Reading Vidyapati: Language, Literature and Cultural Values in the 15th Century North Bihar


Pankaj Kumar Jha

PhD defended at: 

University of Delhi



Reading Vidyapati: Language, Literature and Cultural Values in the 15th Century North Bihar
Pankaj Kumar Jha
Vidyapati was a poet and a scholar who lived in the fifteenth century north Bihar and composed more than a dozen texts on varied themes in three different languages. The dissertation focuses chiefly on three of Vidyapati’s texts: Likhanāvalī, a Sanskrit treatise on the craft of writing letters and documents; Puruṣaparīkṣā that was styled as a text on masculinity but followed the story format of the nīti/naya tradition of Sanskrit; and Kīrtilatā that is a political biography in Apabhraṃśa of a prince of Mithila composed in the ākhyāyikā style. Together, these compositions provide an exciting entry point into the knowledge formations of the fifteenth century north India.
As such, the thesis is an audacious attempt to write a political history of the literatures of a time that is marked by a notorious absence of any ‘imperial’ formation. It does so by excavating the deep diachronic histories and widespread near-synchronic multilingual debts of apparently monolingual texts. The evidently multiple forms of multilingual literary cultures in fifteenth century – lexical, generic, idiomatic, thematic, authorial, et al –at one level is interesting in itself. But it is important to ask as to what kinds of future political enterprises this kind of literary culture could prepare the ground for. To put the question in a simplistic and linear sequence, if literatures created/disseminated ‘knowledge’, and if knowledge formations are bedrocks on which fields of power are laid and exploited, then what could all this mean politically beyond the actual existing polities?

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