Head for the Hills: Lateral Vernacular Adaptations and the Maithili Padas of Vidyāpati Ṭhākura (c. 15th-19th cents.)
Diamond, Christopher Lawrence
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Most studies on the emergence of the 'vernaculars' in South Asia have focused on two patterns of development. The first focuses primarily on the reactionary development of localized vernacular communities out of the Sanskrit cosmopolis, and the second examines the internal development and expansion of vernacular literary identities. This dissertation will focus upon a third "lateral vernacular" shift, in which one local vernacular, Maithili, moved beyond its parochial boundaries and was adopted by non-speakers. In addition to the adaptations and innovations of contemporary speakers of Maithili, this Eastern New Indo-Aryan language was adopted as a court language by the Newari-speaking Malla Kings of Nepal (ca. 1201-1779 CE) and as a language of Vaiṣṇava devotional poetry in Bengal. In regard to this particular lateral vernacular shift, this dissertation examines the tradition of Maithili short lyric poetry (gīti-kāvya) of the poet Vidyāpati (c. 1360-1450) as it was adopted by both Maithili speakers and non-speakers in subsequent centuries. All three communities engage with the memory of Vidyāpati and his patrons, the Oinvāra Brahman-kings (1353-1526 CE), as symbols of a bygone Brahmanical 'golden age'. At the center of this study, I analyze one representative padāvalī (‘anthology of padas’) manuscript, the Bhāṣā Saṅgīta (‘Songs in the Vernacular’) (c. 18th cent. CE). This manuscript, sitting between the better-studied 'Nepal,' 'Tarauni,' and 'Rambhadrapur' manuscripts of the 15th-17th centuries and the later Bengali padābalīs of the 18th-19th centuries, represents a valuable snapshot of a tradition in development. To establish the salient features that were adopted and utilized for cultural self-fashioning by the Mallas, Bengali Vaiṣṇavas, and contemporary Maithili-speakers, I consider the intersections of both text and performance.