is no agreement on the name of the woman. The stories are interesting and they are intimately connected with the poetry that has gathered under the Signature of Chandidas. They will be told later.

The orthodox Vaishnavs revered Chandidas in the same way as they did Vidyapati and Jayadeva for the reason of their good devotional songs as well as for being reverentially listened to and enjoyed by Chaitanya. There is no doubt that the orthodox Vaishnavs sang some of Chandidas's songs in private as well as in formal Kirtan sittings, but the strange fact remains that no songs bearing the signature (bhanita) ofChandidas do appear in any anthology of Kirtan songs nor are they quoted in any other work written before the middle of the seventeenth century. But songs of Jayadeva and Vidyapati were not neglected. Does it mean that Chandidas was much nearer to sixteenth century than Vidyapati ? The songs that appear in the innumerable Sahaj iya tracts and those that are collected in the early anthologies of Kirtan songs do not seem to be the production of a good poet such as Chandidas, as some of these are cryptic cult songs of little literary merit and others bear the stamp of a mass producer of a later date. It is however more than probable that in course of the transmission through the centuries the name of'signature' (bhanita) ofChandidas in his popular songs were replaced by that of the better known poets of the day. A reverse process seems to have taken place from the late seventeenth century when there was some attempt to put the name of Chandidas in place of the name of the real author. In the early days oflyric activity in Bengal and Mithila it was usual for a poet to write shorter songs consisting of a couplet or two lacking a signature. It is quite likely that Chandidas following suit, was responsible for a few such couplets quoted in early Vaishnav works, called in the anthologies and appearing as refrain couplets in Vaishnav and non- Vaishnav narrative poetry.

Old Bengali literature began to appear in print from the very beginning of the nineteenth century and Vaishnav texts and tracts from the middle of the second half. Small selection ofKirtan songs including a few by Vidyapati, Chandidas, Govindadas and others were printed at the cheap presses and published for the consumption of literate Vaishnav men and women of the country. The literary-minded non- Vaishnavs and the Engl ish-educated generation knew only four names: Krittivas, Kasiram, Kavikankan and Bharatchandra. Even Iswarchandra Gupta (1812-59), who was an admirer of Bharatchandra, and the song-writers that belonged to his school, had little love for Vaishnav poetry.

Contents

Introducing Chandidas7
Life and Date Search and Research14
Some Interesting Stories22
Who Wrote the “Sahajiya” Songs28
The Srikrsnakirtan35
The Problems posed by rikakirtan Reconsidered48
Epilogue54
Bibliography56

Chandidas

Item Code:
NAE055
Cover:
Paperback
Edition:
2008
Publisher:
ISBN:
9788126026494
Size:
8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Pages:
56
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 86 gms
Price:
$8.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

Among the sweetest flowers of Old Bengali Vaishnav poetry are the lyrics ascribed to Chandidas. But who was Chandidas and what was he, where did he flourish and when—are questions that have baffled the most assiduous research by reputed scholars of Bengali language and literature. The earliest reference to Chandidas is to be found in Chaitanyacharitamrita wherein Krishnadas Kaviraj, a junior contemporary of the Master, records that in his later years Chaitanya received emotional sustenance from the songs of Jayadeva (in Sanskrit), Vidyapati (in Maithili) and Chandidas (in Bengali). That would give the approximate date of Chandidas somewhere between the later part of the 15th and the early part of 16th C. Date apart, the multiple identity of Chandidas and the stories associated with his alter egos make a most fascinating reading.

About the Author

Dr Sukumar Sen, a recognized authority on the history of Bengali language and literature, has dealt with all such questions with a scholar’s acumen and a narrator’s delight. Dr Sen is inclined to favour Baru Chandidas to be the one to have ranked with Jayadeva and Vidyapati—as his detailed examination of the Sri Krishnakirtan shows. Finally, he holds the scale between Baru and Dvija and says Even a single Chandidas is second to no other name / What of a pair of Chandidases in matters of love in the Vraja?

Introduction

Vaishnav songs, or lyrics (poems) as they now appear to us, are the flowers of Old Bengali poetry, and those containing the name of Chandidas are among the sweetest. It is generally accepted that much that is significant in the life and culture of the Bengali people is due to Chaitanya : his personality and his activities. He was indirectly responsible for the preservation of the name and fame of Chandidas from falling into the depth of oblivion. Krishnadas Kaviraj, the most dependable biographer of Chaitanya, younger contemporary of the master, records that during his later years Chaitanya received emotional sustenance from the songs of Jayadeva (in Sanskrit), Vidyapati (in Maithili) and Chandidas (in Bengali). Jayadeva had an all-India vogue but the other two poets were known within limited areas. Vidyapati perhaps and Chandidas surely would have been entirely forgotton like many other good writers of lyrical songs but for the stamp of Chaitanya's apprecia- tion pressed indelibly by his best biographer.

There was no Bengali literature as such for the common man (other than an educated or literate Vaishnav) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and to no one in the earlier centuries. It was the scholars and the Vaishnav gurus and the laity who read books in Bengali; the others enjoyed only songs, long and short, and chanting of narrative verse with music accompanied at times by puppet-show or mimicry. All reading matter, except the Vaishnavite, was in Sanskrit (and some very few perhaps in Persian .also).

Two of the earliest biographical poems on the life and activities of Chaitanya were the first books written in Bengali that were intended to be read, and the second of them Krishnadas's Chaitanyacharitamrita, had never been chanted or sung. This book exerted a tremendous influence on the Bengal Vaishnavas from the very beginning, and as it supports esoterism it was accepted and acknowledged as the supreme authority by that section of the Vaishnavs that followed the path of emotional approach (raga tmika- paddhati). It was this section of the mystic Vaishnavas, who were the precursors of the sect now loosely called the "Baul" (literally 'mad') or "sahajiya" (literally 'a follower of the easy path') that adopted as their oldest masters Chandidas, Vidyapati and Jayadeva, the three writers or songs on the human love of the divine lovers Krishna and Radha. The three poets were regarded as the three original gurus of the cult of the Easy Path, who were believed to have realised through their own experience the passionate love of Krishna and Radha and expressed it in their own writings. Accordingly, each was believed to have a "Radha" in his own consort. Jayadeva's Padmavati is historical although we are not sure whether she was his married wife. We have no evidence to prove or to reject the opinion that Vidyapati had liaison with Lachima the wife (?) of a patron of the poet; the only connection between the two lies in the fact that two names appear in the colophon of some of his songs. The difficulty in regard to Chandidas is that the only female name that occurs in the colophon of his songs is Basalt or Basuli another name of the emaciated, hungry goddess generally known as Camunda. In the traditional stories of the cult, Basuli is naturally substituted by a human female who could in esoteric tantric practice live as a companion of a human male. She was a washerwoman, but there is no agreement on the name of the woman. The stories are interesting and they are intimately connected with the poetry that has gathered under the Signature of Chandidas. They will be told later.

The orthodox Vaishnavs revered Chandidas in the same way as they did Vidyapati and Jayadeva for the reason of their good devotional songs as well as for being reverentially listened to and enjoyed by Chaitanya. There is no doubt that the orthodox Vaishnavs sang some of Chandidas's songs in private as well as in formal Kirtan sittings, but the strange fact remains that no songs bearing the signature (bhanita) ofChandidas do appear in any anthology of Kirtan songs nor are they quoted in any other work written before the middle of the seventeenth century. But songs of Jayadeva and Vidyapati were not neglected. Does it mean that Chandidas was much nearer to sixteenth century than Vidyapati ? The songs that appear in the innumerable Sahaj iya tracts and those that are collected in the early anthologies of Kirtan songs do not seem to be the production of a good poet such as Chandidas, as some of these are cryptic cult songs of little literary merit and others bear the stamp of a mass producer of a later date. It is however more than probable that in course of the transmission through the centuries the name of'signature' (bhanita) ofChandidas in his popular songs were replaced by that of the better known poets of the day. A reverse process seems to have taken place from the late seventeenth century when there was some attempt to put the name of Chandidas in place of the name of the real author. In the early days oflyric activity in Bengal and Mithila it was usual for a poet to write shorter songs consisting of a couplet or two lacking a signature. It is quite likely that Chandidas following suit, was responsible for a few such couplets quoted in early Vaishnav works, called in the anthologies and appearing as refrain couplets in Vaishnav and non- Vaishnav narrative poetry.

Old Bengali literature began to appear in print from the very beginning of the nineteenth century and Vaishnav texts and tracts from the middle of the second half. Small selection ofKirtan songs including a few by Vidyapati, Chandidas, Govindadas and others were printed at the cheap presses and published for the consumption of literate Vaishnav men and women of the country. The literary-minded non- Vaishnavs and the Engl ish-educated generation knew only four names: Krittivas, Kasiram, Kavikankan and Bharatchandra. Even Iswarchandra Gupta (1812-59), who was an admirer of Bharatchandra, and the song-writers that belonged to his school, had little love for Vaishnav poetry.

Contents

Introducing Chandidas7
Life and Date Search and Research14
Some Interesting Stories22
Who Wrote the “Sahajiya” Songs28
The Srikrsnakirtan35
The Problems posed by rikakirtan Reconsidered48
Epilogue54
Bibliography56
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