Upendra Bhanja: The Great Poet of Orissa
Article By : Dr. Harekrishna Meher
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In the history of Oriya literature, the medieval period, i. e. from the last part of sixteenth century to the last part of nineteenth century, is known as Kāvya-Yuga, Rīti-Yuga or Bhañja-Yuga. Upendra Bhañja is the protagonist among the poets of this time. His is an epoch-making age, the last part of seventeenth century. He has made a revolutionary challenge and a great change in Prakrit language group to establish Oriya as a prosperous and prominent language in rivalry with Sanskrit. He has furthered Oriya language and Orissan culture by composing numerous epics, lexicons, lyrics and musical songs.
In Oriya literature, ‘Rīti’ generally implies the pompous and embellished feature of physical structure of poems. Though different from Sanskrit ‘Rīti’ in view of nature, Oriya ‘Rīti’ with its originality forms a reflection of the former. Rīti-Yuga in Oriya literature, having its genesis from the epic poems ‘Rukminī-Bibhā’ of Kārttika Dās and ‘Śaśisheņā’ of Pratāp Rāy, has attained the apex in the compositions of Upendra Bhañja. In Bhañja’s poems direct influence of Sanskrit poets like Bhāravi, Māgha and Śrīharsha is obviously observed. Upendra has embellished the Oriya literature with copious verbal grandeurs, sentimental expressions, bandha poems, various figures of speech, musical metres, depiction of Nature and other several poetical phenomena. His word-complexities have almost made his epics not easily intelligible by the general readers. Dhanañjaya Bhañja, the grandfather of Upendra and poet of ‘Raghunātha-Bilāsa’, had inspired Upendra to compose epics in the ornate style.
Upendra himself has expressed about the stiffness and flavoury compositions of his own. In his epic poem ‘Prema-Sudhānidhi’ (16/15), he says : ‘Puņi ehi gīta nārikeļa-phaļa-bata’ (Again this poem is like coconut fruit). In his ‘Lābaņyabatī’(16/44) also, he has construed his poem as a juicy coconut which is beyond the reach of a monkey’s relish (Nārikeļa je rasa-pūra / Bhakshi na pārai bānara). In ‘Baidehīśa-Bilāsa’ (52/52), he opines his writing as both stiff and sentiment-fraught (Budhe sarasa karkaśa rasāļa e gīta). His poems look externally very critical, but after entering into them, they gladden the readers by internal sweetness and emotional relish. The statements of Upendra reveal his ardent desire for adopting Sanskrit style and make us remember the remarks of Mallinātha, the eminent commentator on Bhāravi’s ‘Kirātārjunīya’ (Nārikela-phala-sammitam vacho Bhāraveh sapadi tad vibhajyate). Bhāravi’s verses are coconut-like and Upendra has followed his poetic path.
In the epic ‘Koţi-Brahmāņda-Sundarī’ (Chapter-XX), Upendra has neatly declared : ‘Ghena Naishadha parāye’ (Take this epic as Naishadha). He is immensely influenced by the 'Naishadhacharita' of Śrīharsha, mostly in regard to similarity of ideas, puns, expressions and style. Also in some verses of his other epic poems such as ‘Lābaņyabatī’ and ‘Subhadrā-Pariņaya’, the style and ideas of ‘Naishadha Mahākāvya’ are fluently reflected. He is also very much impressed by ‘Gīta-Govinda’ of Jayadeva in composing the melodious songs.
Observing the specialities of poets of Sanskrit literature, Indian scholars have paid high homage to Kāidāsa, Bhāravi, Śrīharsha and Māgha by saying :
'Upamā Kālidāsasya Bhāraver artha-gauravam /
Naishadhe pada-lālityam Māghe santi trayo gunāh // '
A Sanskrit verse composed by Paņdit Mrutyuñjaya Rath, a renowned litterateur of Orissa, is worth-mentioning in this respect. Emulating the Sanskrit style pertaining to Oriya literature, Paņdit Rath has said :
'Upamā Bhañja-vīrasya tasyaiva chārtha-gauravam /
Kallole pada-lālityam santi chintāmaņau trayah // '
In Oriya literature, significant are the simile as well as profundity of meaning in the epic poems of Upendra Bhañja, grace of diction in ‘Rasa-Kalloļa’ of Dīnakrushņa Dās, and the amalgamation of these three qualities (simile, profundity of meaning and grace of diction) in ‘Bidagdha-Chintāmaņi’ of Abhimanyu Sāmanta Simhāra. All the epic poems of these three poets have made the Oriya literature affluent to a great extent.
Upendra has honourably and humbly referred to Vālmīki, Vyāsa, Hanumān, Kālidāsa and Bhojarāja of Sanskrit literature, and to Baļarāma Dās of Oriya literature, in his Rāma-epic ‘Baidehīsa-Bilāsa’ composed in ‘ba’ pūrvānuprāsa. In writing this epic poem, he is highly influenced by Baļarāma Dās, the poet of ‘Dāņdi Rāmāyaņa’, which is also known as 'Jagamohana Rāmāyaņa' or ‘Dakshiņī Rāmāyaņa’.
Upendra has influenced the Oriya poets like Brajanāth Badajenā, Baļadeba Rath, Jadumaņi Mahāpātra and many others. Poet Rādhānāth Rāy, the pioneer and father of modern Oriya literature has praised and accepted Upendra Bhañja as his own ‘Kāvya-Guru’. Gańgādhara Meher, the noted ‘Prakriti-Kavi’ and a contemporary of Rādhānāth Rāy, has been initially influenced by Upendra. Poets like Rājakabi Brajarāj Singh and Khageśwar Seţh have been much influenced by Upendra. Brajarāj Singh, for his ornate style, is known as ‘Second Upendra Bhañja’. Khageśwar Seţh has humbly compared Upendra as an aerial chariot and his own self as a bullock cart; but has very successfully followed the Bhañja style making it suitable to the modern taste. In Oriya literature, the latent genesis of Rīti can be found in the writings of Ādikabi Sāralā Dās and Baļarāma Dās also. The simple and lucid style flows from Sāralā Dās; but in view of the ornate style and poetic grandeur, Upendra Bhañja is the premier poet of medieval Oriya literature.
Upendra’s poems are mostly dominated by Eros, the first among the nine sentiments of literature. Some narrations of the sensuous erotic dealings are seen in his poems. So his works have suffered a lot in the pens of some modern critics. Great poets like Vyāsa, Kālidāsa, Māgha, Śrīharsha of Sanskrit, and Ādikabi Sāraļā Dās, Dīnakrushna Dās, Kabisūrya Baļadeba Rath and others of Oriya literature have unhesitatingly delineated the contextual erotic dalliance in their poems. In Oriya literature, all such erotic depictions, though indicative of so-called obscenity and lack of some refined taste, are due to the influence of Sanskrit literature. Such descriptions may be poetic lapses; but are not detrimental to the poetic genius. Several instances of eroticism can be found in modern literatures also.
In all his epical compositions, Upendra has not only shown the ornate style, but also distinctly portrayed the emotions, feelings and sentiments of mankind. So his writings are not simply crammed with poetic imaginations. His poetic pen has also recorded the reality of life, psychological analysis and various facets of worldly experiences. Several data of socio-cultural, historical, geographical, religious and like conditions of his age are also diffused in his works. Both imagination and truth are mingled charmingly.
Love in Upendra’s pen is seen very sensuous, alluring and romantic. He has preached 'Swakīyā Prīti', one’s love for own wife only or for an unmarried loving maiden, the would-be wife. He has never supported or depicted 'Parakīyā Prīti', one’s love for the wives of others. Such attitude strengthens the social discipline by preserving the ethical value of mankind, especially in Indian culture.
An illustration of the heart-touching love is cited here from his work. As the context goes on, in ‘Prema-Sudhānidhi’ kāvya (Chapter-XIV), the young lover and the beloved maiden both pine for each other during their separation. The prince passionately writes a love-letter to his sweetheart princess, consoling their hearts, bearing the pangs of separation and preserving their lively love. One of the stanzas in Oriya addressed to the princess is :
'Dūre thile pāśe achhi thibu ehā gheni /
Kete dūre Chandra kete dūre Kumudinī /
Prīti abheda tāńkara /
Jete dūre thile je jāhāra se tāhāra //'
This may be rendered into English as follows :
'Even far, I’m thy very near.
This always keep in the heart, My Dear !
Moon and Lily both are
from each other, away very far.
Still flows all the while
their love ever-juvenile.
For a loving couple, see,
the distance may whatever be,
hers is he
and his is she.'
[From Original Oriya, Translated by : Dr. Harekrishna Meher]
Poet Upendra is a strong devotee of God Rāmachandra. He has also depicted Lord Jagannātha and Rāmachandra one and undifferentiated. Upendra, as he himself says, has attained the great unique poetic calibre by the divine mercy of Rāma-Tāraka-Mantra. This case makes us recall Śrīharsha, who achieved the grace of Chintāmaņi Mantra and became the poet of Naishadha Mahākāvya. Upendra’s literary eruditions and proficiency in composing epic poems are commendable indeed conducive to his milieu. Hence his works should not be stigmatized from modern perspectives alone. His compositions cover almost all the scholarly structure and are mainly meant for the learned community. He has also fulfilled the literary thirst of common people by composing numerous melodious songs.
Poems of Upendra Bhañja have earned profuse fame from different dimensions of the society. Utkaļamaņi Gopabandhu Dās, in his ‘Abakāśa Chintā’, a collection of Oriya poems, has rightly appreciated the wide popularity of Upendra’s poems which the learned scholars sing in the literary assembly, the gay wayfarers on the path, farmers in the corn-fields, ladies in the harems and courtesans in the dalliance of dances. Upendra Bhañja, traditionally renowned as “Kavi-Samrāţ” (The Emperor among the poets) is really a peerless glory not only of Oriya literature, but also of Indian literature in the national level. In the present day also, his works are hailed through scholarly discussions, translations, researches and other literary activities.
( Compiled in the English Book “UPENDRA BHANJA”
Published by : Kalinga Bharati, Dagarpara, Cuttack, Orissa, 1990.)
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