Maithili Literature: A Brief Introduction
Maithili has a very rich literary tradition since the 14th century. It is still very vibrant. In fact, this is what has kept it going.
Brief Literary History:The oldest prose-text in all Indo-Aryan languages has been written in Maithili: `Varna-ratnaakara’ by Jyotirishwara. Vidyapati as a poet and Umapati and Nandipati as play-rights in 15th-16th century and the Malla kings from Nepal were popular in entire eastern India. The medieval period in mithila was devoted mainly to Sanskritic learning and philosophy, and many schools of philosophy, such as `Nyaaya’ actually began from Mithila. The “Modern” according to some (cf. Jayakant Mishra 1976: 221) covered the period 1860-1970 A.D. Although Das (1991: 352) labelled th period of 1800 A.D. onwards the period of “Western impact: Indian response”, the first significant contact with the west was felt in Mithila only after 1860. That makes sense as to why most historians of Maithili literature identified this moment as historically significant time for Maithili literature.
Initial Period: The tradition of poetry that is possible to be rendered into songs – evidenced in the lyrics of bhajans or various forms of songs – was firmly established by the great Maithili poets of earlier centuries including Vidyapati, Umapati, Govinda das, Mahesh Thakur, Chaturbhuj, Lochana, the Malla kings (Jagajjiyotimalla), Yoganarendramalla, Jagatprakashamalla, Bhupatindramalla, or Ranajitamalla and Chanda Jha continued further in the modern era. By then the immortal songs of the poets of yester-years had entered into repertoire of daily life of the common man.
Early Modern Period: The other important literary events during the early modern period, i.e. in 1860-1910, included death of three important writers – Lakshminath Gosain(b. 1787, d. 1872), Gopinath (b. 1788, d. 1881), and Chanda Jha (b. 1831, d. 1907) – all three being poets of distinction. Although we find records of birth of about 20 important creative writers during this period in Das (1991: 519-765), most of them made positive contributions only during 1911-1956. I would like to mention the following under this category: Bhubaneshwar Jha “bhuvan”(b. 1874, d. 1966), Ramlochon Sharan (b. 1877, d. 1968), Dinabandhu Jha (b. 1878, d. 1955), Trilochon Jha (b. 1878, d. 1938), Haimavati Devi (b. 1880, d. 1940), Rashbiharilal Das (b. 1885, d. 1941), Ishanath Jha (b. 1907, d. 1965), Kashinath Mishra “Madhup” (b. 1907, d. 1908), and Yatri or nagarjun (1907-1998) as well as Suman (b. 1907).
The Re-awakening: During 1860-1910, there were five major writers in Maithili including Raghunandana Das (b. 1860, d. 1938) – the author of plays such as “Mihtilaa NaaTaK” and “Duutaangadaviyog” as well as collection of narrative poems, Jivacha Jha (b. 1863, d. 1923) who wrote the first novel in Maithili – “Raameshwar” as well as published a collection of essays under the title “Ankur” Tejanath Jha (b. 1868, d. 1919) who wrote devotional songs (“Bhakti ratnaavalii”), narrative poem (“Raamajanama”), and a religious play (“Gaurishankara vinoda naaTaka”), Muralidhar Jha (b. 1869, d. 1929) who was a novelist (“Arjun tapasyaa”) and travelogue writer (“Kashmir yatra”) besides editing the literary magazine “Mithilaa moda”, and Janardan Jha “Jansidan” who is still considerd to be the first modern prose-writer of Maithili bcause of his three novel: “Nirdayii saasu”, “Shashikala” and “Punarvivaah”, although he also published many poems. Besides the five above, there were others who were also well-known historians (M.M. Mukund Jha “Bakshi”), philosophers (M.M. Ganganath Jha) and other scholars writing in Maithili.
Chanda Jha independently created a field for himslf with his “Vaataahavaana” (1883), “Mithilaa Bhaashaa RaamaayaNa” (1886/ publ. 1891), “Lakshmiishwara vilaas” (1888) or by translating Vidyapati’s Sanskrit work: “PuruSa pariikSaa” (1888). The establishment of printing presses in Maithila or creation of literary and cultural organizations (Mithila Viddvajjan Samiti, Benaras 1896; Maithili Hitasadhan Samiti, Jaipur 1904 or Mithila Research Society, Darbhanga 1905) culminated into the establishment of Maithili Mahasabha in 1910. It was at this time that major periodical publications were started, or classical works like the saTTaka plays (“Maithilii saTTaka” 1906 and “Narmadaa saTTaka” 1906) as well as the drama entitled “Saamavatii punarjanama” (1908) by Jivan Jha were created. This is the background against which we have to view the literary devlopments after 1910
The establishment of Maithila Mahasabha (or “Mithili Conference” as it was known to some) saw a further spurt in the debates on the education that was best suited for Mithila, particularly for the preservation of her rich cultural heritage. Stipends were made available to numerous students to pursue higher education. Several research societies came up. A number of other literary or cultural organizations were established – both within and outside Mithila. As a result, it clearly dawned upon the new generation that was taking the lead in the begining of the 20th century that the future for Mithila lay in what steps they would take. A begining was made by study and publication of the classics in Maithili in the 1910s. Besides Vidyapati, they concentrated on Umapati (of the “PaarijaataharaNa” fame), Ramadasa and Bhanunath Jha’s works. This was also the time when M.M. Haraprasad Shastri was to discover the Charyaa texts, one of the most important works in the Eastern NIA languags. The influence of Grierson’s work on Bihar in general, and Mithila in particular, must be also recalled here. His studies on the Bihar Peasant Life, folklore of Mithila, Maithili grammar besides his magnum opus – the Linguistic Survey of India, had tremendous effect on his work of regeneration and re-evalation of the past heritage.
Literary Magazines: The period 1911-1956 marks the begining of serious Maithili prose writing. And this was possible only because a number of literary magazines flourished during the early period and with them flourished the journalistic register in Maithili. The Hitasadhana from Jaipur published essays on number of topics: grammar, philosophy, geography, mathematics or even hygiene besides those on current political affairs. The Moda published longish translations, poems, stories and essays on current affairs. The weekly Mihir which initially had both English and Hindi edition too, has been backbone of the Maithili journalism. There were other significant magazines too during this time: “Maithila Prabhaa” from Ajmer first (August 1920 until the end of 1924) and later from Agra (only for a year) and “Maithila Prabhaakara” from Aligarh (1929-30) which mainly aimed at maintaining the contacts among those outside Mithila, although these too created several important writers. Their efforts were revived later once again through the publication of “Maithila bandhu” from Ajmer (1935-43), “Maithila Yuvak” (1938-41), and “Jivan prabhaa” (1940-50). Then there were “Shrii Maithilii” (1925-27), “Mithilaa”(1929-31) and “Mithilaa Mitra” (1931-32) which maintained very high standard as literary magazines, even though they were all short lived. “Maithilaa Moda” started once again in 1936, and so were began a few other secular literary magazines including “Vibhuuti” (1937-38) from Muzaffarpur under the editorship of Bhuvaneshwar Simha “Bhuvan” and “Bharati” (1937) from Darbhanga under the editorship of Babu Bholala Das, the later publication being the organ of the Maithila Sahitya Parishad which was established in 1931. The Sahitya Parishad provided the creative writers, grammarians, philosophers and critics with a common meeting ground besides giving encouragement to the publishing activities.
Original Script Given Up for National Integration and Standardization Efforts: By 1930s another important decision was taken. Gandhiji gave a call to the protagonists of different Indian languages to give up their scripts in favour of Devanagari to achieve one more step in the direction of national integration. Maithili reacted positively to the call because it was soon realized that if Maithili printing and publishing were to grow, the on-again and off-again attempts to revive the Tiruhuta writing system had to be disposed off once for all. The change over to Nagari already had a positive effect of allowing the language and literature to be used in writing by the other castes in the society who knew English and Nagari but who did not use the Tirhuta system which was restricted to the Brahmins and certain Kayasthas. Moreover, it had to grow up as the literary language for the whole Mithila rather than being resticted to a few geographic pockets. Consquently, there was also a realization that Maithili must undergo the processes of standardization now that the language was being used in so many registers and over such vast geographic areas. The net result was that by 1936, a Shailii NirdhaaraN Samity (Committee on Determination of Style/Standard) had gone through a questionnaire-based survey of the problems of spelling and styles, under the direction of M.M. Dr. Umesh Mishra, and decisions were taken on standardization of Maithili. In implementing these decisions , the role of the most important serious literary journal of the time – “Maithilii Saahitya Patra”, under the editorship of critic and grammarian Pt. Ramanath Jha is worth of special mention. All these surely made printing and publishing in Maithili and reaching a wider reading public (thanks to Devanagari) easier and the cumulative effect of all these steps was predictable: a tremendous boost to the literary publication in Maithili.
Fiction in Maithili: Maithili did not have prove its credentials of producing great poetry. Starting from Vidyapati, it already had a great tradition of poems and poetic plays. But considering the fact that most Modern Indian Languages could already boast of a rich prose tradition by 1920s and ’30s, Maithili still was to establish itself in this new genre which already had a history of hundred years in other sister languages. Although the first novel(s) in Maithili (“Raameshwar” 1915 by Jibach Mishra according to Jayakanta Mishra 1976, and “Chandraprabhaa” 1909 by Srikrishna Thakur according to the bibliography of Dutt (1990:114)) appeared before 1915, even before 1920s there were a few other published novels including Rashbiharilal Das’s “Sumati” (1918) and Punyananda Jha’s “MithilaadarpaNa” (1923). But it was Harimohan Jha with the whom fiction writing in Maithili changed dramat- ically. Harimohan Jha himself a product of a family of scholars and litterateurs. His father, Janardan Jha “Jansidan” was regarded as the first modern fiction writer. His didactic fictions included: “Nirdayii Saasu” and “Punarvivaah”. Harimohan Jha, himself a Professor of Philosophy, but better known to the common man for his humor and satire, particularly for his immemorable character, KhaTTar KaaKaa, raised the novel to the new height. He made his entry through “Kanyaadaan” (1933) which latter run into numerous editions, and which projected the importance of introducing a much-needed (but resented by orthodoxy) social reform and emphasized on the spread of education among women. “Dviraagaman” (1942) came as a sequel to it. This period saw many serious novelists, the most well-known among whom was Baidyanath Mishra “Yatri” whose works achieved great histication and raised a lot of debates and discussions. His “Paro” (1933 with several editions), “Navturiaa” (1954) and “Balchanmaa”(1967) established him as a progressive novelist who writes in an inimitable style that marks his poetry a different entity in comparison to his fiction. The period under consideration saw the emergence of many other great fiction writer: Kumar Ganganand Singh, Upendra Jha “Vyas”, Yoganand Jha , Shailendra Mohan Jha, and Brajkishore Verma “Manipadma”. Rajkamal Chowdhury (b. 1929, d. 1967) was another established name of that period. Although his famous novel, “Adikathaa” (1958) appeared almost at the fag end of his period, his stories began appearing in print much earlier some of which were published in an form of an anthology “Kathaa paraag” (1958). His other well recieved works – “Lalkaa paag” (1968), “Nirmohi baalam ammar” (1970s), “Paatharphuul” (1967), etc., were published posthumously.
Short Stories: Although until 1930s there were many short story writers, prominent among whom were Kalikumar Das and Sivanandan Thakur “Saroj” (book-length work: “Maadhav Maadhavii” 1937), most of them made use of stock emotions. It was only after 1940s that Maithili literature witnessed the emergence of some great short story writers including Surendra Jha “Suman” (collection: “Kathaa-mukhii”, 1940), Prabodh Narayan Chaudhury (collection: “Bichal phuul” 1940), Upendra Jha “Vyas” (“ViDambanaa” 1952), Manmohan Jha (“AshrukaN” 1948: “Sanchayitaa” 1953), Buddhidhari Simha “Ramakar” (“Prayaas” 1946; “Vardaan” 1947) and a number of oth ers. Besides them, there was of course Harimohan Jha’s good number of collections including “Rangashaalaa” 1949, “Tiirtha yaatraa” 1953, “Gappak phoRan” 1954, “Carcarii” 1960 and “Ekaadashii” 1971. His best known collections of stories and ones that are still popular are: “PraNamya devataa” (1933/1949) and “KhaT- Tar Kaakaak tarang” (1967).
Emergence of Major Women Writers: In the post-independence period, there had been tremendous surge in literary production. The number of writers is too many to be discussed separately as above. However, one important indicator of literary development is as to whether women writers have taken to writing seriously. There were number of woman writers and researchers after 1956. They include the following: Kameshwari Devi b. 1928-: “Maithilii samskaar-giit”; Anima Singh b.1924- with a number of studies on Maithili folk songs, Chandrapriya Devi: “Srikrishna bhajanaavalii” published in 1965, or Usha Chaudhurani: “Shrii Raamakathaa (BaalakaaNDa)”, Shyam Jha; “Giitasangraha bhajanamaalaa”, “Binu maayak beTii” 1967, and “Pashchaataap” 1980, Kalindi Devi: “Kalindii-giitaavalii”, Medheshwari: “Giitaanjalii” 1967, Ila Rani Singh b. 1945-1999: “Vindantii” 1972 and a number of translations as well as research work, Shyama Devi “Kaamanaa” 1959, Shephalika Verma b. 1943- both poet and fiction writer: “Vipralabdhaa” 1978 and other fiction writers including Shakuntala Chaudhury: “Ashaak ant” 1978, Chitralekha Devi: “Ubaait aakhar”1976, Jayanti Devi b. 1944-: “Anupamaa” Adya Jha b. 1924-: “Videshii kathaamruta”, and a book for children “Maithilii paaTha maalaa” 1970, Gauri Mishra b. 1934-: “Thehiyaael mon shiital chaahari”, and biographists like Tulika Jha b. 1924-: “Raajalakshmii: ek bhaavachitra” and other miscellaneous works like Rajlikshmiji’s (1915-1976) religious discourses later brought out as “Shrimad Bhaagavat Prakaash” 1969, or “gruha vijnaan” 1971 by Aparajita Devi. Most well-known women writers of today include fiction and story-writers Lily Ray and Vibha Rani. There are a number of younger poets too, who have made their mark: Susmita Pathak, Jyotsna Anand, etc.
Connection with the Neighboring Literary Languages:
The attitude of Bengali speakers has all along been very positive, partly because tagore himself was influenced by medieval Maithili poetry, and partly because of striking cultural similarities and a shared system of scholarship in Sanskrit. There was a time when many Maithili writersv would freely be able to read Bengali literature in original. In fact, the largest number of translations into maithili have been from Sanskrit and Bengali.
From Bengali, we find Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s “Meghanaadabadha” translated by Gouri Shankar Jha (1942), “Virahinii Brajaanganaa” by Bhuvaneshwar Simha “Bhuvan” (1944), and Tagore’s Giitaanjalii translated by Jayakant Jha “Srutadhar” as well as by Surendra Jha “Suman” 1969. Suman went on to translate several volumes of tagore’s writings later. Tagore’s entire children’s literature was rendered into Maithili by Udaya Narayana Singh `Nachiketa’. The Bengali novelists like Bankimchandra and Saratchandra as well as Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay were extremely popular in maithili, too. Even later authors such as D.L. ray and narayan Gangopadhyay were translated. Bengali plays were very popular in maithili. In fact, Maithili stage developed mainly because of its contact with Calcutta stage.
With Assamese too, the relationship has been very cordial. In fact, there was a time when Assamese authors and performers both wrote and performed in Maithili. Vidyapati’s poems in Maithili (15th-16th Century) also had had influence on Assamese. From Assamese, too, Shankaradeva’s (1449-1558) plays were translated and edited: “PaarijaataharaNa naaT”(Tarankant Jha 1975), and “Ramavijay” (translated twice: Prem Shankar Singh 1967 and Ramdev Jha 1967). But the modern Assamese person may know Maithili community mainly as migrant workers rather than as cultural ambassadors, as they were perceived earlier.
The relationship with Bhojpuri and magahi communities – the immediate neighbours have been neither very pleasant nor hostile. These two groups have rather been watching the series of achievements of Maithili – both literary and socio-poitical. But Maithili has been the only one among these languages which has been trying to constantly deny superimposition of Hindi over her identity. The other two seem to have given up their claims and have resigned to accept the status of dialects of Hindi. There is no doubt that in the recent times, Bhojpuri and Magahi had had some very fine poets and short story writers, and they have begun reaching the reading public of other languages through translation. However, no much translation has happened into Maithili from these languages, probably because of mutual intelligibility.
It goes without saying that the relationship of Maithili and Hindi have been most complicated. While almost all Maithils have accepted Hindi as a language of formal occasions, the retention of Maithili for cultual, social, familial as well as literary purposes have also been more or less steady. The trend among the youngest generation to use Maithili in lesser and lesser occasions should be viewed in the context of the same thing happening among Hindi, Telugu or Marathi speakers who are tilting towards use of English rather than their mother tongue. However, with the inclusion of Maithili in the 8th Schedule, the situation has altered and the use of Maithili in public places and even on formal occasions have begun.