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Medieval India Poems

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For many centuries, religion has played an arguably critical role in enhancing the literature of a certain race or even that of an entire country. In India for instance, the unstable ancient days played a great role towards the diverse Indian culture. Throughout the 10th century, there had emerged many saintly poems which had different meaning and also interpreted in diverse ways by various groups of people. The most famous poems of the Indian empire are critically analyzed herewith. These poems include: Virasaiva Saints, The Bengali Vaisnava Saints' Songs of Devotion to Krishna and Govindadasa, to mention just a few.

The poems of the Virasaiva saints

Virasaiva poems are also referred to as vacanas meaning ‘what is spoken’ and this contradicts with smiriti poems which means ‘ what is memorable’ and sruti poems which means ‘recipients understanding’. Virasaivas poems are widely recognized for their rebellion against the caste system which prescribes a certain definite way of marrying. In this system, a person was only allowed to marry the other if their families had a common economic activity. For instance, a man from a merchant family could only marry a woman from another merchant family. The poem criticized the system and this eventually resulted to the collapse of that system. In the 10th century, people used virasaiva poems to worship Siva who was believed to be the Indian god. It is imperative to note that virasaiva poems are part of devotional songs in almost all households in Karnataka, India.

Bhati Hinduism, Virasaiva inclusive emphasizes on devotion, affection and openness to converts. Moreover, virasaiva saints believe in acquisition of merit. By believing the existence of a certain state of affairs, a virasaiva saint can either convert or be converted. This means that a virasaiva practitioner is free to change his religious allegiance from one denomination to another. This is contrary to classical Hinduism whereby they keep their religion to themselves. In my own personal idea, virasaiva movement seems to respect religious freedom. It has also played a major role in criticizing irrelevant systems in the Hindu society such as caste system.

Vaishnava poems

 Vaishnava saints are also referred to as twelve Alvars and originated from South India. The Vaishnava saints also remained opposed to the caste system which was a persistent hereditary system in the ancient India Empire. There are many saintly poems that have been authored by this movement since its formation. However, they mainly focused and advocated for some traditional rituals while morality, holiness and selflessness were overlooked. They expressed their feelings and opinions through poems and music that basically attracted many people. The founder of this movement was Chaitanya. The Vaishnava mainly worshipped through songs and dances. In my own opinion, Vaishnava, like Virasaiva actually played a tremendous role in creating awareness among people on the disadvantages of the caste system. They were however very ritualistic and little did they focus on holiness or morality.

Govindadasa's Kalikamangal

This is a narrative poem that belongs a certain Bengali literature called mangalkavya. The poem was basically used to praise the goddess who was known as Kal. It is believed that the composition of this poem was between late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. It is actually named after an Indian poetess; Govindadasa. Basically, her poem focuses on human peripatetic behavior, religious search for devotion and the attainment of unity with God. Govindadasa is very interesting in her explanation especially regarding krisna and Radha story whereby she uses this story to describe the forgiveness aspect by mankind. In her narration, Govindadasa’s uses human love to symbolize divine love. She further use the narration to emphasize on the fact that as separation may exist between two lovers, it can also exist between a human person and God. In subjective terms, Govindadasa’s poem is more realistic about religion. It focuses more on real aspects of life viz. love, unity and separation.

In conclusion, therefore, the three poems to our discussion are similar in that they all talk about religious practices among the Hindu. Furthermore, both virasaiva and Vaishnava poems are similar to the effect that they both criticize the caste system. There is also a slight difference between Virasaiva and Vaishnava poems on one hand and Govindadasa’s poem on the other hand. The former are purely religious/worship poems while the latter is more of a narrative than a poem.


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