Man in Indian Tradition (Vidyapati's Discourse on Purusa)

Man in Indian Tradition (Vidyapati's Discourse on Purusa)

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Item Code: IDD779
Author: Hetukar Jha
Publisher: Aryan Books International
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 9788173052170
Pages: 133
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.7" X 5.6"
Weight 330 gm


About the Book:


The book deals with the image of "man" that was posited in the medieval period when north Indian society was beset with crisis due to the internal conflict of sectarian ideologies as well as the onslaught of the Islamic politico-religious power. This state of socio-cultural and political situation was perceived by Vidyapati, a great poet and statesman of Mithila (north-eastern part of Bihar) in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, as that of crisis of man. He was probably the first intellectual of north India who recognized the significance of such socio-political and religious issues as "what is man?", "what is manliness?", "what is dharma?", etc., in a situation of multi-religious social and political order. There is no space for jati/varna/kula in the structure of man presented by him. Even in the sphere of religion, man is supposed to enjoy autonomy as, according to him, dharma relates to his private domain and to the universal moral precepts of ancient Indian tradition. Purusa Pariksa eloquently presents his reflections on the crisis of his society in which the followers of Vedic or Sanatana dharma had begun to identify themselves as "Hindu". It was at this juncture of Indian tradition that Vidyapati introduced his idea of "man" or individual having courage, sense of discrimination (viveka), boldness of will, wit and learning (vidya). The book conveys his socio-political perspective that still appears to be relevant to the issues of national regeneration and development.


About the Author:


Hetukar Jha is a professor in the department of sociology, Patna University. His books include Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, 1985; Social Structures and Alignments, with J.B.P. Sinha et al., 1985; Lower Classes in the Rural Areas of Mithila during Colonial Rule (In Maithili), 1988; Social Structures of Indian Villages, 1991; Ganganatha Jha, Makers of Indian Literature Series, Sahitya Akademi, 1992; Amaranatha Jha, Makers of Indian Literature Series, Sahitya Akademi, 1997; ed., Autobiographical Notes of Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. Sir Ganganatha Jha, 1976; ed., A Glimpse of Tirhut in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century; Riaz-I-Tirhut of Ayodhya Prasad 'Bahar', 1997. Besides, he has published several research papers in the journals of sociology, anthropology and history.



Reflection on the condition of social order and the course of history generally appear when society lapses into acute crisis and civilization is subjected to the shock of sudden twists and turns. Pitirim A. Sorokin proposed this hypothesis on the basis of his study of the works of some famous philosophers of history in this context (Modern Historical and Social Philosophies, 1963, 4-9.) Later, E.H. Carr also supported this view. According to him, due to the occurrence of the First World War, fear for the future of Western civilization affected the minds of intellectuals so deeply that they soon began to question the validity of the perspective which had been dominating their understanding of history before Wright Mills (Sociological Imagination, 1959, 11) is supposed under the pressure of some socio-political or economic force and, consequently, there is a rise in the feeling of uncertainty or fear for future. It is generally in this situation that new interpretation and ideas remerge for resolving or overcoming the crisis. However, such interpretation and ideas are produced by a thinker or a "great man", who, according to Hegel, "... can put into words the will of his age, and tell his age what its will is..." (E.H Carr, op. cit., 54).

Vidyapati was such a "great man". His love songs of Radha and Krishna not only remained popular among the masses of Mithla, but also continued to influence the literary tradition of almost entire region of the country until the twentieth century. Besides, he was probably the first north Indian intellectual to perceive the crisis of the age in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century as crisis of "man". He had experienced this crisis as the failure of man of his era in resolving the conflict of different sectarian ideologies of his society and also as the loss of man's dignity in the wake of the establishment of Islamic politico-religious power in north India. His Purusa Parikar displays the same sort of urge of the author as what is said of the writing of Mommsen after the German revolution of 1848-49 which indicate that he "was imbued with a sense of a need for a strong man to clear up the mess left by the failure of German people to realize its political aspiration"(ibid., 36). In the structure of the image of man that Vidyapati posited, there is no space for kula/ Varna/jati/sect. Man in his view holds an autonomous position who can achieve manliness of the high-test order by following the moral precepts of ancient Indian tradition. Purusa Pariksa clearly introduces a coheretrent structure of the image of "individual" to India history in the medieval period.

In a chance meeting with Prof. Durganand Shinha in Allahabad I brought to his notice the contents of Purusa Pariksa. He became very much interested in the thought of Vidyapati and then, proposed that we should jointly take up the study of Purusa Pariksa and his other relevant works from the points of view of social sciences. Unfortunately, a few months later, in 1998, he left this world following sudden cardiac arrest. Then, it became difficult for me to avail myself of the advantage of guidance and suggestions of such an experienced Indian social psychologist as Professor Sinha. I found myself on a rather shaky ground while deciding the perspective and approach of working on a great intellectual of medieval period. But, Professor Sinha had enthused me in such a spirited way and his commitment to promoting Indian social sciences has been so inspiring that I soon began to work on what had been planned in Allahabad. My dept to him is great by all means.

It took me about eighteen months to complete the first draft of the present work. Then, some friends and colleagues of the Association for Social Engineering Research and Training (ASERT) Patna, kindly told me to discuss Vidyapati's views on "man" in one of their seminars. They took keen interest in it and also gave some valuable suggestions. I am thankful to all of them. Dr. Vishwa Mohan Jha of the Department of History, ARSD College, University of Delhi, and Dr.B.K. Jha, former professor of political science Magadh University, were kind enough to spare their valuable time and go through the manuscript.Dr. Vijay Kumar Thakur, professor of history, Patna University, and Dr. Shatrughna jha, former professor of philosophy. Patna University always helped me by clarifying my questions relating to Indian history and philosophy. Their comments and suggestions made me more confident of the relevance of this endeavour and also proved to be quite useful for explaining the views of Vidyapati. I sincerely express my gratitude to all of them.

I also requested Dr. B.N. Saraswati, UNESCO Chair Professor, Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts. New Delhi, for granting me at least a little time for discussing Vidyapati's image of man with him. In spite of his being awfully busy, he managed to read the manuscript and, then, suggest his ideas. I am indeed grateful to him for his kind aptitude and valuable suggestions.

In the course of preparing this work I consulted the libraries of Maharajadhiraja Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation, Darbhanga, and Tantrabati Geeta Bhawan, Ranti, libraries who always extended their cooperation. I am also thankful to Sushri Shweta Sinha who typed the manuscript.Shri Vikas Arya came forward to publish this work. I am really indebted to him.



The word "man" generally means a male human being. It also stands for human race. Besides, in the Hindu religious and philosophical tradition, the term purusa (man) is referred to as an abstract category or agent having a definite role in the creation of universe. The present study, however, is chiefly concerned with "man"(purusa) in only one sense of the term that denotes gender.

In India, "manliness" emerged as an important issue in the colonial period among those forming the class of intelligentsia who considered defending and asserting Indian manliness necessary in view of the contemptuous attitude widely held by the British authorities towards it. The colonial masters had their own notions of man and manliness which had emerged and gained ground in Western Europe since the beginning of the modern age. As they came to rule here, they used those ideas for assessing the manly worth of the natives in a manner that could justify their superiority and dominance. What was their image of manliness? The image of masculinity, according to George L.Mosse, "have been all pervasive" in Western culture. However, the image of modern masculinity took a concrete shape by the end of the eighteenth century which is still recognized. Mosse has elaborately described the formation of its attributes. The salient features marked by him in this context are described here in brief.

The old aristocratic values of chivalry and honour were adjusted with the sensibilities of the growing middle class. Male honour came to be defined in terms of courage, sangfroid, and pride in one's status. The emerging bourgeois society considered male body depended of virility, strength, and courage. Beauty of the body depended on the extent of virtue present in man. Love of work, moderation and cleanliness contributed to the beauty as well as the virtue of man. Primacy of body was emphasized. Physical education became important. Further, the idea that man must serve a higher ideal grew in importance and gave rise to militarization of masculinity. Nation or freedom of nation became the "higher ideal" and commitment to it sanctified such militarization. Simultaneously, "muscular Christianity" arose for robust, aggressive, and active masculinity in England. Nationalism was tagged with male stereotype for its repesentation.David Newsome summarizing the entire process says that "Nineteenth century medievalism ('revitalised chivalry'), Caryle's heroic moral activism', F.D. Maurice's teaching on incarnationalism... eulogize as the delivers of mankind the sturdy, honest, robust... a tough saxaon rebel fighting against the Norman yoke...championing the natural human virtues against efferminte Romans..."In England, Will Eaves writes "Manliness was... reclaimed in the literature of Victorian English Public Schools as an imperial makder of fitness to rule and ethical purity"(emphasis added).

Mosse's historical view reverals that educational institution was used for the institutionalization of many values in society. In fact, "The ideal of masculinity was invoked" according to him, for "national regeneration", and, further, "manliness was supposed to safeguard the existing order", and "was also regarded as an indispensable attribute of those who wanted change". The colonical authorities having such notions of the role and content of manliness "discovered in ... India the very antithesis of manhood. The merchants and town dwellers lacked 'guts', while the intelligentsia was dismissed as effeminate... South Indians were all thought timid... The Bengalis... Had the worst of it. They were castigated as 'soft', 'languid and enervated', and' hopeless'." The Bengali intelligentsia, then, became stirred and decided to defend the Bengali (or Indian) manhood. Initially they had no definite, positive idea or image of Indian masculinity. However, Rajnikant Gupta, a historian, soon, wrote a book, Aryakirti which presented the examples of rajput heroes of medieval Rajasthan and through such examples posited an Aryan or Indian image of "man" having "immense courage, intelligence, truthfulness and charitable qualities". The concept of courage was not the same as that used for characterising Western man. It was, rather, defined in terms of nyaya, that is justice and dharma. Aryakirti, it seems, became very popular. Its fourth edition came out in 1887. It obviously offered a historically based ideal of masculinity for self-definition in a situation of crisis caused by the humiliating stereotype of Indian and / or Bengali manhood projected by the colonial masters.





  1. Introduction


  2. Vidyapati, the Crisis of His Age and Purusa Pariksa


  3. Man, the Attributes of Man and Unmanly Types


  4. Manly Conduct
    1. Of Religious Life (Dharma): Religion as Faith, Religion as Ideology and the Question of Secularism
    2. For Worldly Prosperity (Artha)
    3. For Love and Pleasure (Kama)
    4. For Salvation (Moksa)


  5. Epilogue


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