A note regarding the multilingual poetry of jayarAma kavI

We had a discussion with an acquaintance regarding the local linguistic pride and chauvinism among those who identify with desha bhAShA-s in bhArata. We had encountered the effect most forcefully in two modern states of the secular Indian republic, namely mAhArAShTra and tamiL nADu. In both the above states it was easy to encounter people, usually in towns, who were extremely proud of their desha bhAShA-s, and had their identities strongly intertwined with them. Such people in mahArATTa country they would insist that the people use their desha-bhAShA and on occasions refuse to speak in any other language even if they knew it. We have heard from others of related phenomena existing to a degree in some other linguistic states of the republic, such as the chera (where it is a certain anxiety to be different from dramiDa; hence anti-dramiDa) and karNATa countries. In our days, some pretAchArin-backed English medium schools in the mahArATTa state attempted to suppress the use of their desha-bhAShA by insisting that the students only use English on the school premises, even when not in the classroom. This evoked considerable anger and resentment among the mahArATTa-s, as though reminding them of the fact that the empire of India had been seized from their hands by the English. Not surprisingly, it sparked the unsuccessful reaction on their part to ban English as the primary medium of education.

This discussion on the modern linguistic landscape of bhArata reminded us of a notable literary figure who was an extensive polyglot in days of the origin of the mahArATTa empire – jayarAma kavI (aka jayarAm piNDye). To students of Hindu history he better known for his kAvya, the parNAla-parvata-grahaNa, which describes the reconquest of Panhalgad from Moslem control by koNDAjI ravLekar. But among students of late medieval literature he is also known for a peculiar poem known as the rAdhA-mAdhava-vilAsa-champu. On its face the champu has a rather common place theme, i.e. the erotic sports of kR^iShNa and rAdhA and is laid out in 11 chapters. The first 10 chapters are primarily in AryavAk, while the 11th chapter is a very long one in a gamut of deshabhAShA-s, and comprises a good fraction of this book. Indeed, jayarAma boasts that he capable of composing poetry in 12 different languages. This work has several interesting historical implications. First, jayarAma is said composed this work in the court of shAhjI rAje the father of shivAjI at Bengaluru [Though he probably completed it under shIvajI in mahArAShTra because he has a poem in the last chapter on how shivAjI defeated four Mohammedan tyrants]. He opens it by praising the literary legacy of old saMskR^ita kavI-s ending with that of rAjA bhoja-deva paramAra. The context of its composition is presented as a vidvat-sabha presided by shAhjI, where samasyA-s are presented, and he lavishes praise on the mahArATTa warrior as an independent rAjA in chapter 6. This shows that shAhjI, despite being officially under the Adilshahi Sultanate, was clearly being seen as a reviver of Hindu traditions – a patron of kAvya. This image of a proper Hindu rAjA was centered on bhoja-deva, the last great king etched in the Hindu imagination prior to the vivisection of Hindu tradition by the marUnmatta-s [Let us not forget that even kR^iShNadeva rAya of vijayanagara saw himself as an abhinava-bhoja]. Thus, shAhjI and his court are presented in the RMVC as connoisseurs of saMskR^ita kAvya-s in accordance with classical Hindu tradition.

A second point which emerges from the RMVC is the literary activity in the vernaculars in the medieval period. It is not that vernaculars were not used as a vehicle of literature prior to this point. Rather, by the time of jayarAma they had a long literary history of about 2000 years, both in Indo-Aryan and Dravidian tongues. This began with the works of the nAstika-s in the vulgar pAlI and ardhamAgadhi tongues, and is followed by the saMgam poetry in the dramiDa bhAShA (e.g. the heroic poems of the puranAnUru and the erotic poetry of the akanAnUru). Closer in time to jayarAma, we already see the pan-subcontinental spread of the vulgar apabhraShTa tongues and prAkR^it-s as literary languages, as suggested by the mAnasollAsa of someshvara-deva and their formalization in the grammars of the jaina scholar hemachandra-sUri (i.e. the siddha-haima). What we learn from jayarAma’s work is their revival concomitant with the Hindu revival under the mahArATTa-s. The 12 languages that jayarAma uses in his work are:
1) saMskR^ita: Of course this is the dominant language used for more than half the work and he shows his ability in producing elegant prose and verse in same (as daNDin had defined champu-s as being gadya-padya-mayI).
2) panjAbI: The language of the panjAb and the vehicle of the literary productions of the sikh guru-s.
3) hindusthAnI: From the poems it appears that he meant kharIboli and rekhtA.
4) gopAchalIya: This is the original braj bhAShA (i.e. language of gopAchala), which became important in northern India in the zone centered on mathurA as a major vehicle of north Indian classical music.
5) vaktara: As this language is congruent to that used by the bundelI bards. It might be inferred that it is the form of bundelI used in the 1500-1600s.
6) DhUnDhAD: Since this name refers to the province around Jaipur, it is clear that this language was one used by rAjasthAnI bards of the region. It was used extensively in late medieval bardic poetry on rAjpUt heroes.
7) gurjara: The pre-modern form of gujarAtI.
8) bAggul: The language of the rAjpUt kingdom of rAThoDs of baglAnA. The kingdom was destroyed by Awrangzeb and the rAjA was forcibly converted to Islam. It bears features of mahArATTi, hindI and gujarAtI.
9) prAkR^ita: By this jayarAma appears to have usually referred to mahArATTI. At one point he has a mahArATTI poet durga ThAkur tell jayarAma: “kavI, thor Ahe yAs bhAShA aplA |
10) karNATa: kannaDa, the sister of tamiL, had a long history of its own. Interestingly, an early attestation of it comes from a vulgar bilingual Greek play in the Oyxrynchus papri regarding the woman Charition. It was widely spoken over mahAraShTra at some point before the rise of the seuna yAdava-s. This is the only Dravidian language used by jayarAma.
11) yAvanI: In the lay Hindu’s mind the Moslem invader was already conflated with the ancient Macedonian barbarians of Alexander and their successors. Hence, the yavana was indiscriminately transferred to the Mohammedan, and Persian was termed yAvanI.
12) dakShiNAtya yAvanI: As the Mohammedan Sultanates entrenched themselves in the old dakShiNapatha, a southern dialect emerged with an Indo-Aryan grammatical scaffold and Perso-Arabic vocabulary, known as dakkhanI. This is what jayarAma terms the yavana language of dakShiNApatha. It was widely known to the people of mahArAShTra and was used as medium by Sufi subversionists to target Hindus for conversion.

This illustrates a certain level of cosmopolitanism in the revived Hindu court of age, with a knowledge of a wide range of languages from different parts of the country. The preference of languages found in jayarAma’s work is generally reflected in terms of certain connections that developed even further with the expansion of the mahArATTa empire. For example, the vaktara language echoes the later links between ChatrasAl who inspired by his meeting with shivAjI liberated Bundelkhand from the Mohammedans. Likewise the panjAbI connection is echoed in the incorporation of mahArATTa bhakti saints works into the sikh compendium. The mahArATTa-s were also conscious of the rAjpUt-s as fellow Hindu kShatriya-s (whether they were honorary or original is a secondary point) and had a certain knowledge their bardic literature. This is evidenced by the conscious identification (genuine or otherwise) of the bhosle, ghorpaDe, pavAr and other clans with rAjput clans like the shishoDiyA-s [e.g. the jayarAma himself terms the bhosle as such] and paramAra-s along with emulation of their vernacular bardic productions. There also appears to have been a retro-influence of rAjpUt bardic traditions in bundelI and DhunDhaD languages on saMskR^ita productions in the deep south, as seen in saMskR^ita epics on various mahArATTa rAjA-s [Footnote 1]. The languages of the Kannada, Gujarat and Bagalana provinces were of course geographically closely linked to that of mahArATTa country and there had been a long custom of interactions between them. On the whole, such multilingual compositions in the incipient Hindu revival of shAhjI rAje can be compared favorably with the multilingualism seen in the mature vijayanagaran court of kR^iShNadeva. There we encounter a famous polyglot in the form of rAma of tenAlI, who used saMskR^ita and prAkR^ita along with the desha bhAShA-s of andhra, dramiDa, karNATa, mahArAShTra and gopAchalIya (or perhaps more correctly an older apabraShTa language related to the later hindI-s). We see the dominance of the geographic effect with jayarAma having a greater northern range and tenAlIya rAma having a greater southern range in their respective multilingualism. Thus, while the Hindu regimes accorded the natural position of primacy to the devabhAShA, they also appear to have supported the local linguistic diversity enabling considerable multilingualism. In contrast, the Mohammedan tyrannies tended to enforce Persian, with the lower ranks of the army and the Sufi subversionists fostering the emergence of the hybrid dakkhani and urdu zabAn-s [Footnote 2].

Finally, the RMVC also throws hints regarding how desha-bhAShA-s like mahArATTI were viewed in the resurgent Hindu regime of shAhjI. The statement attributed to durga Thakur in the text suggests that there was a certain special respect towards it as their particular vernacular. However, at the same time it appears that the exclusivism observed in modern mahArATTa linguistic politics was not present then – to the contrary, there appears to have been a much wider appreciation of regional languages from other parts of the subcontinent. The preeminence accorded to saMskR^ita in the text is also mirrored in actions of shivAjI in course of the establishment of svarAjya. It restored the natural position of saMskR^ita as the language of the Hindu cosmopolis, as would befit a true Hindu empire. This is seen in many actions of him and also those of his son shaMbhAjI: his seal was in Sanskrit rather than Marathi, specifically to reverse centuries of Islamic indoctrination he set up the royal thesaurus project to establish the Sanskrit forms for all administrative terms and his coronation was performed as per the ancient Vedic model of the indrAbhisheka. The officiant priest of the rite, paNDita vishveshvara (gAgabhATTa) wrote a prayoga manual in saMskR^ita termed the shrI-shivarAjAbhisheka-prayogaH to record these rites. At the same time he also revived the tAntrika jayAbhisheka by having a second coronation done as per tAntrika traditions.

Footnote 1: A shrauta ritualist and paNdita, shaMkara dIkShita, from svAmImalaya, whose ancestors were from the mahArATTa country, became a student of our clansman in kaumAra shAsana and tAntrika topics. He reputed as being an expert on heroic poetry on mahArATTa and shishodiyA kings in a rAjpUt bardic languages. One of the poems he had was an account of the great war under rAjArAm during the 26 year jihad of Awrangzeb.

Footnote 2: Of course an Indian secularist, a “liberal”, or a white indologist and his imitators might claim that the Mogol courts of Dilli encouraged the native languages. But what is lost here is that the Mogol court was shaped by several distinct events: 1) The apostasy of the Padishaw Akbar gave the first break for Hindus in dilli after they lost ruler-ship of the city. Note that Akbar tried to model himself after a Hindu monarch in many ways after his apostasy [an introduction to the same might be found in shrI sharvesha tivarI’s work]. 2) Though after akbar the despots Jahangir and Shah Jahan were far more antagonistic to Hindus they did not bother reverse some of his pro-Hindu actions. Shah Jahan was also open to heeding to non-violent petitions by Hindus regarding Jaziya and the like being imposed on Kaffrs. 3) Further, Akbar had given a break for rAjpUt-s in the Mogol court and their role did not diminish after him. So much of the Mogol patronage was actually due to influential rAjpUt-s at the court much to the disdain of the Mohammedan ulema. 4) It should also be noted that during a part of Shah Jahan’s reign, his son Dara Shikoh and general Shaista Khan (who studied hindI and saMskR^ita with chaturbhuja mishra) were generally well-disposed towards Hindu scholars, and this only increased until Dara’s military defeat and execution for apostasy from Mohammedanism (After all in his Sirr-e-Akbar he stated that he learned more from the Vedic texts than from Sufis). Thus, the Hindu literary activities in the Mogol are a consequence of the weakening of the Mohammedan grip due to Akbar and Dara preferences, Shah Jahan’s weakness and the rise of rAjpUt-s. They do not imply any conscious liberality on part of the upholders of Mohammedanism or any general rapprochement between Hindus and Mohammedans. After all in describing this phase of the Mogol power the jihad theorist Waliullah and the mentally diseased proto-Taliban Ahmed Barelvi repeatedly emphasized that practices of the Kaffr were taking precedence over pure Mohammedanism and that jihads had to be waged to clear the Hindu influence on Mohammedan power in India.

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